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EDITIONS
Thursday, 26 June, 2003, 17:41 GMT 18:41 UK
Alastair Campbell
Alastair Campbell
Admittedly, it wasn't Perry Mason, or even Rumpole of the Bailey, but the Prime Minister's propaganda chief, Alastair Campbell survived his interrogation this afternoon intact.

The so-called dodgy dossier of intelligence which Jack Straw called a horlicks was more a storm in a teacup, he said. It wasn't really an intelligence dossier at all, he claimed, and as for titivating the previous assesssment, that was all a lie by the BBC.

Jeremy Paxman discussed whether the government spin machine had really spun itself out of trouble with Labour MP Dr Tony Wright, Dr Glen Rangwala of Cambridge University and Phil Woolas MP, Deputy Leader of the House of Commons.


JEREMY PAXMAN:
We're joined by Dr Glen Rangwala, the person who originally identified how much of the 'dodgy dossier' was lifted from elsewhere and by Tony Wright MP. Dr Glen Rangwala, were your persuaded by what Alastair Campbell had to say?

DR GLEN RANGWALA:
(CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY)

There were a number of questions that remain unanswered. There were a number of things he did clear up, he identified people who were behind the production of the February dossier. That was helpful in understanding how this thing came into being. What he didn't do was accurately identify the mechanism by which it was created. What was the motivation behind the establishment of this dossier?

PAXMAN:
He said it had gone into the Foreign Office and emerged after which everyone thought it was an official document?

DR GLEN RANGWALA:
This is where the problem comes into being. He says on the one hand that experts within the CIC, modified the language on the basis of their expertise so he claims the experts within the CIC tweaked specific phrases so they changed how in the original article it said Iraqi sponsoring opposition groups to change it to say how Iraq sponsored terrorist groups. It's difficult to see how anybody with knowledge of the region could not know what the original article was about. It was about specific groups that Iraq was sponsoring within Syria.

PAXMAN:
To you, as somebody who does know about this region, it jumped out at you straight away that the thing was a straight lift?

DR GLEN RANGWALA:
Straight away, and any expert who did know the situation in Iraq would have known that.

PAXMAN:
Tony Wright, were your persuaded by him?

TONY WRIGHT:
So we don't get lost in the fog here, textual analysis and all that, the big question still, and it is Glen's question, which is did the intelligence assessments support the case for war at that time? That was the issue we all had to come to a view on. The issue that has become the last few days' issue, has been did Alastair Campbell mess about with intelligence information, to doctor the case? I think that case today has fallen away.

PAXMAN:
Which case?

TONY WRIGHT:
The case against Campbell.

PAXMAN:
He convinced you, did he, that he hadn't messed around with any intelligence?

TONY WRIGHT:
I think he would not make the assertion that he made today unless he knew, absolutely, it would stand up. If he knew that there was any smoking gun, any dossier, any bit of information, he knows that he's dead in the water. That particular allegation has fallen away. The big arguments remain about the intelligence background to the war.

PAXMAN:
The assumption appeared to be in what he was saying about how this lifted, plagiarised, piece of research came to be published, was that there was somehow a slightly changing body of intelligence, and as the intelligence changed so that plagiarised document could be rewritten. Did that make sense to you?

TONY WRIGHT:
He was saying there was a process going on. Many people were involved in it. We were taking information from all over the place, we were putting it together. That raises questions about quality control, at the very least. We're entitled to know that information that is produced to substantiate a case for war has gone through a proper quality control mechanism. Alastair Campbell today said that he acknowledges there were deficiencies, and it has now been corrected. But of course, the war has already happened.

DR GLEN RANGWALA:
There is the wider problem as well that concerns the ongoing nature of the intelligence assessment that was made of Iraq's weapons. Alastair Campbell didn't explain today why subsequent information to the September dossier wasn't released to the public, so we had Clare Short telling the committee earlier last week in that her assessment, that she obtained from MI6, there was a low risk by Iraq of the use of chemical and biological weapons in conflict. That information wasn't released to the public. One must ask why wasn't that information released, when it surely would have had a role in our own assessment of the likelihood of Iraq's use of chemical or biological weapons. It also would have served to reassure service personnel and their families, if they had known that there was a low risk of use of chemical and biological weapons.

