The Pakistan connection
There is evidence of foreign intelligence backing for the 9/11 hijackers. Why is the US government so keen to cover it up?
Thursday July 22, 2004
Omar Sheikh, a British-born Islamist militant, is waiting to be hanged in Pakistan for a murder he almost certainly didn't commit - of the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002. Both the US government and Pearl's wife have since acknowledged that Sheikh was not responsible. Yet the Pakistani government is refusing to try other suspects newly implicated in Pearl's kidnap and murder for fear the evidence they produce in court might acquit Sheikh and reveal too much.
Significantly, Sheikh is also the man who, on the instructions of General Mahmoud Ahmed, the then head of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), wired $100,000 before the 9/11 attacks to Mohammed Atta, the lead hijacker. It is extraordinary that neither Ahmed nor Sheikh have been charged and brought to trial on this count. Why not?
Ahmed, the paymaster for the hijackers, was actually in Washington on 9/11, and had a series of pre-9/11 top-level meetings in the White House, the Pentagon, the national security council, and with George Tenet, then head of the CIA, and Marc Grossman, the under-secretary of state for political affairs. When Ahmed was exposed by the Wall Street Journal as having sent the money to the hijackers, he was forced to "retire" by President Pervez Musharraf. Why hasn't the US demanded that he be questioned and tried in court?
Another person who must know a great deal about what led up to 9/11 is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, allegedly arrested in Rawalpindi on March 1 2003. A joint Senate-House intelligence select committee inquiry in July 2003 stated: "KSM appears to be one of Bin Laden's most trusted lieutenants and was active in recruiting people to travel outside Afghanistan, including to the US, on behalf of Bin Laden." According to the report, the clear implication was that they would be engaged in planning terrorist-related activities.
The report was sent from the CIA to the FBI, but neither agency apparently recognised the significance of a Bin Laden lieutenant sending terrorists to the US and asking them to establish contacts with colleagues already there. Yet the New York Times has since noted that "American officials said that KSM, once al-Qaida's top operational commander, personally executed Daniel Pearl ... but he was unlikely to be accused of the crime in an American criminal court because of the risk of divulging classified information". Indeed, he may never be brought to trial.
A fourth witness is Sibel Edmonds. She is a 33-year-old Turkish-American former FBI translator of intelligence, fluent in Farsi, the language spoken mainly in Iran and Afghanistan, who had top-secret security clearance. She tried to blow the whistle on the cover-up of intelligence that names some of the culprits who orchestrated the 9/11 attacks, but is now under two gagging orders that forbid her from testifying in court or mentioning the names of the people or the countries involved. She has been quoted as saying: "My translations of the 9/11 intercepts included [terrorist] money laundering, detailed and date-specific information ... if they were to do real investigations, we would see several significant high-level criminal prosecutions in this country [the US] ... and believe me, they will do everything to cover this up".
Furthermore, the trial in the US of Zacharias Moussaoui (allegedly the 20th hijacker) is in danger of collapse apparently because of "the CIA's reluctance to allow key lieutenants of Osama bin Laden to testify at the trial". Two of the alleged conspirators have already been set free in Germany for the same reason.
The FBI, illegally, continues to refuse the to release of their agent Robert Wright's 500-page manuscript Fatal Betrayals of the Intelligence Mission, and has even refused to turn the manuscript over to Senator Shelby, vice-chairman of the joint intelligence committee charged with investigating America's 9/11 intelligence failures. And the US government still refuses to declassify 28 secret pages of a recent report on 9/11.
It has been rumoured that Pearl was especially interested in any role played by the US in training or backing the ISI. Daniel Ellsberg, the former US defence department whistleblower who has accompanied Edmonds in court, has stated: "It seems to me quite plausible that Pakistan was quite involved in this ... To say Pakistan is, to me, to say CIA because ... it's hard to say that the ISI knew something that the CIA had no knowledge of." Ahmed's close relations with the CIA would seem to confirm this. For years the CIA used the ISI as a conduit to pump billions of dollars into militant Islamist groups in Afghanistan, both before and after the Soviet invasion of 1979.
W ith CIA backing, the ISI has developed, since the early 1980s, into a parallel structure, a state within a state, with staff and informers estimated by some at 150,000. It wields enormous power over all aspects of government. The case of Ahmed confirms that parts of the ISI directly supported and financed al-Qaida, and it has long been established that the ISI has acted as go-between in intelligence operations on behalf of the CIA.
