Page last updated at 20:11 GMT, Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Iraq inquiry: 45-minute claim 'asking for trouble'

Sir David was intelligence co-ordinator under Tony Blair

Claiming Iraq had weapons of mass destruction which could be used within 45 minutes in a dossier was "asking for trouble", the Iraq inquiry has heard.

Tony Blair's former security co-ordinator Sir David Omand said some intelligence figures were "queasy" about publishing intelligence details.

He said it was a "local colour" the secret service would allow to be used.

And he said the government was warned that action in Iraq could draw "large numbers" to Islamic extremism.

Sir David, who was security and intelligence co-ordinator from 2002 to 2005, was asked about the September 2002 dossier on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction.

'Natural queasiness'

It included the controversial claim that they could be used within 45 minutes which was at the centre of a row between the BBC and the government.

Sir David said it was a piece of intelligence that was circulated "quite late in the day".

Peter Biles
Peter Biles, BBC World Affairs correspondent

The controversy surrounding the September 2002 dossier on Iraq just will not go away.

Sir David Omand revealed the detail about how the dossier was drafted by the JIC, and the consequences of the foreword written by Downing Street.

The JIC chairman, Sir John Scarlett, had been determined to retain "ownership" of the text of the dossier.

The faults had come to rebound on the JIC, but Sir David said the overall approach had been vindicated when the later "dodgy dossier" was published in February 2003 under the eye of No 10's spin-doctor, Alastair Campbell.

Sir David recalled how he had marched into Mr Campbell's office to ask what was going on, and had been given an apology.

Tomorrow, some of these issues will no doubt be raised with the former Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, when he gives evidence to the inquiry.

He said there was a "natural queasiness" among some in the intelligence community at making details public and there was a risk "we would end up with a document that was simply a series of assertions".

"That is my personal explanation of why, as it were, people fell on the 45 minutes - at least that was something the secret service would allow to be used," Sir David said.

"And, with hindsight, one can see that adding a bit of local colour like that is asking for trouble but we didn't really spot that at the time."

He said statements in the dossier had not been tightened up and Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) chairman John Scarlett would have told him if he was being put under undue pressure.

The committee has been looking at Tony Blair's foreword to the dossier, in which the former PM wrote that he believed the intelligence had established "beyond doubt" that Saddam Hussein had continued to produce chemical and biological weapons.

Sir David said he thought he had not paid much attention to the foreword - as it was a document produced by the prime minister under his own name - but that had been a "mistake".

'Unwilling to admit'

It had also been a "big mistake" to combine "the making of the case by government... with the presentation of the summary and what the JIC had found".

"I certainly wouldn't recommend doing it again," he said.

Sir David also said the JIC had not "stepped back" in January 2003 to reassess intelligence on Iraq's weapons - when the UN inspectors had not found any.

"When the inspectors started to report that they weren't finding what we thought was going to be found, the response, for example in SIS [the Secret Intelligence Service], was simply to turn up the volume control to say, 'That just proves how devious Saddam Hussein is and how incompetent the inspectors are'."

There was a clear difference within Washington between the CIA and its own analysts and those inside the Pentagon
Sir David Omand

He said there was "this psychological state of being unwilling to admit that actually it wasn't going to turn out the way that had been predicted".

Asked about suggestions that al-Qaeda had links with Saddam Hussein, he said British intelligence did not support that conclusion and "in the end" the CIA came to the same view.

But he said: "There was a clear difference within Washington between the CIA and its own analysts and those inside the Pentagon."

There had been warnings that invading Iraq would increase the probability of UK interests becoming a "higher priority target" for international terrorists, he said.

"On 13 December 02 we warned that US-led action could draw large numbers to the Islamist extremism ideology over the following five years," Sir David said.

In 2004 they knew there were up to 50 individuals from the UK who had tried to get Iraq to join "the jihadist faction".

But Sir David pointed out the threat to the UK from al-Qaeda had "long preceded" Iraq - with a bomb plot disrupted in Birmingham in 2000 - and that the level of threat was already "high".

He said the threat had to be balanced by the "overwhelming wish" in ministers' minds to deal with Saddam Hussein - and he thought Mr Blair would say it was "a risk we took on the chin".

"It doesn't create the danger it enhanced the radicalisation element," he said.

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