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U.K. Probe Finds Data Flawed

Butler panel says Blair government didn't distort information on Iraq

July 19, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 29

A U.K. report on prewar intelligence of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction mirrors the earlier findings of a U.S. Senate committee: Intelligence on prewar Iraq was "seriously flawed" but was not misused by policymakers in the run-up to war. The U.K. report, however, is much less harsh on domestic intelligence agencies than its U.S. counterpart.

Although the U.K. inquiry found serious weaknesses in prewar intelligence as embodied in a September 2002 dossier, it found no evidence that Prime Minister Tony Blair's government intentionally exaggerated available intelligence or that analysts were pressured to reach certain conclusions to justify going to war.

The inquiry, commissioned by Blair in February, was led by former senior civil servant Robin Lord Butler.

Speaking to the House of Commons after the report's release, Blair praised it for its "balanced judgments" and accepted "full responsibility" for the mistakes it chronicled. Contrary to his confident prewar assertions, Blair said he now agreed with the report's finding of scant evidence that prewar Iraq had large arsenals of chemical and biological weapons ready to be deployed.

Blair had asked for the 2002 intelligence dossier to bolster public support for going to war. But the Butler committee faulted the dossier for its poor, limited, and often unreliable sources and for its lack of caveats. Without caveats, the committee said, the dossier left the impression that the intelligence was on a "fuller and firmer" footing than it actually was.

Singled out for special criticism was the dossier's claim--which President George W. Bush repeated in his State of the Union address-- that Iraq could launch chemical and biological weapons on 45 minutes' notice. Butler's committee said the claim was "vague and ambiguous" because it failed to mention that it referred to battlefield weapons, not missiles.

In agreement with findings of the Senate report, Butler's committee affirmed U.K. intelligence services' conclusion of no link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. Another point of agreement was Iraq's reason for trying to acquire aluminum tubes. Both reports concluded the tubes were intended for rockets, not for a reconstituted Iraqi nuclear program as the Bush Administration contended prior to the war.

The Butler report also concluded that the mobile labs mentioned in the dossier--and by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell in his February 2003 address to the United Nations Security Council--could not have been used to make biological weapons. But, the Butler committee did believe that "assertions that Iraq sought uranium from Africa were well-founded on intelligence." The CIA and the International Atomic Energy Agency both contend the claim is based on forged documents.

When asked who was responsible for mistakes in the dossier, Butler said the intelligence failures were the collective responsibility of those "involved in putting together the dossier." His committee also exonerated the Blair government, stating there was "no deliberate attempt ... to mislead."



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