Ex-MI6 chief: Too much weight on Iraq intelligence

· Government ‘used details to gain support for attack’
· Links between al-Qaida and Saddam ‘not true’

Richard Norton-Taylor
The Guardian

The head of MI6 at the time of the invasion of Iraq said last night that the government placed too much weight on intelligence claims to help persuade opponents in parliament to support the war. Sir Richard Dearlove said Iraq demonstrated the dangers when “policy was built round intelligence and little else or when it was used for the primary justification for government action”.Policy was “over-dependent on intelligence particularly when it was presented to parliament”, he said. There was a fear that what he called “other factors” might otherwise “carry the day with political opponents of the war”. The episode had “highly undesirable consequences for the intelligence community”.

Sir Richard also admitted that claims by neo-con elements in the Bush administration that there were links between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein were not true. “You know as well as I know there was no connection between 9/11 and Iraq,” he said.

Though Sir Richard’s admissions reflect those made by others since the invasion of Iraq, and notably in Lord Butler’s report on the use of intelligence, it is the first time he has commented publicly on the affair. He was speaking at the London School of Economics on the subject of Intelligence and the Media at a meeting sponsored by the Polis thinktank.

Sir Richard, who retired in 2004 and rarely speaks in public, said “intelligence was expected to carry too much weight” in the formulation of policy. He described the way intelligence was used in the build-up to the war, particularly in the use the government made of its discredited Iraqi weapons dossier, as “sui generis” and “most unlikely to happen again”.

However, he warned that governments might feel the need to publish intelligence to buttress support for any action against Iran. In the hypothesis of a pre-emptive attack on Iran, he suggested, there would have to be “proof positive” that “the right targets” were hit.

Sir Richard insisted that MI6 did not “set out to misinform” the government or the public over Iraq. He said: “The intelligence that was released was believed to be correct at the time it was released”.

He acknowledged that over Iraq the relationship between the intelligence agencies and the media “suffered greatly” because trust was compromised. The fundamental causes of this was “not under the control of either party”, he said.

Leaked minutes of a meeting on Iraq chaired by Tony Blair in Downing Street on July 23 2002 reveal that Sir Richard , reporting on his talks in Washington, warned that “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy”. Sir Richard is reported to have since downplayed the significance of the comment.