Blair-Powell UN Report Written by Student
"My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we're giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence."
-- Secretary of State Colin Powell before the United Nations, 2/5/03
The veracity of Colin Powell's report on Wednesday before the United Nations Security Council was dealt a serious blow when Britain's Channel 4 News broke a story that severely undermines the credibility of the intelligence Powell used to make his case to the UN.
Powell's presentation relied in no small part upon an intelligence dossier prepared by the British Government entitled, "Iraq - Its Infrastructure of Concealment, Deception and Intimidation." That report plagiarized large swaths of an essay written in September of 2002 by a graduate student from California named Ibrahim al-Marashi. Al-Marashi's essay appeared in the September 2002 edition of a small journal, the Middle East Review of International Affairs.
According to the story from Channel 4 News, which was later augmented by an Associated Press report by Jill Lawless, the duplicate text was first spotted by a Cambridge, England academic named Glen Ranwala. Apparently, Ranwala read the British dossier when it became available and believed he had seen it before. As it turns out, he was correct. Entire sections of the al-Marashi essay, including six full paragraphs in one section, had been cut and pasted into the British dossier, including several spelling and grammatical errors that are identical.
According to the Associated Press, al-Marashi had no idea his paper was being used by the British. "It was a shock to me," he told the Associated Press, and expressed the hope that the British would credit his work "out of academic decency."
A line-by-line comparison of the two documents clearly shows one example of the plagiarism:
From the British report -
"Saddam appointed, Sabir 'Abd al-'Aziz al-Duri as head during the 1991 Gulf War. After the Gulf War he was replaced by Wafiq Jasim al-Samarrai.
After Samarrai, Muhammad Nimah al-Tikriti headed Al-Istikhbarat al-Askariyya in early 1992 then in late 1992 Fanar Zibin Hassan al-Tikriti was appointed to this post.
These shifting appointments are part of Saddam's policy of balancing security positions. By constantly shifting the directors of these agencies, no one can establish a base in a security organisation for a substantial period of time. No one becomes powerful enough to challenge the President."
From the al-Marashi essay -
"Saddam appointed, Sabir 'Abd al-'Aziz al-Duri(80) as head of Military Intelligence during the 1991 Gulf War.(81) After the Gulf War he was replaced by Wafiq Jasim al-Samarrai.(82)
After Samarrai, Muhammad Nimah al-Tikriti(83) headed Military Intelligence in early 1992(84) then in late 1992 Fanar Zibin Hassan al-Tikriti was appointed to this post.(85) While Fanar is from Tikrit, both Sabir al-Duri and Samarrai are non-Tikriti Sunni Muslims, as their last names suggest.
Another source indicates that Samarrai was replaced by Khalid Salih al-Juburi,(86) demonstrating how another non-Tikriti, but from the tribal alliance that traditionally support the regime holds top security positions in Iraq.(87)
These shifting appointments are part of Saddam's policy of balancing security positions between Tikritis and non-Tikritis, in the belief that the two factions would not unite to overthrow him. Not only that, but by constantly shifting the directors of these agencies, no one can establish a base in a security organization for a substantial period of time, that would challenge the President.(88)"
After a close analysis of the identical text from both reports, it is also clear that Britain altered key words to give their report a more sinister and ominous twist. The British report states that the Iraqi intelligence agency is "spying on foreign embassies in Iraq." The al-Marashi essay's version states that the Iraqi intelligence agency is "monitoring foreign embassies in Iraq." The rhetorical leap from "monitoring" to "spying" is evident.
In another portion of the British dossier, Iraq is accused of "supporting terrorist organizations in hostile regimes." The al-Marashi essay's version states that Iraq is "aiding opposition groups in hostile regimes." The insertion of the word "terrorist" is manifestly provocative.
A disturbing series of questions is raised by this matter. Mr. Powell relied heavily upon "facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence," often from foreign intelligence services such as the British. His presentation was meant not only to establish the fact that Iraq is in possession of prohibited weapons, but also that Iraq enjoys ties to terrorist groups like al Qaeda. In light of this data, the factual basis for these claims is in doubt. Britain's report was touted as an up-to-the-minute intelligence review of the situation in Iraq. In fact, much of it is based upon the work of a graduate student who published his essay five months ago.
Furthermore, if the al-Marashi essay was worthy of plagiarizing, why did the British feel it necessary to alter certain key phrases so as to make it seem that Iraq is spying on foreign embassies and aiding terrorist groups? The manipulation of the original data appears, on the surface, to have been done in bad faith.
An analysis of the footnotes for the al-Marashi essay clearly demonstrate that his work was meant to describe Iraq's intelligence apparatus and military situation in the 1990s. The British dossier was presented as an up-to-date report on the status of Iraq's weapons and terrorist ties. There are 106 reference footnotes in the essay. 103 of these footnotes reference reports and articles from 1988 to 2000. Only three are from this century, and all of them reference reports from 2001. This is not current data in any context.
Clearly, Mr. Powell cannot be held responsible for the veracity of data given to him by the British government. The fact remains, however, that the British intelligence data, which comes from the most steadfast ally of the Bush administration, has been severely undermined by this report. This calls into question the veracity of virtually every aspect of Powell's presentation to the United Nations.
If the American Secretary of State was given such shoddily-assembled data from its most loyal ally, how can the rest of the data be considered dependable? The data on Zarqawi and Ansar al-Islam came from Jordanian intelligence, a source much less trustworthy than the British. Many of the "human sources" cited by Powell were, in fact, detainees in Guantanamo, Cuba. These sources are suspect at best, yet were a significant part of the basis for Powell's accusations that Iraq is working with al Qaeda and developing a wide variety of prohibited weapons. Between these sources and the unreliable data from the British, it seems all too clear that Powell's entire presentation was based upon information that is questionable to say the least.
Finally, and most significantly, is the question of intent. The United States will have soon placed approximately 150,000 troops in the region surrounding Iraq with the full intention of going to war. Such a conflict is almost certain to cause destabilizing upheavals in the Middle East which could threaten the global community. More ominously, the CIA and FBI have reported that a war in Iraq will definitely lead to terrorist attacks in America and a number of European nations, including Britain. This matter must now be framed in a new light. Does the British government believe it acceptable to assist the United States in going to war on the word of a graduate student from Monterey?
The revelation of this data could conceivably come to do significant harm to the Bush administration's attempt to assemble a "Coalition of the Willing" for an attack upon Iraq. Tony Blair and Britain have been, since the beginning, the most fundamentally important members of whatever international coalition Mr. Bush is able to assemble.
This report could shake Blair's standing with his government and his people. Blair's relationship with his own party, and with the British citizenry, has already proven rocky on the subject of his alliance with the Bush administration over this conflict. If Blair's ability to stand with Mr. Bush becomes undermined, Mr. Bush would find himself almost completely isolated on this issue.
William Rivers Pitt is a teacher from Boston, MA. He is the author of War On Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn’t Want You To Know (Context Books, 2002) with Scott Ritter, and The Greatest Sedition is Silence which will be published in May by Pluto Press. Scott Lowery contributed research to this report.