Lawmakers: U.S. intelligence based on `fragmentary information', 7/15/03

Knight Ridder NewspapersJuly 15, 2003 

WASHINGTON—Large stockpiles of banned weapons probably don't exist in Iraq, the bipartisan leaders of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee concluded Tuesday after a trip to Baghdad.

"The big question still is, where are they?" committee Chairman Porter Goss, a Florida Republican, said about the search for weapons of mass destruction.

The possibility that some biological and chemical weapons have been dispersed, hidden or given to other nations or to terrorists "demands an urgent response," Goss said.

U.S. forces in Iraq have not found unequivocal evidence of weapons of mass destruction. The allegation that Iraq possessed these weapons was one of the major justifications the Bush administration gave before it went to war there.

Goss and three other members of the committee met with top intelligence and military officials in Iraq, and said they were pleased with the intense search for weapons.

But their report noted a serious lack of reliable data before the war.

David Kay, the CIA's special adviser for the search, and Army Gen. Keith Dayton "both noted that the intelligence community's assumptions about Iraq's weapons programs were largely based on fragmentary information collected over the past decade without any particularized insight into that closed society," the House members said in their report.

"The evidence does not point to the existence of large stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons," the report continued.

An internal CIA review found that the agency lacked precise, up-to-date information about the threat from Iraqi weapons, a former CIA deputy director told Knight Ridder two weeks ago.

Other analysts have pointed to a lack of human intelligence from Iraq, and a dependence on defectors who weren't always reliable.

"The intelligence case for war relied more than it should have on circumstantial indicators of Iraq's weapons programs rather than solid facts," said Rep. Jane Harman of California, the ranking Democrat on the committee. "The intelligence community did not highlight gaps and uncertainties."

Harman, who voted for the use of force in Iraq, predicted that U.S. forces will find evidence of weapons programs, but not necessarily any stockpiles of chemical or biological agents.

The committee is conducting a review of prewar intelligence and how it was used, including a disputed report about Iraq's alleged attempt to buy uranium for nuclear weapons, which President Bush cited in his State of the Union speech.

Goss said he'd seen no misuse of intelligence before the war. He and Harman said they supported CIA Director George Tenet, who took responsibility for allowing mention of the uranium report in the speech.

But Harman said a thorough investigation of the use of intelligence on Iraq was necessary "to ensure U.S. credibility" in dealing with North Korea, Iran and other potential crises.

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(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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