Intelligence, Moral Rights, and the Muslim World

Nazia Jilali

It was only four months ago that the US president George W Bush embarked on an historic state visit to London, where he mounted an impassioned defence for his invasion of Iraq, vowing to win the ‘war on terror.’ Before an eager audience at London’s Banqueting house he solemnly preached that the US and UK share a mission, as defenders of freedom across the globe. He described how the danger of terrorists using weapons of mass destruction aided by dictators represented the greatest threat of our age.

With this rhetoric, the world once again witnessed the Western superpowers taking upon themselves the self-proclaimed moral duty of ridding the world of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) - though, of course, they did not include their own WMDs. They announced themselves as guardians and defenders of ‘innocent people everywhere’.

But having unleashed a lethal onslaught of destruction against the people of Iraq in the name of guaranteeing security for the world, it has since transpired that no weapons of mass destruction have been found at all. The burning question has therefore become, was the attack legally justified? In an attempt to answer this question, the spotlight has fallen on the case that was made prior to embarking on war; was the intelligence upon which the West relied, which claimed that Saddam Hussein had WMDs and was preparing to use them, sound in its findings?

The story of the intelligence has certainly been an engaging one. From dodgy dossiers, claims of a 45 minute count down to strike, chemical and biological warfare alerts, government scandals and the suspicious death of a top government scientist, to the discovery of the villainous dictator in a ‘spider hole’ below the ground, it was like something from a schoolboy’s spy novel. However in the midst of hunting for weapons and scrutinising intelligence, something of fundamental importance has been missed - something that this article aims to address.

This article looks at two issues. Firstly, it analyses the reality of intelligence as it is used by the West - is it truly a sound basis for just war or simply a tool used to justify political objectives? Secondly, and importantly, it scrutinises the question of owning these weapons - what criteria should be used to dictate who has the right to own weapons of mass destruction?

What Is Intelligence?

The basic charter of America’s intelligence services - the National Security Act of 1947 with its many amendments - states: ‘The term ‘foreign intelligence’ means information relating to the capabilities, intentions, or activities of foreign governments or elements thereof, foreign organisations, or foreign persons.’

As such, intelligence itself is merely information, neutral with respect to how it is to be used. Furthermore, the nature of intelligence is such that it is sometimes obtained through secretive processes, and often gives an incomplete or partial picture of the scenario which it is describing. The practical reality of intelligence therefore is that by its nature it is often vague, and open to interpretation.

Equivocal satellite images of industrial laboratories could be otherwise interpreted as ‘mobile chemical units’. Agricultural factories producing fertilizers or other chemicals could be seen as potential weapons plants. The finding of protective clothing could be interpreted as proof of the development of nerve gas, or a means of protecting Iraqi troops from their own weapons.

Such interpretations are usually subject to a variety of pressures, particularly in relation to the aims and objectives of the bodies interpreting that intelligence. This fact is clear from the different responses of nations to the intelligence that came under scrutiny prior to the war. The same intelligence which was used by the USA and Britain to justify their war - such as reports from UN weapons inspectors - was cited by France, Germany and Russia in their opposition to the war.

The former UN chief inspector Hans Blix, whose team was prevented from remaining in Iraq to continue the search for WMD also made this observation; the BBC reported him saying, ‘those who drafted the UK’s Iraqi arms dossier acted like salesman trying to ‘exaggerate the importance’ of their wares.’

Use Of Intelligence In The Iraq War

When the US and British forces invaded Iraq last year, it was amid an air of carefully orchestrated hype and propaganda. In the UK, the scene was set by a media awash with alarming images of soldiers modelling clothing fully protective against chemical and biological weapons. Much was made of the fact that many of them had undergone inoculation programmes for anthrax and smallpox - a measure deemed necessary by the government in order to counter ‘Saddam’s doomsday weapons.’

In the eyes of the public at large however, Iraq had actually done nothing wrong of a scale that could justify the launching of a pre-emptive war. This was demonstrated by numerous public polls and surveys, not to mention the unprecedented mobilisation of masses of people who took part in protest by demonstrations around the UK and the whole world. The organisers of a march in the UK claimed a turnout of over 1.5 million protesters in a march in London in February last year, just prior to the war.

