45 Minutes:the Claim Was Bogus

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Byline: GORDON RAYNER

THE now infamous claim that Saddam Hussein could deploy weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes should not have been included in the September 2002 dossier, Lord Butler concluded.

The claim was 'unsubstantiated' and needed further clarification and explanation, he says. Its inclusion led to suspicions it had been used because of its ' eyecatching character'.

Based on 'vague and ambiguous' intelligence, the claim referred to 'chemical and biological munitions being with military units and ready for firing within 20 to 45 minutes'.

Government experts 'did not know what munitions the report was referring to or their status, not did they know from where and to where the munitions might be moved', Lord Butler says.

But most of the experts came to the conclusion the report was referring to battlefield weapons - for use within Iraq - rather than long-range ballistic missiles.

By the time the dossier was published, the distinction had been lost, leading Tony Blair to state that Saddam had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons deployable at 45 minutes' notice.

The Prime Minister told MPs in February this year that he had no idea the warning had referred only to short-range battlefield weapons.

The Butler Report says the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), which wrote the dossier, 'should not have included the 45-minute report in its assessment and in the Government's dossier without stating what it was believed to refer to'.

It adds: 'The fact that the reference in the classified assessment was repeated in the dossier later led to suspicions that it had been included because of its eyecatching character.' Those suspicions were fuelled by BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan's report, which claimed the dossier had been 'sexed up' on the orders of former Downing Street spin doctor Alastair Campbell to make the case for war more convincing.

His source for the story, Government scientist Dr David Kelly, was found dead on July 18 last year after his name was made public.

The Butler report adds that the Secret Intelligence Service - also known as MI6 - had now admitted that the validity of the 45-minute claim had 'come into question'.

He says 'strenuous efforts' were made to ensure that the assessment of the threat posed by Saddam did not go beyond the judgments of the JIC.

'But in translating material from JIC assessments into the dossier, warnings were lost about the limited intelligence base on which some of aspects of these assessments were being made.

'The Government would have seen these warnings in the original JIC assessments and taken them into account in reading them, but the public would not have known of them. The language in the dossier may have left readers with the impression that there was fuller and firmer intelligence behind the judgments than was the case.

'Our view, having reviewed all of the material, is that judgments in the dossier went to (although not beyond) the outer limits of the intelligence available.' However, Lord Butler makes it clear he does not believe the Prime Minister, Mr Campbell or anybody else involved in drawing up the report deliberately overplayed the claim for political reasons.

'We have found no evidence of deliberate distortion or of culpable negligence,' he says.

g.rayner@dailymail.co.uk

The devious language MISTAKES were made in the way that 'thin' intelligence was presented in the vital September 2002 dossier, Lord Butler concludes.

He says the Joint Intelligence Committee was well aware of the limitations of the information, but those misgivings were not included in the final document presented to Tony Blair.

As a result, 'more weight was placed on the intelligence than it could bear' - a conclusion proved by the fact that much of it has since been discredited. …