Iraq: Their Word is Not Enough

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Ex-MI5 whistleblower David Shayler exposes the abuse of intelligence to justify war.

I was the Libyan desk officer - the expert on Libya - when I was in the intelligence services. For many years Libya made diplomatic overtures to Britain and the US to try and get rid of the sanctions regime. Tony Blair has recently claimed that Colonel Gadaffi has renounced his weapons of mass destruction because of the war in Iraq. But that is simply not true. For ten years he‘s been trying to come back into the fold. What we have in Libya now, of course, is someone on our side, a country that is under control - an ally. Look at what we have in Iraq - chaos, anarchy, and the deaths of US and British soldiers, and Iraqi civilians.

I know from talking to people in the intelligence services that many of them are enormously unhappy with this war. They‘re all too aware of the fact that this was an illegal invasion. It would be fair to say that they were pissed off with just about everything in that Iraq dossier. Although MI6 produced the intelligence about the 45-minute warning, MI5 is the expert assessor. We‘re looking at a piece of intelligence that appears to come from an exile group quoting somebody in the mainstream Iraqi army - not even an intelligence officer. It is absolutely absurd that that information has been so misrepresented. So what I want to know is, why aren‘t MI5 standing up and saying that more clearly?

It‘s not just that piece of intelligence. All the intelligence in the dossier has turned out to be untrue. This shouldn‘t really surprise us, because in the late 1990s the Americans insisted that they had great intelligence on a chemical weapons factory in Sudan. They bombed it, and found that it was an aspirin factory.

The truth is that the intelligence services have always failed to gather decent intelligence in the Middle East. When I was trying to do an assessment of Libyan support for terrorism I said to my boss at MI5, ’I cannot make an assessment. We do not have enough intelligence to do so.‘ But I was told to go out and, to use Doctor Kelly‘s words, ’sex up‘ the case.

The intelligence services normally do sex up the case, because it all happens in secret. They give their information to government ministers, and ministers are none the wiser. In this case, they knew the information was going to be made public. I don‘t think that they were so stupid as to make claims that they couldn‘t justify. I think it was the government distorting their information.

In fact the threat from Iraq - the formal Joint Intelligence Committee threat assessment of Iraq - has not changed in ten years, since when I first joined G9, the Middle East section at MI5. And that assessment goes something like this: ’In the light of UN sanctions, we assess that it‘s highly unlikely that Iraq sponsors any type of terrorist attacks or terrorist groups. In fact, Iraq acts as a brake on those who have safe haven in Iraq.‘

The assessment on WMD went something like this: ’Although we continue to receive sporadic intelligence from reliable sources indicating that Saddam Hussein is seeking to develop WMD programmes, none of it has been corroborated.‘ That assessment did not change in ten years. There was no new intelligence. There was no smoking gun. And if there is no change in the formal assessment, how can we justify that war?

The whole of that dossier perverted the case because embarrassing information was simply taken out. The initial draft of the document said that Saddam Hussein would use WMD if attacked. Then they suddenly realised that seemed to imply that he would only use them if we attacked, so we shouldn‘t invade. And MI5 formally assessed that if there was an invasion of Iraq, and there were WMD, any invasion would make it more likely that those weapons would fall into the hands of Al Qaida. That was not included in the dossier.

Don’t forget as well that we had the ‘dodgy dossier’. We had the sight of a prime minister trying to justify a war using a 11 year old PhD thesis. Technically that is a breach of the Official Secrets Act. Tony Blair is what is known as a ‘notified person’. He is treated in the same way as an intelligence officer who makes a statement. And the statement doesn’t even have to be true. All you have to be convicted of is working for the service or being a notified person, and saying something about the service (that isn’t necessarily true) without their permission. That’s what I was convicted of, and you could technically convict Tony Blair of that for the dodgy dossier.

They now want to increase the complement of MI5 officers by another thousand, to levels not seen since the Second World War. It is because of their incompetence that we now have to shell out millions of pounds. And when I hear that David Blunkett is proposing to have trials with a lower standard of truth, trials in secret, trials for people ‘who threaten national security’, I’m getting scared personally.

Seven years ago I went on the record to point out how MI6 had paid £100,000 to Al Qaida to try and assassinate Colonel Gadaffi. They had done that without the permission of government. Under the 1994 Intelligence Services Act, MI6 officers, the real James Bonds, do have a licence to kill - but only if they have the permission of government. In this case they did not. They killed innocent Libyans. People say I’m a traitor for revealing information like that - usually people on the right, of course. But I say to them, ‘If your children were killed in a terrorist attack funded by MI6, wouldn’t you want to know?’ And if MI6 showed as much interest in protecting our security as it did in destabilising other countries, we’d all be very, very safe.