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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 January 2005, 13:34 GMT
No confidence in intelligence services
By Paul Reynolds
World Affairs correspondent, BBC News website

Government weapons dossier
The government predicted weapons of mass destruction would be found

A year after the Hutton report into the death of Dr David Kelly, there is still a lack of confidence in the intelligence services both in Britain and the United States.

Having predicted that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq - and none having been found - the whole intelligence community has been left with a credibility problem.

Efforts to put things right since have not yet been wholly convincing.

In Britain, the soul-searching has concentrated on two main objectives.

The first is to strengthen the independence of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), which collates information from the intelligence agencies and forms an opinion to be given to the government.

Lessons 'not fully learned'

The second is to improve the analysis of that information in the first place.

Lord Hutton was not tasked to make recommendations about the intelligence structure, but his findings threw a great deal of light on them and the report by Lord Butler six months later did make a series of proposals for improvement.

However, one of the most knowledgeable critics says the lessons have not been fully learned and the corrections not yet fully implemented.

Dame Pauline Neville-Jones was JIC chairman between 1993 and 1994 and was subsequently political director of the Foreign Office (and later a governor of the BBC).

Dame Pauline Neville-Jones
What they need as head of the JIC is someone who can go and tell the prime minister: 'The facts don't fit.'
Dame Pauline Neville-Jones

She is critical of the fact that one of Lord Butler's main recommendations has not yet been carried out.

This was, in the words of the Butler report, to appoint as head of the JIC "someone with experience in dealing with ministers in a very senior role, and who is demonstrably beyond influence, and thus probably in his last post."

This has not yet happened, though the government says it will this year.

Instead, last July, when the head of the JIC John Scarlett was made head of the Secret Intelligence Service MI6, a temporary JIC chairman was appointed.

He was William Ehrman, a senior Foreign Office official with an intelligence background but someone with a career still ahead of him and certainly not someone who was "in his last post."

"They have not yet done what Butler said should be done," said Dame Pauline Neville-Jones.

"What they need as head of the JIC is someone who can go and tell the prime minister: 'The facts don't fit.' They need someone who has confidence, someone who can say no."

Raw intelligence analysis

She is also critical of the system that originally sent John Scarlett from MI6 to head the JIC.

"It is not normal to have the JIC chairman from an intelligence agency. It gives the perception that the JIC is not independent of the agencies and creates competition among them because they will all want their man to take over in due course. "

As for Mr Scarlett returning as head of MI6, she remarked: "The sin has not been undone. It has perhaps compounded the sin."

So if the independence of the JIC has still to be strengthened, what about the analysis of raw intelligence, which has proved so weak over Iraq?

The main move has been to appoint within MI6 a "quality control" officer of senior rank.

His, or her, job will be to check the reliability of intelligence.

Lord Hutton
Lord Hutton's findings threw some light on the intelligence services
It might be thought that this should have been a priority under whatever system was operating before.

But Dame Pauline believes that the change was certainly needed.

"They have raised quality control to a senior level. This is a modern management concept and the lack of it before shows that enclosed organisations are in danger of not being as aware as they might be of new ways of doing things," she says.

"MI6 worked under traditional methods and modern management had not hit them.

"The key thing is how you analyse material to see what is reliable.

"How can you ensure that something is not just superficially attractive? You have to test it, not by testing to destruction, but by asking how many theses could explain it.

Rival intelligence teams

"Should you ever allow yourself to say that this is the only explanation? There has to be a high level of corroboration from open sources.

"There has been an idea to set up rival teams to challenge information inside the system. This is probably too radical and the money would not be there for that.

"But perhaps from time to time you could exercise, where blue and red teams compete to examine intelligence. We need more of what happens in medical research where alternative theories have to be ruled out.

"The JIC was not vigorous enough over Iraq and it clearly did not work. The pressures of external considerations came to pervert the system which they should not have done."

Another issue arising a year after Hutton is the relationship between the government and the JIC.

Lord Hutton did not overtly criticise the way they drew up the public document in which intelligence on Iraq was revealed.

The JIC machinery, which I have known well and respected, was corrupted in the run-up to that war
Former Foreign Secretary David Owen

He did however remark enigmatically that John Scarlett might have been "subconsciously influenced" to make the language stronger and in the light of events it is unlikely that we will see such an operation again.

Indeed the Butler report was critical of the close relationship between the government and the JIC and thought, for example, that the notorious "45 minutes to launch" claim was put in because of its "eye catching" nature, presumably to please the government.

The views of people like former Foreign Secretary David Owen are likely to prevail.

He has said of the way the document was drawn up: "The joint intelligence committee machinery, which I have known well and respected, was corrupted in the run-up to that war in a way which will leave damage for decades to come."

All this is vital for future intelligence assessments. Already two other nuclear issues are on the world agenda - North Korea and Iran.

And policy on both will depend heavily on intelligence.


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