Tory leader demands Blair apology
Wednesday July 9, 2003 9:23 PM
Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith demanded an apology from Prime Minister Tony Blair after the premier said intelligence on which the "dodgy dossier" on Iraq was based was shared with the Conservatives.
Mr Duncan Smith wrote to Mr Blair after the Prime Minister refused his request to apologise to the House for "misrepresenting the status" of a February dossier on Iraq.
Mr Blair told MPs during angry Commons question time exchanges that "intelligence upon which we based both the September dossier and that February briefing was specifically shared with him by our intelligence service".
The Conservative leader was said by aides to be "fuming" about that response by Mr Blair.
He wrote to the Prime Minister: "You said that the intelligence on which the dossier was based was intelligence that was specifically shared with me. That is completely untrue.
"If you check your records, you will find that immediately I read about the February document in the newspapers, I caused a telephone call to be made to your office asking for the basis of this document. I had no prior knowledge whatsoever of its contents or the material on which it was based.
"Furthermore, if you check your records, you will find that the last time I saw the head of the JIC (Joint Intelligence Committee) was on September 18 2002 just before the publication of the first dossier. I did not see him again until February 12 2003, nine days after the second dossier was published.
"At no time was I given an oral briefing on the second dossier by the intelligence services prior to its publication.
"Will you now withdraw this false allegation and apologise without delay?"
Mr Duncan Smith wrote that Mr Blair had compounded his refusal to apologise for misrepresenting the February dossier "by making an entirely false allegation about the nature of the briefing given to me, on Privy Council terms, on the state of your intelligence information on Iraq."
Powell's doubts over CIA intelligence on Iraq prompted him to set up secret review Specialists removed questionable evidence about weapons from draft of secretary of state's speech to UN
Suzanne Goldenberg in Washington and Richard Norton-Taylor
Monday June 2, 2003
Fresh evidence emerged last night that Colin Powell, the US secretary of state, was so disturbed about questionable American intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction that he assembled a secret team to review the information he was given before he made a crucial speech to the UN security council on February 5.
Mr Powell conducted a full-dress rehearsal of the speech on the eve of the session at his suite in the Waldorf Astoria, his New York base when he is on UN business, according to the authoritative US News and World Report.
Much of the initial information for Mr Powell's speech to the UN was provided by the Pentagon, where Paul Wolfowitz, the US deputy defence secretary, set up a special unit, the Office of Special Plans, to counter the uncertainty of the CIA's intelligence on Iraq.
Mr Powell's team removed dozens of pages of alleged evidence about Iraq's banned weapons and ties to terrorists from a draft of his speech, US News and World Report says today. At one point, he became so angry at the lack of adequate sourcing to intelligence claims that he declared: "I'm not reading this. This is bullshit," according to the magazine.
Presented with a script for his speech, Mr Powell suspected that Washington hawks were "cherry picking", the US magazine Newsweek also reports today. Greg Theilmann, a recently retired state department intelligence analyst directly involved in assessing the Iraqi threat, says that inside the Bush administration "there is a lot of sorrow and anger at the way intelligence was misused".
The Bush administration, under increased scrutiny for failing to find Saddam Hussein's arsenals eight weeks after occupying Baghdad, yesterday confronted the damaging new allegations on the misuse of intelligence to bolster the case for war.
The gaps in the case against Saddam have become a matter for public debate only within the last few days. They have also become an issue of credibility for the CIA and the Bush administration as it begins to assemble a case against Iran and its nuclear programme.
Yesterday, a senior Bush administration official told reporters travelling with the president to the Evian summit that Washington was not alone in its pursuit of Saddam's arsenal.
"We have to remember that there's a long history of accusation of the weapons of mass destruction programmes in Iraq. A lot of what is unresolved about the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction programme comes from the United Nations, from Unscom, from Unmovic [teams of weapons inspectors] and, of course, from US and other intelligence," the official said.
The official also said that US forces in Iraq had not yet had the time to process the hundreds of documents captured since Saddam's fall, or track down the people with information on his weapons programmes.
On Friday, the CIA director, George Tenet, was forced to issue a statement denying the agency doctored intelligence reports.
