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Inspectors Find Aims, Not Arms

Interim report appears to undermine prewar White House and CIA claims about Iraq. Hussein may have hoped to acquire the weapons.

October 03, 2003|Bob Drogin and Greg Miller | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — The top U.S. weapons hunter in Iraq told Congress on Thursday that he had found no weapons of mass destruction but that Saddam Hussein "had not given up his aspirations and intentions" while he ruled the country to acquire chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.

The long-awaited report by David Kay, the CIA special advisor, appeared to undermine prewar claims by the White House and the intelligence community that Hussein had recently produced large stockpiles of poison gas and germ weapons and was working to produce nuclear bombs.

Kay acknowledged that it is still unclear whether Hussein's regime possessed unconventional weapons before the war.

"We have not yet found stocks of weapons, but we are not yet at the point where we can say definitively either that such weapon stocks do not exist, or that they existed before the war and our only task is to find where they have gone," Kay said, according to a 13-page unclassified statement released by the CIA.

Kay, who heads the 1,200-member Iraq Survey Group, testified behind closed doors for most of the day to the House and Senate intelligence committees. His interim report, which ran several hundred pages, was kept secret. Kay said he would issue another interim report in three months but that he might need six to nine months to reach definitive conclusions.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday October 04, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 44 words Type of Material: Correction
Weapons inspector -- A Section A article Friday about the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq misspelled the first name of a Swedish diplomat who headed a team of U.N. weapons inspectors in the 1990s. His name is Rolf Ekeus, not Rolfe.

Few seemed satisfied with the report. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he was disappointed with the uncertain findings six months after the United States went to war.

"I'm not pleased by what I heard today," said Roberts, usually a stalwart supporter of the White House and the CIA. "I am concerned, like my colleagues, in regard to the lack of results.... There has not been a breakthrough."

The committee's ranking Democrat, Sen. John D. "Jay" Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, sharply questioned the intelligence that suggested Iraq had posed an imminent danger.

"Did we misread it or did they mislead us, or did [we] simply get it wrong?" he asked. "Whatever the answer is, it's not a good answer."

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld indicated he was still waiting to see whether the prewar intelligence was accurate.

"It's not clear that it was off by a little bit or a mile at this stage," he said. "If it is off by a lot, that will be unfortunate and we'll know that."

Kay's report suggests that at least some of the prewar intelligence was deeply flawed. A National Intelligence Estimate prepared last October, for example, warned that Hussein had renewed production of mustard, sarin and VX agents, and "probably has stocked" 100 to 500 tons of chemical weaponry, "much of it added in the past year."

But Kay said "multiple sources" indicated that Iraq did not have an ongoing chemical weapons program after the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

"Information found to date suggests that Iraq's large-scale capability to develop, produce and fill new [chemical] munitions was reduced -- if not entirely destroyed -- during Operations Desert Storm and Desert Fox, 13 years of U.N. sanctions and U.N. inspections," Kay said.

Interrogation of Iraqi scientists and officials, Kay said, showed that Hussein "remained firmly committed to acquiring nuclear weapons" and that the dictator "would have resumed nuclear weapons development at some future point."

Kay said such testimony "should clear up any doubts about whether Saddam still wanted to obtain nuclear weapons."

But Kay revealed little evidence to substantiate the Bush administration's prewar claims that Iraq had reconstituted its nuclear arms programs.

Speaking to reporters after briefing senators, Kay indicated that he had found little more than vestiges of Iraq's nuclear ambitions.

"The evidence we've found on the nuclear program at most right now would suggest a very tentative restart on the program at the very most rudimentary level," Kay said. "It clearly does not look like a massive resurgent program."

Kay noted, however, that the nuclear program was the one inspectors knew the least about after months of searching. Iraq's alleged nuclear threat was a linchpin of the administration's case for war.

In a speech in Cincinnati last October, Bush warned that Hussein "could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year" and said that unless the United States acted, the final proof of Iraq's nuclear ambitions "could come in the form of a mushroom cloud."

The report is also at odds with White House, State Department and CIA claims that Hussein had a fleet of modified trailer trucks that Iraq used to produce biological agents.

"We have not yet been able to corroborate the existence of a mobile [biological weapons] production effort," Kay said, adding that two large trucks found in April could have been used to produce either hydrogen for military weather balloons, missile propellant or biological agents. But the trucks were not "ideally suited" for any of those activities, he said.

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