Iraq inquiry backs new MI6 chief
LONDON, England -- The inquiry into British intelligence ahead of the Iraq war has expressed support for the spy chief who drew up the government dossier.
The report by Lord Butler acknowledged that its findings would lead to calls for the resignation of John Scarlett, who has since been appointed chief of Britain's secret intelligence service, known as MI6.
But the report said it was hoped Scarlett would stay on. "We have a high regard for his abilities and his record," it said.
As chairman of Britain's Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), Scarlett approved the September 2002 dossier which claimed that some Iraqi weapons could be deployed within 45 minutes.
Butler's report was highly critical of intelligence-gathering in Iraq and said the 45-minute claim should not have been included in the dossier.
But it also said the inquiry had found no evidence that the JIC's assessments in the run-up to the war showed "deliberate distortion or culpable negligence."
Butler told a news conference that intelligence failures were "collective" and that Scarlett should not bear sole responsibility.
In a report last year following the death of UK weapons scientist David Kelly, Lord Hutton found that Scarlett may have been "subconsciously influenced" by Blair's desire for strong evidence on WMD.
A day prior to Butler's report, two Labour Party backbenchers -- Jeremy Corbyn and Alice Mahon -- offered a parliamentary motion calling for Scarlett's removal as head of MI6.
"Since the inquiry is going on into the effectiveness or otherwise of the intelligence service and he is part of the subject-matter of the inquiry, it seems very strange that he should be promoted in the middle of the inquiry," Corbyn told the UK's Press Association.
Prime Minister Tony Blair's appointment of Scarlett to the top job in MI6 on May 6 was met with an unprecedented political outcry.
Critics said Blair should have waited until after Butler's report before appointing Scarlett to lead MI6.
In contrast to previous holders of the post -- known simply as "C" -- Scarlett was already a well-known figure for his appearances at the Hutton inquiry into Kelly's death, with his picture appearing repeatedly on TV, in newspapers and on the Internet.
In contrast to most JIC chairmen, who are generally senior diplomats, Scarlett was an ambitious career officer with MI6.
He joined MI6 in 1971 with a history degree from Oxford and rose steadily through the ranks with postings in eastern Africa, London and Moscow.
He made his name in the early 1980s as a case officer for senior KGB officer Oleg Gordievsky, who was working as a British double agent while serving at the Soviet Embassy in London.
Scarlett set up a safe house where he would photograph secret documents smuggled out of the embassy by Gordievsky during lunch breaks.
As MI6 station chief in Moscow in the 1990s, Scarlett pulled off a second coup when he arranged to bring KGB archivist Vasili Mitrokhin out of Russia -- along with a vast stash of documents he had hidden under his dacha.
He was expelled from the Russia in 1994, reportedly in retaliation after Britain blocked the posting to London of a Russian official known as Moscow's main emissary to Saddam Hussein.
On his return he was photographed arriving at Heathrow Airport and his picture was published in the press, blowing his cover.
In 2001 -- just days before the September 11 attacks in America -- Scarlett left MI6 to take up the job of JIC chairman.