MI6 left largely in the clear over exaggeration of WMD documents




By Mark Huband, Security Correspondent

Financial Times, 8 July 2003

The foreign intelligence service has emerged largely unscathed from the parliamentary inquiry into the arguments used to justify the war in Iraq.

Throughout the political furore over whether elements in the government’s dossier on Iraq’s weapons arsenal published last September were exaggerated, MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service – which provided the information – has remained confident its sources were reliable and its intelligence accurate.

The foreign affairs committee report yesterday made clear “the claims made in the September dossier were in all probability well founded on the basis of the intelligence then available”. MI6 has kept its distance from the row between Downing St and the BBC over allegations that the dossier was “sexed up”, regarding it as a dispute over the presentation of arguments rather than a well-informed debate over accuracy.

The use of intelligence information suggesting Iraq could use chemical weapons within 45 minutes of an order to do so is criticised by the committee more for the prominence it is given in the dossier than any proven claim that it was wrong.

Most difficult for MI6, however, is the focus in the report on allegations that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Africa. The committee clearly remains suspicious of claims that intelligence information substantiating this accusation was not the same as US information later found to be based on forged documents. The UK evidence has not been made available because it was provided by a country that does not want to be identified, officials say. But Sir Jeremy Greenstock, UK ambassador to the United Nations, has said the evidence is convincing.

Whitehall officials reject claims made in the committee’s report that Britain may have relied too heavily on information on Iraq provided by the US. They have insisted their human intelligence sources in Iraq before and during the war were more extensive than those of the US, which largely depended on electronic surveillance and the claims of defectors whose information has often proved inaccurate.

The tone of the report was regarded by some Whitehall officials familiar with the intelligence service as reflecting the committee’s resentment at having no access to intelligence information and MI6 officials.

The parliamentary intelligence and security committee, which operates within the “ring of secrecy” and enjoys this access, is conducting its own inquiry into the Iraq dossiers, which will be published in September.

It is expected to focus on the accuracy of the intelligence on Iraq and will be a much more robust assessment of whether MI6 got it facts right, a Whitehall official said yesterday.


© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.