Phillip Knightley: Doomsday for James Bond

The Intelligence Services - Should intelligence shape policy or vice versa? Rumsfeld decided it should, no matter how the spies squealed
Click to follow

James Bond and his masters will never be the same again. The changes in the relationship between the British intelligence community and the Government, revealed by the Hutton inquiry, are - for better or worse - here to stay.

Intelligence bureaucracies such as Britain's Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) and the US's Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) have traditionally seen their role as identifying monsters. Their officers go out into the world, keep their eyes and ears open and return with warnings for their masters of threats to the wellbeing of the nation they serve.

The one thing they do not offer is certainty. SIS lecturers at the service's training school near Portsmouth draw the attention of recruits to a line from Sun Tzu's The Art of War: "Unless someone has the wisdom of a sage, he cannot use spies; unless he is benevolent and righteous, he cannot employ spies; unless he is subtle and perspicacious, he cannot perceive the substance in intelligence reports. It is subtle, subtle, subtle."

But the one quality the Western intelligence community has lacked since the arrival of the George W Bush administration is exactly that: subtlety. Since 11 September, Bush and the leading members of his administration have spoken of little other than certainty. Victory against terrorism is certain; the coalition's moral right to attack Iraq was certain; that weapons of mass destruction will be found is certain; that the US will triumph over all its enemies is certain.

This soothing rhetoric is understandable; it counters the fear and uncertainty that Americans have felt since the al-Qa'ida attack on the World Trade Centre. But in attempting to impose certainty on US intelligence-gathering, the administration risks crippling the CIA. And since the CIA is the lead intelligence service in the Western alliance and what happens in Langley sooner or later spreads here, British intelligence is now also at risk.

This is how it came about. The Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, and other neo-conservatives in the Bush administration saw no reason why the CIA should not be subjected to the same radical examination as has convulsed all other US government departments. The examination had two main aims. First, it would answer the fundamental question: should intelligence shape policy or vice versa? Second, it would look for a whole new methodology for evaluating the danger posed by the monster out there.

Rumsfeld and his supporters tackled the latter problem first. Traditionally, the CIA had two different sorts of officers: collectors and analysts. They often crossed over but Rumsfeld felt that the relationship was too close and that the analysing of intelligence material should be done not by intelligence professionals but by outsiders, preferably politicians.

Rumsfeld argued for a more intuitive (feminine, if you like) approach to intelligence analysis. He wanted a subjective judgement, "a connecting of the dots", which involved "imagining what you would do if you were in the other guy's shoes". This led him to his byword about the threat from the monster, one repeated at every opportunity: "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." In other words, just because there is no intelligence that the monster is out there does not prove that he is not.

Old-time intelligence officers were horrified at this approach and protested that, without the professional objectivity that CIA analysts brought to the job, politics would take over, the intelligence product would be "bent" to suit the plans of politicians, and that this would be courting disaster.

A group of retired officers even formed a lobby, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) which accused the administration of manipulating CIA intelligence about Iraq to fit President Bush's political agenda - shades of the accusations here about the Blair government and British intelligence and the controversial dossiers.

Like the CIA, the SIS saw itself as running a service industry whose clients were the Government, the Foreign Office, various ministries, and the Armed Services. It did not deal with these clients directly but through the Joint Intelligence Committee, which consisted of intelligence professionals and high-ranking civil servants.

Before the events of earlier this year that have led to the Hutton inquiry, any idea that intelligence provided by the SIS would be used by the JIC to produce a dossier for public consumption would have been unthinkable. Former chiefs of the SIS would have been apoplectic.

And there we have the answer to Rumsfeld's question: should intelli-gence shape policy or vice versa? Rumsfeld decided that policy should shape intelligence, that the work of the US's intelligence community should be directed to furthering administration policy, no matter how loudly the spies squealed.

The same thing is happening in Britain. The Blair government has decided that the intelligence service is just another Whitehall department, there to further government policy. It is as if it is saying to the SIS: "We'll decide who the monster is. Then you can give us the material to help make our case to the punters."

If traditional spymasters do not like this, too bad. The Government will find new ones who will do what they are told.

Phillip Knightley is the author of 'The Second Oldest Profession' (Pimlico), a history of spies and spying