The Downing Street Memo: The importance of British leaks and intelligence during the war on Iraq

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On July 23, 2002, Tony Blair held a meeting with the highest members of his cabinet and the British intelligence community, concerning Saddam Hussein?s regime and the United State?s position. Richard Dearlove, head of MI-6, summarized a meeting he had in Washington several days earlier with his counterpart, George Tenet, asserting the new certainty that a US led war on Iraq was ?inevitable.? Furthermore, he reported that war would be ?justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD,? while ?intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.? Leaked on May 1, 2005, to the Sunday Times, the minutes from the meeting confirm what skeptics of the war believed all along; that in July 2002, nearly eight months before the invasion began, the White House was determined to overthrow Saddam, regardless of the existence of his WMD. This document, known as the Downing Street Memo, was leaked five days before the British elections. Although it generated immediate interest in Britain, it received little attention from the American press. Besides a few sporadic mentions throughout the month of May, major papers and networks ignored the document until pressure from liberals became too powerful. In June, however, after the leak of a related document stating that Britain, in April 2002, supported ?military action to bring about regime change,? the Downing Street Memo became a major story. This paper looks at the accountability and reliability of the press, the relationship between the two intelligence communities, and the true political motivations behind the leaks.


Larry Caldwell




Anderson Fund Grant

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