Iraq’s Illicit Weapons Gone Since Early ‘90s, CIA Says

Times Staff Writers

Saddam Hussein did not produce or possess any weapons of mass destruction for more than a decade before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq last year, according to a comprehensive CIA report released Wednesday.

Hussein intended to someday reconstitute his illicit programs and rebuild at least some of his weapons if United Nations sanctions were eased and he had the opportunity, the report concluded. But the Iraqi regime had no formal, written strategy to revive the banned programs after sanctions, and no staff or infrastructure in place to do so, the investigators found.

The report said that Hussein’s illicit-weapons capability was “essentially destroyed” after the Persian Gulf War in 1991 and was never rebuilt. It said Hussein considered the U.N. sanctions “an economic stranglehold” that in effect curbed his ability to build or develop weapons in the ensuing 12 years.


The only known attempts to produce illicit weapons came a year after the 2003 invasion, the report said in a new disclosure. In March of this year, investigators found that insurgents in Baghdad were trying to recruit former weapons scientists to develop nerve gases and ricin, a biological toxin, to attack U.S. forces. The discovery led to a series of raids.

The 1,000-page report by Charles A. Duelfer, head of the CIA’s Iraq Survey Group weapons-hunting teams, is the most definitive account yet of Iraq’s long-defunct weapons programs and comes as the presidential campaign increasingly is focused on President Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq primarily to disarm Hussein of suspected chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

More than 1,000 U.S. troops have been killed, and thousands more have been wounded.

Based on 16 months’ work, the report vastly expands on previous efforts by U.N. inspectors and Duelfer’s predecessor, David Kay.

In his report, and in testimony Wednesday to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Duelfer refuted many of the Bush administration’s most dramatic claims before the war, basing his findings in part on extensive information gleaned from interrogations of Hussein and some of his top aides.

Duelfer said, for example, there was no evidence that Hussein sought to import uranium from Africa, as Bush claimed in his 2003 State of the Union speech. Duelfer said investigators also found no evidence that Hussein had passed illicit weapons material to Al Qaeda or other terrorist organizations, or had any intent to do so.

Bush, who delivered a national security campaign speech in Pennsylvania on Wednesday, did not mention the weapons report, but White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters aboard Air Force One that it showed that Hussein “was a threat we needed to take seriously.” He said Hussein “retained the intent and capability to produce weapons of mass destruction” and was “working to undermine sanctions.”

Democrats seized Wednesday on the dense, three-volume report as proof that Hussein did not pose a threat to the United States before the war, as the White House continues to argue.

“In short, we invaded a country, thousands of people have died, and Iraq never posed a grave or growing danger,” said Sen. John D. “Jay” Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said: “The Duelfer report is yet another example that there really are two Americas. There’s the one that exists in the Bush fantasy world, and then there’s the real America.”

Among the report’s highlights:

* The Iraqi president had abandoned his nascent nuclear program and had destroyed his stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons by December 1991. No infrastructure or other evidence was found showing that the illicit weapons programs were revived before the 2003 war.

* Hussein knew he had no banned weapons before the war and believed Washington ultimately would make peace with his secular regime to counter the growing power and nuclear threat of what he considered his main enemy: neighboring Iran’s Islamic government.

* Hundreds of individuals and companies from around the world, and government agencies and officials in Syria and Yemen, helped funnel conventional weapons and other goods to Iraq in violation of U.N. sanctions and are named in the report.

* Widespread kickbacks and other corruption in the U.N.'s “oil-for-food” program “rescued Baghdad’s economy from a terminal decline created by sanctions” and helped subsidize the Iraqi regime. Overall, Hussein amassed more than $11 billion from oil smuggling and other illicit programs.

Duelfer spoke to the Senate Intelligence Committee in closed session Wednesday morning, and then in public to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Asked in the Senate committee hearing to explain how U.S. intelligence agencies could have been so wrong about Iraq’s weapons, Duelfer said that U.S. analysts were convinced that Hussein would never give up his quest for weapons because they were vital to his survival.

Iraq’s use of more than 100,000 chemical munitions against Iranian troops during the 1980s war with Tehran had helped end the war and save Hussein’s regime. Duelfer said Hussein also believed that his chemical and biological weapons had deterred the U.S.-led coalition from marching on Baghdad during the 1991 Gulf War.

Duelfer also stated that U.S. intelligence had “almost no contact with Iraq over more than a decade” and had become increasingly separated from reality in the country. He noted, for example, that U.S. experts had insisted before the war that the presence of decontamination trucks was clear evidence that chemical weapons were nearby. But, “when you spend time in Iraq,” Duelfer said, “you realize the Iraqis could be selling ice cream out of those vehicles.”

Prodded to answer politically charged questions during his testimony, Duelfer seemed to endorse the invasion, saying, “I have to agree -- analytically -- the world is better off” with Hussein out of power.

Duelfer also said that as a result of Hussein’s steady efforts, it appeared that U.N. sanctions “were in free fall” by 2001 and that Hussein was breaking them with impunity.

Duelfer’s report, which one intelligence official called a cross between “a homicide investigation and a doctoral dissertation,” in many ways echoed and amplified Kay’s preliminary findings. In January, Kay stunned the White House and the CIA when he announced that “we were almost all wrong” about Iraq’s weapons.

But the new report also provides fresh evidence of misjudgments by U.S. and other Western intelligence agencies that warned before the war that Baghdad was secretly stockpiling nerve gases and germ weapons, and was secretly reconstituting its nuclear program.

