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Transcript of Susan Watts' reports
Here are the transcripts for reports by Susan Watts, on Newsnight, from 2 June and 4 June 2003.

Susan Watts, Newsnight, 2 June 2003

We've spoken to a senior official intimately involved with the process of pulling together the original September 2002 Blair weapons dossier

Susan Watts: Over the weekend the storm over the missing weapons of mass destruction focused down on one key point: was the British public duped over the urgency of dealing with Iraq's banned weapons.

The government's claim that Saddam could mobilise these within 45 minutes is already looking shaky.

But on the Today programme this morning, the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, suggested it had never been a key part of the argument.

Jack Straw: 'If you look at, for example, the key speech that the prime minister made on the 18 March before the House of Commons, from my quick re-reading of it this morning, I can, for example, find no reference to this now famous 45 minutes.'

Susan Watts: But the reference to 45 minutes was there in the prime minister's speech to the Commons on the day he published his famous weapons dossier.

Tony Blair: 'It concludes that Iraq has chemical and biological weapons, that Saddam has continued to produce them, that he has existing and active military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons which could be activated within 45 minutes including against his own Shia population.'

Susan Watts: And it features in the dossier itself four times; notably in the prime minister's foreword and the executive summary.

Today at the G8 Summit in Evian, Tony Blair once again found himself in rebuttal mode.

Tony Blair: 'The idea that we doctored such intelligence is completely and totally false. Every single piece of intelligence that we presented was cleared very properly by the joint intelligence committee.'

Susan Watts: It's a surprising claim to make given that it encompasses the other so called dodgy dossier, part of which was plagiarised and in any case today, Tony Blair appeared irritated that the weapons issue won't go away.

Tony Blair: 'I think it is important that if people actually have evidence, they produce it. But it is wrong frankly for people to make allegations on the basis of so called anonymous sources when the facts are precisely the facts that we stated.'

Susan Watts: But in some cases anonymous sources could be the only way to gain an insight into the intelligence world.

We've spoken to a senior official intimately involved with the process of pulling together the original September 2002 Blair weapons dossier.

We cannot name this person because their livelihood depends on anonymity.

Our source made clear that in the run-up to publishing the dossier, the government was obsessed with finding intelligence on immediate Iraqi threats and the government's insistence the Iraqi threat was imminent was a Downing Street interpretation of intelligence conclusions.

His point is that while the intelligence community was agreed on the potential Iraqi threat in the future, there was less agreement about the threat the Iraqis posed at that moment.

Our source said: 'That was a real concern - not so much what they had now, but what they would have in the future. But that unfortunately was not expressed strong in the dossier, because that takes the case away for war - to a certain extent. But in the end it was just a flurry of activity and was very difficult to get comments in because people at the top of the ladder didn't want to hear some of the things.'

Susan Watts: Our source talks of a febrile atmosphere in the days of diplomacy leading to the big Commons debate of September last year. Of the government seizing on anything useful to the case, including the possible existence of weapons that could be ready within 45 minutes.

Unnamed source: 'There was a statement that was made and it just got out of all proportion. They were desperate for information, they were pushing hard for information which could be released.

'That was one that popped up and it was seized on and it's unfortunate that it was. That's why there is the argument between the intelligence services and Cabinet Office/ Number 10 - because they picked up on it and once they'd picked up on it, you can't pull it back from them.'

Susan Watts: And again specifically on the 45 minute point:

Unnamed source: 'It was an interesting week before the dossier was put out because there were so many people saying, "well I'm not so sure about that", or in fact they were happy with it being in, but not expressed the way that it was, because the word-smithing is actually quite important.

'The intelligence community are a pretty cautious lot on the whole, but once you get people presenting it for public consumption then of course they use different words.'

Susan Watts: The problem is that the 45 minutes point was not corroborated. For sceptics it highlights the dangers of relying too heavily on information from defectors. Journalists in America are being accused of running propaganda from the Iraq national congress.

Ray McGovern: 'All these folks have their own personal agendas, all of them have axes to grind. The most unreliable source are sources that come out of the émigré or defector circles. The more so when you're talking about a fellow like Chalabi. Chalabi has been out of Iraq since the Brooklyn Dodgers have been out of New York City and that's a long time indeed.'

Susan Watts: Back in February Colin Powell talked of the existence of mobile weapons labs. Material from defectors is behind the confident insistence by politicians on both sides of the Atlantic that they've now found them.

But our source, who is in an excellent position to know, and spoke of being 90% confident these claims are correct on the day the Pentagon showed the trucks to the world, now put that confidence level at just 40%.

A CIA report last week says the Iraqis claim the trucks were used to produce hydrogen for military weather balloons.

But with the war over does all this really matter. Perhaps intelligence service concern about a future threat from weapons of mass destruction was enough to justify military action. But the government's critics say that wasn't the basis on which the British public or MPs were sold the case for war.

Malcolm Savidge MP: This is extremely grave. Politicians, who we have to take seriously, have made allegations that Parliament and the people were led to war on false grounds. That is a more serious allegation than anything we've faced in recent times. Effectively, if it were true, it could be the prime minister's Watergate.

