CIA Corrects Itself on WMD
A report, the first of its kind, says Baghdad ended its chemical weapons program in '91.
By Greg Miller
Times Staff Writer
02/01/05 "Los Angeles Times" -- WASHINGTON — In what may be a formal acknowledgment of the obvious, the CIA has issued a classified report revising its prewar assessments on Iraq and concluding that Baghdad abandoned its chemical weapons programs in 1991, intelligence officials familiar with the document said.
The report marks the first time the CIA has officially disavowed its prewar judgments and is one in a series of updated assessments the agency is producing as part of an effort to correct its record on Iraq's alleged weapons programs, officials said.
The CIA's decision to distribute the report — titled "Iraq: No Large-Scale Chemical Warfare Efforts Since Early 1990s" — in classified channels underscores the awkwardness the agency faces as it continues to reconcile its prewar reporting with postwar realities in Iraq. Before the war, the CIA asserted that Iraq had stockpiled biological weapons and was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program.
A U.S. intelligence official said the document was "not a high-level report," meaning it was designed to supplant outdated assessments still on classified computer networks and was not meant to be called to the attention of President Bush or other senior government officials.
"It's basically updating the books," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, "so the information on the shelf is the most current."
Current and former intelligence officials described it as a highly unusual step for the CIA.
"It's stunning that they would actually put on paper a reversal" of previous intelligence estimates, said one intelligence official who had seen the document.
Richard J. Kerr, a former senior CIA official who was hired by the agency last year to conduct an internal review of its prewar analysis, said he couldn't recall the agency ever issuing such a revisionist report on any subject.
"But the situation is rather unique," Kerr said, noting that Iraq's postwar reality had made the agency's failings obvious. "Ordinarily, you're never proven wrong in a clean, neat way."
The report is based largely on findings by the Iraq Survey Group, a CIA-led team of weapons experts that searched the country for more than a year without finding clear evidence of active illegal weapons programs.
U.S. intelligence officials have long acknowledged that the prewar assessments were flawed. David Kay, the former head of the search team, told Congress last January, "We were almost all wrong."
But other officials' statements have been more qualified. In a speech at Georgetown University last February, then-CIA Director George J. Tenet said that "when the facts of Iraq are all in, we will neither be completely right nor completely wrong."
The new report from the CIA, which is dated Jan. 18, retreats from the agency's prewar assertions on chemical weapons on almost every front. It concludes that "Iraq probably did not pursue chemical warfare efforts after 1991."
The report notes that its new conclusions "vary significantly" from prewar judgments "largely because of subsequent events and direct access to Iraqi officials, scientists, facilities and documents."
A note in the report describes the document as the second in a "retrospective series that addresses our post-Operation Iraqi Freedom understanding of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and delivery system programs."
A Jan. 4 report focused on Scud missiles and other delivery systems. Intelligence officials said future reports would revise the agency's claims that Iraq had stockpiles of biological weapons and was rebuilding its nuclear weapons program. Those allegations were a centerpiece of the Bush administration's case for war with Iraq.