Sat, Aug 23, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Canberra lied about Saddam's weapons threat, inquiry told

REUTERS , CANBERRA

The Australian government lied about the threat of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction to justify its involvement in the US-led war, an official inquiry into intelligence on Iraq was told yesterday.

A former senior intelligence analyst, Andrew Wilkie, who resigned in March in protest over Australia's case for war, said Prime Minister John Howard, a close US ally, created a mythical Iraq by dropping ambiguous references in intelligence reports.

"The government lied every time it skewed, misrepresented, used selectively and fabricated the Iraq story. ... The exaggeration was so great it was pure dishonesty," Wilkie, formerly of the Office of National Assessment (ONA), told the inquiry.

The ONA is equivalent to the US National Security Agency.

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

Wilkie's comments to the inquiry are some of his strongest yet against Howard's administration. Since his resignation, Wilkie has made numerous attacks on Howard, embarrassing the Australian leader.

Controversy has been raging in the US, Britain and Australia over accusations those governments manipulated intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction to justify the war with no evidence yet found of biological, chemical or nuclear weapons.

Howard has said he made the right decision to send a 2,000-strong force to the Gulf despite initial public qualms, but has said that intelligence could not have provided absolute proof of the Iraqi threat.

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

Wilkie said he believes Iraq had a disjointed weapons of mass destruction program, but said the UN should have been given more time to search Iraq.

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