Security Watch

Abusing state intelligence is to gamble with the future

Chilcot report
Chilcot report.jpg

When political leaders and governments use state intelligence for narrow political games or ignore its advice, they are recklessly gambling with the future of coming generations. (Read more)

This truth has been brought home by the recently published Chilcot report into the decision by Britain’s Blair government to join the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. It in no uncertain terms exposed the disastrous consequences of twisting the truth for the sake of political expediency.
The bulky Chilcot report on Britain’s decision to join the United States to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq, drew much reaction – mostly highly critical of the decision of the then British prime minister, Tony Blair, to enter the war as an ally of the US.
It came after he personally promised President Bush, “I will be with you, whatever ...”
Now there are even demands for Blair to be charged with war crimes.
Those justifying the decision to go to war, on the other hand, argue that toppling Saddam Hussein spared many more lives and brought to an end one of the most brutal dictatorships in recent times.


The irony is that the decision to invade Iraq was based on false and sometimes unverified intelligence. The same intelligence structures, however, were correct in their assessment and warning of the future consequences of the invasion and the forced removal of Saddam Hussein.
For obvious reasons, as no country can function and safeguard national security without an army, it cannot afford not having an intelligence service if it wants to maintain its sovereignty and uphold a peaceful environment for its citizens to prosper in.
But any intelligence service has a sacrosanct responsibility to always, under all circumstances, act honourably and with the utmost circumspection and care, with the available information. If not, the result could be calamitous – as was clearly proven by the aftermath of the Iraq invasion.

Flawed intelligence

From the start there were suspicions that, despite a lack of concrete evidence, a political decision was taken to unseat the Hussein regime violently under the pretext that his arsenal of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) was a threat to regional and international peace.
The lead-up to the invasion of Iraq invasion and the frantic intelligence efforts of US and British operations to find irrefutable evidence of claims that Hussein was stockpiling WMDs are well documented.
British intelligence, in close cooperation with its American counterparts, pulled out all the stops to find the proverbial smoking gun, to convince an increasingly sceptical international community.
British intelligence even persisted in claiming the authenticity of their ‘information’ after a source with “phenomenal access” to the highest echelons of the Iraqi regime and the “key to unlock” the secrets of a chemical and biological arsenal turned out to be a fraud.
The contents of this source’s “watertight” information was remarkably similar to the fictional chemical weapons portrayed in the film The Rock, featuring Nicolas Cage and Sean Connery, best known for his role as Britain’s fictional intelligence officer James Bond, agent 007,
The remarkable lack of quality in the so-called intelligence put forward to place Saddam Hussein in the dock, was astounding.
Hans Blix, the leader of the UN team that inspected the sites of Hussein’s alleged hidden WMD, revealed that when the UN inspectors visited the sites at locations identified British and American intelligence, they found no signs of secret production facilities – supposedly hidden in chicken farms, which turned out to be exactly that, chicken farms.
Some 700 inspections of 500 different sites, suggested by British and US intelligence, found nothing.
While evidence refuting claims of Iraqi maintenance of a WMD arsenal was mounting, British intelligence was inexplicably ignoring the facts, as was the case across the Atlantic in the US.
Critics of the invasion claim that the failure to reassess assumptions about Iraq was because “the train to war had already left the station” – all that was needed was “intelligence” for public justification to persuade what has politically already been decided upon: regime change in Iraq.

Chilcot conclusion

The Chilcot report concludes that the decision to invade Iraq was based on “flawed intelligence” and therefore ill-planned and reckless – a more serious indictment is almost impossible to imagine.
For any intelligence service it is, as for the judiciary, ultimately all about the truth.
Fabricated or altered information can only result in a fiasco as happened in Iraq.
It was, once again, illustrated only last week when a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-rigged lorry in Baghdad, killing at least 250 people including many children and women, making it the deadliest attack since the 2003 invasion.
While British intelligence provided “flawed intelligence”, admittedly with reservation in some circles, to allow for the invasion, Britain’s political leadership was at the same time warned (correctly, as was later confirmed) that invading Iraq would put Britain at risk of increased terror attacks.
In later years Britain indeed fell victim to terror attacks executed by radicalised Islamic fundamentalists, and the threat continues unabatedly.
The Chilcot report reaffirmed the prerequisite that intelligence services should always be subjected to proper, effective and transparent oversight, while they, in turn, should always strive to serve the truth even when under uncomfortable political pressure.
Without such a commitment the world will be a more dangerous place.

Other side of the coin

The other side of the coin is that if governments and their leaders heed sound intelligence advice from a well-functioning, professional intelligence service, it could play a hugely positive role.
This was well illustrated late in the previous century in South Africa when the then governing National Party, led by F.W. de Klerk, heeded the input and advice from its intelligence service.
It made a crucial contribution to the country’s successful and peaceful transition to democracy in 1994.

by Garth Cilliers

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