A senior State Department expert on chemical and biological weapons told Congressional committees in closed-door hearings last week that he had been pressed to tailor his analysis on Iraq to be in tune with the Bush administration's views, the report said.

 

The expert who was identified as Christian Westermann became the first member of the intelligence community in active service to make such an admission to members of Congress.

 

Respected analyst

 

Westermann did not immediately provide lawmakers with details about his complaints. But his decision to speak out  caused a stir inside the House and Senate intelligence committees, the report said.

 

Mr Westermann, who is in his mid-40's, has worked as a State Department expert on unconventional weapons for the last several years and is viewed within the department as a careful and respected analyst of intelligence, the report said.

 

A number of analysts at the CIA and other agencies have privately complained over the past few months that they felt pressured from administration officials to write reports exaggerating evidence that Iraq had illegal weapons programmes and  links to al-Qaeda.

 

Meanwhile, Defence Secretary Donald H Rumsfeld, defending the Bush administration on Tuesday, claimed that "virtually everyone" had agreed that Baghdad had "weapons of mass destruction programs".

 

Rumsfeld: Defending the
indefensible ?

Attempting to put the blame on the deposed President of Iraq, he said Saddam Hussein's own behaviour contradicted statements that Iraq had destroyed all stockpiles of biological or chemical weapons.

 

If he had in fact disarmed, he had everything to gain and nothing to lose by co-operation with the United Nations, yet he continued to obstruct the UN inspectors, Mr Rumsfeld said during a Pentagon news briefing.

 

The US defence secretary’s plea comes in the context of his country’s failure to find evidence of Iraq's weapons programmes, or its links to Al Qaeda.  Both the US House and Senate intelligence committees are currently investigating whether deliberate distortion was resorted to by the Bush administration in an attempt to build its case for invading Iraq.