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CIA Reviews Its Intelligence Reports on Iraqi Arsenal - 2003-05-22

U.S. intelligence officials are reviewing what they knew about Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction prior to the U.S.-led war that toppled Saddam Hussein. The Bush administration based its decision to go to war on Baghdad's refusal to give up its suspected chemical and biological weapons.

This intelligence review began several weeks ago, about the time the war in Iraq was ending, to determine, as one U.S. official put it, what we got right and presumably, what we did not.

Before the war, the Bush administration told the world Baghdad had as much as 500 tons of chemical weapons agents along with mobile missile launchers and other banned items which the Iraqi government could not account for. And that this along with Iraq's alleged ties to al-Qaida, made the country a danger to the world, as President Bush repeatedly said

"We will end the Iraqi regime, an ally of terrorist groups and a producer of weapons of mass destruction," speaking here just after the war started.

But United Nations weapons inspectors did not find them and so far, American troops have not announced any confirmed finds either but are examining what may be the discovery of mobile biological weapons labs. A U.S. defense official who asked not to be identified says there are increasing questions within the military about what weapons Iraq actually had, pointing out that intelligence gathering can be used to support policy and that U.S. policy at the time was regime change in Iraq.

"I think there was certainly pressure to come up with some reasons to go for regime change, particularly in the U.S. administration," said John Eldridge, the editor of Jane's Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Defense. "It wasn't quite such the case in the UK and Spain, as members of the coalition. I think there wasn't as much stuff there as will turn out to be the case."

Bush administration officials say they are confident weapons Baghdad was supposed to have destroyed will be found and are sending more teams of experts into Iraq to look for them.

"One of the key missing elements from their matrix of sources was human intelligence, because they found it extremely difficult as all intelligence agencies do, to infiltrate the dictatorship," added Mr. Eldridge. "It may well take a long time, it could take years to discover if there were weapons there."

U.S. officials characterize the intelligence review now underway as a common practice and say it was planned well before the war that CIA Director George Tenet and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld agreed to it as far back as October. No decision has been made though on whether its findings will be made public.