As the search for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD) continues without any weapons discoveries and the Bush administration steadily retreats from some of its earlier claims, a key congressional committee has reportedly issued a harsh critique of the intelligence community’s Iraq analysis. The administration has been promising for months that questions surrounding its so far unproven claims about Iraq’s arsenals would be resolved by a report from a CIA task force headed by David Kay, a former International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspector. But administration officials have recently cast doubt on whether that report will ever be made public.
“I would not count on [public] reports,” National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice told reporters during a press briefing Sept. 22. During a Sept. 28 appearance on FOX News Sunday, Rice said Kay’s “progress report” is “likely not to draw...major conclusions.” She added that the administration “will make known [Kay’s] findings” but did not say if the report would be released to the public.
Bush officials continue to insist that evidence of programs to produce prohibited weapons, as well as weapons themselves, will be found. However, Marine Corps Lt. Gen. James Conway said during a Sept. 9 press briefing that Iraqi weapons “were not at the operational level.”
The Washington Post reported Sept. 28 that Rep. Porter Goss (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and ranking member Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) sent a letter Sept. 25 to CIA Director George Tenet criticizing the intelligence community for lacking the ability to collect new evidence about Iraqi weapons capabilities and relying on “past assessments.” The letter adds that the intelligence community took “the absence of proof” that Iraq had destroyed prohibited weapons as “proof that they continued to exist.” CIA spokesman Bill Harlow called the letter’s findings “premature and wrong,” according to the Post.
During the past few months, administration officials have backtracked from their earlier assertions about Iraq’s weapons. Prior to the invasion, officials vigorously asserted that Baghdad possessed weapons of mass destruction. (See ACT, July/August 2003 and September 2003.) In public statements since June, however, officials have stressed that inspectors are certain to find evidence of weapons programs rather than actual weapons.
Two senior administration officials recently corrected claims they made months ago. During a Sept. 10 press conference, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged that his March 30 claim that “we know where…[Iraq’s WMD] are. They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad” was inaccurate and said he should have stated that “our intelligence tells us they’re in that area.”
Similarly, Vice President Dick Cheney told NBC’s Meet the Press Sept. 14 that he misspoke when he said during a March 16 interview that Iraq had “reconstituted nuclear weapons” and that he merely meant to say Iraq had the “capability” to develop such weapons—a claim he had repeated earlier in the show.
The vice president then went on to make a number of questionable charges. For instance, he said an Iraqi scientist came forward with “full designs” for a gas centrifuge “system,” as well as the “key parts” to “build such a system.” That scientist, however, had hidden the parts since 1991 and an IAEA official said the component set was incomplete and the documents appeared to contain errors. (See ACT, September 2003.) Gas centrifuges can be used to enrich uranium for use in nuclear weapons.
Cheney also asserted that Iraq possessed mobile units to produce biological weapons, citing the discovery of two trailers that, according to the CIA, were designed for this purpose. A Department of State memorandum, however, expresses doubts about whether the trailers were built to produce biological weapons. (See ACT, July/August 2003 and June 2003.)
Moreover, Cheney stated that he had never seen a 2002 report by former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson that calls into question intelligence reports accusing Iraq of trying to acquire uranium in Niger—a key component of the administration’s nuclear weapons charges against Iraq. In a Sept. 16 interview, Wilson argued that he believed the government’s system for getting such information to senior officials would had to have changed significantly in order for Cheney’s account to be true. (See ACT, September 2003.)
As the possibility of finding weapons or significant weapons programs recedes, officials have continued to stress other motives for the Iraq invasion. Secretary of State Colin Powell argued during a Sept. 28 television appearance that Saddam Hussein’s appalling human rights record, along with suspected ties to terrorists and WMD activities, justified the invasion. In a Sept. 5 interview, Richard Haass, the State Department’s recently departed director of policy planning maintained there was “a menu of arguments” for the invasion, including “the feeling that we had to score a geopolitical victory” in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The IAEA Reports
Meanwhile, the IAEA says it had found no evidence of a nuclear weapons program in Iraq by the time it left the country March 18, according to a report summarizing IAEA inspection activities pertaining to Iraq since September 2002 and released during the Sept. 15-19 general conference. However, the report adds that the agency did not have enough time to completely resolve questions over whether Iraq’s capabilities had changed since December 1998, when Iraq stopped cooperating with inspectors.
The report goes on to say that the IAEA would have been able to provide “credible assurance” that Iraq had not revived its nuclear program “within an additional two to three months of continuing verification activities.”
The document also summarizes the agency’s June 7-23 inspection of the Tuwaitha nuclear complex following reports that nuclear material had been looted during the March invasion. (See ACT, July/August 2003). The inspectors estimated that at least 10 kilograms of uranium compounds could have been dispersed but that the materials are not a proliferation concern.