Conservatives have attempted to dismiss the Downing Street memo, a secret British intelligence document indicating that intelligence officials there believed that the Bush administration was manipulating intelligence to support its case for war in Iraq by insisting that the term "fixed" has a different meaning in British English than in the United States. The memo describes Sir Richard Dearlove, head of the British foreign intelligence agency MI6, stating that in Washington, "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy." In fact, British reports -- including one that quoted the memo itself six weeks before the British Sunday Times published its full text on May 1 -- refute the notion that "fixed" means anything different in British parlance.
Robin Niblett, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, claimed that "'Fixed around' in British English means 'bolted on' rather than altered to fit the policy." In an exclusive interview with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on the June 15 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, Rice eagerly agreed with Matthews's suggestion that in Britain the word "fixed" really "means just put things together." In the June 20 issue of the conservative Weekly Standard, contributing editor Tod Lindberg wrote of the memo: "'Fix' here is clearly meant in its traditional sense, in the sort of English spoken by Oxbridge dons and MI6 directors -- to make fast, to set in order, to arrange."
Other conservatives questioned the meaning of "fixed" without explicitly suggesting transatlantic miscommunication. On the June 10 edition of PBS' NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, National Review editor Rich Lowry claimed "it was meant in the sense that the intelligence is supporting the policy asking questions like what will a post-invasion Iraq look like and questions of that nature." National Review Online contributing editor James S. Robbins also doubted the meaning of "fixed around the policy" in a June 6 column and in a June 16 article on the conservative website CNSNews.com. The June 14 edition of CNN's Inside Politics cited a commentary making this argument by the conservative blog Dean's World.
But British sources contradict these claims. In a British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) documentary from March, which quoted the Downing Street Memo more than a month before the Sunday Times published it, BBC reporter John Ware explained: "By 'fixed' the MI6 chief meant that the Americans were trawling for evidence to reinforce their claim that Saddam was a threat." The headline of a Sunday Times preview of the documentary -- "MI6 chief told PM: Americans 'fixed' case for war" -- also makes it clear how the British understand "fixed."
Similarly, Sunday Times reporter Michael Smith, who first disclosed the memo on May 1, ridiculed the notion that "fixed" has a different meaning in Britain in a Washington Post online chat:
SMITH: There are number of people asking about fixed and its meaning. This is a real joke. I do not know anyone in the UK who took it to mean anything other than fixed as in fixed a race, fixed an election, fixed the intelligence. If you fix something, you make it the way you want it. The intelligence was fixed and as for the reports that said this was one British official. Pleeeaaassee! This was the head of MI6. How much authority do you want the man to have? He has just been to Washington, he has just talked to George Tenet. He said the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. That translates in clearer terms as the intelligence was being cooked to match what the administration wanted it to say to justify invading Iraq. Fixed means the same here as it does there.
Moreover, when the Sunday Times first disclosed the memo on May 1, it noted the Bush administration's attempt "to link Saddam to the 9/11 attacks" as an example of "fixing" the intelligence around the policy:
The Americans had been trying to link Saddam to the 9/11 attacks; but the British knew the evidence was flimsy or non-existent. Dearlove warned the meeting that "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy".
In a May 2 column in London's Daily Mail, political editor David Hughes argued that the meeting detailed in the Downing Street memo "led inexorably to the publication of the 'sexed-up' Iraq weapons dossier two months later," referring to a now-famous 2003 report by BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan alleging that a British dossier on Iraq had been "sexed up" to hype the Iraqi threat. Gilligan's report became the subject of intense controversy when British weapons expert Dr. David Kelley committed suicide following the revelation that he was a key source for that report. An official inquiry into Kelley's suicide criticized Gilligan, his report, and the BBC, which prompted claims that the inquiry was a whitewash.