PM's aide ordered dossier change to boost war case, admits spy chief

By Paul Waugh and Kim Sengupta

24 September 2003

Intelligence that undermined the case for war against Saddam Hussein was dropped from the Iraq dossier at the last minute after the intervention of Tony Blair's chief of staff.

John Scarlett, chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, admitted yesterday that he had made the crucial change on the "prompting" of Jonathan Powell, the Prime Minister's most senior aide.

The intelligence - that Iraq was more likely to use chemical and biological weapons defensively than offensively - was cut the day before the dossier was sent to the printer, the Hutton inquiry heard. Mr Scarlett said he removed the passage after an e-mail from Mr Powell had called it as "a problem" that could be seized on by anti-war critics.

Mr Powell's message, which was sent after the deadline for final comments from intelligence chiefs on the dossier, objected to the claim that the Iraqi dictator would use his weapons only if invaded.

"I think the statement on pg 19 that 'Saddam is prepared to use chemical and biological weapons if he believes his regime is under threat' is a bit of a problem," the e-mail read.

It pointed out that the claim would, in effect, back up an article by Donald Macintyre, The Independent's chief political commentator, that Saddam was "bad", but not "mad" enough to launch a WMD strike against the West. The e-mail went on: "It backs up the Don McIntyre [sic] argument that there is no CBW [chemical and biological weapons] threat and we will only create one if we attack him. I think you should redraft the para."

In the final version of the dossier, published five days later on 24 September, the passage was changed to read: "Saddam is willing to use chemical and biological weapons, including against his own Shia population."

Mr Powell's e-mail was sent at 3.45pm on 19 September last year, beyond a deadline set by Mr Scarlett for MI6, MI5, GCHQ and Defence Intelligence Staff to send their comments on the dossier. The following day, it was approved by Mr Scarlett and sent to the printers. It was published to coincide with a statement by Tony Blair to Parliament.

Under cross-examination by Andrew Caldecott QC, counsel for the BBC, Mr Scarlett admitted the change had been made only after Mr Powell had suggested it.

He insisted the change "was not as a result of the intervention from Downing Street", and said he simply went back to his intelligence assessment staff to check the dossier. Recent intelligence suggested Mr Powell was right and that wider issues such as Saddam's command and control capabilities and his intention to threaten his neighbours should be given more weight, Mr Scarlett said.