- The Secret Intelligence Service has run an operation
to gain public support for sanctions and the use of military force in Iraq.
The government yesterday confirmed that 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
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
misinformation. "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, who led
14 inspection missions in Iraq, 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 intelligence
- "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 programmes (to produce weapons of mass destruction),"
said Ritter. "They were sourced to western intelligence and all of
them were garbage."
- Kelly, himself a former United Nations weapons inspector
and colleague of Ritter, might also have been used by MI6 to pass information
to the media. "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
- 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 passed on intelligence that Iraq was hiding weapons
of mass destruction and 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 alleged 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 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 opposed the Iraq war but this is the first time
that he has named members of British intelligence as being involved in
a propaganda campaign. He said he had decided to "name names"
because he was frustrated at "an official cover-up" and the "misuse
- "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.
- Copyright: The Times - UK