Before the invasion of Iraq, the CIA learned from Iraqi scientists' relatives that the country's weapons of mass destruction programs had ended. But the agency did not pass that information to President Bush as he made the case for war, a newspaper reports.
That revelation is one of several contained in a report from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, according to The New York Times. The committee's report, due out this week, reflects the first part of its inquiry into apparent intelligence failures in Iraq.
Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction comprised the Bush administration's leading rationale for the March 2003 invasion.
Evidence uncovered by the Iraq Survey Group suggests Iraq may have maintained some capacity for biological weapons research and conducted illegal design work on missiles with ranges in excess of United Nations restrictions. Polish troops recently found several artillery shells filled with sarin or mustard gas.
But those shells dated from Iraq's eight-year war with Iran. No evidence of large stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons has surfaced. Mobile trailers that were suspected of being weapons factories turned out not to be. And Iraq's alleged nuclear weapons program was apparently dormant.
David Kay, the first head of the U.S. unit hunting for illegal weapons, resigned earlier this year saying the prewar intelligence was "almost all wrong."
As concern has mounted over the lack of illegal weapons in Iraq, a key question has been whether U.S. intelligence misjudged Iraq's capabilities, or Bush administration officials misstated what the intelligence showed.
Outgoing CIA director George Tenet has said his analysts "never said there was an 'imminent threat.'" Administration officials, including the president, accused Iraq of trying to buy uranium from Niger despite warnings from the CIA that the claim was doubtful. And published CIA reports, like the crucial October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate of Iraq's capabilities, contained qualifications and caveats that administration officials rarely acknowledged.
But Bob Woodward's book "Plan of Attack" quotes Tenet telling a skeptical Mr. Bush that the intelligence on Iraq was "a slam dunk," and the Senate report apparently also will put the blame on the intelligence agency.
The report finds problems in the collection of intelligence and the way that intelligence was reported. In once case, The Times reports, a defector who reportedly said there was a biological weapons program actually said he knew of no such program.
The Senate report concludes that CIA analysts were under no political pressure to skew their reports, The Times says.
The CIA downplayed the significance of the relatives' claims.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Tony Blair said Tuesday that Saddam Hussein's illicit weapons of mass destruction may never be found in Iraq, but insisted the dictator had posed a threat to the world.
"I have to accept that we have not found them, that we may not find them," Blair told a committee of lawmakers Tuesday. "We do not know what has happened to them. They could have been removed, they could have been hidden, they could have been destroyed."
Blair rejected any suggestion that the stockpiles never existed and that Saddam had not been a danger to the world.
"To go to the opposite extreme and say therefore no threat existed from Saddam Hussein would be a mistake," he told the House of Commons Liaison Committee.
He said the survey group had already shown that Saddam had the "strategic capability, the intent and was in multiple breaches of the United Nations resolutions."
"I genuinely believe that those stockpiles of weapons were there," Blair added.
In September 2002, Blair's government published a dossier of intelligence about Iraq. At the time, Blair told the Commons that Saddam's "weapons of mass destruction program is active, detailed and growing." Blair said some of Iraq's chemical and biological weapons "could be activated within 45 minutes."
Even after no weapons were found during the war, Blair insisted they would be found. A year ago, he told one critic the search was continuing, and results would be published. "I think that when we do so, the honorable gentleman and others will be eating some of their words," he said in Commons.
Serious questions have been asked about the quality of Britain's prewar intelligence on Iraqi weapons. An inquiry, instigated by the government, will publish its report on July 14.