Thursday, July 15, 2004


The Butler Report - Bullet #1

The Butler Report was released yesterday, and the American media were apparently handed a talking-points memo along with their copy, so they’d know how to write the news. The Butler Report, in case you missed it, is the report of a British commission set up to determine the quality of, and possible misuse of, British intelligence.

Here’s the Voice of America’s lede on the story:1

A British investigation has found flaws in London's pre-war assessment of Iraqi's weapons threat, but the report has cleared Prime Minister Tony Blair of deceiving the nation into going to war.

But if you think the VoA is merely a government-sponsored right-wing propaganda mouthpiece and not representative of the news, let’s try some more.

Here’s CBS/AP:

In a week's time, two panels on either side of the Atlantic have concluded that intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was deeply flawed.

But as much as the findings of the reports by Lord Butler and Senate Intelligence Committee undermine the case for war, they may also weaken critics' cases against President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair.

And Reuters:

Prime Minister Tony Blair was cleared Wednesday of tricking Britain into invading Iraq but was criticized in a report for relying on deeply flawed pre-war intelligence.

NPR and the PBS NewsHour did little better. They brought in some Talking Heads to say the same thing.

So did you get the theme?

The best (I’m tempted to write “only”) coverage is to be found in the Guardian, and Jonathan Freedland’s commentary best characterizes the report

When he had finished [delivering his conclusions], Butler's audience ... wondered what to make of it all. It was confusing: some thought the headline was "Blair slammed", others said it was "Whitewash II". It might take a while to sink in that Lord Butler had done neither. He did not play the assassin. Instead he handed the PM a bulletproof vest, and the public a set of live bullets. That at least will ensure fair play - and what could be more British than that?

Indeed, the public—or rather, the media—were handed a number of live bullets,2 and they promptly stuffed them back into the box. Some of those bullets had Blair’s name on them; others, the intelligence services’.

Here’s Bullet #1 — just how "deeply flawed" was British and American intelligence with respect to Iraq from 1990 to 1998.

Butler reviews the period 1990-1998, which is the period between the First Gulf War and the point that the UN inspectors left Iraq. Referring to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM), Butler writes,

In Iraq between 1991 and 1998, in many ways they surpassed anything that national intelligence agencies could do, but since their work is carried out on behalf of the United Nations it can hardly be considered ‘intelligence’ by the definitions to which we are working. [BR 1.2(26)]
Analysis: The UN agencies charged with overseeing Iraqi compliance with the UN resolution had better information than the British intelligence services, and by implication, the American intelligence services (since the two countries share intelligence). But we’ll give the services a pass by defining the information coming from IAEA and UNSCOM as not "intelligence."

And again,

We have chosen not to comment in as much detail in this Section [which covers the period 1990-1998] on the underpinning intelligence reports or on the sources. In part, this is because many of the JIC’s judgements changed in later years as new intelligence was received. In part, it is because the most authoritative information on the status of Iraq ’s nuclear, biological, chemical and ballistic missile programmes in this period came from reports produced by [UNSCOM] and by the [IAEA] derived from their inspection activities on the ground. [BR 5.2(155)]

You can’t get it much more wrong than that, can you?

How many billions did the British and American publics spend for the garbage their intelligence services produced? We’ll never know, of course, because their budgets are secret, but conservative estimates place the number in the billions. Meanwhile, the much-maligned UN agencies charged to monitor Iraq, on an open budget, were getting the job done.3

There is so much information in the Butler Report that this post will have to be only the first in a series.

Tomorrow: The AQ Khan network


1 All boldface in all quotes is mine, unless otherwise noted. [back]

2 By the report’s own assertion, there is quite a bit of never-before-published material in it, and the media should be finding and making it known. [back]

3 Apparently, US intelligence did not much improve in the the time just prior to the Coalition invasion in 2003, and the UN inspectors knew it.

U.N. arms inspectors are privately complaining about the quality of U.S. intelligence and accusing the United States of sending them on wild-goose chases. ...

the U.S. claim that Iraq is developing missiles that could hit its neighbors – or U.S. troops in the region, or even Israel – is just one of the claims coming from Washington that inspectors here are finding increasingly unbelievable. The inspectors have become so frustrated trying to chase down unspecific or ambiguous U.S. leads that they've begun to express that anger privately in no uncertain terms.

U.N. sources have told CBS News that American tips have lead to one dead end after another.


Post a Comment

<< Simply Appalling Home

Atom feed

Weblog Commenting and Trackback by
Blogarama - The Blog Directory

Blog Search Engine

Blog Top Sites

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?