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British Spy Agency Cleared Iraqi WMD Intel Under Pressure: Officials

Officials with the United Kingdom's Secret Intelligence Service in newly released testimony said the drive to substantiate statements on prewar Iraq's suspected weapons of mass destruction contributed to their organization's failure to flag faulty intelligence on the matter, the London Guardian reported on Friday (see GSN, June 27).

In a now widely discredited 2002 dossier, then-Prime Minister Tony Blair asserted that Saddam Hussein's regime had a significant WMD capability. However, no signs of active unconventional weapons programs or operational stockpiles have turned up in Iraq in the years following the 2003 invasion.

A "very febrile atmosphere" pervaded the agency known popularly as MI6, leading to the inappropriate approval of intelligence eventually determined to lack credibility, one unidentified SAS official told the expert inquiry investigating British participation in the Iraq War.

"The pressure to generate results, I fear, did lead to the cutting of corners. I think perhaps SIS (MI6) was at that point guilty of flying a bit too close to the sun," the official told inquiry member Roderic Lyne.

Addressing whether the intelligence service had assumed an inappropriate role in determining policy, the official said: "Not exactly policy-making as such, but perilously close to it, I would say. I think a fair criticism would be that we were probably too eager to please."

"It soon became an issue that there was a public portrayal, if you like, of senior intelligence officers, a public portrayal of them as Whitehall courtiers, and I think that was damaging externally in relation to the reputation of (MI6) for professionalism, and … the service's own sense of intellectual integrity," the insider added.

A second official backed former Blair security and intelligence adviser David Omand's previous assertion that the intelligence service "overpromised and underdelivered."

"I absolutely agreed with that judgment. It's precisely what we did," the official said.

An assertion that Hussein regime could deploy chemical armaments within 45 minutes was proven false no later than four months after the war began, one witness said.

The assertion was "based in part on wishful thinking," another SIS official said. "I think we marketed that intelligence ... before it was fully validated."

"Doubts" existed "in SIS's collective consciousness even before March 2003," when the military offensive started.

Former Blair Communications Director Alastair Campbell on Thursday responded via Twitter: "No such views [were] expressed to me by senior SIS personnel at [the] time" (Richard Norton-Taylor, London Guardian, July 15).

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