JIC chief concedes he was aware of intelligence staff's worries over dossier

John Scarlett, Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee
Click to follow
Indy Politics

John Scarlett, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, finally admitted yesterday that he had been aware of concerns among intelligence staff about the Government's Iraq dossier.

Mr Scarlett appeared to contradict his earlier evidence to the Hutton inquiry, when he admitted that he had been told of worries about claims that Saddam Hussein was continuing to produce chemical and biological agents.

Just as importantly, it was confirmed that officials from both Downing Street and the Foreign Office were present at a meeting of the JIC assessment staff which heard the concerns.

When he appeared before the Hutton inquiry last month, Mr Scarlett said he was "not at all aware of any unhappiness" within the Ministry of Defence's Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS) about the dossier. "At no stage was any unease reported," Mr Scarlett had said.

But yesterday he said he had indeed been made aware of concerns about the dossier. Worries expressed by the DIS's most senior chemical weapons expert, who later formally complained about the dossier, were raised at the meeting on 17 September last year. The meeting, chaired by Julian Miller, Mr Scarlett's deputy, heard that the man was concerned that the dossier was "too strong" on the chemical agents claim.

Under cross-examination by James Dingemans QC, counsel for the inquiry, Mr Scarlett admitted that Mr Miller had told him about the DIS comments. However, he said that "concerns" did not equate to "unhappiness".

Mr Dingemans asked: "When you gave evidence last time, and I asked you about any expressions of unhappiness within DIS - you told me unequivocally you were not aware of any expressions of unhappiness within the DIS."

Mr Scarlett replied:"No, I was not."

Mr Dingemans: "On the other hand, today you have reported a conversation with Mr Miller about chemical warfare concerns and the need for a follow-up meeting at the DIS." .

Mr Scarlett: "That is not an expression of unhappiness. That was Mr Miller telling me that this point had been raised at the drafting group, and a number of points had been raised, but this one had in particular, and briefing was done; and I heard no more about it. I believed that that matter had been resolved to everyone's satisfaction."

Mr Scarlett also admitted that Danny Pruce, a No 10 press officer, had also been at the meeting on 17 September because he had been given security clearance to attend. This means Downing Street was aware of DIS dissent. Tony Blair has always maintained to Parliament he knew nothing of any disquiet in the intelligence services.

Under cross-examination by Andrew Caldecott QC, counsel for the BBC, Mr Scarlett admitted dropping a claim in the dossier that Iraq was more likely to use chemical and biological weapons defensively rather than offensively. But he insisted the change was made after checking with intelligence staff.

Mr Scarlett denied that he had taken on board anything other than "presentational" suggestions from Alastair Campbell, Mr Blair's director of communications. He said the claim that Saddam could deploy chemical and biological weapons "within 45 minutes" was strengthened in the dossier to make it more consistent. When asked why the dossier did not reflect the fact that the 45-minute claim related only to tactical battlefield munitions and not strategic missiles, Mr Scarlett said the distinction was not so clear.

The most likely weapons system was a multiple rocket launcher with a range of 20km or artillery with a range of 40km as both had been used to kill 20,000 Iranians in the Iran-Iraq war. The difference between "strategic" and "tactical" weapons was blurred.

Mr Scarlett also admitted that despite having said he had no idea about "unhappiness" in the intelligence services, he had been aware on 17 September of concerns from a chemical expert at the claim that Saddam was still producing chemical agents. Mr Caldecott asked why Mr Scarlett had not corrected press reports suggesting that British bases in Cyprus were at risk from the 45-minute capability of Iraqi WMD. He replied that headlines on the issue only came out for "a fleeting moment". "It's not my immediate responsibility to correct headlines. If I did, I certainly wouldn't have time to do my job," he said.

Paul Waugh and Kim Sengupta