Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, insisted yesterday that weapons of mass destruction were still in Iraq as Washington and London rejected claims that they used intelligence as "propaganda".
But the fightback was immediately undermined when former Washington security officials claimed that US "intelligence had been cooked to the recipe of policy".
Mr Rumsfeld triggered an outcry from critics of the war earlier this week when he suggested that the Iraqi regime may have destroyed chemical and biological weapons before the Anglo-American invasion. However, he told a radio phone-in yesterday that he personally believed that evidence of the secret programme would be found in the country.
In his latest remarks, he said the reason that weapons had not been found was because the government of Saddam Hussein had worked so hard to hide them. "It is not because they are not there," he said. Mr Rumsfeld also rejected the idea that the war was waged under any false pretext. The US and British case against Iraq was based on what he called "good intelligence".
Ray McGovern, a former CIA analyst who briefed the former president George Bush Snr, said the Pentagon's claims about WMD in Iraq were "an intelligence fiasco of monumental proportions". Mr McGovern, who heads the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, a new group, told BBC Radio 4's PM programme that Mr Rumsfeld set up his own intelligence unit because he didn't get the "correct answers" from the CIA and other agencies.
In London, Baroness Amos, the International Development Secretary, insisted that the Government's dossier on WMD in Iraq had been "thorough and accurate". Lady Amos told BBC Radio 4's The World at One programme: "It is absurd to suggest that we invented, exaggerated or distorted evidence for our own ends. There have been successive United Nations Security Council resolutions about Iraq's WMD. We have evidence that Iraq used its WMD against its own people. These are the facts."
Fresh doubts about how politicians manipulated intelligence reports came when Patrick Lang, a former director of Middle East analysis at the Pentagon's Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), criticised the American claims.
Mr Lang attacked the Office of Special Plans, a unit set up by Mr Rumsfeld inside the Pentagon to rival the CIA and the DIA. The unit relied heavily on information from Ahmed Chalabi, the exiled leader of the Iraqi National Congress and a favourite of hawks in Washington. The Office of Special Plans "started picking out things that supported their thesis ... It's political propaganda".
Both Democrats and Republicans in the Senate and House of Representatives are to hold hearings to determine whether "the analysis relayed to our policy-makers was accurate and unbiased".
Baroness Williams, Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords, said yesterday: "As new and disturbing facts emerge, the war on Iraq begins to look more like a tragic mistake ... It is very depressing to see our fears confirmed."Reuse content