The Butler Report: Britain's Iraq intelligence falls short
CBC News Online | Updated June 28, 2004
Seriously flawed, but not distorted. That's one of the key findings on the intelligence Britain relied on before deciding to make war on Iraq.
Lord Butler. (AP Photo/David Bebber, pool)
It was the second major report on pre-Iraq war intelligence in two weeks. Both reports the first from a committee of the U.S. Senate, the second an inquiry appointed by the British prime minister found intelligence gathering in the months before the invasion of Iraq was far less than it should have been.
Britain's Butler Inquiry was set up with a wide-ranging mandate:
- To investigate the intelligence coverage available on Weapons of Mass Destruction programs of countries of concern and on the global trade in WMD, taking into account what is now known about these programs.
- As part of this work, to investigate the accuracy of intelligence on Iraq's WMD up to March 2003, and to examine any discrepancies between the intelligence gathered, evaluated and used by the government before the conflict, and between that intelligence and what has been discovered by the Iraq Survey Group since the end of the conflict.
- To make recommendations to the prime minister for the future on the gathering, evaluation and use of intelligence on WMD in the light of the difficulties of operating in countries of concern.
Lord Robin Butler, chair of the inquiry, opened his investigation on Feb. 12, 2004. He spent the next five months sifting through documents, hearing testimony and reviewing reports before handing in his 196-page report to Prime Minister Tony Blair on Tuesday, July 13. It was released to the public a day later. Among its key findings:
- The claim that Iraq could launch a biological or chemical weapons attack within 45 minutes was unsubstantiated.
- Intelligence was pushed to "outer limits but not beyond" however there was no deliberate distortion of the intelligence by politicians.
- There was "no recent intelligence" that Iraq was more of an immediate concern than other countries, although its history suggested the threat of force was needed to contain Saddam Hussein.
- There was an "over-reliance" on dissident Iraqi sources and human intelligence in general.
- British intelligence on the claim Iraq had sought uranium from Niger was "credible."
The report echoed key findings of the U.S. Senate report released a week earlier. It said that Iraq "did not have significant, if any, stocks of chemical or biological weapons in a state fit for deployment or developed plans for using them."
The report also said the claim that Iraq could launch a chemical or biological attack within 45 minutes should have been modified to make it clear that the claim was limited to battlefield munitions. The claim had received widespread news coverage in the months before the invasion, with stories suggesting allied troops in neighbouring countries were in danger. Butler said he suspected the detail may have been included as it was "eye-catching."
Complete Butler report
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Like the Senate report, the Butler report criticized domestic intelligence services for relying too heavily on Iraqi dissidents and not following up on key pieces of information. But Butler was not nearly as harsh on British intelligence as the Senate report was on American intelligence.
The U.S. report cited weaknesses within the system that were exacerbated by poor management and inadequate intelligence collection. It portrayed a "group think" dynamic that "led Intelligence Community analysts, collectors and managers to interpret ambiguous evidence as conclusively indicative of a WMD program."
The Butler report, on the other hand, did not blame the intelligence-gathering system. It offered strong support for the recent appointment of John Scarlett as new head of MI6, which is responsible for foreign intelligence gathering. In the U.S., George Tenet had announced his resignation as head of the Central Intelligence Agency, a month before the Senate committee harshly criticized his leadership. Tenet had cited personal reasons for his departure.
The Butler report was the fourth report in a year into the process that brought Britain into the war against Iraq. Each time, Prime Minister Blair has escaped serious criticism.
In January, a report by retired judge Lord Hutton cleared the government of any responsibility for the suicide of a weapons specialist at the centre of a claim by the BBC that the case for war was deliberately exaggerated. The Hutton Report followed two parliamentary reports in 2003 that expressed only mild criticism of Blair and the government over the war.
"We found no evidence to question the prime minister's good faith," Lord Butler said after releasing his report.
For his part, Blair has accepted responsibility for the flaws Butler has cited. But he also welcomed the report's finding that the information was not deliberately distorted for political purposes.
"No one lied. No one made up the intelligence," he told the British House of Commons after the report was released. "No one inserted things into the dossier against the advice of intelligence services."
Blair said he remains convinced deposing Saddam was the right thing to do, given the message it sent to dictators of countries such as Libya and North Korea, who have been more conciliatory since the Iraq invasion.