Intelligence war: Pentagon faults CIA finding on Iraqi WMD

Friday, February 6, 2004

The U.S. military community has disputed a CIA determination that Iraq was unlikely to have transferred weapons of mass destruction to neighboring Syria and Lebanon's Bekaa Valley in early 2003.

Defense Department officials said U.S. Army intelligence and the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency have concluded that Saddam Hussein might have transferred Iraq's WMD arsenal to Syria a year ago, according to reports by and Middle East Newsline.

The officials said the U.S. intelligence community has amassed sufficient evidence to press Syria to open its facilities to British-U.S. inspection.

Pentagon sources said Rumsfeld and Tenet have long been at odds regarding WMD programs under Saddam as well as in other Middle East regimes. The sources said Rumsfeld has advocated a shakeup in the intelligence community.

"The record of the [U.S.] intelligence community, particularly with respect to the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, is an appalling record," Richard Perle, former chairman of the Defense Policy Advisory Board, which advises the Pentagon, said. reported in its Aug. 19, 2003 edition that Israeli intelligence had identified what were believed to be Iraqi weapons of mass destruction goods in Hizbullah-controlled Lebanon. The Israelis used a spy satellite to photograph several tractor-trailer loads of suspected weapons into the Bekaa Valley, where the Islamist terrorist group is based, according to U.S. officials cited by the report. Shipments were made between January and the first week of March in 2003.

The Iraq Survey Group the 1,300-member team examining WMD issues was told by members of the Saddam regime that Iraq sent biological weapons to Syria and chemical weapons to the Syrian-controlled Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, Pentagon officials said. In addition, Middle East Newsline reports that the group was told that components of Saddam's chemical weapons program were shipped to Syrian Air Force facilities in central Syria.

In contrast, the State Department and the CIA leadership back the view that Saddam was unlikely to have transferred his arsenal of WMD and extended-range Scud missiles in March 2003. Officials said the department, as well as significant elements in the CIA, has quietly concluded that Saddam would not have trusted Syria or any other of its neighbors with Iraq's WMD arsenal.

On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Iraq might have transferred its weapons of mass destruction arsenal to other countries. In testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Rumsfeld cited the transfer of Iraq's WMD as the second of three possibilities regarding the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein's. He did not say where the WMD was transferred to, but earlier U.S. intelligence officials said the most likely destination was Iraq's neighbor Syria.

But Rumsfeld discounted the possibility that Iraq did not have WMD in March 2003, when the United States launched a war to oust the Saddam regime.

"That's possible, but not likely," Rumsfeld said.

Rumsfeld did not discount the other prospects. One is that the WMD was transferred "in whole or part to other countries. The other theory was that Saddam concealed WMD throughout Iraq or destroyed such weapons before the start of the war."

"And once something is buried, it stays buried," Rumsfeld said. "In a country the size of California, the [chance] of finding something buried in the ground without being led to it by someone knowledgeable -- is minimal."

In January, David Kay, director of the Iraq Survey Group, said Baghdad did not have WMD when the United States invaded Iraq in March 2003. Kay also said that Iraq could have transferred its WMD arsenal to Syria.

Yet another prospect, Rumsfeld said, was that Iraq contained small quantities of biological or chemical agents and a surge capability, which means the ability to produce weapons on short notice. Such a prospect would mean that the Iraq Survey Group could find these weapons in the months ahead.

"Finally, there is the possibility that it was a charade by the Iraqis," Rumsfeld said. "Saddam Hussein himself might have been fooled by his own people, who may have tricked him into believing he had capabilities he didn't really have."

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Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Sen. Pat Roberts has supported the Pentagon assessment that Iraq transferred WMD components to Syria. On Thursday, the committee reviewed a 300-page classified report of the panel's eight-month inquiry into the fate of Iraq's WMD arsenal.

On Thursday, CIA director George Tenet did not raise the prospect that Iraq transferred WMD to Syria or other countries. Instead, he cited a finding by the Iraq Survey Group that the Saddam regime systematically destroyed and looted forensic evidence before, during and after the war. "We have been faced with organized destruction of documentary and computer evidence in a wide range of offices, laboratories and companies suspected of weapons of mass destruction work," Tenet said. "The pattern of these efforts is one of deliberate, rather than random, acts."

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