Intelligence errors were made in good faith, Butler inquiry finds

Strains, oversights and systems failures, but not individual mendacity nor political pressure, lay at the heart of intelligence failings in the run up to war in Iraq, Lord Butler's inquiry has concluded.

Publishing his 196-page report on the intelligence on Iraq's WMD capability today, Lord Butler said that the Prime Minister had "acted in good faith", but intelligence – particularly contained in the government's so-called September dossier – was presented on occasion in a misleading fashion, and some intelligence had been of dubious provenance.

Chiefly, the infamous 45-minute claim should not have been included in the Joint Intelligence Committee's (JIC) assessment – or in the government’s September dossier – without stating what it was believed to refer to, the report concluded. Indeed, its inclusion "later led to suspicions that it had been included because of its eye-catching character".

Where there were failings in the presentation of the intelligence, the inquiry found no evidence of "deliberate distortion or of culpable negligence". In essence, any failings were collective and exacerbated by the systems in place – not the individuals involved.

The committee went so far as to give its backing to the current Chairman of the JIC, John Scarlett, who has been named as the next MI6 chief.

The committee voiced its hope that he would not consider withdrawing from the post, adding: "We have a high regard for his abilities and his record."

The inquiry found that the JIC was not influenced by political considerations, but the climate in which the dossier was drawn up had led to "strains" on the JIC's ability to present intelligence in a dispassionate fashion.

The inquiry found no evidence of JIC assessments and the judgements inside them "being pulled in any particular direction to meet the policy concerns of senior officials on the JIC".

It added: "The JIC, with commendable motives, took responsibility for the dossier, in order that its content should properly reflect the judgements of the intelligence community. They did their utmost to ensure this standard was met. But this will have put a strain on them in seeking to maintain their normal standards of neutral and objective assessment."

However, language in the dossier may have left with readers the impression that there was "fuller and firmer intelligence" behind the judgements than was the case. The dossier had stretched intelligence to the "outer limits".

"We conclude that it was a serious weakness that the JIC ’s warnings on the limitations of the intelligence underlying its judgements were not made sufficiently clear in the dossier."

The inquiry also found that the government’s decision to take a stronger line on Iraqi disarmament in early 2002 was "not based on any new development in the current intelligence picture on Iraq".

The implication that may be drawn from the report's conclusions is that the US government – not intelligence – was a decisive factor behind the hardening of the UK's position.

In the spring of 2002, as the UK moved away from a policy of containment regarding Iraq, the Butler report found that "there was no recent intelligence that would itself have given rise to a conclusion that Iraq was of more immediate concern than the activities of some other countries".

It added: "The Government, as well as being influenced by the concerns of the US Government, saw a need for immediate action on Iraq because of the wider historical and international context, especially Iraq ’s perceived continuing challenge to the authority of the United Nations."

The report pointed out that the government's legal advice stipulated that regime change had no basis in international law, but for military action to be justified the UN would need to be convinced that Iraq was in breach of its obligations and that such proof would need to be "incontrovertible and of large-scale activity". However, the intelligence as available at the time was "insufficiently robust" to be decisive, the committee found.

Responding to the Butler Review in the House of Commons earlier today, Prime Minister Tony Blair fully accepted the report's conclusions and took full responsibility for any mistakes made.

Mr Blair said that the report largely reinforced the core of Lord Hutton's report – that errors were made, but in good faith.

"No-one lied. No-one made up the intelligence. No-one inserted things into the dossier against the advice of the intelligence services," Mr Blair said.

"Everyone genuinely tried to do their best in good faith for the country in circumstances of acute difficulty. That issue of good faith should now be at an end."

Mr Blair concluded: "I am proud of this country and the part it played and especially our magnificent armed forces, in removing two vile dictatorships and giving people oppressed, almost enslaved, the prospect of democracy and liberty.

"This Report will not end the arguments about the war. But in its balance and common sense, it should at least help to set them in a more rational light; and for that we should be grateful."


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