A senior Minister has blamed "rogue elements" in the intelligence services for questioning the evidence behind Tony Blair's decision to go to war in Iraq.
As the pressure built on the Prime Minister, John Reid, the Leader of the Commons, launched an extraordinary attack on parts of the security services. He told The Times: "There have been uncorroborated briefings by a potentially rogue element or indeed rogue elements in the intelligence services. I find it difficult to grasp why this should be believed against the word of the British Prime Minister and the head of the Joint Intelligence Committee."
Dr Reid repeated his claim in media interviews today and called on critics to "put up or shut up". There was "15 years of evidence" that Saddam had such weapons, he said.
In the Commons this afternoon, Mr Blair insisted that intelligence evidence presented by the Government had been fully endorsed by security chiefs.
Dr Reid said on the BBC Breakfast programme that no one had a greater respect than him for the security services after his experience in Northern Ireland and at the Ministry of Defence.
"What has happened over the past week has been as big an attack on the leadership of those security services and intelligence services as it has on the Prime Minister," he said.
"We have now had five days during which the allegation is made that not only has the Prime Minister and people like myself and the Cabinet been dishonest and duplicitous in deceiving our Cabinet colleagues or Parliament ... but also that the chairman of the joint intelligence committee, and the joint intelligence committee itself ... allowed their integrity to be impeached, allowed evidence to be misrepresented ... these are scurrilous attacks on people who have served this country," he said.
He later said on BBC Radio Radio 4's Today programme that the programme's reporter Andrew Gilligan had made inconsistent claims and suggested at one point they could have come from a "man in the pub".
Dr Reid's intervention came after it became clear that the all-party Foreign Affairs Select Committee is to launch an inquiry which will focus on whether the Foreign Office and the Government "presented accurate and complete information to Parliament in the period leading up to military action in Iraq, particularly in relation to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction".
In the Commons, the Prime Minister acknowledged that "somebody from the intelligence community" had been briefing the media over claims that the Government had exaggerated the threat posed by Iraq weapons in the run–up to war.
But during exchanges with Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith at Prime Minister's Questions he said that all the intelligence information published by the Government had come from the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC).
Following an earlier claim by the Leader of the Commons John Reid that "rogue elements" in the intelligence service had been briefing against the Government, Mr Blair praised the "integrity" of the agencies, saying they did a "superb job".
He said that he did not believe that the person responsible for the briefing had been a member of JIC, which includes the heads of MI5, MI6 and the electronic eavesdropping agency GCHQ.
"I have confirmed with the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee there was no attempt at any time by any official or minister or member of Number 10 Downing Street staff to override the intelligence judgments of the Joint Intelligence Committee," he said.
He said that the controversial claim that Iraq had been able to deploy some weapons of mass destruction at 45 minutes' notice "was a judgment made by the Joint Intelligence Committee and by them alone".
The announcement of an inquiry by the foreign affairs committee, whose hearings are normally held in public, was unexpected. It will start next week and a report is expected as early as next month. The inquiry represents a considerable challenge to Mr Blair, who cannot control an independent committee of MPs.
Donald Anderson, Labour chairman of the committee, said he would request all relevant intelligence material be provided by No 10. He said: "It's clearly a matter of major public concern, the quality of intelligence. We will ask for all relevant material and if it is lacking we will say so in our report." Mr Anderson said that the committee might invite Mr Blair, Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, and serving intelligence officers to give evidence.
He added: "We are a different animal to the Intelligence and Security Committee. They are not a select committee, they are appointed by the Prime Minister and report to the Prime Minister. There would be a credibility problem with them which there would not be with our inquiry."
Mr Anderson was reinstated as chairman of the committee after a rebellion by Labour backbenchers against government attempts to replace him after the 2001 election.
The ISC, which monitors the intelligence services, meets in private and, although its reports are published, they include sections that are blanked out to protect the services.
The committee of MPs and peers is chaired by Ann Taylor, the Government's former chief whip. It asked Downing Street for permission to open an investigation into Iraq's WMD last month and has been involved in tense negotiations over the terms.
Some ISC members were worried that, unless the Prime Minister formally ordered an inquiry, they would be denied access to intelligence material. Mr Blair will try to head off that criticism today by promising the Government's full co-operation. Critics said Mr Blair would have the final say on the committee's report. But ISC sources said it would not allow him to veto findings to spare embarrassing criticism, pointing to criticism of the security services in its report on the Bali nightclub bombings last October, which killed more than 190 people.
