The Chilcot inquiry has revealed that senior MI6 agents copied the plot of Hollywood blockbuster ‘The Rock’ when suggesting that Saddam Hussein had WMD capabilities.
Flawed and often fabricated “intelligence” led to Britain going to war with Iraq, while intelligence chiefs failed to stand up to Tony Blair as he took the country to war.
The long-awaited report said that in September 2002, six months before the invasion, the intelligence agency believed it was on the edge of a ‘significant breakthrough’.
A new source in Iraq was thought to have ‘phenomenal access’ to information about Saddam Hussein’s chemical and biological weapon programme.
The individual had suggested the regime was accelerating its production of such WMD.
The head of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove, ensured the material was shown directly to Mr Blair – who subsequently wrote a foreword to the so-called ‘dodgy dossier’ saying that Hussein’s threat was beyond doubt.
A report in April 2003 included material from the source suggesting that they had seen spherical glass containers filled with chemical weapons agents.
However, the report did not include the caveat from officials who pointed out that ‘the source’s description of the device and its spherical glass contents was “remarkably similar to the fictional chemical weapon portrayed in the film The Rock”.’
The chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), John Scarlett, was apparently not told about the potential problems with the source.
In June 2003, when MI6 finally met the agent face to face, it turned out he had been involved in Iraq’s chemical weapons programme before 1991.
Officers concluded he was ‘a fabricator who had lied from the outset’ and the following month the reports were official withdrawn.
‘The withdrawal of the reporting was done in a very low key manner compared with the way in which the original intelligence was issued,’ the report noted.
The Chilcot report also criticised Sir John Scarlett for not doing more to protect the integrity of the JIC.
Delivering a damning verdict, Sir John Chilcot said it was ‘clear that policy on Iraq was being made on the basis of flawed intelligence and assessments’.
‘The government’s strategy reflected its confidence in the Joint Intelligence Committee’s assessments,’ the inquiry chairman said.
‘Those assessments provided the benchmark against which Iraq’s conduct and denials, and the reports of the inspectors, were judged.
‘As late as March 17 (2003), Mr Blair was being advised by the Chairman of the JIC that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons, the means to deliver them and the capacity to produce them.
‘He was also told that the evidence pointed to Saddam Hussein’s view that the capability was militarily significant and to his determination – left to his own devices – to build it up further.
‘It is now clear that policy on Iraq was made on the basis of flawed intelligence and assessments.
‘They were not challenged and they should have been.’
The 2.6 million word report, which took around seven years to complete, gives a detailed account of the process by which intelligence assessments were made public.
Downing Street ordered a paper in February 2002 relating to ‘countries of concern’ such as Iraq, North Korea and Libya.
However, when Foreign Secretary Jack Straw saw the text he suggested it should put more emphasis on Iraq.
‘Good, but should not Iraq be first and also have more text? The paper has to show why there is an exceptional threat from Iraq. It does not quite do this yet.’
The publication was later postponed after Mr Straw was advised the evidence would not convince the public.
A ‘public dossier’ was then ordered with Mr Blair’s spin doctor, Alastair Campbell, given the ‘lead role on the timing/form of its release’.
The Chilcot report raised concerns about the tendency of ministers ‘to refer in public statements only to Iraq’s WMD without addressing their nature’, such as what kind of warhead and how they could be deployed.
The statements were ‘likely to have created the impression that Iraq posed a greater threat than the detailed JIC assessments would have supported.
Sir John Scarlett was given responsibility for producing the document.
Some senior intelligence figures voiced concerns about the ‘certainty’ with which some of the judgements were expressed.
But the report stated: ‘The JIC accepted ownership of the dossier and agreed its content. There is no evidence that intelligence was improperly included in the dossier or that No10 improperly influenced the text.’
But the inquiry suggested that the way the dossier was finally presented – with a foreword from Mr Blair in which he claimed intelligence had ‘established beyond doubt’ that Iraq had continued to produce chemical and biological weapons.
In fact, the assessed intelligence had not established beyond doubt that Saddam Hussein had continued to produce such weapons, according to the inquiry.
‘The JIC itself should have made that position clear because 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 process of seeking the JIC’s views, through (Sir John) Scarlett, on the text of the foreword shows that No10 expected the JIC to raise any concerns it had.’
Chilcot found that the ‘capabilities and intent’ described in the dossier remained in place until the invasion in March 2003 and were ‘not challenged’.