Blair-Powell Report Debunked
February 7, 2003 4:35 PM   Subscribe

The first cracks in the foundations of Colin Powell's "Case for War" speech are beginning to be uncovered by a Cambridge professor. Some of the information taken from an "up to date" British intelligence dossier was apparently plagiarized and dramatically spun from a California graduate student's paper, describing the Iraqi regime during the 1990s. Will it make any difference in U.S. public opinion if the Powell speech is debunked? Will the widening gap between U.S. and global opinion further weaken the UN?
posted by zekinskia (42 comments total)
Nope. Brits admitted a bit of an error. Simply put: if you favor a war, this of little consequence...there are plenty of things they have on Saddam. If, though, you are against a war (at this time or in near future) you will take this bit and apply it to everything that the administration argues for.

Tell me, then, your postion and I will tell youhow you will read this post.
posted by Postroad at 4:40 PM on February 7, 2003

Can someone further explain why this is a bad thing? So Powell cited from the Brits who plagarized a journal article... Judges in the U.S. often cite scholarly articles and treatises in making decisions. What's the difference?
posted by gyc at 4:46 PM on February 7, 2003

gyc: the British government did not cite the article, they just copied several paragraphs verbatim and added words like "terrorist." Plagiarism in a high school paper is one thing, but the British government, by not citing this grad student, implies that the information is based on their research.

Also, while the article describes Iraq in the 1990s, and even late '80s, the British report is portraying present-day Iraq.

That's the difference...
posted by zekinskia at 4:52 PM on February 7, 2003

...they just copied several paragraphs verbatim...

"Glen Rangwala, an Iraq specialist at Cambridge University who analyzed the Downing Street dossier, told Reuters that 11 of its 19 pages were 'taken wholesale from academic papers.' "
posted by 4easypayments at 4:55 PM on February 7, 2003

From my weblog, 27th September 2002:
"Looking at The Dossier in pdf format why do I discover someone's degree dissertation? I was actually waiting for compelling evidence, and whilst this makes sober reading, I'm still on the fence. The reason being that unlike a dissertation there isn't a section detailing sources (a good 30% of the final mark). Listening to commentators on the day was published we found plenty of supposition but nothing to pin point how all of this was gathered. Also, the word 'conclusion' occurs only once. There are plenty of statements like:
"Subsequently, intelligence has become available from reliable sources which complements and adds to previous intelligence and confirms the JIC assessment that Iraq has chemical and biological weapons. The intelligence also shows that the Iraqi leadership has been discussing a number of issues related to these weapons. This intelligence covers:

Confirmation that chemical and biological weapons play an important role in Iraqi military thinking: intelligence shows that Saddam attaches great importance to the possession of chemical and biological weapons which he regards as being the basis for Iraqi regional power. He believes that respect for Iraq rests on its possession of these weapons and the missiles capable of delivering them.
It would be nice to know who the reliable sources are and what makes them reliable. We are told what the intelligence covers, but we aren't given specific instances. Let me put it this way. In film going terms what we have here is the equivellent of a friend telling you that the new Vin Diesel movie is a classic and you should go and see it but not actually telling you why. That's OK because it's just a film. It's £3.50 (or £7.50 in Paris). Here we are talking about going into war. Lives and governments are at stake. For that kind of thing there has to be some accountability and trust that when given the full truth the general public will be able to make a constructive choice. If were going to de-stabalise a whole part of the world I want to really know we're doing the right. I want to know that whoever's telling us to do this knows what they're talking about ... [Abode pdf reader here]"
It was actually Channel 4 News who broke the story and here is their evidence. This is almost the sound of history repeating, although the previous effort hasn't been outed as plagarism. Still made me shudder though.
posted by feelinglistless at 4:59 PM on February 7, 2003

my only beef with the UK's dossier was it did not cite the sources. also, somewhere i read a quote from the grad student that criticisized the UK dossier for not mentioning that a lot of the information is 10 years old.

more articles on the subject...
bbc story
channel 4 story
posted by birdherder at 5:01 PM on February 7, 2003

More here. I think the point of concern here is that the information is outdated, and the professionalism of the British report authors is seriously open to question. On the upside, at least it's all gone through the peer review process...
posted by Sonny Jim at 5:03 PM on February 7, 2003

Remember what Condi Rice wrote in the NY Times...