Mr Blair will not have much time to rest after his week-long foreign trip. The Liberal Democrats will stage a Commons debate on the need for "an independent inquiry into the handling of the intelligence received, its assessment and the decisions made by ministers based upon it".
The Tories, who supported the war, are hardening their position. Iain Duncan Smith wrote to Mr Blair last night, demanding urgent answers to five key questions over WMD. He said: "Serious allegations are now being made, allowing others to cast doubt on statements made by you and your ministers ... My concern is that this will have a detrimental effect on the ability of the Government and the Armed Forces to complete their task in Iraq, unless things are cleared up quickly."
John Denham, who quit as a Home Office minister, called for a wide-ranging inquiry into the intelligence, WMD and the diplomatic moves before the conflict, similar to the one launched after the Falklands War. But that demand was rejected by Downing Street.
The pressure on Mr Blair for some form of inquiry became unstoppable after news emerged that two powerful Senate panels in the United States planned to hold hearings on the WMD issues.
As the row in America over alleged manipulation of intelligence grew, the CIA agreed to give Congress "back-up" information about its conclusions on Saddam Hussein's illegal weapons programmes.
"It's clear the intelligence was simply wrong," Evan Bayh, an Indiana Democrat on the Senate armed forces committee, said yesterday. His misgivings are shared even by some Republicans.
But American public opinion remains behind Mr Bush, with a majority clearly believing the US was right to invade Iraq, even if the WMD threat proves to have been less great than feared.
A CNN/USA Today poll yesterday found only 31 per cent of Americans felt the Bush administration "deliberately misled" the country, and two thirds were ready to give it the benefit of the doubt.
ISSUES AT THE HEART OF THE AFFAIR
By Paul Waugh, Deputy Political Editor
Q. What evidence did No 10 have to back its claim that Saddam's "military planning allows for some of the weapons of mass destruction to be ready within 45 minutes of an order to use them"?
A. Adam Ingram, the Armed Forces Minister, has admitted that the information was based on a single, uncorroborated source. As intelligence agencies normally use two sources, Mr Blair has to explain why the 45 minute claim was used so prominently. If, as understood, the information came from an Iraqi scientist desperate to defect, how can we be sure about its veracity?
Q. Did No 10 at any stage ask the security services to "sex up" the Joint Intelligence Committee dossier published in September? What was Alastair Campbell's role in the rewriting of the draft?
A. The draft would have to be published by Downing Street or passed to the Intelligence and Security Committee. Mr Blair said, in his foreword, that the dossier "is based, in large part, on the work of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC)". He must explain which parts of it were not the work of the JIC.
. Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, said that "it is possible that the Saddam regime decided that they would destroy them [WMD] prior to the conflict". Is he right?
A. Any destruction of chemical and biological stocks, and certainly missiles, would have been picked up by US spy planes and intelligence.
Q. Why did the Government include in its dossier claims that Saddam was actively seeking to acquire nuclear material from Niger?
A. The head of the International Atomic Energy Authority denounced the documents on which this claim was based as a forgery, yet the Foreign Office has never explained why such stress was put on it.
Q. Did Saddam possess WMD in a deliverable form?
A. Hans Blix constantly insisted there was no evidence that they still existed in 2003. He said that stocks were "unaccounted for". Washington and London claimed that this amounted to "overwhelming evidence" of a current weapons programme.
Q. Mr Blair said on Sunday that he had new , unpublished information to back up previous statements about WMD. What is it? Will he publish it?
A. Mr Blair is relying on an "international survey group" to scour Iraq. There is no clear deadline for its work. Traces of chemical and biological stocks will not silence his critics - only serious and numerous finds of warheads would. And if his evidence amounts simply to testimony from interviewed scientists, it will be ridiculed.
Q. What made Mr Blair change his mind about publishing a dossier after ruling one out in March 2002?
A. Before Mr Blair's trip to meet George Bush at Camp David on 7 September, intelligence sources were briefing that the idea of a dossier was dead. Within days of returning, Mr Blair surprised security sources by announcing one would be produced. If Mr Blair was told by Mr Bush that war was inevitable, he may have wanted to get his propaganda up and running.Reuse content