TONY WRIGHT:
This is the big question. The question is, did the intelligence assessment sustain the case for war, even if that war did not win the backing of the United Nations? That is a big test to set yourself. Then the secondary big question is, because of the difficulties around that, was it the policy decision to go to war that was driving the way the intelligence material was being presented, or was it the intelligence material that was directing the policy. That's the issue, I think.

PAXMAN:
It is critical, that, because of the importance these documents had in persuading people who were undecided on way or another that they should support the Government in going to war.

TONY WRIGHT:
Yes, and the Prime Minister was absolutely, in his own terms, honest about the arguments. He didn't make a link to terrorism, at least not of any kind that mattered. He didn't say it was to liberate the Iraqi people, although this would be a happy by-product of the war. He said it was entirely about the intelligence assessment that amounted to the danger from Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. If that obviously falls away, then the big arguments open up again.

PAXMAN:
Do you think, Glen Rangwala, that this is ever going to be laid to rest without the discovery of some weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?

DR GLEN RANGWALA:
The crucial issue, as Tony mentioned, was the allegation that there are substantial amounts of weapons in Iraq which do pose a threat to regional security in the Middle East. If there is no find of weapons in Iraq, and no find of any substantial programme that was going on of the sort that Tony Blair discussed in his September dossier and subsequently, then clearly, there is a substantial problem there, which does reflect a deficiency on the Government's part.

PAXMAN:
Thank you both very much. We're joined now by Phil Woolas, who's deputy leader of the House of Commons. There is an obvious way to settle, firstly, this question of whether Alastair Campbell did, in the notorious phrase, "sex up" the original document, which is to produce that assessment upon which it was based?

PHIL WOOLAS MP:
(Deputy Leader, House of Commons)

Nobody is now claiming that the document was sexed up.

PAXMAN:
What do you mean, nobody's claiming it?

PHIL WOOLAS:
Who is claiming that? Relating to the first document┐

PAXMAN:
The BBC stood by its report.

PHIL WOOLAS:
It was reported by your correspondent, on the basis of one source, which is contrary to my understanding of BBC guidelines, yet all of the people...

PAXMAN:
Deep throat was one source?

PHIL WOOLAS:
That doesn't mean it's true, does it Jeremy? What you're saying here, what is coming across to the public, is that the word of the members of the Committee, of the heads of the Intelligence Services, of the permanent secretary, of the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary are not true, and that the world of one source through a BBC correspondent is true. There is no evidence that that first dossier was sexed up. Second, on the second dossier, nobody in all of this, and we have had that confirmed from both of your guests, have said that the content of the dossier is untrue. Alastair Campbell explained that there was a mistake, they did not attribute the source of some of the documents, but nobody has said it is not true. The Government had to take a decision on whether or not they felt that the intelligence sources represented a serious threat to the region, and to this country's interests.

PAXMAN:
You think there is no different, to take the case of the second dossier, between the original phrase in the plagiarised document about opposition groups, and the phrase as it appeared in the Government published document, which had been transformed to terrorist groups?

PHIL WOOLAS:
We've heard from your own expert, very interestingly, the evidence that there are links with terrorist groups. I remember before the vote in the House of Commons...

PAXMAN:
You can't play this game. You refuse to discuss with these people, now you are quoting them, in fact you are misquoting them. Can you explain please?

DR GLEN RANGWALA:
The allegation in the original article was about Iraq's sponsorship of an opposition group in Syria. Nobody claims that is a terrorist group.

PHIL WOOLAS:
Are we saying that the document was untrue? No we are not. That is not the assessment.

PAXMAN:
He is the expert who spotted it was plagiarised.

PHIL WOOLAS:
Governments have many experts, the head of Intelligence Services, one of whom sits on the CIC committee, as Alastair Campbell explained, have said otherwise. The politicians can't pick and choose who we choose to believe and who we don't. We have official experts from the Intelligence Services. If evidence existed that the Prime Minister had ignored that evidence and that advice, then you would have a real cause for concern. But we can't take decisions in Government on who said what to whom, when, you have to take the analysis of the paid experts. With all due respect to everybody else in the debate, nobody has said that the dossier was untrue.