"Our role is to call it like we see it, to tell policymakers what we know, what we don't know, what we think, and what we base it on. That's the code we live by," the statement said.
During a series of meetings at CIA headquarters last February, initiated by Mr Powell, the secretary of state was reported to have reviewed the intelligence reports on Saddam, his arsenal of chemical and nuclear weapons, and his possible links with al-Qaida. The ostensible purpose of the exercise, carried out over four days, was to decide which should be included in his address.
However, a common theme of the meetings was the failure of the CIA and other intelligence agencies to produce a convincing case against Saddam. Despite the increasingly belligerent statements from the administration's hawks, the CIA had disturbingly little proof.
Even more damaging, many of the assertions bandied about were based on reports that were speculative or impossible to corroborate - but seized on because they suited the agenda of the hawks in the administration. Ambiguities and nuance were left aside.
One claim from the original dossier that could not be proved involved the supply of sensitive software from Australia that would have allowed Baghdad to gather sensitive information about the topography of the US. However, the CIA could not establish for Mr Powell whether the software had been delivered to Iraq.
Although the issue of flawed CIA intelligence has caused concern about the agency's ability to gather evidence on potential threats to the US, it did not appear to have shaken the widespread belief that the war on Iraq was a just war.
"The day that I saw those nine and 10- year-old boys released from a prison, the day I saw the mass graves uncovered, it was ample testimony of the brutality and repressiveness of this regime," the Republican senator John McCain told ABC television yesterday. "It was the day that I believe our liberation of Iraq was fully vindicated."
Blair: I have secret proof of weapons
Gaby Hinsliff, Nick Paton Walsh in St Petersburg and Peter Beaumont in London
Sunday June 1, 2003
Prime Minister Tony Blair last night insisted he had secret proof that weapons of mass destruction will be found in Iraq in his strongest signal yet that coalition forces believe they may have begun to uncover leads to Iraq's alleged deadly arms cache.
Stung by claims that the Government exaggerated the threat from Saddam, Blair said he was waiting to publish a 'complete picture' of both intelligence gained before the war and 'what we've actually found'.
Asked if he knew things he could not yet reveal, he said: 'I certainly do know some of the stuff that has been already accumulated as a result of interviews and others... which is not yet public, but what we are going to do is assemble that evidence and present it properly.'
His words, in an interview with Sky TV, came as Downing Street moved to halt damaging leaks over its handling of the evidence by heaping praise on the intelligence services. 'The Prime Minister hugely values the work of the intelligence agencies,' his spokesman said in St Petersburg, where heads of state were celebrating the Russian city's tercententary, yesterday.
The pointed comment followed a week of furious rows over whether the intelligence dossier on Iraq published by the Government last September was 'sexed up' to convince a sceptical public that they were in danger from Saddam.
It will fuel speculation that private assurances have been given to the intelligence community that they will not be left to carry the can over the failure to find WMD after a week of briefing against senior Blair officials by intelligence officials over the alleged ramping up of intelligence.
Labour backbenchers, increasingly convinced they were misled, are unlikely to be impressed by Blair's argument that they must trust in proof they cannot see. According to intelligence sources the new leads have been provided by Iraqi scientists and a member of the State Security Organisation who are currently being debriefed by MI6 and the CIA. This follows a week in which Government and intelligence sources appear to have changed their story on the likelihood of finding WMD on an almost daily basis.
One source claimed mid-week that British intelligence suggested Saddam had destroyed his WMD even before UN inspectors visited Iraq, a version of events that had changed by yesterday morning to the claim that chemical weapons may actually have been deployed in the field and then destroyed as American troops advanced.
Yesterday the US announced that another 1,400 experts will join the hunt for banned weapons - a signal that Washington has accepted the political significance of the issue.
In Britain it is thought that Ministers want eventually to publish a checklist of claims made before the war alongside subsequent discoveries which they believe vindicate the warnings. So far the only publicly announced discovery has been that of two trailers thought to have been part of a mobile laboratory system.
Blair said in his interview that claims that the existence of WMD was 'a great big fib got out by the security services' would be proved wrong. He said he had 'absolutely no knowledge' of an alleged meeting between the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw and his US counterpart Colin Powell, in a New York hotel to discuss concerns over whether the evidence on WMD would be strong enough. Leaked transcripts suggested Straw had warned the issue could 'explode in our faces'.
