LONDON – A judicial inquiry into the suicide of a government weapons adviser opened Monday with new evidence intelligence officials had serious doubts about a government dossier claiming Iraq could deploy chemical and biological weapons (search) in 45 minutes.
The experts wrote to the government expressing concerns about the Sept. 24, 2002, dossier, which they said made the claim sound like a certainty, said Martin Howard, deputy chief of defense intelligence.
The claim, Howard said, came from a single "well-established and reliable source."
James Dingemans, senior counsel for the inquiry, presented the Royal Courts of Justice (search) with a letter written by a retired intelligence official expressing doubts about the dossier.
"I was so concerned about the manner in which intelligence assessments for which I have some responsibility were being presented in the dossier ... that I was moved to write formally," read the letter from the unidentified official.
The inquiry is investigating the circumstances surrounding the suicide last month of David Kelly (search), an adviser to Britain's defense ministry, and the government's use of intelligence on Iraqi weapons.
After his death, Kelly was identified as the anonymous source of a British Broadcasting Corp. report that raised questions about Prime Minister Tony Blair's (search) case for war in Iraq.
The suicide has plunged Blair into the worst political crisis of his six years in office, especially since no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq.
During Monday's testimony, Julian Miller, the government's intelligence and security secretariat, was asked about news reports that Kelly had told journalists Blair's government knew the 45-minute claim about Iraq's weapons was wrong.
"If he did say that, would that have been true?" asked Dingemans.
"It would not have been true," Miller replied.
Richard Hatfield (search), the Ministry of Defense's personnel director, told the inquiry Kelly should have known he was not allowed to discuss political issues without clearance from his ministry bosses. But Hatfield acknowledged talking to journalists was "effectively part of his (Kelly's) job description."
Hatfield said he found it "somewhat surprising" that Kelly professed not to have received detailed guidance on contacts with the media, especially regarding commenting on or disclosing classified information. Kelly — who also advised Britain's foreign intelligence agency MI6 and the Defense Intelligence Staff — had been cleared to see secret intelligence material on a "need to know basis," Hatfield said.
Kelly's status is significant because the BBC said its story was based on a "senior intelligence source." The government has disputed that assertion, calling Kelly a "technical expert."
The report by BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan, broadcast May 29, quoted an unidentified source as saying Blair's office had "sexed up" the September dossier to bolster the case for war.
Specifically, the BBC report claimed Blair's office had, against the wishes of intelligence chiefs, included the claim that Saddam Hussein could deploy chemical and biological weapons at 45 minutes' notice.
The report was vehemently denied by the government, sparked a bitter dispute with the broadcaster and prompted two parliamentary inquiries into the government's use of intelligence.
Kelly's name was leaked — and was quickly confirmed by the Ministry of Defense — after weeks of public squabbling between the government and the broadcaster. He killed himself three days after facing tough questioning by lawmakers.
Kelly "appears to have had on his own account two meetings with Mr. Gilligan, which took place off (Ministry of Defense) premises, with nobody having any knowledge of them and ... he clearly had strayed beyond providing technical information," Hatfield said.
"My interpretation, I'm afraid, ... is that he could not have done that without realizing he had gone outside the scope of his discretion," Hatfield said.
A former colleague described Kelly as a superb scientist whose work helped uncover Saddam's secret germ warfare program. "His work in Iraq was remarkably successful," said Terence Taylor of the International Institute of Strategic Studies in Washington, who testified by video-link. In 1991-1998, Kelly was involved in around 35 weapons inspections in Iraq, Taylor said.