Powell Expresses Doubts About Basis for Iraqi Weapons Claim
By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 3, 2004; Page A19
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell voiced new doubt yesterday on the administration's assertions of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, saying the description in his U.N. presentation of mobile biological weapons laboratories appears to have been based on faulty sources.
Powell, describing the mobile labs as "the most dramatic" element of his Feb. 5, 2003, speech before the U.N. Security Council, said he hoped the recently appointed commission to examine prewar claims of Iraqi weapons "will look into these matters to see whether or not the intelligence agency had a basis for the confidence . . . placed in the intelligence at that time." He also said he has spoken to CIA officials about how suspect information ended up in his speech.
Powell made his remarks in response to a question as he briefed reporters on his plane about meetings yesterday at NATO headquarters in Brussels. Powell, who returned to Washington last night, in the past had stressed that all of the facts about Iraq's weapons programs are not known, but Iraq's intentions were clear, and it was necessary to wait for the final report of the inspection team.
Powell's 90-minute presentation had offered an overview of U.S. intelligence about alleged Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, as the Bush administration was struggling to win approval of a U.N. resolution authorizing military action against Iraq. In his speech, Powell provided extensive descriptions of the biological weapons labs. He also displayed an illustration of a mobile lab that he said was based on an eyewitness account. Powell stressed that the information on the weapons labs was based on multiple sources.
But since Saddam Hussein's government was deposed, weapons inspectors in Iraq appear to have found little evidence of such labs, though they did find two trucks that some experts believe were used for producing hydrogen for artillery weather balloons. As recently as January, Vice President Cheney cited the discovery of the trucks as "conclusive" evidence of the mobile labs described by Powell. But CIA Director George J. Tenet later told Congress he warned the vice president not to be so categorical about the discovery.
Moreover, in recent weeks news organizations have reported that one of the sources cited by Powell had been cited by U.S. intelligence officials as unreliable even before his presentation. The warning, however, was missed during the preparation of Powell's speech. Another source, who provided the eyewitness description of the labs, had never been interviewed by U.S. intelligence -- which did not even know his real name until after the war, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times. After Powell's speech, it also was learned that this source was a relative of a senior official in the Iraqi National Congress, an émigré group that was considered by some U.S. intelligence officials to be a provider of dubious information about Iraq's weapons programs.
"Now it appears not to be the case that it was that solid," Powell said yesterday. "But at the time I was preparing that presentation it was presented to me as being solid."
Powell, who asked Tenet to sit behind him during the speech to demonstrate CIA backing for the facts cited in it, stressed yesterday that "I'm not the intelligence community." He said that "it was presented to me in the preparation of that as the best intelligence and information that we had."
"I made sure, as I said in my presentation, these were multi-sourced," Powell said. "And that was the most dramatic of them, and I made sure it was multi-sourced.
Now, if the sources fell apart, then we need to find out how we've gotten ourselves in that position. I've had discussions with the CIA about it."
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