The Intelligence Services Must Now Undergo a Radical Overhaul; (1) COMMENT (2) THE HUTTON REPORT

The Evening Standard (London, England), January 28, 2004 | Go to article overview

The Intelligence Services Must Now Undergo a Radical Overhaul; (1) COMMENT (2) THE HUTTON REPORT


Byline: ROBERT FOX

TWO questions not directly addressed by Lord Hutton now need urgent action from the Government. Why was British and Allied intelligence so wrong about Saddam Hussein's military capabilities and his nuclear, biological and chemical weapons arsenal?

Even compared with previous intelligence failures, over the Argentine intentions to attack the Falklands in 1982 and Saddam's plan to seize Kuwait in 1990, this one has been spectacular.

The shortcoming is not confined to the British intelligence agencies, such as MI5 - or the Secret Intelligence Service, to give it its proper title - but those of close allies and key players such as the US and Israel.

The audit of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is pretty thin.

Even fewer traces of exotic weaponry have been found in the past 10 months than in the immediate aftermath of Operation Desert Storm, which expelled Saddam's forces from Kuwait in 1991. Then there were signs of shells charged with various agents being moved near the front - though Saddam chickened out from ordering their use, knowing full well he was inviting nuclear retaliation if he did so.

Among the personal effects of the Iraqi soldiers killed in their retreat across the southern Iraq desert were pathetically flimsy gas masks and tiny bottles of liquid anti-nerve agent. It was as if the Iraqi foot soldiers had given up on being able to defend themselves against chemical and biological attack.

This time no biological or chemical weaponry has been found near Iraqi frontline formations. The only sign of any thought of WMD was the undistributed stock of new gas masks and protective wear near Basra and Nasiriyah. It is thought that this might have been prepared for the previous wars and was being held against the possibility of an insurrection with exotic weapons brought from elsewhere.

According to David Kay, who has just retired after heading the Iraq Survey Group, no exotic weaponry is likely to be found in Iraq now as he believes most stocks were destroyed by the late 1990s. This makes uncomfortable reading for both the Blair and Bush administrations.

This cannot be mitigated by claims that "certain materials" might have been smuggled out to Syria before the Americans could get into Baghdad and the British into Basra. Chemical and biological agents are notoriously difficult to handle and, when being prepared for firing near the front line, are often of more danger to the user than the intended victim. Syria's attempts to generate chemical weapons are well documented and, by the beginning of April, President Assad's Baathist regime in Damascus was prepared to offer only limited assistance to the crumbling Baathist regime of Baghdad.

The principal problem with the way intelligence was presented to the British parliament and public in the build-up to the recent war in Iraq is well known. British Army psychologist Norman Dixon shows in his masterly study, "On the Psychology of Military Incompetence", how most commanders, civil and military, tend to opt for the intelligence that favours them and their prejudices.

ONCE leaders have decided on action, he says, there follows "a period of mental activity which can only be described as one-sided". The wish becomes the father of the thought, and the intention becomes the father of the intelligence case to support it.

Intelligence gathering and analysis is often a long and spectacularly dull process. …

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