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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 June, 2003, 13:19 GMT 14:19 UK
Spy watchdog criticises dossier
Saddam Hussein
Spying in Iraq has distracted the government, say MPs
The "dodgy dossier" which mixed intelligence information about Iraq with a US student's thesis was not checked by intelligence chiefs before it was published, a committee of MPs and peers has said.

Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) makes the claim about the much criticised second Iraq dossier, which was published in February.

In its annual report the committee also criticises the government for focusing too much on Iraq and Afghanistan instead of the on-going work of the spy agencies.

The ISC is to start a full inquiry into the intelligence gathered on Iraq's illegal weapons after the government was accused of "sexing up" intelligence reports and exaggerating the threat from Saddam Hussein.

New checks

The committee says it is too soon to make any "definitive statements" about the role of intelligence in the conflict with Iraq.

Tuesday's report only deals with that second dossier, which was published as the committee questioned intelligence chiefs in the run-up to war.

The ISC says: "We believe that material produced from the agencies can be used in publications and attributed appropriately.

UK Government's dossier on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq
Government dossiers are now in the spotlight
"But it is imperative that the agencies are consulted before any of their material is published."

Former cabinet minister Ann Taylor, who chairs the committee, told BBC Radio 4's World At One: "The system has now been changed because of the concerns that were raised at that time.

"There is now a system in place that should ensure that intelligence-derived material is not mixed in with other material."

In future, the head of the Joint Intelligence Committee, which oversees the security services for the government, will endorse any dossiers before they are published, said Ms Taylor.

Too secretive?

The Labour MP defended the ISC's new inquiry into the Iraq row, which centres around the claim that Number 10 overplayed the claim that Iraq could launch some weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes of an order.

Critics who want a public inquiry headed by a judge complain that the ISC is too secretive and Number 10 can remove sensitive material from its reports.

Ms Taylor argued the committee had to meet in private because otherwise it would not be able to see classified intelligence.

And she said that in previous reports, Downing Street had not tried to interfere with any of the committee's judgements.

She refused to confirm or deny whether Tony Blair or his communications chief, Alastair Campbell, would be questioned for the Iraq inquiry.

"We'll interview everybody we want to," she added.

At a Downing Street news conference about the euro on Thursday, Mr Blair again rebutted the weapons concerns.

He said: "There is not a shred of evidence, absolutely no evidence at all, that we have doctored or manipulated intelligence. That would be absolutely gross if we did so. We have not done so."

Narrow focus

Another key complaint in the ISC report is that a key intelligence committee, intended to be chaired by Mr Blair, has not even met.

As a result, the government is failing to see "the full capability of intelligence collection", it says.

The ISC also voices concern that the recent concentration of the agencies on the war against terror is leading to "collection gaps" in other areas.

"The committee believes that, with the focus on current crises, the agencies' long-term capacity to provide warnings is being eroded."

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