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Iraq intelligence 'seriously flawed'

Gavin Cordon, Press Association
Wednesday July 14, 2004

Intelligence reports on Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction in the run up to the Iraq war were "open to doubt" and "seriously flawed", the Butler Inquiry said today.

The inquiry said that when the government began considering military action against Iraq in March 2002, the intelligence was "insufficiently robust" to justify claims that Iraq was in breach of United Nations resolutions requiring it to disarm.

And it said that since the conflict, key claims based on reports from agents in Iraq, including claims that the Iraqis had recently produced biological agents, had had to be withdrawn because they were unreliable.

The report also criticised the government's controversial dossier on Iraqi weapons, published in the run up to war in September 2002, saying that it went to the "outer limits" of the available intelligence.

It said that Tony Blair's statement in the Commons may have "reinforced the impression" that there was "fuller and firmer" intelligence behind the assessments in the dossier than was actually the case.

The inquiry acknowledged that its report would lead to calls for the resignation of John Scarlett, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee who drew up the dossier and who has since been appointed the chief of MI6.

It said that it hoped he would stay on. "We have a high regard for his abilities and his record," it said.

It said that it had found no evidence that the assessments produced by the JIC in the run-up to the conflict showed evidence of "deliberate distortion or culpable negligence".

  But it said that the controversial claim in the dossier that some Iraqi weapons could be deployed within 45 minutes should not have been included.

The report was highly critical of intelligence-gathering in Iraq.

"Validation of human intelligence sources after the war has thrown doubt on a high proportion of those sources and of their reports, and hence on the quality of the intelligence assessments received by ministers and officials in the period from summer 2002 to the outbreak of hostilities," it said.

The report disclosed that one MI6 "main source", while reporting authoritatively on some issues, had simply been passing on what he had heard from "within his circle" on other issues.

Reporting from a "sub source" to a second MI6 main source, which had led to important JIC assessments on Iraqi possession of chemical and biological weapons, "must be open to doubt", the report said.

Reports from a third MI6 main source had been withdrawn as "unreliable" while reports from two further main MI6 sources which were regarded as reliable had been notably "less worrying" about Iraq's chemical and biological capabilities.

A report from what was described as a "liaison service" on the Iraqi production of biological agents had been so "seriously flawed" that the grounds for the JIC's assessment that Iraq had recently produced stocks of biological agents no longer existed.

One of the reasons that so many reports turned out to be "unreliable or questionable" could have been the length of the reporting chains. "Another reason may be that agents who were known to be reliable were asked to report on issues going well beyond their usual territory," the report said.

"A third reason may be that because of the scarcity of sources and the urgent requirement for intelligence, more credence was given to untried agents than would normally be the case."

The report said that the assessment staff who analysed the intelligence produced by MI6 had not been fully aware of the access and background of key informants and therefore lacked the material to understand their motivations.

It also said that the assessment process tended to lead to the repetition of earlier errors. "We detected a tendency for assessments to be coloured by over-reaction to previous errors. As a result, there was a risk of over-cautious - or worse - case estimates, shorn of their caveats, becoming the 'prevailing wisdom'," the report said.

It said that the inquiry had shown the "vital importance" of effective scrutiny of human intelligence sources in the preparation of JIC assessments and in giving high quality advice to ministers.

The report disclosed that the government had first considered in March 2002 that its previous policy of "containment" of Saddam might not be adequate and that stronger action - although not necessarily military action - might be needed.

While there had been grounds for concern given Iraq's previous record, the report said that there was "no recent intelligence that would itself have given rise to a conclusion that Iraq was of more immediate concern than the activities of some other countries".

It said that ministers were advised that military action against Iraq could only be justified if the country was held to be in breach of previous UN Security Council resolutions requiring it to disarm.

Officials also warned that for the Security Council to back the view that Saddam was in breach of his obligations it would need "incontrovertible" proof that Iraq was engaged in "large scale activity".

However, the Butler report said that ministers were advised by officials "that the intelligence then available was insufficiently robust to meet that criteria".