MI6 'intelligence' lifted from lecturer's article

London Times 02/07/03

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COLIN POWELL’S much-vaunted case for war against Iraq suffered a setback yesterday when it emerged that chunks of British “intelligence” that he invoked were copied verbatim from an old article by a young academic.

“I was flattered at first, then surprised that they didn’t cite me,” said Ibrahim al-Marashi, 29, an Iraqi-American who lectures on the country that his parents fled in 1968. “I’ll be more sceptical of any British intelligence I read in future,” he said in a telephone interview. “It was a case of cut and paste. They even left in my mistakes.”

The academic said that he became aware of the connection with an article he wrote for the September edition of the Middle East Review of International Affairs only when a colleague from Cambridge University e-mailed him after General Powell’s presentation at the United Nations.

He said he was not surprised by what the Secretary of State had to say about Iraq trying to conceal its weapons programmes because he had worked on a project at Harvard University classifying captured Iraqi documents and he had read 300,000 of them. “By no means did this invalidate Powell’s presentation,” he said, defending the US case for war.

Mr al-Marashi’s family have all left Iraq, or he would have been worried about the exposure of his name. He works at the Centre for Nonproliferation Studies of the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California, where he focuses on the spread of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons and missile technologies in the Middle East.

His only complaint was that the British Government was “not playing by academic rules”. Perhaps that showed a healthy shift in intelligence practices away from “an antiquated notion” that public source material is not worthwhile. “Hopefully it marks a change in attitude,” he said.

The British Government also lifted several paragraphs that Mr al-Marashi carefully attributed to a book published in 1999 by Scott Ritter, the former chief UN weapons inspector, who is vehemently opposed to war against Iraq.

Mr al-Marashi confirmed a Channel 4 account concerning six paragraphs on Saddam’s Special Security Organisation which contained the exact same wording as his paper. It contained straight lifts from the text. He wrote: “The head of military intelligence generally did not have to be a relative of Saddam’s immediate family, nor a Tikriti. Saddam appointed, Sabir Abd Al-Aziz Al-Duri as head . . .”

The Downing Street version kept the misplaced comma after “appointed”: “Saddam appointed, Sabir ’Abd al-’Aziz al-Duri as head during the 1991 Gulf War.”

The accusations are not only embarrassing for Tony Blair but also for the White House. “This document is clearly presented to the British public as a product of British intelligence and it is clearly nothing of the kind,” Dan Plesch, a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, said. “This appears to be obsolete academic analysis dressed up and presented as the best MI6 and our international partners can produce on Saddam.”

A Downing Street spokesman dismissed the allegations and said that he stood by the dossier. “As the report itself made clear, it was drawn from a number of sources, including intelligence material,” the spokesman said. “It does not identify or credit any sources but neither does it claim exclusivity of authorship. We consider a text, as published, as accurate.”
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