Monday, June 16, 2003

Howard Refuses To Answer Whether He Misled Australian Public

Asked about the apparent discrepancies in the rhetoric before the war and what has been discovered since, Mr Howard revealed analysis from the Office of National Assessments (ONA).

"United States and United Kingdom intelligence agencies have concluded that at least one of the three vehicle trailers found in Iraq is a mobile biological weapons production facility," he said.

The vehicles - first mentioned by the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, in his February address to the United Nations - were identified by the CIA in late May as proof of Iraq's weapons capability.

But that CIA report focused on two trailers, and has since been questioned in reports in the US and Britain, with suggestions the trailers were used to inflate artillery balloons with hydrogen and may have been sold to Iraq by Britain in the 1980s.

Officials close to the Prime Minister said the third vehicle identified by Mr Howard was a "small, light truck" that was used for "servicing and supporting the trailers".

"Once there were two [vehicles], and now there are three," said Labor's foreign affairs spokesman, Kevin Rudd. "We are now told the original two have nothing to do with biological weapons but a third one may."

Mr Howard refused to answer when asked whether he had been misleading the public, when he said Iraq was seeking uranium from the African country of Niger. The report he was relying on was discovered to be a crude forgery, something intelligence agencies knew months before the war started.

The uncharacteristic intelligence revelations from Mr Howard came as the secretary of a parliamentary intelligence committee said there were "holes" in the oversight of Australia's spy agencies.

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