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Agency lacked weapons evidence

Intelligence agency tries to quell doubts about the Bush administration's justification for attacking Iraq.

By Times Wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 7, 2003

WASHINGTON - Prewar U.S. intelligence "could not specifically pin down" sites in Iraq where chemical weapons were being stored or produced but intelligence officers remained convinced that Baghdad had such an arsenal, a top Pentagon official said Friday.

Navy Vice Adm. Lowell Jacoby, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, offered the unusual public defense of classified intelligence amid continuing questions in Congress over the accuracy of the Bush administration's claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. President Bush and other U.S. officials cited the existence of those weapons to justify attacking Iraq.

U.S. combat forces in Iraq have not found the kind of evidence of weapons of mass destruction that were alleged by Secretary of State Colin Powell in his high-profile presentation to the U.N. Security Council on Feb. 5.

The items closest to being evidence are two trailers turned over to the U.S. military that the Pentagon believes were designed to manufacture biological toxins.

Jacoby sought to rebut news media reports that his intelligence agency harbored doubts about whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. U.S. News & World Report magazine and the Bloomberg News Service drew upon a classified DIA intelligence summary to report on Thursday that the Pentagon intelligence agency had no reliable information last September to indicate Iraq had chemical weapons ready for use on the battlefield.

CNN quoted the DIA summary on Friday as saying that Iraq "probably possesses" chemical weapons agents "although we lack any direct information."

The agency was more definitive about Iraqi biological warfare agents, saying that Iraq was "assessed to possess biological agent stockpiles that may be weaponized and ready for use."

Jacoby said the basis for the news media reports was "a single sentence lifted out of a longer planning document" that concluded six months before the U.S. invasion that "we could not specifically pin down individual facilities operating as part of the weapons of mass destruction programs, specifically the chemical warfare portion."

He said the conclusion was "not in any way intended to portray the fact that we had doubts that such a program existed, that such a program was active, or such a program was part of the Iraqi WMD infrastructure."

Senate Armed Service Committee Chairman John Warner, R-Va., expressing concern about the lack of evidence, arranged for Jacoby and Stephen Cambone, defense undersecretary for intelligence, to publicly address the issue Friday following their closed-door briefing to his committee.

Jacoby's agency provides military commanders tactical intelligence on enemy deployments used to plan and carry out combat operations.

The administration began building its case against Iraq last August in a series of speeches by Vice President Dick Cheney. "There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction," Cheney told a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention on Aug. 26. "There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies and against us."

In September Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld joined in.

"We do know that the Iraqi regime has chemical and biological weapons," Rumsfeld told the House Armed Services Committee on Sept. 18. "His regime has amassed large, clandestine stockpiles of chemical weapons - including VX, sarin, cyclosarin and mustard gas."

Rumsfeld recently raised the possibility that Iraq destroyed such weapons before the war started March 20.

On Oct. 1, the CIA released a "white paper" on Iraq's weapons programs derived from a broader, classified National Intelligence Estimate that had been sent to the White House and briefed to members of Congress.

Among the "Key Judgments" in the first two pages of the National Intelligence Estimate that were meant to summarize the details that followed in the 25-page document were that "Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons," and "Baghdad has begun renewed production of chemical warfare agents, probably including mustard, sarin, cyclosarin and VX."

However, the more detailed backup material later in the document did not support those assessments. The detailed text contained more qualified language, stating, for example, that "gaps in Iraqi accounting and current production capabilities strongly suggest Iraq has the ability to produce chemical warfare agents within its chemical industry."

Bush on Oct. 7, in a major speech in Cincinnati, echoed without qualification the white paper's "key judgment" conclusion when he said that Iraq "possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons."

- Information from Hearst Newspapers, the Associated Press and Washington Post was used in this report.

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