US Report Raises Doubts about Iraq Weapons

WASHINGTON (Reuters)–As the Bush administration was pushing last fall for a war against Iraq because of alleged weapons of mass destruction–a defense department report said it did not have enough "reliable information” Iraq was amassing chemical weapons–a defense official said on Friday.

News of the classified September 2002 report by the Defense Intelligence Agency has added to claims the White House and Pentagon slanted US intelligence on Baghdad’s weapons program to justify the war.

No such weapons have been found since Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was ousted in April but President George W. Bush has said repeatedly he believes US forces will find them.

Reacting to the report–National Security Council spokesman Mike Anton said any charges the United States slanted intelligence were "nonsense.”

"The White House and the Pentagon did not slant intelligence … This report is consistent with the judgment of the intelligence community–with what the president was saying–with what the UN was saying–with what foreign governmen’s believed and assessed about Iraq,” said Anton.

Around the time of the DIA report–Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld went to Congress to press his case that Iraq was stockpiling chemical and biological weapons.

"What this report is saying is that there’s not enough reliable information to move things into the category of things we know (about WMDs in Iraq),” said a defense official of the report–a summary of which was leaked to US media this week.

However–he said the 80-plus page report said intelligence indicated Iraq probably did have chemical and other weapons but that there was just not enough reliable intelligence to fully back up this claim.

"What’s been reported is accurate but you have to take it in context of the entire report–which is classified,” said the official–who asked not to be named.

"The way it’s briefed is in the category of ‘hey we think this is going on’ (but we don’t have absolute proof).”

"LESS RELIABLE INTELLIGENCE”

When UN weapons inspectors left Iraq in 1998–the defense official said the United States lost the ability to "see things on the ground” and turned to "less reliable intelligence avenues.”

A small team of UN nuclear experts returned to Iraq on Friday but they said their role was to check on looting at a research facility that may have caused radioactive contamination and was not to look for any weapons.

On Friday–the Senate’s Armed Services Committee held a closed-door hearing focusing on initial efforts by US forces to find weapons and the role of the new "Iraq Survey Group” in the so-far fruitless bid to find chemical and biological arms. This group will be staffed by about 1,400 people from the United States–Britain and Australia.

Surprise at the lack of chemical weapons has been expressed by the US military–which launched its war expecting possible chemical or biological attacks.

Last week–US Marine Lt. Gen. James Conway said US intelligence was "simply wrong” in leading the military to believe the invading troops were likely to be attacked with chemical weapons.

CIA Director George Tenet has defended his agency’s intelligence on chemical and biological weapons–saying the "integrity of our process was maintained throughout.”

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