WASHINGTON – Bush administration officials on Sunday denied exaggerating U.S. intelligence about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction in order to make the case for going to war.
The officials promised that evidence showing Iraq possessed the banned weapons will emerge.
“They have acknowledged that they had biological weapons," Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) said on Fox News Sunday. “And they never accounted for all that they had.”
Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice appeared on Sunday morning news shows to counter last week's media reports that proof of the weapons had been weaker than the administration led the country to believe.
The weapons of mass destruction argument was the primary reason the administration gave for waging war to oust Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein (search).
At issue were excerpts from a September 2002 Defense Intelligence Agency document indicating that it couldn't pin down the location of chemical weapon production facilities and stockpiles but it had no doubt they existed.
But other parts of the report said there was evidence that chemical weapons were being dispersed, Powell said on Fox News Sunday.
"So there was a question as to whether or not you are talking about chemical weapons that are being dispersed, or a production facility," Powell said. "There is a judgment call there."
The Bush administration has decided it will declassify the entire report so that all portions of it can be examined by Congress in context. Powell sidestepped the issue of whether or not the whole document will be made public.
"I think we've put out a lot," he said. "I think the American people got a good, solid assessment."
But, he added, "I'm sure that, as the intelligence community feels it is appropriate to declassify this information, it will be made available to the public. I don't think the public is as concerned about this as the media."
Powell said that Iraqis have possessed weapons of mass destruction throughout history and have used chemical weapons.
He told reporters that interviews with Iraqis involved in the weapons programs would bring evidence of their existence to light.
"I think all the documents that are now coming forward will tell us more about what they have hidden and where they have hidden it," Powell said.
Powell said the media, not the American people, were the ones saying that prewar intelligence had been hyped.
"How can it be bogus when I can show you pictures of people that were gassed by Saddam Hussein?” he said on Fox. “I can show you reports where the Iraqis were caught lying about their weapons of mass destruction.”
Powell and Rice also dismissed allegations that Vice President Dick Cheney pressured CIA (search) officials to exaggerate their reports of the Iraqi threat.
Powell said Cheney – who reportedly made several trips to the Central Intelligence Agency -- was simply doing his job: delving into the issue to make sure he knew the truth.
When asked where the weapons were, Rice said on NBC’s Meet the Press: "This is a program that was built for concealment. We've always known that. We've always known that it would take some time to put together a full picture of his weapons of mass destruction programs."
She said intelligence offered solid justification for the U.S.-led attack on Iraq. She said only one conclusion could be drawn from the information gathered between 1991 and March 2003, when the war was launched.
"And that was that this was an active program, that this was a dangerous program, this was a program that was being effectively concealed," Rice told ABC's This Week.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.