Uranium and the Scarlett Dossier
By Dennis Hans
Suppose you wrote what you claim to be the "definitive biography"
of George Washington. In the Introduction you say that it
is your "judgment" that George Washington chopped down the
cherry tree. Early in Chapter 3, however, you say you "know"
he chopped down the cherry tree. Later in Chapter 3, you say
meekly that "there is intelligence" he chopped down the cherry
tree. And to top that, you release the first draft of the
biography, where you wrote that you "know" Washington not
only chopped down the cherry tree but sold it to a house builder.
You don't "suspect" it. You didn't "hear rumors" to that effect.
You "know" it. Yet you say nothing of the sale in the final
It would be clear to competent historians that you had not
written a "definitive biography," and that you don't know
what "know" means. You would be a laughingstock.
That verdict should apply to the British officials who wrote
or signed off on the September 24 dossier, "Iraq's Weapons
of Mass Destruction" - particularly those portions that deal
with the alleged pursuit of African uranium.
The principal author is John Scarlett, chairman of the Joint
Intelligence Committee (JIC). But he had considerable help
from his intelligence colleagues as well as officials of the
Blair administration, though communications director Alastair
Campbell insists that this was "presentational" advice and
not pressure to "sex up" the dossier, as some have alleged.
Drafts dated September 10/11 and 16, along with the published
dossier, are now available in PDF format at the Hutton
Inquiry website. A comparison of the drafts' shifting
accounts of Iraq's alleged pursuit of African uranium shows
why so many Brits no longer trust their prime minister or
their intelligence services.
The September 10/11 Draft
In the first draft, dated September 10/11, "SECTION 6" "sets
out what we know of Saddam's chemical, biological, nuclear
and ballistic missile programmes, drawing on all the available
evidence." The third bullet in the list of "main conclusions"
about "what we know" states that "Uranium to be used in the
production of suitable fissile material has been purchased
from Africa" (p. 29). That is not a reference to purchases
from Niger in 1982 of uranium that was sealed by the IAEA
in the 1990s and monitored by that body. The context as well
as the verb tense makes it quite clear that this concerns
alleged Iraqi efforts of 1999-2000.
So the Brits not only "know" that Iraq has been seeking
uranium, they know it made a purchase. On p. 29, that is.
Over on p. 37, in the same section, we learn "there is compelling
evidence that Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities
of uranium from Africa."
So the Brits no longer know if anything was purchased, and
they're not even certain Iraq made an attempt. There is only
"compelling evidence" - not knowable proof - that Iraq sought,
not bought, uranium.
JIC chairman Scarlett appears confused. Let's turn to p.
6 of his "Executive Summary" to clear the air. Here a more
cautious Scarlett is not talking about what the JIC "knows"
but merely what "Recent intelligence" "indicates": Iraq "has
purchased large quantities of uranium ore, despite having
no civil nuclear programme that would require it."
So there was a purchase after all - but only if what recent
intelligence "indicates" did, in fact, transpire. The JIC
no longer "knows" that a deal was consumated - unless, that
is, Scarlett penned the cautious Executive Summary first,
and that genuine proof reached the JIC later, when Scarlett
was working on p. 29, allowing him to confidentally assert
that uranium "has been purchased." In the highly unlikely
event that that is what happened, Scarlett apparently forgot
to fix pp. 6 and 37, so it would be in accord with what was
If you're wondering what Britain's spymasters are basing
these conflicting claims on, the likely answer is garbage
spoonfed them by Italian intelligence. No, not the forged
documents. Rather, written and/or oral summaries of the claims
made by the source who allegedly passed the forgeries to the
Italians in late 2001. This, I strongly suggest (I sure as
heck don't "know" for an absolute fact), is the "secret" intelligence
the Brits refuse to divulge. (For discussion, see my essay
Mia, What a Con!" here.)
The September 16 Draft
Turning to the September 16 draft, we first notice that
the "Executive Summary" pages are missing. That's because
the Blair government, as of August 25, has declined to turn
them over to the Hutton Inquiry. But the rest of the draft
is available, and Scarlett returns to the important topic
of what British intelligence "knows."
In "CHAPTER 3: THE CURRENT POSITION: 1998-2002," uranium
has been promoted to a bullet under Point 1, which tells us
"what we now know" about Saddam's WMD programmes: "Uranium
has been sought from Africa. . . ." (p. 15).
Lo and behold, we learn on p. 25 of the same chapter that
Scarlett isn't quite certain, as he repeats the September
10/11 line that "there is compelling evidence that Iraq has
sought the supply." That is, the Brits don't "know," but they
have reason to believe.
This time we can't turn to the Executive Summary to break
the tie, as the government is withholding it.
The September 24 Dossier
Turning to the published dossier, dated September 24 (available
in non-PDF format here),
we see some carryover from the previous draft. Thus, Chapter
3 tells us "what we know" about the WMD programmes, with a
list of nine "main conclusions." The fourth repeats that "Uranium
has been sought from Africa. . . ."
The most obvious flaw in the list of "what we know" is that
it presents as established fact statements the Brits may suspect
are true, but certainly don't "know." Properly interpreted,
the list is evidence not of Iraq's capabilities, actions and
intentions, but of a JIC policy of saying "we know" when the
JIC doesn't know, so as to lend undeserved credibility to
Later in Chapter 3, the "compelling evidence" of September
16 has been downgraded. Not only is the evidence not "compelling,"
it's not even "evidence"! The statement now reads, "But there
is intelligence that Iraq has sought the supply of significant
quantities of uranium from Africa."
Moving to the Executive Summary, Point 6 begins, "As a result
of the intelligence we judge" that, among other things, Iraq
has "sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa,
despite having no active civil nuclear power programme that
could require it."
To be fair to Scarlett, when he wrote "we judge," he was
not saying "we know." What does it mean that "we judge"? Does
it mean that no one on the JIC knows Iraq recently sought
African uranium, but that a majority think Iraq did?
So, for example, if there are 11 members of the JIC, the vote
could have been zero for "know," six for "think so," and five
for "doubt it." The Hutton Inquiry needs to establish exactly
what is meant by that particular "judgement" in the Executive
In any event, the published dossier, carefully reviewed
by the best and brightest of the British intelligence and
the Blair administration's communications staff, presents
three different interpretations: a "judgment" in the Executive
Summary, a statement of fact in Chapter 3, and a vague "there
is intelligence" claim in Chapter 3. Take your pick.
But before you pick, remember that the folks primarily responsible
for the dossier, Scarlett and the JIC, claimed to know for
a fact two weeks before the publication of the dossier that
Iraq had recently purchased uranium in Africa.
Blair's September 24 Speech
You can guess which interpretation Blair picked for his
to Parliament on the day the dossier was published.
Blair boldly declared, "we now know the following." He then
laid out a list of everything "Saddam has bought or attempted
to buy" that could be used in a uranium enrichment program.
"In addition, we know Saddam has been trying to buy significant
quantities of uranium from Africa, though we do not know whether
he has been successful."
Notice how Blair lends credibility to his assertions of
what "we now know" by acknowledging something "we do not know."
Who wouldn't trust a man who's willing to admit when he doesn't
really "know"? Back on September 24, 2002, not many.
Today, quite a few.
Here's hoping Lord Hutton "knows" which questions he must
pose to John Scarlett and Tony Blair.
Dennis Hans is a freelance writer who has taught courses
in mass communications and American foreign policy at the
University of South Florida-St. Petersburg. Prior to the Iraq
war he published "Lying
Us Into War: Exposing Bush and His 'Techniques of Deceit'"
Disinformation Age". He can be reached at HANS_D@popmail.firn.edu