THE IRAQ WAR, PART III: Shaping the Debate

U.S. and British Documents Show Transatlantic Propaganda Cooperation

Published on The National Security Archive, Electronic Briefing Book No. 330, Joint Drafting & Editing of White Papers “Fixed the Facts”, Edited by John Prados and Christopher Ames, October 4, 2010. (For more information contact: John Prados – 202/994-7000).

Washington, D.C., October 4, 2010 – For nearly a year before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the British government of Prime Minister Tony Blair collaborated closely with the George W. Bush administration to produce a far starker picture of the threat from Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction (WMD) than was justified by intelligence at the time, according to British and American government documents posted today by the National Security Archive.  

With the aim of strengthening the political case for going to war, both governments regularly coordinated their assessments, the records show, occasionally downplaying and even eliminating points of disagreement over the available intelligence. The new materials, acquired largely through the U.K. Freedom of Information Act and often featuring less redacted versions of previously released records, also reveal that the Blair administration, far earlier than has been appreciated until now, utilized public relations specialists to help craft the formal intelligence “white papers” about Iraq’s WMD program.

At one point, even though intelligence officials were skeptical, the British went so far as to incorporate in their white paper allegations about Saddam’s nuclear ambitions because they had been made publicly by President Bush and Vice President Cheney.

The documents also show that:

  • From early 2002 both governments were seeking regime change, but Prime Minister Blair and his officials were very conscious of the need to make a case for war, based on claims about Iraqi WMDs.
  • From March 2002 – the very beginning of the process – the U.S. and U.K. administrations were concerned to achieve consistency in their claims about Iraqi weapons, often at the cost of accuracy. In the spring of 2002 the two countries began to produce in parallel the white papers on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction that they published that fall. At least two drafts of the respective white papers were exchanged from either side in order to avoid providing grist for “opponents of action.”
  • Officials working on the parallel papers took part in a number of secure video conferences to avoid inconsistencies between the documents. Both sides accelerated the drafting of their white papers in September 2002 as part of a coordinated propaganda effort.
  • Officials re-drafting the U.K.’s white paper or “dossier” in September 2002 were told to ensure that it “complemented” rather than contradicted claims in the U.S. document. A draft of the U.K. dossier was brought to Washington by intelligence chief John Scarlett for U.S. input.
  • In addition, U.K. officials examined the draft U.S. white paper closely and sought to match its claims. The U.S. paper has been described by one of its authors as intended “to strengthen the case of going to war with the American public.”
  • The U.K. white paper was amended to incorporate a number of claims about Saddam’s alleged nuclear ambitions that intelligence officials found questionable but were included because President Bush and Vice President Cheney made public reference to them, for example the allegation that Iraq could obtain a nuclear weapon within a brief one- or two-year timeframe.
  • The U.S. paper, which had omitted the same claims from an early draft, also included them after the President and Vice President’s public references to them.
  • In addition, the U.K. dossier was heavily influenced by Blair advisers and public relations experts, including Alastair Campbell, Blair’s director of communications. Its drafters were also willing to change it to fit in with public statements from British government advisers, whether or not those statements were true.

… (full long text and Documents).

Links:

THE IRAQ WAR — PART II: Was There Even a Decision? – U.S. and British Documents Give No Indication Alternatives Were Seriously Considered, October 1, 2010.

THE IRAQ WAR — PART I:  The U.S. Prepares for Conflict, 2001 – Documents Outline Policy Makers’ Aims for the Conflict and Postwar Rule of Iraq, September 22, 2010.

Comments are closed.