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10 Downing St Breifing Wednesday June 4th 2003

PRESS BRIEFING: 11AM WEDNESDAY 4 JUNE 2003

MIDDLE EAST

The Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) drew journalists' attention to what he believed was the most significant development today - the Middle East peace process in terms of the meetings today between President Bush, the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, and the Palestinian Prime Minister, Mahmoud Abbas. As the Prime Minister had said personally to President Bush at the G8 Summit in Evian earlier this week, we wished those meetings well and endorsed the President's decision to become personally involved. We were clearly supportive of what he was doing and we hoped - and believed - that the outcome would be significant.

IRAQ/WMD

Referring to an assertion by the Today Programme this morning that we had not categorically denied their claim that we had given undue prominence to the 45 minute statement in the dossier, the PMOS pointed out that we had issued a categorical denial to the BBC at 7.15am last Thursday - three quarters of an hour after the allegations had first been aired - in which we had underlined that the claims were untrue, that the dossier was entirely the work of the intelligence agencies and that suggestions that any pressure was put on the intelligence services by No 10 or anyone else to change the document were entirely false. The idea that the intelligence services would include something about which they were unhappy was, quite frankly, laughable. For the avoidance of any doubt about our position, both the Prime Minister and those who spoke on his behalf had denied the story in Kuwait, Basra, Warsaw, St Petersburg and Evian, as well as in London. It was clearly the case that those who wanted to hear, heard, and those who didn't, didn't.

Asked if any complaint was being made to the BBC at senior level, the PMOS said that we had been trying to get the BBC to report our categorical denials since last Thursday morning. We had repeatedly underlined our unhappiness at the way the story had been reported.

Asked repeatedly if Downing Street agreed with the Leader of the House's suggestion that there were rogue elements in the intelligence services that were briefing against the Government in order to destabilise it and whether he could produce any evidence to stand up the claim, the PMOS said that both the Prime Minister and John Reid had stated repeatedly that our respect for the work of the intelligence agencies, in relation to Iraq and other matters in which they were involved, knows no bounds. Dr Reid had not been suggesting that he believed there was some sort of conspiracy by the intelligence agencies per se. He had simply been raising a number of questions. For example, on what foundation were these allegations based? What was the evidence? What was the source - and what status did that source have within the intelligence community if indeed it had come from there? Given that both the Prime Minister and the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) had indicated that the stories were 100% wrong, what was the motivation of those who had put them forward? It was clearly up to those who had made the claims - and those who had given them such undue significance and prominence - to answer these questions, because only the JIC had the full intelligence picture. Pressed as to whether the Prime Minister agreed with Dr Reid's comments, the PMOS said that it was perfectly legitimate for us to ask why the BBC had run this story on the basis of an unnamed source when we had categorically denied the allegations which had been made within three quarters of an hour of the claims being broadcast last Thursday morning.

Put to him that neither Downing Street nor Andrew Gilligan had offered any evidence to back up the claims and counter-claims being made and whether he would agree that the way to clear up the confusion was to publish the previous draft of the dossier so that people would be able to compare it with the version presented to Parliament, the PMOS pointed out that like was not being compared with like - the simple reason being that we had been denying categorically the story since 7.15am last Thursday. That had been done on the basis of conversations with the JIC. Thus, it was the JIC which made our position different to those who were making the allegations in the first place. Put to him that our main problem at the moment was the fact that a significant portion of the British public did not trust the Prime Minister, the PMOS said that if that was the case, people ought to ask themselves whether they trusted the JIC. In our view, the answer to that was most certainly 'yes'.

Questioned as to whether the Prime Minister would order a full-scale inquiry into who the rogue elements in the intelligence services were given the seriousness of the claims which had been made today, the PMOS said that the Government was not responsible for the source given the fact that we were not the ones who were making the allegations. The key question was who had made them. Unless it was a member of the JIC, they clearly did not have the full intelligence picture. This whole story was once again an example of snapshot journalism; people who had access to partial information and who then blew it up out of all proportion and claimed that it represented the full picture. That was not true. It did not. Put to him that his reply did not alter the fact that Dr Reid had accused elements in the security services of undermining the Government, the PMOS said that the real question was why people should want to continue to make allegations which, we had maintained repeatedly, were 100% untrue. Unless the BBC journalist involved was prepared to say who his source was, this remained a legitimate question for us to pose. Put to him that we were very well aware that Mr Gilligan would not reveal the identity of his source, the PMOS said that if somebody alleged that the Prime Minister had leant on the intelligence services and had persuaded them to say things that were false and that we had then issued a document which contained information we had known not to be true, it was obvious that evidence should be provided to support that claim because that was the most serious allegation that could be made. These were clearly wild allegations and it was therefore not illegitimate to ask on what authority they were being made.

