Suskind Allegations & Iraq Inquiry
I have recently been raising the issue, whenever the opportunity arises, of allegations made by Ron Suskind in his book 'The Way of the World' about the pre-war intellingence on Iraqi weapons.
Below, I detail these allegations and their implications for the decision to go to war. I have asked the Intelligence and Security Committee to respond to these allegations and my letter to the Chair, Kim Howells is reproduced below. I have also included my speech from the Opposition Day Debate on an Iraq Inquiry, where I raised these allegations to the House.
'The Way of the World'
Ron Suskind's book alleges that a senior MI6 officer named Michael Shipster met Tahir Jalil Habbush, the head of Iraqi intelligence, in Amman in the early days of 2003, and that Habbush assured Shipster that Iraq possessed no active nuclear, chemical, biological or other weapons of mass destruction. Suskind tells us that shortly before the invasion of Iraq, Sir Richard Dearlove, then the MI6 chief, flew to Washington to brief the head of the CIA, George Tenet, about this and that Tenet, in turn, immediately briefed President Bush.
Although the precise details of these events have been queried, none of those whose involvement is alleged have refuted the substance of these claims.
These allegations add substance to the belief of many that the UK and US Governments, in their zeal to go to war, had little concern for whether Iraq actually possessed weapons of mass destruction. As such, they should be considered as vitally important to any review of the events that led to the decision to go to war, yet they were not mentioned in the Butler Report.
Intelligence and Security Committee
I have asked Kim Howells MP, Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee to investigate these allegations, my letter read as follows:
I am writing to you about reports from the journalist Ron Suskind, in his book ‘The Way of the World’, about high-level intelligence meetings and briefings in the run up to the Iraq war, which are absent from the ISC report on WMD intelligence and to which they were highly relevant.
I would particularly like to raise the issue of Michael Shipster’s meeting with Tahir Jalil Habbush, the Head of Iraqi intelligence, just before the start of the war in 2003. This meeting involved firm reassurances from Mr Habbush that Iraq had no active nuclear, chemical, biological or other weapons of mass destruction.
Mr Suskind goes on to claim that, shortly before the invasion of Iraq, Sir Richard Dearlove, then the MI6 chief, flew to Washington to brief the head of the CIA, George Tenet, about this and that Tenet, in turn, immediately briefed President Bush. None of the British or American officials that Mr Suskind refers to have so far denied that the meeting between Mr Shipster and Mr Habbush took place in Amman, or that Mr Habbush told Mr Shipster that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction.
I raised this matter recently in the House during a debate about Binyam Mohammed and was told, as you will see from the copy of my exchange with the Foreign Secretary, printed overleaf for your information, that this was a question “for another day”.
I am surprised that this matter was not considered as part of your aforementioned report on WMD intelligence and I should like to request that the Committee considers this issue. Of course, if this is a matter already considered by the Committee, I should be pleased to receive further details.
I should be grateful for your response to these concerns.
LYNNE JONES MP
5 Feb 2009 : Column 1002
Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that the former US Administration were prepared to use torture to extract information from detainees—information that, by definition, must be unreliable—yet ignored reliable information provided by one of the UK’s top agents, Michael Shipster, through his long-standing source at the highest level of the Iraqi Government, that the Iraqi Government did not have weapons of mass destruction? That information also provided a credible explanation for Saddam Hussein’s reluctance to admit that.
David Miliband: I was with my hon. Friend for the first half of her question. The differences that existed between this Government and the previous Administration were discussed widely, specifically on whether water-boarding constituted torture. Those differences were exemplified by the position that the Government took, which I think was shared elsewhere in the House, that it did. Our position is absolutely clear: we are signed up to international conventions and covenants, never mind national laws, in that respect. I think that the Iraq question is for another day.
I have since received an acknowledgement from the Clerk to the Committee stating that my letter has been passed to the Committee and I will receive a response.
Iraq Inquiry Debate
I also raised these allegations in the House during a recent Opposition Day Debate on an Iraq Inquiry, my intervention was as follows:
25 Mar 2009 : Column 361
Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): I am aware of the time constraint, so I shall be very brief.
I spoke in the debate on the inquiry a year ago and gave my reasons for feeling that the Butler inquiry and the Intelligence and Security Committee inquiries were completely inadequate, so I shall not rehearse those arguments again. What I want to do today is draw the House’s attention to an allegation by Ron Suskind, a United States investigative author, in his book “The Way of the World”.
Mr. Suskind’s information is based on conversations that he had with none other than Sir Richard Dearlove, former head MI6, and his deputy Nigel Inkster. From those conversations, Mr. Suskind learned that one of the United Kingdom’s top agents, Michael Shipster, actually met—in Amman in 2003, just before the war—Tahir Jalil Habbush, who was Saddam Hussein’s head of intelligence. Apparently, Mr. Habbush was a well-established source of intelligence. I should be interested to know what has happened to him, because he is not one of the members of Saddam Hussein’s former regime who have been apprehended or brought to justice in any way. In fact, it has been suggested that he has been protected by western intelligence sources.
Mr. Habbush told Michael Shipster that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction, and that far from seeking to conceal the presence of such weapons, he actually wanted to conceal their absence because he was more concerned about a possible invasion from Iran than about an invasion from the United States. The sources of that information—Richard Dearlove and Nigel Inkster—have queried the exact recollection of those conversations, but they have not denied the substance of the allegation that one of our top agents obtained information that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction. It would appear that that intelligence was ignored, and we also know from other sources—such as Brian Jones, the former branch head in the Defence Intelligence Staff, and more recently, as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice), Carne Ross, who was First Secretary at the United Nations for the Foreign Office until 2004—that there are lots of facts in the run-up to the Iraq war that have yet to come to light.
We should be grateful to Ron Suskind for beginning to shine a light on some of the sources of intelligence that were not drawn to the attention of the House, and were not mentioned in the Butler report or by the Intelligence and Security Committee. I wrote to the Chair of that Committee at the beginning of this month asking for an investigation into this evidence. I have received an acknowledgement. I spoke to one of the assistant Clerks today, who told me that I will receive a reply and gave various reasons why I have not received more than an acknowledgement so far despite the fact that other people have written to the Committee drawing attention to this information.
It is clear that there were people in the intelligence community who knew the truth: that Saddam Hussein did not possess weapons of mass destruction. Somehow, their views were suppressed and we were given a completely false view of what the intelligence said. For that reason, I believe we need a full inquiry under the kind of conditions that my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle outlined, with witnesses required to give evidence on oath.
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