In 2002, the British Government produced a dossier which they said proved the case for war in Iraq. Some of the claims were ludicrous, but just a year after a major terrorist attack on New York, we were all too willing to believe that the entire Middle East wanted to kill us. MPs voted in favour of war the following year.
After we and the Americans invaded Iraq and removed its government based on that dodgy dossier, IS, ISIL and similar groups were born from sectarian violence in the power vacuum which followed.
Intelligence and evidence are two separate things and they are not mutually interchangeable. Intelligence can suggest things that evidentially turn out to be totally wrong; the Iraq war is a perfect example of this.
Our security services specialise in the collection of intelligence. They then make assessments based on what they see and hear, but these assessments are, at best, educated guesses.
You’d think that we’d have learned our lesson by now, not to interchange intelligence assessments with evidence? That what the security services say is just their assessment of things, not actual facts? That intelligence assessments handed to governments with agendas can be distorted even further, to suit their own purposes?
Fast-forward to 2015
A week ago, a Russian passenger plane disappeared from radar as it flew over Egypt. A short time later the wreckage of the plane was found. All on board died. The cause of the accident remains unknown.
Within a few days, the British Government was saying that it was ‘more than likely a bomb’ that brought down the aircraft.
Where did this assumption come from?
The Government said that the security services had looked retrospectively at information they held and that they heard ‘chatter’ from people boasting about bringing the plane down, people congratulating each other for the ‘attack’. This coupled with later claims by a terrorist affiliated group in Egypt and very poor security at Sharm el-Sheikh airport have convinced large sections of the media that the aircraft was blown out of the sky.
What is the evidence that supports this intelligence assessment?
Frankly, at the moment, there isn't any - none.
In fact the evidence is to the contrary.
Evidence points toward a catastrophic failure of the airframe. This particular aircraft was badly damaged in 2001. Its tail was repaired. Since then the aircraft has been sold a number of times and its current owner has a less than perfect safety record.
Photographs of the tail section, which was found three miles from the main wreckage, would appear to indicate that this was sheared off in flight while the cabin was still pressurised. In other words - the tail didn't fall off as a result of something causing depressurisation, it came off resulting in depressurisation.
So the evidence at this stage is more likely mechanical failure than a terrorist act. But this is at odds with the intelligence picture isn't it? The intelligence says the opposite.
So why then the haste in showing the intelligence picture to the world? Why not wait until we know the facts? After all this is not even an British plane and there are no British casualties, but British intelligence is said to be leading the way with the intelligence.
At the current time, the Government is trying to sell the Investigatory Powers Bill both to the British public and other MPs. This seeks to enshrine in law the things our security services have been doing for over a decade. I think it's a good thing. In general I support the bill.
No sex please, we're British
However, I can't seem to shake the feeling that their haste to reveal this intelligence picture is in some way ‘sexing up’ what has actually happened because this supports a number of their current agendas - i.e. the bombing of IS in Syria and the Investigatory Powers Bill.
I hope I'm wrong. Intelligence isn't evidence.
We should have learned by now that governments cannot be trusted with intelligence assessments, shouldn't we?