Alastair Campbell: Prime Minister says he falsified government documents

It hasn’t been a great week for Alastair Campbell, has it? Last Thursday, a senior MI6 official called the great persuader an “unguided missile” and said the spooks had concerns “from the outset” about the way their intelligence was presented in his and Tony Blair’s famous Iraq dossier.

Then, earlier this week, over Hackgate, Alastair could be seen touring the TV studios in his new role as an apostle of truth, arbiter of good journalism and enemy of Rupert Murdoch. This has provided much-needed amusement, at a difficult time, for both politicians and journalists – but does the poor man not have even an atom of self-awareness?

I have done some telly too during the crisis – we very nearly bumped into each other a couple of times – and to my horror I’ve yet again provoked this normally calm and mild-mannered ex-spinner to uncharacteristic anger. “Helped by his frequent appearances on a non-challenging (to him at least) broadcast media,” stormed Alastair, “he has been busy parading himself as champion of a free press and peddling the  view that his story about Iraq and WMD was ‘right.’”

Well, it looks like no less a person than the Prime Minister seems to agree with me. Today he accused Campbell of “falsifying documents while in government,” prompting a wounded tweet from the former Spin King: “Look forward to Cameron providing the evidence that I falsified government documents. Given there is none, could be a long wait.”

Not that long a wait, actually. Here is a link to my summary last year of some of the ways in which Campbell (and his Joint Intelligence Committee “mate,” John Scarlett) falsified one government document, the dossier. Campbell himself wrote the foreword to the document, which included the false claim that the intelligence placed Saddam’s possession of WMD “beyond doubt.” Intelligence is never beyond doubt, and this intelligence certainly wasn’t.

As you will also see, with handy links to the original emails, Campbell by his own admission “bombarded” the supposed author of the dossier, Scarlett, asking for the insertion of two particular falsehoods – demands which were duly, in large part, granted. Chris Ames has many further examples on his website.

Unlike Cameron, I’m not covered by parliamentary privilege – so if Campbell wants to sue me for calling him a liar, he knows where to come.


Iraq dossier: MI6 concerned about its claims 'from the outset'

As we all obsess with the forthcoming inquiry into the press, the inquiry into something slightly worse than hacked telephones – the deaths of 150,000 people in Iraq – continues to produce startling revelations.

Today it published the redacted testimony of a senior MI6 officer who stated that “there were from the outset concerns” in the intelligence service about “the extent to which the intelligence could support some of the judgments that were being made” in Tony Blair’s famous WMD dossier.

Note those words: from the outset. This directly contradicts the testimony of Sir Richard Dearlove, then head of MI6, and John Scarlett, then chair of the joint intelligence committee, to Hutton.

To my mind, it is even more damning than the quote that’s making news today: the officer describing Alastair Campbell as an “unguided missile” about whom MI6 had “concerns.” (What those concerns exactly were has been helpfully blacked-out from the published testimony.) “We suffered from his propensity to have rushes of blood to the head,” the officer says.

“There was very substantial pressure [from Downing Street] to generate new intelligence,” said the spook. “We were, in all honesty, not well placed to do that…. Some of the newer material was, so to speak, being torn off the teleprinter and rushed across to Number 10 with, shall we say, a little more haste than was probably appropriate…

“The pressure to generate results, I fear, did lead to the cutting of corners…We were probably too eager to please.”

This adds to the disclosure by the great Chris Ames in the Observer two weeks ago of a memo in which John Scarlett, Campbell’s co-conspirator in sexing up the dossier, talked about “obscuring the fact that, in terms of WMD, Iraq is not that exceptional.”

And in May, Michael Laurie, former senior intelligence official, said: “We knew at the time that the purpose of the dossier was precisely to make a case for war rather than setting out the available intelligence.”

It is becoming even clearer than it was before that my story about the sexing up of the dossier was true. And it is becoming ever harder for Chilcot to perform a whitewash. But the fact that all this is only coming out now – nine years, and four official inquiries, after the dossier – demonstrates the failure of official inquries, and the success of journalism, at getting to the truth. Let’s hope the judge in charge of the latest inquiry into the press realises that, shall we?

Iraq inquiry: Campbell fails to clarify the clarification

It’s just not how a leading professional communicator should be treated, is it? Alastair Campbell tonight faces a demand from the former Lib Dem leader, Sir Menzies Campbell, that he be recalled to the Chilcot inquiry after I spotted that the former Spin King had written to Chilcot, “clarifying” his evidence.

