Hoon criticised for withholding evidence

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Geoff Hoon was criticised today for withholding evidence by the Parliamentary inquiry into the use of intelligence on Iraq.

The Intelligence and Security Committee said that it was "disturbing" that the Defence Secretary did not disclose full details of concerns about the Government's Iraq weapons dossier among Defence Intelligence Staff.

The ISC said that the initial failure of the Ministry of Defence to reveal details of the DIS concerns had been "unhelpful and potentially misleading"

Mr Hoon later told the Commons that he had "no intention whatsoever other than to be open and straightforward" with the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) over the Iraqi dossier.

He added: "I regret any misunderstanding that might have arisen."

He also said: "I hope that the committee accepts that I did not in fact mislead them."

The Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said that Mr Hoon had the backing of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, adding: "I am in no doubt that the Defence Secretary should and will continue in his post."

The criticism of Mr Hoon and the Ministry of Defence centred on the withholding of information about two members of DIS who had written formally to their line managers to express concern about the way their intelligence was used in the dossier.

The ISC report said: "We regard the initial failure by the MoD to disclose that some staff had put their concerns in writing to their line managers as unhelpful and potentially misleading.

"This is not excused by the genuine belief within the DIS that the concerns had been expressed as part of the normal lively debate that often surrounds draft JIC (Joint Intelligence Committee) assessments within the DIS.

"We are disturbed that after the first evidence session, which did not cover all concerns raised by the DIS staff, the Defence Secretary decided against giving instructions for a letter to us outlining the concerns."

The ISC said that the dossier had not been "sexed up" by No 10 communications chief Alastair Campbell "or anybody else".

But it criticised the way the controversial claim that some Iraqi weapons of mass destruction could be deployed within 45 minutes was presented, as "unhelpful to an understanding of this issue".

It said the dossier also failed to make clear that Saddam Hussein was not considered a "current or imminent threat to mainland UK".

And it said that that it should have highlighted the uncertainty within the intelligence community over Iraq's capacity to produce chemical or biological weapons.

The ISC chairman Ann Taylor, who said she and colleagues had studied 12 years of intelligence material on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction before producing their report today, stressed their report on the role of intelligence in the war on Iraq was unanimous.

She told a news conference at Westminster: "This report does not judge whether the decision to invade Iraq was correct.

"The purpose of this report is to examine whether the available intelligence which informed the decision to invade Iraq was adequate and properly assessed and whether it was properly reflected in Government publications."

She said her committee had passed some relevant documents to Lord Hutton to assist him in his inquiry into the death of weapons expert Dr David Kelly.

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