The intelligence services are to censor Lord Butler's report into their own failures in the run-up to the Iraq war.
The revelation, which comes from official sources, will fuel controversy over next week's report, which The Independent on Sunday has learnt will criticise Downing Street for its role in the 2002 dossier on Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. Alastair Campbell, No 10's former director of communications, and John Scarlett, the dossier's author, now about to take over as head of MI6, could be singled out.
A senior government source admitted last night that the intelligence services would be allowed to block out passages of the report before it is made public on 14 July. It is not known whether Mr Scarlett will be consulted.
The censoring, officially known as redaction, will be overseen by a secret Cabinet Office committee. "It will be done in conjunction with the intelligence services where there is a danger to a particular source or to national security more generally," said the source. "We will keep it to a minimum." The process was used to censor many documents submitted to Lord Hutton's inquiry into the death of the weapons scientist David Kelly, although his report, unlike Lord Butler's, was not subject to government scrutiny.
Sources close to the inquiry chaired by the former cabinet secretary say the "interface" between Downing Street and the intelligence services, which took responsibility for the WMD dossier, will come in for criticism. Although Mr Scarlett, then head of the Joint Intelligence Committee, claimed "ownership" of the dossier, the Hutton inquiry received much evidence about the involvement of No 10 officials, in particular Mr Campbell, as the document went through successive drafts.
Lord Hutton largely discounted the suggestion that this might have "subconsciously" influenced Mr Scarlett, but the Butler committee is understood to have taken a more critical view. "It was less than convinced [on this point]," said one source.
The committee, sources say, will focus in particular on two claims in the dossier: that Iraq could have WMD ready for use in 45 minutes, and that it had sought uranium from Africa.
To the relief of Downing Street, Lord Hutton ruled in January that it was not his job to decide on the reliability of the intelligence in the dossier. But the following month a controversy erupted in Washington over WMD claims. President Bush announced an inquiry into intelligence failures in the run-up to the Iraq war, and the Prime Minister was forced to follow suit.
One witness at the Butler inquiry told the IoS that he had been asked detailed questions about the dossier's preparation. The committee also went into detail about his evidence to Hutton, indicating that the Prime Minister's desire that it avoid territory covered in the earlier inquiry had been ignored.
"Butler is anxious not to be classed with the Hutton inquiry, which was considered a whitewash," said a source in the intelligence community.
Since the Butler inquiry was announced, the source added, the head of the CIA, George Tenet, had left his post, as well as the agency's senior official in charge of handling intelligence agents - the function closest to that performed by the head of MI6. Mr Scarlett, by contrast, had been promoted. "This has caused some cynicism," said the source.
It was stressed when the inquiry was set up that it would examine the intelligence process, not personalities, but those facing criticism will be invited to comment.Reuse content