UK officials wanted to gag expert on Iraq dossier
Government documents released yesterday show top British officials tried to stop a scientist airing doubts on an Iraqi weapons dossier on which Prime Minister Tony Blair based the case for war.
The documents emerged in an inquiry into the suicide of weapons expert Dr David Kelly, sucked into the heart of a furious row between Mr Blair's government and the BBC over whether intelligence was "sexed up" for political ends.
Dr Kelly was outed as the source for a BBC journalist's report accusing Mr Blair's inner circle of hyping evidence about Iraq's weapons capability to win over a sceptical public.
An official note, written on July 14, the day before Dr Kelly was due to testify to a parliamentary committee, made clear that Dr Kelly would be told to keep his views to himself.
It said the respected scientist was due to be briefed later that day by the deputy chief of defence intelligence (DCDI) about his appearances in front of the foreign affairs committee and intelligence and security committee on July 15 and 16.
"DCDI is to brief Dr Kelly this afternoon for his appearance tomorrow before the FAC and ISC and will strongly recommend that Dr Kelly is not drawn on his assessment of the dossier," read the note, which was shown to the inquiry.
Separate documents revealed that the top civil servant at Britain's Ministry of Defence had said at a meeting in Mr Blair's office one week earlier that some of Mr Kelly's views would be awkward for the government.
"If he was summoned to give evidence, some of it might be uncomfortable on specifics such as the likelihood of there being weapons systems ready for use within 45 minutes," the defence civil servant said at the meeting.
The inquiry heard how Mr Blair's official spokesmen proposed ways to tighten the draft dossier's evidence on Saddam Hussein's intent to use banned weapons.
"The weakness obviously is our inability to say that he (Saddam) could pull the nuclear trigger any time soon," Tom Kelly said in one of many e-mails written by Downing Street staff and shown to the inquiry.
"We need that to counter the argument that Saddam is bad, not mad."
The spokesmen said they advised Mr Blair's communications chief Alastair Campbell against leaking the fact that Dr Kelly had spoken to the BBC to one newspaper in July.
"I thought the government was within its rights to make an announcement of this sort and to do that in the way it chose," said Mr Blair's spokesman Godric Smith.
Mr Blair's claim that Iraq could deploy chemical or biological weapons at 45 minutes' notice was the most dramatic part of his September 2002 dossier aimed at winning support for a war most Britons opposed.