Susan Watts: Of course overwhelmingly convincing evidence of weapons may turn up tomorrow. And former inspectors say documents still being read may be key. But until something compelling is produced, the pressure looks unlikely to let up. As for the promised new dossier on weapons evidence, the question will be - is there sufficient trust in our government remaining for the public and MPs to believe whatever it might say?

Susan Watts, Newsnight, 4 June 2003

Susan Watts: The row over intelligence information and how coalition governments used it in the build-up to war reverberated around the capitals today.

A senior Australian intelligence officer who resigned over his country's involvement in the war with Iraq kept up the barrage of highly damaging assertions.

Unnamed Australian: 'I feel that all three governments in Washington, in London, in Canberra, in all cases were dishonest when selling the Iraq problem to their people and trying to persuade them to go to the war. Yes, they were dishonest - some people would call that lying.'

Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern: 'I sympathise with your professional intelligence experts because I know a lot of them and I know the degree of care and professionalism they bring to the task. And to see them watch their product being prostituted really to higher purpose is something that is almost - there's nothing more painful for an intelligence professional to watch.'

Susan Watts: The questions for any inquiry are piling up. First, how sound was the government's assertion that Saddam could launch banned weapons at 45 minutes' notice?

The issue dominated today's debate. Tony Blair flatly denied that the 45 minute claim had unsettled the intelligence services.

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair: 'The claim that - the claim about 45 minutes provoked disquiet amongst the intelligence community who disagreed with its inclusion in the dossier. Again this is something I've discussed again with the chairman of the joint intelligence committee. That allegation also is completely and totally untrue.'

Susan Watts: But a source we've spoken to, a senior official intimately involved with the process of pulling together the original weapons dossier in which the claim was made, told us that he and others felt considerable discomfort over it.

Unnamed source: 'I was uneasy with it. My problem was I could give other explanations, which I've indicated to you, that it was the time to erect something like a Scud missile or it's the time to full a multi-barrel rocket launcher. All sorts of reasons why 45 minutes might well be important.'

Susan Watts: In other words he's saying that Saddam might have rocket hardware that takes 45 minutes to assemble but not necessarily the weapons of mass destruction to which Tony Blair referred in his weapons dossier, when he said of Saddam: 'The document discloses that his military planning allows for some of the WMD to be ready within 45 minutes of an order to use them.'

The prime minister appeared to want to shift the focus of the argument, moving away from how the 45 minute claim was used to who put it in the weapons dossier.

Tony Blair: '...including the judgement about the so-called 45 minutes was a judgement made by the Joint Intelligence Committee and by them alone.'

Susan Watts: Our source was not disputing that the 45 minute assessment was included in the dossier by the intelligence services, although he did say he felt that to have been a mistake.

His point was that the emphasis placed on that element of the intelligence in the foreword to the dossier went too far. He felt this emphasis turned the possible capability into an imminent threat and a critical part of the government's case for war.

Our source cannot be described as a rogue element. On the contrary, he is exceptionally well placed to judge the prevailing mood as the dossier of September last year was put together.

Ray McGovern: 'It's fair to describe these folks as rogue elements only if you are part of a government that has a lot of defensiveness and a lot of need to dismiss such allegations as being untrue.

'You are not a rogue element if you have a devotion toward truth that transcends this or that regulation.'

Susan Watts: The government deny today that the 45 minute claim originated from an Iraqi defector whose credibility some might doubt but instead from a reliable source trusted over many years. Nevertheless its inclusion was unusual since a minister has conceded the information came from a single source.

Unnamed Australian: 'I don't think it should have been included at all. One of the worrying things about this whole Iraq mess is the way the intelligence process has been allowed to break down. Intelligence officers would never rely on a single report as evidence of such an important point.'

Susan Watts: So is the intelligence information itself sound? Tony Blair was also asked about the conclusion by nuclear inspectors that forged documents were behind claims included in the same September dossier that Saddam was trying to obtain uranium from Niger for a revived nuclear programme. The prime minister said he was not able to say if this was accurate or not.

Ray McGovern: 'What I would suggest is that Mr Blair needs to talk with Secretary Powell and find out why it is that Secretary Powell has conceded that that was a forgery.'

Susan Watts: Can we rely on the government's dossiers? It's not as if the British Government's record is clean when it comes to embellishment.

A Cambridge academic uncovered that a second dossier published in January, shared 10 of its 19 pages with an article written by a lecturer in Middle East studies in California.

But where the original talked of the Iraqi intelligence service aiding opposition groups in hostile regimes, the British document translated that to supporting terrorist organisations in hostile regimes.

Unnamed Australian: 'There was no doubt that Iraq was pursuing some sort of WMD programme - that's what all the intelligence agencies were asserting I agreed with it at the time.

'The issue here is one of degree. The fact that in all three countries, the intelligence agencies were coming up with reasonably measured assessments. But in all three countries it was the governments that were taking those measured assessments and exaggerating them to quite a substantial degree.

Susan Watts: The prime minister said the real hunt for weapons begins today with the Iraq survey group. The question now is, can this team, which includes former inspectors, succeed where the coalition forces have so far failed?


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