White House prewar warnings about Iraq still not borne out
WASHINGTON -- Before the war, the Bush administration portrayed Iraq as full of killer poisons with strange names and deadly effects, which terrorists could get hold of and unleash on U.S. cities.
The administration also contended that many of the weapons were ready to be used on the battlefield. U.S. commanders prepared by having soldiers wear protective gear whenever an alert sounded a possible weapons attack.
Those claims and fears have not been borne out so far.
Was the intelligence regarding Iraq inaccurate or distorted between when it was gathered and presented to the world?
Congress is looking into the matter. Prime Minister Tony Blair's government in Britain is faces similar scrutiny.
A former State Department intelligence official, who viewed classified intelligence gathered by the CIA and other agencies about Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear programs during the run-up to the war, accused the administration of distorting intelligence and presenting conjecture as fact.
"What disturbs me deeply is what I think are the disingenuous statements made from the very top about what the intelligence did say," said Greg Thielmann, who retired in September. He was director of the strategic, proliferation and military issues office in the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research.
On Friday, the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency acknowledged he had no hard evidence of Iraqi chemical weapons last fall but believed Iraq had a program in place to produce them. The assessment suggests greater uncertainty about the Iraqi threat than the administration indicated publicly.
CIA Director George Tenet, Secretary of State Colin Powell and top Pentagon officials have defended their pieces of the intelligence picture, saying they provided accurate assessments.
Many top U.S. officials contend their prewar assertions will yet be borne out. They say Iraq remains too dangerous to conduct a thorough search, but a new hunt is getting under way.
Prewar statements from President Bush, Powell and intelligence officials offered many of the specific conclusions that drove the United States and Britain to invade Iraq. Most have yet to be validated.
"Our conservative estimate is that Iraq today has a stockpile of between 100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons agent," Powell said at the United Nations in February.
In a paper released in October, U.S. intelligence agencies said that Iraq had begun "renewed production of chemical warfare agents," probably including mustard, sarin, cyclosarin and VX.
Chemical weapons have not been found in the part of Iraq that was controlled by President Saddam Hussein's government.
Intelligence officials said Saddam would disperse his chemical weapons among his Iraqi Republican Guard units, which would use them if the government were about to fall. This apparently did not happen.
Powell suggested military units had biological weapons in the field.
On May 30, Lt. Gen. James Conway, the top Marine in Iraq, said, speaking about the hunt for chemical and biological weapons: "We've been to virtually every ammunition supply point between the Kuwaiti border and Baghdad, but they're simply not there."
The prewar intelligence paper said Iraq had established "a large-scale, redundant and concealed" biological weapon agent production capability, which included mobile facilities.
Allied forces in Iraq have found two truck trailers equipped with fermenters. The CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency said last week they concluded the vehicles probably are parts of a mobile biological weapons production facility. Bush seized on the finds as proof Iraq had prohibited weapons.
No complete production system has been found, and tests showed no trace of biological agents in either trailer.
"So far it seems as if all the leads that have been followed up have come to nothing. ... So many false claims have been made in the past, it can only be politically driven. Responsible governments take time to investigate," said Alex Standish, editor of Jane's Intelligence Digest in London.
"It's like the boy who cried wolf. The credibility of these claims is shot."
Powell also had told the United Nations that "numerous intelligence reports over the past decade from sources inside Iraq" indicated "a covert force of up to a few dozen Scud-variant ballistic missiles."
None has been found.
U.S. allegations that Iraq was trying to develop a nuclear weapon have also not been verified.
Much discussed were some high-strength aluminum tubes Iraq tried to import. The CIA argued they were for centrifuges essential to a nuclear weapons program. Experts from the State and Energy departments said they were for conventional artillery rockets, Thielmann said.
No centrifuges have been reported found.
In his State of the Union address, Bush said that Britain had learned that Saddam "recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
The claim rested significantly on a letter or letters between officials in Iraq and Niger that were obtained by European intelligence agencies. The communications are now accepted as forged.
The administration also suggested Iraq supported terrorists, including members of al-Qaida.
The al-Qaida connection was built around the movements of Abu Musab Zarqawi, a senior associate of Osama bin Laden. Zarqawi received medical treatment in Baghdad in 2002 and supported an Islamic extremist movement in Kurdish Iraq, outside Saddam's reach.
A midlevel associate of Zarqawi was detained near Baghdad after the war. Zarqawi himself remains at large. Some reports indicated al-Qaida operatives had sought chemical and biological weapons expertise from Iraq, but there was little evidence Iraq supplied any.
Associated Press writer Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.
On the Net: Powell's address to the United Nations: http://www.state.gov/p/nea/disarm/
CIA paper on Iraq: http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/iraq(underscore)wmd/Iraq(undersc ore)Oct(
State of the Union address: http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2003/01/20030128-19.html
Bush's Iraqi threat speech: http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/10/20021007-8.html