Blair fell for US spin on Iraq WMD and ignored UK advice
TONY Blair disregarded the advice of his own intelligence agencies and chose instead to believe 'selective and defective' information from a highly politicised Pentagon unit set up by US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld to validate war against Saddam Hussein by proving that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
Former CIA staff say Blair was heavily influenced by intelligence gathered by Rumsfeld's Office of Special Plans (OSP) which 'cherry-picked' intelligence in order to provide the US administration with an excuse to attack Saddam. US intelligence officers claim the OSP ignored intelligence which might have cast doubt on Iraq's WMD programme.
British intelligence sources have told the Sunday Herald that they were 'absolutely sceptical' about plans to invade Iraq over WMD. The same sources accept that France and Russia had the best intelligence on what was going on inside Saddam's regime and were telling both the UK and USA that 'there was effectively no real evidence of a WMD programme' in Iraq.
LibDem foreign affairs spokesman Menzies Campbell told the Sunday Herald: 'It has been one of Whitehall's least well-kept secrets that, throughout the Iraq crisis, the intelligence services have been uneasy about the use being made of the product of their labours.'
With a growing rift within US intelligence over the issue, and evidence that neo-conservatives and hawks within the Pentagon and OSP are now concentrating their efforts to help bring about regime change in Iran, CIA director George Tenet released a rare statement which many see as an attempt to distance the agency from OSP and the increasing 'politicisation' of intelligence.
'Our role is to call it like we see it, to tell policy-makers what we know, what we don't know, what we think and what we base it on,' Tenet said.
'The integrity of our process was maintained throughout and any suggestion to the contrary is simply wrong.'
Blair, however, in an interview with Sky TV today, will say that even though no banned weapons have yet been found he was in 'no doubt at all' that Saddam possessed WMD and proof would be found. He also claimed that in the near future evidence will be assembled and given to the British people which will prove Iraq had WMD.
His comments follow the revelation that a transcript of a conversation between UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and US Secretary of State Colin Powell showed the pair both feared that allied claims about Iraq's WMD programme could not be proved. This has since been denied by the Foreign Office.
One of the key claims in the dossier which Blair presented to parliament to prove his case for war was that Iraq was able to use WMD in just 45 minutes. Last night a member of the Labour Party came forward to claim that he had taken part in a telephone conference with Labour Party chairman Dr John Reid, in which Reid said it would have taken 'more than 48 hours' for Saddam to get WMD operative.
Alun Harford, who says he is now to quit the party, said: 'I can tell you, I'm absolutely confident that that is what Dr Reid said.' A spokesman for Reid said the party chairman was 'completely consistent with the Prime Minister in every briefing and interview he gave'.
Rebel Labour MP and Father of the House, Tam Dalyell, said he had previously accused Margaret Thatcher of lying to the Commons over the Peruvian peace proposals and the Westland affair, adding: 'These untruths concern matters, however important at the time, which are minuscule in comparison as to whether there had been lies or not before the Commons was persuaded to enter a war against Iraq with global consequences.
'Before I or anyone else can pursue this matter further we must know the facts of what the Prime Minister knew or did not know in September 2002 when he recalled parliament to say Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction which could be used at 45 minutes notice.'
A UK intelligence official earlier came forward to say they were told by Downing Street to make 'sexier' a dossier delivered to parliament stating the government's case for war.