Butler to single out intelligence chiefs for blame in WMD inquiry

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Indy Politics

Lord Butler of Brockwell is to defy the Government by including personal criticism of Britain's intelligence chiefs in his inquiry into the information they gathered about Saddam Hussein's weapons before last year's war.

The Independent has learnt that the Butler inquiry has sent letters to three crucial witnesses outlining draft sections of next week's report that will criticise them directly.

They are John Scarlett, chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) which assessed the evidence published in the Government's dossier on Iraqi weapons in September 2002; Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of MI6, which gathered the material, and Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, who is believed to have amended his original legal advice on the eve of the war to give the go-ahead to military action.

Such criticism of Mr Scarlett would be a setback for Tony Blair, who promoted him to head MI6 from August without waiting for the Butler committee. Critics said the appointment was a "pay off" for Mr Scarlett giving his blessing to the dossier, which claimed Saddam could deploy weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes.

The JIC is bracing itself for criticism that it allowed its work to be used for "political" purposes. Evidence presented to the Butler inquiry suggested the intelligence supporting the 45-minute claim was "too thin" and vague.

Mr Blair has made clear he does not want to the inquiry to "scapegoat" anybody, and was hoping that Lord Butler, the former cabinet secretary, would draw general lessons rather than "name and shame" individuals. But the disclosure that the letters have been sent provides the clearest possible sign that the inquiry report, to be published next Wednesday, will include personal criticism. Normally, people to be criticised by such an inquiry are given the chance to make last-minute representations.

Downing Street is said to be "very worried", fearing the report will criticise the intelligence services for not making rigorous checks about its information on Iraq's arsenal before it was included in the dossier, but also that it will criticise ministers' use of the material.

Although ministers have pledged there will be no "witch hunt" when Lord Butler reports, there are signs that a "blame game" may break out between politicians and spymasters. One line of defence Mr Blair is considering is to say he was not shown the raw intelligence on which the claims in the dossier were based. Mr Blair has already said he did not know the "45-minute warning" related to short-range rather than long-range weapons.

Michael Mates, the Tory MP and a member of the Butler committee, hinted at such a "blame game" during a Commons debate on the security services. He said: "It's the misuse of intelligence which undermines trust in the agencies and reduces the authority of their status."

Mr Mates, a former defence minister, said: "In this House, we have to place a certain amount of trust in ministers to conduct themselves honourably and not to misuse the agencies or the intelligence they provide for partisan or other purposes. Trust is at the heart of intelligence work. It is so important that all of us get across to the outside world that intelligence really does have its limitations."

David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, challenged ministers to say whether Mr Scarlett attached a "caveat" to the information about Saddam's weapons from dissident Iraqis. He said: "The question is: was the public let down, not through inaccuracy but through selective and improper use of information? Did our government subordinate the nationally vital issue of intelligence to the politically convenient demands of propaganda?"