Revealed: first dossier also dodgy

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair's first Iraq weapons dossier used material culled from the internet to buttress the Government's case for war - exactly as the now-discredited second, so-called dodgy dossier did.

The document, released last September, shows at least six separate items on Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction were lifted from reports up to 21 months old. The revelation will be acutely embarrassing to the Prime Minister who, only this week, defended the first dossier robustly, and insisted it supported the need for action.

The Foreign Affairs Select Committee has already criticised the second dossier, produced in February, in which intelligence was mixed with other material, including a student's PhD thesis.

The plagiarised documents in the first dossier included mention of ballistic missiles, unmanned drones, nuclear programmes, "dual use" of civil material, maps showing how British bases in Cyprus were within range of Iraqi missiles and Saddam's supposed plan for regional domination.

In his foreword to the first dossier - Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction - Mr Blair wrote: "This document is based, in large part, on the work of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) ... Its work, like the material it analyses, is largely secret. It is unprecedented for the Government to publish this kind of document."

Although the action may be unprecedented, much of the information was freely available on the internet.

The dossier appears to have drawn heavily from three sources in the public domain. They are a briefing paper by William Cohen, US Defence Secretary in the Clinton administration, from January 2001; the appearance before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence by George Tenet, the CIA director, the following month; an unclassified CIA report to Congress covering the period 1 July to 31 December 2000; and a report on Iraq by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) published in London in September.

Under the heading "Recent Intelligence", the first Downing Street dossier "reveals" Iraq was developing "al-Samoud-Ababil-100 ballistic missiles", and Saddam Hussein's regime had the "technical expertise" to fit them with "chemical and biological warheads". Nineteen months earlier, the unclassified report to Congress noted parts of the supposedly secret project had been in a public parade in Baghdad.

The Iraqis could have used such ballistic missiles, armed with chemical and biological weapons, against their neighbours. Among those under such threat would have been British and American personnel in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

The "threat" posed by "current and planned/potential ballistic missiles" is shown in a map in the first Blair dossier, with British bases and tourists on Cyprus within range.

The map is, to all purposes, identical to one in Mr Cohen's report, and also to one in the IISS report published two weeks before the Blair dossier.

The dossier highlights the chemical and biological threat, claiming Iraq "has attempted to modify the L-29 jet trainer to be used as an unmanned aerial vehicle(UAV) potentially capable of delivering chemical and biological agents".

That fact had already been mentioned by Mr Cohen and by the CIA in previous reports.

The dossier repeatedly stresses Iraq's nuclear ambitions: "... Iraq retained, and retains, many of its experienced nuclear scientists and technicians who are specialised in the production of fissile material and weapons design. Intelligence indicates Iraq also retains the accompanying programme documentation and data."

The dossier also claims Iraq was trying to acquire "significant quantities of uranium from Africa", the implication being that, with the expertise already there, the prospect of a nuclear arsenal for Saddam was not far away.

The African uranium claim, since rejected by the UN International Atomic Energy Agency, is not in the other documents. Mr Cohen's report says: "Although Iraq claims it destroyed all the specific equipment and facilities for developing nuclear weapons, it retains sufficient skilled and experienced scientists as well as weapons design information that could allow it to restart a weapons programme."

The dossier maintains Saddam was benefiting from items with both civil and military use. But the report to Congress had already reported the possibility. Another claim in the dossier was: "Saddam continues to attach great importance to the possession of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles which he regards as being the basis for Iraq's regional power. He is determined to retain these capabilities" - again, something Mr Tenet had already outlined.