Book review: Failing intelligence. The true story of how we were fooled into going to war in Iraq by Brian Jones
Monitoring and challenging the machinations of established power can be a difficult and exhausting business.
Take, for example, the US and UK invasion of Iraq in 2003. Concerned members of the public had to quickly familiarise themselves with the contents of two dodgy dossiers, complex negotiations at the United Nations, the basics of international law, the history of weapons inspections and the deceptive public statements of the Government itself. With numerous parliamentary inquires and the continuous leaking of secret documents in the aftermath of the invasion, even the most industrious researcher must have found it difficult to keep up to date and process all the pertinent facts and events.
Written by Dr Brian Jones, the assistant director of intelligence for nuclear, biological and chemical at the UK’s Defence Intelligence Service before he resigned on the eve of the war, Failing Intelligence is an important jigsaw piece in understanding the race to war.
The book focuses on the intelligence aspects of the justification for the invasion, in particular the now discredited September 2002 dossier, which included Tony Blair’s claim that “the threat is serious and current” because “the assessed intelligence has established beyond doubt is that Saddam has continued to produce chemical and biological weapons”.
Although he supported the attack on Iraq at the time, just before the publication of the dossier Jones sent an internal memo to his line manager setting out a number of serious concerns he and a colleague had with the language of the dossier, arguing its contents did not reflect the intelligence currently available. He subsequently detailed his misgivings in more depth when he publicly testified at the Hutton and Butler Inquiries.
Paradoxically, the book’s unique selling point – Jones’s inside knowledge of Whitehall – is arguably its main weakness. So while Failing Intelligence provides an extremely detailed account of discussions within the British intelligence community in 2002/3, it overlooks wider questions. For example, the murderous UN sanctions are given the briefest of mentions, while the possibility that control of oil or geo-political advantage many have been motives for the invasion is ignored. No doubt Jones’s would argue these fall outside of his area of expertise and therefore the book’s remit, but what about Hussain Kamil, the head of Iraq’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programmes, who defected in 1995? Jones does refer to Kamil, but it seems bizarre in the extreme that he doesn’t mention the key section of Kamil’s testimony to UN inspectors: “All weapons – biological, chemical, missile, nuclear, were destroyed.”
More interesting is Jones’s statement that the intelligence Bill Clinton and Blair used in the 1998 attacks on Sudan and Iraq “was no better than that available to President Bush in 2002-3” and his dissection of what are known as the Downing Street Memos. While Blair was publicly stating he was interested in pursing a peaceful resolution to the crisis through the UN, Jones accurately notes these top-secret documents show that “the real policy was to devise a trap for Saddam in order to justify the military action.”
Jones should be applauded for taking on this complex topic. It is therefore unfortunate that the book’s dense prose is, to be frank, often monotonous, which at best makes reading it something of a chore and at worst produces a book that is effectively inaccessible to all but the most persistent. A shame, because anything that shines a light on what historian Mark Curtis called “a government propaganda campaign of perhaps unprecedented heights” deserves a wide readership.
Failing intelligence. The true story of how we were fooled into going to war in Iraq is published by Biteback, priced £9.99.
*Ian Sinclair is a freelance writer based in London, UK. firstname.lastname@example.org or http://twitter.com/#!/IanJSinclair