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report: politics and Iraq
Official explodes key WMD claim
Read the No 10 dossier in question
Tom Happold and agencies
Thursday May 29, 2003
Downing Street doctored a dossier on Iraq's weapons programme to make it "sexier", according to a senior British official, who claims intelligence services were unhappy with the assertion that Saddam's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) were ready for use within 45 minutes.
Despite a No 10 denial that "not one word of the dossier was not entirely the work of the intelligence agencies," the revelations are likely to cloud Tony Blair's visit to Iraq today. Critics of the war are expected to claim that the document shows it was one of conquest, not pre-emptive self-defence or liberation.
It is understood that the parliamentary intelligence and security committee is set to launch an enquiry into the claims made by the government about Iraq. And the former foreign secretary, Robin Cook, who resigned over his opposition to the war, last night called for a more independent select committee to investigate the matter.
The unnamed official told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Most people in intelligence weren't happy with the dossier because it didn't reflect the considered view they were putting forward."
Describing how it was "transformed" in the week before it was published to make it "sexier", he added: "The classic example was the statement that weapons of mass destruction were ready for use within 45 minutes.
"That information was not in the original draft. It was included in the dossier against our wishes because it wasn't reliable. Most things in the dossier were double-source but that was single-source and we believe that the source was wrong."
The unnamed official was, however, keen to state that he believed Iraq did have WMD. "I believe it is about 30% likely that there was a chemical weapons programme about six months before the war and considerably more likely that there was a biological weapons programme," he said.
The 50-page document drew on intelligence material from MI6, MI5 and GCHQ and outlined Iraq's attempts to acquire nuclear weapons and to develop long-range ballistic missiles capable of hitting Israel or British bases in Cyprus. It claimed that Saddam Hussien did not regard his WMD as "weapons of last resort" but was ready use them against his enemies and own people.
The defence minister, Adam Ingram, today denied that Downing Street had ordered the doctoring of the dossier. "There was no pressure from No 10," he told the Today programme. "That allegation is not true."
But he did admit that the claim that WMD could be used within 45 minutes was based on a single source. "It wasn't corroborated. I think that has already been conceded."
Mr Ingram also refuted suggestions that the war had been prosecuted on the basis of fanciful and unsubstantiated allegations.
"The war was fought on the basis of all of the allegations, much of which was substantiated, not just by a security document produced by our security services, not concocted by No 10 or under pressure from No 10 to produce it in a particular way, but their best knowledge and their best assessment of what they could declare into the public domain, based upon the knowledge of what was out there."
"The whole world knew what Saddam Hussein was up to in terms of weapons of mass destruction. That's why we prosecuted that war. That's why we were right," he added.
And Mr Ingram echoed Mr Blair's claims yesterday about the doubtless "existence of weapons of mass destruction", saying that "extensive searching" was under way to find the weapons, while a wide range of Iraqis with knowledge of the programmes were being interrogated.
"The jigsaw is now beginning to come into place," he said.
The Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, Menzies Campbell, said today's claims "corroborated" rumours that the intelligence services were "generally unhappy" with the government's use of their information.
"What I think it demonstrates is that if you start to turn the intelligence into a means by which to achieve your political objective then of course it becomes propaganda and is no longer as reliable," he told Today.
Today's allegations follow US defence secretary Donald Rumfeld's comments yesterday that Saddam Hussien may have destroyed his weapons before the start of war and that . They also follow the revelation that part of the government's February document on Iraq's intelligence network was cut and pasted from a PhD student's dissertation.
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