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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Thursday, July 15, 2004

More intel hubris

With a single bound, he was free!

Teflon Tony evades his pursuers once more, with the aid of generous quantities of whitewash. Been there...

Except... The Butler Report (yesterday), whilst declining to pin the responsibility for the intel fiasco on anyone in particular, does shed some further light on the matter [1].

We have various reports now - Hutton (site), Intelligence and Security Committee (September 11 2003), Foreign Affairs Select Committee (August 13 2003) from this side of the pond alone.

And, on the Hutton site, a morass of documentary evidence and oral evidence transcripts [2].

It's tempting to hope that someone has left a back door in all of that lot...

In the September 11 piece, I mentioned a passage in para 101 of the ISC report, relating to complaints made by Defence Intelligence Service members (including Dr Brian Jones) over the language used in the draft September dossier:
We were told that there was further intelligence of a nature so sensitive that it was only released on a very restricted basis. We have seen that intelligence and understand the basis on which the CDI and the JIC took the view they did.

All rather reminiscent of the truly magic Witchcraft from Source Merlin of John Le Carré's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy [3]: nothing, it seems, returns grown men to a state of schoolboy tumescence quicker than the thought of participating (however peripherally) in some espionage coup.

Butler provides us with further particulars on this so sensitive piece of intelligence (para 573ff, p152a - emphasis mine):
Dr Jones was not shown one particularly sensitive human intelligence report which said that production of biological and chemical agent had been accelerated by the Iraqi Government, including through the building of further facilities throughout Iraq...

The intelligence report came from a new source on trial. It was issued on 11 September 2002. SIS had what at the time appeared to be well-founded hopes that this source would become a major asset...The source's intelligence about chemical weapons production was therefore distributed to an extremely limited circle of senior readers.

...the exclusion of Dr Jones and his staff from readership of the original report meant that this intelligence was not seen by the few people in the UK intelligence community able to form all-round, professional technical judgements on its reliability and significance. In the event, SIS withdrew the intelligence from this source as being unreliable in July 2003.

(This withdrawal of intelligence (mentioned in a BBC Panorama programme on Sunday - transcript) is naturally a focus of interest.)

In para 578, Butler continues:
As it happened, the Chief of SIS [Sir Richard Dearlove] had a meeting with the Prime Minister on 12 September to brief him on SIS operations in respect of Iraq. At this meeting, he briefed the Prime Minister on each of SIS's main sources including the new source on trial. He told us that he had underlined to the Prime Minister the potential importance of the new source and what SIS understood his access to be; but also said that the case was developmental and that the source remained unproven. Nevertheless, it may be that, in the context of the intense interest at that moment in the status of Iraq's prohibited weapons programmes, and in particular continuing work on the dossier, this concurrence of events caused more weight to be given to this unvalidated new source than would normally have been the case.

Now, in the schema by which the intelligence community supposedly hold themselves aloof from Blair and his kitchen cabinet, relations between Number 10 and the UKIC run through the Joint Intelligence Committee. It's the responsibility of the JIC [4] to receive and analyse intel for the benefit of its customers in various parts of HMG.

Yet Dearlove and SIS/MI6 are wont, as with this September 12 meeting, to dispense with such bureaucratic niceties and go straight to Tony and his boys [5]. An end-run around the JIC evaluation process, surely; and the arrogance and condescension that ooze from Dearlove's Hutton testimony suggest that he is not unduly modest about selling his product when perched on Tony's sofa.

Dearlove's replacement will be Alastair Campbell's mate John Scarlett (currently JIC Chairman). Hard to see his visits to Number 10 will be less frequent than Dearlove's.

So much for quality control!

Now, without a headline allocation of blame by Butler, media interest will trickle into the sand. (Getting one's head round this stuff is not easy, and, for all the popularity of the espionage genre in fiction, the public appetite for news stories on the subject seems to be limited [6].)

We're really looking for a leak - something to prove that Blair lied. For instance, though a mountain of emails was provided to Hutton, these were almost all on the government system. There were, from memory, no private emails from anyone in Number 10 submitted to Hutton.

Pending which, the slow work of attrition continues.

  1. Though, like a movie set lit for black-and-white photography, a large part is still in shadow.

  2. Neither the Butler Report nor that from the ISC came with either - from memory, some ISC transcript extracts were provided to Hutton. The FASC does provide transcripts.

  3. The excellent TV version starring Alec Guinness reviewed. Merlin turned out to be a double, working for the Soviets, of course.

  4. Pronounced to rhyme with tick.

  5. A further example in my September 16 2003 piece.

  6. It's all very well, as the hed of this Guardian piece, to say thatThe devil for Blair remains in the detail . The aficionados may be salivating - veteran Whitehall-watcher Peter Hennessy was in full David Starkey (or, perhaps, Fanny Craddock?) mode on the BBC yesterday - but Rupert Murdoch's Sun has already whitewashed and, in Tony's favourite phrase, moved on.

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