Fwd: [EyeSpyCIA] British intelligence planted news stories to promote Iraq war
British Intelligence Service, MI6, planted Iraq stories to gain public
support for sanctions and war on Iraq
By Nicholas Rufford / The Sunday Times, 12/28/03
The Secret Intelligence Service has run an operation to gain public support
for sanctions and the use of military force in Iraq.
The British government Saturday confirmed that the spy agency MI6 had
organised Operation Mass Appeal, a campaign to plant stories in the media
about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.
The revelation will create embarrassing questions for Prime Minister Tony
Blair in the run-up to the publication of the report by Lord Hutton into the
circumstances surrounding the death of Dr. David Kelly, the government
A senior official admitted that MI6 had been at the heart of a campaign
launched in the late 1990s to spread information about Saddam's development
of nerve agents and other weapons, but denied that it had planted
"There were things about Saddam's regime and his weapons that the public
needed to know," said the official.
The admission followed claims by Scott Ritter, a former US marine who led 14
inspection missions in Iraq, who said that MI6 had recruited him in 1997 to
help with the propaganda effort. He described meetings where the senior
officer and at least two other MI6 staff had discussed ways to manipulate
"The aim was to convince the public that Iraq was a far greater threat than
it actually was," Ritter said last week.
He said there was evidence that MI6 continued to use similar propaganda
tactics up to the invasion of Iraq earlier this year. "Stories ran in the
media about secret underground facilities in Iraq and ongoing programs (to
produce weapons of mass destruction)," said Ritter. "They were sourced to
western intelligence and all of them were garbage."
Kelly, himself a former UN weapons inspector and colleague of Ritter, might
also have been used by MI6 to pass information to journalists. "Kelly was a
known and government-approved conduit with the media," said Ritter.
Hutton's report is expected to deliver a verdict next month on whether
intelligence was misused in order to promote the case for going to war.
Hutton heard evidence that Kelly was authorised by the Foreign Office to
speak to journalists on Iraq. Kelly was in close touch with the "Rockingham
cell," a group of weapons experts that received MI6 intelligence.
Blair justified his backing for sanctions and for the invasion of Iraq on
the grounds that intelligence reports showed Saddam was working to acquire
chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. The use of MI6 as a "back channel"
for promoting the government's policies on Iraq was never discovered during
the Hutton inquiry and is likely to cause considerable disquiet among MPs.
A key figure in Operation Mass Appeal was Sir Derek Plumbly, then director
of the Middle East department at the Foreign Office and now Britain's
ambassador to Egypt. Plumbly worked closely with MI6 to help to promote
Britain's Middle East policy.
The campaign was judged to be having a successful effect on public opinion.
MI6 officers passed on intelligence that Iraq was hiding weapons of mass
destruction and secretly rebuilding its arsenal.
Poland, India and South Africa were initially chosen as targets for the
campaign because they were non-aligned UN countries not supporting the
British and US position on sanctions. At the time, in 1997, Poland was also
a member of the UN security council.
Ritter was a willing accomplice to the propaganda effort when first
approached by MI6's station chief in New York. He obtained approval to
co-operate from Richard Butler, then executive chairman of the UN Special
Commission on Iraq Disarmament.
Ritter met MI6 to discuss Operation Mass Appeal at a lunch in London in June
1998 at which two men and a woman from MI6 were present. The Sunday Times is
prevented by the Official Secrets Act from publishing their names.
Ritter had previously met the MI6 officer at Vauxhall Cross, the security
service's London headquarters. He asked Ritter for information on Iraq that
could be planted in newspapers in India, Poland and South Africa from where
it would "feed back" to Britain and America.
Ritter was a prominent opponent of the war in Iraq but this is the first
time that he has named members of British intelligence as being involved in
a propaganda campaign.
"What MI6 was determined to do by the selective use of intelligence was to
give the impression that Saddam still had WMDs or was making them and
thereby legitimise sanctions and military action against Iraq," he said.
Recent reports suggest America has all but abandoned hopes of finding
weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and that David Kay, head of the Iraq
Survey Group, has resigned earlier than expected, frustrated that his
resources have been diverted to tracking down insurgents.
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