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U.K. Officials Tried to Rein in Scientist - Kelly's Testimony Worried Government
Published on Thursday, August 21, 2003 by the Toronto Star
U.K. Officials Tried to Rein in Scientist - Kelly's Testimony Worried Government
by Dominic Evans and Peter Griffiths
 

LONDON—Government documents released yesterday show top British officials tried to stop a scientist airing doubts on an Iraqi weapons dossier on which Prime Minister Tony Blair based the case for war.

The documents emerged in an inquiry into the suicide of weapons expert David Kelly, sucked into the heart of a furious row between Blair's government and the British Broadcasting Corporation over whether intelligence was "sexed up" for political ends.

Kelly was outed as the source for a BBC journalist's report accusing Blair's inner circle of hyping evidence about Iraq's weapons capability to win over a skeptical public.

An official note, written on July 14, the day before Kelly was due to testify to a parliamentary committee, made clear Kelly would be told to keep his views to himself.

It said the respected scientist was due to be briefed later that day by the deputy chief of defence intelligence, or DCDI, about his appearances in front of the foreign affairs committee and intelligence and security committee on July 15 and 16.

"DCDI is to brief Dr. Kelly this afternoon for his appearance tomorrow before the (committees) and will strongly recommend that Kelly is not drawn on his assessment of the dossier," read the note, which was shown to the inquiry.

Separate documents revealed the top civil servant at Britain's defence ministry had said at a meeting in Blair's office one week earlier that some of Kelly's views would be awkward for the government.

"If he was summoned to give evidence, some of it might be uncomfortable on specifics such as the likelihood of there being weapons systems ready for use within 45 minutes," the defence civil servant said at the meeting.

The inquiry heard how Blair's official spokesmen proposed ways to tighten the draft dossier's evidence on Saddam Hussein's intent to use banned weapons.

"The weakness obviously is our inability to say that he (Saddam) could pull the nuclear trigger any time soon," Tom Kelly said in one of many e-mails written by Downing Street staff and shown to the inquiry. "We need that to counter the argument that Saddam is bad, not mad."

Blair's claim Iraq could deploy chemical or biological weapons at 45 minutes' notice was the most dramatic part of his September, 2002, dossier aimed at winning support for a war most Britons opposed.

Four months after the overthrow of Saddam, no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq. That — along with Kelly's suicide — has undermined trust in Blair's government and created the worst crisis of his six years in power.

A poll for the Guardian newspaper Tuesday showed 52 per cent of the public trust neither the government nor the BBC to tell the truth.

Copyright 1996-2003. Toronto Star Newspapers Limited

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