Tony Blair's case for invading Iraq was in tatters last night after damning public criticism by two senior intelligence officials of the way the September weapons dossier was manipulated by government "spin merchants".
Brian Jones, who headed the intelligence department dedicated to investigating Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programme, told the Hutton inquiry there was deep disquiet among his colleagues about the way significant evidence they had supplied for the dossier was altered. He said evidence in the dossier was "over-egged", the language was too strong and there were misgivings over the now-infamous claim that Iraq could launch weapons of mass destruction in 45 minutes.
The other official, identified to the Hutton inquiry as "Mr A" and described as the country's foremost authority on chemical warfare, disclosed how a claim in the dossier about chemical weapons was inserted despite protests from him and other experts. He wrote in an e-mail to David Kelly, whose apparent suicide is being examined at the inquiry, that the dossier would become "tomorrow's chip wrappers''. Mr A told the inquiry: "The perception was that the dossier had been round the houses several times in order to find a form of words that would strengthen certain political objectives.''
The inquiry was told that the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), which compiled the dossier, did not even meet to discuss the final draft of the document before John Scarlett, the committee's chairman, signed it off. Such was the level of unhappiness about alleged political interference that Dr Jones wrote a memo to his superiors in the Defence Intelligence Staff listing his concerns a few days before the dossier was published on 24 September.
Dr Jones, who recently retired, told the inquiry: "The impression I had was that on 19 September the shutters were coming down on this particular paper. The discussion and argument had been concluded. It was an impression I had at the time that our reservations about the dossier were not being reflected in the final version."
Some of his staff were "concerned and unhappy'' about "all aspects" of the dossier, Dr Jones said. The chief chemical authority on the team - not Mr A - had particularly strong reservations. "They were really about the tendency in certain areas, from his point of view, to, shall we say, over-egg certain assessments, particularly in relation to the production of chemical weapons," he said.Describing himself as "probably the most senior and experienced intelligence official working on WMD" - a claim not challenged by the Ministry of Defence - he stressed the disquiet felt about the way information supplied by his department had been used for the sake of political expediency.
Dr Jones's use of the phrase "over-egg" was yet another addition to the ever-growing lexicon of the inquiry, prompting comparisons with the expression that has dominated proceedings so far: "sexed-up".
Yesterday's criticism from the intelligence community reinforced the impression that the Hutton inquiry has turned into quicksand for Downing Street. It also backed the BBC's original story about disquiet in the intelligence community about the dossier.
Dr Jones maintained that important claims made in the document, and repeated by Mr Blair and his ministers, were fundamentally flawed.
He pointed out the weaknesses in the claim that Saddam Hussein could launch chemical and biological attacks within 45 minutes. He said that while the JIC insisted that the 45-minutes claim came from a reliable agent, he had only obtained the information from a second-hand source in Iraq. He said the source did not appear to "know very much about it" and may have been "trying to influence and not inform" the British officials.
Reservations and proposed amendments were discussed at a meeting in the department on 19 September, which Dr Kelly had attended along with Mr A.
Giving evidence by audiolink, Mr A, who is attached to the counter-proliferation and arms control department at the MoD, said there had been unhappiness at the meeting that the Government had claimed in a draft of the dossier that there was great concern that Iraq was manufacturing phosgene for chemical weapons at a compound. The allegation was false and he advised that it should be changed. But his recommendation was ignored and he said that he was not surprised when Iraqi authorities took journalists to visit the compound after the dossier's publication.
That day, Mr A sent an e-mail to Dr Kelly saying he agreed with the plant manager, who was reported as saying it was "a pretty stupid mistake by the British". He added: "They [the Government] were grasping at straws ... Another example ... that you and I should have been more involved in this than the spin merchants ... Let's hope it turns into tomorrow's chip wrappers."Reuse content