Pentagon: No prewar proof Iraq had arms

By Robert Burns (AP/Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 7, 2003)


WASHINGTON The Pentagons intelligence agency had no hard evidence of Iraqi chemical weapons last fall but believed that Iraq had a program in place to produce them, the agencys chief said Friday.

The assessment suggests a higher degree of uncertainty about the immediacy of an Iraqi threat, at least with regard to one portion of its banned weapons programs, than the Bush administration indicated publicly in building its case for disarming Iraq.

Two months after the major fighting in Iraq ended, the United States has yet to find any chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, although it did find two trailers that it judged to be mobile laboratories for producing bioweapons. The absence of a "smoking gun" has raised questions about the quality of U.S. intelligence before the war and whether the administration exaggerated the urgency of an Iraqi threat. Vice Adm. Lowell Jacoby, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, discussed the matter at a Capitol Hill news conference Friday as the administration scrambled to respond to news reports about excerpts from a September 2002 agency report on facilities and other pieces of Iraqs arms-building infrastructure.

U.S. News & World Report magazine and the Bloomberg News Service drew upon a classified Defense Intelligence Agency intelligence summary to report Thursday that the Pentagon intelligence agency had no reliable information in September to indicate Iraq had chemical weapons ready for use on the battlefield.

Jacoby said his agency concurred in an intelligence community consensus last fall that Iraq had a program for weapons of mass destruction. But the agency was unable to pinpoint any locations. "We could not specifically pin down individual facilities operating as part of the weapons of mass destruction program, specifically the chemical warfare portion," Jacoby said at a joint news conference with Sen. John Warner, R-Va., and Stephen Cambone, the Pentagons intelligence chief.

They spoke after the Senate Armed Services Committee met privately with Jacoby, Cambone and an unidentified CIA representative to discuss prewar intelligence on Iraqs weapons programs. Americans should "continue to repose trust in this administration as we go forward to search out these answers," said Warner, a political ally of the Bush administration and chairman of a GOP-led inquiry on Capitol Hill to address questions about intelligence in Iraq.

Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W. Va., the senior Democrat in the Senate, warned Thursday that Americans doubts about the existence of Iraqi weapons were "beginning to drown out the assurances" by the Bush administration.

At the White House, visiting Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Durao Barroso told reporters that President Bush told him Friday that he has "full confidence in the intelligence reports he received about the possession of weapons of mass destruction by the former Iraqi authorities."

The administration began building its case against Iraq in August in a series of speeches by Vice President Dick Cheney. "There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction," Cheney said at a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention on Aug. 26. "There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies and against us."

In September, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld joined in. "We do know that the Iraqi regime has chemical and biological weapons," Rumsfeld told the House Armed Services Committee on Sept. 18. "His regime has amassed large, clandestine stockpiles of chemical weapons including VX, sarin, cyclosarin and mustard gas."

In his description of the stillclassified Defense Intelligence Agency report, Jacoby drew a distinction between the level of certainty about Iraqs pursuit of weapons and the existence of actual chemical weapons. "As of 2002, in September, we could not reliably pin down for somebody who was doing contingency planning specific facilities, locations or production that was under way at a specific location at that point in time," he said.

The report "is not in any way intended to portray the fact that we had any doubts that such a program existed," he said.

Rumsfeld recently raised the possibility that Iraq destroyed such weapons before the war started March 20. He also has said he believes some remain and will be discovered when U.S. search teams find knowledgeable Iraqis who are willing to disclose the locations. In making its case for invading Iraq, the administration also argued that Iraq was seeking to develop nuclear weapons and that it might provide mass-killing weapons to terrorists.

On Friday, a small team of United Nations nuclear experts arrived in Baghdad to begin a damage assessment at Iraqs largest nuclear facility, known as Tuwaitha. The sprawling site, left unguarded by U.S. troops who passed by during the war, was ransacked by nearby residents who dumped uranium out of International Atomic Energy Agency barrels, then used the potentiallyctive containers to store drinking water.

Iraq ai scientists who surveyed the looted plant before the U.S. troops began protecting it said villagers left behind piles of powdered uranium. The scientists cemented over the spilled materials to prevent leakage or further exposure to residents.

The U.S. military has conducted an initial radiation survey in the villages, and a health study is to begin in coming days. "There is no health risk to the population or the soldiers guarding the site," said Mickey Freeland, part of the U.S. nuclear team involved in the weapons hunt. His team has been assigned to escort the experts, and the two groups are staying together at the al-Rasheed hotel, under U.S. military control.

The arrival of the team whose members are not weapons inspectors marked the first time since the Iraq war began that representatives from the U. N.s International Atomic Energy Agency returned to the country. The agency had long monitored Iraqs nuclear program.

The Defense Intelligence Agencys analysis is just one piece of an intelligence mosaic that Rumsfeld and other senior administration officials could consider in making their own assessment of Iraqs chemical and biological weapons capability.

Congress is reviewing the prewar intelligence to determine whether the administration overplayed the weapons threat to justify toppling the Iraqi government. Information for this article was contributed by Dafna Linzer of The Associated Press and Stewart M. Powell of Hearst Newspapers.

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