Therefore, it was necessary for the government to prepare a careful dramatisation of intelligence surrounding WMD and terrorist links in order to convince the public that war was really necessary, and to pave the way for their acceptance of it.

On 24 September 2002 a dossier on WMD was published by the UK’s Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) based on information obtained from the Secret Intelligence Services (SIS), also known as MI6. Its contents included the controversial and now infamous conclusion that Saddam Hussein did possess weapons of mass destruction, and the foreword by Tony Blair stated that ‘the document discloses that his (Saddam’s) military planning allows for some of the WMD to be ready within forty-five minutes of an order to use them.’ The dossier sparked a frenzy in the media, generating headlines which suggesting that British troops in Cyprus could be attacked with WMD within forty-five minutes. The Sun newspaper, Britain’s biggest selling daily, ran the headline; ‘Brits forty-five minutes from doom,’ whilst the Star, another leading tabloid, announced that ‘Mad Saddam ready to attack: forty-five minutes from chemical war ‘.

In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, Geoff Hoon the Defence Secretary explained that the United Nations weapons inspectors, do not have to find a ‘smoking gun’ to prove that Iraq has WMD to trigger war. He argued that ‘Persuasive evidence that President Saddam Hussein has nuclear, biological or chemical weapons may be enough to warrant military strikes by Britain and the US.’

The Doctrine Of Pre-Emption

The above discussion demonstrates how intelligence became a cornerstone in the establishment of a new precedent in global warfare - the doctrine of pre-emption. That is to say, if intelligence indicates the possibility of a future enemy attack - or even the existence of a perceived threat of attack - an offensive, and pre-emptive, action is justified. In September 2002 the Bush administration released the National Security Strategy of the United States. In this policy paper, the administration wrote, ‘to forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States, will if necessary, act pre-emptively.’ Accordingly the US reserved the right to strike any sovereign nation in advance of possible hostile acts, and without prior provocation. In October 2002, the US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, ‘Ask yourself this question: Was the attack that took place on 9/11 an imminent threat the month before or two months before or three months before or six months before? When did the attack on 9/11 become an imminent threat? Now, transport yourself forward to a year, two years or a week or a month? So the question is, when is it such an immediate threat that you must do something?’ President George Bush, said, ‘Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof - the smoking gun - that could come in the form of a smoking mushroom cloud.’

And so despite Hans Blix’s reports in March 2003, which stated that Iraq had increased its co-operation and his pleas for the inspectors to be given more time to verify Iraq’s compliance, the stage for war was set. On 17 March 2003, the UK’s Ambassador to the UN announced that the diplomatic process on Iraq had ended. Any remaining arms inspectors were told to evacuate, and US President George W Bush gave a 48-hour ultimatum for Saddam Hussein and his sons to leave Iraq or face war. On the 20 March 2003 American missiles hit targets in Baghdad, marking the start of the US-led campaign to topple Saddam Hussein.

Bush used Iraq’s alleged nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programmes and Saddam Hussein’s presumed ties to international terrorism as the main case to the United Nations (UN) for its war against Iraq, and all this was based on intelligence.

Artificial Intelligence

Shortly after the capture of Baghdad scepticism surrounding the motives behind the war intensified, when allied troops failed to locate the WMD that they had claimed existed and posed a threat to the civilised world. In May 2003, two months after the commencement of war, the BBC Today programme defence correspondent Andrew Gilligan reported that a source, with high links to British Intelligence, had cited the 45-minute claim was a classic example of how the dossier was ‘sexed’ up before its publication to make a case for war. The source, which came to be known as scientist Dr David Kelly, appeared before a parliamentary committee on 16 July 2003. Two days later, he was found dead in a field close to his home in Oxfordshire, presumed to have committed suicide. In the ensuing weeks, Dr Kelly was effectively made a scapegoat in the matter, and his case served as a smokescreen which prevented people from addressing the underlying issue of whether or not the war was justified. Dr Kelly’s death was to trigger the launch of the Hutton inquiry, placing the government and in particular Tony Blair, open to scrutiny. When the enquiry exonerated Tony Blair, opposition politicians, the media and the public in general considered it as a ‘whitewash’, and demanded further investigation into the intelligence which led to war.

