Butler acts to prevent PM 'spinning' his report

Click to follow
Indy Politics

Lord Butler is to head off any attempt by Tony Blair to "spin" the conclusions of his report on the handling of intelligence before the Iraq war by speaking live before the Prime Minister makes his statement to the House of Commons.

Lord Butler is to head off any attempt by Tony Blair to "spin" the conclusions of his report on the handling of intelligence before the Iraq war by speaking live before the Prime Minister makes his statement to the House of Commons.

In an attempt to stop Downing Street quoting selectively from the document, Lord Butler of Brockwell plans to seize the initiative by publishing his conclusions before Mr Blair has a chance to comment on the report publicly.

Downing Street is bracing itself for some criticism of the way the Government handled the intelligence, but it does not believe the conclusions will be devastating. A No 10 source said the Butler report, to be published on Wednesday, would generate "choppy waters", nothing more.

"Obviously there are going to be some criticisms that we will have to address," the source said. "The mood is not the same as it was pre-Hutton."

Mr Blair is expected to make a statement to MPs about the report an hour after Lord Butler's press conference and will receive a copy of the report 24 hours in advance.

The report is expected to criticise the methods used to process intelligence information about the extent or existence of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction in the approach to the Iraq war.

John Scarlett, the incoming head of MI6, and the spy chief he replaces, Sir Richard Dearlove, are both facing the prospect of censure.

The advice offered by Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, that the war on Iraq was legal under international law is also expected to be questioned in the report. The Butler inquiry team heard evidence that Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, had been informed by his legal adviser, Elizabeth Wilmshurst, that a war on Iraq would be illegal.

Questions will also be raised in the report about why intelligence suggesting that Saddam had an arsenal of chemical and biological weapons was not suitably qualified with warnings and caveats.

In a BBC Panorama documentary last night, two of Britain's most experienced intelligence analysts said Mr Blair went too far when he said intelligence showed that Saddam posed a "serious and current" threat. John Morrison, a former deputy chief of defence intelligence, accused Mr Blair of stretching the intelligence services' assessment of the threat posed by Saddam.

"In moving from what the dossier said Saddam had, which was a capability possibly, to asserting that Iraq presented a threat, then the Prime Minister was going way beyond anything any professional intelligence analyst would have agreed," Mr Morrison said.

He criticised the Government for "rooting around at the last moment for extra bits to put in" an intelligence dossier on Iraq and of "scraping the bottom of the barrel".

He also criticised Mr Blair for claiming that the threat from Saddam Hussein was "serious and current". "I must say when I heard him using those words I could almost hear the collective raspberry going up around White- hall ... as a professional analyst, I didn't recognise a threat in Iraq," he said.

Brian Jones, who was a member of the Defence Intelligence Staff until last year, outlines his concerns about Iraq's chemical or biological weapons in The Independent today.

An anonymous senior intelligence source told the programme that spy chiefs have retracted the intelligence behind Tony Blair's claim that Iraq posed a "current and serious" threat. The rare step amounts to an admission that it was fundamentally unreliable, according to The Observer which revealed details of the interview yesterday.

Mr Blair's case for war was supposedly based on evidence that Saddam had chemical and biological weapons stockpiles and was trying to produce more. But MI6 has since withdrawn the assessment underpinning that case, a senior intelligence source told the Panorama programme. The claim comes from a single, anonymous intelligence source but meets new BBC guidelines introduced after the Hutton report.

SIX IN THE FRAME TO TAKE THE BLAME

TONY BLAIR Prime Minister

Mr Blair presented the September 2002 dossier on Iraq'sWMD to Parliament. In it, Mr Blair said British intelligence had "established beyond doubt" Iraq had chemical and biological weapons. He could be criticised for "effectively suspending cabinet government", with a group of unelected advisers meeting without civil servant to prepare the dossier.

Blameability factor: Officials are confident he can ride out any storm.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL The Prime Minister's former director of communications

Key player in drawing up the dossier, liaising with John Scarlett, the head of the Joint Intelligence Committee. Campbell denied during Lord Hutton's inquiry that he had "sexed up" the dossier, saying his involvement was "presentational".

Blameability factor: Unlikely to be hurt by the report. Has already lined up media jobs after leaving No 10.

JOHN SCARLETT Chairman, Joint Intelligence Committee

Responsible for drawing up the September 2002 dossier for No 10. He hardened the draft's suggestion that Iraq "probably" had stocks of banned weapons to the assertion that it "has" continued to produce them.

Blameability factor: Likely to receive criticism. Potentially embarrassing if the new head of MI6 is criticised for his handling of intelligence information.

JONATHAN POWELL Tony Blair's chief of staff

Involved in discussions with John Scarlett during the dossier's drafting. Lord Butler is expected to criticise Mr Powell for an e-mail he sent to Mr Scarlett calling for a section to be "redrafted".

Blameability factor: Criticism is unlikely to be harsh, but any censure is embarrassing because of his closeness to Blair.

LORD GOLDSMITH Attorney-General

Responsible for bringing to Cabinet advice on the legality of going. Reports say he received a letter from Lord Butler saying there would be a measure of criticism about his advice but other reports say that he will escape censure as he was simply presenting different arguments.

Blameability factor: He may be criticised after changing his advice.

RICHARD DEARLOVE Head of MI6

As head of MI6, he and senior Defence Intelligence Staff officials were responsible for gathering information and passed the dossier as an agreed document. Final evidence that allowed Blair to claim that there was serious and current threat from Saddam is now discredited.

Blameability factor: He is expected to face criticism, with Mr Scarlett.

Comments