LONDON – A former British intelligence chief expressed concern Monday that government policy toward Iraq was influencing the gathering of intelligence in the runup to the war.
The comments by former Defense Intelligence chief Sir John Walker (search) come two days before the release of a potentially damaging report on the quality of British intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (search). The report will be published Wednesday by retired civil service chief Lord Butler.
Walker told British Broadcasting Corp. radio Monday that information produced by the spy agencies normally guided government policy. But in the months leading up to the war, that principle had been reversed, he said.
"It seems to me that policy was driving intelligence and that is an extremely dangerous thing to do as a nation-state," Walker told BBC radio.
Walker left the Ministry of Defense in 1995, two years before Prime Minister Tony Blair (search) was elected.
In the runup to the war, Blair was adamant that Saddam Hussein (search) possessed stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. In a dossier published by the government in September 2002 as it built a case for war, Blair wrote that intelligence had established "beyond doubt" that Saddam continued to produce chemical and biological weapons.
However, the Iraq Survey Group's (search) hunt for evidence has proved largely fruitless.
Butler's inquiry aims to establish why there is such a gap between intelligence "gathered, evaluated and used by the government" and the lack of evidence on the ground in Iraq.
The September dossier was drawn up by Britain's Joint Intelligence Committee, which assesses raw intelligence. Committee chairman John Scarlett signed off on the document before it was published by Blair's government.
Walker, a former deputy chairman of JIC, said he had never known the committee being used in such a way.
"I have never in my experience come across the JIC being used in this way before. It was clearly way outside the normal way in which the JIC operates," he told the BBC.
"The normal run of the system should be that intelligence produces the information that it can from the information that it has and produces that information to government and policy-makers. It is intelligence into policy. The thing that does worry me about this, because of the dire results of it — let's face it, the nation went to war — is that that was reversed."
Three previous inquiries have cleared the government of acting dishonestly or misusing the intelligence made available to it to bolster the case for toppling Saddam Hussein.
But a parliamentary inquiry last year said intelligence assessments failed to reflect "the uncertainties and gaps in the U.K.'s knowledge about the Iraqi biological and chemical weapons."
In recent months Blair has retreated from his confident assertions that Iraq had stockpiles of illicit weapons.
"I have to accept that we have not found them and that we may not find them," he told a House of Commons committee last week. "We do not know what has happened to them; they could have been removed, they could have been hidden, they could have been destroyed."