Failures of Intelligence in the United Kingdom
The production of intelligence is a process by which knowledge is developed so that it provides support and/or justification for government action—that is, policy. As such, intelligence production represents one particular example of the more general social phenomenon by which knowledge interacts with power. But it is a particularly important example because the consequences of the intelligence/policy nexus can, quite literally, be matters of life and death. During 2003, in those countries of the “coalition of the willing” that invaded Iraq, unprecedented public controversies regarding intelligence and policy developed particularly because of the failure to find the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) that had been the primary justification for the invasion.
Intelligence has always been central to states’ efforts to protect themselves, but the new doctrine embraced by the administrations of both U.S. president George W. Bush and British prime minister Tony Blair gave it a new, and, crucially, heightened public significance. Governments of states finding themselves under military attack from outside do not need intelligence to tell them, and their publics would not need persuasion, that defense is required. However, if states are to preempt those who are perceived to threaten them, then intelligence is much more crucial. First, it is central to the process by which the seriousness of the threat is assessed, and second, it will have to provide the basis for some process of convincing skeptical publics that preemptive war is required. In the case of the Iraq invasion, these new circumstances have led in the United Kingdom to hitherto unheard levels of exposure of intelligence and policymaking processes.
This chapter draws on the findings of the four inquiries conducted between June 2003 and July 2004 concerning WMD in Iraq1 and seeks to place these in a broader context in order to consider more gen