WASHINGTON & LONDON - US Secretary of State Colin Powell was under persistent pressure from the Pentagon and White House to include questionable intelligence in his report on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction he delivered at the United Nations last February, a US weekly reported Friday.
US News and World Report magazine said the first draft of the speech was prepared for Powell by Vice President Richard Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, in late January.
According to the report, the draft contained such questionable material that Powell lost his temper, throwing several pages in the air and declaring, "I'm not reading this. This is bullshit."
Cheney's aides wanted Powell to include in his presentation information that Iraq has purchased computer software that would allow it to plan an attack on the United States, an allegation that was not supported by the CIA, US News reported.
The White House also pressed Powell to include charges that the suspected leader of the September 11 hijackers, Mohammed Atta, had met in Prague with an Iraqi intelligence officer prior to the attacks, despite a refusal by US and European intelligence agencies to confirm the meeting, the magazine said.
The pressure forced Powell to appoint his own review team that met several times with Central Intelligence Agency Director George Tenet and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice to prepare the speech, in which the secretary of state accused Iraq of hiding tonnes of biological and chemical weapons.
US News also said that the Defense Intelligence Agency had issued a classified assessment of Iraq's chemical weapons program last September, arguing that "there is no reliable information on whether Iraq is producing and stockpiling chemical weapons."
However, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told Congress shortly after that that the Iraqi "regime has amassed large, clandestine stockpiles of chemical weapons, including VX, sarin, cyclosarin, and mustard gas," according to the report.
Powell, Straw voiced doubt over Iraq WMD evidence
The Guardian said Saturday in a report that British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and Powell expressed doubts in private over public claims they were making about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction in the run-up to war, which was denied by the Foreign Office.
The left-wing British daily said the two men voiced concerns about intelligence on Iraqi weapons during a private meeting in New York.
The encounter came shortly before a key UN Security Council meeting on February 5, when Powell presented what he claimed was clear evidence that Iraq was concealing banned weapons, the Guardian said.
Its story was based on information from an unnamed diplomatic source, who the paper said had read a transcript of the conversation between Straw and Powell.
The transcript recorded Straw voicing concern that assertions being made by British Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President George W. Bush about Saddam Hussein's arsenals could not be proved.
The document quoted Powell as allegedly saying he was "apprehensive" about intelligence assessments containing circumstantial evidence, and telling Straw he hoped the facts, when they came out, would not "explode in their faces".
The Guardian, which opposed the US-led war against Iraq, said that the transcript appeared to have been leaked by diplomats who were supportive of the use of force against Baghdad at the time, but now feel they were lied to about its justification.
But the Foreign Office dismissed the Guardian report as "simply untrue" and insisted that "no such meeting took place" between Powell and Straw.
A spokeswoman said: "The Foreign Secretary has always been clear of the strength of the evidence against Iraq in respect of weapons of mass destruction - much of it in UN sources - and has often referred to this."
The British media has in recent days insisted on explanations over how the prime minister's office allegedly exaggerated the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
In Warsaw on Friday, Blair dismissed as "completely absurd" the idea that intelligence agencies fabricated evidence that Iraq had such weapons in order to justify war.
The US and its allies are to launch a fresh effort next week to find weapons of mass destruction, sending in a 1,300-member team to Iraq to take up a hunt that has turned up no banned weapons so far.