Let's use plain words: John Scarlett must go

Share
Related Topics

Lord Butler and his colleagues have not delivered a whitewash. Much of their report is a thorough and balanced analysis of one of the greatest intelligence failures of modern times. Considering the likely tendency of all members of the Butler inquiry to give the intelligence services and their political masters the benefit of the doubt, surprisingly few of their findings are wilfully credulous - although some are.

Lord Butler and his colleagues have not delivered a whitewash. Much of their report is a thorough and balanced analysis of one of the greatest intelligence failures of modern times. Considering the likely tendency of all members of the Butler inquiry to give the intelligence services and their political masters the benefit of the doubt, surprisingly few of their findings are wilfully credulous - although some are.

The gross over-estimation of Saddam Hussein's biological and chemical weapons capability was not a one-off failure such as the failure to pre-empt the attack on America on 11 September 2001. Breaking a secret plot of that kind will always be immensely difficult. The belief that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, on the other hand, was persistent and widespread - and was central to the British case for joining in the US invasion of Iraq. Now, four independent inquiries have cumulatively established that it was completely and utterly wrong. The Butler report, the last of the four, describes with some authority the who, how and why of that terrible error, even if the "who" is identified in collective terms.

Taken together, the picture painted by the Hutton and Butler inquiries is of the intelligence services, already deep in the grip of a global "groupthink", riven by turf wars that prevented experts from checking information from sources jealously guarded by rival services, desperately scrabbling for scraps of information to satisfy demands from the Prime Minister for evidence to substantiate his convictions.

Hutton revealed the email traffic, including the frantic appeal from John Scarlett, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, for "any items of intelligence that agencies think can and should be included" in the dossier. A dossier, Mr Scarlett told his agencies, that "No 10" wants to be "as strong as possible". Butler describes, in more muffled terms, how, in this atmosphere, the intelligence chiefs and the Prime Minister seized on information from "a new source on trial" who told them just what they wanted to hear - that Saddam was producing chemical and biological agents.

While much of the Butler report simply puts an official imprint on what we already know, its main revelation is that Tony Blair knew, or should have known, that this intelligence was unreliable. It was not referred to directly in the dossier, but it did "provide significant assurance" to its drafters. It should not have done, as MI6 effectively admitted when it "withdrew" the report in July last year. It would have done so much earlier if it had allowed the Defence Intelligence Staff, which emerges with some credit from Butler, to assess the intelligence.

Lord Butler's committee is measured in its language, but that makes its findings of failings at all levels, from the "validation" of sub-sources to the drafting of the Prime Minister's foreword to the dossier, all the more powerful. The claim that banned weapons were still being produced should not have been in the dossier. Nor should the "45 minutes".

Which brings us to the Butler report's perverse finding, which stands out all the more for the plainness of those around it. The report makes one exception to its policy of not naming names. It names John Scarlett as someone who should not step down. This makes no sense when read against the rest of the report. The heaviest weight of implied "collective" criticism is of MI6, which was responsible for most of the raw intelligence that was then cooked in Downing Street and its Cabinet Office adjunct. Sir Richard Dearlove, the director of MI6, retires at the end of this month. But Mr Scarlett should not succeed him, and it was wrong of the Prime Minister to approve his promotion before Butler delivered its verdict. The implication of the report, whatever Lord Butler's protestations, is that Mr Scarlett was an unsuitable person to chair the Joint Intelligence Committee - it should be chaired by someone "who is demonstrably beyond influence, and thus probably in his last post".

It would be in the interests of the credibility of the intelligence services - so vital to the security of the nation - if Mr Scarlett accepted this finding, and decided that chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee was indeed his last post.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: When is a baroness not a baroness? Titles still cause confusion

Guy Keleny
 

CPAC 2015: What I learnt from the US — and what the US could learn from Ukip

Nigel Farage
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?