- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 27, 2004

President Bush yesterday refused to rule out the eventual discovery of banned weapons in Iraq or join his former top inspector in blaming faulty intelligence for overstating the threat.

“There is no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein was a grave and gathering threat to America and the world,” Mr. Bush told reporters in the Oval Office. “And I say that based upon intelligence that I saw prior to the decision to go into Iraq and I say that based upon what I know today.”

But David Kay, who recently resigned as the top U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq, said yesterday that the president’s assertion in his prewar State of the Union address that Saddam was amassing weapons of mass destruction was “inaccurate.”

“Inaccurate in terms of the reality we found on the ground now,” he told NBC. “I think it was an accurate statement given the intelligence the president and others were being given then.”

Mr. Kay also said Secretary of State Colin L. Powell’s prewar assertion to the United Nations that Iraq had stockpiled hundreds of tons of chemical weapons “turns out to be wrong.” Again, Mr. Kay blamed faulty prewar intelligence.

“Iraq is not the only place we’ve been wrong recently,” he said. “We’ve been wrong about Iran and we’ve been wrong about Libya’s program there. We clearly need a renovation of our ability to collect intelligence.”

But Mr. Bush made clear that Mr. Kay’s resignation from the inspections team, known as the Iraq Survey Group, does not preclude other inspectors from finding banned weapons.

“I appreciate his willingness to go to Iraq and I appreciate his willingness to gather facts,” Mr. Bush said. “And the Iraq Survey Group will continue to gather facts.”

He added: “It’s very important for us to let the Iraq Survey Group do its work so we can find out the facts and compare the facts to what was thought.”

Democrats continued to cite Mr. Kay’s comments as evidence that Mr. Bush exaggerated the need for war.

“We need to find out what happened, why it happened, what went wrong, how can we possibly avoid this from happening again in the future,” said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat.

“We have committed lives, we’ve committed resources and we’ve made decisions based on the intelligence provided to us,” he said. “We need to know now how can we have greater confidence in the future that intelligence is going to be a lot better in the future than it has been in the past.”

Sen. Bob Graham, Florida Democrat, said Mr. Kay’s statements raise “some very fundamental issues” about the intelligence community and whether officials will be held accountable for apparent failures.

However, Mr. Graham said the ultimate blame lies with Mr. Bush. He said the president has not taken strong action to correct intelligence failures.

“How many words did he say in the State of the Union about intelligence-community reform?” asked Mr. Graham. “Not a damn word.”

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said he would like more information from Mr. Kay about his findings, and added that he has “tremendous respect” for him.

Mr. Frist said there is “no question” that the actions of the United States “have made the world a safer place.” He added that lawmakers should determine whether there was a failure on the part of the intelligence community.

“We have to answer that,” he said.

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