Paul Waugh: Merchants of spin left reeling as dossier is quietly demolished

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The Independent Online

It's always the quiet ones. First we had David Broucher and his startling revelation about David Kelly being found "dead in the woods". Then we had the softly-spoken Wing Commander John Clark describing Dr Kelly's desperate final phone calls.

Yesterday, it was the turn of the unassuming Brian Jones, a former MoD intelligence officer, to rock the Hutton inquiry with yet more dramatic evidence. The witness formerly known as ADI NBC ST, Dr Jones made the brave decision to finally go public with the concerns that he and other senior members of Defence Intelligence Staff had about the Government's September dossier on Iraq.

The irony was unmissable. As Downing Street was congratulating itself on spinning claims that it was free of spin, here was the straightest of civil servants exposing just how intelligence was abused amid No 10's frantic search for propaganda against Saddam Hussein.

Aided by little more than a personal note and an instinctive dislike of incorrect language, Dr Jones set about methodically demolishing the dossier's stronger claims.

He emphasised time and again just how the difference between a "might" and a "may be" in an intelligence report could be the difference between life and death. No 10, aided by John Scarlett, the Joint Intelligence Committee chairman, had failed to qualify the key claims on the Iraqi threat.

By contrast, Dr Jones had put forward more qualifications than an Oxbridge-educated Harvard postgrad. "We wondered if he might even have been trying to influence rather than inform. This happens from time to time," he said. It may have sounded like a reference to Tony Blair, but Dr Jones was referring to the "45-minute" claim made by an Iraqi military officer. His evidence was interrupted to allow a session with a weapons expert known as "Mr A". While the symbol of the Ministry of Defence appeared on a video screen, Mr A's voice came through crackled and muffled as if being delivered through a comb and paper down the bottom of a mine shaft. He may well have been in the bowels of the MoD itself, a bare lightbulb swinging as he spoke, but the mystery witness braved the intimidating surroundings and supported his friend and colleague Dr Kelly. James Dingemans, QC, counsel for the inquiry, tried in vain to disguise his mirth at the cloak and dagger approach to witness protection. "We can't see you, can you see us?" Mr Dingemans asked in a passable impersonation of Doris Stokes at a seance. "I can see you," the voice replied. As the Kelly affair has shown, the MoD is remarkably efficient at giving clues to its officials' identity when it needs to. But unlike the old television game show What's My Line, there was no silhouette of Mr A from which to guess his identity. It was in fact another game show, Blankety Blank, which appeared to go on air when Mr Dingemans asked about another official, known only as "blank", who had been critical of the Government's dossier. "You will recall 'blank' admitted they were grasping at straws. I do not need to know who 'blank' is. Was 'blank' at the meeting?" Mr Dingemans asked, blankly. "'Blank' was at the meeting and it was a conversation I had with 'blank' after the meeting where I expressed my view," Mr A said. Having fired so many blanks, Mr A then hit the bullseye with live ammo, claiming that the Government's "merchants of spin" had had more influence over the dossier than experts like himself and Dr Kelly. Typically, the fastidious Dr Jones said he didn't recognise the phrase about "spin". But it was obvious that he knew it when he saw it.