- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 12, 2009

LONDON (AP) - Officials drafting an intelligence dossier that was used to help justify the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq discussed worries that Britain risked exaggerating the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s regime, documents released on Thursday disclosed.

In e-mails published under Freedom of Information laws, officials aired concerns that some parts of a dossier on the threat posed by Iraq’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons program needed to be watered down.

In one e-mail sent eight days before then-Prime Minister Tony Blair published the dossier, an unidentified British official said changes were needed to soften the tone of some passages, but questioned whether ministers would listen.

“We have suggested moderating the same language in much the same way on drafts from the dim and distant past without success. Feel free to try again!” the official wrote.

The official also complained about the “iffy drafting” of a section dealing with the number of ballistic missiles Iraq had produced.

Britain’s Cabinet Office said the e-mails related to the intelligence dossier entitled “Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction” which was presented to parliament on Sept. 24, 2002.

Anti-war campaigners allege that the dossier’s central claim _ that Iraq could deploy weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes _ was inserted into a final draft on the advice of press advisers seeking to bolster the content of the document, rather than by intelligence staff.

Documents released on Thursday do not address the 45-minute claim, but expose the detailed revisions made to the dossier.

In an official inquiry in 2004, retired government civil servant Lord Robin Butler criticized intelligence officials for relying in part on seriously flawed or unreliable sources when compiling the document.

The inquiry concluded the government had left out vital caveats in its presentation of prewar intelligence.

Blair’s authority in Britain was seriously undermined by public opposition to the Iraq war _ though he won a national election in 2005 with a reduced parliamentary majority. Then-President George W. Bush acknowledged in 2005 that the U.S. had relied on flawed intelligence to build its own case for war.

In another e-mail released Thursday, an unidentified official appeared to mock a passage of the dossier which warned that Saddam had recruited experts to head Iraq’s nuclear weapons program. “Dr Frankenstein, I presume?” the official wrote, commenting on the claim that Saddam had hired leading nuclear specialists.

The Cabinet Office said that names of some officials had been withheld to protect the identities of military intelligence staff and other people in sensitive roles.

Other e-mail exchanges show how some officials insisted the dossier needed to make the strongest case possible that Iraq’s weapons posed a threat.

In an e-mail to John Scarlett, then the head of Britain’s Joint Intelligence Committee, defense ministry official Desmond Bowen suggested that the tone of sections on Iraq’s weapons should be hardened.

“In looking at the (weapons of mass destruction) sections, you clearly want to be as firm and authoritative as you can be,” Bowen said in an e-mail. He suggested including details in the dossier which illustrated the “wickedness of Saddam and his regime.”

A second document, published in February 2003 and which became known as the “dodgy dossier,” was criticized after it was found to have repeated verbatim parts of an academic study on Iraq’s supposed concealment of weapons.

David Kelly, a government weapons scientist, killed himself in 2003 after he was exposed as the source of a British Broadcasting Corp. report that accused Blair’s office of “sexing up” intelligence to make a stronger case for war.

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