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Last Updated: Friday, 29 October, 2004, 15:40 GMT 16:40 UK
No regrets for sacked spy expert
Prime Minister Tony Blair
John Morrison said the prime minister misused 'threat' over Iraq

Axed spy expert John Morrison says he has no regrets about speaking out against the "misuse of intelligence" in the run-up to the war in Iraq - even though it cost him his job.

Here is a full transcript of the interview the former "investigator" for the intelligence and security committee gave to BBC Radio 4's Ed Stourton on the Today programme.

JM: I'd appeared on Panorama because I felt somebody had to speak up about the misuse of intelligence - misuse of intelligence by MI6 in not handling it properly; 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.

Q: Did you talk to anybody before you did the interview - you were working for the intelligence and security committee at the time?

JM: Indeed.

Q:... a very sensitive job. Did you talk to, for example, Ann Taylor, who headed it at that period?

JM: I worked for the ISC as a contractor - I had a contract with them - I was not on the staff and I did tell the clerk of the committee, Ann Taylor, that I was going to be appearing on Panorama. They did advise against it, saying Panorama would probably stitch me up good and proper. I said I would take that risk and in the event, Panorama were absolutely fair.

I was therefore slightly surprised when I was sacked from the job. I thought there was perhaps a 30% chance they'd ignore it; 60% chance that I'd have my fingers rapped and told not to do it again, which I wouldn't; that I had a 10% chance that I would be fired - and I was fired.

Q: What did she say to you when she did call you in? What were the reasons she gave you for firing you?

JM: She said I had been hired by the committee because of my great depth of knowledge about UK intelligence and because the agencies had trust in me. That the agencies had now all got together and written to David Omand, the intelligence and security coordinator, saying that they had lost that trust and therefore I couldn't go on working with them. Well I said, why - and I didn't get an answer. I said, was it because I appeared on Panorama, just the mere fact - if so, you might have warned me in advance - or was it what I said on Panorama and if so, what was it I said on Panorama that caused such offence and she couldn't answer - or wouldn't answer.

Q: What do you think it was that you said that upset her?

JM: I think probably being slightly rude about the Prime Minister - the phrase I used about the collective raspberry around Whitehall seems to have got under somebody's skin. But I can only conjecture, I don't know.

Q: Just remind us what that was - what context you used that phrase in?

JM: Well, what I said was - when the Prime Minister used the word threat in relation to Iraq - as he did repeatedly in Parliament - I could almost hear the collective raspberry going up around Whitehall. And I said that because threat has got a very specific meaning in intelligence and the Prime Minister was misusing it.

Q: You surely recognise that trust and discretion are absolutely key qualities for somebody operating in this area and you must have realised you were risking your reputation for having those by doing what you did?

JM: Given that my former colleagues could not appear in public, if they're still working, I felt somebody had to speak up for them and as the former head of a profession for intelligence analysts, I thought I was probably the best person to do it.

Q: Tell me a bit more about the concerns that you felt during your period when you were still on the inside - when you were still working for the government directly?

JM: I think the main concern that I had - and I think any intelligence professional always has this concern - is that there will be attempts made for policy to influence intelligence, when, if anything, it should be the other way around - intelligence should inform policy. And that's not to say intelligence can be quite distinct from policy but I did feel in my last year in office that there was an increasing tendency to see intelligence as a tool to be used in the public debate rather than something that is kept quiet.

Q: What are we talking about?

JM: We're talking about the Desert Fox campaign and we're talking about the Kosovo campaign.

In Desert Fox, we carried out a bombing campaign against suspected weapons of massive destruction sites and I was under pressure and my analysts were under pressure the next day to say that this had been a great success - you can't do that. Battle damage analysis is a very difficult issue and it takes time. And it got to the point at which individual analysts were being rung up by the press office and asked to say this is great isn't it and I wasn't having that.

Q: Let me just be absolutely clear about this - which press office?

JM: The Ministry of Defence.

Q: Where are you alleging this pressure originates?

JM: I'm not alleging it originated from outside the MoD - I think the MoD by that point had an organised press office which was running what they called the grid - which particularly in the Kosovo campaign and were looking to plug in intelligence into the grid.

