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Blair accused of using intelligence for PR

By Colin Brown, Deputy Political Editor

29 October 2004

Britain's former deputy chief of defence intelligence yesterday accused Tony Blair of misusing intelligence terminology to describe the threat from Saddam Hussein before the attack on Iraq.

In an astonishing attack on the "culture of spin" introduced under New Labour in 1997, John Morrison, one of the most senior intelligence analysts at the Ministry of Defence, said intelligence had been used as a "public relations tool" to be used to win the public debate since Mr Blair came to power.

"There was a culture of news management that came in after 1997 which I had never seen before and intelligence got swept up in that," Mr Morrison said. He did not say the Prime Minister had distorted the evidence, but his remarks reopened damaging wounds caused by the death of Dr David Kelly, the weapons expert, and allegations that intelligence dossiers had been "sexed up", which were investigated by the Hutton and Butler inquiries.

Mr Morrison was sacked as the chief investigator to the Prime Minister's special intelligence committee months ago after appearing on a Panorama programme. In his first interview since, he said he was fired because he had been "rude" about the Prime Minister on Panorama about the misuse of intelligence. He said he could hear the "collective raspberry" in Whitehall from intelligence staff at Mr Blair saying Saddam was a threat to Britain, but he had no regrets.

"I felt somebody had to speak up about the misuse of intelligence by MI6, in not handling it properly, the misuse of intelligence by the senior management in the Defence Intelligence Staff and misuse of intelligence terminology by the Prime Minister in talking about a threat when no threat existed," he said.

Defence analysts were being pressured during the Desert Fox campaign in 1998 by the MoD press office to offer intelligence reports showing the bombing had been a success. "It got to the point at which individual analysts were being rung up by the press office and were being asked to say, 'This is great, isn't it?'. I wasn't having that."

Mr Morrison said the pressure did not necessarily come from outside the MoD but the press office wanted information for 10 Downing Street's news management "grid".

When it came to the Kosovo campaign, Mr Morrison said: "Once bitten, twice shy. What I did, in effect, was, within my crisis staff, set up, in effect, my own press office to handle the MoD press office. I took a very senior and tough-minded analyst and told him, 'This is your job, to keep the press office off the analysts' backs and make sure we only say in public what we are absolutely certain about'.

"We were under constant pressure to field talking heads at the press conference, to have themes for individual days and it was a very tricky balance not to reveal what one shouldn't."

The Conservative leader, Michael Howard, mounted an immediate attack on the lack of trust in the Prime Minister that the Tories intend to make a central theme of their general election campaign strategy.

Mr Howard said: "What he has done is to blow open the dodgy way this Government operates. These are extremely grave allegations and their significance extends way beyond the war in Iraq." Bob Marshall-Andrews, a Labour MP and leading critic of the war, said Mr Blair had refused to disclose in written Commons answers the date when he was told the 45-minute claim had been withdrawn by the intelligence services.

"There is something wrong here," said Mr Marshall-Andrews, a QC. "If he was in the dock, I would cross-examine him to find out precisely when he was told. He says he was told as a result of the Butler inquiry. The question is whether he knew at the time of the Hutton inquiry?"

Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, will appear before the Commons Select Committee on Defence on Tuesday. Questions are likely to be asked on the redeployment of British troops.