Death, 'Lies' & WMDs

Tony Blair -- Camp David 03/27/2003
The dispute over intelligence on Iraq grew more complex and dramatic Thursday with testimony in the capitals of the two closest U.S. allies in the war. Tension built as Prime Minister Tony Blair prepared to take the stand.

In London, the inquiry into a weapons expert's death learned that he had predicted he might end up "dead in the woods" if war broke out. The judge directing the inquiry, Lord Hutton, announced that Blair would give evidence Aug. 28, a day after an appearance by Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon.

In Canberra, an Australian intelligence expert told a parliamentary panel that the government "lied every time" it discussed Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction.

Those purported weapons were a major justification for the war, but U.S. search teams have reported finding no weapons to date, raising questions about whether prewar intelligence was inaccurate or misused.

In Britain, the weapons doubts have led to a political crisis for Blair.

A May 29 BBC report accused the government of "sexing up" a September dossier about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction to bolster its argument for war, including a claim that Saddam Hussein's forces could deploy some of those weapons on 45 minutes' notice.

The report sparked an acrimonious dispute between the BBC and the government, which denies manipulating intelligence.

Ultimately, former U.N. inspector David Kelly was named as the source of the story. He was found dead on July 18, and an inquiry was ordered into his death.

David Broucher, a British representative to U.N. conference on disarmament in Geneva, told the inquiry Thursday that he met Kelly in Switzerland on Feb. 27 after requesting a briefing on Iraq and biological weapons.

Kelly, Britain's leading expert on Baghdad's weapons programs, said he had been urging his Iraqi contacts to allow full inspections to avoid the threat of attack, but the Iraqis feared that if they disclosed too much about their state of readiness, they might become more vulnerable, Broucher said.

"My impression was that he felt he was in some personal difficulty or embarrassment about this because he felt the invasion might go ahead anyway and somehow it was putting him in a morally ambiguous situation," Broucher said.

"As David Kelly was leaving, I said to him, 'What do you think will happen if Iraq is invaded?'

"His reply was, which at the time I took to be a throwaway remark, he said, 'I will probably be found dead in the woods.'"

According to the Times of London, Broucher's remark was met with gasps from the gallery.

Broucher said Kelly also told him that the government had pressured intelligence experts to make sure the September dossier was "robust as possible, that every judgment (in the dossier) had been robustly fought over".

Kelly also told Broucher that he doubted that Iraq could arm WMDs in 45 minutes.

The inquiry has been embarrassing both for the BBC and Blair. Internal emails showed BBC bosses were worried that their correspondent's reporting was sloppy, and testimony demonstrated Kelly doubted that the accusations attributed to him were accurate.

Sunday Times journalist Nick Rufford testified that Kelly told him he was "a bit shocked" that he had been identified as a possible source behind the BBC report at the center of the controversy.

"'I was told it would all be confidential,'" Rufford quoted Kelly was saying.

But a defense ministry memo revealed Thursday showed the ministry tried to keep Kelly from testifying about WMD issues when he appeared in parliament shortly before his death.

The inquiry has also learned that there were grave doubts among some intelligence advisers and Blair aides over how imminent Iraq's threat was.

"The document does nothing to demonstrate a threat, let alone an imminent threat from Saddam," Blair's chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, wrote to the chair of the government's overarching intelligence committee just days before the dossier was published.

The Australian expert, Andrew Wilkie, quit his government job over the war. He told parliament Thursday that the case for war had been "sexed up."

"The government lied every time. It skewed, misrepresented, used selectively and fabricated the Iraq story," he said.

"I deny that absolutely," Australian Prime Minister John Howard said.