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Operation Rockingham is an intelligence unit whose existence was revealed in June 2003 by the Scottish Sunday Herald. Based mainly on an interview with former US military intelligence officer and chief UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter, investigative journalist Neil Mackay describes the function of Operation Rockingham as producing misleading intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, which could be used as justification for action against Iraq. The article claimed that the Rockingham cell was at the center of various British and US intelligence organisations collecting information on Iraq's WMD, and that the unit dealt with intelligence obtained from a variety of sources, including Iraqi defectors and the UN arms inspections organisation in Iraq UNSCOM, which Rockingham had penetrated. According to Scott Ritter the unit amassed evidence selectively, with government backing, for political goals:
"Operation Rockingham cherry-picked intelligence. It received hard data, but had a preordained outcome in mind. It only put forward a small percentage of the facts when most were ambiguous or noted no WMD... It became part of an effort to maintain a public mindset that Iraq was not in compliance with the inspections. They had to sustain the allegation that Iraq had WMD [when] Unscom was showing the opposite."
For example, Rockingham would leak false information to weapons inspectors but then use the inspections as evidence for WMD: "Rockingham was the source of some very controversial information which led to inspections of a suspected ballistic missile site. We ... found nothing. However, our act of searching allowed the US and UK to say that the missiles existed."
The intelligence unit is thought to include military officers, intelligence services representatives as well as civilian Ministry of Defence personnel. The British weapons expert David Kelly, played an important role in Operation Rockingham. Ritter describes him as "Rockingham's go-to person for translating the data that came out of Unscom into concise reporting"
The day before he died, Kelly described his role in Operation Rockingham to the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee : "Within the defence intelligence services I liaise with the Rockingham cell." Although this evidence was given in secret, a transcript was released to the Hutton Inquiry. (1)
The only other public mention of "Operation Rockingham" prior to Ritter's interview was by Brigadier Richard Holmes while giving evidence to the defence select committee in June 1998. (2)
It has been alleged that "Operation Rockingham" assumed a central role within the UK intelligence system in building the case that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capabilities constituted a threat to the UK and the US. In the US, the Office of Special Plans, a Pentagon unit created by Donald Rumsfeld, worked towards a similar purpose.
"Rockingham was a tiny cell which drew on and coordinated all the resources of the DIS; its only aim was to provide leads for Unscom teams, which it did very successfully despite the problems of sanitising sensitive intelligence. Inevitably it was most effective in its earliest years, when Iraq's main WMD facilities, nuclear programme and stocks of chemical and biological weapons were destroyed."
Morrison's rebuttal of Ritter's allegatons was confirmed in the report published by the Butler Review in July 2004, which dedicates a page to Operation Rockingham (p.104). After its creation 1991 within the DIS, "Rockingham was responsible for briefing some of the personnel who formed part of UNSCOM and IAEA inspection teams. It processed information received as a result of the inspections,and acted as a central source of advice on continuing inspection activity. Rockingham also advised FCO and MOD policy branches on the provision of UK experts from government and industry to work with UNSCOM and the IAEA as members of inspection teams. Rockingham included an officer detached to Bahrain to staff an organisation known as GATEWAY to co-ordinate briefings to,and debriefings of, inspection team members as they deployed to,and returned from,Iraq."
After being reduced to one member of staff in 1998, it was again expanded to "provide UK support to UNMOVIC". "No official feedback from UNMOVIC was offered, nor expected. Rockingham did not brief or debrief individual inspectors. It did, however, continue to provide UNMOVIC and the IAEA with all-source UK intelligence assessments of the extent of Iraq's nuclear,biological, chemical and ballistic missile programmes, and information about sites of potential significance. It acted as the focus for the work tasked by the JIC on the analysis of the Iraqi declaration of 7 December 2002" (i.e. the 12,000-page weapons declaration handed over by Iraq as required by UN resolution). After the 2003 Iraq war, Rockingham worked with the Iraq Survey Group.
- Sunday Herald, 8 June 2003: Revealed: the secret cabal which spun for Blair Neil Mackay's original Sunday Herald article about Operation Rockingham
- The Guardian, 21. November 2003 : The very secret service Michael Meacher, former member of the Blair government, discusses the role of Operation Rockingham
- Sunday Herald, 1. February 2004: The heart of the matter ... did Iraq have WMD?
- The Guardian, 30. January 2004 : The public must look to what is missing from the report Scott Ritter analyses the Hutton report and David Kelly's connection to Operation Rockingham
- Sunday Times, 24. January, 2004 Spy, boffin, disgruntled civil servant: this was the David Kelly I knew (alternative link) Contains some information on David Kelly's role in Operation Rockingham
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