Is No 10 running scared of Butler?
The report is expected to be unsparing in its criticism of Downing Street's dodgy dossiers,say Francis Elliott and Raymond Whitaker
04 July 2004
Two weeks ago, at lunch with the Queen, Lord Butler let slip that he was spending almost every waking minute writing his report into the intelligence that led Britain into war with Iraq. Even within Windsor Castle's protective walls, the former cabinet secretary gave little further away about what it will say, however.
In the five months since Tony Blair was forced to concede a formal inquiry into intelligence failures, there have been only the briefest of glimpses of Lord Butler's team at work. But a source close to the inquiry provides the first real indication of what is lurking in the wings for Mr Blair. It will, he says, be unsparing in its criticism of the "interface" between Downing Street and the intelligence services.
Having been cleared by Lord Hutton of the claim that Downing Street deliberately inserted false intelligence into a dossier on Iraqi weapons, Mr Blair must have thought he had weathered the storm. When David Kay quit the Iraq Survey Group, saying no stockpiles of weapons had been found, the clamour in the US for a proper inquiry became impossible for President Bush to resist, however. And once Mr Bush had sold the pass, the Prime Minister had to follow suit.
Still, he tried to limit its potential damage. "It should not be a rerun of the Hutton inquiry," Mr Blair said at the time. "We have dealt with the so-called sexing up of the dossier through three inquiries now. We do not need another inquiry into that. We do not need, in my view, an inquiry into the political decision to go to war. That's the matter for Parliament, government and the country in the end, but it's important we learn the intelligence lessons."
Lord Butler, however, has interpreted his terms of reference more widely than Mr Blair wanted, in particular with regard to examining "any discrepancies between the intelligence gathered, evaluated and used by the Government before the conflict".
The review can hardly ignore the multitude of "discrepancies" between how the claim that Iraq could deploy WMD within 45 minutes, for example, was "gathered, evaluated and used" in the September dossier authored by John Scarlett, head of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC).
One witness has told The Independent on Sunday that he expects the report to be particularly critical of how it was that Mr Blair came to think that the 45-minute claim related to Iraqi missiles instead of battlefield munitions. As this newspaper reported, a JIC assessment passed to Mr Blair shortly before the war was explicit in stating that the claim related to munitions, not missiles.
The review team is also known to be focusing on the dossier's claim that Saddam Hussein had tried to secure uranium from Africa. The intelligence services still insist they have credible evidence to back up the claim, referring to a visit to Niger by an Iraqi diplomat in 1999. But the diplomat told the IoS he had not been sent on a uranium-buying mission.
Lord Butler and his team have met senior intelligence officials in Washington, and are also said to have quizzed French and German officials about what intelligence they received and why they were so sceptical of British claims over Iraqi WMD.
What will be Downing Street's reaction to the report? Unlike with the Hutton inquiry, Mr Blair is likely to know its contents at least a week in advance, since it is a report to him, not an independent judicial inquiry. He will have plenty of time to prepare what is being dubbed a "non-apology apology".
"The vibes coming out of No 10 are that in some ways they welcome the opportunity to admit that they got some things wrong and that they have learned the lessons," said one senior figure.
A host of measures prepared in case Lord Hutton issued a critical report have been readied for the Butler report. Options include the JIC being chaired by a Foreign Office civil servant, as it was in the past, rather than by a member of the intelligence agencies.
More rigorous cabinet oversight of intelligence assessments is likely, as is a return to formal note-taking. Mr Blair's informal, unminuted "sofa diplomacy", revealed during the Hutton inquiry, is reported to have appalled Whitehall traditionalists.
Sir Andrew Turnbull, the Cabinet Secretary, has already told civil servants to keep more minutes, according to Professor Peter Hennessy, the leading expert on Whitehall.
Tony BlairSaid it should not be a 'rerun of the Hutton inquiry' but will be dismayed to learn that Butler is focusing on the Iraq 2002 dossier. Faces renewed questions about why he believed the 45-minute claim related to missiles, not battlefield munitions
Alastair CampbellThe other side of the 'interface' between Downing Street and the intelligence services. His triumphalism following the Hutton report is unlikely to be repeated next week
John ScarlettThe man who authored the September dossier and now incoming head of MI6. Lord Hutton said that he may have 'subconsciously' been influenced by No 10. Lord Butler may be more blunt
Lord ButlerIs said to be determined to avoid the charge that he has conducted a 'whitewash'. The head of a five-strong team is believed to have finished his report. It is expected to criticise the use of intelligence in the September 2002 dossier
Spy chiefs to censor hard-hitting Butler report
No 10 to be rebuked over Iraq intelligence. Campbell and Scarlett may be singled outBy Raymond Whitaker and Francis Elliott
04 July 2004
The intelligence services are to censor Lord Butler's report into their own failures in the run-up to the Iraq war.
The revelation, which comes from official sources, will fuel controversy over next week's report, which The Independent on Sunday has learnt will criticise Downing Street for its role in the 2002 dossier on Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. Alastair Campbell, No 10's former director of communications, and John Scarlett, the dossier's author, now about to take over as head of MI6, could be singled out.
A senior government source admitted last night that the intelligence services would be allowed to block out passages of the report before it is made public on 14 July. It is not known whether Mr Scarlett will be consulted.
The censoring, officially known as redaction, will be overseen by a secret Cabinet Office committee. "It will be done in conjunction with the intelligence services where there is a danger to a particular source or to national security more generally," said the source. "We will keep it to a minimum." The process was used to censor many documents submitted to Lord Hutton's inquiry into the death of the weapons scientist David Kelly, although his report, unlike Lord Butler's, was not subject to government scrutiny.
