Two days before Tony Blair presented that paper to the Commons, this journalist was ear-wigged by a self-styled East European diplomat while trying to interview a Kurdish exile in a Turkish airport.
“Dennis” was returning from Siloppie, a town sealed off by the Turkish military, where he had overseen the import of industrial and agricultural vehicles into Iraq under the UN’s oil-for-food programme, he said.
“You know, they’ll never find the weapons of mass destruction,” he whispered conspiratorially. ‘they’ve been loaded onto 10 mobile laboratories that are being driven around all day. Nobody knows where they are at any given time, no-one at all.”
Dennis would know. His nominal employer was really a front for the Belarusian government, he said, and his salary was paid out of Iraq’s Banque National de Paris account at the UN in New York.
His fellow employees in Baghdad were facing difficulties, but he didn’t ask questions because the less he knew, the safer he would be. I began to feel the same way.
Until the next day, when The Observer reported allegations by former UN weapons inspector Tim McCarthy that Iraqi deals with a tractor factory in the Belarussian capital Minsk were a cover for exporting technology to help manufacture nuclear weapons.
Then on September 24, Blair’s WMD paper officially launched the story of mobile vehicles ferrying biological and chemical weapons around the Iraqi countryside.
That dossier is currently subject to a Foreign Affairs Select Committee inquiry, but sadly Dennis is unavailable to help unravel its mysteries. The company he said he worked for doesn’t exist, the telephone number he gave doesn’t work and the email address he offered returns all mail. He could have been a great “security source”, except that the only part of his story to hold up 10 months later, is that Iraq’s WMD have still not been found.