New head of reporting at MI6 to oversee intelligence analysis



 

 

 

 

By Mark Huband, Security Correspondent

Financial Times, 12 January 2005

Spies will spend as much time analysing secret intelligence as recruiting agents after an overhaul of career structures at MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service, in the wake of Lord Butler’s critical report on intelligence about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.

July’s report identified serious flaws in the quality of MI6’s intelligence on Iraq and was critical of the process whereby the raw intelligence was assessed by analysts at the service’s headquarters. Lord Butler’s report revealed several MI6 sources for information on Iraq’s WMD were either passing on second-hand intelligence that was later proved wrong, or were providing first-hand information that was “less worrying” than the alarming reports from sources who proved unreliable.

Since the publication of the government’s dossier on Iraq’s WMD in September 2002, intelligence insiders and experts have insisted that while some intelligence on Iraq was wrong, the conclusion that Saddam Hussein’s regime had not abandoned the aim of acquiring WMD, was right. This conclusion was confirmed last October, when the US-led Iraq Survey Group published its findings.

But the combination of successes and failures regarding Iraq have led John Scarlett, who was appointed MI6 chief last year, to implement wide-ranging reforms to the analytical processes.

A new head of reporting has been appointed to oversee the analysis of material acquired from MI6’s intelligence officers and agents in the field. The new head is far more senior than his predecessors in the post, being just below the level of MI6’s board of directors. His seniority is seen as essential to ensuring that reports off-icers are given the time and resources to establish the credibility of sources and send material back to intelligence officers in the field for re-examination, before reaching their conclusions.

An intelligence insider said: “The new head of reports will be saying to reports staff: you need to continually ask critical questions about the background to the intelligence we acquire. One can be aware of the facts. But you have to know how to probe the facts.

“We will never have a perfect system. One of the things that people misunderstand: intelligence doesn’t give you the truth. By and large the truth doesn’t exist. From the intelligence service’s perspective, it’s important to recognise the judgments that have to be made and to communicate the areas of doubt. There won’t be a perfect system.”

A second important change will be the rotation of field intelligence officers with the analytical staff.

An official close to the intelligence service said: “To be able to understand and put a piece of intelligence in context, it’s very important that you have an operational understanding of the background that led to that piece of intelligence. You need to have a sense of operational judgment to know what the right questions are to make sense of it.

“People with operational expertise and operational track records are being moved to put them into reports. Because they themselves have been out in the field in the recent past.”

Since Mr Scarlett’s appointment, some intelligence insiders have criticised the failure of his predecessor, Sir Richard Dearlove, to address shortcomings that had become evident before the Butler report.

The report revealed that reforms within MI6 in the 1990s had undermined the “quality assurance process” for intelligence. Financial constraints meant that the different functions of running agents and assessing the raw intelligence they provided, was brought to-gether under a single staff. This meant that “the validity and quality of source reporting became subjected to the operational imperative of the team leader to produce results.”

To address this, the management of the reports officers and the operations staff has been separated.

By improving the depth of the knowledge in the reports staff, MI6 managers expect to minimise the potential for faulty intelligence being passed to the Cabinet Office’s joint intelligence committee, which compiled the dossier on Iraq’s WMD.

 

 

© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.