We have considered why such a high proportion of human intelligence reports should have been withdrawn or subsequently be subject to doubt.
One reason which is frequently suggested is that, in the case of Iraq, there was over- reliance on emigre´ and dissident sources, who had their own motives for exaggerating the dangers presented by the Iraq regime. But, after examination, we do not believe that over-reliance on dissident and emigre´ sources was a major cause of subsequent weaknesses in the human intelligence relied on by the UK. The important source on Iraqi biological agent production capabilities was a refugee. But his reporting was treated with some caution by the JIC until it appeared to be confirmed by other human intelligence. The subsequent need to withdraw a key part of the reporting received through the liaison service arose as a result of misunderstandings, not because of the source’s status.
A new sub-source to another main source, who provided a significant proportion of influential human intelligence reporting, turned out to have links to opposition groups of which SIS only later became aware. But SIS, once they knew of those links, warned readers in their reports of the risk of embellishment. And the serious doubts that have subsequently arisen on the quality of his reporting do not arise from issues connected with his dissident status.
One reason for the number of agents whose reports turned out to be unreliable or questionable may be the length of the reporting chains. Even when there were sources who were shown to be reliable in some areas of reporting, they had in other areas of intelligence concern where they did not have direct knowledge to draw on sub-sources or sub-sub-sources. This was the case with the first of the two dominant sources.
Another reason may be that agents who were known to be reliable were asked to report on issues going well beyond their usual territory, leading to intelligence reports which were more speculative than they would have provided on their own specialisms. We believe this to have been the case with some aspects of the reporting of the second of the two dominant sources.
A third reason may be that, because of the scarcity of sources and the urgent requirement for intelligence, more credence was given to untried agents than would normally be the case. This was the case with the report received between the JIC assessment of 9 September 2002 and the publication of the Government’s dossier in September 2002.
Reports from two further SIS main sources continue to be regarded as reliable, although it is notable that their reports were less worrying than the rest about Iraqi chemical and biological weapons capabilities.
Reports received from a liaison service on Iraqi production of biological agent were seriously flawed, so that the grounds for JIC assessments drawing on those reports that Iraq had recently-produced stocks of biological agent no longer exist.