Marian Wilkinson / Sydney Morning Herald – 2006-08-31 23:29:03
SYDNEY, Australia (August 31, 2006) — The Foreign Affairs Minister, Alexander Downer, issued instructions to suppress a damning letter about the hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq after the war, a former senior diplomat says.
Dr John Gee, an expert on chemical weapons, worked with the US-led weapons hunter, the Iraq Survey Group, after the war and wrote the critical six-page letter when he decided to resign in March 2004.
In it, he warned the Federal Government the hunt was, “fundamentally flawed” and there was a “reluctance on the part of many here and in Washington to face the facts” that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction.
Dr Gee recorded in an email soon after that “Downer has issued instructions it [my letter] is not to be distributed to anyone”. He wrote to a colleague in the Iraq Survey Group that a senior official in the Office of National Assessments, the Prime Minister’s intelligence advisory agency, had told him about Mr Downer’s instructions.
In another email, Dr Gee said the head of the Defence Department, Ric Smith, told him the department did not receive a copy of the letter even though Dr Gee was working in Iraq under contract to it. Dr Gee said senior defence officials told him the Department of Foreign Affairs “had not passed the letter on to Defence”.
Last night, a spokesman for Mr Downer said the minister “did not recall” receiving Dr Gee’s letter but said he would check. But he described as “a conspiracy theory” material showing that the letter had not been given to the head of the Defence Department. “I have heard a lot of conspiracy theories over the years, but I have not heard that one before.”
However, documents given to the Herald, including Dr Gee’s resignation letter and his emails to another senior weapons inspector, Rod Barton, reveal serious efforts to contain his findings.
Mr Downer has previously admitted that he was briefed personally by Dr Gee on the expert’s return from Iraq. But Mr Downer has never revealed the contents of that briefing. From the emails, it appears Mr Downer received the damning findings months before he and the Prime Minister, John Howard, accepted that no weapons of mass destruction would be found in Iraq.
One month after his briefing with Dr Gee, Mr Downer met the US head of the Iraq Survey Group, Dr Charles Duelfer. At their press conference, Mr Downer insisted the weapons hunt in Iraq “was still a work in progress” and he could not draw conclusions.
But Dr Gee’s emails reveal he briefed every senior level of the Government, including the Prime Minister’s office, Defence and Mr Downer’s Iraq Task Force, upon his return from Baghdad. They also indicate Mr Downer knew of his letter. The letter stated: “I now believe that there are no WMD in Iraq and that while the ISG has found a number of research activities . it has found no evidence so far on ongoing WMD programs of the type I had assumed would be there.”
Summing up his difficulties in Baghdad, Dr Gee wrote: “I have concluded that the process here is fundamentally flawed .”
He wrote that the Iraq Survey Group was “run by the CIA to protect the CIA”.
According to one email, the defence chief, Mr Smith, on hearing the briefing, said: “So we’ve got a problem.” Mr Smith told him “the only way to deal with bad news is to deal with it promptly and get it out of the way”.
Despite this, when Dr Gee tried to hand defence officials a copy of his letter, they declined to take it.
Yesterday Mr Barton, who also resigned from the hunt, told the Herald that Mr Downer and Mr Howard should have raised his and Dr Gee’s complaints about the Iraq Survey Group with the US.
“When the two senior Australians quit, and make it plain why they quit, because the process was corrupt, I think the least the Government could do was to go and talk to the Americans and ask what was going on here”.
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