Sources close to the inquiry chaired by the former cabinet secretary say the "interface" between Downing Street and the intelligence services, which took responsibility for the WMD dossier, will come in for criticism. Although Mr Scarlett, then head of the Joint Intelligence Committee, claimed "ownership" of the dossier, the Hutton inquiry received much evidence about the involvement of No 10 officials, in particular Mr Campbell, as the document went through successive drafts.
Lord Hutton largely discounted the suggestion that this might have "subconsciously" influenced Mr Scarlett, but the Butler committee is understood to have taken a more critical view. "It was less than convinced [on this point]," said one source.
The committee, sources say, will focus in particular on two claims in the dossier: that Iraq could have WMD ready for use in 45 minutes, and that it had sought uranium from Africa.
To the relief of Downing Street, Lord Hutton ruled in January that it was not his job to decide on the reliability of the intelligence in the dossier. But the following month a controversy erupted in Washington over WMD claims. President Bush announced an inquiry into intelligence failures in the run-up to the Iraq war, and the Prime Minister was forced to follow suit.
One witness at the Butler inquiry told the IoS that he had been asked detailed questions about the dossier's preparation. The committee also went into detail about his evidence to Hutton, indicating that the Prime Minister's desire that it avoid territory covered in the earlier inquiry had been ignored.
"Butler is anxious not to be classed with the Hutton inquiry, which was considered a whitewash," said a source in the intelligence community.
Since the Butler inquiry was announced, the source added, the head of the CIA, George Tenet, had left his post, as well as the agency's senior official in charge of handling intelligence agents - the function closest to that performed by the head of MI6. Mr Scarlett, by contrast, had been promoted. "This has caused some cynicism," said the source.
It was stressed when the inquiry was set up that it would examine the intelligence process, not personalities, but those facing criticism will be invited to comment.
Spy bosses damned in Iraq probeDavid Leppard and Adam Nathan
TWO of Britain’s top spymasters and the government’s most senior law officer are facing criticism from an official inquiry into the handling of intelligence on Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
A draft report of the inquiry by Lord Butler of Brockwell singles out the roles of John Scarlett, head of the joint intelligence committee (JIC), Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of MI6, and Lord Goldsmith, the attorney general, for censure, insiders say.
The 100-page draft criticises MI6 after it admitted its intelligence on Saddam Hussein’s WMD had been wrong.
The JIC, which co-ordinates the work of the intelligence services, is censured for having excluded important caveats in MI6’s intelligence from Tony Blair’s infamous dossier of September 2002, according to Whitehall sources.
Downing Street has already seen draft extracts and is braced for a fresh controversy over Iraq as the dossier, with its claim Saddam could deploy the weapons within 45 minutes, formed the basis for Britain’s justification for going to war.
Butler’s draft report — as outlined to The Sunday Times — highlights the role of Goldsmith, who advised the cabinet that the war was legal. The inquiry has been told of an apparent inconsistency in that Goldsmith cast doubt over his advice during private conversations with fellow government law officers.
Goldsmith is said to have told one senior legal figure — thought to be Sir David Calvert-Smith, the former director of public prosecutions — that he shared the concerns of Elizabeth Wilmhurst, the Foreign Office legal adviser who resigned because she believed the war against Iraq was illegal.
Butler’s five-strong review team will spend the next three days arguing over the wording of the final draft, which is due to be published in 10 days’ time. One of the issues being debated is whether individuals should be named.
Sources say Ann Taylor, the former Labour chief whip and chairman of the parliamentary intelligence and security committee, is opposed to “naming and shaming” individuals. She is battling with the rest of the committee, including Butler, over the level of criticism to be attached to the three men.
One Whitehall source said: “Butler’s conclusion will be that the intelligence was wrong and the system for checking it didn’t work.”
Downing Street is devising a response in which Blair will acknowledge the dossier contained information that, in hindsight, was wrong. But he will maintain it was the procedures for gathering and analysing the intelligence that were at fault — and that the war was justified.
Senior officials say MI6 has accepted its agents supplied them with wrong information about WMD. They believe that Saddam may have been “bluffing” when he let it be known he was producing chemical and biological weapons.
In his foreword to the Iraq dossier, Blair said that “intelligence has established beyond doubt that Saddam has continued to produce chemical and biological weapons . . . I and other ministers have been briefed in detail on the intelligence and are satisfied as to its authority.”
But sources say the Butler report will show that Blair’s claim was false. MI6, however, is already preparing to defend itself, arguing that it is not solely to blame for the final version of the dossier.
A senior official said MI6 had acted in good faith and that its information had come from a handful of reliable sources.
It was apparently corroborated by other intelligence intercepts provided by GCHQ, the eavesdropping centre at Cheltenham in Gloucestershire, and matched assessments by other western spy agencies — a point Butler has investigated by interviewing officials in the US, France and Germany.
MI6 officials now accept that their agents were misinformed about the true state of Saddam’s WMD programme. The inquiry has ruled out a concerted effort by the sources to mislead MI6 for their own political gain.
As well as examining the weaknesses in MI6’s agent base, Butler takes a critical view of the role of the JIC. He has spoken to five former JIC chairmen about how the system can fail to challenge “received wisdoms” passed on to them by intelligence agencies.
The draft is also understood to analyse how caveats attached to MI6 intelligence summaries were dropped by Scarlett.