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Blair, BBC Stung By WMD Inquiry

Britain's Prime Minister, Tony Blair pauses during his monthly briefing at 10 Downing Street in central London, Tuesday March 25, 2003. Blair predicted Tuesday difficult days ahead in the assault on Iraq.
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An inquiry into the suicide of a British weapons expert — which has evolved into a probe of the case for the Iraq war — is bruising the credibility of both British Prime Minister Tony Blair's government and the British Broadcasting Corporation.

A retired intelligence official testified Wednesday that intelligence experts were concerned that the government exaggerated some aspects of a dossier that claimed Iraq could deploy weapons of mass destruction on 45 minutes' notice.

On Thursday, an arms expert testified that a BBC reporter — and not the weapons adviser — was the one who suggested during an interview that a top Blair aide was behind an exaggeration of the threat posed by Iraq.

That testimony by Olivia Bosch contradicted statements by the BBC's Andrew Gilligan, who said the adviser, David Kelly, suggested the name of key Blair aide Alastair Campbell without prompting.

Bosch said Kelly told her during a phone conversation that Gilligan played a "name game" with him when they met.

"He said he was taken aback by the way Andrew Gilligan tried to elicit information from him," Bosch said. "He said he had never experienced it in the way that Gilligan had tried to do so, by a 'name game.'

"The first name he (Gilligan) mentioned, and very quickly, was Campbell," Bosch told the inquiry, which is headed by senior appeals judge Lord Hutton.

Kelly said he felt obliged to give Gilligan some form of answer, so he said "maybe," she testified.

Gilligan told a different story in a piece for the Mail on Sunday on June 6: "I asked him how this transformation happened. The answer was a single word: 'Campbell."'

Campbell, Blair's communications chief, will resign in a few weeks for what he said were personal reasons.

Gilligan interviewed Kelly, a former U.N. weapons inspector, about which government official was responsible for including in a government dossier a claim that Iraq could deploy chemical or biological weapons within 45 minutes.

Kelly, a 59-year-old microbiologist, apparently committed suicide after being identified by Defense Ministry bosses as a possible source of a BBC report that Blair's office inserted the 45-minute claim into a September dossier against the wishes of intelligence officials. The government and intelligence chiefs deny that.

Previous testimony at the inquiry has shown that Kelly was skeptical about the government's evaluation of the threat posed by Iraqi weapons.

On Thursday, Tom Mangold, a friend of Kelly and a journalist, testified that he spoke to Kelly about the Gilligan report and Kelly believed the 45-minute claim was "risible."

"We occasionally gossiped on the phone and on this occasion we gossiped about the 45-minute claim because I thought it sounded risible to me and I wondered what he thought about it," Mangold said. "He thought it was risible, too.

"He did not feel that weapons would be deployed or activated within 45 minutes."

On Wednesday, retired intelligence analyst Brian Jones told the inquiry that he took the "very unusual" action of writing to his superiors to express his staff's concern that "our reservations about the dossier were not going to be reflected in the final version."

Jones, who until recently headed a section of the Defense Intelligence Staff charged with analyzing intelligence about nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, said his staff did not ask for the removal of the dossier's most contentious claim — that Iraq could deploy some chemical or biological weapons within 45 minutes.

"We at no stage argued that this intelligence should not be in the dossier. We thought it was important intelligence," Jones told the inquiry into the death of weapons expert David Kelly. But, he said, he felt the wording of the claim was "a little bit strong."

Jones said some of his staff felt that the dossier, prepared by the Joint Intelligence Committee with editorial consultation from Prime Minister Tony Blair's office, was "over-egging certain assessments."

"My concerns were that Iraq's chemical weapons and biological weapons capabilities were not being accurately represented…There was not evidence that significant production had taken place," he said.

Jones said there was a feeling among his staff that Blair's office was influencing production of the dossier. Blair and his officials insist intelligence chiefs were in charge of compiling the document.

Jones said Kelly was aware of concerns about the 45-minute claim but had not expressed significant doubts about the dossier in the weeks before its publication in September 2002.

"I asked him, What do you think of the dossier, David?"' Jones said. "He said he thought it was good."

Previously, the Blair aide, Campbell, and the head of Britain's intelligence committee have appeared at the inquiry denied the intelligence on Iraq was publicized. But internal emails have shown at least one of Blair's closest aides did not feel the evidence pointed toward an "imminent threat."

The row over the way Blair made the case for war has eroded his once solid popularity. Some polls indicate fewer than one in four Britons trusts the prime minister.