by Chris Ames
First the good news. The Cabinet Office has told me that the Inquiry will publish the notorious email that the then Joint Intelligence Committee chairman, John Scarlett, sent the head of the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) as it failed to find weapons of mass destruction in post-invasion Iraq.
But the bad news is that the Cabinet Office has used this as an excuse not to release (most of) the email under the Freedom of Information Act, even though it knows (and has been told by the Information Commissioner) that it cannot use this excuse, given that the intention to publish followed by FOI request.
As Digest contributor Rod Barton sets out here, Scarlett’s email in March 2004 was an attempt to sex up the ISG’s Status Report, to cover the UK government’s embarrassment.
If it doesn’t get lost in the rest of the report, disclosure of the Scarlett email will be a major scandal, albeit that Scarlett is likely to get a lot of stick for the government’s misuse of shaky intelligence in the September 2002 Iraq dossier and has already been discredited for trying to sex up the dossier the first time round.
The Cabinet Office should be given credit for admitting that some of the exemptions that it applied, relating to national security and international relations, cannot be applied over a decade on, although it says that the FOI Act Section 23 exemption relating to security bodies still applies to some information.
That isn’t stopping the Inquiry publishing the full memo. However, the Cabinet Office says that a “subsequent” request from the Inquiry, to which it agreed, means that the document is “therefore exempt under s22” of the Act.
More bizarrely, the Information Commissioner has gone further than the Cabinet Office in assessing that the whole document is exempt under s23.
The Information Commissioner: finding new ways to restrict the public’s access to information.