Senator Bob Graham, chairman of the Senate select committee on intelligence, has said: "I think there is very compelling evidence that at least some of the terrorists were assisted, not just in financing ... by a sovereign foreign government." In that context, Horst Ehmke, former coordinator of the West German secret services, observed: "Terrorists could not have carried out such an operation with four hijacked planes without the support of a secret service."
That might give meaning to the reaction on 9/11 of Richard Clarke, the White House counter-terrorism chief, when he saw the passenger lists later on the day itself: "I was stunned ... that there were al-Qaida operatives on board using names that the FBI knew were al-Qaida." It was just that, as Dale Watson, head of counter-terrorism at the FBI told him, the "CIA forgot to tell us about them".
· Michael Meacher is Labour MP for Oldham West and Royton. He was environment minister 1997-2003
http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/0,12271,1266328,00.htmlProfits of war
Halliburton has become a byword for the cosy links between the White House and Texan big business. But how did the company run in the 90s by Dick Cheney secure a deal that guaranteed it millions in profit every time the US military saw action? In this exclusive extract from his new book, Dan Briody reveals how the firm made a killing on the battleground
Thursday July 22, 2004
On January 12 1991, Congress authorised President George HW Bush to engage Iraq in war. Just five days later, Operation Desert Storm commenced in Kuwait. As with the more recent war in the Gulf, it did not take long for the US to claim victory - it was all over by the end of February - but the clean-up would last longer, and was far more expensive than the military action itself. In a senseless act of desperation and defeat, Iraqi troops set fire to more than 700 Kuwaiti oil wells, resulting in a constant fog of thick, black smoke that turned day into night.
It was thought the mess would take no less than five years to clean up, as lakes of oil surrounding each well blazed out of control, making it nearly impossible to approach the burning wells, let alone extinguish them. But with the fighting over, Halliburton angled its way into the clean-up and rebuilding effort that was expected to cost around $200bn (£163bn) over the next 10 years.
The company sent 60 men to help with the firefighting effort. Meanwhile, its engineering and construction subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR) won an additional $3m contract to assess the damage that the invasion had done to Kuwait's infrastructure - a contract whose value had multiplied seven times by the end of KBR's involvement. More significantly still, KBR won a contract to extract troops from Saudi Arabia after their services were no longer needed in the Gulf. Halliburton was back in the army logistics business in earnest for the first time since Vietnam. The end of the Gulf war saw nothing less than the rebirth of the military outsourcing business.
Military outsourcing was not new. Private firms had been aiding in war efforts since long before KBR won its first naval shipbuilding contract. But the nature of military outsourcing has changed dramatically in the last decade. The trend towards a "downsized" military began because of the "peace dividend" at the end of the cold war, and continued throughout the 1990s. This combination of a reduced military but continued conflict gave rise to an unprecedented new industry of private military firms. These firms would assist the military in everything from weapons procurement and maintenance to training of troops and logistics.
In the decade after the first Gulf war, the number of private contractors used in and around the battlefield increased tenfold. It has been estimated that there is now one private contractor for every 10 soldiers in Iraq. Companies such as Halliburton, which became the fifth largest defence contractor in the nation during the 1990s, have played a critical role in this trend.
The story behind America's "super contract" begins in 1992, when the department of defence, then headed by Dick Cheney, was impressed with the work Halliburton did during its time in Kuwait. Sensing the need to bolster its forces in the event of further conflicts of a similar nature, the Pentagon asked private contractors to bid on a $3.9m contract to write a report on how a private firm could provide logistical support to the army in the case of further military action.
The report was to examine 13 different "hot spots" around the world, and detail how services as varied as building bases to feeding the troops could be accomplished. The contractor that would potentially provide the services detailed in the report would be required to support the deployment of 20,000 troops over 180 days. It was a massive contingency plan, the first of its kind for the American military.
Thirty-seven companies tendered for the contract; KBR won it. The company was paid another $5m later that year to extend the plan to other locations and add detail.
