The Decision to go to War in Iraq


On 15th July the Chairman of the Committee, Rt Hon Donald Anderson MP, wrote to the Foreign Secretary asking him nine questions related to the Committee's inquiry into 'The Decision to go to War in Iraq' (see Press Notice 31, 15 July 2003, for further details). On 29th July, the Committee received the following response from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office:

"1. In your public oral evidence of June 27 you said that you would get to the Committee 'as quickly as possible' the answer to the question 'When did the CIA report to the British intelligence community the result of the former US ambassador's visit to Niger?' Why was this answer not provided to the Committee before it published its report rather than appearing in your letter of July 11?

We answered the question as soon as we had ensured the accuracy of the information in our reply. The FCO Memorandum submitted to the Committee and included in its report (Evidence page 74) stated that our information on Iraqi attempts to procure uranium post-dated the visit of a former US diplomat to Niger ('reported in the media'). However, the Foreign Secretary's letter of 11 July made clear that the first UK officials knew of Ambassador Wilson's visit was when it appeared in the press. (It should also be borne in mind that between 27 June and 11 July the Foreign Secretary was abroad in Iran, Afghanistan and Iraq for 4 days (30 June-3 July) with an intensive programme. On this trip he contracted a severe bout of food poisoning and was unable to resume work full time until 9 July by which time he had a large backlog.)

2. Following your oral statement in the House today, you undertook to place a copy of your answer to Andrew Mackinlay in the Library. Would you also include that answer in your reply to this letter?

[On 15th July, Mr Mackinlay asked the Foreign Secretary in the Chamber: "Will the Secretary of State put in the Library of the House in the next 24 hours the dates on which the security and intelligence services learned that the Niger documents were forged and the date on which Ministers were advised that they were forged?" Mr Straw replied: "I will do my best to comply, if not in 24 hours, then as quickly as possible." See: HC Deb 15 July 2003, col 163.]

The information is as follows: 'We first had indications that the IAEA had suspicions about the authenticity of some of the documents in late February but no confirmation of that until the IAEA gave its report to the Security Council on 7 March. Ministers were then informed.'

3. Please will you provide the Committee with a copy of the 'detailed account of Ambassador Wilson's report' that you have now seen.

This is an intelligence document. It is summarised in the Foreign Secretary's letter of 11 July.

4. What were the terms in which the CIA expressed its reservations to the British Government about the uranium from Africa element of the September 2002 dossier, and on what date or dates were those reservations expressed?

Just before the dossier was finalised, the CIA offered a comment noting that they did not regard the reference to the supply of uranium from Africa as credible. But the CIA provided no explanation for their concerns. UK officials were confident that the dossier's statement was based on reliable intelligence. A judgement was therefore made by the JIC Chairman to retain the reference.

5. Why did neither you nor your officials disclose to the Committee, in either your written or oral evidence, before the Committee published its recent report that the CIA had expressed reservations to the British Government on the uranium from Africa element in the September dossier-particularly when you were specifically asked by a member of the Committee in your public evidence on June 27 why the British Government did 'at least not put some degree of health warning' over the uranium from Africa statements in the September 2002 dossier?

British officials saw no need to put a health warning on the claim, because they were confident in the intelligence underlying it. The reference in the dossier was based on intelligence from more than one source. We had not shared this intelligence with the CIA, nor were we in a position to do so, for reasons explained during the private evidence session.

6. On receipt of the CIA's reservations, which you say in your letter were 'unsupported by explanations', about the uranium from Africa element in the September 2002 dossier, did any British official ask for an explanation of the CIA's reservations? If not, why not? If so, what was the CIA's response?

UK intelligence officials have regular exchanges with their counterparts in the CIA. We note that the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) assessment, parts of which were published on 18 July 2003, supports our view that Iraq had sought to acquire yellowcake from Africa. The relevant part of the NIE reads:

'A foreign government service reported that as of early 2001, Niger planned to send several tons of 'pure uranium' (probably yellowcake) to Iraq. As of early 2001 Niger and Iraq reportedly were still working out arrangements for this deal, which could be for up to 500 tons of yellowcake. We do not know the status of the arrangement.'

7. On what date was the CIA first informed of the contents of the September 2002 dossier, which draft or drafts were shown to the CIA, and were the CIA shown the contents of the draft dossier in its entirety?

The CIA were consulted throughout the drafting process and were passed a draft of the WMD section on 11 September.

8. What reservations and comments did the CIA express about any other elements in the September 2002 dossier in addition to its reservations about uranium from Africa?

The CIA made a number of comments. The JIC chairman incorporated or rejected them as he judged fit.

9. At the end of your letter you refer to 'The recent discovery of technical documentation and centrifuge parts-necessary for the enrichment of uranium-buried at the home of an Iraqi nuclear scientist in Baghdad.' Is it correct, as has been reported in the Independent of 15 July, that these centrifuge parts were buried some 12 years ago? If so, why was this not disclosed in your letter to the Committee?

It is well known that the documents and components hidden by the Iraqi nuclear scientist, Ubaidi, had been hidden for 12 years. The Foreign Secretary referred to this in his statement in the House on 15 July. The key point is not when the documents and components were hidden, but when they were discovered - i.e. in June 2003, over 12 years after they should have been surrendered to UN inspectors. As reported by CNN, Ubaidi has said that he was ordered to hide these things 'so as to be able to rebuild the bomb programme at some time in the future'. The discovery was significant both in terms of Iraq retaining components for a nuclear programme, and as an example of successful concealment from UN inspectors."

Copies of the Committee's Report may be obtained from the Parliamentary Bookshop (12 Bridge St, Westminster, SW1A 2JX, Tel 020 7219 3890) or The Stationery Office (Parliamentary Hotline 0845 7023 474). The Report is also on the Committee's website.