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Iraq war: the greatest intelligence failure in living memory

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Iraq war: the greatest intelligence failure in living memory

Post  Panda on Tue 19 Mar - 3:58

Iraq war: the greatest intelligence failure in living memory

On the tenth anniversary of the Iraq war, Panorama's Peter Taylor reveals
the sources close to Saddam Hussein whose intelligence could have changed the
course of history.

The two sources who produced the
intelligence that Iraq had no WMD were the closest to Saddam Hussein that
Western intelligence ever got Photo:

By Peter Taylor

1:00PM GMT 18 Mar 2013

Ten years on from the invasion, Iraq remains the most divisive war in recent
history and the greatest intelligence failure in living memory.

Much of the key intelligence that was used to justify the war was based on
fabrication, wishful thinking and lies - and as subsequent investigations
showed, it was dramatically wrong. Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass
destruction (WMD).

But crucially, there was intelligence that proved to be right. And, as a
forensic, six-month investigation we conducted for BBC Panorama has revealed, it
came from two highly-placed human sources at the very top of Saddam’s regime.

Both said that Iraq had no active WMD. Both were ignored or dismissed.

The intelligence from the first source came just a week before the government
published its controversial dossier on WMD on 24 September 2002.

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In the introduction to this dossier (known to some as the “dodgy” dossier)
Tony Blair confidently declared, ‘the assessed intelligence has established
beyond doubt that Saddam has continued to produce chemical and biological
weapons [and] that he continues in his efforts to develop nuclear weapons.’

Yet the two sources who produced the intelligence that Iraq had no WMD were
the closest to Saddam Hussein that Western intelligence had ever got.

It was a remarkable achievement to have gained access at this level given the
difficulty of recruiting any human source within Saddam’s secretive, paranoid
and murderous regime.

The story of the first source comes straight out of the pages of a spy

In the spring of 2002, the CIA’s head of station in Paris, Bill Murray, was
told by French intelligence, whose government had good links with the Iraqi
regime, that a senior member of Saddam’s cabinet might want to defect with his
family and had a great deal of intelligence that he might wish to share.

For the White House, such a defection offered the salivating prospect of a
senior member of Saddam’s cabinet recanting on prime time television.

The source, Murray was informed, hated Saddam who had murdered his brother,
and now seemed prepared to do business.

What made him even more attractive to Murray and the White House was that he
had no blood on his hands and had never been accused of any involvement in
murders or criminal activity. Compared with other members of Saddam’s
blood-stained regime, the source was ‘Mr Clean’.

Murray was enthused: ‘He looked like a person of real interest, somebody who
we should really be talking to.’ But a face-to-face meeting between a CIA agent
and one of Saddam’s inner circle was out of the question as it was too risky.

The French suggested an intermediary, an Arab former journalist living in
Paris, who had known the source for many years. They told Murray that he had
worked with them for a number of years.

In the early summer of 2002, the financial bargaining began. The intermediary
did not come cheap. His starting price was a staggering one million dollars.
Murray, familiar with the ways of the Arab bazaar, haggled and finally got the
price down to $200,000 which he handed over in cash in a paper bag. Murray
explained it was to be used ‘to pay his expenses, to show that we were serious
and also to provide some personal items for the source.’ He said it was never
clear how much the intermediary wanted for himself and how much he was trying to
stake out for the source.

However excessive the down payment might have seemed, it would have been
worth every cent if the source came up with the goods on Saddam’s WMD. The
source was none other than Iraq’s Foreign Minister, Naji Sabri.

With the down payment agreed, Murray submitted a detailed list of questions
for the intermediary to put to him. WMD were top of the list. Naji Sabri was
then to report back to Murray. That was the deal.

Through the summer months, there was radar silence. The intermediary had to
pick his moment to meet the minister without arousing suspicion.

The opportunity came in mid-September 2002 when Naji Sabri was visiting New
York to address the United Nations.

Again it was too risky for Murray to meet Naji Sabri face to face as most of
the time the minister was being watched by a team of Saddam’s minders.

But the intermediary met him at the Iraqi Ambassador’s residence in New York.
A secret sign was agreed to confirm to Murray that the meeting had taken place
and that the minister was prepared to offer information.

The intermediary had arranged for a couple of hand-made suits to be made for
the minister, presumably out of Murray’s $200,000 seed money ‘to pay his
expenses’. Naji Sabri was to wear one of them when he addressed the UN General
Assembly as a sign that he was on side. “It was part of the agreement to confirm
the relationship between the intermediary and the source,” Murray explained,

The following day, Murray met the intermediary for a debriefing in a hotel
room in New York. He was given the substance of the intelligence: ‘Saddam had
intentions to have WMD, chemical, biological and nuclear, but the report was
very clear about what he actually had at that point in time and he had virtually

It was not what the White House wanted to hear. ‘I was told they were not

Murray made notes of the debriefing on a yellow pad and then, as he had to
catch a plane back to Washington, sent them to the office in New York to be
typed up as a formal report. It was when he got to the airport that he saw Naji
Sabri on a television screen addressing the UN, wearing his expensive, brand new
suit. Murray was satisfied: ‘It was my new suit. It told me they were telling me
the truth.’ Someone close to the story told me that President Bush had allegedly
also seen the minister on television and pointed out that was the suit that he
had paid for.

