John Scarlett

Sir John McLeod Scarlett KCMG OBE (born 18 August 1948) is a British senior intelligence officer. He was Chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) from 2004 to 2009.[2] Prior to this appointment, he had chaired the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC).

Sir John Scarlett

Sir John Scarlett - Chatham House 2011.jpg
Scarlett speaking at a Chatham House event in 2011
John McLeod Scarlett

(1948-08-18) 18 August 1948 (age 73)
Southwark, London, England
Alma materMagdalen College, Oxford
OccupationIntelligence officer
Espionage activity
AllegianceUnited Kingdom Flag of the United Kingdom.svg
Service branchSecret Intelligence Service (SIS/MI6)
Service years1970–2001; 2004–2009
RankChief of the Secret Intelligence Service


Scarlett was born in Southwark.[3] Fluent in French and Russian, Scarlett was educated at Epsom College and Magdalen College, Oxford, where in 1970 he received a first class degree in history.[4]

In 1968, Scarlett was at Grosvenor Square during a protest against the Vietnam War in front of the United States Embassy and wrote to The Times at the time, criticising the police action.[5]

Shortly afterward, in 1971, he was recruited by MI6 and served in Moscow, Nairobi (1973–1976), and Paris. In 1994, after a tit-for-tat row between the British and Russian authorities, Scarlett was expelled from Moscow where he had been MI6's station chief.[6] He later became Director of Security and Public Affairs.[7]

Joint Intelligence CommitteeEdit

Scarlett took on the role of head of the JIC one week before the September 11 attacks.[8]

The normally secretive intelligence services were thrust into the public gaze in the Summer of 2003 after the death of the eminent government weapons expert, Dr David Kelly. Kelly had been found dead in the Oxfordshire countryside near his home, after being exposed as the source of allegations that the government had "sexed-up" intelligence regarding existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The "classic case" was the claim that Iraq could launch Weapons of Mass Destruction "within 45 minutes of an order to do so"—Dr Kelly had privately dismissed this as "risible".[9]

Scarlett gave evidence at the Hutton Inquiry into the circumstances surrounding Kelly's death.[10] It became clear that Scarlett had worked closely with Alastair Campbell, then British Prime Minister Tony Blair's Director of Communications and Strategy, on the controversial September Dossier, with Campbell making drafting suggestions which the inquiry found may have "subconsciously influenced" Scarlett and the JIC. This influence may have had deleterious effects on the quality of the assessments presented in the dossier. For instance, the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament made several criticisms in their report "Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction: Intelligence and Assessments":

"As the 45 minutes claim was new to its readers, the context of the intelligence and any assessment needed to be explained. The fact that it was assessed to refer to battlefield chemical and biological munitions and their movement on the battlefield, not to any other form of chemical or biological attack, should have been highlighted in the dossier. The omission of the context and assessment allowed speculation as to its exact meaning. This was unhelpful to an understanding of this issue."[11]

Scarlett became the head of SIS on 6 May 2004, before publication of the findings of the Butler Review.[12] Although the review highlighted many failings in the intelligence behind the Iraq war and the workings of the Joint Intelligence Committee, it specifically stated that Scarlett should not resign as head of the Committee and SIS.[13]

On 8 December 2009, Scarlett gave evidence to the Iraq Inquiry. He denied he was under any pressure to "firm up" the September Dossier, and claimed there was "no conscious intention" to mislead about Iraq's weapons but it would have been "better" to have clarified battlefield munitions not missiles were meant.[14]

On 26 June 2011, The Guardian reported on a memo from Scarlett to Blair's foreign affairs adviser, released under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, which referred to "the benefit of obscuring the fact that in terms of WMD Iraq is not that exceptional". The memo has been described as one of the most significant documents on the September dossier yet published as it is considered a proposal to mislead the public.[15]

Post retirementEdit

On 28 January 2011, Scarlett was appointed to the board of Times Newspapers Ltd, part of News International, which publishes The Times and The Sunday Times.[16][17][18] He has previously been a governor of Epsom College,[19] and is the former Chairman of the Bletchley Park Trust.[20]

Knighthood controversyEdit

Scarlett was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George in the 2007 New Year Honours. Scarlett, while Chairman of the JIC, was the principal author of the assessments on which the September Dossier was based, a document partly by which Tony Blair justified to Parliament the invasion of Iraq and which was later found to be "flawed" by the Butler Review.[21]


  1. ^ "John Scarlett". MI6 A Century in the Shadows. 3 August 2009. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 18 January 2014.
  2. ^ "Profile: John Scarlett". BBC News. 30 December 2006. Retrieved 15 June 2008.
  3. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 20 April 2022.
  4. ^ Rose, David (9 May 2004). "A singular spy". The Observer. Retrieved 15 June 2008.
  5. ^ "MI6 chief Scarlett...the anti-Vietnam War rebel of Grosvenor Square 40 years ago". Evening Standard. 13 January 2008. Retrieved 15 June 2020.
  6. ^ "MI-6 versus KGB-FSB: The Battle in Moscow". Axis News. 30 January 2006. Archived from the original on 29 December 2008. Retrieved 15 June 2008.
  7. ^ Aldrich, Richard (2005). "Whitehall and the Iraq War: the UK's four Intelligence Enquiries" (PDF). Irish Studies in International Affairs. 16: 11. doi:10.3318/ISIA.2005.16.1.73. S2CID 154350287.
  8. ^ Evans, Michael (23 August 2003). "Intelligence chief will emerge from a lifetime in the shadows". The Times. Retrieved 15 June 2008.
  9. ^ "Kelly 'taken aback' by Gilligan grilling". BBC News. 4 September 2003. Retrieved 15 June 2008.
  10. ^ Evans, Michael (7 May 2004). "Rise to the top of the spy who came in from the Cold War". The Times. Retrieved 15 June 2008.
  11. ^ "Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction – Intelligence and Assessments" (PDF). Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament. 1 September 2003. Retrieved 31 October 2021.
  12. ^ "Iraq inquiry backs new MI6 chief". CNN. 14 July 2004. Retrieved 15 June 2008.
  13. ^ Jeffery, Simon (14 July 2004). "'Open to doubt and seriously flawed'". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 June 2008.
  14. ^ "Ex-spy chief says Iraqi WMD claims not manipulated". BBC News. 8 December 2009. Retrieved 28 January 2010.
  15. ^ Ames, Chris (26 June 2011). "Memo reveals intelligence chief's bid to fuel fears of Iraqi WMDs". Retrieved 20 April 2022.
  16. ^ Spanier, Gideon (17 August 2011). "In the air: Murdoch's daughter joins Times board". Evening Standard.
  17. ^ Greenslade, Roy (2 March 2011). "Another Murdoch joins The Times board – with a retired spy". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 April 2022.
  18. ^ Terazono, Emiko (3 March 2011). "Family affair". Financial Times. Retrieved 20 April 2022.
  19. ^ "Governing Body". Archived from the original on 22 June 2013. Retrieved 5 January 2012.
  20. ^ "Sir John Scarlett KCMG OBE, Chairman". Bletchley Park Trust. Retrieved 11 March 2014.
  21. ^ Elliott, Francis (31 December 2006). "'Dodgy dossier' knighthood attacked". The Independent. Archived from the original on 13 June 2022. Retrieved 15 June 2008.

External linksEdit

Government offices
Preceded by Chairman of the
Joint Intelligence Committee

Succeeded by
Sir Richard Mottram
Permanent Secretary, Intelligence, Security and Resilience
Preceded by Chief of the SIS
Succeeded by