Campbell Resignation Will Not Help Blair

British premier Tony Blair may have hoped that the resignation of his most un-lamblike communications and strategy adviser Alastair Campbell might deflect some of the heat of the Hutton Inquiry and limit the damage of the Kelly affair. That sacrifice will be in vain.
Some British commentators saw the shock move as the “spin master’s final spin”. Anyway, the public inquest into the death of British bio-weapons expert Dr. David Kelly last month is expected to recall him for further grilling on the controversial dossier on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and his role on the exposure of the dead scientist to the media in view of conflicting testimonies by other witnesses.
His assertion the first time round that he had “no input or any influence at any stage of the process” that led to the insertion of the assertion that Saddam Hussein could activate his chemical or biological weapons “at 45 minutes notice” is unlikely to hold up. Lack of influence on any materials “output” by 10 Downing Street was not in the job description of an aide called by many the real “deputy prime minister”.
The evidence presented at the Kelly Inquiry this week centered on who was responsible for the 45-minute phrase which the BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan reported had been added to “sex up” the document and had angered intelligence bosses. On Tuesday, August 26, Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee John Scarlett, who drafted the complete dossier, denied Number 10 had tried to beef up the document, but confirmed that the 45-minute claim was inserted at a later stage when new intelligence came in from a single reliable military source in Iraq suggesting Iraq could deploy WMD at “maximum 45 minutes – but an average closer to 20 minutes”.
Scarlett admitted that a memo from Campbell seven days before its publication amounted to “requests for changes.” The memo questioned the use of the word “may” in the 45-minute claim. Scarlett replied the next day that “the language has been tightened”. Yet Campbell in his testimony stressed his only influence in the document was “presentational”.
At the same time, members of the Defense Intelligence Staff sent a six-page letter expressing the opposite concern. They wanted the 45-minute claim watered down by preceding it with the words “intelligence suggests…”
This advice was ignored. Yet Scarlett and other witnesses testified there was no disagreement within the intelligence services about the dossier’s final text.
A draft dated September 16, eight days before publication, shows that the 45-minute claim was reworded four times – starting out as “may” (be able to use WMD) then being transformed twice into “could”. The final version published on September 24 said three times the Iraqis “are able” to use their illegal weapons within 45 minutes.
When he was questioned on the progressive hardening of the language, spy chief Scarlett said that in spite of detailed discussion with his staff, none had any memory of changing the wording nor any recollection of any particular reason for doing so…Therefore the authorship of the controversial claim that prompted the late David Kelly to say the document had been “transformed”, is still a mystery.
More examples of buck-passing were displayed by the secretary of defense, Geoff Hoon, when he gave evidence on Wednesday August 27, the day before the prime minister. He denied responsibility for Dr. Kelly, an employee of his department, or a hand in his exposure to the media as the source of the BBC program which is at the heart of the inquiry into the causes of his death. He said Sir Kevin Tebbit, a civil servant at the MoD was responsible.
Responsibility for the decision to name Dr Kelly to the parliamentary foreign affairs committee was assigned elsewhere by Hoon – to the Cabinet Office at a key meeting in Downing Street. Kelly died two days after he was roughly grilled by the MPs.
The defense secretary claimed not to have been shown the directives given his department’s press officers that were phrased in such a way as to bring out Kelly’s identity.
As the London Times put it: “Whenever key decisions were being taken regarding the handling of Dr Kelly, the Defense Secretary was apparently absent, not involved, ignorant or simply bypassed.”
His head is generally expected to roll after that of Campbell.
Blair performed with typical smoothness when he appeared before the Hutton Inquiry Thursday, August 28. He said that towards the end of August 2002, he had talked on the phone with President Bush and they had decided together to publish the dossier “to confront the issue (of Iraq), devise a strategy and get on with it.”
He insisted that the dossier was not the reason for going to war and was not “making the case for war” but for the issue to be dealt with.
He saw the BBC report by Andrew Gilligan alleging the document had been sexed up by the government as a direct attack on his integrity. Blair said that if it were true it would have merited his resignation. It sounded as though the government had done something “improper” and an article in the Mail on Sunday alleging Mr. Campbell’s involvement had “booster rockets” attached to it. He gave his communications adviser permission to appear on Channel 4 news to rebut the allegations.
Blair took “ultimate responsibility” for the decision that led to Kelly being revealed, but insisted that he thought his name would have come out anyway. The government was worried about keeping Dr. Kelly’s name private before he appeared before a government committee in case the prime minister was accused of a cover-up or misleading the committee. He could not remember Campbell suggesting leaking Dr. Kelly’s name to the press. He was also unaware of an MoD press office Q&A guide for spokesmen if they were asked the name of the BBC source that would inevitably have identified Kelly.
Downing Street, said the prime minister, did discuss what sort of person Dr. Kelly was and agreed he was “robust enough” to handle the publicity if his name came out.
The prime minister at one point admitted he was not sure at the time that the source of the Gilligan report was Dr. Kelly. On the other hand, five weeks previously, in response to a question from a journalist, he had stated: “I did not authorize the release of the name of Dr. Kelly.”
debkafile‘s Special Correspondent at the Hutton Inquiry comments: The British public appears far from convinced by the Blair testimony. If anything, the Kelly affair has seriously undermined trust in his government. A Channel 4 TV poll run after the PM’s appearance at the Inquiry showed that 90% of the 20,000 respondents canvassed thought the Blair government had misled people over the case for war with Iraq. Another survey found only 22% of all respondents thought British government was “honest and trustworthy” – down from 56% at the last election.
The Campbell resignation – and his replacement by a far less pugnacious and provocative figure, the former Labor Party communications director, David Hill – will evidently occasion an overhaul of the Blair office’s structure to curb the powers of unelected political advisers.
Next week, members of the Kelly family face the Inquiry. The Blair government has little reason to look for salvation from the dead scientist’s mourning relatives.

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