By Tony Rennell
The exhausted secret intelligence officer was heading home after a heavy session analysing reports from Iraq. As he stepped out through the high-security air-lock exit from MI6’s grand headquarters beside the Thames in London, a newspaper-seller’s placard caught his eye — ‘45 minutes from attack,’ it proclaimed.
Alarm bells rang in his head. It was September 2002, and Prime Minister Tony Blair had that day unveiled with great fanfare the government’s dossier detailing Saddam Hussein’s arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, as a justification for going to war.
He knew, in a way the public did not, the precise background to that headline. His first thought was that this was not what the original intelligence report had said. ‘If this goes wrong, we’re all screwed,’ he muttered to himself.
Mopping up: British soldier prepares to jump from a burning tank which was set ablaze in Basra
It did go wrong, spectacularly so, as a new history of MI6 by the BBC’s well-informed security correspondent Gordon Corera recounts. It’s a disturbing story of how tiny sparks of dubious information picked up in the backstreets of Baghdad and elsewhere were fanned into giant flames.