The Foreign Office insisted the two men had not met on the date given in February.
Downing Street has been hampered in its argument by repeated suggestions from the Bush administration that WMD may never be found. Paul Wolfowitz, deputy to the US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, suggested last week that WMD were a bureaucratic pretext to start a war.
Blair told Sky that WMD were the basis in law for taking military action - but 'that's not the same as saying it's a bureaucratic pretext'.
The Prime Minister was due to leave Russia early this morning for the G8 summit in Evian, France, which is expected to agree new measures to stop WMD falling into the hands of terrorists.
to be followed up
Actor pours scorn on Bush and Iraq conflict
Duncan Campbell in Los Angeles
Saturday May 31, 2003
Sean Penn has issued a damning indictment of President George Bush, the Iraq war, and the American media - in the shape of whole page advertisement in yesterday's New York Times.
In a long and reflective essay, the film actor warns that the US flag is in danger of becoming "a haunting banner of murder, greed, and treason against our principles".
Penn visited Baghdad before the war and was vilified in the US for doing so. In the ad, he pours scorn on the motives for the war, which he suggests is now mainly benefitting US business. Although the New York Times does not give details of how much has been paid for a specific ad, a member of its advertising department said yesterday that a similar "advocacy" ad would cost $125,647.
In the essay, Penn mocks President Bush's recent landing, dressed as a fighter pilot, on an aircraft carrier off California.
"He seemed quite pleased with this, his military service," writes Penn. "He likes it better now than when he was a member of the Texas national guard, when in 1972 he simply failed to show up for duty for over a year in wartime.
"I certainly wouldn't want to remind him that, were he Awol in a time of war, that would amount to treasonous desertion."
Describing the attacks on him after his Iraq visit, Penn wrote that he "experienced first hand the repressive condition of public debate in our country...I was beginning to feel the price paid by a citizen exercising a position of dissent."
In a law suit, Penn has claimed he was dropped from a film project because of his anti-war statements.
He went on: "Our flag has been waving, it seems, in servicing a regime change significantly benefitting US corporations." He takes a sideswipe at the newspaper in which his ad appears for its "unchallenging" coverage of weapons inspections: "We see chaos in the Baghdad streets but no WMDs."
And he criticises TV for showing "grateful" Iraqis "with no true acknowledgment that true poverty will bring the best of us to our knees".
He concludes: "Osama bin Laden's agenda is being furthered by our fear, promoted by the invective language of media and a congress that shamefully cowers from criticism."
He also criticises Democrats for failing to challenge President Bush: "It has been an obscene and cowardly betrayal of their constituents." He urges everyone to vote when the time comes.
Figures who have offered much milder criticism, as did the Dixie Chicks in London this year, have been subjected to death threats and boycotts.
Markets hit by dollar's fall - Recession fears grow as US launches 'weapon of mass destruction' against Europe
Tuesday May 20, 2003
Stock markets fell sharply around the world yesterday as fears that the Bush administration is deliberately driving down the value of the dollar led to a headlong flight out of the US currency and nudged the euro close to a record high.
With concern mounting that the dollar's prolonged fall risks pushing the eurozone into recession, the White House sought to reassure jittery financial markets that it had not abandoned the strong dollar policy of the past 10 years.
City analysts said, however, that weekend comments by the US treasury secretary, John Snow, had been an open invitation to sell the dollar, with a strong sense that the Bush administration was seeking to boost American business by making foreign imports dearer.
"America has launched its own weapon of mass destruction," said Nick Parsons, a currency strategist with Commerzbank. "The US solution to deflation is to export it to the rest of the world."
The greenback dropped by two cents against the single currency in early trading in Europe, rallying only slightly when the Japanese govern ment intervened heavily on the foreign exchanges in an attempt to put a halt to the yen's rise. The pound held steady against the euro at 71.45p but rose to its highest in more than three months against the dollar, at $1.6380.
Pedro Solbes, Europe's monetary affairs commissioner, put a brave face on the relentless rise of the euro, saying a strong and stable single currency would be good for the 12-nation eurozone.