While Lord Hutton was absolving the government of any wrong-doing, across the Atlantic David Kay, the recently resigned head of America’s Iraq Survey Group (ISG) was delivering his verdict. He said that he believed no stockpiles of WMD existed in Iraq and that ‘we were almost all wrong.’ Until then, Tony Blair’s formulaic response to questions regarding the missing WMD was that conclusions should be left until after the ISG report was completed. As a further indictment against the British government’s stance, George Tenet, director of the CIA contradicted claims implied by the Bush administration that Iraq had posed an imminent danger before the US-led invasion. He said that intelligence reports had ‘never said there was an imminent threat’. According to Tenet, the report entitled the National Intelligence Estimate, included forty caveats and dissents from various analysts. ‘ In the intelligence business you are never completely wrong or completely right.’

Meanwhile, back in Britain both Tony Blair and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw now claimed that they did not realise till after the war that the forty-five minute claim referred to battlefield weapons, rather than long range weapons. Commenting on this revelation to BBC Radio 4’s World at One, the Tory Deputy Chairman said, ‘I think it is an extraordinary admission? What they both seem to think when we went to war was that Saddam could hit British troops in Cyprus with a long range ballistic missile carrying chemical and biological weapons, and yet we know now that’s not the case.’

Thus it appears that intelligence which now seems to be subjective was manipulated by both the US and UK in order to convince the public of a pre-determined policy. Under such pressures, the Prime Minister ordered a further inquiry under the chairmanship of Lord Butler, whose remit is to include investigation of the accuracy of intelligence on Iraqi WMD up to March 2003, and to examine any discrepancies between the intelligence gathered, evaluated and used by the government before the conflict, and the intelligence that has been discovered by the Iraq Survey Group since the end of the conflict. The committee has been asked to report before the summer recess.

Elusive Intelligence

Conveniently intelligence is all too often ‘top secret’, and therefore the whole story cannot be told in the interest of protecting the innocent. An article by the Guardian entitled ‘Prove Iraqi guilt, MPs tell Blair’ quoted, that David Hinchliffe, chairman of the Commons health committee, said: ‘For many of us who talked to ministers there was an implication that more was known. Therefore a lot of people are anxious to establish the truth.’ His remarks were echoed by the former defence minister Doug Henderson, who warned that the war would in retrospect be deemed illegal if no banned weapons were found, because the military action was taken under UN resolutions calling for Iraq to disarm. ‘If by the turn of the year there is no WMD then the basis on which this was executed was illegal,’ he said. MPs are also starting to ask questions about the conduct of the intelligence services. They want to see the evidence that persuaded members of the Commons intelligence committee to back government efforts to win round waverers before the war began. One MP is telling committee members: ‘You kept saying you wished you could tell us, so now will you tell us?’

Thus the public at large and even Members of Parliament were kept in the dark as to the full extent of the intelligence available on the case for a pre-emptive strike. The nation was thus sent into war on the pretext of disarming Iraq of its ‘weapons of mass destruction,’ with the public having to take it on trust that it was the right thing to do.

From the above discussion, it becomes clear how intelligence can be used and manipulated according to the need of the time. The recent events have shown how intelligence was used as a smokescreen, preventing the masses from making informed judgements. There was widespread dissent about how the intelligence should be interpreted. When these facts became known, the war had already been waged and won; it was too late to go back. The public attention from these discrepancies was diverted by peripheral issues being highlighted in the media, such as the death of Dr Kelly and the Hutton report - which were dealt with by the government in such a way as to absolve those concerned of any misdoings. Such inquiries usually take so long to arrive at a verdict, that the government can use them as a convenient delaying tactic. By the time that any conclusions are made public, most people have forgotten the original issue or have become pre-occupied by other events that have taken the news headlines.

