Back to website,13845,1037145,00.html

Day by day, the noose tightens round No 10

Henry Porter, bestselling author of espionage novels, examines the role of intelligence chief John Scarlett and shows how the Hutton inquiry is uncovering a dangerous mix of spies and secrets

September 06 2003

(Extracts) "........The chairman of the JIC between 1985 and 1992, Sir Percy Craddock, argued in his book Know Your Enemy (John Murray, 2002) that a balance has to be struck in the JIC between being the friend of policy-makers and being too detached from what decision-makers actually need.

In the latter case, he writes that the 'assessments become an in-growing, self-regarding activity producing little or no work of interest to the decision-makers'. When the link is too close, he suggests that policy begins to play back on assessments, 'producing the answers the policy-makers would like. The analysts become courtiers, whereas their proper function is to report their findings, almost always unpalatable, without fear or favour'.

The first thing that can be said is that, at no stage during Hutton, have we seen anything from the JIC that remotely countered the prevailing view in Number 10 that Saddam was an imminent threat. This is not to say that an assessment isn't lying somewhere in the files which takes the opposite view to the dossier, but as things stand the analysts in Room 243 of the Cabinet Office and the committee under John Scarlett's chairmanship do look a bit like courtiers, trying to conform to the current mood in Number 10.

A novelist might suggest that Scarlett was playing the long game, perhaps nurturing an ambition to succeed Sir Richard Dearlove as 'C' at MI6, a post he has already been passed over for once. Can we seriously suggest that the JIC's chairman would go so far as to manipulate the evidence in a matter of war and peace to suit his plans? That is certainly the stuff of thrillers, but it seems highly unlikely in the real world.

There are no categoric answers because we still don't have the complete picture about the writ ing of the dossier that in the first place caused Kelly to express his doubts to Gilligan and to Susan Watts of Newsnight.

He was not a one-off nutter, a Walter Mitty character, as Number 10 made out, because last Wednesday we heard from Brian Jones of the Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS), who said: 'My concerns were that Iraq's chemical and biological weapons capabilities were not being accurately represented in all regards in relation to the available evidence.'

...Hutton published the record of a meeting held in Scarlett's office on 18 September last year - two days before Scarlett presented the finished dossier. Entitled Iraq Dossier: Public Handling and Briefing, it states categorically, under the sub-heading Ownership of the Dossier, that ownership lies with Number 10.

In the light of this very important release, it is hard not to suspect that the mysterious force driving the process forward was in fact the need for the policy-makers to be in possession of certain types of intelligence to persuade Parliament and the country of the imminent threat presented by Saddam. This must be a provisional conclusion, but what we now know for certain is that, during that important period last September, the JIC failed absolutely to remain detached from the agenda of the policy-makers, which is a pretty serious dereliction of duty. The story is not over and there will be many surprises yet, but we are nearer to solving the mystery of the September dossier which does look dodgy for Number 10.