- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 5, 2004

Standing his ground, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told Congress yesterday that it is “not likely” Iraq lacked weapons of mass destruction when war broke out in March, putting him at odds with the recently resigned CIA weapons inspector.

Mr. Rumsfeld refused to back down from his prewar statements that Saddam Hussein owned chemical and biological weapons. He said weapons still might be found, despite former inspector David Kay’s assessment last week that they will not.

“Think, it took us 10 months to find Saddam Hussein,” Mr. Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “The reality is that the hole he was found hiding in was large enough to hold enough biological weapons to kill thousands of human beings.”

And he said the decision to go to war based on Saddam’s suspected arsenal reflected intelligence endorsed by both the Clinton and the Bush administrations in the past 10 years.

“I came to my conclusions based on the intelligence we all saw, just as each of you made your judgments and cast your votes based on the same information,” he testified.

He said his prewar statements reflected an intelligence community consensus, not an unanimous opinion of every spy analyst.

Delivering the Bush administration’s first counterattack after days of Democratic charges, the defense secretary also rejected claims that Bush officials somehow pressured the intelligence community.

“You’ve twice or thrice mentioned manipulation,” a combative Mr. Rumsfeld said during a chilly exchange with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat. “I haven’t heard of it. I haven’t seen any of it, except in the comments you’ve made.”

After Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, read portions of a prewar Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) report that said there was no conclusive proof that Saddam owned large stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), Mr. Rumsfeld found a passage in the same report that he said Democrats have ignored.

It said, “Although we lack any direct information, Iraq probably possesses chemical — CW agent in chemical munitions, possibly including artillery rockets, artillery shells, aerial bombs, ballistic missile warheads. Baghdad also probably possesses bulk chemical stockpiles, primarily containing precursors, but that also could consist of some mustard agent and stabilized VX.”

The administration will continue a counteroffensive today with a scheduled speech at Georgetown University by the man at the center of the storm — CIA Director George J. Tenet. Mr. Tenet is expected to vigorously defend his agency’s Iraq assessment and, like Mr. Rumsfeld, argue that the search for WMD is not over.

Mr. Rumsfeld was testifying in a doubleheader budget hearing, first before the Senate Armed Services Committee and then before its House counterpart.

Last week, Mr. Kay, resigned CIA weapons inspector, said eight months of on-the-ground surveys in Iraq had led him to believe that Saddam had not possessed WMD since the 1990s. His report touched off a barrage of charges from Democratic lawmakers and presidential candidates that President Bush took the country to war on a false pretense.

But Mr. Rumsfeld rebutted those charges.

“First is the theory that WMD may not have existed at the start of the war,” the secretary said. “I suppose that’s possible but not likely.”

Mr. Kay helped the administration on some points, telling the Senate Armed Services Committee last week that no intelligence analyst with whom he spoke was pressured by the White House. And Mr. Kay, a former United Nations inspector in Iraq, said before the war, he thought that Saddam owned unconventional weapons. He added that Baghdad still had programs in place to resume making germ and chemical weapons once U.N. sanctions ended.

Work by the Pentagon’s Iraq Survey Group (ISG) are continuing under a new chief CIA inspector, Charles Duelter.

“The ISG’s work is some distance from completion,” Mr. Rumsfeld said.

The secretary gave little ground when grilled by Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Levin.

“I’m sure I never saw that piece of intelligence,” Mr. Rumsfeld replied when Mr. Levin read him sentences from the DIA report.

Mr. Kennedy pounded on Mr. Rumsfeld for saying that during the war “we know” where WMD will be found. Mr. Rumsfeld said he was referring to suspected sites north of Baghdad.

“You’re quite right; shorthand, ‘We know where they are,’ probably turned out not to be exactly what one would have preferred in retrospect,” Mr. Rumsfeld said of remarks made during a wartime press conference.

He then reminded the Democrats that they issued the same conclusive statements about Iraq’s weapons during the Clinton administration.

“I’m not going to go back and quote the comments from the previous administration and President Clinton and Vice President [Al] Gore and Secretary [William] Cohen and all of that the way you have,” he said. “I can just say that the stream of intelligence over a period of a long time in both administrations led the same people in similar jobs to the same conclusions.”

In 1998, Mr. Levin and other top Senate Democrats signed a letter to Mr. Clinton that said, in part, “We urge you, after consulting with Congress, and consistent with the U.S. Constitution and laws, to take necessary actions (including, if appropriate, air and missile strikes on suspect Iraq sites) to respond effectively to the threat posed by Iraq’s refusal to end its weapons of mass destruction programs.”

Democrats also signing were Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the current presidential front-runner, and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota.

Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican and Senate Intelligence Committee chairman, said his staff has interviewed scores of intelligence employees. None has told of any White House pressure to rig the estimate that Saddam owned WMD. In fact, Mr. Roberts said the intelligence remained consistent under Presidents Clinton and Bush.

“We have found a large and consistent body of analysis … over 10 years in regards to Saddam Hussein in reference to his WMD capability,” the senator said. “This intelligence was used … by the executive by President Clinton, by President Bush and also by those of us in Congress.”

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