CIA Finds No Evidence Hussein Sought to Arm Terrorists

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 16, 2003; Page A20

The CIA's search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has found no evidence that former president Saddam Hussein tried to transfer chemical or biological technology or weapons to terrorists, according to a military and intelligence expert.

Anthony Cordesman, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, provided new details about the weapons search and Iraqi insurgency in a report released Friday. It was based on briefings over the past two weeks in Iraq from David Kay, the CIA representative who is directing the search for unconventional weapons in Iraq; L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. civil administrator there; and military officials.

"No evidence of any Iraqi effort to transfer weapons of mass destruction or weapons to terrorists," Cordesman wrote of Kay's briefing. "Only possibility was Saddam's Fedayeen [his son's irregular terrorist force] and talk only."

One of the concerns the Bush administration cited early last year to justify the need to invade Iraq was that Hussein would provide chemical or biological agents or weapons to al Qaeda or other terrorists. Despite the disclosure that U.S. and British intelligence officials assessed that Hussein would use or distribute such weapons only if he were attacked and faced defeat, administration spokesmen have continued to defend that position.

Last Thursday, Undersecretary of Defense Douglas J. Feith defended the administration's prewar position at the Council on Foreign Relations. "The idea that we didn't have specific proof that he was planning to give a biological agent to a terrorist group," he said, "doesn't really lead you to anything, because you wouldn't expect to have that information even if it were true. And our intelligence is just not at the point where if Saddam had that intention that we would necessarily know it."

Yesterday, allegations of new evidence of connections between Iraq and al Qaeda contained in a classified annex attached to Feith's Oct. 27 letter to leaders of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence were published in the Weekly Standard. Feith had been asked to support his July 10 closed-door testimony about such connections. The classified annex summarized raw intelligence reports but did not analyze them or address their accuracy, according to a senior administration official familiar with the matter.

During the recent Baghdad briefing, Cordesman noted that Kay said Iraq "did order nuclear equipment from 1999 on, but no evidence [has turned up] of [a] new major facility to use it."

Although there was no evidence of chemical weapons production, Kay said he had located biological work "under cover of new agricultural facility" that showed "advances in developing dry storable powder forms of botulinum toxin," Cordesman wrote.

During his Nov. 1-12 trip, Cordesman visited Baghdad, Babel, Tikrit and Kirkuk, where he met combat commanders and staff in high-threat areas. Reporting on his briefing by Bremer, Cordesman said 95 percent of the threat came from former Hussein loyalists while most foreign terrorists, who entered Iraq before the war, arrived from Syria, with some from Saudi Arabia and only "a few from Iran." Bremer "felt Syrian intelligence knows [of the volunteers] but is not proactive in encouraging [them]." He also said there was "no way to seal borders with Syria, Saudi [Arabia] and Iran. Too manpower intensive."

Bremer said Hussein loyalists "still have lots of money to buy attacks [because] at least $1 billion still unaccounted for." He also said the Syrians had admitted "some $3 billion more of Iraqi money [is] in Syria."

The Coalition Joint Task Force briefers noted that the Iraq Governing Council felt "the U.S. is too soft in attacking hostile targets, arrests and use of force," while the U.S. side "feels restraint is the key to winning hearts and minds."

Hussein, according to the briefers, "is cut off, isolated, moving constantly, [and has] no real role in control." They told Cordesman that the "problem is ex-generals and colonels with no other future -- not former top officials." They also said Hussein "made officers read 'Black Hawk Down' [Mark Bowden's book about the fatal downing of U.S. helicopters in Somalia a decade ago] to try to convince them U.S. would have to leave if major casualties."

They said there will be attacks "until the day U.S. leaves" and "cannot ever get intelligence up to point where [they can] stop all attacks."

During his visit to the Polish-led international division, south of Baghdad where the Shiites predominate, Cordesman said there were 34 attacks before a Pole was killed Nov. 6.

The force there considers the holy cities "stable" but notes that Shiite leaders such as Grand Ayatollah Ali Hussein al-Sistani, Iraq's top Shiite cleric, "protect themselves with their own militias with CPA [Coalition Provisional Authority] approval. This has its advantages, but it means they cannot be given effective coalition protection," he wrote.

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