Scarlett: 'No pressure from Downing St on weapons dossier'

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John Scarlett, chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committtee, told the Hutton inquiry today that he worked with Downing Street to make the Government's dossier on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction "as strong as possible".

Mr Scarlett also said that the controversial 45-minute claim in the Government's dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction came from "a senior and reliable Iraqi".

He said that a Downing Street e-mail last September contained areas in the dossier which Number 10 wanted to be clarified or expanded. He said they liked "specifics".

They wanted more detail on the items that were procured for Iraq's nuclear programme and knowledge of their chemical weapons as far as the intelligence would allow.

The inquiry was told that Number 10 wanted the document to be "as strong as possible" using the available intelligence.

James Dingemans QC, counsel to the inquiry, asked Mr Scarlett: "It appears to betray an attitude that pressure is being brought to bear to dig out anything good by way of intelligence for the dossier."

Mr Scarlett denied that pressure was being applied, saying this was simply part of the working process.

He said: "These questions are questions seeking more detail to support statements or areas of the document which are in the draft.

"This is entirely consistent with the original tasking. It is entirely consistent with what I wanted to do."

He said that he wanted the document to be as strong in detail "as possible, as the intelligence allowed".

Lord Hutton's inquiry is investigating the circumstances leading up to the death of weapons exprt David Kelly, who was found with his wrist slashed in woods near his Oxfordshire home last month.

Lord Hutton asked Mr Scarlett if there was anything wrong with Number 10 informing him or the assessment staff that they wanted as much intelligence in the dossier as possible, on the basis that anything that went in was valid in the judgment of the intelligence community.

Mr Scarlett replied: "I saw and see nothing wrong in that at all. It was up to my judgment, and eventually the judgment of the JIC, whether it was safe to include intelligence and whether that intelligence was soundly based and consistent with our judgment."

He said that he had not known of any involvement Dr Kelly may have had at that time.

Mr Dingemans also asked if he had been aware of any expressions of unhappiness about the dossier from members of the defence intelligence staff.

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

Lord Hutton asked Mr Scarlett whether there was any significance in the fact that in the 16 September draft the text referred at one point to the possibility that the Iraqi military "may be" able to deploy chemical and biological weapons within 45 minutes of an order to do so, but later referred to "could be ready".

Mr Scarlett told the inquiry that he had discussed the draft in detail with the officers who wrote it.

He said: "They have no memory of changing the wording, no recollection of any particular reason for changing the wording...

"There was not intended to be any significance at the time in the change of this wording."

Asked by Mr Dingemans whether he was happy that the dossier reflected as fully and accurately as was possible intelligence on Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, Mr Scarlett said: "That remains my conclusion as to the intelligence picture on the basis of the intelligence we had at that time."

Asked how he felt about the involvement of Government communications advisers, Mr Scarlett said: "As long as I was in charge, I was happy. In fact, I found it quite helpful to have presentational advice."

Mr Dingemans asked Mr Scarlett whether at the time of the dossier's publication there were any serious rows or disagreements between himself and Mr Campbell or other members of the JIC.

Mr Scarlett said: "No."

He continued: "As chairman of the JIC and as somebody in frequent contact with senior members of the intelligence community, including the most senior, I was not aware of anhappiness within the intelligence community about the contents of the dossier and the judgments that we were making in it.

"It was the case and remains the case that all my colleagues on the JIC were completely supportive in giving authority for that assessment to be published."

Turning to Andrew Gilligan's broadcast on the Today programme on May 29, Mr Dingemans asked Mr Scarlett if he had heard the programme.

He said he had not.

Asked if he was contacted in relation to the broadcast, Mr Scarlett replied: "Yes, I was contacted in the office by the duty press officer at Number 10.

"I was told that there had been a broadcast on the Today programme. I think I was told that it was by Andrew Gilligan, but I cannot be completely sure about that.

"I was told that it made some sort of central allegations."

He added: "I was told that there had been a reference to the public assessment of September 24 - the inclusion in it of the 45-minute point - that this had been inserted at the behest of Number 10 against the wishes of the intelligence community even though the Government knew it to be wrong."

Mr Dingemans asked if that allegation was true or untrue.

Mr Scarlett replied firmly: "Completely untrue."

Mr Dingemans asked how he had felt about it.

He replied: "I was a bit surprised to start with, but I just knew instantly that it was completely untrue.

"There was nobody in a better position than me to know that and I said so."

Earlier, Mr Scarlett said the committee met last September to discuss the draft of the dossier when "important new intelligence was coming in which was relevant to the subject".

Referring to the classified intelligence, the inquiry was read a section saying: "Iraq have probably dispersed its special weapons including chemical and biological weapons.

"Intelligence also indicated that from forward deployed storage sites, chemical and biological munitions could be with military units and ready for firing within 45 minutes."

That information came from a single source, Mr Scarlett said.

Mr Scarlett, a former MI6 station chief in Moscow, said it was a report from "an established and reliable line of reporting, quoting a senior and reliable Iraqi who was in a position to know this information".

He said the assessment process took into account a large number of considerations.

"In this particular case, it was judged straightaway that the intelligence was consistent with established judgments on Iraq's experience and capability in the use of chemical and biological munitions," he told the inquiry.

Pointing out the importance of the information, he said: "It brought an additional detail because it gave a particular time, gave some precision."

Mr Scarlett said it was incorporated into the draft assessment and added: "This was certainly the first time that this was included in any JIC document."

The inquiry was shown an e-mail from an unnamed member of the defence intelligence staff to an official of the assessment staff talking about Iraq's chemical and biological capabilities.

Mr Scarlett said it was discussing classified work that the JIC was carrying out, and was separate to work on the public dossier.

The e-mail began by saying it was a "good paper" but added that it was felt that it was too categoric in places.

It said new intelligence suggested that Iraq could employ the weapons within a maximum time of 45 minutes but that the average was closer to 20 minutes.

Mr Scarlett emphasised that the work on the classified intelligence was wholly separate to the preparation of the public dossier.