Brian Jones: How a dedicated civil servant may change everything

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The Independent Online

If James Dingemans, counsel for the Hutton inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of David Kelly, had put the question more directly I would have found myself unable to answer. Instead he asked: "If a member of your staff had given this sort of information to journalists about the discussions that had taken place in your branch relating to concerns about the dossier, what would your reaction have been to that?"

If James Dingemans, counsel for the Hutton inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of David Kelly, had put the question more directly I would have found myself unable to answer. Instead he asked: "If a member of your staff had given this sort of information to journalists about the discussions that had taken place in your branch relating to concerns about the dossier, what would your reaction have been to that?"

I paused for what seemed like an age as I realised my answer would reveal something of what I thought of David's action. Eventually I gave my answer: "I would have thought they were acting well beyond the bounds of what they should have been doing. I would have been very disappointed and very annoyed." I have not returned to this matter again until today.

In the early summer of 2003 it never crossed my mind it was David who was telling the BBC that there had been serious misgivings in the intelligence community about the September dossier on Iraq's WMD. Even after Hutton it is still difficult to understand why he did so. Having supported the dossier and military action and not commented on our views before the war, why did he choose to do so afterwards? What was the purpose?

I wondered at first whether, after the failure to find WMD in Iraq, David might have wanted to associate himself more directly with our concerns. After all, he never did believe that it was likely that large stockpiles would be found. He also knew full well that large stockpiles of biological weapons were not necessary to provide an offensive capability. There was no obvious personal motive for him to reveal this information anonymously or "off the record" to a few BBC journalists.

Perhaps he saw then what I had seen at the outset - a danger the intelligence analysts would be unjustly blamed for providing flawed advice when they had been much more cautious all along. He knew they would find it difficult to make their case openly because of the constraints upon them - a fact clearly and ironically reflected in my answer to Mr Dingemans. So David may have decided to use the access to the media his job as a UN weapons inspector had given him.

I believe it was a deliberate act. He was too experienced of both the press and the secret world for it to have been a momentary lapse. He felt passionately about the work that had come to dominate his life and I know he recognised the importance of intelligence to it. We will never know for sure why he spoke to Susan Watts, Andrew Gilligan and Gavin Hewitt, but my preference is to believe this is why he did it.

I doubt that he quite realised the political storm his revelation could cause. He was more attuned to the politics of the United Nations than Whitehall. He could not know that the charge he made would be exaggerated by its interpreter and that BBC bias would become the smokescreen to conceal, at least temporarily, the real problem - the absence of chemical and biological weapons in postwar Iraq. When his name emerged and was so hastily added to the conflagration he made the sort of mistakes any of us might make when placed under unreasonable pressure.

The absence of confidants in his immediate working circle, which were a consequence of his unique, multi-hatted, high-powered, international job and his apparently introverted nature, together with MoD's frugal, hands-off approach to man management appears to have left him nowhere to turn.

There is no doubt that David's tragic death led to unprecedented and detailed revelations about the machinery of government, the intelligence process and the way in which civil servants are managed. It has shown through Lord Butler's review how mistakes were made and serious flaws in the system have been identified. I realise now that my response to Mr Dingemans' question, if transferred to David Kelly, will appear to be unforgiving.

I am glad I said nothing further until now. I am hopeful that the last act of a dedicated civil servant will prove to have been the catalyst for improvements that will benefit the security of the nation.

Dr Brian Jones is a former head of the nuclear, chemical and biological branch of the Defence Intelligence Staff

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