LONDON – A British dossier on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction which included material lifted from a graduate thesis on the Internet was an embarrassment for the government, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw (search) said Tuesday.
But, testifying before a House of Commons Committee (search), Straw defended another government dossier which claimed that some weapons of mass destruction were poised for deployment on 45 minutes notice.
"I don't happen to regard the 45-minute statement as having the significance which has been attached to it. And neither does anybody else," Straw told the Foreign Affairs Select Committee (search).
The two British dossiers, published in September and January, were intended to buttress Blair's case that Saddam Hussein's programs for developing chemical, biological and nuclear weapons posed a danger to Britain.
Blair has come under growing pressure as coalition forces in Iraq have so far failed to find evidence of such weapons.
The second dossier, the one Straw described as an embarrassment, contained material from a U.S. researcher's 12-year-old thesis which had been copied, with a few alternations, from the Internet.
"Of course it has been an embarrassment for the Government and lessons have been learned."
Straw said it was a "very substantial error that the sources of the document were not properly attributed."
The first dossier included the claim that some chemical or biological weapons could be deployed within 45 minutes. The British Broadcasting Corp. recently quoted unidentified intelligence sources as saying they had not believed that claim, but that it was included at the insistence of Blair's communications chief, Alastair Campbell.
Blair has said the claim was accepted by the government's Joint Intelligence Committee. Campbell has agreed to testify before the committee on Wednesday.
Straw said the 45-minute claim "was part of the case, but to suggest that was the burden of the case is frankly nonsense.
"And this has only taken on a life of its own because of the subsequent claims that this particular section of the dossier was inserted in there not as a result of the properly acceptable procedures for intelligence, but as a result, as (BBC reporter Andrew) Gilligan claimed, that Alastair Campbell put that in there .... now that is totally and completely untrue," Straw said.
In a memo to the committee, the Foreign Office said the information came from a single source, described as "an established, reliable and long standing line of reporting."
"Its inclusion in a document was approved by the (Joint Intelligence Committee). It was not inserted under pressure from No. 10 (Blair's office)," the memo said.