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From assessment to argumentation? Intelligence on WMD and the British case for war in Iraq

By Eunan O' Halpin


This paper explores issues arising from the recent published inquiries into aspects of British intelligence assessment procedures on WMD threats. Drawing on the Butler and Hutton inquiries, and on interviews with former officials, it concludes that the process by which the Cabinet Office Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) was drawn into producing an intelligence assessment for publication in September 2002 was a new departure in British government. It also argues that the drafting exercise disclosed by the Hutton and Butler inquiries was, incidentally if not deliberately, one in which two fundamentally distinct processes became entangled: what was published as an unvarnished professional intelligence assessment – in essence a conventional JIC assessment for once brought immediately into the public domain - was compromised by the government’s presentational imperatives. This paper will be followed by a second reflecting on the difficulties faced by the wider international community in judging what weight to put on evidence produced by the world’s major intelligence powers to argue for particular courses of action to counter WMD proliferation, terrorism, and other threats to international security and order. Classification-Butler Report, Hutton Inquiry, JIC, John Scarlett, SIS, Iraq and WMD

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