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Last Updated: Thursday, 28 October, 2004, 17:48 GMT 18:48 UK
Was intelligence used as 'a PR tool'?
By Gordon Corera
BBC Security Correspondent

Saddam Hussein mural
Mr Morrison said "threat" was misused to describe pre-war Iraq

When John Morrison appeared on the BBC Panorama's programme this summer, he thought there was only a 10% chance he would lose his job as an investigator for the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee.

He'd been hired by the committee in 1999 after leaving the Ministry of Defence where he'd spent the previous four years as Deputy Chief of the Defence Intelligence Staff with a staff of hundreds working for him.

The DIS is represented along with the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), the Security Service (MI5) and GCHQ on the Joint Intelligence Committee. DIS's remit is to provide the government with intelligence on military threats.

Its deep pool of technical knowledge made it a central part of the debate over alleged Iraqi WMD.

But when John Morrison was summoned by the Chair of the committee Ann Taylor MP he was told that the intelligence agencies had written to Sir David Omand, the government's Intelligence and Security Co-ordinator, to say that they had lost trust in him and could no longer go on working with him after his appearance.

He believes the reason was his comments on the BBC regarding the prime minister's use of the word "threat" to describe Iraq before the war.

"I could almost hear the collective raspberry going up around Whitehall," he said.

Mr Morrison had told Ann Taylor in advance of the interview and in it was not identified as working for the ISC, although Ann Taylor still warned against his participation.

This led to his "surprise" when he was sacked although he says "not everyone on the committee felt I should be fired".

His sacking raises some difficult questions about just how independent the ISC is of government and the intelligence agencies which it is supposed to oversee and hold accountable.

The committee has many differences from a normal parliamentary select committee, not least because its members are hand-picked by the prime minister and because it has considerable access to classified information and those who work for British intelligence agencies.

The chair, Ann Taylor MP, is a former government chief whip who also served on the Butler inquiry.

'Specific meaning'

In his first interview since leaving the ISC, he told the BBC 's Today programme that he felt had had to appear on Panorama as "someone had to speak up about misuse of intelligence".

He alleges the prime minister misused intelligence terminology in talking about a threat when no threat existed.

"Threat has a very specific meaning in intelligence and the prime minister was misusing it."

He argues that the JIC, on which he had sat as an MOD representative, confirmed that Saddam Hussein was not a threat in the normally understood meaning of having both the capability and intent to do harm.

He says it believed that he might only use weapons of mass destruction as a last resort if he was attacked.

The issue of just how far JIC assessments changed as they made their way from the private confines of the committee to the very public dossier of September 2002 was a key aspect of the Butler Inquiry.

But many critics believe the inquiry didn't manage to answer the questions of how and why changes in language and emphasis took place and who was responsible for them.

I felt somebody had to speak up for intelligence standards. I did that. I got sacked. I don't regret it for a moment.
John Morrison

Perhaps the most important new allegation that Mr Morrison now makes is that there was a shift towards intelligence being used as a PR tool which pre-dated Iraq and begun when Labour came to power in 1997.

He argues there were moves for policy to influence intelligence when it should be the other way round.

"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."

'Desert Fox' campaign

This became especially clear in his last year with the DIS in the context of two particular operations.

In December 1998, Britain and the US bombed alleged Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction sites in the "Desert Fox" campaign.

"I was under pressure and my analysts were under pressure the next day to say this had been a great success," says Morrison.

"You can't do that.

"Battle damage analysis is a very difficult issue and it takes time.

"Individual analysts were even rung up by the MOD press office and asked to say "this is great isn't it?"

"And I wasn't having it."

Archive picture of Serbia's capital, Belgrade, during a Nato attack
Mr Morrison said analysts were under pressure during Kosovo

During the Kosovo campaign, Morrison says there was again pressure to provide information, and it was tricky not to reveal too much.

"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."

He says the MOD was using a grid which planned overall government communications strategy and was sent out to individual ministries from the centre and the department was "looking to plug in intelligence into the grid".

The No 10 press office was known to have taken a strong interest in how the Kosovo war was communicated.

Alastair Campbell himself worked closely with NATO and the military to co-ordinate a message, especially when the initial bombing campaign failed to bring a quick end to the problem as had been hoped.

In a statement, the Ministry of Defence said: "At a 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 does not allege any improper pressure or misuse of intelligence occurred during the two operations in question."

In speaking out, Mr Morrison joins others who have complained about the way in which intelligence was used in the run up to war with Iraq.

Most notably Dr Brian Jones, a former branch head in the DIS analytical staff, who says he was suspicious about the way the September 2002 dossier was drawn up.

He questioned why he and his team, who were the technical experts, were not shown a key piece of intelligence which led to more confident judgements about the Iraqi threat.

But despite losing his job, Mr Morrison makes clear he has absolutely no regrets.

"The function of intelligence is to speak truth unto power.

"If it doesn't, it fails. I felt someone had to speak up for intelligence standards.

"I don't regret if for a moment."

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