Saddam 'conned by his WMD scientists'

The outgoing chief US weapons inspector says his inability to find illicit arms in Iraq raises serious questions about American intelligence-gathering.

The outgoing chief US weapons inspector says his inability to find illicit arms in Iraq raises serious questions about American intelligence-gathering.

Last year, David Kay had confidently predicted weapons would be found. But after nine months of searching, he said: “I don’t think they exist.”

“It’s an issue of the capabilities of one’s intelligence service to collect valid, truthful information,” Kay said in Washington.

He suggests that scientists had conned Saddam Hussein into believing they were working on weapons of mass destruction but diverted the cash elsewhere.

Asked whether President George Bush owed the nation an explanation for the discrepancies between his warnings and Kay’s findings, Kay said: “I actually think the intelligence community owes the president, rather than the president owing the American people.”

The CIA would not comment on Kay’s remarks, though one official noted that Kay himself was vocal in predicting he would find weapons.

Kay said his predictions were not “coming back to haunt me in the sense that I am embarrassed. They are coming back to haunt me in the sense of ‘Why could we all be so wrong?”’

The White House stuck by its assertions that illicit weapons will be found in Iraq.

But Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, a Democratic presidential candidate, said Kay’s comments reinforced his belief that the Bush administration had exaggerated the threat Iraq posed.

“It confirms what I have said for a long period of time, that we were misled - misled not only in the intelligence, but misled in the way that the president took us to war,” Kerry said. “I think there’s been an enormous amount of exaggeration, stretching, deception.”

Kay told The New York Times today that US intelligence agencies did not realise Iraqi scientists presented Saddam with fanciful plans for weapons programmes and then used the money he authorised for other purposes.

“The whole thing shifted from directed programmes to a corrupted process,” Kay said. “The regime was no longer in control. It was like a death spiral. Saddam was self-directing projects that were not vetted by anyone else. The scientists were able to fake programmes.”

Kay said Iraq did try to restart its nuclear weapons programme in 2000 and 2001, but that evidence suggests it would have taken years to rebuild after being largely abandoned in the 1990s.

He said it is now clear that the CIA’s basic problem was that the agency lacked its own spies in Iraq who could provide credible information, but that he does not believe analysts were pressed by the administration to make their reports conform to a White House agenda.

Senator Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he was surprised Kay “did not find some semblance of” banned chemical, biological or nuclear weapons in Iraq.

Roberts said a report on Iraq intelligence, to be delivered to his panel Wednesday, should help clarify the CIA’s pre-war performance.

“It appears now that that intelligence – there’s a lot of questions about it,” Roberts said.

In October 2002, Bush said Iraq had “a massive stockpile of biological weapons that has never been accounted for and is capable of killing millions.”

In his television address two days before launching the invasion, Bush said US troops would enter Iraq “to eliminate weapons of mass destruction,” or WMD.

Kay returned permanently from Iraq last month, having found no such weapons, nor missiles with longer range than Saddam was allowed under international restrictions.

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