'It turns out we were all wrong' about Iraqi weapons, Kay testifies
Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, David Kay said that contrary to earlier claims by President Bush and his Cabinet, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein did not possess "large stockpiles" of chemical and biological weapons and was not actively pursuing nuclear weapons.
"There's a long record here of being wrong," Kay said, adding he believed that Bush and other U.S. officials, as well as U.S. allies, had based their beliefs on flawed intelligence. "It turns out we were all wrong," he said.
Kay said the errors raise serious questions about intelligence-gathering methods. "We've got a much more fundamental problem of understanding what went wrong."
Bush and top Cabinet officers, including Vice President Dick Cheney, frequently cited intelligence reports that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons and was developing nuclear weapons as justification for invading Iraq.
As for critics' charges that the Bush administration had pressured U.S. intelligence analysts to shade their assessments of Iraq's weapons programs to justify a war, Kay said he had found no evidence to support such claims.
"I deeply think that is the wrong explanation ... ," Kay said. He added, "I wish it had been undue influence because we know how to correct that. We get rid of people." He said he had "numerous analysts come up to me in apology" for their inaccurate prewar assessments. Not one, he said, had complained of "inappropriate command interference."
But Kay said yesterday that the U.S. had failed to develop valid human intelligence sources inside Iraq during the past decade, relying instead on information gathered by United Nations weapons inspections from 1991 to 1998 and from other governments that shared information in what are called "liaison" arrangements. That information, he said, proved incorrect.
Later, on CNN, Kay was asked about the credibility of prewar assertions by Saddam and his lieutenants that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. "The best evidence is they were telling the truth," he replied.
Even so, Kay said in his Senate testimony that Saddam's government retained the intention to develop an arsenal of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and was therefore a serious threat. And he supported Bush's contention that the world is safer with the dictator out of power.
"All I can say is if you read the total body of intelligence in the last 12 to 15 years that flowed on Iraq, I quite frankly think it would be hard to come to a conclusion other than Iraq was a gathering, serious threat to the world with regard to WMD (weapons of mass destruction)," Kay said.
Kay said the former Iraqi leader wanted to preserve the illusion that he retained weapons of mass destruction even after his arsenal had been largely destroyed as a result of United Nations weapons inspections in the early and mid-1990s.
Saddam, Kay said, did not want to appear to the rest of the Arab world as having caved in to the United States and the United Nations. He also hoped the impression that he had chemical and biological munitions would instill fear and diminish the domestic threat he faced from Shiites and Kurds. Both populations rose up against him after Iraq's defeat in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
Weapons inspections during the 1990s succeeded to a surprising degree in limiting Iraq's ability to produce weapons of mass destruction, Kay said.
Kay said that he, too, once believed that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, but that the work of the Iraq Survey Group, which he directed until his resignation Friday, convinced him that Saddam had destroyed his weapons caches several years ago.
Those stockpiles, Kay said, were destroyed when Saddam realized they made him vulnerable to Western scrutiny. The Iraqi leader, he said, instead plotted to retain the scientists and equipment to quickly revive his weapons programs once outside scrutiny had eased.
Until Kay began to discuss his findings in the past week, the White House had insisted that the search in Iraq would produce evidence of weapons of mass destruction.
In his State of the Union speech this month, the president largely avoided the topic other than to note that Kay had found "weapons of mass destruction-related program activities."
Kay said the U.S. also had misread recent intelligence on Iran and Libya, and had failed to recognize how far both countries had gone in developing nuclear and other clandestine weapons programs.
In response to Kay's Senate testimony, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said yesterday, "It's important that we let the Iraq Survey Group complete their work and gather all the facts they can. Then we can go back and compare what we knew before the war with what we've learned since. But that work is ongoing at this point."
Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., suggested the administration had shaded intelligence reports to justify U.S. actions in Iraq. "It's difficult to draw a conclusion that it wasn't ... used selectively, and in many instances manipulated, to carry on a policy decision," Kennedy said of the prewar intelligence.
Levin questioned Cheney's statement last week that two truck trailers containing chemical equipment were mobile weapons laboratories, a claim Kay said he and others in the intelligence field do not agree with.
"I think the consensus opinion is that when you look at those two trailers ... their actual intended use was not for the production of biological weapons," Kay said.
But Sen. John Warner, R-Va., the committee's chairman, noted that the Iraq Survey Group could still turn up evidence of banned weapons. "Maybe we better not pronounce, 'We're all wrong' yet," Warner said, "because I think until we have finished the work ... we better hold such conclusion in abeyance."
Kay also said his inspectors had found no evidence to support the administration's assertion that Iraq shared weapons or information with al-Qaida. But Kay said looting after the war and mounting corruption inside the regime since 1998 had sharply raised the danger of such proliferation. It was "a risk if we did avoid, we barely avoided."
Kay was appointed by the CIA to direct the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq after the invading U.S. forces failed to turn up direct evidence of their existence.
Compiled from The Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun and Los Angeles Times
Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company