Bush and Blair 'distorted' Iraqi threat, says US weapons expert

Colin Powell's former chief weapons expert has accused Tony Blair and George Bush of failing to give an accurate picture of British and American intelligence on Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

Greg Thielman, a senior figure in the State Department until last year, told The Independent yesterday that the "political leadership" in both countries was responsible for the "distorted" impression given of the Iraqi threat.

In a separate interview, Rolf Ekeus, a former head of Unscom, also blamed the heads of UK and US intelligence agencies for "trying to play up to their masters".

The men's remarks came at the same time that Dr Hans Blix, the former chief UN weapons inspector, gave his first reaction to an admission by David Kay, the outgoing head of the Iraq Survey Group, that "we were almost all wrong" about Iraq's weapons.

Launching an independent commission in Sweden to prevent future weapons threats, Dr Blix said: "We were not wrong. Most others were wrong. We were looking at the matter with a critical mind."

Mr Thielman was the Director of the Office of Strategic Proliferation and Military Affairs, based in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research in the State Department. He reported directly to General Powell.

He told The Independent that the intelligence agencies in the UK and US both agreed the need for caution and caveats to claims about Iraqi weapons.

He said:"We were mostly reading from the same sheet. The way the political leadership in Britain and America explained this intelligence to their populations was not an accurate rendition of what intelligence services were saying. Iraq did not pose an imminent threat to either its neighbours or the US or Britain."

He said that, while he normally admired the British Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), he was disappointed to see the way it handled the dossier produced in September 2002.

"I have the greatest respect for the Joint Intelligence Committee and their product, but I was disappointed in some of the things the JIC was saying in the September dossier," he said.

"In particular, I wasn't very impressed with the 45-minute point. Its use didn't put it in proper perspective, they didn't make clear it was exaggerated."

He added that the dossier had been "floating around" in early 2002 and was surprised when it resurfaced in September. "It didn't seem a paper based on developments in intelligence. It was a political document."

Mr Thielman added: "The other distortion was that President Bush and Prime Minister Blair keep using WMD to cover up the fact that the real WMD is nuclear material and there were no nuclear weapons.

But he stressed that, while the two leaders had a political responsibility, senior figures in intelligence on both sides of the Atlantic shared the blame for the way the claims on Iraq were made.

"The intelligence community leadership has a lot to answer for in the way it was packaging its intelligence product," he said.

In separate interview with The Independent, Mr Ekeus also said that exaggerated claims about the Iraqi threat was down to sections of the intelligence agencies.

He said: "They are alarmist. They were trying to play up to their masters. They went from possibility to probability."

According to Mr Ekeus, who led the UN inspectors from 1991 to 1997, the agencies were anxious "not to be caught out again" as they were after the Gulf War in 1991, when they were astonished to discover the extent of Saddam's secretly-amassed WMD arsenal.

Ewen Buchanan, the spokesman for the UN inspection agency known as Unmovic, defended the organisation's record, saying: "We never said that the Iraqis had WMD, although we never actually ruled it out either. We said the stuff was unaccounted for. It's not the same thing as saying they definitely had it."

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