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Butler's Dilemma: Lord Butler's Inquiry and the Re-Assessment of Intelligence on Iraq's WMD

Page 7 of 10

Options for Reform - BCISS Recommendations

Regardless of Lord Butler's specific findings, there is a range of possible reforms that should be considered in the light of experiences since the invasion of Iraq. These options include:

1. A Cabinet Intelligence Advisor could be established:

There is an evident need for the establishment of an office whose responsibility it would be to ensure that Ministers had guidance on the understanding and exploitation of intelligence. While it might be argued that this is the role of the JIC Chair, in practice the JIC Chair is not sufficiently independent as he necessarily subscribes to the agreed JIC view. It is never enough to rely on good luck rather than good planning, and so simply leaving this function to the personal networks and affiliations of Prime Ministers is not really an acceptable means of performing this task. As argued above, it may be most appropriate to have such a position appointed by a committee of Privy Counsellors and members of the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee. In any event, there is an evident need for a traceable line of responsibility for independent advice to Ministers on intelligence issues and exploitation.

BCISS strongly recommends the creation of a post of Cabinet Intelligence Advisor.

2. Re-assertion and reinforcement of the authority of the Cabinet Secretary over intelligence affairs:

In recent years the Cabinet Secretary has become the dog that failed to bark in the night in intelligence affairs. Throughout the events leading up to the publication of the September and February dossiers, the Iraq war and throughout the evidence published by the Hutton inquiry the Cabinet Secretary was peculiarly absent. Since the relocation of the JIC from the Ministry of Defence secretariat to the Cabinet Office in 1957 the overarching authority responsible for intelligence affairs has been the Cabinet Secretary. In recent years, however, much of the Cabinet Secretary's responsibility for intelligence has devolved to the Intelligence and Security Co-ordinator. While the Co-ordinator is a vital and influential position, it is essentially a collegial post of mediator and integrator, not even primus inter pares because that is a privilege reserved for the Chairman of the JIC. The Cabinet Secretary's function in the Civil Service is not just that of senior official but also as interlocutor with the government and the Civil Service's main protector against politicisation. The acute politicisation of the assessment process described above may only have been possible because of the weakened presence of the Cabinet Secretary in the management of the intelligence community. It is essential, therefore, that the function and influence of the Cabinet Secretary be returned to its prior standing and, where necessary, that standing should be codified in a body of formally constituted procedures.

BCISS strongly recommends this option.

3. An Intelligence Community Public Affairs Adviser should be established:

The Butler inquiry should consider creating an Intelligence Community Public Affairs Adviser (ICPAA), probably with a seat on the JIC. The events surrounding the publication of intelligence information in support of a government programme of public influence to justify a policy on Iraq that would likely lead to war demonstrated a number of significant problems in the JIC's ability to handle a public information function. For example:

  • There was a failure or unwillingness to address the fact that the task of drafting the September Dossier required the JIC to cherry-pick its own intelligence. The shift from evaluating a case to making a case would necessarily politicise the assessment process, even without any undue, inappropriate or even 'unconscious' pressure. The task itself structured the collation of the available intelligence to underplay or completely omit the uncertainties and gaps in information. The selective use of information (rather than its falsification) is an essential skill in the repertoire of the media-relations 'spin doctor'. Bluntly put, the intelligence technocrats of the JIC were out of their depth drafting a public dossier. Moreover, they either failed or were unwilling to appreciate how the task assigned served to manipulate them and their product for partisan political ends. The presence of public affairs expertise in JIC deliberations would have gone a long way towards mitigating the risk of the intelligence community, and its product and collective credibility being used as instruments of political spin.
  • The last minute inclusion of the '45 minute claim' without context was not only potentially misleading, it betrayed a failure to understand how such a claim would play out in the public arena. There was a singular naivete of the intelligence professionals (especially those in SIS supposed to be adept in psychological and influence operations) in not anticipating how such a dramatic nugget of raw intelligence might be represented in the opportunistic and scare-mongering reporting of the tabloid press. The JIC elected not to include the context of the 45 minute claim, that it referred to battlefield rather than strategic weapons, was motivated by a concern that this was an inference about rather than explicit feature of the source report from which the claim was drawn. This intellectual conservatism in drafting led to an alarmist interpretation. The failure of Ministers to correct the misleading portrayal of the intelligence in the press only serves to further indicate the culpability of Ministers in their willingness to use intelligence information to stampede the political herd in support of their policies.
  • The very formulation and publication of the February 'dodgy dossier', with its plagiarised inclusions and intelligence information unvetted and not approved by the intelligence community, clearly shows that the intelligence community was asleep at the wheel where the political exploitation of its reputation and product were concerned.

Therefore the functions of the Intelligence Community Public Affairs Adviser would be:

  • To represent the intelligence community as a whole to the media and the electorate;
  • To co-ordinate the public affairs functions of the national intelligence machinery at large and the diverse intelligence and security agencies in particular;
  • To arbitrate between the intelligence community on the one hand and Ministers and senior Civil Servants who may wish to publish intelligence information for the purposes of either public education or political persuasion on the other;
  • To establish and oversee a small team of public communication professionals, operating within the 'ring of secrecy', who can advise the JIC and the intelligence and security agencies on public affairs techniques, options, risks and opportunities.

