Thursday, May 29, 2003

The CIA yesterday concluded that two truck trailers seized by coalition forces in northern Iraq were designed by Saddam Hussein’s regime to produce biological weapons agents.

A six-page agency white paper said an examination of the trailers’ equipment showed that “BW [biological weapons] agent production is the only consistent, logical purpose for these vehicles.”

The assessment is the clearest indication yet that Baghdad was in violation of U.N. arms resolutions that required it to disclose all aspects of its weapons of mass destruction programs. Officials said the moving factories would have been capable of producing enough agents to kill thousands of people.

However, U.S. inspector teams still had not found the biological weapons themselves or suspected large arsenals of chemical weapons, which the Central Intelligence Agency said existed in Iraq before the United States went to war to oust Saddam from power and rid the country of weapons of mass destruction.

The CIA report said the two truck trailers matched the description supplied to the United States by spies, including an Iraqi chemical engineer who managed one of the plants where the equipment was made.

It was this description that Secretary of State Colin L. Powell delivered to the U.N. Security Council in February. Mr. Powell’s presentation was part of a Bush administration campaign to show that Saddam was not disarming, as demanded by the international community, and that a U.S.-led invasion was justified.

“Our analysis of the mobile production plant found in April indicates the layout and equipment are consistent with information provided by the chemical engineer, who has direct knowledge of Iraq’s mobile BW program,” the CIA concluded yesterday.

Richard Boucher, chief State Department spokesman, told reporters the report was “substantiation” of Mr. Powell’s U.N. testimony.

“It’s very important to recognize that programs that we had said existed do exist; that the kind of equipment that we had said existed does exist,” Mr. Boucher said. “And I guess I have to point out that this was not information that the Iraqis had ever divulged to inspectors. It was information designed to be hidden from the inspectors. It was a program designed to be undetected.”

A senior U.S. intelligence official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the trailers were assembled in Iraq. Of the components inside the trailers, some were made inside Iraq and others were imported. The official declined to say which countries supplied the equipment.

While the CIA conclusion might not be a “smoking gun” proving that Iraq was harboring large quantities of weapons of mass destruction, it did bolster the administration’s argument that Baghdad continued to pursue such weapons in violation of the international community.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said on Tuesday that it is too early to say that large weapons stocks will not be found in Iraq. New inspection teams are arriving in Iraq to search hundreds of sites. Mr. Rumsfeld said battlefield chemical weapons might have been destroyed before the coalition invasion began in late March and that other agents could have been buried somewhere in the vast country.

In New York, U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix told Reuters news agency that the mobile labs in the CIA report were not disclosed by the Iraqis, as required by U.N. resolutions after Iraq’s eviction from Kuwait in 1991.

Based on past intelligence reports, U.N. weapons inspectors had asked the Iraqis about such labs. “There were a number of trucks that they showed to us and they had pictures of. But these do not correspond to the ones that are now published by the coalition. They are different,” Mr. Blix said.

The CIA report said, “Examination of the trailers reveals that all of the equipment is permanently installed and interconnected, creating an ingeniously simple, self-contained bioprocessing system. Although the equipment on the trailer found in April 2003 was partially damaged by looters, it includes a fermenter capable of producing biological agents and support equipment such as water supply tanks, an air compressor, a water chiller and a system for collecting exhaust gases.”

The CIA paper specifically sought to rebut a lead editorial in the May 13 editions of the New York Times. The New York Times has been a persistent critic of President Bush, and in particular his decision to go to war to oust Saddam.

The editorial quoted weapons authorities who said the trailers could have been built to produce biological pesticides near farmland, or as mobile factories to refurbish antiaircraft missiles.

The CIA said its specialists investigated both theories and found them unsubstantiated. “The experts cited in the editorial are not on the scene and probably do not have complete access to information about the trailers,” the agency report said.

The CIA report discussed three mobile facilities: a production trailer found by Kurdish troops in April near Mosul in northern Iraq; a second trailer discovered by American troops at Mosul’s Kindi Research, Testing and Development and Engineering facility; and a mobile truck laboratory found in Baghdad that could support biological weapons research or legitimate research.

Tests have not detected the presence of any biological agent, such as deadly anthrax, in the trailers.

“We suspect that the Iraqis thoroughly decontaminated the vehicle to remove evidence of BW agent production,” the CIA said. “Despite the lack of confirmatory samples, we nevertheless are confident that this trailer is a mobile BW production plant because of the source’s description, equipment, and design.”

The report said the United States is looking for another type of trailer. This mobile factory would receive the “unconcentrated liquid slurry” produced in the first trailer and use it to grow and harvest the biological agents. These trailers likely would contain tanks, centrifuges and spray dryers.

An October CIA report said Iraq had not accounted for at least 6,000 chemical bombs, 15,000 artillery rockets that could be used for such weapons, and 550 artillery shells filled with mustard gas.

It said Iraq “probably” had stocks of 100 tons to 500 tons of chemical weapons agents.

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