Tony Blair and Iraq: The damning evidence

Secret testimony to Chilcot Inquiry by British intelligence shows former PM 'accepted Libya was a bigger threat'

Hitherto unseen evidence given to the Chilcot Inquiry by British intelligence has revealed that former prime minister Tony Blair was told that Iraq had, at most, only a trivial amount of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and that Libya was in this respect a far greater threat.

Intelligence officers have disclosed that just the day before Mr Blair went to visit president George Bush in April 2002, he appeared to accept this but returned a "changed man" and subsequently ordered the production of dossiers to "find the intelligence" that he wanted to use to justify going to war.

This and other secret evidence (given in camera) to the inquiry will, The Independent on Sunday understands, be used as the basis for severe criticism of the former prime minister when the Chilcot report is published.

Mr Blair is said to have "realised" and "understood" that Libya was the real threat and that he knew "it would not be sensible to lead the argument on Saddam and the WMD issue" according to evidence of a conversation on 4 April 2002, the day before he flew to the US to spend a weekend with Mr Bush.

This was disclosed in a closed evidence session with one of MI6's most senior officers, named as SIS4. Although details have been redacted, the transcript, later released online with little fanfare, states that Mr Blair "realised that the WMD threat from Libya was more serious than from Iraq".

During a closed session with former MI6 chief Sir Richard Dearlove, redacted evidence claims Mr Blair "had understood that Libya posed a bigger threat than Iraq, and understood the risk, therefore, of focusing on WMD in relation to Iraq". It refers to a meeting held by Mr Blair at Chequers days before the visit to Mr Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, but is unclear whether the claims were made by Sir Richard or another individual. What is clear is that in 2002, British intelligence "discovered that Libya has an active nuclear weapons programme", according to Sir Richard.

By contrast, Iraq had no nuclear weapons and any actual WMD would be "very, very small" and would fit on to the "back of a petrol lorry", according to one senior MI6 officer. They admitted the danger from WMD was "all in the cranium of just a few scientists, who we never did meet and we have been unable to meet ever since".

Yet the weekend at Crawford in April 2002 marked Mr Blair's conversion to Mr Bush's way of thinking. The former US president was determined to deal with Saddam Hussein. On Friday 5 April, Mr Blair and Mr Bush spent the evening alone, without their advisers. By the end of the weekend Mr Blair appeared to be a changed man, where previously he had said "we don't do regime change", according to Admiral Lord Boyce, former Chief of the Defence Staff.

The findings will inform a highly critical attack on Mr Blair when the Chilcot Inquiry publishes its report later this year. "Chilcot has the full story and it's a very complex one," a former senior MI6 officer, who would not be named, told The IoS.

And top-secret British government papers suggesting that the two leaders had made a pact to act against Iraq have been given to the inquiry by barrister and Plaid Cymru MP Elfyn Llwyd. The document was leaked to him after the invasion.

"It was quite clear that the deal had been struck firmly that weekend and the wording was quite unambiguous," he told The IoS. "There's no doubt in my mind that that weekend saw Blair decide to go to war." The former prime minister "had his head turned" and was "star-struck" by Mr Bush, he said.

Before the middle of 2002, "Iraq had been relatively low down the scale of preoccupations" in terms of WMD, according to one MI6 officer in evidence to the inquiry. In the months after Mr Blair's return from Texas, the secret services came under pressure to come up with intelligence to support a move to war.

MI6 was "on the flypaper of WMD", and had no appetite for war, admitted another officer, SIS4. "Those of us who had been around [redacted] knew perfectly well what a disaster for countless people a war was going to be." Another MI6 officer, SIS1, described the "handling" of Curveball, the Iraqi source whose claims of mobile chemical weapons laboratories were subsequently exposed as lies, and the "marketing" of the intelligence as "awful".

The committee is expected to examine why secret warnings from senior Iraqi figures that there were no WMD were dismissed by British intelligence. Iraq "will not be able to indigenously produce a nuclear weapon while sanctions remain in place", stated a report by the Joint Intelligence Committee in March 2002, which admitted there was little or no intelligence on chemical or biological weapons.

After the invasion in March 2003, SIS4 suggested, there was "a sort of recognition that the WMD thing had served its purpose; we had got in, we had done the war".

"This report will be absolutely damning on Blair's style of government, the decision-making process and the planning and execution for its aftermath," said a source close to the inquiry, speaking before the 10th anniversary on Tuesday of the toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue.

One authority on Iraq, Toby Dodge of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, agrees. "I think they will rip into him for his style of government, and that there wasn't due process," he said. "It's clear the way the intelligence was handled, filtered out and shaped was an issue. This is a perversion of the use of intelligence."

A spokesperson for Mr Blair said: "There have been five inquiries into this now. If people do want to see the intelligence reports they are published online. The view that Saddam Hussein had a WMD programme was held not just by the intelligence services in the UK and US but in countries which opposed military action."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist / Physio / Osteopath

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for o...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager / Sales Executive - Contract Hire

£35000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leader provides c...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most