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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 February, 2004, 15:06 GMT
The failures of intelligence
Frank Gardiner
By Frank Gardner
BBC Security Correspondent

In Washington this week there was a damning testimony on western intelligence by the man who has been leading the hunt for Iraq's weapons.

US troops examine a suspected mobile biological weapons facility in Iraq (archive)
No WMDs have been found in Iraq

Former senior US weapons inspector David Kay told the US Senate Armed Services Committee the original intelligence that Saddam had banned stockpiles was inaccurate.

"It turns out we were all wrong, probably, in my judgement, and that is most disturbing," he said.

Mr Kay's admission is certainly a great embarrassment to both the US and British Governments.

This is, after all, the man who has spent the last few months leading the coalition's search for those banned weapons and is almost uniquely positioned to know the true status of the hunt.

Britain's intelligence service, the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), still maintain that most of the information that went into the Iraq dossier of September 2002 was correct at the time, including the claim that Saddam had actual WMD.

It should be noted that this was a view shared by many countries at the time, including some of those that opposed the war such as France and Germany, a fact that was pointed out this week by David Kay himself.

But "we probably all got it wrong," he said.

Baffled

The failure to find Saddam's alleged stocks of banned weapons has baffled every major intelligence agency. They nearly all thought he had them, including MI6.

Professor Anthony Glees, the director of the Brunel Centre for Intelligence and Security Studies, says that British intelligence were clearly not getting things right.

"What British intelligence was telling the government was clearly not properly accurate? WMD, for example, have not been found. And if intelligence is to be used to formulate policy in the future then policy-makers have to be entirely confident that the intelligence is totally accurate," he said.

The official view at the Secret Intelligence Service is that most of the intelligence that went into the Iraq dossier will eventually be proved correct.

But that includes the assessment that Iraq did have weapons of mass destruction just before the war.

Since those weapons have still not been found there is likely to be growing pressure for an investigation into whether the intelligence service gave the government accurate information.

Difficult task

Under Saddam's dictatorship intelligence gathering was extremely difficult, as shown by the poverty of real intelligence that came out while he was in power.

In a totalitarian regime intelligence agencies need human spies on the ground and defectors, but they also need to be scrupulous in assessing the accuracy of what's being told to them.

UK troops in Iraq
The decision to go to war is under scrutiny from all sides

If the intelligence agencies were to undergo some sort of internal evaluation of their work from Iraq, they will want it to be kept as far out of the public eye as possible.

The natural candidate for carrying out such a review in the UK would be the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) headed by Anne Taylor MP.

The work of the intelligence agencies may have had more public attention than normal with the debate raging about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the reason for going to war in the first place.

The intelligence agencies are there to serve the government of the day, and they have almost no contact with the public.

If the government and the overseeing body, in Britain's case, the ISC are satisfied they are doing a good job that is likely to be more important to them than maintaining any kind of public image.




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