WASHINGTON – Senior Defense Department officials intend to declassify and release a defense intelligence report from last September that said agents could not prove Iraq had ongoing chemical or biological weapons facilities, officials told Fox News on Friday.
The report could be released as early as this weekend.
The classified report, revealed to senators on Friday, was completed as the administration stepped up efforts to persuade the United Nations that Iraq's weapons programs were a menace and the country should be disarmed immediately.
Critics say the findings add fuel to claims that the Bush administration hyped the menacing nature of Iraq to justify war.
An official said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (search) approved the release of the report, and the Pentagon is now working out how to deal with photographs and other aspects of the report that might suggest how the United States obtained some of the information.
"Part of this problem is our obsession with classification," the official said.
Officials say the text of the report is not regarded as controversial and will support U.S. contentions that a body of evidence existed supporting U.S. assertions that Iraq's chemical and biological weapons programs were real.
"We want to get it out because it will show there was plenty of evidence to suggest they had weapons," a senior official told Fox News. "It refers to intelligence evidence that the Iraqis were moving things around in preparation for a coming war. You don't move things around and disperse them if you don't have them."
Emerging from a closed-door meeting with senators Friday, the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency (search), which wrote the September 2002 report, conceded that just as the United States pressured allies to disarm Saddam Hussein's regime, the Pentagon could not prove where or what weapons of mass destruction were in production in Iraq.
"In September 2002, we could not specifically pin down individual facilities operating as part of the weapons of mass destruction program, specifically the chemical warfare portion," said Vice Admiral Lowell Jacoby (search).
At that time, Rumsfeld told lawmakers that the Pentagon knew that the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein did have chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction.
The DIA report, of which only one page is currently declassified, says the United States couldn't prove its suspicions because it didn't have experts on the ground. DIA was one of several agencies, including the CIA, that developed estimates of Iraqi capabilities.
Jacoby said the Pentagon had no doubts that Iraq had used chemical weapons before, had produced them in the past and was working on them currently. He said nothing in the report refutes that and that officials continued to believe that Iraq posed a real threat.
"[The report] is not in any way intended to portray the fact that we had doubts that such a program existed, that such a program was active or that such a program was part of the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction infrastructure," Jacoby said.
But some lawmakers now openly question the quality of U.S. pre-war intelligence.
"Until we have determined the fate of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, or determined that they, in fact, did not exist, we cannot rest, we cannot really claim victory," said Sen. Robert Byrd, D- W.Va.
The head of the Senate's investigation said he has not found any evidence of deception so far.
"There are always times when a single sentence or a single report evokes a lot of concern or some doubt," said Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner, R-Va. "So far, in my own personal assessment of this situation, the intelligence community has diligently and forthrightly and with integrity, produced intelligence and submitted it to this administration and to the Congress of the United States."
The White House based much, but not all, of its case for the war on the need to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction.
A White House spokesman said Friday that a portion of the still-classified report is being taken out of context of the entire document's conclusions, which match what the Bush administration argued all along.
"The entire report paints a different picture than the selective quotes would lead you to believe," said Michael Anton, a spokesman with the White House's National Security Council (search). "The entire report is consistent with what the president was saying at the time."
Two months after the war ended, U.S. troops and weapons inspectors have not located any of the weapons, though officials say they are confident they will be found. Rumsfeld said he hoped that knowledgeable Iraqis on the ground would help with the search.
In the aftermath of a swift victory, a new Fox News-Opinion Dynamics poll suggests that the vast majority of Americans — 69 percent — consider the war justified even if weapons of mass destruction are never found. Only 24 percent of those surveyed disagreed.
Meanwhile, U.N. weapons inspectors are heading to the Tuwaitha nuclear facility 30 miles outside of Baghdad to see if all the uranium inventoried during the last inspection in February is still there. The facility was left unguarded in the early days of the war, and many officials say villagers looted much of the property.
The arrival of the team — whose members are not weapons inspectors — marked the first time since the Iraq war began that representatives from the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency returned to the country. The atomic energy agency had long monitored Iraq's nuclear program.
Fox News' Major Garrett, Ian McCaleb and The Associated Press contributed to this report.