London, Aug. 20 (Reuters): Government documents released today show that top officials tried to stop scientist David Kelly airing doubts on the controversial Iraq dossier on which British Prime Minister Tony Blair based the case for war.
The documents emerged in an inquiry into the suicide of weapons expert Kelly, sucked into the heart of a furious row between Blair’s government and the BBC over whether intelligence was “sexed up” for political ends.
Kelly was outed as the source for a BBC journalist’s report accusing 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 Kelly was due to testify to a parliamentary committee, made clear that 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 Kelly this afternoon for his appearance tomorrow before the FAC and ISC and will strongly recommend that 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 Blair’s office one week earlier that some of 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.
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 that most Britons opposed.
But four months after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq. The absence of weapons — along with Kelly’s suicide — has undermined trust in Blair’s government and created the worst crisis of his six-year tenure.
An ICM poll for the Guardian newspaper today showed 52 per cent of the public trust neither the government nor the BBC to tell the truth and that only 6 per cent trust Blair’s administration more than the broadcaster.
Yesterday, witnesses told the inquiry that the BBC report led to a bitter feud between the network and the government. The testimony provided the strongest evidence so far that Blair closely followed the dispute over the news report, which challenged his government’s integrity.