Pentagon's intelligence service reported no reliable evidence of Iraqi weapons last September
ROBERT BURNS, AP Military Writer
Friday, June 6, 2003
©2003 Associated Press
(06-06) 10:07 PDT WASHINGTON (AP) --
The Pentagon's intelligence service reported last September that it had no reliable evidence that Iraq had chemical agents in weaponized form, officials said Friday.
The time frame is notable because it coincided with Bush administration efforts to mount a public case for the urgency of disarming Iraq, by force if necessary. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and others argued that Saddam Hussein possessed chemical and biological weapons and was hiding them.
Two months after major fighting in Iraq ended, U.S. officials have yet to find any chemical or other mass-killing weapons, although they still express confidence that some will turn up.
Rumsfeld recently raised the possibility that Iraq destroyed the 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 some of its mass-killing weapons to terrorists.
On Friday, a small team of United Nations nuclear experts arrived in Baghdad to begin a damage assessment at Iraq's largest nuclear facility, known as Tuwaitha. It was left unguarded by American and allied troops during the early days of the war and then pillaged by villagers.
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 atomic energy agency had long monitored Iraq's nuclear program.
In its report last September, the Defense Intelligence Agency said it could find no reliable information to indicate that Iraq had any chemical weapons available for use on the battlefield. But the agency also said Iraq probably had stockpiles of banned chemical warfare agents.
The existence of the DIA report was disclosed by U.S. News & World Report, and a classified summary was reported by Bloomberg News on Thursday. Two Pentagon officials who had read the summary confirmed Friday that it said DIA had no hard evidence of Iraqi chemical weapons.
A White House spokesman said a portion of the still-classified report is being taken out of context of the entire document's conclusions, which match what the Bush administration argued all along.
"The entire report paints a different picture than the selective quotes would lead you to believe," said Michael Anton, a spokesman with the White House's National Security Council. "The entire report is consistent with with the president was saying at the time."
A senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there was a National Intelligence Estimate published at nearly the same time as the DIA report -- and with DIA's concurrence -- that concluded Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.
The DIA's analysis is just one piece of an intelligence mosaic that Rumsfeld and other senior administrations could consider in making their own assessment of Iraq's chemical and biological weapons capability. Congress is reviewing the prewar intelligence to determine whether the administration overplayed the weapons threat in order to justify toppling the Iraqi regime.
On Friday, the Senate Armed Services convened a closed-door hearing focusing on the mission of the 75th Exploitation Task Force, which made the initial effort to find Iraqi weapons of mass destruction at the conclusion of the war, and the follow-on search team, called the Iraq Survey Group.
The committee was hearing from Stephen A. Cambone, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence; Vice Adm. Lowell E. Jacoby, director of the DIA; and an unidentified CIA representative.