The KBR report, which remains classified to this day, convinced Cheney that it was indeed possible to create one umbrella contract and award it to a single firm. The contract became known as the Logistics Civil Augmentation Programme (Logcap) and has been called "the mother of all service contracts". It has been used in every American deployment since its award in 1992 - at a cost of several billion dollars (and counting). The lucky recipient of the first, five-year Logcap contract was the very same company hired to draw up the plan in the first place: KBR.
The Logcap contract pulled KBR out of its late 1980s doldrums and boosted the bottom line of Halliburton throughout the 1990s. It is, effectively, a blank cheque from the government. The contractor makes its money from a built-in profit percentage, anywhere from 1% to 9%, depending on various incentive clauses. When your profit is a percentage of the cost, the more you spend, the more you make.
Before the ink was dry on the first Logcap contract, the US army was deployed to Somalia in December 1992 as part of Operation Restore Hope. KBR employees were there before the army even arrived, and they were the last to leave. The firm made $109.7m in Somalia. In August 1994, they earned $6.3m from Operation Support Hope in Rwanda. In September of that same year, Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti netted the company $150m. And in October 1994, Operation Vigilant Warrior made them another $5m.
In the spirit of "refuse no job", the company was building the base camps, supplying the troops with food and water, fuel and munitions, cleaning latrines, even washing their clothes. They attended the staff meetings and were kept up to speed on all the activities related to a given mission. They were becoming another unit in the US army.
The army's growing dependency on the company hit home when, in 1997, KBR lost the Logcap contract in a competitive rebid to rival Dyncorp. The army found it impossible to remove Brown & Root from their work in the Balkans - by far the most lucrative part of the contract - and so carved out the work in that theatre to keep it with KBR. In 2001, the company won the Logcap contract again, this time for twice the normal term length: 10 years.
To the uninitiated, the appointment of Cheney to the chairman, president, and chief executive officer positions at Halliburton in August 1995, made little sense. Cheney had almost no business experience, having been a career politician and bureaucrat. Financial analysts downgraded the stock and the business press openly questioned the decision.
Cheney has been described by those who know him as everything from low-key to downright bland, but the confidence he inspired and the loyalty he professed made him an indispensable part of Donald Rumsfeld's rise to power. In the 1970s, Rumsfeld became Gerald Ford's White House chief of staff, with Cheney as his deputy. In those days, Cheney was assigned a codename by the secret service that perfectly summed up his disposition: "Backseat".
But Halliburton understood Cheney's value. With him as CEO, the company gained considerable leverage in Washington. Until Cheney's appointment in the autumn of 1995, Halliburton's business results had been decent. After a loss of $91m in 1993, the company had returned to profitability in 1994 with an operating profit of $236m. With the new revenue coming in from Logcap, Halliburton and its prize subsidiary, KBR, were back on track. Though Logcap was producing only modest revenues, it was successful in reintegrating KBR into the military machine.
The big opportunity came in December 1995, just two months after Cheney assumed the post of CEO, when the US sent thousands of troops to the Balkans as a peace-keeping force. As part of Operation Joint Endeavour, KBR was dispatched to Bosnia and Kosovo to support the army in its operations in the region. The task was massive in scope and size.
One example of the work KBR did in the Balkans was Camp Bondsteel. The camp was so large that the US general accounting office (GAO) likened it to "a small town". The company built roads, power generation, water and sewage systems, housing, a helicopter airfield, a perimeter fence, guard towers, and a detention centre. Bondsteel is the largest and most expensive army base since Vietnam. It also happens to be built in the path of the Albanian-Macedonian-Bulgarian Oil (Ambo) Trans-Balkan pipeline, the pipeline connecting the oil-rich Caspian Sea region to the rest of the world. The initial feasibility project for Ambo was done by KBR.
KBR's cash flow from Logcap ballooned under Cheney's tenure, jumping from $144m in 1994 to more than $423m in 1996, and the Balkans was the driving force. By 1999, the army was spending just under $1bn a year on KBR's work in the Balkans. The GAO issued a report in September 2000 charging serious cost-control problems in Bosnia, but KBR retains the contract to this day.
Meanwhile, Cheney was busy developing Halliburton's business in other parts of the world. "It is a false dichotomy that we have to choose between our commercial and other interests," he told the [public policy research foundation] Cato Institute in 1998, speaking out against economic sanctions levied by the Clinton administration against countries suspected of terrorist activity. "Our government has become sanctions-happy," he continued.
In particular, Cheney objected to sanctions against Libya and Iran, two countries with which Halliburton was already doing business regardless. Even more disconcerting, though, was the work the company did in Iraq. Between his stints as secretary of defence and vice-president, Cheney was in charge of Halliburton when it was circumventing strict UN sanctions, helping to rebuild Iraq and enriching Saddam Hussein.
In September 1998, Halliburton closed a $7.7bn stock merger with Dresser Industries (the company that gave George HW Bush his first job). The merger made Halliburton the largest oilfield services firm in the world. It also brought with it two foreign subsidiaries that were doing business with Iraq via the controversial Oil for Food programme. The two subsidiaries, Dresser Rand and Ingersoll Dresser Pump Co, signed $73m-worth of contracts for oil production equipment.
Cheney told the press during his 2000 run for vice-president that he had a "firm policy" against doing business with Iraq. He admitted to doing business with Iran and Libya, but "Iraq's different," he said. Cheney told ABC TV: "We've not done any business in Iraq since UN sanctions were imposed on Iraq in 1990, and I had a standing policy that I wouldn't do that."
Three weeks later, Cheney was forced to admit the business ties, but claimed ignorance. He told reporters that he was not aware of Dresser's business in Iraq, and that besides, Halliburton had divested itself of both companies by 2000. In the meantime, the companies had done another $30m-worth of business in Iraq before being sold off.
The Dresser merger was, it appeared, the crowning achievement of the Cheney years at Halliburton. But Cheney left Halliburton several other legacies. David Gribbin, Cheney's former chief of staff, became Halliburton's chief lobbyist in Washington. Admiral Joe Lopez, a former commander of the sixth fleet, was hired to be KBR's governmental operations expert. Together, Cheney's team made Halliburton one of the top government contractors in the country. KBR had nearly doubled its government contracts, from $1.2bn in the five years prior to his arrival, to $2.3bn during his five years as CEO. Halliburton soared from 73rd to 18th on the Pentagon's list of top contractors.
After 9/11, KBR went to work on the war on terrorism, building the 1,000 detention cells at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for terrorist suspects, at a cost of $52m. The work had to feel familiar to KBR: it had done the exact same job 35 years earlier in Vietnam. When troops were deployed to Afghanistan, so was KBR. It built US bases in Bagram and Kandahar for $157m. As it had done in the past, KBR had men on the ground before the first troops even arrived in most locations. They readied the camps, fed the troops, and hauled away the waste. And they did it like the military would have done it: fast, efficient, and effective. It was good work, solid revenues, but nothing like the windfall the company had experienced in the Balkans.
In addition, Halliburton won the contract for restoring the Iraqi oil infrastructure - a contract that was not competitively bid. It was given to Halliburton out of convenience, because it had developed the plan for fighting oil fires (all, by this time, extinguished). Despite the new business, the fortunes of Halliburton and its subsidiary have not prospered. The stock that Cheney cashed in near its peak, when he renewed his political career in 2000, has since plummeted. The main culprit was the 1998 merger with Dresser, which saddled the company with asbestos liabilities that ultimately led to two Halliburton subsidiaries - one of them KBR - having to file for bankruptcy.
When Cheney left to become Bush's running mate, he took a golden parachute package - in addition to the stock options he was obliged to sell for $30m. In September 2003, Cheney insisted: "Since I've left Halliburton to become George Bush's vice-president, I've severed all my ties with the company, gotten rid of all my financial interests. I have no financial interest in Halliburton of any kind and haven't now for over three years."
The Congressional Research Service (CRS), a non-partisan agency that investigates political issues at the request of elected officials, says otherwise. Cheney has been receiving a deferred salary from Halliburton in the years since he left the company. In 2001, he received $205,298. In 2002, he drew $162,392. He is scheduled to receive similar payments through 2005, and has an insurance policy in place to protect the payments in the event that Halliburton should fold. In addition, Cheney still holds 433,333 unexercised stock options in Halliburton. He has agreed to donate any profits to charity.
· The Halliburton Agenda by Dan Briody is published by John Wiley and Sons Ltd at £16.99. To order a copy for £14.99 plus p&p, call Guardian Book Service on 0870 836 0875.
Rumsfeld knew all about me, says American 'jailer' held in Kabul Duncan Campbell
Thursday July 22, 2004
The GuardianThe saga of "Jack" Idema, the American arrested for running a private interrogation centre in Afghanistan, took a new twist yesterday when he claimed that he was acting with the knowledge and agreement of Donald Rumsfeld's office.
Mr Idema, who has been accused of having a makeshift jail in which detainees were hung by their feet, claimed that US authorities "condoned and supported" his freelance activities.
"We were working for the US counter-terrorist group and working with the Pentagon and some other federal agencies," said Mr Idema, whose full name is Jonathon Keith Idema, before the opening of a court hearing in Kabul, according to Reuters.
He told reporters: "We were in contact directly by fax and email and phone with Donald Rumsfeld's office.
"The American authorities absolutely condoned what we did. We have extensive evidence to that ... We're prepared to show emails and correspondence and tape-recorded conversations."
From New York, Mr Idema's lawyer, John Tiffany, told the Guardian: "We have documentary evidence regarding the US government's knowledge of my client's intended activities in Afghanistan."
Mr Tiffany said his client was not denying he had taken people into custody but would claim he had done so with the authorities' full knowledge.
Mr Tiffany suggested Mr Idema would never have been arrested had it not been for the publicity over treatment of prisoners in Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq. But a US defence department spokesman in Washington denied Mr Idema's claims yesterday. "He is nothing to do with us," he said. "Idema does not represent the US government and we do not employ him." US military authorities in Afghanistan have also denied Mr Idema was acting with their knowledge.
Mr Idema, who has made no secret of the fact that he is hunting for Osama bin Laden, who has a price of $25m on his head, was arrested with two other men 10 days ago for allegedly detaining eight Afghans in Kabul.
One detainee, Ghulam Sakhi, yesterday said in court he had been tied upside down during some of the 18 days he was held. Another, Sher Jan, said: "They pulled me out of my house, hooded me and broke a rib with a gun ... They poured hot water on me, too."
Mr Idema denies mistreating prisoners. He told reporters he had foiled a plot to attack US forces with truck bombs and to assassinate Afghan officials.
Arrested with Mr Idema were Ed Caraballo, who was making a film about Mr Idema's activities, and Brent Bennett, who works for Mr Idema's company, Counter Group.
The three, together with four Afghans, face charges of hostage-taking and assault. The trial was yesterday adjourned for 15 days.
Mr Caraballo's brother, Richard, said yesterday that the cameraman had been working on a documentary about Mr Idema since 2002 and had gone to Afghanistan to get some final footage.
He added: "Due to the situation in Afghanistan, it was agreed that he would need to remain in the secure presence of Idema's team."
'The system was blinking red'
Official investigation into 11 September admits US ignored obvious warnings and says attacks might have been prevented
By Rupert Cornwell in Washington
23 July 2004
A blue riband commission delivered a blistering indictment of America's failure to prevent the September 2001 terrorist attacks yesterday.
Concluding that the attacks were "a shock, not a surprise", it detailed a litany of intelligence failures to act upon the "drumbeat" of warnings that al-Qa'ida was planning a "spectacular" attack on American soil.
As early as 23 March 2001, the National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, was warned that al-Qa'ida cells were in the US and that terrorists might use a truck bomb in Washington.
US intelligence agencies warned of "something very, very, very big". "The system was blinking red," CIA director George Tenet said. But the information pointed to an attack outside the US.
In May the FBI had warned of plans to launch attacks on London, Boston and New York. By late August a report, Islamic Extremist Learns to Fly, had landed on Mr Tenet's desk and the CIA warned the Paris embassy of "subjects involved in suspicious 747 flight training".
The commission issued recommendations for reform of the country's intelligence structure yesterday but warned that further and probably deadlier attacks were to be expected.
In a 567-page report, the bipartisan 9/11 Commission said neither President George Bush nor President Bill Clinton was directly to blame for not thwarting the al-Qa'ida plot. It says the massive failure was primarily one of "imagination", that such a scheme could be devised and carried out on US soil. Since 11 September, America had become safer, but was not safe.
It lists nine "missed opportunities" by the CIA, the FBI, the immigration service and the air transport authorities, but concludes that the attacks almost certainly would have gone ahead.
The main recommendation is for a complete overhaul of the country's discredited intelligence bureaucracy, and the creation of a new intelligence "tsar" with cabinet rank. He would have overall control of the more than a dozen US intelligence agencies and their $40bn (£22bn) annual budget. But the commission came out against a new domestic intelligence agency, along the lines of MI5.
At an operational level, the report calls for the introduction of a biometric screening system, and increased spending on neglected aspects of the US transport system. Since September 2001, 90 per cent of such security spending had gone on aviation, the commission acidly noted, "to fight the last war".
At home, it urges creation of a fully integrated national anti-terrorism centre. Abroad, the commission says the US must not only carry the battle to terrorism's sanctuaries. It must work towards a more honest relationship with Saudi Arabia, where 15 of the 19 hijackers originated, and provide a stronger commitment to Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The US also had to develop more effective public diplomacy to counter the enemy, that was "not Islam, the great world faith" in the commission's words, "but a perversion of Islam". The most sensitive political aspect of the report is its conclusion that Iraq had no hand in the 11 September attacks, and that there were no close links between Saddam Hussein's regime and al-Qa'ida. Specifically, it dismisses reports of the alleged meeting in Prague in April 2001 between Mohammed Atta, the ringleader of the hijackers, and an Iraqi intelligence officer.
The commission found that Iran did give transit to some of the hijackers on their way from Saudi Arabia to the US, but there was no evidence that Tehran had any inkling of the planning for the terrorist attacks. The same went for the Saudi government in Riyadh.
The report, the fruit of 20 months' work, was given a positive welcome across the political spectrum yesterday.
After being given a preview of the report at the White House, President Bush promised that "where the government needs to act, we will". His Democratic challenger in November, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, went further, vowing that if the intelligence shake-up had not already been adopted, he would if elected summon a "national security summit" to push it through.
The report is deeply critical of the culture and mindset of government and the various agencies responsible for national security. The CIA lacked resources and was forced to rely excessively on proxies in its efforts to tackle al-Qa'ida. The FBI is blamed for focusing too much on catching criminals and terrorists after the event, rather than on preventing the crime. Both agencies are blamed for their refusal to pool all information. Above all, the various strands of the fight against terrorism in general and al-Qa'ida in particular were never pulled together. The report notes that between 1995 and 11 September itself there was no National Intelligence Estimate - the most important intelligence report - on terrorism.
The report, based on more than 2,000 interviews with top officials, offers a remarkably detailed account of the build-up to the 2001 attacks.
The US was facing one of the greatest security challenges in its history.
"We looked back to look ahead," Thomas Kean, the former Republican governor of New Jersey who chaired the report, said yesterday, demanding a "shift in the national mindset".
"The goal is to prevent future attacks. We don't have the luxury of time. We must prepare and we must act."
"If, God forbid there is another attack, we must be ready to respond. We must educate the public, train and equip first responders and anticipate countless scenarios," Mr Kean said.
Brian Jones: The wrong prescriptions for intelligence
At no point did we suggest that our knowledge was sufficient to justify an invasion23 July 2004
Both yesterday's 9-11 commission report in the US and Lord Butler's report here have prompted discussion of changes in the organisation of intelligence as the answer to the failings before 11 September and in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. Changes in structure may be needed, but I fear will not tackle the basic question of why things went so badly wrong.
After hearing my interview on the BBC's Today programme, Sir Menzies Campbell wondered whether, if I'd had the Prime Minister's ear in 2002, things on Iraq might have been viewed differently. Closer experience of the relationship between civil servants and government would have told Sir Menzies that the chances of an official such as me gaining the ear of my own secretary of state, let alone the Prime Minister, was as remote as the chances now of finding large stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons in Iraq.
I recall that Dr David Kelly was upset by the suggestion, which I have never heard denied, that Jack Straw complained at such a junior official being assigned to accompany him to an interrogation by the Foreign Affairs Committee on Iraq. David's experience of Whitehall was limited and, he felt insulted. It disappointed but did not surprise many of us of similar middle rank.
The PM's righteous exclamation in the Hutton debate in February that my concerns had been considered and dismissed by the chief of defence intelligence is further evidence that, in Mr Blair's Whitehall, seniority equates to knowledge and wisdom. It is a culture that suits the mandarins, but in a Civil Service pared to the bone, that fast-streams officials breathlessly through jobs and ranks, it is perhaps less true today than it once was.
