The CIA's chief weapons inspector said he cannot rule out the possibility that Iraqi weapons of mass destruction were secretly shipped to Syria before the March 2003 invasion, citing "sufficiently credible" evidence that WMDs may have been moved there.
Inspector Charles Duelfer, who heads the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), made the findings in an addendum to his final report filed last year. He said the search for WMD in Iraq -- the main reason President Bush went to war to oust Saddam Hussein -- has been exhausted without finding such weapons. Iraq had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons in the early 1990s.
But on the question of Syria, Mr. Duelfer did not close the books. "ISG was unable to complete its investigation and is unable to rule out the possibility that WMD was evacuated to Syria before the war," Mr. Duelfer said in a report posted on the CIA's Web site Monday night.
He cited some evidence of a transfer. "Whether Syria received military items from Iraq for safekeeping or other reasons has yet to be determined," he said. "There was evidence of a discussion of possible WMD collaboration initiated by a Syrian security officer, and ISG received information about movement of material out of Iraq, including the possibility that WMD was involved. In the judgment of the working group, these reports were sufficiently credible to merit further investigation."
But Mr. Duelfer said he was unable to complete that aspect of the probe because "the declining security situation limited and finally halted this investigation. The results remain inconclusive, but further investigation may be undertaken when circumstances on the ground improve."
Arguing against a WMD transfer to Syria, Mr. Duelfer said, was the fact that all senior Iraqi detainees involved in Saddam's weapons programs and security "uniformly denied any knowledge of residual WMD that could have been secreted to Syria."
"Nevertheless," the inspector said, "given the insular and compartmented nature of the regime, ISG analysts believed there was enough evidence to merit further investigation."
He said that even if all leads are pursued someday, the ISG may never be able to finally determine whether WMDs were taken across the border. "Based on the evidence available at present, ISG judged that it was unlikely that an official transfer of WMD material from Iraq to Syria took place," his report stated. "However, ISG was unable to rule out unofficial movement of limited WMD-related materials."
Speculation on WMDs in Syria was fueled by the fact that satellite images picked up long lines of trucks waiting to cross the border into Syria before the coalition launched the invasion. Mr. Duelfer previously had reported that Syria was a major conduit for materials entering Iraq that were banned by the United Nations.
Saddam placed such importance on illicit trade with Syria that he dispatched Iraqi Intelligence Service agents to various border crossings to supervise border agents, and, in some cases, to shoo them away, senior officials told The Washington Times last year.
Today, U.S. officials charge that Syria continues to harbor Saddam loyalists who are directing and financing the insurgency in Iraq. The Iraq-Syria relationship between two Ba'athist socialist regimes has further encouraged speculation of weapons transfers.
Several senior U.S. officials have said since the invasion that they thought WMD went to Syria.
Retired Marine Lt. Gen. Michael DeLong, the deputy commander of U.S. Central Command during the war, said in his book, "Inside CentCom," that intelligence reports pointed to WMD movement into Syria.
In October, John A. Shaw, then the deputy undersecretary of defense for international technology security, told The Times that Russian special forces and intelligence troops worked with Saddam's intelligence service to move weapons and material to Syria, Lebanon and possibly Iran.
"The organized effort was done in advance of the conflict," he said.