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Chilcot - dipping a toe in

A sceptical look at the evidence given to the British government's Chilcot Inquiry into the 2003 Iraq war by Richard Dearlove, head of MI6 at the time. Dearlove sticks to his WMD story but it has a big hole in it....

In the run-up to the publication of the Chilcot Report into the Iraq war, I've been thinking I might try to read all the evidence given during the inquiry. There's quite a lot of it up on the inquiry website. For no particular reason, I started with the evidence given in a private session by Richard Dearlove, who was head of the secret intelligence service (better known as MI6) at the time.

The transcript of Dearlove's first round of testimoney is hilarious in terms of the massive amount of redaction going on. I counted 19 pages which are completely redacted, there is not a single declassified word on them, just the names of the people who said the things that we're not allowed to read. There are quite a few pages which are pretty much completely redacted, except that we are allowed to see that someone said 'Let's take a break' or 'Let's have another line of questioning' (which we're not allowed to know about).

Dearlove is still insisting, in 2010, that Iraq had WMD. I think this is the main reason he showed up to the Inquiry; he wants to prove that he was right. He says, in this first bit of testimony:

I'm absolutely of the view, and I think I can make a pretty convincing case, that Iraq had weaponised VX, and that that material has never been found. Had even we found one artillery rocket delivery system with VX, what we are talking about might be viewed very differently, and I think that the intelligence on VX, if you actually put it together - and no one has done this - is very compelling. (p58)

VX is the most deadly nerve agent ever invented (it was invented in Britain at Porton Down in the 1950s). It is odorless and tasteless and its only known use is chemical warfare.

Dearlove is angry about the way that what he sees as the VX 'evidence' has been deleted from history:

... one of the things I hope that comes out from this Inquiry is that actually you will look at these issues, because actually they have been glossed over, and I'm pretty fed up with them being glossed over, because there has been an approach, a sort of selective approach to material, which is driven by people's prejudices. It's not driven by a clear objective look at the facts.

Why did Iraq, on 20 November, order large quantities of VX antidote? There's documented intelligence which is not in doubt. (p58-59)

The problem with this 'evidence' is that Dearlove himself says that the levels of understanding within the regime varied wildly:

I think one of the problems with Iraq - you know, now I make a generic comment - is that there was no source inside the regime that could have told us authoritatively that they didn't have WMD, because I'm pretty sure that the regime itself believed that it did have WMD. So, you know, you have a chaotic situation inside a dictatorship, with different levels of knowledge, and we didn't have any sources saying there's no WMD. (p83)

So ordering VX antidote isn't evidence that the regime definitely did possess VX (and needed the antidote in order to be able to use it safely in chemical warfare).

Ordering VX antidote (if this really happened) is evidence that someone in the top leadership believed that the regime possessed usable VX weapons, or that someone in the top leadership wanted the rest of the regime to believe that it had VX to use against the US-UK invasion.

Immediately after the evidence just cited, Usha Prashar, deputy chair of the British Council and a member of the inquiry, put a sensible question that got near to this point:

BARONESS USHA PRASHAR: But if we knew that, if that was our assessment of them, why weren't we more sceptical? Why did we continue to -

SIR RICHARD DEARLOVE: I don't think - I don't have an answer to that particular question. What I'm saying is he always behaved in a way which was provocative, belligerent....

Very interesting that Dearlove doesn't have an answer.

We don't know if Prashar got closer to the heart of the matter because the next two questions she asks, and the answers Dearlove gives, are redacted. 

Dearlove asked for a second opportunity to give evidence, where he could go into the VX evidence more. Haven't read this yet.

Milan Rai is editor of Peace News, and the author of War Plan Iraq and Regime Unchanged.