Attention has also focused on the alleged scepticism of the then US Director of Central Intelligence, Mr George Tenet, about the report, which he is quoted in Mr Bob Woodward’s book, “Plan of Attack3”, as calling the “they-can-attack-in- 45-minutes shit”.
We asked the Chief of SIS, if Mr Tenet had ever mentioned his scepticism to him. He said:
There’s no record of them having commented negatively on the report and nor does the desk officer at the time recall any come-back from the CIA.
We asked Mr Tenet directly for a comment but no reply had been received by the time that he resigned from office.
As the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) have already reported4, the underlying intelligence report referred to an average period of 20 minutes, with a maximum of 45 minutes, for ‘BCW munitions’ to be moved into place for an attack. It was taken into the JIC assessment of 9 September through the inclusion of a sentence which noted that: Intelligence also indicates that chemical and biological munitions could be with military units and ready for firing within 20-45 minutes. [JIC, 9 September 2002]
The intelligence report itself was vague and ambiguous. The time period given was the sort of period which a military expert would expect; in fact it is somewhat longer than a well- organised military unit might aspire to. For those who interpreted it as referring to battlefield munitions, therefore, its significance was that it appeared to confirm that Iraq had both forward-deployed chemical and biological munitions and the necessary command and control arrangements in place to use them, rather than the period of time within which they could be deployed.
The ISC commented in their report that members of the Assessments Staff stated in evidence to that Committee that they, and the people they had consulted, did not know what munitions the report was referring to or their status, nor did they know from where and to where the munitions might be moved. But they also noted that they had reached a judgement that the report was referring to the time needed to move chemical and biological battlefield munitions from where they were held in forward-deployed storage sites to pre-designated military units. The Committee went on to say that the omission from the dossier of that judgement and the context it provided allowed speculation as to the exact meaning of the report and was unhelpful to an understanding of the issue.
We agree with this comment. We take the view that, in this instance, the JIC should have included that judgement in its assessment of 9 September 2002 and in the dossier. Alternatively, and as suggested by one witness who gave evidence to us, a more accurate representation by the Assessments Staff of the report would have highlighted the uncertainties in the intelligence by saying: A source has claimed some weapons may be deployable within 45 minutes of an order to use them,but the exact nature of the weapons,the agents involved a nd the context of their use is not clear.
The first media report of the ’45 minute’ story was carried in an exchange on the BBC Today programme about the dossier on the morning of its publication:
Simon & Schuster, London, 2004, page 190. “Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction – Intelligence and Assessments.” Cm 5972. September 2003.