The Real Question Regarding The War

While the British dossier was quick to point the finger at Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction and its desire to acquire nuclear weapons, it conveniently omitted the fact that Western nations had enough WMD between them to destroy the planet several times over. In fact the West with its array of WMD arsenal pose immense danger to mankind which is clearly demonstrated by its irrefutable track record of systematic and deliberate use of the ‘world’s worst weapons’.

15 December 2003 saw the US’s utter contempt for innocent human lives and much outrage amongst Japanese survivors and peace activists when the reassembled bomber, Enola Gay went on display at The National Air and Space Museum. This was the US warplane that had unleashed the world’s first atomic bomb on Hiroshima where approximately 230,000 people died, including many from radiation poisoning. The deliberate killing and targeting of civilians in war at that time was considered illegal under the Geneva Convention. Admiral William Leahy, Truman’s wartime chief of staff wrote, ‘It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons; in being the first to use it, we adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.’

Far from reducing stockpiles of arms and WMDs, a call to which the US invites the rest of the world through treaties such as the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), the US has boldly continued to develop and strengthen its own weapons inventory, with the aim of maintaining its position as the worlds most powerful nuclear force. President Bush unveiled his latest budget plans stating, ‘We will continue to provide whatever it takes to defend our country by fully supporting our military.’ His budget proposals for 2005 saw a request for more funding from Congress - a 7 per cent increase on last year’s total which now surpasses the $400bn mark. The Bush administration claimed this was necessary to protect America from rogue nations that could fire missiles loaded with weapons of mass destruction.

With this back drop, the US relentlessly claims to pursue the disarmament of all nations of the world. However, in reality, its double standards become clear, as its quest for disarmament is selective towards those nation that it deems hostile, such as the famous ‘axis of evil’ or ‘rogue states’ like Iraq, North Korea, Iran, Libya and Syria.

However, while they wage their ‘war on terror’, systematically and forcible disarming the Muslim lands, they perversely turn a blind eye to Israel, which continues to develop WMD unchecked. Furthermore the US has recently provided the Israeli air force with the first two of a hundred US built F-161 jets, a new generation of war plane which will soon make up the backbone of the Israeli fleet. Experts say this ultra sophisticated development of the battle tested F16 has an increased range of 1500 km without needing in-flight refuelling, allowing it to reach anywhere in the Middle East. The jets are part of a two billion dollar US military aid package to Israel. With the addition of another 230 Fighting Falcons, Israel will command the second largest F-16 fleet in the world behind the US. So much for disarmament.

In reality, it is the Western nations, such as the US, Britain and their ally Israel that are the true criminals. For them to claim that they have the right to go to other countries and strip them of their weapons is in fact part of their war on Islam, to weaken the Muslims so it is easier to strike them. The West has no right to demand the disarming of Muslim countries and should be ashamed of claiming to do so - based on its own track record. So Muslims should not only expose the fact that intelligence was an excuse for a colonial style war, but must vehemently reject that the West have the right to claim that the weapons of Muslim countries should be removed from them - they have no such right.

Muslims Response To Intelligence And WMD

It is important for Muslims to understand that the war on Iraq was a pre-planned effort, as part of a ruthless foreign policy aimed at Western hegemony over the world. Only the right opportunity was being awaited, whereupon the ‘intelligence’ was provided on demand in an attempt to legitimise the act.

Indeed, it must be realised that the concept of intelligence is nothing more than a convenient tool to be used to further the ideological objectives and motives of Western nations. The very ambiguous nature of intelligence, and its scope for widely variable interpretation makes it highly suitable for this purpose. In relation to WMD, intelligence is used as a tool to strip the Muslim world of any ability to defend itself from attack, or ever pose a threat to Western interests. Clearly it is prone to abuse, as the doctrine of pre-emption proves, a doctrine that can be used to attack any nation as long as the right intelligence is generated.

The prosecution of the Iraq affair, indeed all events since 9/11, should make it clear that no deference should be given to intelligence as a means of legitimising the actions of Western governments. Nor does intelligence confer any moral authority upon such nations to dictate who should own WMD.

Published Saturday, March 20th, 2004 - 01:19pm GMT

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Nazia Jilali

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