BCISS recommends the establishment of an Intelligence Community Public Affairs Adviser, especially if it is judged that the diminution of the role of Cabinet Secretary in intelligence affairs cannot credibly be reversed.

4. Alteration of JIC procedures to prevent a member of any JIC member providing raw intelligence taking the role of Chair:

The appointment of John Scarlett as Chairman of the JIC introduced a number of problems to the credibility of the assessment process, especially in light of the inclusion of the so-called '45 minute claim' into both the 9 September JIC report and the September Dossier. The prominent position given to an SIS report such as the claim that Iraq's military could deploy non-conventional weapons 'within 45 minutes or less' invites the concern that a single source report, unsupported by corroborating information from other sources human or technical, was given disproportionate emphasis because the JIC Chair was an SIS officer. The problem is that even if it was not, the appointment of someone from an operational organisation to the Chair introduces the risk, or the appearance of the risk of a conflict of interest for a post that should be an unbiased arbiter in the assessment process.

In 1983 Lord Franks concluded that a Foreign Office orthodoxy had mired the JIC assessment process prior to the Falkland Islands invasion. This was because of the central and influential role of the FCO which had held the JIC Chair since before the Second World War. Subsequently, JIC Chairs were appointed from the Cabinet Office. These appointments have been criticised on the grounds that many of them have been former diplomats, undermining the whole point of taking the Chair out of FCO hands. In fact, the lesson that should be learned from the Franks inquiry is a more general one, not merely that the FCO should not hold the chair but that no contributing JIC member organisation should provide the JIC Chair. Proposals, such as those of Sir Roderick Braithwaite, that JIC Chairmen should be appointed from outside the immediate community, such as senior justices or senior foreign policy scholars with 'a deep understanding of intelligence' should be considered.

BCISS strongly recommends this option be considered.

5. Provision should be made for dissenting analysts to request that a Minority Report representing their assessment should be made directly available to the JIC for direct consideration.

One of the most significant matters to emerge from the Hutton inquiry was the dissenting opinion expressed and recorded by Dr. Brian Jones at DIS. Although the his note of dissent dealt more with wordsmithing than with substantive evidence, its net effect would have been to make the margins of uncertainty in the assessment more explicit. This would have stood in more of a direct relationship with the quality of the raw intelligence it appears that the JIC actually had in hand. To be sure, the ISC concluded that the dissenting assessment had been duly considered and dealt with according to JIC procedure, but in retrospect it is clear that Jones et al were closer to an accurate expression of the state of affairs than the final assessment formulated by the JIC. Hence it is necessary to ask whether JIC procedure should be altered to make a more effective use of dissenting opinion.

That being said, BCISS acknowledges that assessment by a consensus of informed participants is both an institutional and an epistemological strength of the JIC. BCISS would not wish to see the UK consider adopting any of the models of competitive or dissenting intelligence assessment employed in the United States intelligence community. Competitive and dissenting assessment either through multiple, alternative analytical channels (e.g. separate Defence, State and CIA all-source finished intelligence reporting or the 1970s Team A/Team B experiment) or 'constructive dissent' (e.g. the practice of National Intelligence Council participants expressing minority opinions in footnotes to otherwise community-wide agreed National Estimates) are, in fact, weaknesses of the American system and not strengths. They can only lead to confusion for intelligence consumers, or a perception of analysis as arbitrary (and probably based on the institutional orthodoxy and self-interest of the reporting Department) and therefore irrelevant. The result is that consumers act on existing pre-conceived notions, behaving like 'deaf captains' whether they wish to or not. It is not, therefore, appropriate, to present dissenting assessments to consumers who need to be able to rely on intelligence providing a coherent and consistent estimate.

It would, however, be sensible for analysts in specific contributing departments who dissent from the departmental assessment being contributed to the JIC, or from the draft form of a JIC assessment, to request that a minority report be passed directly to the JIC. At that level, it may then be factored into the joint assessment process where either its concerns can be laid to rest on the basis of concrete information to hand but possibly outside the dissenter's ken (e.g. because of compartmentalisation, especially of highly sensitive human and technical sources), or serve as a point of departure for sober second thought in the assessment process. Formal guarantees should be in place to ensure that persons applying to make a Minority Report to the JIC should not be punished in any way, tacitly or explicitly, for 'going over the head' of their seniors.

BCISS recommends this option.

6. Any additional detailed reforms to the intelligence community must wait until the final report of the Iraq survey group:

It is evident, even from the limited findings of the ISG in late 2003 that there had been substantial WMD research and development programmes in Iraq. In this sense, the assessments of both the UK and US intelligence communities have been found to be accurate. It is important to keep in mind that most of the intelligence reporting concerning Iraqi WMD was concerned with development programmes rather than large-scale weapon stockpiles. As a result, reforms to intelligence built upon the presumption of a general failure would be premature. Although unpalatable to the press and politicians alike, the judgement on Iraqi WMD must, in fact, remain open for the foreseeable future.

BCISS strongly recommends this option.

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