Cabinet bruiser John Reid was instructed by Downing Street to make his now famous attack last week on "rogue elements" within the security services.
His comments have angered seniors figures in the intelligence community, who see them as an attack on their profession. They are hoping that the Prime Minister will disown his minister, compelling Dr Reid to apologise.
In fact, the campaign - known to wags as "the week of rogue elephants" - was planned in Downing Street and calculated to take the heat off Tony Blair, who faced a difficult day in the Commons explaining why no weapons of mass destruction have turned up in occupied Iraq.
It was also designed to appeal to loyalty of older Labour Party members, who have long held suspicions about political bias in the intelligence community.
Stories of spooks allegedly conspiring against the Labour government in the 1970s surfaced in the memoirs of the former agent Peter Wright, which the Conservative government tried to suppress, and inspired the novel by the Labour MP Chris Mullin, A Very British Coup, which was turned into a successful television drama.
Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister's director of communications, wanted the attack launched on Wednesday morning because Mr Blair was due in the Commons that afternoon to take Prime Minister's Questions and to make a statement about last week's G8 summit in France.
Rather than wait for the Prime Minister to come under attack from MPs, Mr Campbell wanted to turn the debate on to the motives of intelligence officers who were leaking information about the strained relations between the services and the Government, and on journalists from the BBC and The Independent on Sunday who were talking to them.
One Whitehall insider said: "It's classic Alastair. When you're in a hole, attack the media.
"The minute you say 'rogue elements in the security services' every member of the Labour Party is dusting down their copy of A Very British Coup.
"John Reid would not have intervened on an issue like that without clearing it with Alastair. He prides himself on party discipline, on being part of the operation. They have weekly strategy meetings. They talk virtually every day. Reid is in and out of the Downing Street press office. There's a door that connects the Cabinet Office directly with the press office. He walks into the No 10 press office unannounced."
Interviewed on the Today programme on Wednesday, Dr Reid directed most of his anger at the BBC's defence correspondent, Andrew Gilligan, for reporting that intelligence officers were alleging that politicians had put their own spin on intelligence reports to justify the war with Iraq.
Asked to specify who the "rogue elements" were, Dr Reid replied: "Up until this morning they were very small in number. One of them was definitely the person who has been briefing Andrew Gilligan. It now appears that he has three others that have suddenly appeared, so there are four.
"This may be the same person who's briefing The Independent on Sunday. I don't know. But they are very much a minority."
When Mr Blair was questioned in the Commons a few hours later, he took care not to repeat the phrase "rogue elements" - causing some observers to wonder whether he was embarrassed by his minister's outspoken remarks.
But in fact Mr Blair backed up everything that his Cabinet colleague had said, only in more diplomatic language. He told MPs: "What the Leader of the House was saying was what was clearly true, which is that there were people speaking anonymously to the media.
"I want to repeat, however, that in respect of Iraq and of every issue that I handled over the past few years, our intelligence services have been absolutely magnificent."
Both the Prime Minister and Dr Reid have refused to be drawn into speculating how senior the intelligence officers are who have been talking to journalists, but Mr Blair has hinted more than once that he believes they are not top level.
He told MPs: "The source is anonymous, so obviously I don't know, but I do not believe that the person who is talking is a member of the Joint Intelligence Committee."
Last week, Dr John Reid attacked the IoS on the Today programme claiming we had relied on erroneous information from 'rogue elements' in the security services in our coverage. But many public figures believe his performance was a smokescreen and say we are right to question the Government's justification for war
Peter Kilfoyle, former defence minister
"The suggestion that The Independent on Sunday would be hand in glove with the intelligence services is risible. The Government is obviously trying to shift responsibility for its own mishandling of the debate on Iraq on to the shoulders of reputable and reliable journalists."
Charles Kennedy, Liberal Democrat leader
"You know the Government is in trouble when it attacks the messenger. Journalists are perfectly entitled to raise questions about the handling of intelligence information, not least when members of the services themselves have been making their concerns known. These are serious issues the Government needs to address."
Ian Taylor, Conservative MP
"I don't know whether the intelligence was exaggerated. Blair has not handled his defence convincingly - but anyone who really believed that the only justification for going to war was weapons of mass destruction was gullible. Bush had decided to go to war, and Blair had to a find a cover story."
