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MI6 wins, JIC loses in intelligence shake-up
24 Mar 2004 by Malcolm DruryForeign Secretary Jack Straw has announced new procedures designed to avoid a repeat of the intelligence failures that accidentally led to Britain's inadvertent support of US President "Boy" George W. Bush's war against Iraq contrary to the wishes of Prime Minister Tony Blair.
The announcement was part of a progress report on the government's implementation of last year's Butler Report. Although that report - like its predecessor, the Hutton Report - found the government in general and Mr Blair in particular utterly blameless in all respects concerning the adventure in Iraq, it did make a number of recommendations for improvements to how the government deals with secret intelligence.
In a written statement to the House of Commons Mr Straw said that MI6 has developed new procedures and has been given more money to improve the evaluation of intelligence reports. In addition, he said, the working methods of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) have been "tightened up". JIC was responsible for the controversial dossier on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction that led to Mr Blair's heart-wrenching decision to support Mr Bush, against his better judgement.
Mr Straw's statement did not provide details of the measures that have been adopted. However, Douglas Ramsbottom, a Foreign Office spokesman, told reporters later that among the measures to be taken at MI6 was buying their own copies of international newspapers, currently their chief source of intelligence, rather than having to get on a bus and go to the nearest library to read them.
"That was time-consuming and ineffective," he said, "especially if the papers were late arriving, and frankly we couldn't always be sure that agents had actually gone to the library and not just gone home and made it all up."
He noted that another measure is that JIC members will no longer be allowed to drink sherry during their meetings to assess draft intelligence reports.
"They tended to get through quite a lot of it," he said. "I'm not saying it clouded anyone's judgement, but after three or four glasses things did tend to, let's say, get a bit loose. And by banning it we it we were able to find the extra cash for MI6, so everybody wins."
He said that with those and other measures, which he was not at liberty to divulge, the public could be sure that henceforth all government decisions to go to war would be made on the basis of the soundest of intelligence.
"So when, I mean if, we go in to Iran or Syria, or anywhere President Bush wants us to, really, everyone can rest assured that it will be for a jolly good reason," he added. "Whatever it is."
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