But the Intelligence and Security Committee in a report published on Thursday absolved the government, facing its worst crisis of credibility, of the more serious charge of ‘sexing up’ its claims to justify the war against Iraq.
The committee is stuffed with ruling Labour party members with an only fair sprinking of opposition members.
The committee found the government claims about Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons capacity did not give a ”balanced view”.
It said the key point that Iraq could fire banned weapons at just 45 minutes notice lacked context, which was ”unhelpful to an understanding of the issue”.
The disputed 45-minute claim was used by Prime Minister Blair in moulding public opinion in favour of the war.
The claim is also at the very heart of an escalating controversy that has engulfed Blair’s government over whether it had hyped the case for a war that most Britons opposed.
The committee’s sternest criticism was reserved for the Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon for his inability to disclose that some intelligence staff members had reservations about the dossier that the government prepared.
“We regard the initial failure by the MoD to disclose that some staff had put their concerns in writing to their line managers as unhelpful and potentially misleading,” the committee said.
“We are disturbed that after the first evidence session…the Defence Secretary decided against giving instructions for a letter to be written to us outlining the concerns,” the committee noted.
The rap from the committee is certain to add to Hoon’s discomfort, who is already under pressure to quit over the apparent suicide of British weapons’ expert, David Kelly.
At the very least, the committee report comes in as a severe embarassment for a discredited government.
The committee said British intelligence chiefs did not know for sure what weapons Iraq had produced or in what quanitities.
“This uncertainty should have been highlighted to give a balanced view of Saddam Hussein’s chemical and biological capacity,” it said.
The report, however, extended small mercies to the embittered government.
It hotly disputed the BBC report that suggested the dossier on Iraqi weapons had been exaggerated to justify the war.
The committee said the dossier had “not been sexed up” by Alistair Campbell, Blair’s close aide.