Murray says that he subsequently discovered that his account had been
modified with a new introductory paragraph with which he was not happy. A Senate
inquiry has since said it could find no documentary evidence of Murray’s
account. What happened to his original text remains a mystery.

On 5 February 2004, after the fall of Saddam, CIA Director, George Tenet,
delivered a speech at Georgetown University in which he referred to ‘what was
going on in the fall of 2002’ - when Murray passed on his intelligence.

Tenet spoke of a source ‘with direct access to Saddam and his inner circle’
who had talked of Iraq “stockpiling chemical weapons” and “aggressively and
covertly” developing a nuclear weapon that could be ready in 18 to 24 months.
Tenet added that he could not have ignored or dismissed such reports. He stands
by what he said. Murray maintains this did not reflect what he had written and
passed on to New York. His report had referred to Saddam giving “stocks” of
chemical weapons, left over from the early nineties, to friendly tribes and of
Saddam’s scientists saying nuclear weapons could be ready in 18 to 24 months
after they obtained the necessary material.

Murray says his key message was that Saddam did not have any serious, active
current WMD stockpile or programmes.

Murray believes his report had been used selectively. By whom and at what
level he does not know, but he thinks he knows why. He says the intelligence was
cherry picked. ‘Very bad intelligence got to the leadership very quickly but
other intelligence just didn’t make it.’

In the end Naji Sabri did not defect and give President Bush his moment of
triumph in the glare of the cameras but he did manage to get out of Iraq. He
went to teach communication studies at a university in the Gulf.

We tracked him down and asked him to comment. He dismissed Bill Murray’s
story as ‘a complete fabrication’ and whilst admitting he met ‘an Arab
ex-journalist living in France’ in New York, he says the meeting only lasted “a
few minutes”.

I asked Bill Murray if MI6 got the intelligence from Naji Sabri. He assumed
that it did. ‘Britain is a strategic ally and we share this kind of information
with them regularly and rapidly and so it would have been soon after we acquired

I wondered if Lord Butler, who chaired the original government Inquiry into
the use of intelligence on WMD in the lead up to the Iraq war, was aware of what
Iraq’s Foreign Minister was reported to have said? ‘No,’ he told me... If SIS
(MI6) was aware of it, we should have been informed.’

He added by way of explanation that perhaps MI6 was not permitted to share
intelligence that came from the CIA as it was not MI6’s to give.

Four months after Bill Murray debriefed the intermediary, another piece of
dramatic intelligence came in, this time to MI6. In January 2003, now only three
months before the war, a senior MI6 officer met another high-ranking member of
Saddam’s inner circle, the head of Iraqi intelligence, Tahir Habbush Al Tikriti.
After the invasion he became the Jack of Diamonds on America’s “Most Wanted”
notorious Deck of Cards, with a reward of one million US dollars thought to be
on offer. It appears the meeting took place on Habbush’s initiative. It was in
Amman, Jordan.

It seems that the likely reason was an attempt by the regime to reach some
kind of face-saving compromise that might avert the imminent invasion, perhaps
by negotiating safe passage for Saddam out of Iraq. In the course of the
discussion, Habbush told the MI6 officer that Iraq had no weapons of mass

I asked Lord Butler if his Inquiry had been aware of the meeting and of what
Habbush had said. ‘This was something which our review did miss.’ he said.
‘[There was] a mass of information, I think fifty thousand intelligence reports
alone on Iraq. We were told [by MI6] that it was something designed by Saddam to

Habbush is now thought to be living somewhere outside of Iraq, his escape
allegedly organised by a Western intelligence agency.

Bill Murray gained no satisfaction when it emerged that the intelligence from
Iraq’s Foreign Minister and Saddam’s Head of Intelligence turned out to be
right. He felt let down and disappointed.

‘I thought we’d produced probably the best intelligence that anybody produced
in the pre-war period, all of which came out in the long run to be accurate and
the information was discarded and not used.’

Murray’s feelings about the use of misleading intelligence to justify the war
reflect the way many in the UK probably still feel, that they were misled by
their Prime Minister. Lord Butler agrees. “They’ve every right to feel that,” he
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Re: Iraq war: the greatest intelligence failure in living memory

Post  tigger on Tue 19 Mar - 9:37

I've always like Hans Blix's remark at the end of his book on the UN inspection of sites in Iraq:

"Saddam Hussain is the kind of man to put up a "Beware of the dog' sign without going to the expense of buying a dog. "

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