Transcript: John Reid v John Humphrys
Transcript of this morning's interview on BBC Radio 4's Today programme between the leader of the Commons, John Reid, and John Humphrys
Wednesday June 4, 2003
John Humphrys: These rogue elements within the intelligence services. Who are they?
John Reid: Well, first of all can I just correct, because it is absolutely essential here as you keep saying that we have not only honesty but accuracy, let me just correct some of the things in your introduction.
First of all, the implication that I referred at any stage, or we did, to spies, we didn't, or an MI6 plot, we didn't.
JH: Neither did I, incidentally.
JR: Well, they were included in the allegations that were apparently made this morning. Thirdly, you said last week you had made allegations based on intelligence sources, plural. You didn't. You based it on an intelligence source.
JH: The quote came from a source. The allegations were based on four different sources.
JR: No, they weren't last week, until this morning when Andrew Gilligan conveniently found three other unnamed sources.
JH: Well, for the first time this morning a senior minister made allegations about rogue elements within the intelligence services, which is why we are pursuing the story.
JR: John, you were wrong in saying last week you made allegations based on sources. Will you please accept that?
JH: No. I won't. I have just talked to...
JR: Last week you made allegations based on a source.
JH: You heard what Andrew Gilligan said a moment ago and I am having to rely on Andrew Gilligan just as you are having to rely on your own information and Andrew Gilligan has been consistently right over his reporting of Iraq.
Let me answer the question since you have asked it, if I may, and that is that the quote, the specific quote that he used, came from a single source. He has talked to four different sources connected with or actually within the intelligence agencies.
JR: Let me read to you from a transcript of last Thursday. "But what I have been told is that the government knew that claim was questionable even before the war" - this is the eight o'clock transcript - "even before they wrote it in the dossier. I have spoke to a British official who was involved in the preparation of the dossier."
Up until this morning, last week's allegations were based on one quote. Now, it is only one source.
Secondly, there were two more serious allegations which actually Andrew Gilligan misrepresented this morning again.
The first is he said the other dossier had been presented by the government - this is the so-called 'dodgy one' - as being from intelligence sources. That is untrue, completely untrue. The front page of that said that the information had been collated from a range of sources including intelligence sources.
JH: Was it not presented to the nation as the prime minister's view of what was going on?
JR: John, I am talking about the dossier which was called the dodgy dossier ... Andrew Gilligan said not more than five minutes ago that was presented as - his actual words were - the dossier had claimed to be from intelligence sources.
JH: You are not putting up a bit of smoke here, are you, Dr Reid? I'd love you to answer the question I asked you.
JR: Sure. I just want accuracy and truth.
JH: Well, that is what I am trying to get from you as well.
JR: Right, well, let me give you the final untruth this morning. The final untruth this morning from your reporter was that his central claim was that we had sort of over-emphasised the information put into the dossier last week. That was not his central claim. At 6.07am last week when this story started, Andrew Gilligan said this: 'The government probably knew that the 45-minute figure was wrong even before it put it in.'
The central original allegation was that we deceived intentionally the people of this country and the second allegation ...
JH: That is your interpretation, that is your interpretation.
JR: Well, listen, your listeners can listen to the quote again: 'The government probably knew that the 45-minute figure was wrong even before it decided to put it in.'
If any of your listeners can interpret that as anything other than an allegation of dishonesty, of putting in information we knew to be wrong, that it would confound me if they can decide that.
The second thing ...
JH: Sorry, but if you are making a serious accusation like that - and I do want to repeat the question that I asked you ...
JR: Check the transcript.
JH: I am not disputing your transcript, Dr Reid. Of course I am not, that would be foolish of me because I am sure you have that right. What I am disputing is your interpretation of it.
He used the word "probably". Since then we have had absolutely not a single shred of evidence to prove that that 45-minute claim was right.
JR: John ...
JH: Now if you can provide that for me on this programme now, I have no doubt that Andrew Gilligan would be very happy to come on the programme and say "Well, that is terribly interesting. Let's have another look at it".
JR: John, that is a lovely sleight of hand.
JH: Well that's what you have been doing for the last eight minutes, if I may say so.
JR: Well, you can say anything you like. It doesn't make it correct. It is a sleight of hand because this is the question at issue. Not whether we are capable of making judgments that are right or wrong. Of course anyone, indeed even journalists John, are capable of making judgments that are wrong.
We were not accused of that. We were not accused of something maybe right or maybe wrong. We were accused of dishonesty, John. We were accused of forcing the security services to produce information in a public document in an attempt to dupe the people of this country by putting in false information.
JH: Now you are using language that we did not use at any time - unless you have transcripts of that as well.
JR: Well, I have just used it.
JH: Forced you? Forced the security services to provide information to dupe the people of this country?
I don't remember me saying that. I don't remember Andrew Gilligan saying that.
JR: Do you not? Well, I have got Andrew Gilligan's quotations here from last week. Do you want me to go through them?
JH: Well, you have already done that.
JR: That is because I believe in arguing on the basis of the facts.
JH: Well, I'd love you to answer a couple of questions that I have got lined up for you this morning, if that is possible. Can I do that?
JR: Of course you can.
JH: Let me ask you the first one then again and that is who do you think are these rogue elements within the intelligence services who are using this row over weapons of mass destruction to undermine the government? Who are they?
