Alastair Campbell has hasn’t given an inch on the infamous intelligence dossier. There have been a few laughs in the press room, not least when he claimed he was never obsessed with headlines.
One recurrent theme (apart from his insistence that nothing was wrong with the dossier) is his reluctance to say a bad word against Sir John Scarlett, the then head of the Joint Intelligence Committee, who he holds in “huge regard”.
But I’m unconvinced the spies will be happy with his representation of their role in presenting intelligence. Campbell’s defence looks suspiciously like he’s passing the buck to the spymasters.
1) He appeared to contradict Sir John by saying that the JIC team could have challenged Blair on any part of the foreword to the dossier.
“If John Scarlett and any of his team had had any concerns of real substance about the foreword they could have taken that up with the prime minister.”
Sir John, by contrast, told the Inquiry that he saw the foreword as a “overtly political” document that should probably have been separated from the intelligence.
2) When pressed over the foreword claim that the intelligence was “beyond doubt”, Campbell again suggests Sir John would have no problems with that, and indeed presented his conclusions in those terms, at least in meetings. Sir John Chilcot at one point challenges Campbell’s defence of the document by saying that intelligence “never establishes anything beyond doubt”. Campbell replies:
“All I said will say to you is that it’s the prime minister presenting an intelligent document to parliament and saying that he believes it. I have been in meetings with John Scarlett and intelligence officials and is that what they were saying? Yes it is.”
Campbell, with great confidence, just argued the words “beyond doubt” are “not definitive”. He stands by the phrase. “At the time that was the judgement that [Blair] was led to make“, he said.
3) Thirdly Campbell says Sir John Scarlett and Sir Richard Dearlove, then head of MI6, described the intelligence services as effectively united in consensus over the presentation of the evidence. Campbell says that he was never made aware of any dissent within the agencies (even though there was some at senior levels) apart from a couple of reports in the press.
John Scarlett, Richard Dearlove and others made clear that this did not represent the view of the leadership of the agencies of there view of how most people in the agencies felt.
** James Kirkup of the Telegraph has more on this.