"Iraq's declaration even resorted to unabashed plagiarism, with lengthy passages of United Nations reports copied word-for-word (or edited to remove any criticism of Iraq) and presented as original text. Far from informing, the declaration is intended to cloud and confuse the true picture of Iraq's arsenal. It is a reflection of the regime's well-earned reputation for dishonesty and constitutes a material breach of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441, which set up the current inspections program."

Mmmm, war.
posted by Sr_Cluba at 5:06 PM on February 7, 2003

No. This won't mater one iota. As Bush said, the game is over. We're going to war.

Plus, do you think this will actually be reported by mainstream media in the US so close to wartime?
posted by entropy at 5:10 PM on February 7, 2003

Sr_Cluba: do you have a link to that article?
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 5:19 PM on February 7, 2003

Hmmm...even the administration is buying term papers online...
posted by troybob at 5:40 PM on February 7, 2003

Here's your link XQ.
posted by mblandi at 5:50 PM on February 7, 2003

Also being discussed here.
posted by homunculus at 6:11 PM on February 7, 2003

I'd like to see several different analyses of Powell's speech, rather than commentaries about how it doesn't matter anymore, the U.S. is going to war, or simply letting the speech fade. But sadly enough, I really do believe that it doesn't matter anymore whether or not the administration really has a smoking gun: they're going to do it anyway.

Has anyone here ever read Greg Bear's "Anvil of Stars"? Thinking about the Iraq situation is starting to remind me of the end of that book....
posted by namespan at 7:05 PM on February 7, 2003

As Bush said, the game is over. We're going to war.

Right, as though this is somehow /news/... he's been spewing the same blather for over a year now, and it just doesn't get any more credible.
posted by Mars Saxman at 7:39 PM on February 7, 2003

Plagiarism refers to a lack of attribution, not the accuracy of the information involved. But then, your line "Will the widening gap between U.S. and global opinion further weaken the UN?" is the give away to your bias. The "gap" is narrowing, with more and more countries agreeing with the United States.

That wasn't even a good try.
posted by ParisParamus at 7:57 PM on February 7, 2003

posted by Macboy at 8:23 PM on February 7, 2003

Plagiarism refers to a lack of attribution, not the accuracy of the information involved. But then, your line "Will the widening gap between U.S. and global opinion further weaken the UN?" is the give away to your bias.

Aha, so it's his obvious bias that discredits the unavoidable fact that the UK copied 11 pages of 11-year-old data and presented it as an updated intelligence dossier. Right. How silly of me to think that opinions and facts are two different things, Paris.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:24 PM on February 7, 2003

entropy...I guess it you don't count ABC news, which was linked to in this discussion, as a major news source, then we must be in a right-wing media blackout.

Ok, so it was a stupid decision by the Brits. But what does this have to do with the war planning? The evidence hasn't been refuted; it hasn't been proved wrong. All it says is that the British intelligence service is quite lacking. Who cares if academic researches or CIA spooks discovered Saddam's dirty laundry.

I understand the problem from an academic point of view, but from a policy point of view, this means about zilch.
posted by Kevs at 8:27 PM on February 7, 2003

Kevs: jbrjake explains.
posted by betaray at 9:01 PM on February 7, 2003

Good god! You'd think with all the money we're blowing on this stupid war the government would be able to produce higher quality propaganda!
posted by Nyarlathotep at 9:33 PM on February 7, 2003

...did someone say my name?;>

Since my post last night, which betaray has so graciously linked to, I've been thinking some more about this report. My first reaction was being pissed they'd plagiarised. Then I realized what a lot of people here have mentioned, which is that it doesn't matter where the intelligence comes from, if it's true. Then I got to the point where I was last night, where my main gripe was that Blair's pushing obsolete data, ostensibly to make Iraq look as eeeeevil as it did when Desert Shield began. (It's like Bill Hicks said: 'They went from the Elite Republican Guard to the Republican Guard to the Republicans made this shit up about there guards.')