JR: Well, first of all they are anonymous, their position is not known, they have uncorroborated evidence. Up until this morning they were small in number. One of them was certainly the person who had been briefing Andrew Gilligan. It now appears he has three others that have appeared that he didn't tell us about in the past week. So there is four.
And the tragic thing about this is that I have the greatest respect for our intelligence services.
I know from working with them in Northern Ireland and defence, as well as during Iraq, that they are courageous, honest, professional, loyal people, the vast majority from top to bottom.
And it is quite frankly a disgrace that the leadership of those intelligence security services - from the chairman of the joint intelligence committee through all of the leaders who sit in that committee - should have had their integrity impugned over the last week by one or two unnamed individuals who claim to be associated. Even this morning ...
JH: You want to return to Andrew Gilligan. I'd very much like to ask you about the things you yourself have been saying, if I may. That is one of the reasons you are on this morning, I think.
You are yourself saying there are rogue elements - plural not singular - within the intelligence services. Another government minister unnamed, we think we probably know who it is, or a government senior figure, says the government has been the victim of skulduggery.
JR: I didn't say that.
JH: Do you know who did?
JR: No, I didn't ...
JH: I didn't say you did. Let's not deny things that I haven't suggested ...
JR: What I have said ...
JH: A bit of skulduggery and people are out to settle scores. Is that right?
JR: What I have said, and it is a quote in the Times, is that there are, I said, a rogue element because I thought there was one that was briefing Andrew Gilligan or indeed I said indeed elements because there may be the same source, there may be the same person, who is briefing the Independent on Sunday and various others, I don't know. But they are very much in the minority.
And what annoys me, John, is not that they are attacking me for my judgment or the prime minister, of course they are entitled to do that, well, the public are. They are supposed to be loyal and professional, admittedly.
But it doesn't hurt so much. What does annoy me is that the fact that the integrity of the joint intelligence committee is being impugned.
JH: Let's stay, let's stay, let's stay, may I stay ... because you want to move on again now and I am trying to hold you to this if I may, just to be a bit clear about this, because it seems to a lot of people that if there are these rogue elements within the intelligence services who clearly are doing quite a lot of damage to the government if they are to look at the coverage of the newspapers and on the BBC and other news services over the past few weeks, clearly doing a lot of damage. This is a very serious matter. What are you going to do about it?
JR: Obviously, the first thing we have to do about it is try and convince people like yourself and the public that we are not guilty of the allegations. That they are unfounded, that they are uncorroborated and that they should be very wary of anything that comes not only from individual, isolated sources but which stands in complete contrast to what is being said by the whole of the rest of the intelligence services up to and including the leadership.
JH: Do you want to find them?
JH: Do you want to find them? Is there going to be an inquiry?
JR: Well, I mean, leaks happen in all departments. Now ...
JH: It's a leak now?
JH: It is a leak now?
JH: It's a very different sort of notion if these are leaks. That's a very different notion because leaks are usually truthful, aren't they?
JR: Not in my experience, no they are not. Are they in yours?
JH: Well, yes, to be perfectly honest. If you use the word leak and it comes out of a department, then they tend in the end to be reinforced, don't they?
But if you don't know who these people are, this is my point, really ...
JR: John ...
JH: No, it's an important point I'm making ...
JR: If you study the history of leaks from the intelligence agencies over the past 60 years, you will probably find that your contention that they are accurate is way wide of the mark.
JH: That would be fine, perhaps, if it was the odd disaffected intelligence officer, some junior figure somewhere or other who was dripping a bit of poison into somebody's ears ...
JR: They are anonymous. It could be a man in the pub.
JH: I rather think that people like Andrew Gilligan can distinguish between an intelligence officer and a man in the pub but there we are ...
JR: He did not actually say he was an intelligence officer. He said he was an official connected with the process of compiling the dossier. I mean, he could have been a printer.
JH: Look, look, this is the point isn't it? ... There are very senior people in the intelligence services who have talked to journalists off the record certainly and for entirely obvious reasons.
JR: I have not seen a shred of evidence ...
JH: Can I just finish the point I was trying to make?
JR: Yes, but on that premise I do not accept it because there is not a shred of evidence ...
JH: You have not heard what I have to say ...
JR: You have already said there are very senior people in the intelligence services speaking to journalists in this fashion. I am contesting that. Let me see the evidence.
JH: Well, let me tell you I myself have spoken to, ah, one or two senior people in the intelligence services who have said things that suggest that the government has exaggerated, did exaggerate, the threat from Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction.
This is not something that has been got up by a few disaffected spooks for you seem yourself unable to explain.
JR: Well, this is a new revelation to me, John. I don't know who you have spoken to.
All I can tell you is I have regularly spoken not only to the most senior - in plural - but the most senior at regular intervals in our intelligence services up to and including yesterday. And I can tell you they absolutely refute what is being said because not only is it an attack on the prime minister and politicians, it is an attack on the integrity of they themselves.
JH: Are you going to have an inquiry? Final thought.
JR: Well, the way we do things in this country is through select committees.
And I no more dictate what the select committees will choose to investigate than the prime minister dictates what the intelligence services will choose to discover, analyse and produce as information.
JH: John Reid, many thanks.
JR: Thank you, John.