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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Tuesday, September 09, 2003

The 45 minute claim and the Americans - again

In my piece yesterday, I pondered what the USIC had made of the infamous claim as the dossier was in course of preparation.

I uttered those famous last words
A cursory search produces nothing on the point.

This time, my search has been a little less cursory; but the product is scarcely satisfying. (I'm strictly following my nose here: this will be ancient history for many, no doubt.)

For a start, I'd been trusting to Google News to pick up the start of the trail. But that only goes back a month - which, it seems, is not far enough.

WaPo on July 20 says
The White House, in the run-up to war in Iraq, did not seek CIA approval before charging that Saddam Hussein could launch a biological or chemical attack within 45 minutes, administration officials now say.

Bush used the 45 minute claim, for instance, in his radio broadcast of September 28 2002:
The Iraqi regime ...., according to the British government, could launch a biological or chemical attack in as little as 45 minutes after the order is given.

The piece refers to Ari Fleischer's briefing on September 24 in which he waxes lyrical on the dossier:
In the case of this report, we are aware, of course, what the United Kingdom was working on in the report. But make no mistake, this is their effort, this is their work, this is their product. We were aware of it, and we agree with their findings.

When asked whether the White House had reviewed the dossier, he replies
I don't know. I'd have to take a look and ask a number of people who work here to see at what stage they saw it. Obviously, we were aware of it prior to its coming out. But I don't know the answer specifically on what day somebody here may have actually taken a look at it.

And when challenged on its novelty, says
Well, I think there was new information in there, particularly about the 45-minute threshold by which Saddam Hussein has got his biological and chemical weapons triggered to be launched. There was new information in there about Saddam Hussein's efforts to obtain uranium from African nations. That was new information.

As long as he believed it...

Having checked with the rest of the September White House briefings, the dossier doesn't seem to come up again. So we get no enlightenment on the question of when it was reviewed.

(Pursuing quite why Bush should have sought at that stage to exculpate the CIA - not always the Administration's favourite organisation - from this particular allegation, I'll leave for another day.)

Set against this a piece in the Guardian dated July 31, which kicks off thus:
The CIA objected to claims in the British government's September dossier on Iraq's banned weapons programme...It appears that among the CIA's objections was the much-trumpeted claim that Iraqi forces could deploy chemical and biological weapons within 45 minutes of an order to do so.

The information was apparently provided on July 30 to the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee by the FCO in a written reply to questions submitted:
....the CIA was given a draft of the government's dossier on September 11 last year......

Unfortunately, the FCO reply does not specify that the CIA's objections extended to the 45 minute claim, merely saying that
The CIA made a number of comments...The JIC chairman incorporated or rejected them as he judged fit.

Now, the CIA is, amongst the US intelligence agencies, the organisation that regularly sits in on JIC meetings; nothing more natural that it should receive and comment on a draft of the dossier. Presumably, it communicated the dossier and its comments thereon to the White House.

(The possibility that Blair and Bush had a back channel going, whereby Bush was briefed directly by HMG on the dossier is scarcely credible. Is it?)

The page listing the written evidence supporting the July 7 FAC report does not include this correspondence - coming, as it does, after the report was completed: I can't find it anywhere on the site. No doubt, when the FAC does a follow-up report, it will be included.

Nor does it appear to be in the FAC's evidence submitted to the Hutton Inquiry - the FAC, unlike other sources, does not seem to have provided any extra documentary evidence after the start of the hearings.

Still not making much sense: more research needed...

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