Spy chiefs forced to explain suppressing of war dissent

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Indy Politics

Two intelligence chiefs will emerge from the shadows on Monday to face public scrutiny for the first time. They will discuss their decision to suppress dissent among senior staff about the notorious Iraq arms dossier.

Air Marshal Sir Joe French, former chief of Defence Intelligence, and his deputy Tony Cragg, will be obliged to explain their action - or lack of it - after they received letters of complaint about how the document was being drafted.

They were ordered to appear as witnesses on the first day of the next phase of the Hutton inquiry. The inquiry has exposed flaws in the Government's case for war while investigating the circumstances leading to the alleged suicide of the weapons expert David Kelly.

Brian Jones, head of the scientific wing of the Defence Intelligence Analysis Staff, and a colleague described as the country's foremost authority on chemical warfare, told the inquiry that they were so concerned about the veracity of the evidence being put into the September dossier that they sent a detailed series of corrections to Mr Cragg.

Security sources said yesterday that the evidence of Air Marshal French and Mr Cragg would be "highly problematic" for the Government.

One official said: "The fact remains that Brian Jones is a highly respected man and his views should have been taken into account. This was not just splitting hairs, it is very real concern being ignored. One of the complaints levied against David Kelly was that he made his criticism of the '45 minutes' thing through unofficial means - a journalist. Well Dr Jones and his colleague stuck to the official channels and that got them nowhere. Lord Hutton would want to know why that happened, and especially if there was political pressure."

Seven senior members of the Cabinet were shown the intelligence assessment which warned that invading Iraq would increase the threat of a terrorist attack on Britain.

Among those who saw the document was Clare Short, the then International Development Secretary who resigned in protest against the war. Others privy to the intelligence were Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary; Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary; David Blunkett, the Home Secretary; Gordon Brown, the Chancellor; John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister and Patricia Hewitt, the Trade and Industry Secretary.

The assessment, by the Joint Intelligence Committee, had warned Tony Blair in February - a month before the war - that al-Qa'ida was "by far the greatest threat to Western interests" and that this danger would be increased by military action against the war.

The report also warned that the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime could lead to chemical and biological weapons falling into the hands of terrorists.

Responding to criticism that Mr Blair had ignored the intelligence and misled the country, Mr Blair's official spokesman said yesterday: "The Prime Minister is elected to lead and has to make judgements and when you are dealing with issues of terrorism, issues of weapons of mass destruction, that is clearly not a precise science.

"These are obviously subjective judgements. We are not talking about risk-free options - and terrorism and the development of weapons of mass destruction are not alternatives. It's not a question of either/or. Both are a threat."

The Conservative leader leader, Iain Duncan Smith, said: "Tony Blair was entitled to make that judgement and to take that decision. But given public concern over the controversy of the September dossier, he should now explain why he did that. The country is entitled to know."

Dr Jones, whose department was dedicated to investigating Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction, told the Hutton inquiry that writing the letter of complaint was the first time he had been forced to take such a drastic step in 13 years of working in the scientific wing.

But he and his colleagues received no response and their worries were not reflected in the dossier when it was published last September.

Unknown to them, the letters from Dr Jones and his colleague were not passed on to the Joint Intelligence Committee which compiled the dossier. Instead, Air Marshal French decided to treat the complaints as "splitting hairs on particular words" and said that they were part of a "lively debate within the DIS".

Dr Jones became concerned about what had happened to their letters when he read about Mr Straw's appearance before the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee on 26 June.

The Foreign Secretary was asked whether "any complaints had been made by senior intelligence intelligence officials" about the dossier. He replied: "None whatever, to my knowledge."

Dr Jones then wrote to Mr Cragg's successor, Martin Howard, saying: "As possibly the most senior and experienced officer on the field of Iraqi WMD, I was so concerned about the manner in which intelligence assessment for which I had some responsibility was being presented in the dossier of 24 September 2002 that I was moved to write formally to Tony Cragg recording and expressing my reservations".

Appearing before the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), John Scarlett, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Staff, and Sir David Omand, Downing Street's security co-ordinator, said that they were not aware of any discontent in the ranks.

Air Marshal French said in his evidence to the ISC, released in a report yesterday: "For each paper I would have the range of specialists who have been involved in them, obviously splitting hairs on particular words.

"But ultimately, putting 45 minutes in a military context when this was going through, I had to make a corporate decision on which draft we would actually live with.

"So the fact that this discussion goes on was just a weekly event as far as I was concerned - lively debate within the DIS."

Greg Dyke, the BBC director general, will also be giving evidence to Lord Hutton on Monday. He is likely to be questioned about the BBC's refusal to apologise to Alastair Campbell, Downing Street's director of communications, over claims that he had "sexed up" the September dossier.