September Dossier

From Academic Kids

The September Dossier is the name given to a document published by the British government on 24 September 2002. The paper, entitled Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction - The assessment of the British Government, was part of a campaign by the government to bolster support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Its release date was brought forward due to increasing pressure from the media, and in the face of fierce criticism of the claim that Iraq possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs).

The much-anticipated document claimed to be based on reports made by the Joint Intelligence Committee, part of the British Intelligence 'machinery'. Most of the evidence was uncredited in order to protect sources.

On publication, serious press comment was generally critical of the dossier for tameness and for the seeming lack of any genuinely new evidence. Those politically opposed to military action against Iraq generally agreed that the dossier was unremarkable, with Menzies Campbell observing in the House of Commons that:

"We can also agree that Saddam Hussein most certainly has chemical and biological weapons and is working towards a nuclear capability. The dossier contains confirmation of information that we either knew or most certainly should have been willing to assume."

However, two sections would later become the centre of fierce debate: the allegation that Iraq had sought "significant quantities of uranium from Africa", and the claim in the foreword to the document written by Tony Blair that "The document discloses that his military planning allows for some of the WMD to be ready within 45 minutes of an order to use them."

Britain's biggest selling popular daily newspaper, The Sun, carried the headline "Brits 45 mins from doom", while the Star reported "Mad Saddam ready to attack: 45 minutes from a chemical war".


Uranium from Niger

The claim that Iraq was seeking to buy uranium from Africa was repeated in George W. Bush's State of the Union Address in January 2003. The controversial 16 words used by US President W Bush on January 28, 2003 were "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

In March, the International Atomic Energy Agency concluded that documents presented by Colin Powell to the United Nations Security Council alleging transactions between Niger and Iraq were blatant forgeries.

However, in July, Tony Blair testified to the House of Commons Liaison Committee that the evidence the government had regards Iraq's dealings with Niger came from a separate source to the fraudulent documents. Ever since Powell's presentation critics argued that had the U.S. and UK intelligence services fully cooperated with United Nations weapons inspectors it could have been found out whether the claims were truthful.

Subsequently, CIA director, George Tenet, stated that the remarks should not have been included in the US President's speech. This followed a remark by American National Security advisor Condoleezza Rice, saying that the presence of the line in the speech showed that it had been authorised by the CIA.

The British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw later told the Foreign Affairs Select Committee (which was investigating the veracity of the claims in the dossier) that British intelligence on the matter had not been shared with the CIA, and that the statement in the dossier was based on reliable intelligence.

The 45 minute claim

The 45 minute claim lies at the centre of a row between Downing Street and the BBC. On 29 May 2003, BBC defence correspondent Andrew Gilligan filed a report for BBC Radio 4's Today programme in which he stated that an unnamed source - a senior British official - had told him that the September Dossier had been "sexed up", and that the intelligence agencies were concerned about some "dubious" information contained within it - specifically the claim that Saddam Hussein could deploy weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes of an order to use them.

On 1 June, Gilligan expanded upon that claim in the Mail on Sunday newspaper, stating that the government's director of communications, Alastair Campbell, had been responsible for the insertion of the 45 minute claim, against the wishes of the intelligence agencies. Gilligan subsequently gave evidence before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, as did Campbell, who denied ordering the inclusion of the claim, and demanded an apology from the BBC. He subsequently backed this demand in writing.

The BBC refused to apologise, and stood by Gilligan's story. Campbell responded angrily, with an appearance on Channel 4 News.

On 7 July the Select Committee published a report which cleared Campbell, albeit on the casting vote of the chairman. In the report, the committee stated that the 45 minute claim had been given "undue prominence".

On 15 September, the head of MI6 Richard Dearlove told the Hutton Inquiry that the claim related to battlefield weapons rather than weapons of mass destruction.[1] (

On 28 January 2004, the Hutton Inquiry released its report, which among other things concluded that:

  • "Mr Gilligan accepted that he had made errors" about the 45 minute claim; specifically, his report that the government "probably knew that the 45 minutes claim was wrong or questionable", and his report that intelligence officers were unhappy with the insertion of the claim in the dossier, or only inserted it at the insistence of the government, were erroneous.
  • Hutton was "satisfied that Dr Kelly did not say to Mr Gilligan" certain dramatic statements about the 45 minute claim, which Gilligan had reported as direct quotations.
  • That only one person (Dr. Jones) had expressed any reservations about the 45 minute claim, and that was about the strength of the wording, not its inclusion.

The Dead Scientist

The next day, the Ministry of Defence claimed that one of its officials (later named as Dr. David Kelly) had come forward, admitting to having discussed the matter of Iraq's weapons with Gilligan on 22 May. The BBC responded by saying that Kelly differed from Gilligan's key source in "important ways". Kelly was subsequently called before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee whose conclusion was that Kelly was being used as a scapegoat and that he had not been Gilligan's key mole.

On 17 July, Gilligan gave evidence to a private session of the Select Committee, and was subsequently criticised for not naming his source, and for changing his story. The BBC continued to stand by him.

On the same day, Kelly left his home for an area of woodland and was later found dead with his wrists slit, apparently having committed suicide.

On 20 July, Richard Sambrook, director of news at the BBC, revealed that Kelly was indeed the key source for Gilligan's report, and that the BBC had not said so before so as to protect Kelly. The BBC stressed that Gilligan's reporting accurately reflected Kelly's comments, implying that Kelly had not been entirely truthful with the Select Committee. The BBC committed to assisting fully with the then forthcoming Hutton Inquiry into Kelly's death.

On 28 January 2004, the Inquiry published its report. With regard to the death of Dr. Kelly:

  • Hutton was "satisfied that Dr. Kelly took his own life"
  • Hutton was "satisfied that Dr Kelly did not say to Mr Gilligan" certain dramatic statements which Gilligan had reported as quotations. Regarding certain other statements (reported by Gilligan as quotations but also denied by Dr. Kelly), it was "not possible to reach a definite conclusion" whether it was Gilligan or Dr. Kelly who had lied.
  • Dr. Kelly's meeting with Gilligan was "in breach of the Civil Service code"
  • Dr. Kelly may not have originally intended to discuss intelligence matters with Gilligan, but after the 29th of May he "must have come to realise the gravity of the situation".
  • The BBCs investigation into Gilligan's report was flawed, and "the Governors should have recognised more fully than they did that their duty to protect the independence of the BBC was not incompatible with giving proper consideration to whether there was validity in the Government's complaints"
  • The Ministry of Defence (MOD) was at fault for not informing Kelly of their strategy that would involve naming him

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