4 February 2004

We were overruled, says former intelligence chief...

During the course of their own inquiry, the Intelligence and Security Committee was given sight of the relevant intelligence and, despite the fact that they are not expert intelligence analysts, they reported rather enigmatically that they could 'understand the basis on which the CDI and the JIC took the view they did'.

But with all that has and has not happened since, I believe the advice I received in September 2002 about the compartmented intelligence was valid. Now that it is being so widely suggested that Britain went to war on the back of an 'intelligence failure', it is important that the nature of that failure is understood. An intelligence failure can be the result of many things. The absence of significant 'raw' intelligence would be a collection failure. There was a self-inflicted dearth of information on Iraq following the withdrawal of Unscom inspectors before Operation Desert Fox in 1998 and an additional degree of uncertainty once their constraining influence was lost.

A failure can result if the significance of a piece of 'raw' intelligence is not recognised, or its analysis is flawed, or its context misunderstood. This would be an assessment failure. The failure of policy-makers to accept or act on information can also be called an intelligence failure because of the inadequacy of its presentation by the intelligence community.

Whether or not there was a failure of intelligence assessment should be judged, not on the dossier, but on relevant JIC papers. Similarly, whether or not there was a failure in intelligence collection should be judged on the reports the collectors issued. Arguably, the dossier revealed more about the top end of the process and the fashioning of a product that has hitherto been alien to the UK intelligence community.

In my view the expert intelligence analysts of the DIS were overruled in the preparation of the dossier in September 2002 resulting in a presentation that was misleading about Iraq's capabilities.

It would be a travesty if the reputation of the DIS and its dedicated people was besmirched and the organisation as a whole undermined. The DIS includes the only significant body of dedicated professional intelligence analysts in the UK intelligence community and they are a much under-valued and under-resourced national asset. It is the intelligence community leadership at the level of the membership of the JIC and the upper echelons of the DIS - those who had access to and may have misinterpreted the compartmented intelligence - that had the final say on the assessment presented in the dossier.

Lord Hutton describes the JIC as, 'the most senior body in the Intelligence Services charged with the assessment of intelligence'. But this is misleading.

The members of the JIC are mostly extremely busy officials. Some are effectively the chief executives of large organisations with large budgets and all that goes with that responsibility. Others have a wide range of other responsibilities. All will have a limited time to study personally intelligence reports and the related archives in detail. Most will have had quite limited experience of analysing intelligence.

From my perspective the JIC's function is to oversee the assessment of intelligence and question and challenge the experienced and dedicated analysts and intelligence collectors on issues where they, the JIC, might understand the broader relevance and significance of a particular assessment. When they take it upon themselves to overrule experienced experts they should be very sure of their ground, and if a decision to do so is based on additional sensitive intelligence unknown to the experts, it must be incontrovertible.

Events have shown that we in the DIS were right to urge caution. I suggest that now might be a good time to open the box and release from its compartment the intelligence that played such a significant part in formulating a key part of the dossier.

I recognise this could possibly be one of a few exceptional circumstances that means the content of the compartmented intelligence remains sensitive even after the fall of Saddam. If this is the case it should be clearly stated. Otherwise the simple act of opening this box and explaining who had the right to look into it before the war could increase the transparency and hasten the progress of the new inquiry.

Dr Brian Jones was formerly head of the branch within the Scientific and Technical Directorate of Defence Intelligence Staff that was responsible for the analysis of intelligence from all sources on nuclear, biological and chemical warfare. He retired in January 2003.

Boldface mine. The Hutton report must have had the shortest shelf life of any allegedly authoritative report since Denning's Profumo inquiry where he found that the allegations against Profumo must be untrue because no cabinet minister would be attracted to a Christine Keeler. The allegations were later proved true, Profumo resigned in disgrace, as did Harold Macmillan and Labor won the 1964 election.

Immediately after its release Blair rejected any need for a new inquiry, although one has since been appointed. Now we have Potemkin inquiries running in the US and Britain. It is really getting to be time for the opposition parties there and in Australia to announce that if elected they will ensure an open and thorough inquiry into the political use of intelligence by their governments.

No comments: