Chilcot criticises UK intelligence services for persisting in misguided belief Iraqi leader had weapons of mass destruction.
The Chilcot report identifies a series of major blunders by the British intelligence services that produced “flawed” information about Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), the basis for going to war.
The intelligence community emerges from the report with its reputation and some of its most senior staff badly damaged.
The report singles out for criticism Sir John Scarlett, the chairman of the joint intelligence committee (JIC), an umbrella group that pulls together the work of the main intelligence agencies, mainly the findings of the overseas service, MI6.
The then MI6 chief, Sir Richard Dearlove, also comes in for criticism.
In one of the most damning sections, the report concludes that Tony Blair presented the assessments of the spy agencies to parliament with a “certainty” not justified by the intelligence that had been gathered. Chilcot castigates the intelligence community for failing to make any serious attempt to rein him in.
In addition to this, the intelligence services are criticised over major flaws in their intelligence gathering and assessments, principally their belief that Saddam had WMDs.
Chilcot says the intelligence community worked from the start on the misguided assumption that Saddam had WMDs and made no attempt to consider the possibility that he had got rid of them, which he had.
The report says “the flaws in the construct and the intelligence were exposed after the conflict”.
In the foreword to the dossier presented to the public in September 2002 preparing the case for war, Blair said he believed the intelligence had “established beyond doubt” that Saddam had continued to produce WMDs.
But the Chilcot report concludes: “The assessed intelligence had not established beyond doubt that Saddam Hussein had continued to produce chemical and biological weapons.”
The intelligence community also assessed it would take Saddam four to five years to acquire enough fissile material to build a nuclear weapon but the Blair dossier claimed that it could achieve this within a year or two. The intelligence community assessment was that as long as sanctions against Iraq, imposed in the early 1990s, remained in place, it could not achieve a nuclear weapons capability.
The report says that there was a divide between what Blair believed and the actual judgments of the JIC and the onus should have been on Scarlett, a former head of MI6, to row the prime minister back.
Although Blair’s head of press, Alastair Campbell, is often been identified with the “dodgy dossier” making the case for war, Chilcot places the burden of responsibility on Blair, who authored the foreword to the dossier, but Scarlet too shares the blame for failing to ensure that the assessments of the intelligence community were properly reflected.
“The JIC itself should have made that position clear because of its ownership of the dossier, which was intended to inform a highly controversial policy debate, carried with it the responsibility to ensure that the JIC’s integrity was protected,” the Chilcot report says.
The report concludes that the process of seeking the JIC’s views, through Scarlett on the text of the dossier, “shows that No 10 expected the JIC to raise any concerns it had”.
Among other major failures identified by Chilcot are:
- An ingrained belief in the intelligence community that Iraq had retained some chemical and biological weapons. It concluded in September 2002 that “Iraq was producing chemical and biological agents and that there were development programmes for longer-range missiles capable of delivering them”. It was wrong.
- The intelligence agencies had a serious blind spot. “At no stage was the proposition that Iraq might no longer have chemical, biological or nuclear weapons or programmes identified and examined by either JIC or the policy community.”
- A report by MI6 on WMDs “should have been shown to the relevant weapons experts in the Ministry of Defence’s intelligence staff, some of whom expressed scepticism about Saddam having WMDs.
The intelligence services got some assessments correct but these were largely ignored by Blair. These intelligence assessment included the belief while Saddam had the potential to proliferate WMDs to Islamist terrorists, he was unlikely to do so.
The JIC also “assessed that Iraq was likely to mount a terrorist attack only in response to military action and if the existence of the regime was threatened”.
By Ewen MacAskill