It’s been reported that Donald Rumsfeld started mulling an attack on Iraq on the afternoon of 11 September 2001.

But was Whitehall far behind?

Compared with the now-famous “Downing Street Memo”, the blogosphere has given considerably less attention to a letter, sent by the Foreign Office in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, that seems to push the date of the first Whitehall consideration of the legality of an invasion of Iraq even further, to November 2001.

Perhaps that’s because the link is impossible to find on web site of the Daily Mail, which reported the contents of the letter in a story that ran on page 2 on 29 June:

The Foreign Office letter said: ‘To the best of our knowledge, the first occasion on which a government official sought legal advice on this matter was on the 26 or 27 November 2001, when an official in the FCO’s Middle East Department, on her own initiative, asked an FCO legal adviser for advice on remarks made by President Bush during a press conference on 26 November 2001.’

It went on to explain that she acted after hearing Mr Bush’s replies at the press conference. The letter continued: &lsquo’The FCO legal adviser was therefore asked to advise on the possible legal position on the use of force in this connection.’

These legal consultations contrast with Mr Blair’s public position.

Interesting. One to keep in the archive…