Brian Jones: 'There was a lack of substantive evidence... We were told there was intelligence we could not see'

We were overruled, says former intelligence chief, and the result was a dossier that was misleading about Iraqi WMD

In his statement to the Commons on the Hutton report last week, Tony Blair declared that "we can have a debate about the war, about WMD and about intelligence". Yesterday, he made clear an independent investigation would finally go ahead.

In the Commons and in his evidence to MPs yesterday, the Prime Minister referred to my own concerns about the Government's assessment of the Iraqi threat. Now that the Hutton report has been published, I feel able to speak on what is in the public domain and on the issues that I believe should be examined by any investigation into "intelligence failure".

It is clear from the evidence to the Hutton inquiry that the experts of the Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS) who dealt with chemical and biological warfare, including those working directly with me, had problems with some aspects of what was being said in various drafts of the dossier that was published on 24 September 2002.

The problem was that the best available current evidence that Saddam actually had chemical and biological weapons (CW and BW) was the inference that this must be so from the claim of an apparently unproven original source that such weapons could be "deployed" within 45 minutes. Although the information was relayed through a reliable second source, there was no indication the original or primary source had established a track record of reliability. Furthermore, the information reported by the source was vague in all aspects except, possibly, for the range of times quoted.

I believe the DIS experts who worked for and with me were the foremost group of analysts in the West on nuclear, biological and chemical warfare intelligence. It is their job to consider all other related evidence. What was missing was, for example, strong evidence of the continuing existence of weapons and agents and substantive evidence on production or storage.

There was no indication that the Iraqi military had practiced the use of CW or BW weapons for more than a decade. But it was known that Iraq had previously possessed CW and BW capabilities and used chemical weapons. Further, Saddam had failed to satisfy the UN that the capability had been eliminated.

On balance the DIS experts felt it should be recorded that a CW or BW capability at some level was a probability, but argued against its statement in stronger terms. Despite pointing this out in comments on several drafts, the stronger statements did eventually appear in the executive summary, the part of the dossier "owned" by the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee.

Without such a strong summary, the translation of a probability into a certainty that occurred in the foreword drafted by Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister's former director of communications, would have been more noticeable.

My recollection is that the disagreement of the experts in the DIS was not so much resolved as finessed. My belief is that right up to the publication of the dossier there was a unified view amongst not only my own staff but all the DIS experts that on the basis of the intelligence available to them the assessment that Iraq possessed a CW or BW capability should be carefully caveated.

But we were told there was other intelligence that we, the experts, could not see, and that it removed the reservations we were expressing. It was so sensitive it could not be shown to us. It was held within a tight virtual "compartment", available only to a few selected people.

The two DIS representatives on the dossier-drafting group were told at the last drafting meeting on 17 September that the compartmented intelligence would be shown by the SIS (MI6) to only the two most senior members of the DIS, the Chief of Defence Intelligence (CDI) and his deputy (DCDI).

At a subsequent DIS meeting on that day, the DCDI ruled that he was satisfied by the SIS reassurance and that no further objections on the contentious issues should be raised with the Cabinet Office Assessment Staff. It transpired from evidence to the Hutton inquiry that the clinching intelligence was never seen by the DCDI.

By the time I returned from leave on 18 September to a very disgruntled team the deadline for production of the dossier was fast approaching. I examined the relevant reports and discussed them with my experts and decided they were right to be concerned.

My experience of the intelligence process made me suspicious of what was happening. I was not reassured when my boss said he had been assured by a representative of the SIS that the new sensitive material was reliable and negated our concerns. My boss was brand new to the intelligence business, unfamiliar with the assessment process and not in the compartment.

I considered who might have seen this ultra-sensitive intelligence and reached the conclusion that it was extremely doubtful that anyone with a high degree of CW and BW intelligence expertise was among the exclusive group.

It was becoming clear that it was very unlikely we could achieve the balance we desired in the dossier and it was important to register our misgivings formally.

Earlier in my intelligence career, I and others in my branch had not taken similar precautions and suffered for it. We believed that no large stockpiles of chemical weapons, such as those present in 1990/91, existed because if they did they would probably have been detected by intelligence. The smaller quantities of chemical weapons that might exist would be hard to find, as would small but significant amounts of BW agents and delivery systems.

I foresaw that after the likely invasion and defeat of Iraq, it was quite possible that no WMD would be found. If this happened scapegoats would be sought, so I decided that we should record our concerns about the dossier in order to protect our reputation. But this is a big step to take and I wanted to be as sure of my ground as possible.

