WHEN THE Prime Minister presented his Iraq weapons dossier on 24 September 2002, much was made of the fact that it was the first time intelligence had been made public in this fashion. The obvious aim was to use the mystique of spying to give the document credence and authenticity. Tony Blair said it was "extensive, detailed and authoritative".
Yet, the Butler report has revealed that 12 days before the dossier was published, Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of MI6, had told the Prime Minister that a new source who had made the allegation that Saddam Hussein had chemical weapons was potentially important but "remained unproven". The intelligence service was later forced to withdraw information from this source as unreliable.
At a press conference yesterday, Lord Butler looked anxious at the mere suggestion that anyone should be blamed for the fact that the central charges in the dossier have proved to be false.
But the report itself is a devastating indictment of a seemingly incestuous relationship between the Government and the intelligence services in which flawed, and at times wrong, information was used to justify war. Many of the "secrets" from the spies were based on hearsay, while most of the information was up to a decade old. The one piece that was described as "new and important" came from the informant who was subsequently discredited.
Lord Butler acknowledged that his committee had chosen to be less harsh in its conclusion about this failure of intelligence than the devastating Senate report on the CIA and Iraq in the US. However, the report still paints a grim picture of British intelligence.
"Validation of human intelligence sources after the war has thrown doubt on a high proportion of the sources and their reports, and hence on the quality of the intelligence assessments received by ministers and officials," the report says.
Such has been the damage to the credibility of the country's espionage system, especially MI6 (the Secret Intelligence Service) and the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), that the report says that an exercise like the dossier must not be attempted again.
"We conclude with the benefit of hindsight that making public that the JIC had authorship of the dossier was mistaken judgement. The publication ... in the name and with the authority of the JIC had the result that more weight was placed on intelligence than it could bear."
John Scarlett, the JIC chairman, had asked for and got this "authorship" of the dossier. The project put a massive "strain" on Mr Scarlett's ability to maintain "normal standards of neutral and objective assessment," says the report.
George Tenet, the CIA chief, may have resigned over his agency's Iraq failures, but the Butler committee pleads …