| Prime Minister Tony Blair with daughter Kathryn in his constituency in Sedgefield in Co Durham at a party to celebrate Blair’s 20th anniversary as an MP. (Reuters)
London, June 8: Tony Blair’s closest adviser has written a personal letter apologising to Sir Richard Dearlove, the chief of the secret intelligence service, for discrediting the service with the release to journalists last January of the so-called “dodgy dossier” on Iraq and weapons of mass destruction.
The disclosure that Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister’s director of strategy and communications, apologised to the head of MI6 for the dossier, Iraq: Its Infrastructure of Concealment, Deception and Intimidation, will fuel claims that Downing Street was involved in “doctoring” intelligence reports before the war.
The Daily Telegraph has learnt that Campbell put his apology in writing to end a potentially damaging row with the intelligence service over the dossier after it was revealed that parts were lifted via the internet from a 12-year-old thesis by an American student.
Senior intelligence officers were furious that randomly assembled material had been combined with MI6 reports by the coalition information centre, a special unit set up by Campbell inside the foreign office.
The information was not put through the normal checks in Whitehall, including the approval of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), chaired by John Scarlett, before it was published. One intelligence officer disowned the document at the time, saying: “We are not responsible for this bastard offspring.”
It is not clear whether the apology to Sir Richard — known as “C” — was written on the orders of the Prime Minister or on Campbell’s own initiative. He will be questioned about the disclosure by MPs who are investigating allegations that Blair “duped” the country to hasten the war on Iraq, made by Clare Short, the former international development secretary.
Senior members of the Commons foreign affairs select committee, chaired by the Labour MP Donald Anderson, said they would summon Campbell to give evidence. Blair and Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, will be called as well. “We will want to question Campbell about his role in this,” said a senior Labour member of the committee. Blair, Campbell and Straw will be called to give evidence by the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), which is carrying out a parallel inquiry.
The ISC, which reports directly to Blair, will reveal in its annual report tomorrow that it called on the Prime Minister to co-operate with an inquiry into the use of intelligence reports on Iraq by Downing Street a month ago. Committee members were annoyed that Blair refused to give his approval until last week, when pressure for an inquiry became intense.
"We asked him in early May to co-operate. He has only replied now because of the pressure," said one MP on the committee. Mr Blair is continuing to resist Tory demands for a full judicial independent inquiry into claims that he misled the country with two intelligence dossiers.
In a report last September, which was attacked by Ms Short, Mr Blair claimed that Saddam Hussein was able to deploy weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes. This report was cleared by the JIC and the intelligence service remains convinced, like Mr Blair, that its assertions will be proved to be accurate.
Mr Campbell has never publicly admitted his role in the preparation of the much more controversial January document. That second dossier, passed to journalists on Mr Blair's trip to Washington to discuss war plans, said it drew upon "a number of sources, including intelligence material".
The second dossier prompted widespread criticism of the quality of British intelligence in the run-up to the war in Iraq. A senior Whitehall official said: "It devalued the currency, there is no question about that. There is a dispute about who saw what. But it is clear that the Joint Intelligence Committee was not involved. It was a monumental cock-up."