British lawmakers criticize government's use of intelligence

Tuesday, July 8, 2003

LONDON -- Prime Minister Tony Blair's government mishandled intelligence material on Iraqi weapons, a parliamentary committee reported Monday, but said it found no evidence Blair or his ministers deliberately misled lawmakers.

The committee also cleared Blair's communications chief of accusations he redrafted an intelligence dossier against the wishes of intelligence agencies to include unreliable information.

The allegations, arising from a British Broadcasting Corp. report, have soured relations between the broadcaster and the government, which on Monday repeated its demand for an apology.

But the sharply critical parliamentary report heaped further pressure on the government to find tangible evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction -- and said that without such proof, the accuracy of British intelligence dossiers would remain in doubt.

"It is too soon to tell whether the government's assertions on Iraq's chemical and biological weapons will be borne out," said the report.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw defended the intelligence material and said the government had been right to go to war.

"Of course I understand that the public would like to see further evidence of the possession of chemical and biological weapons capability and plans to build nuclear capability," Straw told reporters. "But the evidence available ... at the time we took the decision to go to war was overwhelming."

The government has been accused of exaggerating the threat posed by Saddam Hussein to convince skeptical lawmakers of the need for military action, especially in two government intelligence dossiers, published in September and January.

The September dossier has been in the spotlight since the BBC reported in May that an anonymous intelligence source said Blair's office redrafted the file to include a claim that Saddam could launch chemical and biological weapons at 45 minutes' notice.

Opposition lawmakers have also lambasted the January document since the government acknowledged it included material copied from a graduate thesis posted on the Internet.

The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee said Monday there was no evidence of "politically inspired meddling" in the drafting of the September dossier, and cleared Blair's communications chief Alastair Campbell of inserting the 45-minute claim.

However, the committee urged the government to explain why it gave the claim such prominence, given that the source was uncorroborated, and to say whether they still believed the claim was accurate.

"We conclude that continuing disquiet and unease about the claims made in the September dossier are unlikely to be dispelled unless more evidence of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs comes to light," the cross-party committee added.

John Stanley, a Conservative member of the committee, said so far no evidence has been found in Iraq to substantiate four key claims in the September document:

  • That Iraq had a major chemical-biological weapons program with an "active, ongoing production capability."

  • That Iraq had up to 20 longer-range missiles capable of hitting British bases in Cyprus.

  • That Iraq was seeking uranium in Africa as part of an effort to restart a nuclear weapons program.

  • That Iraq had some chemical and biological weapons ready for deployment within 45 minutes of an order.

    On the Net:

    Committee report, 3/

  • Respond to this story

    Posting a comment requires free registration: