Defence intelligence analyst who challenged the Iraq WMD dossier
Few heroes have emerged from the damaging fiasco – the repercussions of which are far from over – of the Blair government’s discredited dossier on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. But one such was Brian Jones, a meticulous, conscientious, intelligence officer working away in the back rooms of the Ministry of Defence. He emerged reluctantly, but determined to set the record straight.
Jones, who has died aged 67 after a short illness, had read drafts of the weapons dossier released by Downing St in September 2003 during the build-up to the invasion of Iraq. He did not like what he saw. He was concerned in particular about claims the dossier made about Iraqi chemical weapons, including the notorious one that they could be fired within 45 minutes of an order to do so.
The Hutton inquiry into the death of the weapons expert and former UN inspector David Kelly was already getting bogged down when Jones gave evidence in early September 2003. He gave it a healthy, much-needed boost, telling it that the government had indeed “over-egged” its Iraqi weapons dossier.
Jones, responsible for assessing the significance of foreign nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programmes, had worked closely with Kelly. He told Hutton that he had written a memo setting out his concerns days before the weapons dossier was published. The 45-minute claim, he said, was based on “nebulous” information from a secondhand MI6 source. He told the Hutton inquiry that his staff had been “concerned and unhappy” with the way that their intelligence had been used. “The impression I had was that … the shutters were coming down.”
The concerns expressed by Jones and his staff in defence intelligence were ignored as the dossier was pushed through by Downing St, with no proper scrutiny by Whitehall’s Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC).
In one of its few clear conclusions, the Butler review of intelligence, published in July 2004, stated: “Dr Jones was right to raise concerns about the certainty of language used in the dossier on Iraqi production and possession of chemical agents.” Butler criticised MI6 and top officials in the MoD’s defence intelligence staff for not heeding the concerns and words of caution expressed by Jones and his colleagues.
They were fully justified by subsequent JIC reports and evidence to the Chilcot inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath. As a result of Jones’s evidence, the government promised that in future more attention would be paid to experts in defence intelligence.
Jones was born in Bristol of Welsh parents. He studied at Cardiff University, where he was awarded a first-class degree in metallurgy in 1965. Sponsored by the UK Atomic Energy Authority, he later studied the physical metallurgy of nuclear-reactor cores and earned a PhD in 1968.
He took a post as a research scientist with Canada’s atomic energy authority, where he investigated alternative structural materials for nuclear reactors. In 1973, he returned to Britain and joined the admiralty’s marine technology establishment in Dorset. His research focused mainly on the structural integrity of submarines and their nuclear pressure vessels. He was appointed head of metallurgy there in 1979.
Four years later, he was appointed officer in charge of the naval aircraft materials laboratory in Gosport, working on helicopters and Royal Navy jets. Throughout this period, he published many papers in academic journals including Nature, as well as classified reports. He joined the Defence Intelligence Staff in Whitehall in 1987.
After retiring early in 2003, he wrote and lectured about the relationship between politics, intelligence and WMD, and the threat posed by states and terrorists. He was appointed visiting senior research fellow at Southampton University’s Mountbatten centre for international studies. His book, Failing Intelligence: The True Story of How We Were Fooled Into Going to War in Iraq, was published in 2010.
Jones was a rugby fan and a lifelong supporter of Bristol Rovers FC. He was a talented artist, sketching mainly in pen and ink. He also wrote short stories and poetry, though not for publication.
He is survived by his wife, Linda, and two sons.
• Brian Jones, defence intelligence analyst, born 24 August 1944; died 10 February 2012
from Richard Norton-Taylor