The Butler Review

Lord Butler’s Review of Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction was published in July 2004. Sir John Chilcot was a member of Lord Butler’s team. The Butler report was critical of the quality of the intelligence used as a justification for the war and its public presentation but was itself criticised for pulling its punches. Evidence that has come into the public domain since the report has led to further criticism.

Why there is a case to answer

It has also been alleged that members of the Review team had a vested interest in softening the Review’s conclusions. The team had access to the highest levels of government and to many highly secret government documents. However, since it published its report a number of documents have come into the public domain that were either not covered by the report or not described accurately. It is not clear whether the Review saw all of these documents but they are vitally important as they call into question its main assumptions, including the assumption that the aim of UK policy was Iraqi disarmament and the assumption that the Joint Intelligence Committee had “authorship” of the September 2002 dossier.

The Review Team’s objectivity

In the New Statesman in 2008, former Defence Intelligence Staff Brian Jones wrote: “I have recently become aware that, from the outset, the Butler review team was determined to do what it could to preserve public confidence in British intelligence.”

The most serious questions arise over the influence of Ann Taylor, who was chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee in the run up to the war. Evidence published by the Hutton inquiry shows that she gave partisan presentational advice during the drafting of the dossier. This should have disqualified her from taking part in any inquiry on the issue but it has been alleged that she repeatedly argued for the Review’s findings to be toned down.

Recently published documents


The Downing Street documents

Perhaps the most significant set of documents to come into the public domain since Butler are the Downing Street documents, which were leaked in 2004 and 2005. These appear to show that the government set out to achieve regime change in Iraq, with wmd as a pretext. The question of whether the Review saw these documents is crucial as its report explicitly accepted the assumption that dealing with Iraq’s wmd was the central aim of UK policy in the run-up to the war. Read more

The John Williams draft dossier

The first draft of the September 2002 dossier, by Foreign Office press secretary John Williams was released under the Freedom of Information Act in February 2008. There is no reference to the draft in the Butler report, which accepts the view that the Joint Intelligence Committee had “authorship” of the dossier.

The Desmond Bowen Memo

In March 2009 the Cabinet Office was forced to disclose a memo from Desmond Bowen, formerly deputy head of its Defence and Overseas Secretariat. In the memo, Bowen invited JIC chairman John Scarlett to consider removing the caveats and qualifications that would appear in an authentic JIC paper. The question of whether Butler saw this memo is highly significant as the Review concluded that the absence of these caveats and qualifications in the published dossier was accidental.

Intelligence that Iraq did not have wmd

Since the report was published it has been alleged that two highly placed Iraqi sources provided intelligence (which turned out to be correct) that Iraq did not have wmd. The first of these sources is said to have provided information to the CIA, which was passed on in some form to UK intelligence. The second is alleged to have provided information to MI6 directly. It is not clear whether the Review was told about this intelligence: there is no explicit reference to the issue.