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Australia Lied About Iraq, Inquiry Is Told

August 23, 2003|From Reuters

CANBERRA, Australia — The government lied about the threat of Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction to justify involvement in the U.S.-led war, a former senior intelligence analyst told an official inquiry Friday.

Andrew Wilkie, who resigned in March to protest Australia's case for war, said Prime Minister John Howard, a close U.S. 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 Assessments, told the inquiry into Australian intelligence on Iraq.

The ONA is equivalent to the U.S. 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 said.

Controversy has been swirling in the United States, Britain and Australia over accusations that those governments manipulated intelligence on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction to justify war. No evidence has yet been found of biological, chemical or nuclear weapons.

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

"I don't know on what he bases those claims. If he has got evidence of that, let him produce it, otherwise stop slandering decent people," Howard told reporters in Adelaide.

"I deny his allegations.... ONA has indicated that he had virtually no access to the relevant intelligence," Howard said.

The Australian parliamentary hearing parallels an inquiry into the information the British government used to make its case for invading Iraq and toppling Saddam Hussein.

Howard has said he made the right decision in sending 2,000 troops to the Persian Gulf despite initial public qualms. He said intelligence could not have provided absolute proof of the Iraqi threat.

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

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