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In war, some facts less factual

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"These are all the same people who were running it more than 10 years ago," Mr. MacArthur says. "They'll make up just about anything ... to get their way."

On Iraq, analysts note that little evidence so far of an imminent threat from Mr. Hussein's weapons of mass destruction has been made public.

Critics, including some former United Nations weapons inspectors in Iraq, say no such evidence exists. Mr. Bush says he will make his decision to go to war based on the "best" intelligence.

"You have to wonder about the quality of that intelligence," says Mr. Hamilton at Woodrow Wilson.

"This administration is capable of any lie ... in order to advance its war goal in Iraq," says a US government source in Washington with some two decades of experience in intelligence, who would not be further identified. "It is one of the reasons it doesn't want to have UN weapons inspectors go back in, because they might actually show that the probability of Iraq having [threatening illicit weapons] is much lower than they want us to believe."

The roots of modern war propaganda reach back to British World War II stories about German troops bayoneting babies, and can be traced through the Vietnam era and even to US campaigns in Somalia and Kosovo.

While the adage has it that "truth is the first casualty of war," senior administration officials say they cherish their credibility, and would not lie.

In a press briefing last September, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld noted occasions during World War II when false information about US troop movements was leaked to confuse the enemy. He paraphrased Winston Churchill, saying: "Sometimes the truth is so precious it must be accompanied by a bodyguard of lies."

But he added that "my fervent hope is that we will be able to manage our affairs in a way that that will never happen. And I am 69 years old and I don't believe it's ever happened that I have lied to the press, and I don't intend to start now."

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