Intel Report Looms Over Blair

WMD -- weapons of mass destruction, Iraq, magnifying glas CBS/AP

The road to war for the British was paved with the same categorical assertions and the same intelligence failings as the American.

In fact, on some points the British government was even more emphatic about Iraq's menace, reports CBS News Correspondent Mark Philips.

Prime Minister Tony Blair asserted Saddam Hussein had existing and active military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons, which could be activated within 45 minutes.

Now Blair's government is awaiting the publication this week of a report that promises to be just as damning as the Senate committee report was of the CIA last week.

Among the points of the report that have already leaked out:

  • The 45 minute claim was "vague and poorly founded" and should not have been made in the way it was.
  • The dossier on alleged Iraqi illegal weapons was fundamentally flawed and left out vital warnings about the weakness of much of the information.
  • The intelligence services rushed to justify a political decision that had been made to go to war.

    According to other leaks, the report questions not just the motivation for war, but the legal justification for it as well.

    Two former intelligence officials said in a television interview airing Sunday that Blair overstated what Britain knew about Iraqi weapons when he claimed before the war that Saddam Hussein posed a serious threat.

    The British Broadcasting Corp. also said the MI6 spy agency had withdrawn the intelligence that underpinned Britain's prewar assertion that Iraq was continuing to produce chemical and biological agents.

    The BBC said in a transcript of its "Panorama" program that an unidentified "reliable source" had told it of the move, but it did not say when it believed the intelligence was pulled or give any other details.

    Brian Jones, who until last year was a top official at the Defense Intelligence Staff, told the broadcaster that intelligence teams did not know whether Saddam had produced any new chemical or biological weapons since the first Gulf War, according to the transcript.

    He said he was surprised when Blair stated before the invasion of Iraq that Saddam did possess such stockpiles.

    "There was a reasonable assumption that there may have been some stocks left over from the first Gulf War," Jones said, according to the transcript. "If there had been any other production then we had not identified that it had taken place."

    "Certainly no one on my staff had any visibility of large quantities of intelligence of that sort," said Jones, who has made similar charges before.

    His former agency is the main provider of strategic defense intelligence to the Ministry of Defense.

    Jones said his team had expressed its reservations about the public claims to top officials, but were told that Britain's MI6 intelligence agency had a top-secret piece of information which trumped all their reservations and clinched the case against Saddam. Jones said he was never allowed to see that intelligence.

    The BBC said that was the piece of intelligence that has now been withdrawn.

    Blair, who based his case for war on the contention that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction, has been badly damaged by the failure of coalition forces to find evidence such arms existed. His office declined to comment on the BBC report.

    Heavy new scrutiny of the issue is expected this week with the release on Wednesday of the report on the quality of Britain's prewar intelligence on Iraqi weapons. Retired civil service chief Lord Butler has headed the inquiry and his committee's conclusions could create fresh trouble for Blair.

    The government was cleared by an earlier inquiry of accusations that its September 2002 dossier on Saddam's weapons exaggerated evidence to bolster the case for war.

    The BBC had quoted an anonymous source making that charge. He turned out to be government scientist David Kelly, whose July 2003 suicide prompted an investigation by senior appeals judge Lord Hutton.

    Hutton found the government was not to blame for the death and said the BBC was unjustified in reporting a claim that the government knew one of its allegations about Saddam's weapons was wrong but published it anyway.

    Blair said last week he accepted that no weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq and that they might never turn up. But he rejected any suggestion that the stockpiles didn't ever exist and that Iraq had not been a danger to the world.

    "To go to the opposite extreme and say therefore no threat existed from Saddam Hussein would be a mistake," Blair told the House of Commons.

    The former intelligence officers who spoke to the BBC said experts had serious doubts even before the war about the claim that Saddam posed a serious danger.

    John Morrison, a deputy chief of the Defense Intelligence Staff until 1999, told the BBC that he could "almost hear the collective raspberry going up around Whitehall," London's government district, when Blair told lawmakers that the threat from Iraq was serious and current.

    "In moving from what the dossier said Saddam had, which was a capability possibly, to asserting that Iraq presented a threat, then the prime minister was going way beyond anything any professional analyst would have agreed," Morrison said, according to the BBC transcript.
    • Lauren Johnston

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