Intelligence services, WMD and Hutton

Now the intelligence services look likely to be blamed

Sir: Remember the feverish and intense build-up to war, in which we had high security warnings and tanks at airports, designed, coupled with the 45-minute warning, to terrify the British public into believing that Saddam Hussein was about to attack and destroy all that we hold dear.

In between near-hysterical ministers spouting this black propaganda I studied The Independent and other newspapers very carefully. This, along with the statements of Hans Blix, led me to the conclusion that the Government was exaggerating, to say the least. When Robin Cook made his resignation speech I was utterly convinced that there were no weapons that could possibly threaten us.

Now if I, a pensioner, along with millions of other ordinary citizens came to that conclusion, how can the Government now start to say (as they will) that the intelligence was at fault.

Bush and Blair were determined to have their war. I hope it all comes back to haunt them.

EDDIE JOHNSON
Long Melford, Suffolk

Sir: It is far too simplistic to assume that we went to war with Iraq on the grounds of WMD.

The US administration and the British government are in the process of retreating to a position where the responsibility for the sorry affair can be passed directly to the failings of the intelligence services. It is surely apparent that WMD was only ever a means by which the invasion could be cloaked in some semblance of legitimacy in the face of overwhelming United Nations opposition.

GEOFFREY PAGE
Great Dunmow, Essex

Sir: In his resignation speech last year, Robin Cook said: "Iraq probably has no weapons of mass destruction in the commonly understood sense of the term." He would presumably have come to this conclusion by reading the intelligence reports made available to members of the Cabinet.

Now Peter Hain tells us that he had seen "categoric evidence" of chemical and biological WMDs, "so did the Prime Minister, so did other Cabinet ministers".

What are we to conclude? Was Peter Hain shown different reports from those shown to Robin Cook? Did he read the same reports yet they were so ambiguous that such wildly differing interpretations were possible? Or did he realise that the intelligence proved nothing but pinned his hopes and expectations on a post facto justification for what increasingly looks like an illegal act of war?

PAUL MURRAY
London N1

BBC's slide into abuse of privilege

Sir: To think of the current crisis within the BBC as the result of a defeat in a fight with the Government is to miss the seriousness of this issue. It should be seen as the inevitable result of a long process of abuse of the privilege that the current incumbents of BBC posts have inherited from nobler predecessors.

As far back as John Major's administration, which was when I began to listen regularly to the Today, the government of the day has been under attack from BBC journalists. I refer not to investigative journalism, which is an essential part of modern news reporting, but the persistent chipping away at every sentence uttered by officials of the Government. I believe I am not alone in wincing at the bruising encounters which have characterised the BBC political interview in recent decades.

The most significant feature of this slide from grace has been the constant threat from the BBC to democracy itself. In a period where the issue of people "disengaging from the world of politics" is often discussed, the news media do their very best to make the very idea of getting involved as unpalatable as possible.

S GILLIGAN
Abergwyngregyn, Gwynedd

Sir: The resignations of Davies and Dyke were as predictable as they were justified.

There is a long historical precedence for the BBC to resent government interference in their independence, dating back to Reithian days when Winston Churchill wished to use the media for propaganda during the 1926 General Strike. Thatcher and Blair have been no slouches in this respect.

However where they did fail, particularly Davies, was not to appreciate that the Gilligan story had the potential to create the biggest British constitutional crisis in living memory. A media-inspired story could result in the deposition of an elected prime minister and possibly the Government.

In these circumstances it was incumbent on the senior management not only to ensure they had a cast-iron story but to carefully assess the risks and benefits of defending the ramifications of the story in conflict with the Government. The anachronism of an "independent" BBC dependent on the Government for its finance , legitimacy and appointment of the chairman appears to have been ignored by the management.

The Hutton report, whatever its narrow remit, produced an unequivocal judicial verdict of the BBC guilty and the Government not guilty, thereby removing any threat to the British constitution. No other verdict was possible and it has taught a salutary lesson to the BBC and media in general that their relationship with the Government is essentially one-sided.

At times like this, there is a feeling that society is manipulated by an amorphous unelected right-wing establishment, but one could rationalise it as beneficial for stability and good order.