Postroad said at the top of this thread that people who are pro-war will ignore it as the exception to a trend (Iraq being damned by incontrovertible evidence), people who are anti-war will say it demonstrates a trend. I'm against this war not because I like Saddam, but because I think the rationale we're using for this war sets numerable dangerous precedents. Beyond the basic argument about pre-emptive strikes, the problem, in my opinion, is that the people who've been planning this war for five years use sloppy reasoning. There's nothing wrong, see, about making evidence up, since Saddam's guilty anyway. Saddam threw inspectors out by not letting them visit palaces (that canard was finally rebuked by Clinton last night on Larry King, who flat out said "we threw out the inspectors.). We should go to war even without UN approval because Saddam Hussein's regime doesn't have the approval of the UN. Germany is old Europe, while the older state of Italy is new Europe. Condoleeza Rice says we know Iraq is lying because they plagiarized the evidence in their favor, but we know England plagiarized evidence in our favor since they're telling the truth.

The easy conservative response to that last sentence is: "What, Iraq deserves the benefit of the doubt but England doesn't? Iraq has a history of deceit!" Well, yes. But once you get that lazy, where out of convenience you'll say some pixels of white are black since you 'know' the screen as a whole is mostly black...once you get to that point, there's nothing connecting the arguments in favor of the war to the facts of the matter anymore. And regardless of Saddam being a good person or a bad person, those arguments will still be used long after Saddam is dead and buried, long after Bush is out of office, be he a one termer or two. No conservative worth his or her weight would be supporting this war right now if a Democrat was pursuing it, at the current level of debate. That will change. Now both parties are interventionist. Pre-emptive warfare and nobility and stolen, obsolete data and honor only go together when lead by someone pure of heart. I have my doubts that our current President is pure in intention, but God knows I could be wrong. If I am wrong, there's still nothing stopping his legacy from being twisted and distorted by future holders of the Oval Office.
posted by jbrjake at 9:44 PM on February 7, 2003

I feel Senator Joe Biden is behind this somehow.
posted by Mack Twain at 11:26 PM on February 7, 2003

This isn't about plagiarism, damnit. It's about the vast difference between a twelve year old essay, written by a grad student in California, versus accurate, timely intelligence. Jesus, have the whole lot of you gone mad??

I can't even believe I'm reading some of the responses I'm seeing here. Where'd you all hide those critical thinking caps, you're so well known for? Every single one of you is so much smarter than this; what the hell is goin' on here?

Wake up God damn it! This is not a "bit of a mistake"... This information is being used to support an invasion, and God only knows how many deaths of military personnel and civilians alike...
I'm absolutely flabbergasted that even one of you would honestly think this scandalous story has anything in the world to do with not properly citing material.
posted by Tiger_Lily at 2:09 AM on February 8, 2003

I was so beside myself with fury, in my previous post, that I inadvertently jumbled my facts.
It's meant to be understood that some of the data cited in the essays that were plagiarised is twelve years old.
posted by Tiger_Lily at 2:22 AM on February 8, 2003

I'm so sick of being outraged. I'm so sick of the mental preparations and indigestion of having to potentially dedicate my life to this fucking lie, crap, shit, bilious cadre of extremists who are forcing every last one of us to fight, argue, hate, fear etcetera (kill) one another. How dare these small minded country club motherfuckers dictate what I'm now supposed to focus on.

Ha ha. Joke's on me I guess. How much is the matinee for the Zyklon-B Movie?
posted by crasspastor at 2:31 AM on February 8, 2003

From a post I made today about this issue:
I have read several articles on this controversy, and one question that keeps coming up is "what does it matter if the material was plagiarized if it is accurate?". In my opinion, it makes a difference on several levels. First, the very act of plagiarizing calls into question the integrity of those who put the report together. Beyond that, it is academic laziness at it's worst, and when decision-makers are using this material to help determine of war is necessary or to justify their decision to go to war, it is crucial that the information - and the information gatherers - be unquestionably trustworthy. The fact that the compilers apparently didn't even check the source material or the final dossier closely enough to catch simple typographical errors calls into question how well they checked the information provided by the source material.
posted by thorswitch at 6:27 AM on February 8, 2003

I would note that if you steal somebody's old essay for your public release of information, you don't need to convince your spooks to part with any intelligence. Powell's use of wiretaps and such was hugely controversial in the intelligence community since it amounted to telling the Iraqis something about US capacities.
posted by ednopantz at 6:46 AM on February 8, 2003

It's simply proof that war is such an inevitability that neither the US nor the UK can be bothered wasting the governmental effort on creating an impressively-fabricated deceit in order to justify the decision.

Or perhaps that the public knows that whatever 'dossiers' are produced, they're only figleaves to cover a larger, dossier-free desire to establish the New New Order for the New New Millennium.

That's why it's amusing to hear Powell and Rumsfeld play the 'League of Nations' card. Because it's not as if the UN would prove itself any less of an irrelevance if it were simply cowed into rubber-stamping Dubya's Crusade Against One Bad Guy, With Peripheral Collateral Blowing Civilians To Bits. In fact, being the US's bitch would have 'League of Nations' written all over it.

(Strange, too, that no-one in the US media comments on how it was American refusal to participate in the League of Nations, after the damn organisation was proposed by Woodrow Wilson, which helped sink it in the 1930s.)
posted by riviera at 7:09 AM on February 8, 2003

You could produce video of Rumsfeld and Saddam in a hot-tub lighting cigars with hundred dollar bills and the war-pigs still wouldn't be convinced.
Some brown people somewhere have to pay for 9-11, and we aren't too particular about who it is. And if we can grab some oil as well - It's on, baby!
posted by 2sheets at 10:06 AM on February 8, 2003

one of the things that confuses me about this story is that there's no mention of it on newsmax, fox news' website, rush limbaugh's site, or on the national review online.

isn't that odd? all those places claim, as conservative bastions, that they and only they present the entire truth to america and the world.

i don't get it.
posted by lord_wolf at 10:34 AM on February 8, 2003

"Pundits and officials in Washington have dubbed Secretary of State Colin Powell's attempt to make a case for war against Iraq in the United Nations Security Council an "Adlai Stevenson moment."

"I couldn't disagree more. My father was Adlai Stevenson, who in 1962, as President Kennedy's representative to the United Nations, presented the Security Council with incontrovertible proof that the Soviet Union, a nuclear superpower, was installing missiles in Cuba and threatening to upset the world's "balance of terror ..."
posted by sheauga at 4:34 PM on February 8, 2003

Let Powells' speech be an Adlai Stevenson moment. We all remember the terrible and bloody war that broke out after he presented his "incontrovertible proof."

Oh... wait... I guess diplomacy prevailed after that particular moment.
posted by RKB at 5:33 PM on February 8, 2003

(Strange, too, that no-one in the US media comments on how it was American refusal to participate in the League of Nations, after the damn organisation was proposed by Woodrow Wilson, which helped sink it in the 1930s.)

This thought has crossed my mind a number of times.
posted by y2karl at 5:46 PM on February 8, 2003

lord_wolf: That's because the story is trivial.

This is minor embarrassment for the British. It has no effect on the case for war with Iraq, which is based on spy plane photos and intercepted radio transmissions, which show that the Iraqis have WMD that they have not destroyed, and that they are successfully hiding them from the inspectors. Powell's mention of this British report took exactly one sentence out of a 90 minute presentation.

Everyone but MeFi realizes this. It's a tempest in a teapot, it's a mountain out of a molehill, it's a game of "Gotcha!" by the left.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 9:03 PM on February 8, 2003

Lawmakers press Powell as to why terrorist training ground has not been destroyed.

