Gossip from an Iraqi taxi driver was a key source for Tony Blair’s ‘dodgy dossier’.
A report by a respected MP claims that the unlikely secret agent was one of MI6’s top sources when it was building a case to justify the invasion.
He provided the information that Saddam Hussein could fire chemical weapons at British targets within 45 minutes.
The revelation comes as the death toll of British troops in Afghanistan reaches 100 this year alone following the shooting of a member of 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment in a gun battle with the Taliban.
Senior intelligence officials have told the MP that the cabbie falsely claimed Saddam Hussein had acquired long-range missiles after listening to Iraqi commanders chatting in his taxi two years before the invasion.
The driver, who worked near Iraq’s border with Jordan, was allegedly the ‘sub-source’ of a senior Iraqi military officer who told MI6 that Saddam had battlefield chemical weapons ready to deploy at 45 minutes’ notice.
The revelations come in a report on the Iraq War by Tory MP Adam Holloway, due to be published by the think-tank First Defence.
Mr Holloway, a former Grenadier Guardsman, has close links to intelligence officials.
He was told about the cab driver by a former member of one of Britain’s intelligence agencies who was serving at the time of the build-up to war.
Intelligence from the cab driver allegedly bolstered the suggestion that weapons of mass destruction could be fired at British targets in Cyprus – a central plank of the dodgy dossier.
Mr Holloway’s report says that analysts at the Secret Intelligence Service quickly decided the cab driver’s information about missiles was ‘verifiably’ false and warned that the agent was not reliable.
But a carefully-worded footnote in an MI6 report was apparently brushed aside by Downing Street officials when the dodgy dossier was put together in September 2002.
Mr Holloway says a security official in the U.S. with knowledge of the pre-war MI6 reports confirmed to him that ‘the footnote was ignored’.
Sir John Scarlett, the former MI6 chief who was chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee before the war, is expected to be quizzed about the dossier when he gives evidence to the Chilcot committee today – though he is not expected to go into details about MI6 sources in public.
The claim that the rush to war was based – in part – on false information from a gossipy taxi driver is perhaps the most embarrassing revelation yet about the desperate lengths to which the Government went to justify the invasion.
Mr Holloway says that huge pressure was put on SIS to come up with intelligence after Tony Blair met President George W. Bush at his Texas ranch in April 2002, which the Chilcot Inquiry has heard was the meeting that fired the starting gun for the invasion 11 months later.
In his report, The Failure of British Political and Military Leadership in Iraq, Mr Holloway writes: ‘Under pressure from Downing Street to find anything to back up the WMD case, SIS were squeezing their agents in Iraq for anything at all.
‘One agent did come up with something – the “45 minutes”, allegedly discussed in a high-level Iraqi political meeting.’
The MP told the Mail: ‘SIS were running a senior Iraqi army officer who had a source of his own, a cab driver on the Iraqi-Jordanian border.
‘He apparently overheard two Iraqi army officers two years before who had spoken about weapons with the range to hit targets elsewhere in the Middle East.’
Mr Holloway’s report reveals: ‘In the SIS analysts’ footnote to their report, it flagged up that part of the report describing some missiles that the Iraqi government allegedly possessed was demonstrably untrue. The missiles verifiably did not exist.
‘The footnote said it in black and white. Despite this the report was treated as reliable and went on to become one of the central planks of the dodgy dossier.’
The report concludes: ‘We will never know who chose to ignore the footnote – it certainly was not SIS, whose footnote it was.
‘It seems that someone, perhaps in Downing Street, found it rather inconvenient and ignored it lest it interfere with our reasons for going to war.’
While officials drawing up the dossier knew that the taxi driver’s evidence was unreliable, they did not know he was a cabbie since they believed all the information was coming direct from the military officer.
That fact was not ascertained until after the war when MI6 did a wholesale audit of the pre-war intelligence failure.
An Iraqi colonel named al-Dabbagh, who commanded an air defence unit before the war, stepped forward in December 2003 to claim that he was the main source of the 45-minute claim.
The colonel, whose unit was in the Western Desert, the same part of Iraq where the taxi driver plied his trade, claimed that before the conflict chemical warheads were delivered to front-line units – though they were never found after the invasion.
It is possible that he was the main British agent who used information from the taxi driver to bolster his credentials with SIS.
Mr Holloway’s allegations are borne out by the Butler Report on the pre-war intelligence, which details how ‘over four fifths’ of human intelligence used in the dodgy dossier ‘came from two main sources’.
Lord Butler, who reported in July 2004, also records how several sub-sources were found to be unreliable after the war.
The spy writer Nigel West, who has close contacts in SIS, told the Mail that Mr Holloway’s claims are ‘absolutely consistent’ with what he knows about the intelligence debacle.
He said: ‘After the war when they looked at the sub-sources, they found that some didn’t exist, some denied ever saying what was attributed to them and others had simply supplied unreliable information.’