PAXMAN:
Hang on a second, the Foreign Secretary says that it was a Horlicks, Alastair Campbell said it would be better if it had not been published. You're now standing by it are you?

PHIL WOOLAS:
Jack straw said that the process after the dossier had been produced was a Horlicks. Nobody in this debate has said that the dossier was untrue. I read that dossier in the House of Commons library, and it sent a chill up my spine. The Government has to take decisions. It's no good saying, as Clare Short said to the committee, there was a "low risk." There was a real risk that these weapons would be used. We have to take decisions on that basis. This is about the process, and again, the BBC being obsessed with media, we have to look at the content of it.

PAXMAN:
To be clear, you are saying that everything in the so-called "dodgy dossier" was true?

PHIL WOOLAS:
What I'm saying, Jeremy, is that this debate today is about the process of how that dossier came about. Alastair Campbell has apologised for the mistake that was made. The Foreign Affairs Committee is looking at the content.

PAXMAN:
The process matters because it's about the use of which intelligence is put in the manipulation of public opinion. That's why process matters.

PHIL WOOLAS:
The dossier that was published in September was cleared by the Joint Intelligence Committee.

PAXMAN:
We are talking about the second document.

PHIL WOOLAS:
That was reported by the media as being an attempt by Alastair Campbell to manipulate intelligence information. We now know that that's not true.

PAXMAN:
We know he says it's not true.

PHIL WOOLAS:
Then one has to form a judgement.

PAXMAN:
Do you we believe Alastair Campbell or do we believe the reporter?

PHIL WOOLAS:
And the head of MI5, MI6 and the permanent secretary of the Foreign Office.

PAXMAN:
When they come on the record and state that, that is fine.

PHIL WOOLAS:
One correspondent on one source is true, and we are not to believe it? Democracy collapses if you go on that basis.

PAXMAN:
It obviously collapses if we don't believe Alastair Campbell.

PHIL WOOLAS:
Alastair Campbell has come before a Committee.

PAXMAN:
But we are not discussing that first document? It's your claim...

PHIL WOOLAS:
We're not discussing the first document. You are dropping it now?

PAXMAN:
I am not dropping that at all. I am trying to point out what the original question was, to which you were referring and to which you were standing over everything as being absolutely true was actually relating to the second dossier?

PHIL WOOLAS:
So the allegations on the first document, is now dropped is it?

PAXMAN:
No, I am not dropping anything about it. I don't know. I didn't speak to the source. You didn't speak to the source and I suggest to you that until Alastair Campbell speaks to the source we shall not know whether the source believes what he was saying.

PHIL WOOLAS:
I'm sure the source does believe what he was saying.

PAXMAN:
The point is about the second dossier: you are saying it's your firm conviction that everything in the second dossier is true?

PHIL WOOLAS:
Yes, and the debate today is not about the content of the dossier. Quite seriously the introduction to the dossier says this is based on intelligence material and other material.

PAXMAN:
And the Prime Minister stood up in the House of Commons and described it as an intelligence assessment?

PHIL WOOLAS:
It was an intelligence assesment.

PAXMAN:
It was not. It was ripped off from PhD thesis.

PHIL WOOLAS:
What's wrong┐.it wasn't actually from a PhD thesis, it was from a student doing a PhD thesis. But if it was a PhD thesis, does that mean it was untrue?

PAXMAN:
I have no idea but it does mean that it wasn't an intelligence assessment.

PHIL WOOLAS:
No it doesn't. It means it wasn't an intelligence assessment by the JIC.

PAXMAN:
Do you mean that any Tom, Dick or Harry can produce an intelligence assessment?

PHIL WOOLAS:
The important point from my point of view as a member of parliament and a member of the Government is whether it is true. Nobody in this debate has said, the Foreign Affairs Committee has not said that the information that that PHD student's article is true or untrue.

PAXMAN:
We will have to resume when this Committee reports.

This transcript was produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Jeremy Paxman
discussed whether the government spin machine really has spun itself out of trouble.
Links to more Archive stories are at the foot of the page.


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