Q: The grid being Alistair Campbell's system for managing ... [word unclear]

JM: Exactly, which of course were supplied by individual ministries.

Q: Tell me about the Kosovo campaign? You gave us an example from Desert Fox - what happened during the Kosovo campaign?

JM: Well once bitten, twice shy and what I did in effect was within my crisis cell set up, in effect, my own press office to handle the MoD press office and I took a very senior and tough-minded analyst and told him this is your job to keep the press office off the analysts' back and to make sure that we only say in public what we're absolutely certain about. But 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.

Q: One thing to be under pressure to perform, slightly different to be under pressure to distort. Which are you saying was happening?

I don't think there was any attempt deliberately to distort in the Kosovo campaign but there certainly was - I had the feeling at the time - that intelligence was being seen as a PR tool and intelligence should really work in the shadows, not in the limelight.

Q: But you ... the example you gave, the Iraq campaign, could be taken as an example of pressure to distort rather than simply ...

JM: Yes, I think in that case, it was over-enthusiasm rather than the pressure to distort. I mean, I don't think they understood the problems of battle damage assessment.

Q: What's the bigger picture - are you saying that there was a culture, a mood, a direction - what in Whitehall that made you do these things or put this kind of pressure on you?

JM: I think there was a culture of news management which came in after '97 which I'd never seen before and intelligence got swept up in that.

Q: Just to be clear about this, obviously it's a politically sensitive matter but you've chosen the date of Labour's return to power. You are alleging that this attempt to use intelligence in a damaging way - not as a tool for forming policy but as a tool for advancing policy - it is a phenomenon you observed under this Prime Minister and this administration.

JM: Which I had not seen before and which I deprecated.

Q: Well you used that phrase in the Panorama interview about a collective raspberry being blown around Whitehall at the time that the Prime Minister talked of Saddam Hussein being a threat and you said, I think, that there was a very specific meaning to the word, threat, in this context. What did you mean by that?

JM: Because in intelligence terms a threat is a combination of capability and intention - if you've got the capability but you don't intend to do anybody any harm you are not a threat. If you've got the intention but you haven't got the capability then again you're not a threat.

Now we all thought that Saddam had some weapons of mass destruction capability but there was never any realistic suggestion that he intended to use it. The only circumstances we thought - the JIC thought he might use it would be as a last resort if attacked. In the end, as we know, he didn't have any WMD so he could not have been threat in the correct intelligence terms.

Q: That's a very difficult judgment to make though isn't it about someone's intention.

JM: I think you really have to come to a balanced judgment, as the JIC did, on whether somebody genuinely has the intention to do you harm. No doubt al-Qaeda has and no doubt it has the capability - it's a real threat.

Q: Why do you think the Prime Minister used that word in that case?

JM: He had a case to make.

Q: One specific aspect of the dossier, which has of course attracted enormous attention, which is the claim that 45 minutes was the time required to deliver weapons of mass destruction. How do you think that came to be in the dossier and what do you think went wrong with the process by which it came to be in the dossier in the way it did?

JM: Well it came to be in the dossier because it was a piece of intelligence - what was not made clear at the time was that if it referred to anything it would refer to battlefield weapons and of course as we now know that intelligence has been officially withdrawn.

But it was striking; it implied that there was an immediate threat, so I think that's why it got such prominence.

Q: There are echoes of a lot of what you've said in the Butler report. What do you think the principle lessons of that are - of the report?

JM: We need to be professional in the intelligence community and not to let enthusiasm carry one away. And I think there is a distinct hint in Butler that enthusiasm rather carried MI6 away and they didn't apply the proper checks and procedures that they should have done.

The second is that you can actually have a grown-up discussion in public without prejudicing intelligence sources and methods.

Q: And given what's happened to you - the fact you lost your job - do you regret what you said?

JM: The function of intelligence is to speak truth unto power - if it doesn't do that, it fails and I felt somebody had to speak up for intelligence standards. I did that, I got sacked - I don't regret it for a moment.

Q: John Morrison thank you very much indeed.


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