The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Hutton: more confusion on 45 minute claim from senior spook

Sir John Scarlett [1], is the interface between the UKIC (covering Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS), internal security (MI5) and external (Secret Intelligence Service - MI6)) and the Prime Minister. He is Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC, pronounced jic), which has representatives of all agencies involved. He is also a good mate of Alastair Campbell, and, it seems, works hand in glove with him on security issues - two masters of obfuscation and deception working in tandem.

His evidence to the Inquiry [2] demands close scrutiny and mature reflection. But one point on which the hacks have seized is a passage (143:24) on the 45 minute claim itself:
Dr Kelly had suggested to someone else that the source
6 for the 45 minutes reference might have confused it with
7 some multiple barrelled Iraqi weapon. Are you able to
8 make any comment....?......
15 A...but certainly
16 Andrew Gilligan, when quoting his source, said that the
17 source believed that the report was relating to warheads
18 for missiles.
20 A. Which, in fact, it was not; it related to munitions,
21 which we had interpreted to mean battlefield mortar
22 shells or small calibre weaponry, quite different from
23 missiles.

There is a tangle here, highly useful to HMG in September 2002, that needs unpicking.

The layman's understand of WMD is, I'd reckon, weapons that kill a whole lot of people (Hiroshima and Nagasaki levels, say) - rather than, say, the few hundred that a car full of Semtex in a crowded market might kill. Nuclear is the paradigm - everyone's seen footage of the 1945 A-bomb mushrooms - with CW and BW more a perceived threat because of their being unknown, rather than on the basis of evidence of past use. (Poison gas, for instance, is best known (from World War 1) as a battlefield weapon much less destructive than machine guns and - most particularly - artillery firing HE shells).)

The paradigmatic delivery system for a 'genuine' WMD would be a missile.

The September 2002 dossier hit both points: it alleged that Saddam had al-Hussein missiles with a range of 650km with the capability of delivering both CW and BW (p25a); and that some CW/BW weapons were deployable within 45 minutes (p8a).

Now, there was no conflation in the dossier of the missile and 45 minute claims. And, the paragraph that mentions the al-Husseins also mentions delivery of CW/BW by artillery shell. But any confusion in the lay reader would not have been unhelpful to the propaganda effort.

But focus on Kelly's comment: Andrew Gilligan's recollections of his May 22 interview with Kelly says:
...He said it took 45 minutes to construct a missile assembly and that was misinterpreted (in the dossier) to mean that WMD could be deployed in 45 minutes. What we thought it actually meant was that they could launch a conventional missile in 45 minutes....

AG's Palm Pilot notes also mention missiles. In neither of the May 29 Today broadcasts are missiles mentioned. But they are mentioned in the Radio 5 interview of that date.)

When Kelly spoke to Susan Watts on May 7, he was talking about multi-barrelled launchers. To the Inquiry, she said (177:21)
We talked a bit about why such a precise timing
22 might be used, 45 minutes rather than 43 or 40. He said
23 that he was -- he made clear that he, in his word, was
24 guessing; but he said that in 1991 the Iraqis were, and
25 I quote, "playing around with multibarrel launches and

1 that these take 45 minutes to fill". So that was his
2 best guess, if you like, as to where that figure had
3 come from.
4 Q. He did not know what weapons system might be able to
5 deliver it?
6 A. In that short time, no.

Which brings us back to Scarlett. Because, as I understand it, these multi-barrel launchers are battlefield weapons. The sort of gizmo once known affectionately as Stalin's organ pipes. There's not, in the vanishingly skimpy search I've made, much online. This refers to
...122 mm Grad rockets, used in a Russian-made multi-barrel launcher....

Nothing that suggests a MBL could fire anything approaching an Al Hussein.

So, perhaps, Scarlett's source and Kelly were on the same page after all - except that, in his May 30 conversation with Susan Watts, he mentions (p3a) Scuds as well as MBLs in this connection.

Implications? Already the (London) Independent is running a piece under the head Spy chief undermines key plank of Government's case for war in Iraq.

That would only be the case, I think, if the intention or result of the dossier and associated propaganda was to formulate a proposition that the missiles could be got ready in 45 minutes.

An indication is that, in the London Evening Standard piece of Dan Plesch (from RUSI) on September 24, he says
The dossier also states Saddam may be able to deploy his biological weapons in less than an hour. This dramatic idea does seem threatening, but if the missiles have a short range and there are very few of them, how great is the threat?

If a defence expert like Plesch was conflating, what hope was there for the rest of us?

  1. Google shows the man has been knighted: but he called as a witness as plain John Scarlett. This is the sort of thing one would expect Lord Hutton to get right!

  2. August 26, straddling morning and afternoon sessions.

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