Asked if we were keeping open the option that someone within the JIC was responsible for leaking the information and if he would agree that the best way to undermine the Prime Minister was to give him false intelligence, the PMOS said he thought that the latter part of the question sounded suspiciously like a conspiracy theory wrapped in a conspiracy theory wrapped in a conspiracy theory. We had absolute confidence in the JIC. We did not believe that any member was involved in leaking anything, primarily because of the high calibre of information they provided and the way in which they had dealt with the Government over the years. Asked if he was implying that the 'rogue elements' could simply be the 'pond life' within the intelligence services, such as the lavatory cleaners, the PMOS said that this was a question for those making the allegations. He had made absolutely clear our confidence in the JIC. He repeated that the only people who had access to the full intelligence picture were the JIC members themselves. We had not in any way overridden their information or tried to get them to do something they had not wanted to do. Asked if he was inferring that there were rogue elements in the security services below the level of the JIC but that we didn't know precisely where they were, the PMOS said that it was legitimate to pose a question concerning the motivation of whoever the source was. We did not know who it might be. Unless the Today Programme cleared that up, that question would remain. Asked if Downing Street was alleging that the Today Programme source had been invented or that it was not someone from within the security services, the PMOS said that only the Today Programme knew who their source was. He was simply making the point that the allegations could not have come from someone who had access to the full intelligence picture, because someone who did would know that the 45-minute statement was true given the fact that the intelligence services believed that to be the case, which was why they had put it in the dossier. Put to him that the Prime Minister's total confidence in the JIC would seem to suggest that he did not believe there were any rogue elements within it, the PMOS repeated that we had complete confidence in the material given to Ministers and in the judgements made by the JIC. And before journalists asked him whether Downing Street had confidence in every single individual in the intelligence services, he would simply ask this question: did the Director General have complete confidence in every member of the BBC?

Put to him that the fact still remained that the information provided by the intelligence services about WMD appeared to be completely wrong, the PMOS said that he would disagree in the strongest possible terms. It was not wrong. Put to him that no WMD had been found in Iraq despite the information we had received, the PMOS said that Saddam had broken up the jigsaw of his WMD programme and had hidden the pieces around Iraq. We would slowly and patiently put the jigsaw back together again. We would publish further details about WMD when we were ready to do so. We would not be pressurised by anyone, including those making wild allegations, into doing so prematurely. Why had we produced the dossier in the first place? Because people had asked us to set out the basis of our claims. We had produced the dossier at a slower time than people had wanted precisely because we had wanted to ensure that the intelligence services were 100% happy with what we were putting out. No one had produced anything on the record which disputed any of our claims.

Asked to name the source for the original 45-minute claim contained in the dossier, the PMOS said he could give journalists a categorical assurance that the statement had been made on the basis of sound intelligence. It had been assessed by those who were experts in the field and had been included on the authority of the JIC. If he was being asked to make a moral equivalence, or indeed an equivalence of any kind, between the source for the 45-minute claim and the BBC's source, he knew on which side of the fence he would rather be. Put to him by the BBC that the difference was that one source might be employed by the British State whereas the other was not, the PMOS said he was not quite sure what the question was supposed to mean. In his view it sounded like a "smart-ass" comment. What he was clear about, however, was the fact that this had been a proper process which had been properly carried out and had been based on proper procedure. Asked to explain why the Government had departed from normal practice and had accepted the 45-minute claim despite the fact that it had been provided by a single source, the PMOS said the claim had been based on reliable information which had been assessed by the JIC. Put to him that his assertion that Saddam had broken up the jigsaw of his WMD programme and had hidden the pieces around Iraq did not square with our claim that the WMD could be ready for use within 45 minutes, the PMOS said that this was nothing new. We had been making this point repeatedly since before the conflict. We stood by the contents of the dossier.

Asked why the Government continued to have complete confidence in the material provided by the JIC when each of the nine sites identified in the dossier as a potential WMD site had been found by UNMOVIC to have no evidence of recent WMD production, the PMOS pointed out that the investigations in were still at a very early stage. The international survey team was only just beginning its work. It was therefore better to wait for that work to be completed before people started making conclusions which might not turn out to be correct. Put to him that Mike O'Brien had admitted in a Written Answer in January that all nine sites had been visited since the dossier had been published but that nothing had been discovered, the PMOS pointed out that many sites, other than the nine which had been named, had been identified as possible WMD sites. The investigations were continuing.

ENDS

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