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Blair Acknowledges Flaws in Iraq Dossier
Britain Took Some Material That Powell Cited at U.N. From 12-Year-Old Academic Papers
By Glenn Frankel
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, February 8, 2003; Page A15
LONDON, Feb. 7 -- Prime Minister Tony Blair's official spokesman today conceded that his office copied material from three academic papers into special intelligence dossier on Iraq that was released to the public this week. The spokesman said the information was used without attribution but insisted it was accurate.
Critics of the government began attacking the dossier's credibility after British television news reported that sections of something the government had presented as a compendium of its own material, including sensitive spy data, were actually taken from publicly available academic papers.
The dossier was cited and praised by U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell during his presentation on Iraq to the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday. "It's embarrassing for the prime minister and for poor old Colin Powell," said Charles Heyman, editor of Jane's World Armies. The controversy has compounded Blair's difficulties in rallying a skeptical British public behind his strong support for the United States and possible military action in Iraq. While no opinion polls have yet been reported, editorials and politicians outside Blair's circle have generally discounted Powell's U.N. address and a public relations campaign that Blair mounted this week.
The incident also opened a rare window on what seems to be a dispute about Iraq between the prime minister's office and British intelligence services. The spy agencies have been much more cautious than Blair in their assessment of Iraq's development of weapons of mass destruction and links with the al Qaeda terror network.
The dossier "was clearly prepared by someone in Downing Street and it's obviously part of the prime minister's propaganda campaign," said Heyman. "The intelligence services were not involved -- I've had two people phoning me today to say, 'Look, we had nothing to with it.'"
The 19-page dossier, entitled "Iraq -- Its Infrastructure of Concealment, Deception and Intimidation," was based on "a number of sources, including intelligence material," its introduction says. The report makes a detailed case that Iraq has tried to conceal its weapons programs from U.N. inspectors. The report also charts the structure of Iraq's major intelligence organizations.
It used, without credit, excerpts from a 12-year-old paper on the buildup to the 1991 Persian Gulf War written by California graduate student Ibrahim Marashi and published in the Middle East Review of International Affairs. The dossier even repeated the paper's typographical errors.
Other sections were copied from Jane's Intelligence Review, and from an article last fall by Cambridge University lecturer Glen Rangwala in the Middle East Review of International Affairs. Rangwala told the Reuters news agency he calculated that 11 of the dossier's 19 pages were "taken wholesale from academic papers."
A Downing Street spokesman who briefed reporters today, and who insisted on anonymity, said the dossier's purpose was to "show people not only the kind of regime we were dealing with but also how Saddam Hussein had pursued a policy of deliberate deception."
The spokesman said the first and third sections of the document were based largely on intelligence material, while the second was based in part on Marashi's work, "which, in retrospect, we should have acknowledged."
"The fact that we had used some of his work did not throw into question the accuracy of the document as a whole," the spokesman said. He did not discuss the other two articles.
"This is the intelligence equivalent of being caught stealing the spoons," Menzies Campbell, a member of Parliament, told the BBC today. He is foreign affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrat Party. "The dossier may not amount to much, but this is a considerable embarrassment for a government trying still to make a case for war."
In another apparent example of feuding between Downing Street and the British intelligence world, sources in the Defense Ministry earlier this week leaked to the BBC a classified assessment by a British intelligence agency that there were no current links between Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's government and al Qaeda. The report appeared to contradict Blair's claims that Baghdad was giving shelter to al Qaeda operatives.
Speaking with a BBC interviewer Thursday evening, Blair acknowledged the defense intelligence report's conclusion that Iraq, a secular Arab nationalist state, and al Qaeda, an Islamic fundamentalist movement, were not linked.
© 2003 The Washington Post Company