Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Was Spy Master Too Close to No10? HUTTON REPORT

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Was Spy Master Too Close to No10? HUTTON REPORT

Article excerpt


JOHN SCARLETT is in charge of the "jewel in the crown" of British intelligence. A former senior MI6 station figure and senior MI6 official, he chairs the Joint Intelligence Committee, whose job it is to provide governments with clear analysis on which to base political decisions.

So proud is the JIC of this tradition of fierce independence that two years ago, it allowed one of its former chairmen, Sir Percy Craddock, to write a glowing account of its history, which compared it favourably with the more politicised intelligence of other countries.

But the Hutton Inquiry has exploded that myth of seamless excellence and independence from government.

Scarlett, as the drafter of the Iraq weapons dossier, finds himself in the dock for failing to resist the pressure from Downing Street - and especially Alastair Campbell - that its language be hardened to make a more persuasive case for military intervention. However, Lord Hutton seems to believe it was not "improper" for Scarlett to take account of No 10's suggestions.

Privately, Scarlett has always emphasised the contingent nature of intelligence - especially from countries as brutal and secretive as Iraq - but the dossier suggested something approaching certainty. He has been determined to prove he had "ownership" of the dossier and only approved those changes which he believed were true to the reports given to him by the intelligence chiefs of the various services involved. But the number of interventions from Tony Blair's chief of staff Jonathan Powell and Campbell suggest the notion of "ownership" was becoming blurred as No10 felt under growing pressure to make the case for war.

The question which has since loomed is whether Scarlett should have insisted on a clearer delineation of responsibility between himself and the government machine. Certainly many of his former Secret Intelligence Service colleagues believe he became too personally close to Campbell and Blair. The most vulnerable point for John Scarlett must be his insistence that he was unaware of friction inside the intelligence community about the 45-minute claim. …

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