But the final report by Charles Duelfer (search) concluded that, although the weapons stockpiles were destroyed, Saddam’s government was looking to begin a WMD program again.
The Bush administration invaded Iraq in March 2003 on the grounds that its WMD programs posed a threat to American national security.
In his report, Duelfer concluded that Saddam's Iraq had no stockpiles of the banned weapons, but he said he found signs of idle programs that Saddam could have revived once international attention waned.
"It appears that he did not vigorously pursue those programs after the inspectors left," a U.S. official said on condition of anonymity, ahead of the report's Wednesday afternoon release by the CIA.
U.S. officials also said the report shows Saddam was much farther away from a nuclear weapons program in 2003 than he was between 1991 and 1993; there is no evidence that Iraq and Al Qaeda exchanged weapons; and there is no evidence that Al Qaeda and Iraq shared information, technology or personnel in developing weapons.
The White House continued to maintain that the findings support the view that Saddam was a threat.
"We knew the dictator had a history of using weapons of mass destruction, a long record of aggression and hatred for America," President Bush (search) said in a speech Wednesday in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. "There was a risk, a real risk, that Saddam Hussein would pass weapons or materials or information to terrorist networks. In the world after Sept. 11, that was a risk we could not afford to take."
Duelfer was presenting his findings Wednesday to the Senate Armed Services Committee (search). His team compiled a 1,500-page report after his predecessor, David Kay, who quit last December, also found no evidence of weapons stockpiles.
The CIA officially released the Duelfer report about 3 p.m. EDT Wednesday on its Web site, though some of its conclusions were leaked to the media in advance.
Partisans on both sides of the aisle didn't waste time reacting to Duelfer's conclusions.
"The Duelfer report is yet another example that there really are two Americas," said Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif. "There's the one that exists in the Bush fantasy world, and then there's the real America. In the Bush fantasy world, they still claim that Iraq was an imminent threat with weapons of mass destruction."
But Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said the report didn't really offer any new insights.
"I really don't think (the report) changes anything," Roberts said. "Everybody made the wrong assumption (about the WMD threat)."
Duelfer concluded that Saddam's regime hoped to convince the world it had complied with the United Nations resolutions implemented after the first Gulf War and wanted the U.N. to lift the strict sanctions against the country.
Duelfer, a special consultant to the director of Central Intelligence on Iraqi WMD affairs, found Saddam wasn't squirreling away equipment and weapons and hiding them in various parts of the country, as some originally thought when the U.S.-led war in Iraq began, officials said.
Instead, the report finds that Saddam was trying to achieve his goal by retaining “intellectual capital” — in other words, keeping weapons inspectors employed and happy and preserving some documentation, according to U.S. officials.
Duelfer and the multi-national Iraq Survey Group (ISG) (search), which also worked on the report, say it’s still not known whether Iraq moved weapons caches to Syria or other countries.
The ISG is still poring over thousands of official Baathist documents that have yet to be translated. Currently, some 900 linguists have been hired and are working in Qatar to get the job done.
About 35 to 50 “old, decayed” chemical and biological shells have been found in Iraq so far, all of which are said to have been produced in the 1980s.
Saddam was importing banned materials, working on unmanned aerial vehicles in violation of U.N. agreements and maintaining industrial capability that could be converted to produce weapons, officials have said. Duelfer also describes Saddam's Iraq as having had limited research efforts into chemical and biological weapons.
Duelfer's report will come on a week that the White House has been defending a number of issues involving its Iraq policy and the war there.
Remarks this week by L. Paul Bremer (search), former U.S. administrator in occupied Iraq, suggested he'd argued for more troops in the immediate aftermath of the invasion, when looting was rampant.
A spokesman for Bush's re-election campaign said Bremer indeed differed with military commanders.
Bush's election rival, Democrat John Kerry (search), pounced on Bremer's statements that the United States "paid a big price" for having insufficient troop levels.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the Duelfer report "will continue to show that he [Saddam] was a gathering threat that needed to be taken seriously, that it was a matter of time before he was going to begin pursuing those weapons of mass destruction."
But Vice President Dick Cheney (search) said in an Aug. 26, 2002 speech, 6 1/2 months before the invasion, that "simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies and against us."
On Wednesday, the White House also continued to assert that there were clear ties between Saddam before the invasion and the Al Qaeda-linked terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (search).
But a CIA report recently given to the White House found no conclusive evidence that Saddam had given al-Zarqawi support and shelter before the war, according to ABC News and Knight-Ridder.
The CIA report did not make final conclusions about a Saddam-Zarqawi tie, but does raise questions about the Bush administration's assertions that al-Zarqawi found a safe harbor in Baghdad before the invasion — and raises questions about whether Saddam even knew al-Zarqawi was there.
During Tuesday night's debate, Cheney said "there is still debate over this question." But he added: "At one point, some of Zarqawi's people were arrested. Saddam personally intervened to have them released."
In a speech on Oct. 7, 2002, Bush laid out what he described then as Iraq's threat:
—"It possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons. It is seeking nuclear weapons."
—"We've also discovered through intelligence that Iraq has a growing fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons across broad areas."
—"Iraq possesses ballistic missiles with a likely range of hundreds of miles — far enough to strike Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey and other nations — in a region where more than 135,000 American civilians and service members live and work. "
What U.S. forces found:
—A single artillery shell filled with two chemicals that, when mixed while the shell was in flight, would have created sarin. U.S. forces learned of it only when insurgents, apparently believing it was filled with conventional explosives, tried to detonate it as a roadside bomb in May in Baghdad. Two U.S. soldiers suffered from symptoms of low-level exposure to the nerve agent. The shell was from Saddam's pre-1991 stockpile.
—Another old artillery shell, also rigged as a bomb and found in May, showed signs it once contained mustard agent.
—Two small rocket warheads, turned over to Polish troops by an informer, that showed signs they once were filled with sarin.
—Centrifuge parts buried in a former nuclear scientist's garden in Baghdad. These were part of Saddam's pre-1991 nuclear program, which was dismantled after the 1991 Persian Gulf War. The scientist also had centrifuge design documents.
—A vial of live botulinum toxin, which can be used as a biological weapon, in another scientist's refrigerator. The scientist said it had been there since 1993.
—Evidence of advanced design work on a liquid-propellant missile with ranges of up to 620 miles. Since the 1991 Gulf War, Iraq had been prohibited from having missiles with ranges longer than 93 miles.
FOX News' Ian McCaleb, Bret Baier, Catherine Donaldson-Evans and The Associated Press contributed to this report.