BBC News - Spy chief says claims of Iraqi WMD were not manipulated
Spy chief Sir John Scarlett has said there was "no conscious intention" to manipulate information about Iraq's weapons in the run-up to the war.
Sir John told the Iraq inquiry he did not come under pressure to firm up the September 2002 dossier, containing a claim Iraq could use WMD in 45 minutes.
But he said it would have been "better" if it stated this concerned battlefield munitions not long-range missiles. An MP has claimed the 45-minute claim originated from an Iraqi taxi driver.
Tory MP Adam Holloway published a report on Tuesday saying advice casting doubt on the 45-minute claim was "ignored", but Sir John was not asked about this.
Appearing before the Chilcot inquiry, the man who drew up the September 2002 dossier, which said Iraq could deploy weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes, said it was produced in good faith.
"There was absolutely no conscious intention to manipulate the language or to obsfuscate or to create any misunderstanding on what this might refer to," he said.
Ministers withdrew the 45-minute claim after the war but said they acted in good faith in accepting it being included in the dossier.
It was at the heart of the row between the government and the BBC which culminated in the death of government weapons expert Dr David Kelly.
Sir John, who until recently was head of MI6, was chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee in September 2002 when it produced the controversial dossier spelling out the case for military action against Iraq.
Sir John defended the dossier but said it should have stated the 45-minute claim referred to battlefield munitions not ballistic missiles to avoid the information "getting lost in translation".
He also said he had limited involvement in a foreword to the dossier written by Tony Blair, which said it proved "beyond doubt" that Saddam continued to produce chemical and biological weapons.
He described it as an "overtly political" piece which carried the prime minister's name.
Giving evidence, he told the inquiry that, on 19 March - the day before the invasion - the Joint Intelligence Committee discussed intelligence suggesting Iraq had disassembled its chemical weapons capability and might find it "difficult" to reconstitute it.
However, he said this was not new information and the committee did not revise its view that Iraq did possess chemical and biological weapons and had the capacity to use them in battlefield munitions.
He said that the prime minister and other ministers were informed of its conclusions.
Discussing the reliability of intelligence, he said the nature of Iraqi society - where policy revolved around the "whims and personality" of Saddam Hussein - meant it was difficult to produce intelligence, particular about secretive weapons programmes, he said.
He said all intelligence sources, particularly those from opposition and exile groups, were treated with "caution".
He said "significant" assessments in August and September 2002 suggested Saddam was accelerating both his biological and chemical weapons programmes and had "intent" to use them if attacked - reports that continued to influence JIC thinking in the run-up to war.
Ahead of Sir John's appearance a Commons Defence Committee member, Tory MP Adam Holloway claimed military advice was matched to the "prevailing political wind" in the run-up to the invasion.
Mr Holloway, the MP for Gravesham and a former officer in the Grenadier Guards, published his paper The Failure of British Political and Military Leadership through First Defence, the centre-right think-tank he chairs.
In it, he said the claim that Saddam could launch weapons of mass destruction in 45-minutes arose as British intelligence were "squeezing" agents in Iraq for information, under pressure from Downing Street to back up its case that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
Despite this glaring factual inaccuracy... the report was characterised as reliable
Adam Holloway MP
Timeline: The 45-minute claim
At-a-glance: Butler report
"The provenance of this information was never questioned in detail until after the Iraq invasion, when it became apparent that something was wrong," he said.
"In the end it turned out that the information was not credible, it had originated from an emigre taxi driver on the Iraqi-Jordanian border, who had remembered an overheard conversation in the back of his cab a full two years earlier."
Mr Holloway stated that an intelligence analyst had at the time flagged up - via a footnote - that the claims were "demonstrably untrue".
"Despite this glaring factual inaccuracy... the report was characterised as reliable," he said.
The claim then formed one of the main planks of the September 2002 dossier stating the case for the war, Mr Holloway added. The government has yet to respond to his claims.
The inquiry chairman said it would deal with the MP's claim where "relevant" in the inquiry but it was not specifically a "matter" for Tuesday's inquiry hearing.
The row between the BBC and the government came after a report suggesting the dossier had been "sexed up" by Downing Street against the wishes of the intelligence services and that the 45-minute claim was included even though the government "probably knew" it was wrong.
The Hutton Inquiry into the death of the BBC's source - Dr David Kelly - ruled that the BBC report's claims were "unfounded" because the 45 minute claim, was based on a report which the Secret Intelligence Service "regarded as reliable".
It was not until the following year's Butler inquiry into intelligence about Iraq's weapons capability in 2004 that it emerged that the 45-minute claim had come "third-hand", through an established source and a second link in the reporting chain from the original Iraqi military source.
Lord Butler concluded the limitations of the intelligence were not "made sufficiently clear", that important caveats had been removed and that the 45 minutes claim was "unsubstantiated" and should not have been included without clarification.
The then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told MPs that MI6 had withdrawn the claim in October 2004.