Thursday, September 15, 2011

#MI6 :“We can’t allow documents like that to reach anyone who really knows”

I guessed last month that the Daily Mail, having bought the serialisation rights to Gordon Corera’s book about the British Secret Service, The Art of Betrayal, did not like what was in the book, so used it as an excuse to regurgitate its pre-cooked anti-war slogans.

I have now read Corera’s excellent work, and can confirm that this is indeed the case. The Mail subheadline promised: “The scandal of how MI6 – under pressure from Blair and Campbell – produced bogus evidence to make the case for the Iraq war”
The book says the opposite:
Lord Butler’s inquiry said the original intelligence had not been misreported. There was no distortion, he concluded. The original intelligence was simply wrong. This, in many ways, is a far more damning conclusion for MI6 than the notion that the politicians had “spun” the intelligence against the wishes of the spies. The politicians may have pushed and pressed but, ultimately, the problem was that MI6’s reporting was dud.
Corera, in some detail, endorses the verdict of Sir David Omand, the mandarin responsible for intelligence, that MI6 “over-promised and under-delivered”.

The book is a history of the Secret Intelligence Service since the Second World War, so only the last chapter is about Iraq. That chapter is a commendably clear and careful account, pulling together all the evidence from the inquiries, the memoirs and Corera’s own sources, of how MI6’s over-confidence led it to misjudge the thinnest and most unreliable of intelligence.

Corera has a particularly fine quotation from Our Man in Havana, by Graham Greene, which captures the mentality that led Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of MI6, to share untested information with the Prime Minister but not with the experts at the Defence Intelligence Service:
They weren’t seen by experts. You forget this is a Secret Service. We have to protect our sources. We can’t allow documents like that to reach anyone who really knows.