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
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
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.