U.S. intelligence consensus:
Iraqi WMD shipped to Syria

Thursday, October 30, 2003

For the first time, the U.S. intelligence community has released an assessment that Iraqi weapons of mass destruction were transferred to neighboring Syria in the weeks prior to the U.S.-led war against the Saddam Hussein regime.

U.S. officials said the assessment was based on satellite images of convoys of Iraqi trucks that poured into Syria in February and March 2003.

Officials said the briefing yesterday to U.S. defense reporters was based on the assessments of NIMA and the rest of the intelligence community, Middle East Newsline reported. But they stressed that the community was not united in determining the fate or whereabouts of suspected Iraqi WMD.

However most of the community, they said, has concluded that at least some of the Iraqi WMD, along with Iraqi scientists and technicians, was transferred to Syria.

The U.S. intelligence assessment was discussed publicly for the first time by the director of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency in a briefing in Washington on Tuesday. James Clapper, a retired air force general and a leading member of the U.S. intelligence community, said he linked the disappearance of Iraqi WMD with the huge number of Iraqi trucks that entered Syria before and during the U.S. military campaign to topple the Saddam regime.

"I think personally that the [Iraqi] senior leadership saw what was coming and I think they went to some extraordinary lengths to dispose of the evidence," Clapper said. "I'll call it an educated hunch."

The officials said the intelligence community assessed that the trucks contained missiles and WMD components banned by the United Nations Security Council.

Officials said there is less evidence that WMD and missile components were sent to Iran.

Clapper said Iraqi officials, from below the level of Saddam's sons Uday and Qusay, feared U.S. discovery of Iraqi biological and chemical weapons and ordered subordinates to conceal and destroy evidence of WMD in early 2003. He said he was certain that components connected to Iraq's biological, chemical and nuclear programs were sent to Syria in the weeks prior to and during the war, which began on March 19.

"I think probably in the few months prior to the onset of combat, there was probably an intensive effort to disperse to private homes, to move documentation and materials out of the country," Clapper said. "But certainly, inferentially, the obvious conclusion one draws is that the certain uptick in traffic [to Syria] may have been people leaving the scene, fleeing Iraq, and unquestionably, I am sure, material."

The NIMA chief acknowledged that U.S. spy satellites did not identify the cargo transported by the Iraqi trucks into Syria. He said that much of the Iraqi WMD remained in the country and was either concealed or destroyed even as the U.S. military captured Baghdad in April.

Clapper said he suspected that the looting throughout Sunni cities in Iraq in April was directed by Saddam loyalists to serve as a diversion for the destruction or transfer of WMD components from government or other installations targeted by U.S. intelligence. The United States has never found biological, chemical or nuclear weapons in Iraq.

"So by the time that we got to a lot of these facilities, that we had previously identified as suspect facilities, there wasn't that much there to look at," Clapper said.

NIMA, which will be renamed the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, is responsible for the analysis of satellite imagery for the U.S. intelligence community. The agency, which deployed 90 staffers during the Iraq war, also produces map and other surveillance data in cooperation with the National Reconnaissance Office.

The leading agencies in the intelligence community are the CIA, the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, NIMA and the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research. These agencies are responsible for the annual National Intelligence Estimate.

"Based on the evidence we had at the time, I thought the conclusions we reached about the presence of at least a latent WMD program was accurate and balanced," Clapper said.

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