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In the aftermath of Colin Powell's presentation at the United Nations of "evidence" of Iraq's development of weapons of mass destruction, serious questions about the credibility of the presentation have begun to arise. The first questions about Powell's supposed proof focused on the fact that most of the information he cited was not new. For example, Powell rested a great deal of weight upon Iraq's orders of aluminum tubes, even though weapons inspectors have already cleared those tubes as authorized for conventional weapons not banned by United Nations resolutions.
Later, international intelligence experts pointed out that Powell's pictures and audiotapes lacked a context that could be used to corroborate his claims about their implications. Such evidence could not be used to convict a petty criminal in a court of law, and yet, relying upon only such weak documentation, the Bush Administration seeks to start a war that will result in thousands of deaths and billions of dollars lost even if it is successfully executed.
Now, in a further blow to the credibility of the information presented by Colin Powell, a British document he referred to during his presentation has now been exposed as a hastily constructed fake. The report, ironically subtitled "Infrastructure of Concealment, Deception and Intimidation", is now the center of a rapidly expanding scandal that threatens to topple the fragile power base of British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Referring to the British report during his presentation, Colin Powell said, "From our sources, we know that inspectors are under constant surveillance by an army of Iraqi intelligence operatives. Iraq is relentlessly attempting to tap all of their communications, both voice and electronics. I would call my colleagues' attention to the fine paper that the United Kingdom distributed yesterday which describes in exquisite detail Iraqi deception activities."
Does this "fine paper" which Colin Powell regards as an essential part of the evidence necessary to justify a war against Iraq really prove anything? An investigation of the basis of the document has revealed that the report is not at all what it claims to be.
The British government called their report an "intelligence dossier" that described "up-to-date" information on Iraqi efforts to evade weapons inspectors. However, it turns out that the majority of the document was plagiarized, taken word-for-word without permission from a collection of old academic articles written well before the current set of weapons inspections even began. In one case, a plagiarized article was based upon information that was twelve years old, dating back to the time of the first Gulf War had even begun back in 1991. The author, Ibrahim al-Marashi, complained, "Had they consulted me, I could have provided them with more updated information."
One of the plagiarized passages from this article, written for a September 2002 issue of the journal Middle East Review of International Affairs, contained paragraphs that were cited as originally written by Scott Ritter, a former chief weapons inspector who has become a strong opponent of a preemptive invasion of Iraq by the United States. Mr. Ritter was unaware that his own writings would be depicted as the product of British intelligence work in a document designed to promote the very war he opposes. "I'll be more sceptical of any British intelligence I read in future," said al-Marashi in a telephone interview. "It was a case of cut and paste. They even left in my mistakes." In another interview, al-Marashi commented, "This is wholesale deception. How can the British public trust the Government if it is up to these sort of tricks? People will treat any other information they publish with a lot of scepticism from now on."
Journalist Sean Boyne, whose 1997 article for Jane's Intelligence Review was plagiarized and deceptively described as current information reacted to the news of the British government's deceptive report, "I don't like to think that anything I wrote has been used for an argument for war. I am concerned because I am against the war."
The British report has drawn harsh criticism from academics and foreign policy professionals. Dan Plesch, a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute says of the report, "This document is clearly presented to the British public as a product of British intelligence and it is clearly nothing of the kind." He describes the report as, "obsolete academic analysis dressed up and presented as the best MI6 and our international partners can produce on Saddam."
Dr. Glen Rangwala, of Cambridge University, points out that the British report made minor revisions to plagiarized passages in order to create exaggerated claims of threats from Iraq. For example, the British report took a passage from al-Marashi's article which depicts Iraq as "aiding opposition groups in hostile regimes" and changes the language so that Iraq is now accused of "supporting terrorist organizations in hostile regimes" even though the original article upon which the report is based contains no basis for the claim. Of course, the United States also supports opposition groups in hostile regimes (such as Iraq). Are we to suppose that the United States is therefore supporting terrorist organizations? By the logic of the British intelligence report cited by Colin Powell, such a conclusion would be merited.
In another example of deceptive exaggeration in the report, a passage describes Saddam Hussein's private militia as containing "30,000 to 40,000 members", when in fact, the plagiarized article upon which this statement was based describes the militia as having only 15,000 members. This revelation has caused anti-war activists on both sides of the Atlantic to question how many other deceptive figures were concocted out of thin air for the British report and for Colin Powell's presentation.
Tony Blair refuses to apologize for the deceptive nature of his government's report on Iraq, but British politicians have demanded a more adequate explanation, describing Tony Blair's sloppy fabrication of the intelligence report as "an example for official dishonesty". Bernard Jenkin of the Conservative Party stated, "The document has been cited by the prime minister and Colin Powell as the basis for a possible war. Who is responsible for such an incredible failure of judgment?"
In the wake of this revelation, the British Press is investigating other elements of Colin Powell's presentation in order to determine their authenticity. However, at present, only a few American news outlets are starting to pick up this story. In a pattern reminiscent of the revelation of Trent Lott's segregationist statements at a party for Senator Strom Thurmond, independent media voices on the Internet are compensating for the reluctance of conventional American news outlets to discuss the story.
What can YOU do?
This where you come in. As a user of the Internet, you can help to ensure that this story gets the attention it deserves. You can help to spread the news of the deception behind Colin Powell's presentation. You can encourage American journalists to ask which other parts of Powell's presentation were based on out-dated, plagiarized, altered and fabricated information. We urge you to forward this article to everyone you know.
We also encourage you to contact national news organizations and ask them why they aren't covering this story. So far, the story has received only brief coverage in the Washington Post, New York Times, and by Reuters. None of these outlets have told the entire story as revealed in the British Press, and most national news organizations have ignored the story altogether. Don't let the corporate journalism slouch in the shadows and allow the Bush administration to deceive the American people on this vital matter. It's up to you to hold them accountable and ensure that they keep Americans adequately informed at this crucial time.Sources:
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