With wisdom comes the knowledge of limitations, whether about one's own expertise or simply about intelligence.
In the Commons, the Prime Minister began by explaining the four reforms that were being introduced in response to the Butler report. The first two are straightforward enough. The third is more difficult to fathom: Mr Blair announced that the SIS (MI6) had appointed a senior officer, to work through the recommendations of the Butler review, "who will focus on the resourcing and organisation of the SIS's validation process, the relationship between the SIS and the JIC, and its relationship with the defence intelligence staff".
This seems to relate to an intelligence community that I do not quite recognise from my 15 years as an insider, albeit as an analyst. I wonder if it reflects the Prime Minister's inevitably remote view hovering, as he must, high above so many issues. It could also be the view from high up in the green building at Vauxhall Cross, because it recognises the SIS as the very heart of British intelligence. It would certainly explain why a move from chairman of the JIC to "C" is now seen as a promotion.
From my former vantage point, the SIS was the collector of human intelligence. I expected it to send me reports of information it had collected. Although there was a validation threshold applied to exclude obvious nonsense, beyond that I did not expect to be told that the information was valid. Further validation is part of the analysis and assessment process ,and involves a feedback loop from assessor to collector. This aspect of the intelligence process was under pressure from inadequate resources at both the collection and assessment stages, but it was not broken.
Efficient communication between the disparate elements within an intelligence community is never easy when sensitive information is involved. As yesterday's report of the 9-11 commission finds, inadequate communication was a factor in that intelligence failure. The compactness of our community means there are fewer problems of that sort and a lack of communication was not a significant factor in what went wrong on Iraq.
At the expert working level on Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, the intelligence community was able to make reasonable assessments that reflected all the uncertainties about Iraq's capabilities. Our assessments erred on the side of caution because we had troops in the region whom we needed to protect, and because preparations were in hand in the MOD in case the Prime Minister decided, at short notice, to join an invasion. At no point did we suggest that our knowledge was sufficient to justify, in any quasi-legalistic sense, an invasion to eliminate a threat, because we did not know that such a threat currently existed.
From time to time, defensive posture and the case for war, have been conflated to suggest the intelligence was strong - our troops are carrying NBC suits so that must mean there are weapons. The "problem" of the validation of sources seems to have arrived retrospectively in the context of a departure from the normal process. Under pressure, a select few senior people made too much of intelligence that the experts would have placed in their databases to await confirmation or elimination.
So how did this departure from the normal process come about? From this third reaction to Butler, I can only conclude it may have been on the basis of distorted perceptions. From the Prime Minister's perspective, the SIS is more than a collection agency. James Bond does more than collect. But at the regular meetings between "C" and the Prime Minister, which are almost certainly to deal with things other than recently gathered intelligence, it would not be natural for such matters to be entirely excluded, especially when there is a knotty problem in the air. This is obviously an opportunity for "C" to boost the reputation of the skills of his organisation, but it places an onus on him to be very cautious.
The suggestion of a need to review the relationship between the SIS, the JIC (presumably the assessment staff) and the DIS (Defence Intelligence Staff) either betrays a misunderstanding of the intelligence community or imagines problems that did not exist. Apart from the single issue of the late, sensitive intelligence from which the whole of the DIS except the chief was excluded, there was no broader problem for the DIS of access to sensitive intelligence. We had been managing the general inconvenience of "compartments" for some time. In September 2002, the relationship between my own branch and our opposite numbers in the SIS was sound enough to allow us to agree to share the services of one hard-pressed expert on a temporary basis until a new recruit was found to fill the gap.
The suggestion that there are organisational problems to be resolved carries an inference that these problems in some way relate to the much more significant admission in the last response to Butler. "Fourthly, any future presentation of intelligence will separate the JIC assessment and the Government case and import any JIC caveats into it"; and the subsequent sentence: "I want to move on now to the quite different point that, by omitting the caveats, we set out to deceive people."
The Prime Minister seems to be accepting that people were misled, albeit inadvertently, by the softening of caveats on moving from JIC papers to the dossier, and their complete removal in his own foreword. This, of course, has nothing to do with source validation or organisational interfaces, just as ballistic missiles and the proximity of Cyprus had nothing to do with "45 minutes".
The writer is a former head of the nuclear, chemical and biological branch of the Defence Intelligence Staff