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British Intelligence Advisor Testifies in Inquiry into Death of Weapons Expert - 2003-08-26


One of Britain's top intelligence advisers has testified before the special inquiry set up to investigate the death of a leading weapons expert, Dr. David Kelly. John Scarlett was questioned about the validity of the document he authored about Iraq's weapons potential, a report that helped launch Britain into war.

Of primary concern was the claim in the document that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's regime could launch chemical and biological weapons on 45 minutes' notice.

John Scarlett, now head of the Joint Intelligence Committee, was in charge of compiling that crucial report on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction. He told the Hutton inquiry that the claim was not exaggerated.

Mr. Scarlett conceded that the claim about a quick-launch capability came from a single source quoting a senior Iraqi military official. His answer suggested that the information was second-hand.

The intelligence adviser acknowledged that the contentious item was not in a draft version of the report in early September, but that he did add it shortly thereafter. That report was released into the public domain two weeks later.

E-mail evidence assembled by the Hutton inquiry indicates that Prime Minister Tony Blair's head of communications had asked Mr. Scarlett to harden up the language of the final report. Mr. Scarlett insisted that no one from the various British intelligence agencies had raised any concerns with him about the aspects of the final report, including the 45 minute claim.

The intelligence adviser believes the report was backed by intelligence then available, but he hinted that because no warheads have been discovered, it has proven to be questionable.

This appears to have put Prime Minister Blair on the spot. He is scheduled to face the inquiry on Thursday.

Months after major conflict in Iraq has ended, no weapons of mass destruction have been found, although this was the key reason Mr. Blair gave the British people for his decision to go to war.

Mr. Blair's credibility appears to be on the line. His rating in public opinion polls has plummeted in recent months. One such survey, in London's Sunday Telegraph newspaper, showed that two-thirds of those questioned thought that Mr. Blair's government had deceived them.

This issue that refuses to go away represents the toughest challenge to Tony Blair since he came to power more than six years ago.

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