LONDON -- For 15 years, Brian Jones headed the unit that analyzed nuclear, biological and chemical weapons intelligence data for Britain's Defense Ministry, a job so secret that even his mother did not know what he did.
Then one day last August, he and his wife, Linda, turned on the 6 o'clock news and saw that the lead item was about a confidential letter he had written to his supervisor.
Brian Jones depicts himself as a reluctant whistle-blower whose original motivation was to protect himself and his colleagues bureaucratically.
(David Sandison -- The Independent)
"As it appeared, our chins fell closer to the floor," he recalled with rueful smile. "We had visions of a scrum of journalists gathered around the house. We really didn't want to be in the public arena in this way."
The letter appeared to contradict claims by Prime Minister Tony Blair and other senior officials that there was no significant dissent within the intelligence community over a controversial dossier that the government published in September 2002 to detail its charge that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Without telling Jones, the ministry had turned over the letter to a public inquiry, placing him at the heart of a highly charged dispute over intelligence, politics and the invasion of Iraq.
Since then, the formerly anonymous insider has become a public dissident in Britain, arguing that government officials exaggerated the threat posed by Iraq, overstated the evidence and backed up their conclusions with last-minute raw intelligence that they concealed from Jones and his analysts. The debate has echoed a similar one that broke out in the United States after occupation troops failed to find weapons of mass destruction, whose purported existence was the war's prime justification.
In Britain, two public inquiries have rejected the claim that the government deliberately distorted the spy agencies' reports. Still, Jones's views were exonerated last month when one of the inquiries, the Butler Commission, concluded he had been right to raise concerns about the dossier and that he and his analysts should have been shown the last-minute intelligence, which was later withdrawn as unreliable.
He contends that the government's mistaken claim that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction has done serious harm to the credibility of the intelligence community and to international efforts against such weapons.
"The damage has been considerable, and I think it will continue until exactly what went wrong is clarified," said Jones, sitting in his living room in southwestern England, with Linda at his side, in his first interview with a non-British news organization. Jones, who just turned 60, took early retirement a few months after the dossier was published.
He depicts himself as a reluctant whistle-blower whose original motivation was to protect himself and his colleagues bureaucratically rather than to make a stand on principle. Jones expressed his objections in writing, he says, so that no investigator could come along later and accuse him and his staff of signing off on a flawed dossier. His tale also sheds light on Britain's ultra-secret intelligence establishment's methods, calculations and vulnerabilities.
"In some ways, the whole controversy has done more damage here than in the U.S.," said Gary Samore, a weapons expert at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. "There have been so many intelligence failures in the United States that the reputation of CIA was already dented, whereas here there is still a lot of mystique about MI6," Britain's secret intelligence service.
"It will be a long time before the intelligence community produces this kind of dossier again," Samore added.
When Jones, who has a doctorate in metallurgy, first took over as head of the technical intelligence branch of the agency in 1987, he recalled, his unit largely consisted of experts in weapons materials and chemistry -- with just two men whose specialty was chemical and biological warfare sitting in a corner.
That all started to change in the late 1980s, after the Soviet Union disclosed that it had produced chemical and biological weapons and Iraq began using chemical weapons against Iran. Over the next few years, Jones's unit began to concentrate on such weapons, and in the mid-1990s, it added nuclear components as well. It became known as the primary shop within the British intelligence establishment where data on weapons of potential mass destruction were analyzed and assessed.
MI6 "are the collectors," not the analysts, Jones said. "One of the great sins in intelligence is to allow the people who collect the intelligence to assess its quality, because the very fact they collected it means they are biased. That's why you have analysts who are independent."