London, Aug. 25: Alastair Campbell persuaded intelligence chiefs to include a sentence in the government’s Iraq dossier suggesting that Saddam Hussein could produce nuclear weapons within two years, it emerged yesterday.
The Prime Minister’s director of communications requested it because he believed that Saddam’s nuclear intentions, rather than his supposed ability to deploy chemical and biological weapons within 45 minutes, would be the main story for the media when the dossier was published last September.
The revelation, contained in one of hundreds of documents issued by the Hutton inquiry at the weekend, will re-inforce claims that Campbell was responsible for “sexing up” the dossier.
With Tony Blair due to give evidence to the inquiry on Thursday, the new material provides an embarrassing insight into the government’s handling of the dossier and its treatment of David Kelly after he was identified as the source of the allegations that it had been “sexed up”.
E-mails released by the inquiry show that on September 18 Campbell wrote to John Scarlett, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, who was in charge of the dossier, under the heading: “Another dossier memo!”. Campbell said he had shown the dossier to a woman in the office who found the nuclear section “confusing and unconvincing”. She was quoted as saying: “It left me thinking there is nothing much to worry about.”
He went on: “Sorry to bombard on this point, but I do worry that the nuclear section will become the main focus and as currently drafted is not in great shape.”
At that stage the dossier said that if sanctions were removed or became ineffective, Iraq would take five years to produce a weapon but that “this timescale would shorten if Iraq succeeded in obtaining fissile material from abroad”. Campbell wanted to make this more specific. The next day, at 8.21am, he sent Scarlett another e-mail saying: “I think it would be simpler to have just one clearer section on nuclear timelines, perhaps on the following lines.”
A draft paragraph followed in which he repeated the point about it taking five years to produce a nuclear weapon without sanctions but sooner if fissile material were obtained abroad. He ended the paragraph with a sentence that was not in the most recent draft of the dossier.
It said: “In these circumstances, the JIC assessed in early 2002 that they could produce nuclear weapons in between one and two years.”
Scarlett seems to have accepted this. Another draft of the document was produced that day, September 19. It included a sentence saying: “We therefore judge that if Iraq obtained fissile material and other essential components from foreign sources, the timeline for production of nuclear weapons would be shortened and Iraq could produce a nuclear weapon in between one and two years.”
The final document, published on September 24 retained that wording. No 10’s desire to talk up Saddam’s nuclear intentions was also revealed in an e-mail from Tom Kelly, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman.
“The weakness, obviously, is our inability to say that he could pull the nuclear trigger any time soon,” he wrote in the week before the dossier was published.
Campbell’s interest in the potential nuclear threat may explain why the government was so keen to defend its claim that Saddam tried to obtain uranium from Niger, even when Washington said that it was unfounded.
No 10 has repeatedly said that the JIC was responsible for the dossier.