The UK intelligence community is not large and you can usually find your way to someone "in the know." They need not stray beyond the limits of what they are allowed to reveal, but they can still be of assistance. I eventually found someone who was in the relevant compartment. Information was not volunteered and I did not ask about the detailed content of these reports. I explained the reservations that we had about the draft dossier and asked whether the compartmented intelligence resolved any of these concerns. I was advised they did not.

A draft of the dossier arrived on the 19 September. We were told this was the "final" version for proof-reading and no substantive comment would be considered. In any case the DCDI had ruled that no further objections should be made.

I arranged the short meeting with David Kelly and others that I have described in testimony to Lord Hutton to satisfy myself that the basis of Dr Kelly's view that the dossier was "good" did not contradict our own position. By the end of the day I was confident of my ground and I sent a memorandum to my director and copied it to the DCDI, who, as a member of the JIC, could still intervene if he chose to do so.

Once my initial memo was in, my deputy, who was also the CW expert in my branch, was able to contribute a more detailed and direct explanation of our concerns in the light of yet another "final" draft that had appeared.

Neither memo produced a direct response. We could only suppose that the compartmented intelligence seen by the CDI was clear and unambiguous for him to disregard, without discussion, the recorded views of two senior analysts who, although only of middle rank were, like the late Dr Kelly, the UK's foremost experts in their field.

During the course of their own inquiry, the Intelligence and Security Committee was given sight of the relevant intelligence and, despite the fact that they are not expert intelligence analysts, they reported rather enigmatically that they could "understand the basis on which the CDI and the JIC took the view they did".

But with all that has and has not happened since, I believe the advice I received in September 2002 about the compartmented intelligence was valid. Now that it is being so widely suggested that Britain went to war on the back of an "intelligence failure", it is important that the nature of that failure is understood. An intelligence failure can be the result of many things. The absence of significant "raw" intelligence would be a collection failure. There was a self-inflicted dearth of information on Iraq following the withdrawal of Unscom inspectors before Operation Desert Fox in 1998 and an additional degree of uncertainty once their constraining influence was lost.

A failure can result if the significance of a piece of "raw" intelligence is not recognised, or its analysis is flawed, or its context misunderstood. This would be an assessment failure. The failure of policy-makers to accept or act on information can also be called an intelligence failure because of the inadequacy of its presentation by the intelligence community.

Whether or not there was a failure of intelligence assessment should be judged, not on the dossier, but on relevant JIC papers. Similarly, whether or not there was a failure in intelligence collection should be judged on the reports the collectors issued. Arguably, the dossier revealed more about the top end of the process and the fashioning of a product that has hitherto been alien to the UK intelligence community.

In my view the expert intelligence analysts of the DIS were overruled in the preparation of the dossier in September 2002 resulting in a presentation that was misleading about Iraq's capabilities.

It would be a travesty if the reputation of the DIS and its dedicated people was besmirched and the organisation as a whole undermined. The DIS includes the only significant body of dedicated professional intelligence analysts in the UK intelligence community and they are a much under-valued and under-resourced national asset. It is the intelligence community leadership at the level of the membership of the JIC and the upper echelons of the DIS - those who had access to and may have misinterpreted the compartmented intelligence - that had the final say on the assessment presented in the dossier.

Lord Hutton describes the JIC as, "the most senior body in the Intelligence Services charged with the assessment of intelligence". But this is misleading.

The members of the JIC are mostly extremely busy officials. Some are effectively the chief executives of large organisations with large budgets and all that goes with that responsibility. Others have a wide range of other responsibilities. All will have a limited time to study personally intelligence reports and the related archives in detail. Most will have had quite limited experience of analysing intelligence.

From my perspective the JIC's function is to oversee the assessment of intelligence and question and challenge the experienced and dedicated analysts and intelligence collectors on issues where they, the JIC, might understand the broader relevance and significance of a particular assessment. When they take it upon themselves to overrule experienced experts they should be very sure of their ground, and if a decision to do so is based on additional sensitive intelligence unknown to the experts, it must be incontrovertible.

Events have shown that we in the DIS were right to urge caution. I suggest that now might be a good time to open the box and release from its compartment the intelligence that played such a significant part in formulating a key part of the dossier.

I recognise this could possibly be one of a few exceptional circumstances that means the content of the compartmented intelligence remains sensitive even after the fall of Saddam. If this is the case it should be clearly stated. Otherwise the simple act of opening this box and explaining who had the right to look into it before the war could increase the transparency and hasten the progress of the new inquiry.

Dr Brian Jones was formerly head of the branch within the Scientific and Technical Directorate of Defence Intelligence Staff that was responsible for the analysis of intelligence from all sources on nuclear, biological and chemical warfare. He retired in January 2003

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