18 November 2011

Iraq Inquiry Update

The last reference to Sir John Chilcot’s Iraq Inquiry on this blog was on 17 October in the form of an update to an earlier posting. The Observer had learnt that the Inquiry report might not be published until June 2012. Late on 16 November, there were media reports of the following statement, now available in full on the Inquiry’s website:
… The Inquiry has advised the Government that it will need until at least summer 2012 to produce a draft report which will do justice to the issues involved. Very considerable progress has already been made, but there is still much to be done.
As well as drafting the report, the Inquiry will need to negotiate the declassification of a significant volume of currently classified material with the Government, to enable this to be quoted in, or published alongside, the Inquiry’s report. That process has begun, but there will be a series of further major requests as drafting progresses. The Inquiry has made clear that it will need co-operation from the Government in completing this in a satisfactory and timely manner. …
which confirmed one aspect of the Observer story, except ‘at least summer 2012’ might well be interpreted as later than June.

Coincidentally, the Inquiry had been mentioned earlier on 16 November by the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, in an address, Securing our future, about ‘the role of secret intelligence in foreign policy’. As well as the use and importance of the Intelligence Agencies’ contribution, he:
set out what the Government is doing to tackle the lessons of the past, and to strengthen the independent and Parliamentary oversight of the Agencies for the future
and he later stated:
This Government believes that Britain’s national interest is served best when diplomacy is informed by Intelligence, and Intelligence is balanced by diplomatic assessments.
This means that Intelligence is weighed and assessed alongside all other sources of information available to us including diplomatic reporting and the insights of other government departments; judged in the context of the Government’s overall strategy and objectives; and brought together to make careful decisions which are considered in the National Security Council.
We also recognise that serious issues have been raised by the events of recent years that have to be addressed decisively and with clarity.
Intelligence throws up some of the most difficult ethical and legal questions that I encounter as Foreign Secretary, with which my predecessors in this position also have had to grapple.
Some of them relate to the past use of Intelligence in reaching and justifying decisions in foreign policy – the most controversial instance of this, the Iraq War, is currently the subject of an Inquiry.
He went on to deal with allegations of UK complicity in extraordinary rendition, and, should such matters come to court, put forward
:… proposals to ensure that cases involving national security information can be heard fairly, fully and safely in our courts, and that we protect British interests by preventing the disclosure of genuinely sensitive material. This includes intelligence information shared with Britain by intelligence partners overseas.
He then went on to make the point:
The ability of other countries to share Intelligence with us without fear we will have to disclose it here or overseas is absolutely vital to our national interest. This is managed under the Control Principle, a strict rule of intelligence sharing whereby any further use or disclosure of intelligence requires the agreement of the Agency that provided it in the first place. If we cannot uphold the control principle and others do not share information with us, the very real risk is that our security will be jeopardised.
And to underline this:
Intelligence really is like a jigsaw in which we very rarely have all the pieces, and rely on others to share the pieces they have with us just as they often rely on us to help them in the same way. It is the analysis of information from our partners along with our own intelligence that enables us to piece together each snippet of information with others to create the fullest possible picture of the threats to our national security and to act against them.
He said the Government intends:
to make the Intelligence and Security Committee a statutory Committee of Parliament, reporting formally to Parliament, and to enable it to take evidence from any Department or body in the wider intelligence community. It also proposes careful consideration of extending the Committee’s remit to include retrospective review of certain operational aspects of the work of the Agencies where there are matters of significant national interest. We also propose that the Committee be given the power to require information from the Agencies, bringing it more in line with Parliamentary Select Committees, but with this power subject to a veto only from the Secretary of State where national security so requires it.
Together, these statements suggest that the Iraq Inquiry may have its work cut out if it is to ‘negotiate the declassification of a significant volume of currently classified material with the Government, to enable this to be quoted in, or published alongside, the Inquiry’s report’. Also, if there were a need for a similar Inquiry to Chilcot’s in the future, presumably it would fall under the remit for retrospective review of the statutory Intelligence and Security Committee.

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