Missing Explosives Trigger More Questions for Weapons Inspectors

July 7, 2008 - 8:22 PM

(CNSNews.com) - Three weeks after the CIA's top weapons inspector told Congress that the Bush administration had been "almost all wrong" about the weapons threat posed by Saddam Hussein, there is yet another reason to conclude Saddam was up to no good, according to a biological weapons expert who spoke with CNSNews.com .

Peter Leitner, professor at George Mason University's National Center for Bio-Defense, is pointing to the 380 tons of explosive materials that disappeared from a facility outside Baghdad as the reason to challenge the assertions made by the CIA weapons inspection team headed by Charles Duelfer.

In his 1,000 page report presented to Congress on Oct. 7, Duelfer concluded that Saddam's programs to make nuclear, chemical and biological weapons had "progressively decayed" since 1991 and were not active at the time of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

But Leitner wondered why "if the equivalent of five trailer loads of explosive materials managed to elude [the weapons inspectors], how can anyone expect they would find bacteriological agents or radiological materials that can be stored in packages the size of a shoe box."
Leitner said Duelfer's Iraq Survey Group was operating with a handicap. The inspectors did not have a fair chance to find any weapons of mass destruction, he said, because of the limited scope of its predecessor agency, the United Nations Special Committee (UNSCOM).

"The mandate by the U.N. inspectors was severely circumscribed. They were only allowed to look at certain areas agreed to by Saddam Hussein's regime," Leitner told CNSNews.com . While the ISG (Iraq Survey Group) had more access than UNSCOM, its inspections of Iraqi installations were still limited, according to Leitner.

"Noticeably absent from the mandate for UNSCOM were facilities controlled by Iraqi intelligence, which is the most likely place an active WMD program would have been managed" Leitner said. Since UNSCOM had no records related to the Iraqi Intelligence Service's management of WMD programs, the ISG's investigation would have likely been crippled by the lack of information, Leitner said.

On Oct. 4, CNSNews.com reported that 42 pages of Iraqi intelligence documents obtained from a senior U.S. government official showed that Iraq was in possession of mustard gas and anthrax and had built extensive ties to terrorist groups connected to al Qaeda.

The Duelfer report, issued just three days after the CNSNews.com exclusive, triggered extensive news coverage, especially the sections that undermined President Bush's original rationale for invading Iraq. But other sections of the report drew less attention, like the one in which Duelfer admitted that inspectors found substances suspected of being WMD, including "nerve agent rounds, mustard shells, and a wide range of dangerous chemical substances."

Another section of the Duelfer report acknowledged that the complete truth about whether Saddam had active weapons of mass destruction at the time of the invasion was still inconclusive because of the huge amounts of Iraqi paperwork that still needed to be analyzed.

"Recently, ISG obtained about 20,000 boxes of additional documents, which had been stored in Coalition-occupied buildings. Many of these documents are from the Iraqi Intelligence Service and the Baath party ... Triage of these documents will probably take several months. New information will inevitably derive from this process, but may not materially affect the overall elements of this report," Duelfer's team wrote.

The report also stated that "contrary to expectations, ISG's ability to gather information was in most ways more limited than was that of United Nations inspectors." The reason, Duelfer stated, was that "many sites had been reduced to rubble either by the war or subsequent looting."

Duelfer's report acknowledged the continued claims of WMD evidence in Iraq. "Virtually every week, some WMD-related report -- often involving the delivery of items thought to be WMD-related is received and investigated by the ISG," he stated.

A spokesman for the CIA, to which the ISG reports, did not return telephone calls for comment.

E-mail a news tip to Scott Wheeler.

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