MI6 is the body responsible for foreign intelligence. Its reputation is at a low ebb because its intelligence on Iraq’s proscribed weapons was wrong. Not marginally wrong, but completely wrong.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the Government produced a dossier for public consumption, which exaggerated the intelligence that did exist and left important bits of it out. We know that from the Intelligence & Security Committee report published last September. The dossier did not accurately reflect the existing intelligence as set out in the assessments of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) – which were themselves wrong.
John Scarlett, the Chairman of the JIC, was intimately associated with the production of that dossier, and therefore with misleading Parliament and the public about the threat from Iraq. As a result, he has a reputation for truth telling which is on par with his “mate” Alistair Campbell.So, what does the Prime Minister do to restore the credibility of MI6? He appoints Scarlett to head it. He could have done worse: he could have appointed Alistair Campbell.
At the Hutton Inquiry, Scarlett claimed that he alone was responsible for the contents September dossier, and its contents were based on the available intelligence. If that were true – if, in the words of Lord Hutton, he was “concerned to ensure that the contents of the dossier were consistent with the intelligence available to the JIC” – then he is an incompetent fool who made a pig's ear out of the clerical task of translating JIC assessments into a document for public consumption.
If he had any professional integrity, he would have resigned last September when the Intelligence & Security Committee (ISC) report was published and demonstrated his incompetence.
Remember, he got the dossier so wrong that even the Prime Minister believed (he says) that the 45-minute claim, which appeared 4 times in the dossier, applied to missiles capable of hitting Cyprus. Had he done his job properly, the dossier would have made it clear to the public (and the Prime Minister) that the 45-minute claim applied to battlefield weapons.
If he had done so, the misreporting in the press on 24/25 September 2002 saying that the claim applied to missiles capable of wiping out British servicemen and British holidaymakers in Cyprus would have been avoided. Scarlett's incompetence was responsible for all those misleading tabloid headlines, such as 45 MINUTES FROM ATTACK in the Evening Standard on the day the dossier was published and 45 MINUTES FROM DOOM in the Sun the next day.
Here's what the Intelligence & Security Committee had to say in their report about his misrepresentation of the 45-minute claim:
“The dossier was for public consumption and not for experienced readers of intelligence material. The 45 minutes claim, included four times, was always likely to attract attention because it was arresting detail that the public had not seen before. As the 45 minutes claim was new to its readers, the context of the intelligence and any assessment needed to be explained. The fact that it was assessed to refer to battlefield chemical and biological munitions and their movement on the battlefield, not to any other form of chemical or biological attack, should have been highlighted in the dossier. The omission of the context and assessment allowed speculation as to its exact meaning. This was unhelpful to an understanding of this issue.” (paragraph 112)
Much more serious was his misrepresentation of the intelligence on current chemical and biological weapons productions. The foreword to the dossier claimed that intelligence had “established beyond doubt” that “Saddam has continued to produce chemical and biological weapons”. That claim was not justified by the available intelligence. As the ISC said in its report:
“The use of the phrase “continued to produce chemical and biological weapons” in the foreword and the absence of detail on amounts of agents produced in the executive summary and main text could give the impression that Saddam was actively producing both chemical and biological weapons and significant amounts of agents. However, the JIC did not know what had been produced and in what quantities – it had assessed, based on intelligence, that production had taken place. We believe that this uncertainty should have been highlighted to give a balanced view of Saddam’s chemical and biological capacity.” (paragraph 110)
Again, according to the ISC he should have highlighted the fact that, if chemical and biological weapons were ever used, it would most likely be on the battlefield:
“Saddam was not considered a current or imminent threat to mainland UK, nor did the dossier say so. As we said in our analysis of the JIC Assessments, the most likely chemical and biological munitions to be used against Western forces were battlefield weapons (artillery and rockets), rather than strategic weapons. This should have been highlighted in the dossier.” (paragraph 111)
There is, of course, an alternative explanation for the fact that the dossier was not an accurate summary of the available intelligence. It is that Scarlett knew that the Prime Minister wanted the dossier to make a case that Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction” were a serious threat to the UK, and he gave the Prime Minister what he wanted. And if that required exaggerating the intelligence and/or omitting significant bits of it, then so be it.
Either way, it’s not obvious that he is the ideal man to be head of MI6.
However, the appointment has an upside to it: while Scarlett is head of MI6, Blair won’t be able to take us to war on the basis of intelligence emanating from MI6 – because nobody will believe any product of MI6 while Scarlett heads it.
Labour & Trade Union Review