LONDON, 9 June 2003 — A top aide to Prime Minister Tony Blair has promised the British secret service that the government will take more care in presenting intelligence material to the public after a damaging row over a dossier on Iraq’s weapons.
A spokesman for Blair’s Downing Street office said yesterday the document — dubbed the “dodgy dossier” by British media — had failed to make clear the source of some of the information that was used to back the government’s case for war on Iraq.
The spokesman denied that Blair’s communications chief, Alastair Campbell, had apologized for embarrassing the security service by “sexing up” the February dossier.
But the admission that Campbell had written to Sir Richard Dearlove, chief of the Secret Intelligence Service MI6, will fuel the case of Blair’s opponents at home and abroad who say the Iraq war was illegal and unjustified.
“He assured the heads of (security) agencies that far greater care would be taken on work that could impact on their own reputation or work,” the Downing Street spokesman said.
Sparks first flew when it was discovered that chunks of the report — “Iraq: Its Infrastructure of Concealment, Deception and Intimidation” — had come from a student’s 2002 thesis, which itself leaned heavily on documents more than a decade old.
It has returned to haunt Blair again in recent weeks as pressure mounts for him to show evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that he said justified war.
Weeks after war ended, none has yet been found.
The government denied a newspaper report yesterday that Dearlove and Eliza Manningham-Buller, head of the domestic intelligence service MI5, had threatened to resign over the government’s interpretation of their Iraqi intelligence.
“The claim is entirely without foundation,” a Foreign Office official said.
Blair’s spokesman said the parts of the dossier which came from intelligence sources should have been more clearly marked out from those which came from publicly available sources.
“Alastair Campbell spoke to those responsible for its production and demanded a tightening of procedures,” he added.
Cynicism about the justification for war was stoked last month by a BBC report alleging that Blair’s office pressured the security services to assert that Iraq could launch a chemical attack within 45 minutes. Downing Street has denied the claim.
“The government’s credibility, the Prime Minister’s credibility is on the line because nobody believes what he says any more,” opposition Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith told BBC Television, demanding an independent inquiry.
Fresh allegations are emerging almost daily.
The Observer newspaper reported that Britain’s intelligence services were reviewing whether two mobile laboratories found in Iraq were designed to make agents for biological weapons.
Blair has publicly referred to the labs as early evidence of Iraqi weapons programs, and has promised more will follow.
Officials would not comment on the report but the New York Times said on Saturday senior intelligence analysts who examined the trailers doubted they were used to make germ agents.