With the European Central Bank coming under mounting pressure to boost growth by cutting rates next month, the bank's president, Wim Duisenberg, said he was unsure whether the eurozone would be able to reach expected growth of 1% this year after the economic stagnation in the first six months of 2003.
The trigger for yesterday's sell-off was remarks by Mr Snow at the meeting of G7 finance ministers in Deauville, France, in which he described the dollar's fall of 36% since February 2002 as "modest".
David Brown, a European economist at Bear Stearns, said: "Snow has pulled the carpet out from underneath the currency. The dollar is on a hiding to nothing, and it's going a lot lower."
At one stage in European trading yesterday, the dollar was down two cents to $1.1739 against the euro, compared to the $1.1884 reached a few days after the single currency's successful launch in January 1999. The greenback closed at just under $1.17 to the euro, but Mr Brown said he believed that it would fall to $1.25 by the end of the year, adding to the problems for the export-reliant eurozone.
Germany's DAX index of leading shares dropped by almost 5% amid concern over the impact on industry of a stronger euro. Stock markets in London and New York also suffered, despite the weakness of the pound and the dollar in recent weeks.
London's FTSE index was down 107.7 points at 3941.3, with Wall Street's Dow Jones index dropping more than 180 points by lunchtime. Dealers pointed to a resurgence in terrorism and profit-taking as other factors affecting sentiment.
John Smith, the chief investment officer at Solus Fund Managers, said: "We've got currency worries about the dollar, we've got currency worries about the strong euro and we've got uncertainty about coordinated terror attacks."
Friday May 16, 2003
One US, one market, one media mogul
The war in Iraq has sharpened fears among US media pundits that objectivity has gone out of the window in the service of a handful of media tycoons. In a recent article, the Los Angeles Times railed against the shameless editorialising on the Rupert Murdoch-owned Fox News during the conflict, denouncing the "swirling sands of spin" and criticising the "hyperventilating" anchors.
The conservative media meanwhile cling to the notion that the media are overrun by the liberal agenda. Fox on one occasion rudely dismissed the Guardian as an authoritative source. Anchor Shepard Smith later hinted that it might have an agenda for doubting the ruthless efficiency of the Pentagon.
Against this backdrop, the US is intending to relax media ownership laws further, allowing the largest media companies to deepen their presence in established markets and expand into new ones. The federal communications commission, the regulator for the US media and telecommunications industries, will vote on the measures on June 2.
The proposals have not been published but large parts have leaked to the press. They include allowing the same company to own a broadcaster and a newspaper in all but the smallest markets. Another change would increase the television ownership cap, effectively allowing a network to own stations that reach up to 45% of the viewers in the US, lifting the limit from 35%.
A third change would allow the same company to hold up to three television stations in the largest markets, from the current threshold of two.
The vote is split down party lines. The five-strong board is made up of three Republicans, including chairman Michael Powell, who are expected to vote in favour of the new regulations, and two Democrats, who are likely to vote against. Mr Powell, the son of the secretary of state, drew up the plans.
The political split suggests that the LA Times is closer to the truth than Fox in assessing who is running the US media. The relaxation of ownership rules seems certain to further stifle voices in a country, where, with the exception of New York and LA, there is scant opposition to the prevailing view handed down by the White House.
In many of the medium-sized markets, including Dallas, Seattle and Detroit, there is only one, or maybe two newspapers of note. In most cases, lacking competition, they are hardly pressed to create a stir in order to win readers. With the possibility that they could now be owned by the local broadcaster, plurality of views will be further reduced.
British websites, including Guardian Unlimited and the BBC, attracted a big increase in traffic from the US during the Iraq war as people sought an alternative voice.
The Democrats on the FCC board are seeking a month's delay to the June 2 vote, hoping to generate more debate.
The network owners have argued that they need to generate synergies by owning more stations. Viewership of the free-to-air stations is dwindling against the ever growing number of cable channels and programming costs continue to escalate.
Mr Murdoch this week described the British and Australian media as a "little bit paranoid" about his acquisition plans. There is perhaps a tendency in Britain to believe that the spectre of Mr Murdoch is sitting over every editorial decision. But a little paranoia is more welcome than the sleepwalk toward further consolidation that will leave the powerful American media in the hands of a few powerful men.