Just when the Government was thinking the Hutton inquiry might have a quiet day, more witnesses, e-mails and memos materialised to grab the headlines and continue Tony Blair's misery.
Downing Street had been hoping that while the inquiry may be critical about the treatment and naming of Dr David Kelly, on balance it would escape unscathed on the issue of the September Iraq dossier.
But yesterday two witnesses from the Defence Intelligence Staff, one of whom took the unusual step of going public, ensured that the dossier, and Tony Blair's use of it, returned to centre stage. Brian Jones, the MoD's former assistant director, intelligence, with responsibility for nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, gave possibly the most significant evidence to date on the dossier.
The very title of it, Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction, was for the first time called into question. Dr Jones said although the phrase applied to nuclear bombs, many biological and chemical weapons would "struggle to fit in that category". He said many biological weapons were designed to incapacitate rather than kill; they were lethal mainly in enclosed spaces, such as in the nerve gas attack on the Tokyo underground in 1995. Chemical weapons were even more difficult because they would need to be produced in large quantities to have any effect in battle, Dr Jones said.
Given that the phrase "weapons of mass destruction" came fully into the public consciousness last autumn as a result of the dossier, his evidence was startling. Mr Blair, Alastair Campbell and most ministers, frequently used the term, and its WMD initials, as a shorthand for what they saw as an unwieldy "nuclear, chemical and biological weapons". It also conjured up the spectre of horrifying attacks launched by Saddam Hussein. Yet here was the Government's most senior official dealing with such issues saying the term was inaccurate. Asked whether he felt there was a difference between missiles and artillery shells with chemical warheads, Dr Jones replied: "I think I would struggle to describe either as a true weapon of mass destruction."
That spectre of mass destruction was even more frightening when backed by the claim that the weapons could be deployed in 45 minutes. But Dr Jones demolished that, pointing to concerns that it was uncorroborated, second-hand and did not differentiate between chemical or biological weapons. Worse, there was no evidence of production, no recent testing or field trials to back it up.
Just as importantly, he also raised fresh doubts about the dossier's claims on continued production of chemical weapons. The phrase of Dr Jones' own chemical expert within DIS will ensure this element of the document stays in the limelight. The section on chemical weapons was "over-egged", he said. Every doubt that Dr Jones expressed, and those of his staff and Dr Kelly himself, offer much-needed cover for Andrew Gilligan, the BBC journalist who originally reported intelligence experts had worries about the dossier.
Again, in support of Mr Gilligan's claim that No 10 was involved, Dr Jones said "there was an impression that they [Downing Street press office] were involved in some way".
The evidence of "Mr A", a former UN weapons inspector and present member of the Iraq Survey Group, was more damaging here. In saying he and Dr Kelly believed the "merchants of spin" had a greater role than real experts in the dossier's drafting, Mr A gave a huge boost to the Gilligan cause.
Given that Dr Jones was so concerned that his section's concerns were not being taken on board, his evidence raises a further question: why did none of his superiors act on his memo outlining his fears? Tony Cragg, who was deputy chief of defence intelligence, appears not to have raised the issue at the Joint Intelligence Committee, and Dr Jones's boss, the Director Intelligence Science and Technical (DIST), replied saying "thank you" and little else.
It is not clear why Dr Jones was refused access to so-called "further evidence" about production of chemical and biological agents by Iraq. It is certainly odd that his boss at DIST was not allowed access, either.
Perhaps the most devastating charge from Dr Jones came in his suggestion that the JIC had not met to approve the final drafts of the dossier produced on 19, 20 and 24 September. The committee had its last meeting on 18 September, he suggested.
If true, this would be highly damaging for Tony Blair and John Scarlett, the chairman of the JIC, both of whom have claimed the committee "signed off" the document. We know Downing Street made changes after 18 September. If only Mr Scarlett did the signing off, that would represent an abuse of the normal JIC processes whereby every letter of an assessment is cleared by a formal meeting of the body.Reuse content