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[casi] US : "We were misled by Iraqis"

The latest US rationalization. Simply incredible.  pg

Los Angeles Times
U.S. Suspects It Received False Iraq Arms Tips

Intelligence officials are reexamining data used in justifying the war. They
say Hussein's regime may have sent bogus defectors.

By Bob Drogin
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

August 28, 2003

WASHINGTON  Frustrated at the failure to find Saddam Hussein's suspected
stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, U.S. and allied intelligence
agencies have launched a major effort to determine if they were victims of
bogus Iraqi defectors who planted disinformation to mislead the West before
the war.

The goal, according to a senior U.S. intelligence official, "is to see if
false information was put out there and got into legitimate channels and we
were totally duped on it." He added, "We're reinterviewing all our sources
of information on this. This is the entire intelligence community, not just
the U.S."

The far-reaching review was started after a political firestorm erupted this
summer over revelations that President Bush's claim in his State of the
Union speech that Iraq had sought to import uranium from Niger was based on
forged documents.

Although senior CIA officials insist that defectors were only partly
responsible for the intelligence that triggered the decision to invade Iraq
in March, other intelligence officials now fear that key portions of the
prewar information may have been flawed. The issue raises fresh doubts as to
whether illicit weapons will be found in Iraq.

As evidence, officials say former Iraqi operatives have confirmed since the
war that Hussein's regime sent "double agents" disguised as defectors to the
West to plant fabricated intelligence. In other cases, Baghdad apparently
tricked legitimate defectors into funneling phony tips about weapons
production and storage sites.

"They were shown bits of information and led to believe there was an active
weapons program, only to be turned loose to make their way to Western
intelligence sources," said the senior intelligence official. "Then, because
they believe it, they pass polygraph tests ... and the planted information
becomes true to the West, even if it was all made up to deceive us."

Critics had charged that the Bush administration exaggerated intelligence on
Iraq to bolster support for the war. The broader question now is whether
some of the actual intelligence was fabricated and U.S. officials failed to
detect it.

One U.S. intelligence official said analysts may have been too eager to find
evidence to support the White House's claims. As a result, he said,
defectors "were just telling us what we wanted to hear."

Hussein's motives for such a deliberate disinformation scheme may have been
to bluff his enemies abroad, from Washington to Tehran, by sending false
signals of his military might. Experts also say the dictator's defiance of
the West, and its fear of his purported weapons of mass destruction, boosted
his prestige at home and was a critical part of his power base in the Arab

Hussein also may have gambled that the failure of United Nations weapons
inspectors to find specific evidence identified by bogus defectors
ultimately would force the Security Council to lift sanctions imposed after
the 1991 Persian Gulf War. U.S. officials now believe Hussein hoped to then
covertly reconstitute his weapons programs.

"We're looking at that and every other possibility," the first intelligence
official said. "You can't rule anything out.... People are really
second-guessing themselves now."

The current focus on Iraqi defectors reflects a new skepticism within the
Iraq Survey Group, the 1,400-member team responsible for finding any illicit
arms. In interviews, several current and former members expressed growing
disappointment over the inconclusive results of the search so far.

"We were prisoners of our own beliefs," said a senior U.S. weapons expert
who recently returned from a stint with the survey group. "We said Saddam
Hussein was a master of denial and deception. Then when we couldn't find
anything, we said that proved it, instead of questioning our own

The survey group is jointly led by David Kay, a former U.N. nuclear
inspector who was named a CIA special advisor in June, and Army Maj. Gen.
Keith Dayton, who headed the "human intelligence" service at the Defense
Intelligence Agency. Kay has said he will issue a preliminary report next

Evidence collected over the last two months suggests that Hussein's regime
abandoned large-scale weapons development and production programs in favor
of a much smaller "just in time" operation that could churn out poison gases
or germ agents if they were suddenly needed, survey group members say. The
transition supposedly took place between 1996 and 2000.

But survey group mobile collection teams are still unable to prove that any
nerve gases or microbe weapons were produced during or after that period,
the officials said. Indeed, the weapons hunters have yet to find proof that
any chemical or bio-warfare agents were produced after 1991.

The veracity of defectors is a key part of the puzzle, but only one aspect
of it.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell quoted several defector accounts in
February, when he presented U.S. findings to the United Nations Security
Council in an unsuccessful bid to win broad backing for military action in
Iraq. But Powell also cited spy satellites, electronic intercepts of
telephone and other communications, reports from U.N. inspectors and other
intelligence sources.

Some defectors have come under fire previously. U.S. experts have long
questioned the value of informants provided by pro-invasion Iraqi opposition
groups in exile, saying they routinely padded their resumes or exaggerated
their knowledge in exchange for asylum, visas or money.

The CIA and the State Department, in particular, distanced themselves from
Iraqi defectors handed over by the Iraqi National Congress, a London-based
umbrella group headed by Ahmad Chalabi. CIA and State Department officials
repeatedly warned that the group's intelligence network had proved
unreliable in the past.

Senior Pentagon officials, however, supported the former Iraqi banker's bid
as a possible successor to Hussein. Chalabi, who now sits on the
U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council in Baghdad, has said his group
provided the Defense Intelligence Agency with three defectors who had
personal knowledge of Hussein's illicit weapons programs.

One, an Iraqi engineer, told the DIA in 2001 that he knew the location of
biological weapons. However, no bioweapons have been found at the sites he

A second defector from Chalabi's group described what he said were mobile
labs that could produce several hundred tons of biowarfare agents per year.
The CIA has concluded that two trucks found in northern Iraq after the war
were probably designed for biowarfare, but outside experts have sharply
disputed those claims.

U.S. intelligence authorities dismissed the third defector, who claimed to
be an expert in nuclear isotope separation, as a fraud.

The CIA launched its own internal review of intelligence in February before
the war but did not re-interview defectors. The four-member panel, headed by
Richard Kerr, former CIA deputy director, has only reviewed "finished"
intelligence, not the "raw" reports that form their basis. The panel is
awaiting the Iraq Survey Group report before judging whether CIA assessments
were on target.

"So far, all they did was look at documents and see if they were well
founded, and if the conclusions were justified based on the underlying
intelligence," said a CIA spokesman. "Now they're waiting to see the outcome
of what we find [in Iraq] so they can compare the two. It's in limbo."

With the Iraq Survey Group still at work, CIA and Pentagon officials
declined to make Kay or Dayton, its leaders, available for interviews. But
other survey group members, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of
security clearances they are required to sign, said the evidence reviewed so
far  including more than 30 million pages of documents  still doesn't
support charges that Hussein secretly built chemical and biological weapons
after U.N. inspectors were forced out of Iraq in 1998, as the Bush
administration repeatedly warned.

"I haven't heard anyone run into the SOG [Survey Operations Center] saying,
'Eureka! We found the smoking gun,' " said a senior survey group member.
"It's all still murky as hell."

The issue of timing is critical because a formal U.S. intelligence estimate
sent to the White House and Congress in October starkly warned that Iraq had
"begun renewed production" of mustard, sarin, cyclosarin and VX nerve gases
and had 100 to 500 tons of chemical agents, "much of it added in the last
year." The report also said that "most of the key aspects" of Iraq's
bioweapons program "were more advanced" than before the 1991 war.

Evidence recently found by survey teams in Iraq includes detailed schedules,
outlines and instruction sheets, among other documents, indicating covert
plans to purchase and install "dual use" equipment in civilian laboratories
and factories that could be quickly converted to military use if an order
were suddenly issued.

"We've got a whole lot of documents that would substantiate a 'just in time'
capability," said one of the recently returned survey team members. "They
set up dual-use facilities so they could cook up what they needed, when they
needed it. But otherwise they would be making whiter-than-white washing
detergent or something."

In addition, some Iraqi scientists and technicians have claimed during
interrogation that chemical and biological agents were produced under the
"just in time" system as recently as 2002. But other Iraqis have said the
system was never used or only produced small "test batches" in the mid- to
late 1990s.

"We have some people who say, 'Yes, we were doing it,' or who say they
exercised the production periodically," said the former survey official.
"But you try to pursue it and it's not a clear picture. What they did with
the material is unclear. If they did produce, what did they do with the
results? If you just have a textbook or something on paper, that doesn't
mean you can actually make this stuff. It's all still very fuzzy."

Another former survey team member said the evidence of a "just in time"
program justifies the prewar concerns, even if the program was never

"To me, there's no difference between finding a warehouse full of aerial
bombs with nerve gas and a pencil-and-paper plan that will allow them to use
their existing production capabilities to produce those same weapons in one
week's time," he said.

U.N. weapons inspectors who scoured Iraq from 1991 to 1998 also theorized
that Hussein sought to hide new weapons programs in civilian factories,
hospitals and laboratories. Hussein had hidden much of his chemical and
biological weapons production in pesticide plants, water-treatment
facilities and other civilian infrastructure in the 1980s, but the U.N.
teams found no newly built production operations in the 1990s.

Kay and Dayton briefed the Senate Intelligence and Armed Services committees
behind closed doors in late July. They later told reporters that the survey
group was making "solid progress" in unraveling Hussein's illicit programs.
That led to sharp criticism from some Democrats.

"I remain cautious about whether we're going to find actual WMD," said Sen.
John D. "Jay" Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), vice chairman of the Senate
Intelligence Committee. "Not just a program, but the very extensive
weapons  ready for attack  that we all were told existed."

Rockefeller said he was "concerned" that the weapons hunters had not found
"the 25,000 liters of anthrax, the 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin and the
500 tons of mustard, sarin and VX nerve gas" that Bush cited in his State of
the Union speech in January.

Administration officials say they are still confident that weapons of mass
destruction will be found. They note a sharp increase in the number of
Iraqis providing useful information over the last month. One such tip last
week led to a cache of shoulder-held surface-to-air missiles in northern
Iraq, officials said.

In a television interview on Sunday, Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers,
chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, cited the discovery this month of
about 30 Soviet-era high-speed fighters and reconnaissance aircraft that had
been buried in desert sands near the Taqqadum airfield west of Baghdad. U.S.
troops had been operating in the area for more than three months before a
sandstorm exposed a tail fin.

"They went to extraordinary lengths to bury an aircraft," Myers said.

"A 55-gallon drum with anthrax in it would be a lot more difficult to find
and dig up. So it will work ... and we'll find what we're after."

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