WASHINGTON – Still unable to find banned Iraqi weapons, the new U.S. weapons inspector said Tuesday his strategy is to expose Saddam Hussein's (search) intentions regarding weapons of mass destruction.
Charles Duelfer (search), the CIA's special adviser on the weapons hunt, said the Iraq Survey Group (search) he oversees is looking for a comprehensive picture, not simply an answer to the question: Were there weapons or not?
He did not say how long the effort might take.
"We're looking at it from soup to nuts, from the weapons end to the planning end to the intentions end," Duelfer said at a Capitol Hill news conference, nine weeks after he took over the weapons search.
In a closed session before the Senate Armed Services Committee (search) earlier Tuesday, Duelfer said U.S. weapons hunters in Iraq have found more evidence Saddam's regime had civilian — or "dual use" — factories able to quickly produce biological and chemical weapons.
And, according to declassified testimony shared with reporters, Duelfer said the survey group has found new evidence that Iraqi scientists flight tested long-range ballistic missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles that "easily exceeded" U.N. limits of 93 miles.
Michigan Sen. Carl Levin (search), the top Democrat on armed services, called on the CIA to declassify Duelfer's status report. Levin said he is "deeply troubled" that the public version leaves out information that casts doubt on the notion that Iraq had an active WMD program.
For instance, Duelfer's unclassified status report indicates that it's unclear whether Iraq's efforts to obtain aluminum tubes were to develop a uranium enrichment capability. But, Levin said, "you'd get an impression of unlikelihoods" in the classified version.
Levin said the selective use of information in Duelfer's statement raises the same issues the CIA has faced regarding the prewar intelligence on Iraq. "The CIA should not go down that road again," he said.
Through a CIA spokesman, Duelfer said he wrote both versions of his status report, which were not meant to draw conclusions: "They mirror each other, consistent with the protections for intelligence sources, methods and other classified information."
Duelfer didn't break significant ground on the weapons search, saying he lacked sufficient information to make conclusions about what Saddam had. He said the survey group is still going through 20 million pages of documents, visiting possible weapons sites and trying to glean information from former government officials.
Duelfer took over the job as the top civilian weapons inspector after his predecessor, David Kay, resigned in January and told Congress "we were almost all wrong" about Saddam's weapons programs. In a flurry of public statements questioning whether weapons would ever be found, Kay renewed the debate about the very weapons programs that the Bush administration used to justify last year's Iraq invasion.
After the Tuesday session, Senate Armed Services Chairman John Warner, R-Va., said the panel wasn't considering whether Kay was correct. "It's his opinion. The opinion has been expressed this morning that a good deal of work remains to be done."
However, with the November elections looming, Democrats are questioning — some loudly — whether the administration overstated the threat Saddam posed.
What happens to the roughly 1,200-member survey team when the U.S.-led coalition turns over power to an interim Iraqi government on June 30 is still an open question, Warner said.
Since landing in Iraq, Duelfer said his strategy has been to determine the regime's intentions behind the activities investigators have uncovered: Were weapons hidden that were not readily available? Was there a plan for a stepped-up production capacity? When did the leadership want to see results?
Duelfer said the survey group continues to look for weapons of mass destruction and regularly receives reports — "some quite intriguing and credible" — about possible concealed stashes buried or hidden across Iraq.
He said the group also questions former regime officials. However, many are still reluctant to talk because they fear prosecution, as well as retribution from former regime supporters.
"We do not know whether Saddam was concealing WMD in the final years or planning to resume production once sanctions were lifted," Duelfer's declassified testimony said. "We do not know how the disparate activities we have identified link together."