Campbell decided he needed a second go at saying what he really meant over an issue which is emerging as a key area of interest for the enquiry. It is the claim, written by him in the WMD dossier, and repeated by Tony Blair, that the “assessed intelligence” had established continued Iraqi WMD production “beyond doubt.” But the intelligence, of course, established nothing of the sort, as both Blair and Campbell must have known. 

Campbell is right to be edgy about this. The inquiry members have already expressed open scepticism about the phrase. But as Sir Menzies points out, the former Chief Persuader’s tortuously-worded clarification actually makes the picture less clear, not more. 

Various impertinent commentators have said that Campbell is trying to “muddy the waters” over something he knows he screwed up. But today, on his blog, we have a further contribution to the debate from Alastair himself. Third time lucky? Not quite. 

“I accept I could have tried to make the first sentence shorter,” he concedes, but then does no more than repeat the inquiry’s original question, his original fervent defence, and his convoluted clarification. What does it mean? It can’t mean nothing, otherwise Campbell wouldn’t have done it. So I’m appealing to readers, especially any experts in Saussurean linguistics out there – any suggestions more than welcome…

Iraq WMD: Taxi for Scarlett

In a speech I sometimes give I say, half-jokingly, that the British government’s legendary “45 minutes till doom” claim over Iraqi WMD was “the equivalent of a journalist doing a front-page story on the basis of something their minicab driver heard down the pub. Except, of course, that no news story ever led to the deaths of 200,000 people.” 

It was, as I say, a joke. But now, quite incredibly, it turns out that it might have been true. According to the Tory MP Adam Holloway, the information “originated from an emigre taxi driver on the Iraqi-Jordanian border, who had remembered an overheard conversation in the back of his cab a full two years earlier.” 

Mr Holloway stated that an intelligence analyst had at the time flagged up – via a footnote – that the claims were “demonstrably untrue”. 

“Despite this glaring factual inaccuracy… the report was characterised as reliable,” he said. Mr Holloway’s claim has not been denied by the Government.

 Every time we think we have reached the “outer limits” (to use Lord Butler’s phrase) of the Government’s behaviour on Iraq, they come up with something new to surprise us.

 As it happens, Sir John Scarlett, the man in charge of the dodgy dossier fiasco, was up before the Chilcot enquiry today. You might expect at least a note of shame, if not of abject humiliation. But Chilcot, with all the investigative ferocity we’ve come to expect from him, said that the taxi-driver claim was not a matter for Scarlett to answer on. And Scarlett was allowed to deploy his usual line that he had acted in “good faith” all along. So that’s all right, then!

Iraq and Afghanistan: old and new British misjudgments

It’s been the turn of Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, former chief of the defence staff, at the Iraq Inquiry today – and it’s striking how closely what he told Sir John Chilcot mirrors what we reported in the Telegraph, using leaked papers, before the inquiry even started. Notice any similarities between this story – “Hoon stopped me buying essential kit for troops, says Forces chief” – and this one – “Troops rushed into battle without armour or training“? You read it here first.

On the war that’s still going on, in Afghanistan, I was depressed to read the silly bravado this week of Britain’s General Sir Graeme Lamb, adviser to the US commander General Stanley McChrystal, promising to “strike the Taliban… till their eyeballs bleed.” With all of 500 more British troops? With both sides of the Atlantic briefing about withdrawal in 2011? We need to, if not prevail, then at least avoid humiliation in Afghanistan. Gen McChrystal’s strategy offers a chance of doing that – because it is, quite rightly, more about reinforcing key cities than about the kind of completely futile taking-the-fight-to-the-Taliban stuff in the countryside that has got so many of our men killed over the last three years.

Despite being deified as “Lambo” by various hacks, Gen Lamb has form for this kind of misjudgment. As British commander in Iraq immediately after the major combat operations phase, he opined that reconstruction “really wasn’t that difficult and didn’t require that many experts… Once you knew what you needed to do, you then dispatched the nearest captain with the ‘find me a hundred trucks’  order and it all worked. It didn’t need a suit with a 2.2 in civilian affairs.”

Let’s hope General McChrystal takes as much notice of “Lambo” now as his American counterparts in Iraq did of their British allies.