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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Sunday, September 07, 2003

Hutton: the dossier draft mystery mystery...

Running through the evidence of Dr Brian Jones [1], I'm struck by a passage (starting at 119:21) from which it is clear that there was room for confusion as to which draft of the September dossier was under discussion.

Lord Hutton asks
Do you remember, Dr Jones, the draft of the
22 dossier that you looked at of 19th September, was it in
23 the same form as the dossier that was finally published
24 on 24th September?

After some umming and awing, Jones volunteers that
13 A. I was surprised when I refreshed my memory last week at
14 the Ministry of Defence to see that there had been, in
15 fact, another version on the 20th.

This isn't the first time that the evidence has suggested confusion as to which version of the dossier was under discussion in a particular email or at a particular meeting.

Is it credible? Surely, an organisation (the Civil Service) whose only direct product is documents of one sort or another would have a system which would automatically identify the iteration (which was Susan Watt's expression, from memory) concerned. Like numbering each version, and putting the version number in a temporary footer on each page.

We've been told that the wordsmithing is important in intelligence matters. But not in such matters alone. Disputes over wording must be commonplace in Whitehall.

Suppose an official objects strongly to a particular sentence in a White Paper; research is commissioned to justify his position, a lengthy minute drafted and circulated - only for him to find that that sentence had already been deleted in a later version of the Paper - the loss of face would surely not bear thinking about (they don't call these chaps mandarins for nothing!).

So, if a document like the dossier does not carry version numbers, the implication is that is through a deliberate desire for creative ambiguity. In anticipation not of a public inquiry, but, I suppose, interdepartmental conflict. To achieve a degree of plausible deniability for when the manure hit the air-conditioning.

For now, just an annoying loose end, I think.

  1. Retired senior officer from the Defence Intelligence Analysis Staff (part of the DIS, within the MOD); evidence starts here (56:7) and continues here (115:1).

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