Intelligence given to Australia before the Iraq War warned that the terrorist threat would increase if military action was launched against Saddam Hussein, contradicting repeated assertions by the Prime Minister.
The revelation - disclosed after a British parliamentary committee released details of a top-secret assessment by British intelligence chiefs - raises new questions about whether the public was deliberately misled in the lead-up to the conflict.
Handed to the Blair Government on February 10, six weeks before the war started, the assessment by the high-level Joint Intelligence Committee debunked several of the key arguments used by the 'coalition of the willing' to justify going to war against Iraq.
'The JIC assessed that al-Qaeda and associated groups continued to represent by far the greatest terrorist threat to western interests, and that threat would be heightened by military action against Iraq,' the British parliamentary report says.
The JIC report, International Terrorism: War with Iraq, also said there was no evidence Saddam Hussein wanted to use any chemical or biological weapons in terrorist attacks or that he planned to pass them on to al-Qaeda. 'However, it judged that in the event of imminent regime collapse there would be a risk of transfer of such material, whether or not as a deliberate regime policy.'
Under an intelligence-sharing arrangement, Australia receives JIC reports. Mr Howard's refused to confirm that Australian authorities had received the February 10 report, declining to answer verbal or written questions on the issue. But the former senior Office of National Assessments analyst who who quit in protest over the war, Andrew Wilkie, said the ONA 'routinely received JIC assessments and would have received that assessment'. The ONA reports directly to the Prime Minister's office.
Moreover, Mr Wilkie said, its contents were consistent with the view of ONA analysts. 'Because of material like that, and ONA's own work, it was clearly understood there would be an increasing risk of terrorism if Iraq was invaded and this risk was communicated to the Government,' he said.
However, in an address to the nation on the eve of the war, Mr Howard said the exact opposite: 'Far from our action in Iraq increasing the terrorist threat, it will, by stopping the spread of chemical and biological weapons, make it less likely that a devastating terrorist attack will be carried out against Australia.' It was a stand he and his ministers often repeated in the weeks leading up to the war.
I predict a couple of problems here:
- the Howard government may claim not to have received the report;
- the Howard government may claim to have received the report but that no-one told the prime minister
- the Howard government may claim to have intleligence that the report was wrong
the Blair government is unlikely to support that view and surely the ALP can organise a question in the house of commons if the Ho