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Last Updated: Thursday, 28 October, 2004, 13:18 GMT 14:18 UK
Axed intelligence expert defiant
Tony Blair
'Collective raspberry' over claims
Intelligence has been used as a "PR tool" under Tony Blair's government, a former government expert has claimed.

John Morrison also said he did not regret speaking out on a BBC programme, even though it cost him his job.

He told Panorama that Tony Blair's claim Iraq posed a direct threat caused a "collective raspberry" in Whitehall.

The government says Mr Morrison has not claimed intelligence was misused but the Tories say he has shown the "dodgy way" Labour works.

Mr Morrison lost his job as the Intelligence and Security Committee's chief investigator after the Panorama broadcast.

On Thursday, the former deputy head of defence intelligence said he had felt compelled to speak out as his former colleagues could not appear in public if they were still working.

He said he had felt intelligence was being used as a "PR tool" during the 1999 Kosovo war, although he put it down to over-enthusiasm rather than a desire to distort.

But he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "There was a culture of news management which came in after 1997 which I had not seen before and intelligence got swept up in that."

Surprise

The parliamentary committee for which he worked until his sacking is charged with monitoring intelligence on behalf of Mr Blair.

"Somebody had to speak up about the misuse of intelligence by MI6, in not handling it properly, the misuse of intelligence by the senior management in the Defence Intelligence Staff and misuse of intelligence terminology by the prime minister in talking about a threat when no threat existed."

There is a thirst for information in the media which the press office tries to satisfy within reasonable limits.
Ministry of Defence

He said he had been surprised by his sacking as he felt the Panorama programme had been fair and there had only been a 10% chance he would be fired rather than just told not to do it again.

He claimed the UK security agencies had joined forces and written a letter saying they no longer could trust him.

"The phrase I used about the collective raspberry around Whitehall seems to have got under somebody's skin," he said.

"I said that because 'threat' has got a very specific meaning in intelligence and the prime minister was misusing it."

Under pressure?

He said intelligence analysts had been put under pressure during the bombing campaign against Iraq known as Operation Desert Fox.

"I was under pressure and my analysts were under pressure to say the next day this had been a great success. You can't do that," he said.

"It got to the point that individual analysts were being rung up by the press office and being asked to say 'this is great, isn't it?' I wasn't having that."

He suggested the Ministry of Defence press office had wanted to provide information for Downing Street's news management "grid".

'Tricky balance'

And when it came to the Kosovo campaign it was a case of "once bitten twice shy".

"What I did, in effect, was within my crisis staff set up, in effect, my own press office to handle the MoD press office," said Mr Morrison.

"I took a very senior and tough-minded analyst and told him 'This is your job, to keep the press office off the analysts' backs and make sure we only say in public what we are absolutely certain about'.

Michael Howard
Mr Howard says a new prime minister is needed to restore trust

"We were under constant pressure to field talking heads at the press conference, to have themes for individual days and it was a very tricky balance not to reveal what one shouldn't."

Responding to the comments, the MoD said in a statement: "At the time of operations there is a thirst for information in the media which the press office tries to satisfy within reasonable limits.

"The press office will work closely with all parts of the department, including the Defence Intelligence Service, to obtain this information.

"John Morrison is quite clear in his interview with the Today programme that he doesn't allege any improper pressure or misuse of intelligence occurred during the two operations in question."

Conservative leader Michael Howard said the fact Mr Morrison had resisted the pressure did not make it right.

"What he's done today is to blow open the dodgy way in which this government operates," he told Radio 4's World At One.

Mr Howard said trust in government could not be restored while Mr Blair remained prime minister.




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