Weapons report to offer no firm conclusions
WASHINGTON — A much-anticipated interim report by the Bush administration’s chief weapons hunter in Iraq will offer no firm conclusions about the former Iraqi government’s chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs, senior officials said Wednesday.
The weapons inspector, David Kay, is expected to present his report to Congress late next week — an event that senior U.S. officials had just weeks ago pointed to as providing a possible vindication for the administration’s pre-war claims that Iraq had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and had restarted its efforts to build a nuclear bomb.
But officials yesterday sought to play down expectations that Kay’s report will contain any major revelations. Kay, who is in Washington this week finishing the document, is “still gathering information from the field,” the CIA’s chief spokesman, Bill Harolow, said yesterday. “Don’t expect any firm conclusions. He will not rule in or rule out anything.”
Criticism of the Bush administration’s rationale for going to war, which largely was based on the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, has grown on Capitol Hill and overseas with the failure by U.S. intelligence and military teams to discover any proscribed weapons in the five months since the government of president Saddam Hussein was toppled.
Just yesterday, Democrats seized on comments by Secretary of State Colin Powell — still posted on the State Department’s official website — from Feb. 24, 2001, in which he told reporters during a trip to Egypt about the success of decade-old economic sanctions in containing Iraq. In his remarks, which were unearthed by an Australian journalist and broadcast on the BBC in Britain, Powell said Saddam “has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors.”
Kay is CIA Director George Tenet’s representative in Baghdad and directs the search for weapons of mass destruction being carried out by the 1,200-person Iraq Survey Group.
One senior intelligence official said recently that Kay’s early analysis of Iraqi documents will prove that Saddam had the “intent” to resume chemical and biological weapons production once sanctions were lifted and United Nations inspectors were gone. “He also had scientists working in small groups on non-weapons work who could quickly be shifted over if weapons were needed,” the senior official said.
Kay said last month he initially was focusing on Iraq’s program to deceive U.N. inspectors and that his report would contain illustrations of how large that effort was, using it to indicate there were weapons to be hidden. After testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Kay told reporters that his team had “found some physical evidence.” He added: “I think it’s very likely that we will discover remarkable surprises in this enterprise.”
More recently, however, other officials, some of whom have spent time in Iraq, said the survey team had not gathered any substantial information, in part because the military members of Kay’s group were threatening and arresting some Iraqi scientists and technicians who had in the past worked on weapons programs.
The expectations for Kay’s interim report significantly have changed in the last few weeks. On Sept. 7, Powell told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the report would show people “that there was no question that such weapons exist, existed, and so did the programs to develop one.”
A week later, Vice President Dick Cheney, also on “Meet the Press” said, “I think David Kay will find more evidence as he goes forward, interviews people, as we get to folks willing to come forward now as they become more and more convinced that it’s safe to do so, that, in fact, he (Saddam) had a robust plan, had previously worked on it and would work on it again.”
Condoleezza Rice, White House national security adviser, told reporters three days ago that there “may” be interim reports from Kay but, “I don’t know what the public nature of them will be.”
One former U.N. inspector said any interim report Kay made would be “conservative” because he has working with him two senior British scientists with past experience in Iraq “who will keep him honest.”
Meanwhile, Rolf Ekeus, who headed the U.N. weapons inspections team that worked in Iraq from 1992 to 1998, joined those who said that Saddam probably destroyed his chemical and biological weapons stocks after the 1991 Persian Gulf War and that it was a mistake to believe he maintained hidden stockpiles.
Ekeus also said he agreed with Hans Blix, who ran the U.N. inspections that began last year and ended shortly before the war began in March, that Saddam “did not produce anything since 1991.” Under Ekeus’ supervision, Iraq destroyed thousands of weapons banned by the United Nations.
Kay’s group, which also works under the command of Maj. Gen. Keith Dayton of the Defense Intelligence Agency, likely will grow in the near future. Military commanders in Iraq have urged Pentagon officials to send more intelligence resources to help combat the growing violence against U.S. forces and identify those behind it. Pentagon officials are considering ways to restructure the Iraq Survey Group and to make some of its personnel — mainly translators and interrogators — available to for that purpose.
Pentagon spokesman Larry Di Rita rejected the interpretation of three other administration officials that the restructuring would shift the group’s priority from the weapons hunt to counterterrorism.
Weapons of mass destruction “remains the priority’ of the survey group, Di Rita said. He said it was “perfectly plausible” that additional intelligence resources will be brought into Iraq soon to help combat attacks against U.S. forces and their supporters.