No review for MI6 over arms search

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Indy Politics

Despite the failure to find weapons of mass destruction or concrete evidence of links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qa'ida since the end of the war on Iraq, there are no plans for Britain's intelligence agencies to reassess the reports they produced in the run-up to the conflict.

According to government sources, "there is no intention of mirroring our American counterparts, either on a public basis or otherwise", by duplicating the kind of exercise that Donald Rumsfeld has asked the CIA to undertake. America's main spy agency is carrying out a review of intelligence from all sources to try to determine whether US assessments of the Iraqi regime and its alleged WMDs were wide of the mark.

Mr Rumsfeld's request was made last year, at a time when there was furious debate about the quality of intelligence coming out of Iraq, but the review has been lent added urgency by the failure of American and British investigators in Iraq to find any evidence since the war of the existence of unconventional weapons. Behind the scenes, members of the intelligence community have accused politicians on both sides of the Atlantic of exaggerating, distorting and selecting secret information to make the case for war in Iraq.

Political leaders have explained away the absence of WMDs by suggesting that Saddam's regime had plenty of time to hide them. This is the line being taken by British intelligence, which still believes "it is a question of finding out where the stuff was destroyed", in the words of one source, and that hard evidence will be found at some point in the future.

One former intelligence officer said: "Despite the growing chorus of politicians asking about proof of WMD and terror links in Iraq, MI6 are brazening it out. They seem confident that they are going to turn up hard evidence, and that it's just a matter of time." GCHQ, the Government's monitoring agency based in Cheltenham, and MI6 were maintaining that their reports were accurate, said the former officer. If the public felt misled, that was a result of the spin put on their information by politicians.

Although some in Washington are seeking to present the CIA review as a bureaucratic exercise aimed at greater efficiency, there was considerable tension between the agency and the Pentagon, which was accused of setting up a unit to "re-interpret" intelligence in line with the hardline views of Mr Rumsfeld's aides.