The Australian government "skewed, misrepresented, used selectively and fabricated" the intelligence used to justify its decision to send troops to Iraq, a parliamentary inquiry in Canberra was told yesterday.
The Australian inquiry opened yesterday and took evidence from Andrew Wilkie, a former senior intelligence analyst who resigned in March in protest at the case Australia made for going to war.
Australia contributed 2,000 special forces troops to the US-led invasion. Mr Wilkie accused the government of lying about the threat posed by Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction. "Sometimes the exaggeration was so great it was clear dishonesty," he said, and added that words and phrases qualifying intelligence assessments, such as "probably", "could" and "uncorroborated evidence suggests" were frequently dropped from reports. "Words like 'massive' and 'mammoth' were included [instead]."
Mr Wilkie has become one of the chief critics of Australia's involvement in the Iraq war since quitting his post in the Office of National Assessments (ONA). Asked by the inquiry to describe the government's handling of Australian intelligence on Iraq, he replied - mirroring the phrase used by the BBC about the British intelligence dossier - that it was "sexed up".
His claims were swiftly denied yesterday by the Prime Minister, John Howard, who was one of the first leaders to sign up to the invasion of Iraq. Mr Howard said his assessment of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's regime had been justified "at the time".
Asked about Mr Wilkie's allegation of exaggeration, Mr Howard replied: "I deny that absolutely. I don't know on what he bases those claims. If he has got evidence of that, let him produce it. Other-wise, stop slandering decent people." Mr Howard added that the ONA had indicated that Mr Wilkie had had "virtually no access" to the relevant intelligence on Iraq.
The Australian government has made a determined effort to discredit Mr Wilkie. An opinion poll last month found that 36 per cent of Australians believed that the government knowingly misled them over Iraq.
The ONA is an elite agency that advises the prime minister. Mr Wilkie said: "I will go so far as to say ... the exaggeration was occurring in there [Mr Howard's office]." He said the government had been "prepared to deliberately exaggerate the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and terrorism threat so as to stay in step" with the US.
The inquiry also heard evidence from the former UN chief weapons inspector Richard Butler, who cast doubt on Australia's claim that Iraq could have supplied terrorists with chemical or biological weapons.