Howard: I'd sack Scarlett if he is attacked by Butler

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Michael Howard has added to the pressure on British and American intelligence agencies by signalling that John Scarlett should be sacked as head of MI6 if he is criticised in the forthcoming Butler report into intelligence failures on Iraq.

Michael Howard has added to the pressure on British and American intelligence agencies by signalling that John Scarlett should be sacked as head of MI6 if he is criticised in the forthcoming Butler report into intelligence failures on Iraq.

The equivalent of MI6 in the US, the Central Intelligence Agency, was rocked last week by the sudden resignation of its chief, George Tenet, and the retirement of James Pavitt, head of clandestine operations.

The CIA is facing criticism from two high-level inquiries, whose reports could also reflect badly on its partners in Britain.

The Tory leader said any adverse findings by the Butler inquiry against Mr Scarlett - controversially named by Tony Blair to take over MI6 this summer - "cannot be ignored". Mr Howard also refused to guarantee that Mr Scarlett would be allowed to stay in his post in a Conservative administration.

Lord Butler's report into intelligence failures in this country is due to be published next month. The former cabinet secretary has reportedly broadened his remit to investigate how crucial judgements were made in the run-up to war, and how Cabinet functioned.

Apart from possible criticism of the Prime Minister, the inquiry is also said to be investigating what intelligence assessments were passed to Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney-General, before he gave his opinion that the war was legal.

Mr Scarlett was head of Joint Intelligence Committee responsible for preparing the assessments of Iraqi weapons during the period under investigation. His role came under scrutiny at the Hutton inquiry into the death of the weapons expert David Kelly; but Lord Hutton found that he was not improperly influenced by Downing Street in his production of the dossier of September 2002 on the threat from Saddam Hussein.

Asked whether he could work with Mr Scarlett if he became Prime Minister, Mr Howard said: "I think we have to wait and see the Butler report before I can answer that question. One of my criticisms was that it was quite wrong to appoint in advance of it. If the Butler inquiry were to be critical of him then that is something that cannot be ignored."

Meanwhile, Tony Blair's insistence that Iraqi WMD could still be found was called "delusional" by the man who led the hunt. David Kay, who headed the Iraq Survey Group after the invasion, said: "There is nothing there. There were clearly illegal activities ... the problem is the unwillingness to take the responsibility of saying a few simple words - we were wrong."

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