Absent an explanation from the White House, some officials suggested that the administration has refrained from striking the compound in part to preserve a key piece of its case against Iraq.

"This is it, this is their compelling evidence for use of force," said one intelligence official, who asked not to be identified. "If you take it out, you can't use it as justification for war."

posted by homunculus at 10:54 PM on February 8, 2003

homunculus, isn't the answer obvious? That's been tried. It failed. That's what Clinton did in 1998, in Afghanistan and the Sudan, after attacks on U.S. embassies. It didn't have much effect on al-Qaeda, did it? They just relocated the camps elsewhere in those countries.

As long as you have regime in control that tolerates those camps, you're going to have more of them. The solution is to change the regime.

Maybe you believe that shouldn't be done, for other reasons. Fine. But merely bombing the camps isn't going to do anything. That tactic has been shown to be worthless.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 11:21 PM on February 8, 2003

Then again, maybe this is why:

Journalists have visited the alleged chemical weapons site in Kurdish-held northern Iraq that US Secretary of State Colin Powell says is run by an Islamic group linked to al-Qaeda.

But they saw no obvious evidence of chemical weapons production.

Of course, since the American media first reported on the camp last August, when Bush canceled a mission to destroy it, they've had plenty of time to relocate any biological or chemical materials they might have had.
posted by homunculus at 11:21 PM on February 8, 2003

Slithy, it isn't obvious to me. Clinton's cruise missile strikes didn't work because al Qaeda was warned they were coming and evacuated. That doesn't mean a strike on this camp wouldn't have worked if it had been quick enough. Besides, part of the point is to keep them on the run so that they aren't able to manufacture these weapons. I wonder how much they could have produced during the last six months. As for regime change, the camp is in Kurdish territory which Saddam doesn't control. Ansar al-Islam has historicaly been opposed to Saddam (here's an interview with their leader, for what it's worth.) If I thought Saddam was connected to al Qaeda, I'd be calling for his head too, but the continuing existence of this camp actually undermines the case, IMO. Right now I'm more concerned about this member of the Qatari royal family then I am about Saddam.
posted by homunculus at 11:55 PM on February 8, 2003

Hear, hear - homunculus!

I just can't shake the feeling that the U.S. is being corraled to Iraq with deliberately misleading, back-channel intel... At first, I thought maybe we were looking at the old Russia/China game, because they have quite a bit to gain by us getting ourselves in a jam there; now I'm thinking it may be a broader tandem play to give us a major body blow. In that respect, I've got serious reservations about Qatar, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan, and maybe even Kuwait.
Something's going on here that's got my instincts kicking up a furious storm--but I'm damned if I can get a solid beat on it. All I know is, I don't like it--not one little bit.
The fact that the evidence, being produced by major proponents of the war, is so lame--only heightens my sense that we're in serious trouble here.
posted by Tiger_Lily at 4:06 AM on February 9, 2003

Slithy_Tove - "which is based on spy plane photos and intercepted radio transmissions"

None of which we've seen or heard. The problem here is that every piece of verifiable evidence that's been presented has been flawed, misrepresented, or fabricated. However every time something new is debunked, we're supposed to believe that the "real evidence" is out there, and we should just place faith in our leaders?

Do you seriously want the president to have the ability to go to war without presenting strong proof to the people of the United States? Is it wrong to question why this target? Why now? Is it wrong to expect truthful and logical explanations to those questions?
posted by betaray at 12:54 PM on February 9, 2003

These little exhibitions of incompetence are comforting. They are the pratfalls which unknot our stomachs and ease our tensions - it's like watching a crucial scene from the X-Files, when suddenly one of the primary props shakes, squeaks, cracks, and falls over.

Comic relief.

If these guys aren't capable of constructing a simple movie set without comically boobytrapping themselves, how are they capable of rigging a complex conspiracy behind the scenes?

I don't think they are. The directors and producers of this show aren't evil geniuses - they are simple boneheads - a calming denouement which, though it may not make them less dangerous, does make them less formidable.
posted by Opus Dark at 4:09 PM on February 9, 2003

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