LONDON – Prime Minister Tony Blair (search) went too far in claiming Saddam Hussein could swiftly launch chemical or biological attacks, two former British intelligence agents charged in comments published Saturday.
A statement that Iraq could launch attacks on notice of 45 minutes was made four times in an intelligence dossier published in September 2002, as Blair's government built its case for war in Iraq.
"The prime minister was going way beyond anything any professional analyst would have agreed," John Morrison (search), former deputy chief of the Defense Intelligence Staff, told the British Broadcasting Corp. TV "Panorama" program. The interview is to be broadcast Sunday, but excerpts were published Saturday on the BBC Web site.
Brian Jones (search), a retired top official at the Defense Intelligence Staff (search), the main provider of strategic intelligence to the Ministry of Defense, also cast doubt on Blair's use of evidence in the run-up to war.
Jones said he was surprised by evidence Blair gave to a parliamentary inquiry after the Iraq invasion about the intelligence he received on weapons of mass destruction (search).
Blair told the inquiry there was "a tremendous amount of information and evidence coming across my desk as to the WMD and programs associated with it that Saddam had."
Jones said nobody knew what chemical or biological agents had been produced since the first Persian Gulf War, in 1991.
"Certainly no one on my staff had any visibility of large quantities of intelligence of that sort," he told the BBC.
The hunt for weapons of mass destruction has proved largely fruitless, and Blair has retreated from his previous assertions. "I have to accept that we have not found them, that we may not find them," Blair told a parliamentary committee Tuesday.
The 45-minute claim received extensive media coverage. It became the subject of an intense row between the government and the BBC, after the broadcaster said Blair's office knew it was false and inserted it against the wishes of intelligence chiefs.
Intelligence on the speed of potential attacks by Iraq is expected to be a key point in a potentially damaging report by retired civil service chief Lord Butler to be issued Wednesday.
Butler was appointed on Feb. 3 by Foreign Secretary Jack Straw to head a five-member committee looking into the intelligence claims.
Butler's inquiry aims to establish why there was such a gap between "intelligence gathered, evaluated and used by the government" and the lack of evidence on the ground in Iraq.
Three previous inquiries have cleared Blair's government of acting dishonestly or misusing the intelligence made available to it.
In a scathing report in Washington on Friday, the Senate Intelligence Committee said Friday the CIA fell victim to "group think" which assumed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.