A friend who works in the BBC has sent two angry emails.
The key point is that Andrew Gilligan made a mistake in the live 6:07 interview. He said the information about the 45 minute claim was inserted into the dossier, “even though the government knew it was probably wrong”. If he’d said, as he said in all his other reports, “even though the government knew it was less reliable than other information in the dossier”, then he would have been speaking the truth.
The BBC should have owned up to this mistake earlier to allow everyone to concentrate on the real allegations which are that the case against Iraq was massaged, over-egged or sexed-up. The emails between Tony Blair’s political staff and John Scarlett (available on the Hutton inquiry website) make this clear.
Hutton took the testimony of officials at face value, a ridiculous position. The idea that Scarlett was only ‘subconsciously’ influenced will not stand the test of history.
The issue remains: the government said things which weren’t true and ten thousand Iraqi civilians died.
My friend then adds:
In short, the [September] dossier claimed that “Iraq can deliver chemical and biological agents using ballistic missiles and the Iraqi military are able to deploy these weapons within 45 minutes of a decision to do so”.
It is clear that this is false and not only is it false, it is clear that the government knew this was false at the time. Hutton himself heard testimony from Defence Minister Geoff Hoon and MI6 boss Richard Dearlove in which they said this. And yet Hutton failed to criticise them in his report!
Is it any wonder that most balanced and objective viewers of this process think the report is a travesty?
Well, I fear my friend is not especially balanced or objective, not only given his BBC position but also considering his private political views (which is why I will give no further clues to his identity). I imagine feelings are running pretty strong at the BBC, and understandably so. But the fact is, Gilligan got the story wrong, and distortions of the facts by the BBC’s sympathisers don’t help; the evidence to Hutton from Hoon and Dearlove offers practically no basis for saying that the government knew the “45-minute claim” was wrong at the time it was published.
And for that reason I have little sympathy for the BBC now. Hutton shows convincingly that Gilligan changed his story too many times; that he entrapped Kelly into saying more than he had wanted to, in an interview where Kelly, who was naive about dealing with journalists, had not established the ground rules in advance; that Kelly had rather innocently breached civil service guidelines by giving this interview; and that the pressure of public exposure of something where he was slightly in the wrong, but not as much as many (including me) thought, was too much for him. Also incidentally his mother appears to have ended her own life several years previously.
It was Gilligan who “sexed up” the story; the BBC backed him when they should have checked out their own man more thoroughly; and those two actions led directly to Kelly’s death. Kelly told the truth to his bosses at the MoD and FCO, who backed him all the way (after issuing a private verbal reprimand) once he had come forward. Kelly’s version of events and Gilligan’s differed because Gilligan was exaggerating. And as one of the BBC’s supporters, and someone who opposed the Iraq war, I feel a certain sense of personal betrayal.
It still leaves as the big puzzle why western intelligence services got it so wrong. But let’s not forget that while it was only the US and UK who insisted that Iraq’s WMD presented an imminent threat justifying military intervention, almost everyone – certainly including the European governments who opposed the war – believed that there were weapons of mass destruction of some kind there; certainly that’s what I got from my German diplomat friend who works on trans-Atlantic relations when I spoke to him last February. See for instance Hans Blix on 27 January 2003. Everyone was wrong, it turns out, though of course the US and UK more so than others.
But it’s unfair to have expected Hutton to explain why the world’s intelligence agencies got it wrong, when his mandate was clearly to explain Kelly’s death. He has done that quite convincingly.