MI6 was deceived into believing that Saddam Hussein was continuing to produce weapons of mass destruction (WMD) by a false agent who based his reports on a Hollywood action movie, the Chilcot Inquiry has disclosed.
In September 2002, MI6 chief Sir Richard Dearlove said the agency had acquired information from a new source revealing that Iraq was stepping up production of chemical and biological warfare (CBW) agents.
The source claimed senior staff were working seven days a week while the regime was concentrating a lot of effort on the production of anthrax. Chlorine gas was being also being produced at a separate facility.
Families of the senior scientists involved were said to have been effectively made hostage to discourage them from deserting or leaking details to the US/UK coalition against Saddam.
Sir Richard told the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), Sir John Scarlett, that they were "on the edge of (a) significant intel breakthrough" which could be the "key to unlock" Iraq's CBW programme.
Although the information was not included in the Government's dossier on Iraqi WMD published a few days later, amid fears Saddam would starting locking up scientists, it was said to have underpinned "key judgments" in the report.
In a rare move, Tony Blair was also personally briefed by Sir Richard on the new intelligence less than two weeks before he made his Commons statement on the dossier.
A second report later that month based on the same source claimed that VX, sarin and soman nerve agents were being produced at a facility at Al-Yarmuk where they were loaded into containers of various sorts including "linked hollow glass spheres".
However, questions were soon being raised about the new agent's claims when it was noticed that his description bore a striking resemblance to a scene from the movie The Rock, starring Nicolas Cage and Sean Connery.
"It was pointed out that glass containers were not typically used in chemical munitions, and that a popular movie (The Rock) had inaccurately depicted nerve agents being carried in glass beads or spheres," the Chilcot report stated.
By February 2003 - a month before the invasion of Iraq - MI6 concluded that their source had been lying "over a period of time" but failed to inform No 10 "or others" even though Blair had been briefed on his intelligence.
The inquiry found that right up to the eve of the invasion Sir John Scarlett was continuing to advise the prime minister that Iraq had the CBW, with the means to deliver them and the capacity to produce more.
The report strongly criticised the failure to reassess the JIC assessment that Saddam had managed to retain a covert CBW capability after the 1991 Gulf War, even after the UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix was unable to find them.
"At no stage was the hypothesis that Iraq might no longer have chemical, biological or nuclear weapons or programmes identified and examined by either the JIC or the policy community," it said.
"Intelligence and assessments made by the JIC about Iraq's capabilities and intent continued to be used to prepare briefing material to support government statements in a way which conveyed certainty without acknowledging the limitations of the intelligence."