Duelfer determined that the nuclear effort had been abandoned after the 1991 war and that Iraq’s ability to reconstitute the program “progressively decayed after that date.” Duelfer found “a limited number” of activities from the last few years that might have “aided” a new nuclear program, including travel curbs and pay raises for Iraq’s corps of nuclear scientists to keep them from emigrating.

“Over time, Hussein was getting further away from a nuclear program, not closer,” said a U.S. official who briefed reporters on the report on condition he not be identified. “In point of fact, he was much further away from a nuclear program in 2003 than he was in 1991.”

U.S. intelligence about Hussein’s military also was wrong. Although Pentagon officials warned at the outset of the war that Iraq’s army would use chemical weapons if U.S. forces crossed a “red line” around Baghdad, Duelfer said no such plan was found to exist.

Duelfer’s report also challenged or downplayed previous claims -- by Kay and Duelfer -- that suggested Hussein had a secret weapons program underway.

In Senate testimony in March after he took over the survey group, for example, Duelfer said that a series of small biological laboratories run by the Mukhabarat, Iraq’s security service, could have been used to produce bio-warfare agents.

But the official who briefed reporters said that further investigation showed the labs were not for military purposes.

“It appears they were producing small amounts of poison, but they were not for military weapons,” the official said. He said it appeared that the labs were designed to produce toxins such as ricin to use in assassinations, not as weapons of mass destruction.

Duelfer also rejected administration claims that two truck trailers seized in Iraq after the war were designed to produce germ weapons. This year, Vice President Dick Cheney described the trucks as “conclusive” proof of Iraq’s illicit weapons.

“Those are clearly, in my judgment, for the production of hydrogen,” Duelfer said. “They have nothing to do with biological weapons.” The intelligence on the mobile facilities was mostly from an Iraqi defector code-named “Curveball” who had “turned out to be largely a fabricator,” Duelfer said.

Duelfer will return to Baghdad and the Iraq Survey Group will continue investigating several unresolved issues, he said, including study of a “new influx” of millions of pages of documents. The survey group has more than 700 Arabic translators examining the material at a military base in Qatar.

But Duelfer said he believed there was a “less than 5% chance” that a weapons stockpile would be found or that the picture of the prewar arms program would change significantly. Duelfer did not say how long he expected the search team to remain active, but said the remaining work “is a much diminished task and requirement.”

After interrogating Hussein and several of his top lieutenants, Duelfer concluded that some of Hussein’s decisions about weapons programs were never put on paper, or even clearly stated.

Some of the dictator’s aides said their survival depended in part on “having a sense” of what he wanted, even if he never said so. They said they understood his long-term plans to rebuild weapons “from their long association” with him and his “infrequent, but firm, verbal comments” to them, the report says.

Several lawmakers expressed anger that the weapons search was still going forward. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) complained that the effort had so far cost $900 million.

“Why does the search keep going on and on?” he asked. “Aren’t we at the point where we have to admit the stockpiles don’t exist?”

Duelfer took issue with Kennedy’s comments.

“My task was not to find weapons of mass destruction, my task was to find the truth,” Duelfer shot back, noting that “we’ve had a couple people die” in the effort. “I think it was a worthwhile endeavor.”


Times staff writer John Hendren contributed to this report.


(Begin Text of Infobox)

A series of Iraq reports


Wednesday’s report by the Iraq Survey Group was the latest in a string of studies and sworn statements that run counter to Bush administration justifications for the war in Iraq. Tracking the weapons findings:


Internal CIA investigation

by former agency official

Richard Kerr

Date: July 2003

Conclusion: Cites mistakes in assessments and tradecraft but concludes that the agency’s assessments were “reasonable” based on the available intelligence at the time.

An interim report by David Kay, the former head of the Iraq Survey Group who resigned in January and was replaced by Charles A. Duelfer, who oversaw Wednesday’s report


Date: Jan. 28, 2004

Conclusion: No stockpiles of banned weapons likely to be found. Kay testifies, “We were almost all wrong.”

Senate Intelligence Committee investigation of prewar intelligence on Iraq


Date: July 7, 2004

Conclusion: Most of the key judgments on Iraq “either overstated, or were not supported by, the underlying intelligence reporting.”

Final report from

Iraq Survey Group


Date: Oct. 6, 2004

Conclusion: Saddam Hussein had “intent” to restart banned weapons programs but had no weapons before the war. Iraq’s chemical weapons destroyed in 1991, its nuclear program disbanded in 1991, biological weapons research abandoned after 1996.

Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction


Date: Created by President Bush in February 2004. Report due March 31, 2005.

Conclusion: Pending


Source: Times research

Los Angeles Times


Key findings of the CIA report on Iraq

Saddam Hussein’s illicit weapons capability was gone after the 1991 Persian Gulf War and never rebuilt.


Hussein intended to reconstitute some weapons programs if United Nations sanctions were eased, but had no system in place to do so.


No evidence was found that Iraq had sought to import uranium from Africa, as President Bush claimed in his 2003 State of the Union address.


There was no indication Hussein had passed illicit weapons material to the Al Qaeda terrorist network or planned to do so.


Hussein believed before the United States’ 2003 invasion of Iraq that Washington would make peace with his country to counter a growing threat from Iran.


Hundreds of individuals and companies worldwide helped funnel conventional weapons and other goods to Iraq in violation of U.N. sanctions.


Widespread kickbacks and other corruption in the U.N.'s “oil-for-food” program helped subsidize the Iraqi regime.


Los Angeles Times