WASHINGTON—Contradicting assertions by the Bush administration that Saddam Hussein poses an imminent threat, the director of the CIA told lawmakers Tuesday that Iraq "for now appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks with conventional or chemical or biological weapons against the United States."
But CIA Director George Tenet said that if Saddam comes to believe that he can not prevent a U.S.-led attack on Iraq, "he probably would become much less constrained in adopting terrorist actions. Such terrorism might involve conventional means, as with Iraq's unsuccessful attempt at a terrorist offensive in 1991, or chemical and biological weapons."
Tenet's appraisal of Saddam's intentions were contained in a letter to congressional Intelligence committees.
Meanwhile, Pentagon officials said Tuesday that Iraq is hiding its weapons of mass destruction in anticipation of renewed United Nations inspections and has begun fielding decoys and taking other deceptive measures in preparation for a possible U.S. invasion.
The officials provided few details of the efforts they said Iraq is now making to conceal its illicit weapons, military installations, hardware and positions. To elaborate further, they said, would alert Iraqi troops to flaws in their camouflage techniques.
The revelations about Saddam's possible moves came as the House and Senate debated a congressional resolution authorizing force against Iraq if Saddam refuses to dismantle his weapons of mass destruction.
The House was expected to vote overwhelmingly for the resolution Thursday. But the Senate appeared destined to wait until next week because Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, an opponent of the resolution, has placed legislative obstacles in its path.
The CIA assessment could further complicate Senate consideration of the resolution in the Senate, even though no one is predicting its demise. Tenet's evaluation goes to the heart of two central questions about the use of force in Iraq: Is Saddam's threat at hand, and what will he do if attacked.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., an opponent of the resolution, said Tenet's finding about Saddam's intentions are especially important if the United States chooses to act without United Nations backing.
"It's a relevant fact in terms of unilateral force," Levin said.
As for Saddam's efforts to obstruct detection, John Yurechko, a Defense Intelligence Agency official who specializes in analyzing such "denial and deception" techniques, said that the measures included deploying decoys to confuse the commanders of a potential U.S. invasion force.
"That's part of their practice," he said, noting that Iraqi forces employed similar deceptive tactics during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Such tactics are standard military practice for the United States and virtually every other country.
Yurechko briefed reporters on the history and methods of Saddam Hussein's efforts to hide his nuclear, biological and chemical warfare programs from detection before the 1991 war, through seven years of U.N. inspections and today.
The briefing was part of a Bush administration drive to convince Congress, the American public and foreign governments that Saddam poses an imminent threat to international peace and that military action may be the only way to stop his illicit weapons programs.
"We think they are fairly accomplished masters" at denial and deception, said Yurechko.
The briefing came as U.S. and British diplomats in New York continued to seek U.N. Security Council approval of a resolution approving U.S. military action if Saddam balks at renewed weapons inspections under tougher rules. In Washington, the Senate and House of Representatives debated giving Bush the authority to invade Iraq.
Iraq denies that it has weapons of mass destruction.
Yurechko said the Iraqis have improved their denial and deception techniques with the help of U.N. reports obtained from the Internet and from news media leaks, and have begun taking measures to foil renewed U.N. inspections.
Iraq, he said, is mounting a "deliberate, methodical, extensive and well-organized national-level strategic effort which aims at deceiving not just the United States, not just the United Nations or even the public media, but . . . the entire world."
He said Saddam's younger son, Qusay Hussein, the head of the Special Security Organization, the regime's most powerful security service, supervises Iraq's denial and deception program.
Using satellite photographs, Yurechko detailed various methods Iraq has used to conceal chemical, germ and nuclear weapons equipment and facilities.
Iraq, he said, has tried to camouflage weapons plants by placing them in nondescript buildings in civilian neighborhoods or by constructing them as parts of civilian chemical or food-production facilities. Some facilities that were destroyed by allied bombs during the 1991 war or by U.N. inspectors have been rebuilt, said Yurechko.
He said the al Qaim phosphate plant, where Iraqi technicians also produced uranium, was destroyed in 1991 but has been rebuilt and declared a chemical production facility. He could not say whether uranium extraction had resumed there.
(c) 2002, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.