Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Blair cried wolf

Just days before the Butler report into the handling of intelligence into Iraqi WMD is due to be released, two former intelligence officials have gone on record alleging that Tony Blair went far beyond what the intelligence reports suggested:

Dr Brian Jones, formerly of the Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS), told the BBC's Panorama programme that no-one on his staff had seen evidence of the scale of weapons capability being touted by Downing Street.

John Morrison, former deputy chief of DIS, meanwhile said Mr Blair's claims on Iraqi WMD were met by disbelief in Whitehall.

"The prime minister was going way beyond anything any professional analyst would have agreed," he said.

How far? When we look at what the "dodgy dossier" should have said, it's clear that there was simply no case for war; if anything, the sheer lack of knowledge supported a continued policy of containment and a prolonged process of inspections to discover the final fate of Saddam's pre-1991 chemical arsenal. But the intelligence services' careful caveats on how little they actually knew were systematically removed by the Joint Intelligence Committee after pressure from Downing Street, in order to back Blair's claims that Saddam posed a clear and credible threat. It was simply more grist for the spin machine, to be rewritten and slanted to support the government's pre-determined course of action.

By doing this, Blair has undermined the essential trust between the intelligence services and the government. But worse, he has utterly destroyed the trust between the government and the people. The next time a British Prime Minister stands up in Parliament and says "intelligence reports show an imminent threat", they will find it a much harder sell. To the extent that this makes it more difficult for Britain to use military force for political advantage, this is a Very Good Thing - but there's a nagging feeling that one day it may actually be real, rather than a put-up - and Tony Blair's crying wolf could have some rather nasty consequences.