Sunday, 9 February 2003

MI6 and CIA: the new enemy within

Tony Blair and George Bush are encountering an unexpected obstacle in their campaign for war against Iraq – their own intelligence agencies.

Britain and America's spies believe that they are being politicised: that the intelligence they provide is being selectively applied to lead to the opposite conclusion from the one they have drawn, which is that Iraq is much less of a threat than their political masters claim. Worse, when the intelligence agencies fail to do the job, the politicians will not stop at plagiarism to make their case, even "tweaking" the plagiarised material to ensure a better fit.

"You cannot just cherry-pick evidence that suits your case and ignore the rest. It is a cardinal rule of intelligence," said one aggrieved officer. "Yet that is what the PM is doing." Not since Harold Wilson has a Prime Minister been so unpopular with his top spies.

The mounting tension is mirrored in Washington. "We've gone from a zero position, where presidents refused to cite detailed intel as a source, to the point now where partisan material is being officially attributed to these agencies," said one US intelligence source.

Mr Blair is facing an unprecedented, if covert, rebellion by his top spies, who last week used the politicians' own weapon – the strategic leak – against him. The BBC received a Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS) document which showed that British intelligence believes there are no current links between the Iraqi regime and the al-Qa'ida network. The classified document, written last month, said there had been contact between the two in the past, but it assessed that any fledgling relationship foundered due to mistrust and incompatible ideologies.

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