Special AP Report Reveals Fresh Details on Iraq WMD Controversy

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By: E&P Staff

An extraordinary recap of U.S. claims about weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq, to be moved by the Associated Press this weekend, reveals new details about the pre-war misstatements and the desperate efforts by American officials and CIA chief George Tenet to actually find the weapons after the war.

The lengthy report, written by Charles J. Hanley, AP special correspondent, is based on fresh interviews, official documents and other sources.

“There was an absolutely closed mind,” Kay tells AP, referring to American officials. “They would not look at alternative explanations,? he said, referring specifically to controversies surrounding the aluminum tubes and bio-weapons trailers.

The article opens with a remarkable, and previously unreported scene, from February 2004, after months that found U.S. weapons inspectors, including Kay, failing to find any WMDs at all.

?Beneath the giant dome of a Baghdad palace, facing his team of scientists and engineers, George Tenet sounded more like a football coach than a spymaster, a coach who didn’t know the game was over,? Hanley writes.

“?Are we 85 percent done? the CIA boss demanded. The arms hunters knew what he wanted to hear. ?No!? they shouted back. ?Let me hear it again!? They shouted again. The weapons are out there, Tenet insisted. Go find them.

?Veteran inspector Rod Barton couldn’t believe his ears. ?It was nonsense,? the Australian biologist said of that February evening last year, when the then-chief of U.S. intelligence secretly flew to Baghdad and dropped in on the lakeside Perfume Palace, chandelier-hung home of the Iraq Survey Group.

“?It wasn’t that we didn’t know the major answers,? recalled Barton, whose account matched that of another key participant. ?Are there WMD in the country? We knew the answers.?

?In fact, David Kay, quitting as chief of the U.S. hunt for WMD, or weapons of mass destruction, had just delivered the answer to the world. The inspectors were 85 percent finished, Kay said, concluding: ?The weapons do not exist.??

Over several thousands words of text, Hanley lays out the entire history of American claims, going back to the 1990s, through the run-up to the war, and then the aftermath, with some new details, including tidbits on Vice President?s pressure-packed 10 trips to the CIA.

The Hanley report then closes with a description of Kay?s hunt for WMDs, which also includes new information and quotes:

?Through 2003, Iraqis watched their land slip into a chaos of looting, terror bombings and anti-American insurgency. ?A country was destroyed because of weapons that don’t exist!? Baghdad University’s president, Nihad Mohammed al-Rawi, despaired to an AP reporter.

?Month by month, David Kay and his 1,500-member Iraq Survey Group labored over documents, visited sites, interrogated detained scientists and came to recognize reality. But when he wanted to report it, Kay ran into roadblocks in Washington.

“?There was an absolutely closed mind,? Kay tells AP. ?They would not look at alternative explanations in these cases,? specifically the aluminum tubes and bioweapons trailers.

?In December 2003, Kay flew back to Washington and met with Tenet and CIA deputy John McLaughlin. ?I couldn’t budge John, and so I couldn’t budge George,? he says. Kay resigned, telling the U.S. Congress there had been no WMD threat.

?Ex-CIA spokesman Bill Harlow, speaking for Tenet, points out that Kay himself, in Senate testimony at the time, said the tubes remained an ?open question,? although it was ?more than probable? they were rocket casings.

?The Bush administration then sent Charles Duelfer — like Kay a senior U.N. inspector from the 1990s– to take over the arms hunt. He arrived in time for Tenet’s secret visit and palace pep talk on Feb. 12, 2004, but, like Kay before him, Duelfer could find no sign of WMD.

?Still, the pressure continued. Barton, recruited as a Duelfer adviser, told AP the American chief inspector received an e-mail that March from John Scarlett, head of Britain’s Joint Intelligence Committee, urging that nine ?nuggets,? past allegations, be dropped back into an interim report by Duelfer’s group.

?Those ?sexy bits,? as the Australian called them, are believed to have included, for example, baseless speculation that Iraq worked to weaponize smallpox. Duelfer called the nuggets ?fool’s gold,? Barton says, and left them out.

?Asked about this, the British Foreign Office said Scarlett contacted Iraq Survey Group leaders as part of his job, but that the report’s content was Duelfer’s responsibility alone.

?Barton said CIA officers in the Iraq Survey Group insisted that its reporting should not discredit the mobile-labs story ?because that contradicts what Tenet has said.? They also wanted the report to suggest the tubes might have been for centrifuges, although Duelfer’s experts concluded otherwise.

?Duelfer’s interim testimony to Congress in March 2004 said nothing about mobile labs and said the tubes remained under study.

?As late as Sept. 30 last year, in an election debate, Bush stuck to his views. ?Saddam Hussein had no intention of disarming,? Bush maintained.

?A week before, Duelfer had conveyed his 1,000-page final report to the CIA, saying Saddam had disarmed 13 years earlier.?

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