Mates' warning shot as he promises inquiry is no whitewash

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Indy Politics

A member of the Butler inquiry team has warned Tony Blair that the intelligence services would be discredited if the "chain of trust" was broken.

A member of the Butler inquiry team has warned Tony Blair that the intelligence services would be discredited if the "chain of trust" was broken.

Michael Mates, 74, Conservative MP for East Hampshire and a former Northern Ireland security minister, said the Butler inquiry was "rigorous" and made clear it would not be a whitewash.

Mr Mates said he was speaking generally, but his remarks will be seen as the clearest indication so far that the report on Wednesday will castigate the Government for the way in which it used intelligence reports before the war on Iraq.

Mr Mates said: "Trust is the basis of everything. It's a chain of trust and if it is broken at any stage, everybody, from the Prime Minister to the [intelligence], agencies gets discredited. That is the danger of the misuse of intelligence."

Mr Mates, a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, which reports to the Prime Minister on MI5, MI6, and GCHQ, said that it was the responsibility of the Prime Minister to request the sources of intelligence before taking a decision to go to war.

Some of Mr Blair's allies have claimed that Mr Blair was misled by the intelligence assessments endorsed by John Scarlett, the head of the Joint Intelligence Committee, on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, including the claim that they could be used within 45 minutes. Mr Scarlett, who has been promoted to become the chief of MI6 from 1 August, has been warned he could be criticised in the Butler report. However, Mr Mates said it was the Prime Minister's responsibility, particularly in the run-up to the war, to check the sources of the intelligence.

"In general, it is much better for senior ministers to receive a considered assessment. If they particularly want to, they can ask for a source report. That would be very unusual, but not in the case of war. Normally a minister would see a JIC assessment. That is the object of the JIC, to pull all these judgements together," he said.

Mr Mates added: "The people in London have got to trust the people overseas to do what they do, and report what they hear faithfully. The people overseas have got to learn whether or not their contacts are trustworthy, and that is the hardest part, particularly since you go down a chain and you don't see the chap at the end.

"They have to be very careful how they report it. Ministers have got to trust what they get from the agencies. The JIC has got to trust the inputs it gets from the agencies.

"The Prime Minister has got to be able to trust the agency heads when they give him intelligence, that it is right, unembellished and it hasn't been exaggerated.

"The committee has got to be able to trust it has been told the truth, and the whole truth. Parliament has got to be able to trust us [the Intelligence and Security Committee], that we have reported warts and all what we have been told and what we have discussed."

He refused to say whether the Butler report would recommend that the JIC returns to its previous practice of not allowing its reports to be published by the Government.

The Butler inquiry included a visit to the US to speak to senior American intelligence figures, and it also took evidence from Lord Hutton, whose own report on the death of the weapons expert Dr David Kelly was criticised as a whitewash.

Mr Mates said: "I don't regard Hutton as a whitewash. You regard it as a whitewash because it didn't answer the questions that you wanted. Hutton did everything to ensure he answered the question he had been asked, which was to report into the circumstances surrounding the death of David Kelly."