The crucial revelation that makes it impossible for John Scarlett to keep his job

Share
Related Topics

The more detailed the study of the Butler report, the more worrying its revelations about the quality and assessment of the intelligence in the run-up to war. And, it has to be said, the more precarious the position of John Scarlett, the head of the Joint Intelligence Committee at the time and the new head of MI6 from this autumn.

The more detailed the study of the Butler report, the more worrying its revelations about the quality and assessment of the intelligence in the run-up to war. And, it has to be said, the more precarious the position of John Scarlett, the head of the Joint Intelligence Committee at the time and the new head of MI6 from this autumn.

The lack of caveats in the September dossier, Mr Scarlett's willingness to go along with Number 10's suggestions for presentation, and his readiness to accept "ownership" of a document that he knew to be at best less nuanced, and in parts more confident, than the assessments made by the committee he chaired, have already been well publicised.

But it is in the validity of the last-minute human sources who provided the really crucial information used to justify the assertions made about Saddam Hussein's possession of chemical and biological weapons that the most worrying points are now emerging. It was these last-minute additions that, in Butler's account, made all the difference to the tone of the dossier and the Prime Minister's later speeches to Parliament and the public.

Yet the information provided by these sources was deliberately kept from any of the analysts who might have checked it against other information and assessment.

The crucial paragraph is 405 of the report. In it, Lord Butler and his committee state that in mid-September 2002, a "report, described as being a new source on trial," was brought in which provided "significant assurance to those drafting the Government's dossier that active, current production of chemical and biological agent was taking place". A second report about a particular agent followed. "In July 2003, however," states the report, "SIS withdrew the two reports because the sourcing chain had by then been discredited."

The significance of this statement goes beyond what it says of the unsafeness of the dossier. It lies in the date at which the reports were withdrawn - July 2003. This was after the invasion but before Hutton took his evidence, and at the same time as the Commons Defence and Intelligence Committees were drawing up their assessments. Yet none of these reports contained a word about this crucial information, nor did either Sir Richard Dearlove, head of SIS, or John Scarlett refer to it in their evidence before the inquiries. Nor did Downing Street witnesses, if indeed they knew about it. How different would these reports have been if this information had been included. Would it have been Gavyn Davies, Greg Dyke and Andrew Gilligan who lost their jobs and not the heads of the intelligence community?

No one is claiming this as a smoking gun with which to discredit the Prime Minister or Lord Hutton. Nor are we, despite the accusations of government ministers, embarked on a witch-hunt for Dearlove or his successor. All of them could - almost certainly did - accept the new source in good faith and used its information at face value.

Yet the Prime Minister went on claiming that it was "beyond doubt" that Saddam Hussein was continuing to produce chemical and biological agents throughout 2003, and three successive investigations were allowed to proceed without the relevant information. If SIS withdrew the intelligence in July, one has to ask just when did they begin to have doubts, when did they tell the JIC, and why did they see fit not to tell any of the appropriate inquiries. This, after all, was no run-of-the-mill change in the evaluation of an ordinary piece of intelligence. This was the complete rejection of a central piece of a public document used to persuade Parliament and the people to support an invasion of a foreign country.

From the beginning, Tony Blair has been almost obsessional in his expression of public support for John Scarlett. In defiance of the ordinary laws of propriety, he went ahead with appointing him as the next head of MI6 before the Butler inquiry had reported. Butler's findings now make it impossible for him to continue with that appointment.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: A widow’s tale with an unexpected twist

John Rentoul
 

For all his faults, Russell Brand is utterly sincere, something politicians should emulate

Janet Street-Porter
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing