Aspects of the Campbell Affair
08 July 2003
Who was responsible for the statement in a dossier on Iraq issued by the Government in September 2002 that "Intelligence indicates that the Iraqi military are able to deploy chemical or biological weapons within 45 minutes of an order to do so”? The eleven-man Foreign Affairs Committee decided by six votes to four to ‘clear’ the Government’s Director of Communications Alistair Campbell for its insertion, leaving the Joint Intelligence Committee, Britain’s senior intelligence inter-departmental body, looking rather foolish for providing patently incorrect information to the political masters. An article by a former chair of the JIC, Rodric Braithwaite (1992-93) in Prospect Magazine in May 2003 provides some indications of the possible culpability of the JIC in being party to the hyping-up of the Iraqi threat. The 45-minute claim is now known to have rested on a single source, probably an Iraqi informing the CIA, but because the JIC includes a group that is so completely beholden to the US for its intelligence bread and butter it would not question US-supplied data on Iraq for fear of causing offence. Braithwaite observes, “The Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) is relatively independent: it manages spies, and that is a cottage industry not much affected by technological change. The same goes for our Security Services (MI5)…..however in the complex and expensive world of communications intelligence – meaning eavesdropping and codebreaking – we remain heavily dependent on the US. The Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) at Cheltenham….is heavy reliant on US input and would be of little value without it…..In dealing with the Americans we need to follow the basic principle of negotiation: you must always make it clear that you will, if necessary, walk away from the table. That is something that British prime ministers, submariners, and codebreakers have been loath to contemplate”.
Alistair Campbell was implicated by the BBC Today programme’s Defence correspondent Andrew Gilligan on 29 May 2003. Gilligan stated that he had relied on ‘senior intelligence sources’. Many other chummy relationships have come to light in the wake of the Campbell affair, a reminder of how the BBC had succumbed to Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence influences during the Bosnian Crisis (see BBC and war coverage).
Apparently the contacts with the intelligence services can be at the highest level. The Observer on 6 July 2003 also revealed that “The head of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove, secretly briefed senior BBC executives on Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction before the Today programme claimed Number 10 had 'sexed up' part of the evidence… One meeting, over lunch, was attended by Dearlove, Kevin Marsh, the editor of the Today programme, and John Humphrys, its leading presenter…..At another meeting with a senior BBC executive, sources said Dearlove made it clear that Iraq was not viewed by the intelligence services as the primary threat. A minute taken of the meeting, on which The Observer has been briefed, Dearlove was asked about the greatest threats to world security. He said that on an analysis of the danger from weapons of mass destruction and terrorism, Iraq was not the priority”. A Governor of the BBC since 1998 is Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, former Head of Defence and Overseas Secretariat of the Joint Intelligence Committee.