Chilcot inquiry: Iraq expert Carne Ross claims civil servants are withholding vital documents
Britain's 'deep state' of secretive bureaucrats is denying witnesses to the Chilcot inquiry crucial files
Sunday 25 July 2010
Iraq expert at the UN from 1997-2002, says all the invasion documents should now be made public.
I testified last week to the Chilcot inquiry. My experience demonstrates an emerging and dangerous problem with the process. This is not so much a problem with Sir John Chilcot and his panel, but rather with the government bureaucracy – Britain's own "deep state" – that is covering up its mistakes and denying access to critical documents.
There is only one solution to this problem, and it requires decisive action.
After I was invited to testify, I was contacted by the Foreign Office, from which I had resigned after giving testimony to the Butler inquiry in 2004, to offer its support for my appearance. I asked for access to all the documents I had worked on as Britain's Iraq "expert" at the UN Security Council, including intelligence assessments, records of discussions with the US, and the long paper trail on the WMD dossier.
Large files were sent to me to peruse at the UK mission to the UN. However, long hours spent reviewing the files revealed that most of the key documents I had asked for were not there.
In my testimony I had planned to detail how the UK government failed to consider, let alone implement, available alternatives to military action. To support this I had asked for specific records relating to the UK's failure to deal with the so-called Syrian pipeline, through which Iraq illegally exported oil, thereby sustaining the Saddam regime. I was told that specific documents, such as the records of prime minister Tony Blair's visit to Syria, could not be found. This is simply not plausible.
I had also asked for all the Joint Intelligence Committee assessments on Iraq, some of which I helped prepare. Of dozens of these documents, only three were provided to me – 40 minutes before I was due to appear before the Chilcot panel.
Playing by the rules, I had submitted my written testimony to Chilcot before my appearance. In the hours before my appearance, invited to visit the Foreign Office to see further documents (mostly irrelevant), an official repeatedly sought to persuade me to delete references to certain documents in my testimony.
He told me that the Cabinet Office wanted the removal of a critical reference in my evidence to a memo from a senior Foreign Office official to the foreign secretary's special adviser, in which the official pointed out, with mandarin understatement, that the paper sent that week to the Parliamentary Labour Party dramatically – and inaccurately – altered the UK's assessment of Iraq's nuclear threat.
In a clear example of the exaggeration of Iraq's military capabilities, that paper claimed that if Iraq's programmes remained unchecked, it could develop a nuclear device within five years.
The official's memo pointed out that this was not, in fact, the UK assessment: the UK believed that Iraq's nuclear programme had been checked by sanctions.
AD Note: Carne Ross has an interesting 'vision':