A senior minister warned yesterday that the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq would constitute "Britain's biggest ever intelligence failure" and would trigger an overhaul of the security services.
The minister told The Independent that the security services were responsible for Downing Street's uncompromising stance on Saddam Hussein's weapons. He spoke after a row erupted between politicians and the intelligence community over the Government's justification for going to war.
A senior intelligence official also told the BBC that Downing Street had wanted the Government dossier outlining Saddam's capability "sexed up" and that Downing Street included information against security service advice.
Meanwhile, Washington dealt another devastating blow to Tony Blair, who was visiting troops in Iraq. Paul Wolfowitz, the US Deputy Defence Secretary, said that disarming Saddam of illegal weapons was nothing more than a "bureaucratic reason" for war.
He told Vanity Fair magazine that members of the divided White House cabinet pushed the issue because it was the only way they could present a united front.
The row over weapons of mass destruction was fuelled this week when Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, suggested that Saddam might have destroyed his arsenal before the invasion.
While the British minister told The Independent he was confident weapons evidence would still be found in Iraq, he admitted: "If we don't find any weapons of mass destruction, it will be Britain's biggest ever intelligence failure. We would have to look at the whole set-up of how we gather intelligence in the future. It would have serious consequences. We saw some of this stuff, but Tony saw it come across his desk virtually every day."
In another development, Adam Ingram, the Armed Forces minister, admitted that Mr Blair's claim that Iraq could unleash chemical or biological weapons at 45 minutes' notice was based on uncorroborated information. The assertion was included in Downing Street's case for war, entitled: "Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction: the Assessment of the British Government''.
Robin Cook, the former foreign secretary, reveals in The Independent today that he argued that the dossier was curiously "derivative" when it was discussed by the Cabinet. "There was no hard intelligence of a current weapons programme that would represent a new and compelling threat to our interests," he writes, adding that Mr Wolfowitz's comments proved that Britain had been "suckered" into going to war.
Mr Blair faced more embarrassment as MPs demanded a full-scale inquiry into intelligence claims that Downing Street had distorted the dossier, published last September. In the dossier, Mr Blair warned that Saddam was able to launch chemical or biological attacks within 45 minutes.
BBC Radio 4's Today programme quoted an unnamed "senior British official" as saying the claim was included against the wishes of intelligence officers, who had been ordered to "sex up" a drier draft version of the document.
The official said: "Most people in intelligence weren't happy with the dossier because it didn't reflect the considered view they were putting forward. The classic example was the statement that weapons of mass destruction were ready for use within 45 minutes. That information was not in the original draft. It was included in the dossier against our wishes because it wasn't reliable. Most things in the dossier were double source but that was single source, and we believe that the source was wrong."
Downing Street flatly denied that pressure had been put on officers. Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister's director of communications and strategy, said in Iraq yesterday: "This is totally false. There is nothing there that was not the work of the intelligence agencies."
Mr Ingram acknowledged that the 45-minute claim was based on a single source. He said: "That was said on the basis of security source information ... it was not corroborated ... that was one element within a comprehensive report."
But he stressed that the security services had supported the report. "The whole world knew what Saddam was up to in terms of weapons of mass destruction. That's why we prosecuted that war," he said.
When questioned about the continuing controversy, Mr Blair insisted that he had "absolutely no doubt at all" about the existence of weapons of mass destruction. "And rather than speculating, let's wait until we get the full report back from our people who are interviewing the Iraqi scientists," he said. "We have already found two trailers that both our and the American security services believe were used for the manufacture of chemical and biological weapons."
Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, called for a special MPs' committee to be set up to investigate claims that the report was amended.Reuse content