Intelligence services tried to withhold reports from Tony Blair after WMD fiasco
Book claims 2003 'dodgy dossier' convinced the Joint Intelligence Committee that the Prime Minister 'could not be trusted'
Sunday 25 May 2014
Britain's spies tried to block intelligence from reaching Tony Blair, following publication of the "dodgy dossier" in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, according to a forthcoming book. A former senior intelligence officer, who worked with the then prime minister, said officials did not think "raw" intelligence was "good for him", because Mr Blair was not interested in any information "unless it conformed with his world view".
The revelation comes amid calls for the publication of a report by Sir John Chilcot's inquiry into UK involvement in the Iraq War, as politicians express concern at repeated delays.
The book, Spying on the World, is a history of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), which advises the Government on the most secret state affairs. It is based on 20 case studies by three academics.
It says: "With the spectre of Iraq hanging heavily, the JIC found it difficult to engage the Prime Minister in its work. Even before the WMD [weapons of mass destruction] ﬁasco, Blair's informal "sofa government" style posed a problem for the 21st-century JIC.
"His Chief of Staff, Jonathan Powell, has since dismissed the committee as producing 'lowest-common-denominator-type reports, hedging their bets and failing to give a clear steer in any direction'. Accordingly, some policy-makers sought to bypass the JIC altogether and receive more raw intelligence. Unsurprisingly, the JIC learnt different lessons from the Butler review [the 2004 report into intelligence failings over Iraq]. It was keen to limit Blair's access to this raw material."
The latter statement is cited in the book simply as "private information", but Dr Rory Cormac, one of its authors, said it came from "a senior former intelligence officer ... an insider who worked with Blair".
"At one point the intelligence community was refusing to give him certain bits of intelligence because they knew he would use and abuse it," Dr Cormac said. "I think trust broke down a little bit." He said he was unsure whether this specific information was presented to the Chilcot inquiry, which examined how, prior to the Iraq conflict, decisions were made and actions taken. He said, however, it was a "theme that people talked about" within the intelligence world in general.
Mr Blair has been heavily criticised over his foreword to the now infamous dossier, which spelled out the dangers of Saddam Hussein's supposed weapons of mass destruction in support of the need to take military action. The intelligence used in it had been stripped of its caveats but Mr Blair presented it as an authoritative account. "His weapons of mass destruction programme is active, detailed and growing. The policy of containment is not working," he wrote.
Mr Blair has continued to defend the invasion of Iraq, despite the failure to discover any WMD, saying it was worthwhile in order to oust a brutal dictator.
Dr Cormac, of Nottingham University, said the way Mr Blair used intelligence regarding Iraq led to "tension" between the prime minister and the JIC, which then began to "fight back".
But he said David Cameron had adopted a different approach since taking office, and was at pains to "make the Joint Intelligence Committee feel a little bit more loved".
The Prime Minister chose not to write his own foreword to an intelligence dossier about atrocities committed by Syrian government forces during the ongoing civil war in the country. Mr Cameron subsequently lost a vote in the House of Commons that would have sanctioned military action in Syria.
Dr Michael Goodman, of King's College London, is a co-author of Spying on the World and the official JIC historian. He said such breakdowns in communication were rare, and the only other example he could think of concerned Winston Churchill during the Second World War: "Churchill was known for wanting to receive raw intelligence. I think they [the intelligence services] were keen for him to only received assessed intelligence."
Last year it emerged that, on the eve of the 2003 invasion, two senior Iraqi politicians told Western intelligence that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, but their account was dismissed as propaganda.
Requests to The Office of Tony Blair for comment on the claims went unanswered. A spokeswoman for the Cabinet Office, which handles media relations for the Chilcot inquiry, also declined to comment.
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