A Sept. 18 article incorrectly reported that acting CIA Director John E. McLaughlin had reviewed a draft report by the Iraq Survey Group studying Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and had sent it back with questions. McLaughlin has not reviewed the report, and Charles A. Duelfer, the CIA's top adviser on Iraqi weapons "will have the final word on his report," according to a CIA statement issued Sept. 18. McLaughlin has reviewed and sent back with questions a CIA Inspector General's report on accountability for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. (Published 9/19/04)
President Bush and other senior administration officials yesterday defended their decision to invade Iraq despite errors in prewar intelligence, echoing the findings in a draft report by the top U.S. weapons inspector, who concludes that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction but hoped to someday reconstitute programs to develop them.
"We didn't find the stockpiles we thought would be there -- that we all thought would be there," Bush said at a campaign rally in Washington. "But Saddam Hussein had the capability of making weapons, and he could have passed that capability on to the enemy. And that is a risk we could not afford to take after September 11, 2001. Knowing what I know today, I would have made the same decision."
The 1,300-page draft report by Charles A. Duelfer, the CIA's top adviser on Iraqi weapons and the leader of the Iraq Survey Group, has been reviewed by acting CIA Director John E. McLaughlin, according to one U.S. intelligence official. McLaughlin asked the team to answer questions not addressed in the report and has sent it back for further work. The official said the team has thousands of boxes of documents that it has yet to read, so changes are possible. The draft conclusion of Hussein's intent was based largely on documents written by senior Iraqi leaders and on interviews with former Iraqi scientists and top officials, the official said.
U.S. officials familiar with the classified draft report, whose contents were first reported by the Associated Press Thursday night, said it broadly mirrors the findings of Duelfer's predecessor, David Kay. Kay told the Senate Armed Services Committee in January that the U.S. intelligence community was "all wrong" in concluding that Iraq possessed banned weapons, a finding that the administration had used as a primary public justification for the invasion.
"Our view is it's going to largely confirm what David Kay concluded, which is that no stockpile existed but there was a clear capability and clear intent," said a senior State Department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the unfinished report has not been released.
The draft report also provides additional details on weapons programs that were never detected by U.N. inspectors, including a clandestine network of Iraqi intelligence agency facilities that were capable of producing small quantities of lethal agents and a secret program to develop drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, at the country's Al-Rashid air force base. Sources said the report is expected to include new information on Iraq's effort to secretly import a range of equipment, including lab equipment and machine tools that could be used in a weapons program.
"I think the report is absolutely consistent with what I said in January and in October last year," Kay said yesterday, adding that he has not seen the report but has discussed the probe with members of Duelfer's team. "No weapons stockpiles of mass destruction present at the time of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Saddam himself had absolutely every intention of reestablishing these programs at some point in the future."
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said in an interview on Fox News Channel yesterday that, although he had not yet read Duelfer's report, "if I had money to put money on something, I would say that Saddam Hussein clearly had the intention of having such weapons, he had the capability of having such weapons, and if he had ever broken free of U.N. sanctions or international oversight, he would have built up stockpiles."
"My instinct right now says that the sources that we had were mistaken with respect to the existence of any significant stockpiles," Powell added. "We haven't found any, and I haven't seen a persuasive case that said they've all been buried or they all went to another country."
Kay, however, challenged the Bush administration's contention that Iraq's weapons program presented a dire threat to the United States. He said that Iraq's "dual-use" chemical and industrial infrastructure -- which Iraq once used to produce chemical and biological weapons -- had been so degraded by war, U.N. inspections and economic sanctions that it is "dubious" to assume it could have been swiftly readied for the large-scale production of lethal agents.
He said Iraq had "gone to great lengths to conceal" the secret weapons labs currently under investigation by Duelfer's team. He noted that the labs "could have produced small quantities of biological or chemical agents but nothing significant from a military point of view."
He also voiced skepticism that the Iraqi drones could be used to deliver chemical or biological weapons, saying they were simply too small for that purpose. The Bush administration cited the threat that Iraqi drones could be used in such attacks on U.S. cities in making its case for invading Iraq. U.S. Air Force analysts and U.N. weapons inspectors have challenged those claims, saying that Iraq's drones were likely being developed to conduct reconnaissance missions.
Staff writer Dana Priest contributed to this report.