September 25, 2003

The Hunt for Weapons of Mass Destruction Yields Nothing

"An intensive six-month search of Iraq for weapons of mass destruction has failed to discover a single trace of an illegal arsenal, according to accounts of a report circulating in Washington and London."
Published on Thursday, September 25, 2003 by the
The Hunt for Weapons of Mass Destruction Yields Nothing
Intelligence claims of huge Iraqi stockpiles were wrong, says report

by Julian Borger in Washington, Ewen MacAskill and
Patrick Wintour

An intensive six-month search of Iraq for weapons of
mass destruction has failed to discover a single trace
of an illegal arsenal, according to accounts of a
report circulating in Washington and London.

The interim report, compiled by the CIA-led Iraq
Survey Group (ISG) of 1,400 weapons experts and
support staff, will instead focus on Saddam Hussein's
capacity and intentions to build banned weapons.

David Kay, a former UN weapons inspector and current
leader of the coalition forces team searching for
weapons of mass destruction, speaks to reporters in
Washington. A BBC report said the inspectors would
report finding nothing. (AFP/File/Luke Frazza)

A draft of the report has been sent to the White
House, the Pentagon and Downing Street, a US
intelligence source said. It has caused such
disappointment that there is now a debate over whether
it should be released to Congress over the next
fortnight, as had been widely expected.

"It will mainly be an accounting of programs and
dual-use technologies," said one US intelligence
source. "It demonstrates that the main judgments of
the national intelligence estimate (NIE) in October
2002, that Saddam had hundreds of tonnes of chemical
and biological agents ready, are false."

A BBC report yesterday said that the survey group,
which includes British and Australian investigators,
had come across no banned weapons, or delivery
systems, or laboratories involved in developing such

According to the BBC, the report will include computer
programs, files, paperwork and pictures suggesting
Saddam's regime was developing a WMD program.

Both Washington and London are likely to focus on
documentary evidence that the Saddam regime was
capable of producing weapons of mass destruction, and
probably intended to once international scrutiny had

But the report will fall far short of proving Iraq was
an "imminent threat" even to its neighbors.

According to accounts of the ISG draft, captured Iraqi
scientists gave the investigation, led by a former UN
inspector, David Kay, an account of how weapons were
destroyed, but those accounts refer to the period
immediately after the 1991 Gulf war.

The NIE was put together last year by the CIA and
other US intelligence agencies, and claimed that the
Iraqi leader had chemical and biological stockpiles,
and a continuing nuclear program. that could produce a
homemade bomb before the end of the decade.

The NIE became a key document in the propaganda war by
President Bush in the run up to the invasion of Iraq
in March, although intelligence officials warned that
many of the nuances and cautionary notes from original
reports had been removed from the final documents.

The timing of this disclosure could hardly be worse
for Tony Blair, days before the start of the Labour
party conference.

Iraq has dogged the prime minister almost continuously
for five months. Downing Street had been hoping for
respite after Lord Hutton's inquiry, which closes
today. Mr Blair put forward Iraq's weapons of mass
destruction as the reason for going to war and has
repeatedly insisted that the weapons would be found.

He told a skeptical Conservative MP in the Commons on
April 30 that he was convinced that Iraq had such
weapons and predicted that, when the report was
published, "you and others will be eating some of your

Although Downing Street last night officially
dismissed the leak as speculation, government sources
confirmed it was accurate. A No 10 spokesman said:
"People should wait. The reports today are speculation
about an unfinished draft of an interim re port that
has not even been presented yet. And when it comes it
will be an interim report. The ISG's work will go on.
He added: "Our clear expectation is that this interim
report will not reach firm conclusions about Iraq's
possession of WMD."

The government defense will be to stress that failure
to find WMD does not mean that they do not exist.

Last night's leak will fuel the anti-war sentiment
ahead of Saturday's demonstration in London for
withdrawal of US and British troops from Iraq. It will
also make it harder for Labour conference organizers
to resist grassroots pressure for a debate on Iraq.
The interim report is at present penciled in for
publication next week but Labour, anxious to avoid it
landing in the middle of its conference, is trying to
get that changed.

In Washington, congressional aides said they still
expected to hear from Dr Kay next week. He arrived
back from Iraq last Wednesday and since then has been
working on the report. The nuclear section of the
survey group has also finished its work and left Iraq.

After addressing the Senate in July, Dr Kay claimed
"solid evidence" was being gathered and warned
journalists to expect "surprises". No such surprises
appear to be in the draft.

The CIA took the unusual step of playing down
expectations of the report yesterday.

"Dr Kay is still receiving information from the field.
It will be just the first progress report, and we
expect that it will reach no firm conclusions, nor
will it rule anything in or out," the chief agency
spokesman, Bill Harlow, said.

An intelligence official added yesterday that the
timing of the report's release "had yet to be

In London, a Foreign Office spokesman said: "It is
David Kay's report. We do not have it. We will comment
on it when it is presented. When it comes, it will be
an interim report. ISG's work will continue. The
reports are speculation about an unfinished draft of
an interim report that has not yet even been presented

David Albright, a former UN weapons inspector, said:
"It's clear that the US and British governments wildly
exaggerated the case for going to war."

But he added that the fact that the survey group had
not found concrete evidence of weapons did not mean
that the Baghdad regime did not have programs to
quickly reconstitute programs and weapons at short
notice. "I'm not surprised, given how incompetent this
search has been. They've had bad relations with the
[Iraqi] scientists from the start because they treated
them all as criminals."

Many of the Iraqi scientists and officials who
surrendered to US forces have been held in detention
for months without contact with their families,
despite assurances they would be well treated if they

But recently the Bush administration, under mounting
pressure to justify the invasion, has been trying to
improve the incentives for former Saddam loyalists to
provide information.

Reuters quoted a senior US official yesterday as
saying that the former defense minister, Sultan Hashim
Ahmed, had been given "effective" immunity in the hope
he would provide information on Saddam's weapons

The foreign secretary, Jack Straw, at the United
Nations general assembly, declined to comment on the
report. "If people want evidence, they don't have to
wait for Dr Kay's report. What they can do is look at
the volumes of reports from the weapons inspectors
going back over a dozen years including the final
report from UNMOVIC on March 7 this year, which set
out 29 separate areas of unanswered disarmament
questions to Iraq," he said.

Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003


Posted by richard at September 25, 2003 10:01 AM