Lying all the way to war
"My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we are giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence ... I would call my colleagues' attention to the fine paper that the United Kingdom distributed yesterday which describes in exquisite detail Iraqi deception activities." - Colin Powell, UN Security Council, 5 Feb.
Glen Rangwala, a lecturer in politics at Cambridge University, has dealt a severe blow to the credibility of the pro-war regimes with the revelation that the bulk of the British government's third "intelligence dossier", released last week, "Iraq: Its Infrastructure of Concealment, Deception and Intimidation" (30 January 2003), was plagiarised.
Most of the Blair government's report was lifted without acknowledgement from an article based on 12-year old research published in last September's Middle East Review of International Affairs, entitled "Iraq's Security and Intelligence Network: A Guide and Analysis".
The author of the piece is Ibrahim al-Marashi, a postgraduate student at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California. He confirmed to Rangwala that his permission was not sought; indeed, he didn't even know about the British document until Rangwala mentioned it to him.
The other sources that are extensively plagiarised in the document are the work of two authors from Jane's Intelligence Review: Ken Gause (an international security analyst from Alexandria, Virginia), "Can the Iraqi Security Apparatus save Saddam" (November 2002); and Sean Boyne, "Inside Iraq's Security Network", published in 2 parts during 1997. None of the sources are acknowledged, leading readers to believe that the information is a result of direct investigative work, rather than being simply copied from pre-existing internet sources.
Rangala has commented:
Apart from the obvious criticism that the British government has plagiarised texts without acknowledgement, passing them off as the work of its intelligence services, there are two further serious problems.
Firstly, it indicates that the UK at least really does not have any independent sources of information on Iraq's internal politics - they just draw upon publicly available data. Thus any further claims to information based on "intelligence data" must be treated with even more scepticism.
Secondly, the information presented as being an accurate statement of the current state of Iraq's security organisations may not be anything of the sort. Marashi - the real and unwitting author of much of the document - has as his primary source the documents captured in 1991 for the Iraq Research and Documentation Project. His own focus is the activities of Iraq's intelligence agencies in Kuwait, Aug 90-Jan 91 - this is the subject of his thesis. As a result, the information presented as relevant to how Iraqi agencies are currently engaged with Unmovic is 12 years old.
The UK government's document was not even accurately plagiarised, including misquotes and spin-doctoring to improve the war case. Examples of misquoting include the phrase "aiding opposition groups in hostile regimes", which the government's report changed to "supporting terrorist organisations in hostile regimes". Text from Sean Boyne's "Inside Iraq's Security Network" mentions "10,000-15,000 bullies and country bumpkins recruited from regions loyal to Saddam". The UK government's version deleted "country bumpkins.
Finally, as John Quiggin has noted on his blogspot:
... the original source was an article in a journal published in Israel. This doesn't mean it was false, but the concealment of such a fact is clearly more than a failure of academic courtesy.
According to the British press, the revelations have plunged No 10 Downing Street into deep international embarrassment, compounded by the knowledge that the plagiarised document was singled out for high praise by the US secretary of state, Colin Powell, in his speech to the UN security council last week. Talking to the BBC, former UK Labour minister Glenda Jackson commented:
If that was presented to Parliament and the country as being up-to-date intelligence, albeit collected from a variety of sources but by British intelligence agents, and in fact as we now know they simply lifted it from a university thesis, it is another example of how the government is attempting to mislead the country and Parliament on the issue of a possible war with Iraq. And of course 'to mislead' is a Parliamentary euphemism for lying.
Last week the Australian prime minister claimed that the Powell presentation was "compelling" and "convincing" because what it "revealed was that Iraq has been cheating on and deceiving not the United States, but the Security Council of the United Nations". Who's cheating on and deceiving whom?
The sources for this report are: Glen Rangwala, "Intelligence? the British dossier on Iraq's security infrastructure", 05 Feb 2003; The Institute for Public Accuracy; Michael White, Ewen MacAskill and Richard Norton-Taylor, "Downing St admits blunder on Iraq dossier: Plagiarism row casts shadow over No 10's case against Saddam", Guardian, 8 February 2003; "Iraq dossier 'solid': Downing Street", BBC, 7 February 2003. Image from the Free Britannia website, already selling war souveniers.