The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Monday, September 15, 2003

Hutton: initial thoughts on C's evidence

The head man at MI6 (more properly, the Special Intelligence Service, or SIS) oughtn't to be one to give much away: and, at the Hutton Inquiry today, Sir Richard Dearlove in his evidence didn't. At first read, at least.

The focus on the intelligence side is still very much the 45 minute claim (Dearlove (85:3) was affronted by the slight on his source - and thus, on his Service - implied by the word claim - or perhaps he was play-acting in an attempt to put Inquiry counsel James Dingemans QC off his stroke...). None of the senior men in the various arms of intelligence - JIC, DIS, SIS - that the Inquiry has heard from will hear a word said against the product - though, as Dearlove did, some criticise, under cover of the benefit of hindsight, the way it was presented.

Some of the problems with the 45 minute claim I addressed in a piece on September 2. Part of the problem is a contradiction in what is said in its favour:
  • on the one hand, it's said that the claim was within the boundaries established by existing intelligence, which tended to prove its validity;

  • on the other, the claim was supposed to be sufficiently important and novel to warrant being referred to four times in the dossier.

The credibility is also compromised by what seems to be the fact that the ultimate source, the Iraqi officer, seems to have provided no corroborative detail - such that UK intelligence were reduced to inferring that the claim referred to delivery of WMD via battlefield weapons, and not ballistic missiles.

(It is, of course, possible that such detail was provided, but is being withheld for security reasons. But would such reasons prevent the likes of Dearlove stating the fact that the officer had provided details without actually divulging them?)

I get the impression on a first read-through that Inquiry counsel was deliberately laying off Dearlove - a Guardian piece today refers to the fact that he was not questioned on meetings he may have had with Today presenter John Humphrys and BBC executives (Observer July 6). He is not on the list of those to be cross-examined over the next fortnight in Stage 2 of the Inquiry evidence sessions.

There is also an inconsistency that needs teasing out on the question of single-source intelligence. Officials from the DIS - such as Tony Cragg and Air Marshal Sir Joe French - seem to accept in principle that the fact that a piece of intelligence has only one source is problematic - for instance, French, in reply to a question (66:25) about the complaint from former DIS man Dr Brian Jones on the single-sourcing of the 45 minute claim, seems comprehend the possibility that such a complaint might have been valid - though, on the facts of this particular case, he clearly thought the intelligence stood up despite it's being single-sourced. Whereas Dearlove (97:19) pours scorn on the very notion that intelligence should be suspect merely because it's single-sourced:
I have to say I am rather bemused by the
20 sentence "this is reported as fact whereas the
21 intelligence comes from a single source". It rather
22 implies that a single source cannot report a fact.
23 I mean, if I can add to that.
24 Q. Yes, of course.
25 A. CX reports as produced by my service are essentially

1 single source; and much high quality intelligence which
2 is factual or proved to be factual is single source
3 material. So I do not really understand that comment.

Is that broadside intended to give cover to a perceived weakness in HMG's case? Or does it indicate a doctrinal difference between SIS and DIS?

[One angle which has not been pursued so far is the input from the US agencies. We know from the Intelligence and Security Committee report (my piece September 11) that the CIA - which has a representative regularly sitting in on JIC meetings - saw and commented on the WMD section of the September 10 draft of the dossier (para 74, p29a). And that (my piece September 9) the CIA have distanced themselves from the 45 minute claim. (It does not appear in the CIA's own dossier of October 2002).]

The schedule of witnesses - and the 15 points Dingemans suggested for Lord Hutton's attention in his opening statement on the resumption of hearings this morning (starting at 4:4) - are a curate's egg: Blair himself is not slated to be recalled for cross-examination (though one naturally hopes that Stage 2 evidence will bring him back, one way or another); on the other hand, the scope of the Inquiry discernible from the 15 points, whilst sticking to the terms of reference, does seem to leave ample room for a substantive inquiry into the quality of the intelligence supporting the 45 minute claim.

Although there is other questionable material in the dossier - the hoary old Niger uranium business, for instance - it was the 45 minute claim that Kelly supposedly mentioned to Andrew Gilligan, and formed the heart of his May 29 broadcasts, which started the train of events leading to Kelly's death (which is the focus of the Inquiry, after all). Especially given the tight timetable and relatively narrow remit, the 45 minute claim will, I think, prove to be the decisive point for Lord Hutton [1]: without fatally undermining that claim (with the benefit only of information available in September 2002, of course), it's hard to see much damage being done to Blair by Hutton's findings on the handling of the dossier. (The handling of Kelly himself is a different matter, of course.)

I have a sense that the claim can be undermined, but not yet that Hutton and Dingemans are prepared to take on the job. Next Tuesday week, JIC Chairman John Scarlett returns for cross-examination, the only senior spook slated for a reappearance. His is undoubtedly the critical session on the substance of the claim - so we've not long to wait!

  1. Point 4 out of the 15, it may be noted, is surprisingly wide (4:10):
    10 4. Were the Prime Minister and Mr Alastair Campbell
    11 and other officials in No. 10 Downing Street responsible
    12 for intelligence being set out in the dossier which was
    13 incorrect or misleading or to which improper emphasis
    14 was given?
    That seems to encompass everything in the dossier, not just the 45 minute claim.

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