Max Hastings


Daily Mail, Thursday, July 15, 2004


It is not Lord Butler’s conclusions that are damning – indeed, they are pretty wet. Rather, it is the former Cabinet Secretary’s portrait of the governance of Britain as it is conducted by Tony Blair.


He tells a tale of rule by elected ministers displaced by cabals of appointed advisers; of national institutions suborned for partisan purposes; of a deceit of the British people that sounds no prettier because it was done in ‘good faith’.


If Butler had refrained from delivering a killer blow to the Prime Minister, he has provided us all with evidence that is likely to cripple Tony Blair’s reputation in perpetuity.


The report’s appendices detailing the intelligence available to the Government about Iraq and Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) from March 2002 onwards make plain to anyone who can read that the BBC’s Andrew Gillingham was absolutely right: Downing Street ‘sexed up’ the threat to the British people from Saddam Hussein in a fashion no responsible prime minister could have attempted.


Lord Butler has done better than his predecessor in the Iraq inquires business, Lord Hutton, in one important respect\: his report provides devastating evidence of a failure of governance in which Britain’s Intelligence Chiefs were foolish enough to collude.

The puzzling part is his conclusion. His bottom line on this sordid, wholly disreputable saga is that everybody acted in good faith.


Lord Butler, one of nature’s Chief Scouts, recommends that no individual should be pilloried, be made a scapegoat or suffer a witch hunt for a silly mistake that anybody might have made: sending Britain to war on a prospective that has proved utterly fallacious.


This country went into Iraq with horse, foot and guns to defeat a threat to British public safety that has since proved to be tosh. Yet Butler seems content officially to clear the manufactures and vendors of this tosh to keep their jobs until they reach index-linked pensions time.


It stinks, and only in Britain could it have happened. In the United States, a Senate Committee covering much the same ground delivered withering judgment in a report last week.  The director of the CIA has already resigned, in atonement for his organisation’s huge Iraq intelligence bungle.


In Britain, however, not only does the man responsible for assessing the Iraq intelligence get promoted- and Butler thinks that is all right –but also if Tony sticks to his usual form, John Scarlett will become a Companion of Honour in the next Honour’s List.


For many years now, spies have been presented to the British public either as comic caricatures in the movie James Bond manner, or as seedy turncoats of the kind

 Peddled by John Le Carre.  Most readers and cinema- goers, however, are sensible enough to recognise that few real spies resemble their fictional counterparts.



In modern times, the British Secret Service, SIS has been quietly effective and even admirable.  It has been much more highly-regarded than the American CIA, with its obsession with technology and dire shortage of good human agents, highlighted by last week’s U.S. Senate Report.


All that, however, was before Sir Richard Dearlove, director of SIS, and John Scarlett-then Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee-met Tony Blair and Alistair Campbell, a conjunction as disastrous for the integrity and good name of the SIS as that of the nice girl from Surbiton who fell in with white slavers.


Intelligence chiefs are supposed to serve national interest. Yet in preparing the Government’s notorious Iraq dossier, they allowed themselves to be enlisted for a wholly different, and quite inappropriate purpose: getting the Prime Minister of the day out of a political hole.


At the time, Blair was privately committed to take Britain to war alongside George Bush. Yet he needed a much better public excuse to reconcile the British people to this purpose than announcing it as his Good Deed for 2003.


[What a wonderful nature has our modern crusader Tony?]


Intelligence is a craft, not a science. Properly used, like diplomatic briefing and media reports, it is important tool for policy-makers.


What it never has been and never should be is holy writ, to be deployed by government as authority for such momentous decisions as declaring war.


There is no doubt that the SIS sincerely believed Saddam Hussein possessed WDM’s.  Yet it was madness for Sir Richard Dearlove and John Scarlett to allow this supposition – and it was no more-to be hijacked and used in evidence for Tony Blair publicly to justify war to the British people.


Both Dearlove and Scarlett had a chance to distance themselves from their actions when they gave evidence to Lord Hutton’s Inquiry.


They could, and should, have acknowledged that the notorious Downing Street dossier on WDM created by Alistair Campbell at Tony Blair’s behest, cast aside all the caveats and qualifications about its reliability and scope, which the raw intelligence material from SIS sensibly included.


Yet Dearlove and Scarlett chose not to do this. They made the decision to identify themselves body and soul with the Government’s statements. They stuck with their support for the Government’s WDM dossier, including the claim that Iraq could deploy their horrid weapons within 45 minutes, which Lord Butler acknowledges to have been fanciful.


The Intelligence Chiefs today have a choice: to be condemned as incompetents, or as Downing Street stooges. They have shown themselves conclusively to be one or the other.


Everyone agrees that Scarlett was an admirable Cold War intelligence officer.  But whatever his credentials by submitting to become Alastair Campbell’s avowed ‘mate’, he has destroyed his own credibility.


What on earth did the Chairman of the JIC think he was doing, sharing as much as a mug of tea with the Prime Minister’s chief of propaganda, never mind working with him to draft a wildly speculative political document for public consumption.


And what did Lord Butler think he was doing, producing a report which contains no mention of Campbell? We are left to suppose that he thinks Othello would have been less distressing play without Iago in it.


Dearlove and Scarlett allowed themselves and their service to be prostituted for the explicitly political purpose: convincing the British people that Saddam Hussein presented an immediate threat to their safety.


It was on their authority that Tony Blair told the House of Commons in February 2003:


The intelligence is clear…the biological agents we believe Iraq can produce include anthrax, botulinum, aflatoxin and ricin.  All eventually result in excruciatingly painful death.’