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Former Intelligence Agent Says Australia Ignored Reports Casting Doubt on Iraq's WMDs - 2003-08-22

A former Australian intelligence analyst has accused the government of ignoring reports casting doubt on Iraq's weapons capabilities. A parliamentary panel is investigating the accuracy and interpretation of intelligence that was used to justify Australia's involvement in the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Andrew Wilkie told members of the Australian Parliament the government greatly exaggerated evidence about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Mr. Wilkie resigned from the intelligence service earlier this year, claiming there was not enough evidence to justify going to war.

The government in Canberra argues Mr. Wilkie is not a reliable witness.

Government ministers have said he was not directly involved in assessing sensitive information on Saddam Hussein's regime. They have insisted his role concerned only humanitarian matters.

Mr. Wilkie on Friday told investigating lawmakers the government was prepared to deliberately exaggerate the threat posed by Iraq to stay in step with the United States and Britain.

"Key intelligence assessment qualifications like 'probably could' and 'uncorroborated evidence suggests' were frequently dropped," he explained. " Much more useful words like 'massive' and 'mammoth' were included."

In Britain and the United States, similar accusations have been made that the governments overstated the evidence about Iraq to justify attacking the country. Officials in both governments deny the allegations, and say Iraq's programs to develop chemical, biological or nuclear weapons posed a great threat to world peace.

Australia's role in the Iraq invasion was the country's biggest combat deployment since the Vietnam War. In a televised address in March, Prime Minister John Howard declared Iraq had weapons capable of "causing death and destruction on a mammoth scale."

As the inquiry in Canberra opens, Mr. Howard says intelligence information was not distorted. The prime minister insists his reasons for sending Australia to war were genuine.

"We didn't ask that the intelligence material be distorted," he insisted. " I made, and my colleagues made, a bona fide judgment based on the assessments that existed at the time."

The parliamentary investigation will hear four days of testimony over the next two months. Australia's intelligence agencies will give evidence in secret. The committee chairman, David Jull, says he aims to establish a clear picture of the nature and accuracy of the intelligence that the government received.