Dr A G MURPHY FRCS
Huddersfield, West Yorkshire

Sir: Amid the clamour surrounding the Hutton report, some basic points seem to have got forgotten. A weapons inspector gives an unauthorised briefing to a journalist, charged with an investigative mission, and apparently makes some comments critical of No 10. Since Gilligan did not take a verbatim note or tape-recording, we will never know exactly what Dr Kelly said or how he said it, nor how Gilligan phrased his questions.

The story - oxymoronically described afterwards by a BBC editorial executive as a "good investigative piece, marred by flawed reporting" - is aired. The reporter goes further in an article published in a newspaper viciously hostile to the Government and later lobbies a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee to put certain questions to Dr Kelly, in the process naming Dr Kelly as the source of a fellow BBC journalist.

Is it any surprise that the tragic Dr Kelly, asked at the committee what lessons he had learned from the affair, replied: "Never speak to a journalist"? What is a surprise, however, is that it took Gilligan so long to resign. Had he and his editor done so earlier, there would probably have been no reason for the BBC to lose its chairman of governors and a popular and effective director general.

As to the naming of Dr Kelly, if any media organisation had found out he was the source, would it have had any hesitation in identifying him? Of course not. And would it have accepted any blame for the outcome if it had been the same? Of course not.

NORMAN EVANS
East Horsley, Surrey

Sir: As a lifetime staff member of the BBC, from post boy to executive producer in music programmes television, until retirement a couple of years ago, I have been saddened by recent events at my old employer.

Perhaps now the BBC can rethink and reformulate its idea of public service broadcasting. Escape the "entertainment industry image" - to use the phrase of Andreas Whittam Smith (Opinion, 29 January) - that has predominated in the years of Greg Dyke. For charter renewal the BBC must rethink the how it deals with serious subjects. At one time the performing arts, opera, classical music and dance had a regular place on the BBC screens.

The BBC, to survive in this multi-channelled world, must be different to the other channels. At the moment it is not.

BOB LOCKYER
Lewes, East Sussex

Sir: Amidst the outraged reaction of the BBC to criticism in the Hutton report, is it not worth considering the effect of Andrew Gilligan's actions on future whistleblowers? If I were a civil servant who had information that I felt should be exposed, I might think twice about revealing it to the BBC, for fear that my identity would be revealed as soon as the journalist came under government pressure.

CATHERINE WILKS
Surbiton, Surrey

Remember Suez

Sir: In 1956 Britain went to war. Its coalition partner was France. They attacked Egypt. The case for war, Egypt's nationalising of the Suez Canal. Simultaneously Israel attacked Egypt. The British Prime Minister, Sir Anthony Eden, claimed in the House of Commons that there had been no collusion with Israel to co-ordinate the attack. Sir Anthony was found later to have misled Parliament and the country. Sir Anthony resigned.

In 2003 Britain went to war. Its coalition partner was America. They attacked Iraq. The case for war: Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. The British Prime Minister Anthony Blair claimed in the House of Commons that these weapons could be put into commission within 45 minutes. Mr Blair was later found to have misled Parliament and the country. The heads of the BBC resigned.

DAVE NICHOLSON
Windsor, Berkshire

The guilty men  

Sir: Tony Blair, Geoff Hoon, Alastair Campbell, Gavyn Davies, Greg Dyke, Richard Sambrook, Andrew Gilligan, Sir Kevin Tebbit, Richard Hatfield, John Scarlett.... Isn't this evidence that more women should be appointed to the most senior positions in our democracy?

RUTH BRIGGS
Drem, East Lothian

Jury is out

Sir: The nation is weighing the evidence admirably elicited by Lord Hutton during his inquiry into the circumstances of Dr Kelly's death. Is this not how English law operates best? The judge manages the inquiring processes to ensure they are legal and the people, in the form of a jury, decide innocence or guilt. Ignore Lord Hutton's personal opinion and listen to the people.

Dr DAVID RHODES
Nottingham

Illegal invasion

Sir:Why have so many people got themselves caught up in the debate about whether WMD existed in Iraq or not? It is illegal to invade another country and to overthrow the government and head of state. It does not matter whether Iraq had, has or never even thought of WMD - the USA and UK had no legal grounding to invade.

ROBERT STEADMAN
Matlock, Derbyshire

Vain regrets

Sir: Following the publication of Hutton, and its aftermath, I have to say that I deeply regret leaving the Labour Party a year ago. I have denied myself the satisfaction of an even more bilious resignation letter now.

JOHN BARTHOLOMEW
Lyme Regis, Dorset

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