When two small trailers were seized in Iraq in late May 2003, President Bush proclaimed a fresh victory. The administration called the trailers mobile “biological laboratories,” and Mr. Bush declared: “We have found the weapons of mass destruction.”
Three years later, The Washington Post is reporting that the Bush administration publicly made that claim at that time even though U.S. intelligence officials already had strong evidence the trailers were not labs for making large scale biological weapons.
The claim, repeated by top administration officials for months afterward, was cited then as supporting evidence for the decision to go to war.
But a secret mission to Iraq, according to the Post, had already concluded the trailers had nothing to do with biological weapons. Leaders of a Pentagon-sponsored mission, according to a report on the newspaper’s web site, sent their findings to Washington in a report on May 27, 2003 – two days before the president’s statement.
The newspaper says both the brief initial report, and a 122-page final report finished soon after that, were shelved. Meanwhile, for nearly a year, administration and intelligence officials continued to publicly claim the trailers were weapons factories.
The actions of the special team were described to a Washington Post reporter in interviews with government officials and weapons experts who participated in the mission or had direct knowledge of it. None would agree to be named because of fears that would cost them their jobs. The final report remains classified.
The trailers – along with aluminum tubes acquired by Iraq for what was believed to be a nuclear weapons program – were primary pieces of evidence offered by the Bush administration before the war to support its contention that Iraq was making weapons of mass destruction.
Intelligence officials and the White House have repeatedly denied claims that intelligence about Iraq or any weapons it may have had was exaggerated or manipulated in the months before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.
Asked about the Post report, a Pentagon spokesman, Navy Lt. Cmdr. J.D. Gordon, referred calls to the Defense Intelligence Agency. Attempts to reach someone from the DIA late Tuesday night were unsuccessful.
The Post quoted a DIA spokesman as saying the team’s findings were incorporated into the work of the Iraqi Survey Group, which led the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The survey group concluded the trailers were “impractical” for biological weapons production and were probably intended for manufacturing hydrogen for weather balloons.