Trailers Cloud WMD Trail

Members of a mobile exploitation team examine a suspected mobile biological weapons facility that was recovered by U.S. Forces in northern Iraq in late April, 2003.
AP
The Bush administration and its allies in the Iraq war, faced with an interim report showing no signs of banned weapons in Iraq, are pointing to evidence that Saddam Hussein may have retained capabilities for biological weapons and ambitions for a nuclear bomb.

But Friday more questions were emerging about the case for war.

Senior military officials involved in the hunt for alleged weapons of mass destruction tell The Associated Press that the CIA and weapons inspectors are reevaluating one of the only discoveries to back the case for war: two trailers found in northern Iraq.

The CIA had described the trailers in May as mobile weapons factories — the strongest evidence to date that Iraq was hiding a biological weapons program. But sources from the State Department and Defense Intelligence Agency say they believe the trailers were probably used to fill hydrogen weather balloons.

The hints of Saddam's intentions, as well as the lack of evidence of weapons of mass destruction stockpiles, were contained in weapons hunter David Kay's report Thursday to congressional intelligence committees.

Kay said he found no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and only limited evidence of secret programs to develop weapons, drawing fresh complaints about the Bush administration's prewar assertions of a serious threat from Saddam Hussein.

Kay, in a report to Congress on Thursday, described evidence of a possible small-scale Iraqi biological weapons effort and said searchers had substantial evidence of an Iraqi push to boost the range of its ballistic missiles beyond prohibited ranges.

But his team had found only limited evidence of any chemical weapons effort, he said. And there was almost no sign that a significant nuclear weapons project was under way.

Taken together, the findings do not appear to so far validate most of the Bush administration's prewar assertions of widespread and advanced Iraqi weapons programs, critics said.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Thursday "it will be unfortunate" if it turns out that intelligence used to justify the war in Iraq turns out to have been seriously flawed.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the interim report "detailed interim report documents how Saddam's regime was in clear violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441."

"While Dr. Kay notes it is too early to reach conclusions, we are pleased with the progress being made to uncover the full extent of the regime's WMD programs, and we look forward to the final report," the spokesman said.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Friday, "The fact they have not found weapons obviously does not mean weapons were not there."

Australia's Prime Minister John Howard stressed that the report is an interim one, and said final judgment should be suspended until Kay's work in Iraq is complete.

Kay said he should know within six to nine months if there is more to be found in Iraq. The administration is asking for $600 million to continue the search, according to congressional officials.

"We have not found at this point actual weapons," Kay said after briefing Congress behind closed doors. "It does not mean we've concluded there are no actual weapons."

But the lack of substantive findings brought immediate negative reactions from both Republicans and Democrats in Congress — and also seemed certain to raise new questions among allies overseas about the Bush administration's justification for going to war.

"I'm not pleased by what I heard today, but we should be willing to adopt a wait-and-see attitude — and that's the only alternative we really have," said Sen. Pat Roberts, Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The administration's assertions about Iraq's weapons programs and ties to terrorism, and the intelligence conclusions behind those assertions, had driven the administration's case for war.

Separately, CIA Director George Tenet, in a letter to the leaders of the House Intelligence Committee obtained by the AP, rejected congressional criticism that the prewar intelligence findings were flawed.

The findings cited by Kay included:

  • On biological weapons, a single vial of a strain of botulinum, a poison that can be used as a weapon, located at the home of a known biological weapons scientist. Such material cannot, however, be used to produce biological warfare agents.
  • Kay also said Iraq conducted covert research into biological weapons by having scientists use benign substances and organisms as substitutes for those used to make a weapon. Some of the covert research also involved the Iraqi intelligence service, he said.
  • On chemical weapons, multiple sources told the weapons hunting group that Iraq did not have a large, ongoing, centrally controlled program after 1991. There had been reports that Iraq retained some of its old chemical weapons but Kay said none had been found.
  • On nuclear weapons, Kay said in his statement to Congress that despite evidence of Saddam's continued ambition to acquire nuclear weapons, "to date we have not uncovered evidence that Iraq undertook significant post-1998 steps to actually build nuclear weapons or produce fissile material."
  • But on missiles, Kay said the team had "discovered sufficient evidence to date to conclude that the Iraqi regime was committed to delivery system improvements."
  • Kay also uncovered development efforts on a cruise missile with a 620-mile range, well beyond that allowed by the United Nations. But the missile was never completed, and development was halted when U.N. inspectors re-entered Iraq. He also cited evidence, including documents, that Iraq attempted to acquire some long-range missile parts from North Korea, but any such deal was apparently never consummated.
Kay listed a number of suspicious, but ultimately uncertain, discoveries of equipment and research that could apply to a weapons program. Discoveries of such "dual-use" equipment is often controversial because the items also have a legitimate use, often in chemical or pharmaceutical programs.

Kay said some of this equipment and laboratories wasn't declared to U.N. inspectors. The inspectors, however, had found no fault with Iraq for failing to declare lots of equipment that could be deemed dual-use.