| Top British intelligence officer, John Scarlett, at the royal courts of justice in London on Tuesday. (Reuters)
London, Aug. 26 (Reuters): A top British intelligence officer stepped out of the shadows today to defend the dossier on which Prime Minister Tony Blair based his case for war with Iraq.
Blair faces the toughest test of his Premiership later this week when he testifies to an inquiry into the suicide of an Iraq weapons expert as his public ratings are plummeting.
Weapons expert David Kelly slashed his wrist last month after being named as the suspected source for a BBC reporter’s claim that the government “sexed up” its September 2002 dossier.
John Scarlett, a former chief of the British intelligence service’s Moscow station, told the inquiry today that Blair’s team did not inflate intelligence about banned Iraqi weapons to make a case for war which most Britons opposed.
“It was completely untrue,” Scarlett, head of the government Joint Intelligence Committee, told the inquiry led by judge Lord Hutton. “Nobody was in a better position than me to know that.”
Kelly’s name became public as Blair’s communications chief, Alastair Campbell, conducted a furious row with the BBC over a claim that Campbell had added to the dossier the assertion that Saddam Hussein could launch weapons of mass destruction at 45 minutes’ notice.
Scarlett was in charge of drafting Blair’s dossier but admitted that Campbell asked him a number of times to harden up sections of language.
He said he only accepted those suggestions that could be justified by the intelligence, rejecting any others.
But an e-mail between officials — one of thousands released to the inquiry which has shone a rare light on the inner workings of government — showed there was a scramble for intelligence tit-bits to help beef up the document.
“Number 10 (Blair’s office) want the document to be as strong as possible within the bounds of the available intelligence,” said the e-mail from an unnamed official.
“This is, therefore, a last call for any items of intelligence that the agencies think can and should be included.”
Government officials said Blair was being briefed by lawyers and other experts ahead of his testimony on Thursday.
Months after Saddam’s overthrow, no banned weapons — the reason Blair gave Britons for war — have been found in Iraq and his trust ratings have plunged.
A poll in the Daily Telegraph showed 67 per cent of those questioned thought Blair’s government had deceived the public.