Louise Christian, human rights lawyer
"The phrase 'rogue elements' might be a way of implying that it's not the majority in the services, but most people will be unconvinced that this isn't a row between the Government and mainstream sources in the services. I am flabbergasted that we were misled."
Corin Redgrave, actor
"It's pretty widely accepted that the security services were dismayed to find the use to which some of their warnings had been put. It's also clear that the Government wasn't getting the information that it wanted. I think rogue here... means a person who is saying things that you don't like to hear."
Sir John Mortimer, writer
"Dr Reid has become a sort of Rumsfeld, the one who says the silly things... I think the talk is rubbish. The problem is that they exaggerated the danger in order to encourage the seriousness of the situation... The only effective opposition is the press and the BBC, so they attack them but they do it in a singularly unpersuasive way."
Alice Mahon, Labour MP
"I was always doubtful about the existence of any weapons that would be ready in 45 minutes and didn't buy that, so I am very pleased that the IoS is carrying on its investigation. The Government's tactics to undermine you have been badly misfired. You are the ones being believed by the public."
Philip Pullman, author
"It is John Reid's job to make excuses for the Government and his outlet is blaming the press. I can't dispute that it's good Saddam is overthrown but there are many other things that worry me. I am particularly worried about Britain echoing America's moves while being in America's shadow."
Bianca Jagger, human rights activist
"It is not that The Independent on Sunday has been campaigning against the Government; it's that the Government now needs to answer some questions that it has failed to do... The question should not be are they rogue elements, but are they concerned intelligent beings?"
J G Ballard, author
"I think the claim about the IoS undermining government efforts is pretty outrageous... It is clearly a symptom of a government that has a deep unease over the whole war. It relied on a threat from Iraq to justify the lives lost and the money spent, so without the threat of mass murder, the reasons seem very feeble."
The Blair dossier
Tony Blair staked his political reputation - and the lives of British soldiers - on a belief that Iraq was harbouring weapons of mass destruction, writes Jo Dillon.
He has always been adamant they will be found. But as he fought opposition to military action before the war on Iraq and scepticism about the basis for it once the war had been won, his stance has shifted. Here we set out, in the Prime Minister's own words, the changing explanations for why WMDs have not been found and our analysis of those varying explanations.
"I am quite sure that he has these weapons. The people and the documents exist to show that." At his monthly press conference on 13 January 2003, as international hostility to what looked like an inevitable war escalated, Mr Blair was bullish and confident. But the people and the documents he spoke of have not yet led to the discovery of a single weapon.
"The time needed is not the time it takes the inspectors to discover the weapons. They are not a detective agency. We played that game for years in the 1990s. The time is the time necessary to make a judgement: is Saddam prepared to co-operate fully or not?" A month later, on 18 February, in a crunch speech to the Labour spring conference in Glasgow that coincided with a march in London by more than a million peace protesters, Mr Blair put the blame for the failure of Hans Blix and the United Nations weapons inspectors to find WMD on Saddam Hussein. But the removal of Saddam has not led to the weapons being uncovered.
"The idea that we can suddenly discover this stuff is a lot more difficult in a country the size of Iraq, but of course once the regime is out then there will be all sorts of people that will be willing to give us the information that we seek ... We have absolutely no doubt at all that these weapons of mass destruction exist." The Downing Street monthly press conference on 25 March, a few days after the first bombing raids on Iraq. The size of Iraq hadn't mysteriously increased since January's confident assertions. And now the regime has fallen - but where are the weapons?
"We know that for six months before the return of UN inspectors, Saddam put in place a systematic campaign of concealment of weapons of mass destruction. Until we are able to interrogate the scientists and experts who worked on the programmes, and the UN has a list of some 5,000 names, progress is bound to be slow." Saddam's regime had crumbled and the last Iraqi city, Tikrit, had fallen to the coalition forces when the Prime Minister made this statement to the House of Commons on 14 April. So the key was the scientists. But many have now been "interrogated" and still no weapons.
"We have only just begun the process now of investigating all the various sites ... but this is a process that is going to go on over the coming weeks and months. It is not the most urgent priority now for us since Saddam has gone ... I have absolutely no doubt at all, when we present the full evidence after we have investigated all the sites, after we have interviewed all the experts and scientists ... that evidence will be found. And I have absolutely no doubt it exists." On 30 May, following his visit to Iraq, Mr Blair held a press conference in Poland. He was still insistent the weapons would be found, but now he was saying that this highly sensitive and disputed case for war was not a priority.Reuse content