Speaking to the United Nations on Wednesday, in an address that was broadly portrayed as a case for war with Iraq, Secretary of State Colin Powell argued that, “Iraq today is actively using its considerable intelligence capabilities to hide its illicit activities.” To support that claim, Powell said, “I would call my colleagues attention to the fine paper that United Kingdom distributed yesterday, which describes in exquisite detail Iraqi deception activities.”

It turns out, however, that much of that “fine paper” – a dossier distributed by the office of British Prime Minister Tony Blair under the title, “Iraq – Its Infrastructure of Concealment, Deception and Intimidation” – was not a fresh accounting of information based on new “intelligence” about Iraqi attempts to thwart UN weapons inspections. Rather, the document has been exposed by Britain’s ITN television network as a cut-and-paste collection of previously published academic articles, some of which were based on dated material.

Substantial portions of the report that Powell used to support his critique of Iraq were lifted from an article written by a postgraduate student who works not in Baghdad but in Monterey, California, and who based much of his research on materials left in Kuwait more than a dozen years ago by Iraqi security services.

ITN’s Channel 4 News (http://www.channel4.com/news/) revealed Thursday night that at least four of the government report’s 19 pages had been copied from an internet version of an article by the California researcher, Ibrahim al-Marashi, which appeared in September, 2002, in an academic journal, the Middle East Review of International Affairs. According to al-Marashi, he was not contacted by the British government regarding his research or his sources.

The portions of the government document taken from al-Marashi’s article appear to have been grabbed in what Britain’s Guardian newspaper describes in Friday morning’s editions as “a sham” and “an electronic cut-and-paste operation by Whitehall (Blair government) officials.” So sweeping was the plagiarism that, according to British journalists who reviewed the materials, typographical errors – including a misplaced comma — that appeared in al-Marashi’s article were reproduced in the official dossier that was posted on Blair’s 10 Downing Street website.

To the extent that changes were made, they appear to have been inserted to increase the shock value of the information. Though he said that most of the information that was swiped from his article was reproduced accurately, al-Marashi told BBC’s Newsnight program that the British dossier included “cosmetic changes.” For instance, he noted, “I said that (Iraqi intelligence operatives) support organizations in what Iraq considers hostile regimes, whereas the UK document refers to it as ‘supporting terrorist organizations in hostile regimes’.”

In addition to the sections taken from al-Marashi’s article, according to the Guardian, “The content of six more pages (of the dossier) relies heavily on articles by Sean Boyne and Ken Gause that appeared in Jane’s Intelligence Review in 1997 and last November. None of these sources is acknowledged.”

Blair aides scrambled on Thursday evening to cover their tracks. “We said that it draws on a number of sources, including intelligence. It speaks for itself,” a Downing Street spokesperson said of the report. Appearing on the BBC last night, Blair said he still believes he is right to argue that Iraq poses a clear danger to the world. “I may be wrong, but I do believe it,” the prime minister said at one point.

Glen Rangwala, a lecturer in politics at Cambridge University, suggested that a measure of skepticism might be appropriate. Rangwala discovered the similarities between the academic articles and the Downing Street dossier. That happened when he sat down to read the official dossier this week. “I found it quite startling when I realized that I’d read most of it before,” he told a television interviewer.

“Apart from passing this off as the work of its intelligence services,” Rangwala said, “it indicates that the UK really does not have any independent sources of information on Iraq’s internal policies. It just draws upon publicly available data.”