Key aspects of secret intelligence used by Britain and the U.S. to justify the invasion of Iraq in 2003 were based on “fabrication, wishful thinking and lies”, according to a BBC investigation.

They also deliberately ignored intelligence that showed that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction, it claims.

“We’ve conducted a forensic investigation of the intelligence, and we’ve found that key elements were based on fabrication, wishful thinking and lies. But we’ve also revealed that there was intelligence that was accurate — that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction,” said Peter Taylor, the journalist who investigated the story, ahead of the telecast of a special edition of the BBC’s Panorama programme, ‘the spies who fooled the world’.

The programme claims that British and U.S. intelligence agencies were informed by top sources months before the invasion that Iraq had no active programme of weapons of mass destruction but the information was ignored. Instead, they seized on claims by anti-Saddam sources about the regime’s weapons capability.

It says that Saddam Hussein’s Foreign Minister Naji Sabri told the CIA’s station chief in Paris at the time, Bill Murray, through an intermediary that Iraq had “virtually nothing” in terms of WMD. The information was also passed to British intelligence.

“They were not happy. They just didn’t believe it. There was a consistent effort to find intelligence that supported pre-conceived positions,” Mr. Murray told Panorama. Mr. Sabri dismissed the Panorama claim as “totally fabricated”.

Overlooked report

Lord Robin Butler, the senior retired British civil servant who conducted an inquiry into the intelligence used to justify the invasion, tells Panorama that he was not told about Mr. Sabri’s reported comments.

He says that he later discovered a previously overlooked report which revealed that an MI6 officer had a meeting in Jordan with one of Iraq’s most senior intelligence officers, Tahir Habbush al-Tikriti. Habbush told MI6 that there were no WMD left in Iraq.

“But when we asked about it, we were told that it wasn’t a very significant fact, because SIS [Secret Intelligence Service] discounted it as something designed by Saddam to mislead,” he says.

“There were ways in which people were misled or misled themselves at all stages,” he claims.

Tracing the origins of the then British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s claim that Iraq had “chemical and biological weapons, which could be activated within 45 minutes”, the programme says the warning was originally conveyed in the mid-1990s to Iraqi exiles in Jordan, who were planning a coup. British intelligence was handed this warning by dubious “third hand” sources.

More In: World | International | News