updated 7/12/2010 4:03:24 PM ET 2010-07-12T20:03:24

The U.K. government intentionally exaggerated its assessment of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, a former diplomat told Britain's inquiry into the Iraq war on Monday.

Carne Ross, the first secretary to the British mission at the U.N. responsible for Iraq policy from 1997 to 2002, said neither Britain nor the United States believed Iraq's weapons programs were a "substantial threat" before launching the 2003 invasion.

There was never any firm evidence of significant weapon holdings, Ross said, but public documents issued by the British government "intentionally and substantially" exaggerated the intelligence after 9/11.

"In these public documents, of which there were several, the nuanced judgments contained in the internal JIC (joint intelligence committee) assessments ... were massaged into more robust and frightening statements about Iraq's WMD capability," he told the inquiry panel.

In 2002, then-Prime Minister Tony Blair presented a dossier to Parliament and the public that claimed Saddam might have nuclear weapons within a year and possessed a chemical and biological arsenal that could be launched within 45 minutes.

Such statements were so exaggerated that they were "in their totality, lies," Ross said.

Ross was testifying to the five-member inquiry panel set up by the British government to examine the case made for the war and errors in planning for post-conflict reconstruction. The inquiry, which won't apportion blame or establish criminal or civil liability, has heard testimony from politicians and military and intelligence officials, including Blair.

The former diplomat gave similarly damning evidence to a 2004 official inquiry into intelligence on Iraq.

He resigned from the government in September 2004 because of his misgivings over the war and went on to found a nonprofit diplomatic consulting group.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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