Australia Cleared of Exaggerating WMD Threats

An Australian parliamentary investigation into Canberra’s intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD) has cleared Prime Minister John Howard’s government of pressuring the intelligence community or grossly exaggerating intelligence claims.

Although the committee concluded that Australia’s intelligence community had not been subjected to overt government pressure to change its assessments of Iraq’s WMD capabilities, a report said that the influence of a “policy running strong” may have unconsciously affected analysis. Overall, the Australian intelligence community was “more moderate, more measured and more skeptical” than American or British intelligence agencies. However, in the months preceding the war, the intelligence community increasingly accepted analyses that assumed the worst. In particular, reports by the Office of National Assessment “extrapolated too much from efforts at concealment and…dropped the caveats of uncertainty.”

In addition, the committee concluded that the government’s presentation of the intelligence to the public was “more moderate and more measured than that of either of its alliance partners.” Howard “did not use highly emotive expressions such as those used in the United States,” and the government did not say that Iraqi weapons of mass destruction were deployable in 45 minutes, although Australian agencies had intelligence similar to that which led the British government to make the claim. However, the government suggested that Iraq had larger WMD arsenals than was suggested by Australian intelligence and exaggerated the immediacy of the threat posed by Iraq.

The committee recommended that an independent inquiry conducted by former intelligence officials assess the performance of the intelligence agencies in order to recommend necessary changes. Howard quickly announced that he would accept the recommendation and appointed former intelligence analyst Philip Flood to lead the investigation. Flood was given wide-ranging powers to interview government officials, and Howard himself said that he would be willing to provide evidence. Howard also announced that the government would provide a $400 million funding boost to intelligence and security agencies. The extra money is in addition to other increases since September 11, 2001, and brings the total Australian security budget to almost $3 billion.