U.S. spy data doesn't suit inspectors
Los Angeles Times
March 8, 2003
UNITED NATIONS -- On the eve of a possible war in Iraq, a question looms increasingly large: If U.S. intelligence is so good, why are United Nations experts still unable to confirm that Saddam Hussein is actively concealing and producing illegal weapons?
The troubling issue erupted Friday when top U.N. weapons inspectors expressed frustration with the quality of intelligence they have been given.
"I would rather have twice the amount of high quality information about sites to inspect than twice the number of expert inspectors to send," Hans Blix, who heads the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, told the U.N. Security Council.
Mohammed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, went further, charging documents may have been faked to suggest the country of Niger sold uranium to Iraq between 1999-2001.
He said inspectors concluded the documents were not authentic after scrutinizing "the form, format, contents and signatures . . . of the alleged procurement-related documentation."
ElBaradei also rejected three other key claims U.S. intelligence officials repeatedly cite to support charges that Iraq is secretly trying to build nuclear weapons.
Although investigations continue, ElBaradei said, nuclear experts have found no indication that Iraq has tried to import high-strength aluminum tubes or specialized ring magnets for centrifuge enrichment of uranium.
They also have found no indication that Iraq has "any indication of nuclear-related prohibited activities" in newly erected buildings or other sites identified by satellite, ElBaradei said.
"After three months of intrusive inspections, we have to date found no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons program in Iraq."
Bush administration officials insist they are providing all relevant information to the U.N. teams. But some officials privately concede the quality and quantity of intelligence is surprisingly thin.
"We have some information, not a lot," said one U.S. official who is familiar with the CIA's daily packages of material it delivers to a Canadian official who handles intelligence issues for Blix at the United Nations. Although U.N. teams have conducted nearly 600 inspections of about 350 locations since November, only 44 were of new sites based on fresh tips.
The issue spilled into Congress this week when Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., accused the administration of withholding information on suspected Iraqi weapons facilities from Blix's teams.
Levin, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee and a member of the Intelligence Committee, said the inspectors have been given only a fraction of the sites that appear on classified lists circulated in the intelligence community.
He warned of a nightmare scenario if U.S. soldiers are attacked with weapons of mass destruction from sites that could have been inspected had the CIA shared information.
Levin also accused the White House of seeking to undermine the inspection process, saying the administration has withheld data in part "because they genuinely believe the inspections were useless and said so from the beginning."
But CIA officials rejected the charges. In a letter to key lawmakers released Thursday night, CIA Director George J. Tenet said the agency has "provided detailed information on all of the high value and moderate sites" to the United Nations.
"We've briefed them on missiles; we've briefed them on the nuclear program; we've briefed them on chemical weapons, on biological weapons, on a whole range of subjects," Tenet added.
A U.S. intelligence official said some of the CIA's data is of such low value that it would not be useful to inspectors.
Asked whether the CIA would withhold important information, the official said, "The logic of that escapes me."
Only one tip from U.S. intelligence is known to have produced results. But the documents seized in January concerned Iraq's long-abandoned efforts on laser enrichment of uranium.
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