British Memo Reopens War Claim
By Stephen J. Hedges and Mark Silva
The Chicago Tribune
Tuesday 17 May 2005
Leaked briefing says US intelligence facts `fixed' around policy.
Washington - A British official's report that the Bush
administration appeared intent on invading Iraq long before it
acknowledged as much or sought Congress' approval--and that
it "fixed" intelligence to fit its intention--has caused a stir in
But the potentially explosive revelation has proven to be
something of a dud in the United States . The White House has denied
the premise of the memo, the American media have reacted slowly to
it and the public generally seems indifferent to the issue or
unwilling to rehash the bitter prewar debate over the reasons for
All of this has contributed to something less than a robust
discussion of a memo that would seem to bolster the strongest
assertions of the war's critics.
Frustrated at the lack of attention to the memo, Democrats and
war critics are working to make sure it gets a wider hearing, doing
everything from writing letters to the White House to launching
The memo was written by British national security aide Matthew
Rycroft, based on notes he took during a July 2002 meeting of
British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his advisers, including
Richard Dearlove, the head of Britain's MI-6 intelligence service
who had recently met with Bush administration officials.
Since being leaked to a British newspaper, the memo has raised
questions anew about whether the Bush administration misrepresented
prewar intelligence about suspected weapons of mass destruction in
Iraq to justify military action against Saddam Hussein's regime.
"Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action,
justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD," the memo
said. "But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the
policy. It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take
military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the
case was thin. Saddam was not threatening hi-bility was less than
that of Libya , North Korea or Iran ."
Blair's office has not disputed the authenticity of the memo,
but the White House categorically denies the assertions in it. And
on Capitol Hill, where investigations already have denounced prewar
intelligence about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq as "deeply
flawed," there appears to be little appetite for reopening the
question of why the U.S. went to war.
"I suppose it hasn't played there because, basically, didn't
everyone know that Bush decided early on to get rid of Saddam?"
asked Philip Stephens, a Blair biographer and associate editor of
the Financial Times of London.
Stephens argues that there was a basic difference in the
argument over the invasion of Iraq in Britain and the U.S.
"The contexts of the debates have always been different,"
Stephens said. "There was never really a question [in the U.S. ]
about whether it was justified or not to go for regime change. This
was the administration's objective. People either agreed with it or
disagreed with it. There really wasn't a disagreement about the
legal basis for it."
Dubbed "the Downing Street Memo," the report of the July 23,
2002, meeting of Blair and his aides purported to recount the Bush
administration's approach to Iraq at that point. The memo asserted
that Bush had decided to remove Hussein nearly eight months before
U.S. and British troops invaded Iraq .
Summarizing the view of intelligence chief Dearlove after
consulting with U.S. officials, the memo said: "Military action was
now seen as inevitable."
Public Told Another Story
At the time, the Bush administration was assuring the public
that a decision to go to war had not been made and that Iraq could
prevent military action by complying with existing United Nations
resolutions that were intended to curtail its chemical, nuclear,
biological and missile weapons programs.
The memo was divulged earlier this month by the Sunday Times of
London, four days before Blair's re-election. It caused a stir in
Britain , where the war in Iraq has been deeply unpopular.
In the U.S. , however, the account has drawn only passing
attention, even in Washington , where the debate over prewar
intelligence on Iraq once dogged the White House. No weapons of mass
destruction have been found in Iraq , and Iraqi scientists have told
U.S. inspectors that any weapons Iraq did possess were destroyed
Opponents of the war and administration have launched e-mail
campaigns to elevate the issue. One Web site, DowningStreetMemo.com,
encourages visitors to sign a petition and "take action." Rep. John
Conyers (D-Mich.) wrote a letter earlier this month to the White
House, signed by 89 House Democrats, that expressed concern about
the memo's revelations.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan, asked Monday about the
memo's implication that intelligence was being "fixed" on Iraq ,
said, "The suggestion is just flat-out wrong.
White House's Response
"Anyone who wants to know how the intelligence was used only has
to go back and read everything that was said in public about the
lead-up to the war," said McClellan, noting that Bush was pursuing
diplomatic negotiations with Iraq through the United Nations into
However, a commission appointed by the president to investigate
intelligence gathering that led to the invasion concluded that all
of the intelligence community's information about the existence of
biological or any other weapons of mass destruction was "deeply
"The intelligence community was absolutely uniform, and
uniformly wrong, about the existence of weapons of mass destruction.
And they pushed that position," said Judge Laurence Silberman, co-
chairman of the commission.
Critics of the Bush administration have long argued that Bush
appeared intent on invading Iraq long before Congress voted to
authorize military action in October 2002 if Hussein didn't abandon
his alleged illegal weapons programs.
Former Sen. Bob Graham of Florida , who was chairman of the
Senate Select Intelligence Committee when Democrats ruled, has
written in his book, "Intelligence Matters," about his visit to
MacDill Air Force Base, home of the U.S. Central Command, on Feb.
19, 2002. He was going for a status report on Afghanistan , Graham
wrote, but CENTCOM'S Gen. Tommy Franks called him aside to tell
him, "Senator, we are not engaged in a war in Afghanistan ."
"Excuse me?"' Graham replied.
"Military and intelligence personnel are being redeployed to
prepare for an action in Iraq ," Graham quoted Franks as saying.
Graham wrote: "I was stunned. This was the first time I had been
informed that the decision to go to war with Iraq had not only been
made but was being implemented, to the substantial disadvantage of
the war in Afghanistan ."