Intelligence Reforms Rely on Political Will ; Ministers Must Be Both More Intelligent and Sceptical Consumers of Intelligence

Article excerpt

Early next month, the Prime Minister and the small inner group of ministers on his Cabinet Committee on Security and Intelligence will be presented with what could prove the most important review of British intelligence since the late 1960s.

John Scarlett, the head of MI6, had of course already initiated reforms, but this will go much further. It will recommend substantial changes in the validation and assessment of intelligence which, if Mr Blair and his group accept them, will implement the Butler report in full and affect the way intelligence is processed from the moment it is gathered to its final shaping into assessments for ministers, the chiefs of staff, a range of Whitehall customers, and Britain's closest intelligence allies.

Although the Butler review in July last year did not blame individuals, it identified intelligence and other failures in the run-up to the Iraq war. Over the six months since, a review has been under way, overseen by the Cabinet Office's Butler Implementation Group chaired by the Co- ordinator of Security and Intelligence, Sir David Omand. The run-up to the Iraq War of 2003 is being treated by the intelligence community as "no end of a lesson", to borrow Kipling's phrase about the Boer War. The Omand report has yet to reach its final draft, but four of its key themes are already discernible within Whitehall:

w All Butler's criticisms have been accepted as fair and valid.

w Never again will key pieces of intelligence, and the assumptions shaping the interpretation of them, fall into place without being tested and re- tested in a more rigorous way than on the road to war in 2002-3.

w At every level of the intelligence system, especially the earliest stages of the analytical process deep inside the secret agencies, scepticism will be encouraged.

w Intelligence analysts, whether located within MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), the Security Service, the Government Communications Headquarters, the Cabinet Office or the Defence Intelligence Staff, will be integrated more closely into a single analysis community and trained together.

If the Omand report is implemented in full, it will surpass even the 1968 review. That led to the creation of the Cabinet Office Assessments Staff which, ever since, has provided the last stage of all-source analysis for the Joint Intelligence Committee at the apex of the entire British intelligence system - but Omand drives much further down into the process. For example, the SIS has accepted the Butler criticisms of its validation procedures and, ahead of the other working parts of the system under review by the Omand group, it has already implemented its reforms. …