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July 09, 2004

Butler Inquiry Press Briefing

Posted by Michael Mosbacher

Butler Inquiry Press Briefing
Intelligence Experts' Analysis:
A. Butler Inquiry's probable conclusions
B. BCISS recommendations for improving future government handling of intelligence

On 14 July, Lord Butler will deliver his report on the intelligence that contributed to the decision to go to war in Iraq. On Monday we will be publishing Butler's Dilemma, in which two of the UK's leading intelligence experts, Professor Anthony Glees and Dr Philip Davies of the Brunel Centre for Intelligence and Security Studies (BCISS), examine the Butler Inquiry's probable conclusions. Butler's Dilemma also presents the BCISS recommendations on how to improve the UK government's future handling of intelligence.

A. Butler Inquiry's probable conclusions:
To make sense of the Inquiry’s possible conclusions the exact brief presented to Lord Butler must be remembered. This was:

'to investigate the accuracy of intelligence on WMD to March 2003 and to examine any discrepancies between the intelligence gathered, evaluated and used by the Government before the conflict and between that intelligence and what has been discovered by the Iraq Survey Group since the end of the conflict'.

The Butler Inquiry's probable conclusions are:

1. Garbage In/Garbage Out
The basic information or raw intelligence available was inaccurate, unreliable and/or possibly deceptive, and was not recognised as such when fed into the assessment process in the Joint Intelligence Committee and the Cabinet decision-making process. This error would mean the intelligence was indeed seriously inaccurate and grossly deficient but that the Prime Minister could not possibly know this. The Prime Minister believed that his intelligence services knew best. If so, he was quite wrong.

2. Processing Error
In this case the raw intelligence was accurate, or as accurate as possible, but it was erroneously assessed by the members of the Joint Intelligence Committee. There are sound reasons for this to be a serious possibility. During the Hutton Inquiry it became apparent that there were dissenting views expressed from within the Defence Intelligence Staff concerning the consensus on Iraqi WMD. Of course, Ministers cannot possibly have made accurate decisions if they were provided with assessments that over-estimated the strength of the evidence.

If this conclusion is reached, then certain individuals, particularly John Scarlett and members of the SIS, may be liable for criticism for placing confidence in human intelligence, i.e. reports from agents or informants, disproportionate to the general reliability problems endemic to human sources.

3. Lost in Translation
There are two variants of this error. The first is the 'Deaf Captain Syndrome' where the consumers themselves do not properly take intelligence on board. The second is 'The Twit Factor' where decision-makers may fail to understand the information they have before them.

As it stands, there is no individual person or position at the JIC and Cabinet Office who is directly responsible for advising Ministers on intelligence matters. It is a serious question, therefore, whether or not politicians, reading intelligence reports, will fully appreciate the significance of the qualifications and cautions intrinsic to intelligence assessment.

Who were Blair's intelligence advisors?
This raises the question: Who told Tony? Did he rely on the good offices of Sir David Omand (a senior diplomat and former head of GCHQ) to explain the significance of intelligence data to him? Or did he choose one of the other players from within the inner circle of very senior intelligence sub-communities. Some suggest his advisor of choice was the outgoing Chief of SIS, or 'C', Sir Richard Dearlove. Others suggest the outgoing Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) and future 'C', John Scarlett.

Given the evidence presented to the Hutton Inquiry, it would seem clear that Alastair Campbell was one of Blair’s core intelligence advisors. While Campbell has extraordinary media skills, he is not an intelligence expert.

Of the Prime Minister's four key advisors on intelligence and Iraq, two (Dearlove & Scarlett) were SIS officers, one (Omand) was a senior diplomat and one (Campbell) had no training in intelligence. It is clearly possible that secret intelligence, which formed the basis of the Iraq WMD claims, was pushed more strongly than it should have been because two out of the four advisors had an in-built professional respect for their own product and one of the four, Campbell, had an in-built professional respect for the impact of 'killer evidence'.

It is therefore probable that Butler will decide that some sort of strong, independent professional advisor, perhaps not a diplomat or a spook, and possibly a senior academic scientist, should be appointed to provide any Prime Minister with an independent view of whether intelligence presented to him may be used to form high policy.

What is more, Butler may well – and properly – conclude that it would be best if the Prime Minister did not appoint this individual himself but established a college of Privy Counsellors and members of the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee to do it for him.

The job description might be that of the 'National Intelligence and Security Advisor' or in keeping with British traditions, the Cabinet Intelligence Advisor. The reason also goes without saying: Blair's present advisors, whatever the reason, have simply not been good enough.

Certainly, Butler will draw comparisons with the US intelligence community. This has operated in a different way, creating a market for intelligence products from competing sources, from which a President or a National Security Advisor may make their choice. However, only a fool could deny that this competitive environment has produced several catastrophic failures of its own (of which Pearl Harbor and 9/11 were the most horrifying).

B. BCISS Recommendations for improving future government handling of intelligence

1. Cabinet Intelligence Adviser should be established
There is an evident need for the establishment of an office whose responsibility it would be to ensure that Ministers had guidance on the understanding and exploitation of intelligence. While it might be argued that this is the role of the JIC Chair, in practice the JIC Chair is not sufficiently independent as he necessarily subscribes to the agreed JIC view.

2. Re-assertion and reinforcement of the authority of the Cabinet Secretary over intelligence affairs

3. Intelligence Community Public Affairs Adviser (ICPAA) should be established with a seat on the JIC
The events surrounding the publication of intelligence information in support of a government programme of public influence to justify a policy on Iraq that would likely lead to war demonstrated a number of significant problems in the JIC’s ability to handle a public information function. For example:
• There was a failure or unwillingness to address the fact that the task of drafting the September Dossier required the JIC to cherry-pick its own intelligence.
• The last minute inclusion of the '45 minute claim' without context was not only potentially misleading, it betrayed a failure within SIS to understand how such a claim would play out in the public arena. There was a singular naiveté of the intelligence professionals (especially those in SIS supposed to be adept in psychological and influence operations) in not anticipating how such a dramatic nugget of raw intelligence might be represented in the opportunistic and scare-mongering reporting of the tabloid press.

Therefore the functions of the Intelligence Community Public Affairs Adviser would be:
• To represent the intelligence community as a whole to the media and the electorate;
• To co-ordinate the public affairs functions of the national intelligence machinery at large and the diverse intelligence and security agencies in particular;
• To arbitrate between the intelligence community on the one hand and Ministers and senior Civil Servants who may wish to publish intelligence information for the purposes of either public education or political persuasion on the other;
• To establish and oversee a small team of public communication professionals, operating within the ‘ring of secrecy’, who can advise the JIC and the intelligence and security agencies on public affairs techniques, options, risks and opportunities.

4. Alteration of JIC procedures to prevent any JIC member providing raw intelligence from taking the role of Chair.

5. Provision should be made for dissenting analysts to request that a Minority Report representing their assessment should be made directly available to the JIC for direct consideration.
One of the most significant matters to emerge from the Hutton inquiry was the dissenting opinion expressed and recorded by Dr. Brian Jones at DIS. Although his note of dissent dealt more with wordsmithing than with substantive evidence, its net effect would have been to make the margins of uncertainty in the assessment more explicit. This would have stood in more of a direct relationship with the quality of the raw intelligence it appears that the JIC actually had in hand. To be sure, the ISC concluded that the dissenting assessment had been duly considered and dealt with according to JIC procedure, but in retrospect it is clear that Jones et al were closer to an accurate expression of the state of affairs than the final assessment formulated by the JIC. Hence it is necessary to ask whether JIC procedure should be altered to make a more effective use of dissenting opinion.

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