Security & Intelligence Services: Annual Debate
Dr Julian Lewis: Hon. Members may be interested to know that when the Joint Intelligence Committee was founded in 1936, it was as a sub-committee of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, although even at that time – as in later years – it had a Foreign Office Chairman. In 1976, in the course of researching Chiefs of Staff Committee material, I came across a JIC document, which – if only, if only – might have been the research discovery of a lifetime. That document, a copy of which I have before me, was entitled, Use of Special Intelligence by Official Historians, and had been lying undiscovered in the Public Record Office files for four years, having been inadvertently released with a mass of other material in 1972. It did nothing less than reveal the entire Ultra secret.
The document explained that when official historians came to compare captured German documents with the timings of orders given to Allied forces in our own records, they would come to the inescapable conclusion that this could have been done only as a result of our being able to read the enemy's ciphers. As a result, the following instructions were given to the head historians in the Cabinet Office and in each of the three Service Ministries:
"It is imperative that the fact that such intelligence was available should NEVER be disclosed – (a) even though European hostilities have now ceased" –
the document was dated 20 July 1945 –
"(b) even after the conclusion of the far eastern war."
The historians were instructed:
"Not to probe too deeply into the reasons for apparently unaccountable operational orders being issued ... To observe absolute and complete reticence concerning these matters even amongst themselves."
They certainly did that.
Why was that never quite the research discovery of a lifetime? Because two years earlier, in 1974 – two years after the document had been inadvertently released to the PRO, but two years before I was lucky enough to discover it – F.W. Winterbotham blew the lid off the Ultra secret by publishing his book on that subject. So my little moment of glory as an academic historian was, in a sense, snuffed out before it even began.
Churchill described the work of Bletchley Park as having been carried out by people whom he characterised as:
"The geese that laid the golden eggs and never cackled."
How things have changed. What we are concerned about now is not whether Alastair Campbell wins, or Andrew Gilligan wins, because the real losers of the present controversy will be the intelligence services themselves, given the damage that has been done to the ethos of the JIC.
I took the trouble to use a bit of modern technology, called LexisNexis, which is a newspaper database that hon. Members can access through the Library. I did a little search for the words, "Joint Intelligence Committee", and I have to tell the House that, in the 10 years from 1982 to the beginning of 1992 – which includes the first Gulf war – there were just 99 references to the JIC in British newspapers. Even in the 10 years from the beginning of 1992 to the beginning of 2002 – which includes the events of 11 September – there were only 431 such references. However, in the 18 months from January 2002 until now – in that year and a half alone – there have been a massive 502 references, of which 347 were in the past six months. [Hon. Labour Members: "What is your point?"] My point is that, as a result of the misbehaviour over the dodgy dossier, the JIC has become a matter of common currency and political controversy.
I refer to a brief and apparently well-informed report in the Guardian on 1 July, which states:
"Downing Street's determination to publish a dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction provoked serious divisions in the intelligence agencies, senior Whitehall officials disclosed yesterday ... The trouble, say officials, is that No 10 wanted to use intelligence as a trump card for war."
Worse than that is the report, published by the BBC on 6 June, which states that No. 10 sent back the weapons dossier to intelligence chiefs no fewer than six times for alteration. I quote from that report:
"A source close to British intelligence has told BBC diplomatic correspondent Barnaby Mason that Downing Street returned draft versions of the dossier to the Joint Intelligence Committee 'six to eight times'... Responding to Barnaby Mason's report, Mr Blair's office again said no pressure had been put on the intelligence services to change the document."
That is not saying, of course, that the document had not been sent back on that number of occasions.
Indeed, on Friday 27 June, the Foreign Secretary stated in his evidence to the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs that Mr Campbell was preparing
"a detailed summary of the exchanges between him and the JIC – saying 'Can I suggest this? What about that?' – and the response from the JIC, which will give you, as it were, the most complete and accurate running commentary on that process."
The idea that the JIC should have to bandy words with a professional propagandist, such as Alastair Campbell, about what should go into its reports is deeply subversive of the integrity of the intelligence services. It contrasts very clearly with the work of the information research department, which was set up by the Attlee Government and used during the Cold War to put into the public domain information that could be used publicly, although it had been gathered from intelligence sources. The IRD gave that information to the Government and journalists for them to use without reference to the fact that it had come from the intelligence services in the first place. In other words, the information stood or fell on its own merits and on the reputation of the people who published it.
I am afraid that the result of what has gone wrong with the undermining of the independence of the JIC is that nobody will believe the Prime Minister again when he cites intelligence sources; no one will trust him next time military action is needed; and it will become harder for the Opposition to take at face value Government assurances on intelligence matters in the future as we were content to do in the past. The Joint Intelligence Committee should have approved what facts could be used by the Government. The dossier or dossiers should have been published as the position of the Government. In my view, the name and the status of the Joint Intelligence Committee should not have been compromised by being referred to in these dossiers in any way, shape or form. When a secret intelligence service is treated in such a fashion, it is in danger of losing both secrecy and intelligence on one hand, and its ability to provide a service on the other.
Whatever the answers were as to whether Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and as to whether the stocks that were made were destroyed, concealed or exported, they would more easily have been found had the proper steps been taken to secure secret documentation immediately after the fall of Saddam.
In the brief time that I have left, I shall turn once again to the testimony of Ibrahim al-Marashi, the researcher, as I said in an earlier intervention, whose work was plagiarised in the second dossier – popularly known as the dodgy dossier. You will recall, Madam Deputy Speaker, that his testimony was that 90 percent of that second dossier came from his article, and from two other articles in Jane's Intelligence Review. On the question of documentation, he was asked by the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee:
"Is it fair to say that the Iraqi regime was extremely meticulous in its bookkeeping?"
In reply to that question – question 721 on page 51 of the uncorrected transcript – he stated:
"Any incident, no matter how minuscule, was recorded in the Iraqi intelligence files. I will just give you an example. A soldier deserted to Saudi Arabia. They even knew he had six bullets in the [magazine] of his Kalashnikov rifle. This is how minutely Iraqi intelligence kept track of matters. If they could keep track of how many bullets are in a Kalashnikov rifle it is most likely that key documentation or evidence of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programme or any other kind of programme or human rights abuses were documented in Iraq. It was a bureaucracy that kept a record of almost anything that was of any significance or insignificance in Iraq."
I conclude by reminding the House once again what I stated in successive questions to the Foreign Secretary, the Defence Secretary and the Prime Minister. It is an appalling breach of competence, common sense and the normal arrangements made for any invading army that the coalition did not make it their top priority to go into the Iraqi intelligence headquarters and the Iraqi Foreign Ministry to get those documents that could have resolved these questions. We now know that 13 days after the fall of Baghdad those headquarters had still not been secured, and that the BBC, the Daily Telegraph and other reporters were going in and rifling through files that anybody could take away. That is a level of incompetence that is totally incomprehensible.
An Intelligence Objectives Subcommittee should have been in place to ensure that those documents were targeted. If the Government are suffering now from their failure to find what they are seeking in Iraq, they have only their own incompetence to blame.