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Weapons Hunt

January 28, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT


KWAME HOLMAN: Before the Senate Armed Services Committee today, David Kay gave his first congressional testimony since stepping down Friday as head of the team searching for Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Kay repeatedly has said he does not believe Iraq stockpiled such weapons before the U.S.-led invasion last spring. President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair used the threat of those weapons as a reason to oust Saddam Hussein.

In his opening statement, David Kay said he, too, believed Saddam had weapons of mass destruction before the war began.

DAVID KAY: My view was that the best evidence that I had seen was that Iraq indeed had weapons of mass destruction. It turns out we were all wrong, probably, in my judgment, and that is most disturbing.

We’re also in a period in which we’ve had intelligence surprises in the proliferation area that go the other way. The case of Iran, a nuclear program that the Iranians admit was 18 years old, that we underestimated, and that in fact we didn’t discover. The Libyan program, recently discovered, was far more extensive than was assessed prior to that.

KWAME HOLMAN: Kay urged a new look at all those failures in intelligence gathering.

DAVID KAY: I think the aim, and certainly the aim of what I’ve tried to do since leaving, is not political and certainly not a witch hunt at individuals. It’s to try to direct our attention at what I believe is a fundamental fault analysis that we must now examine. I had innumerable analysts who came to me in apology that the world that we were finding was not the world that they had thought existed, and that they had estimated. Reality on the ground differed in advance. And never, not in a single case, was the explanation “I was pressured to do this.”

KWAME HOLMAN: And he went on to make the case continuing the investigation into why the intelligence was wrong in Iraq.

DAVID KAY: It’s really up to you and your staff on behalf of the American people to take on that challenge. It’s not something that anyone from the outside can do. I do believe we have to understand why reality turned out to be different than expectations and estimate.

KWAME HOLMAN: Committee Chairman John Warner and other Republicans weren’t ready to concede the administration’s rationale for the Iraq War was wrong, or that Kay’s former organization, the ISG, or Iraq Survey Group, had finished its mission.

SEN. JOHN WARNER: I want to pick up on your comment that “we were all wrong.” Let’s stop to think about that. We agreed, you and I — we’ve had extensive discussions — that the work of the ISG has got to continue, correct?

DAVID KAY: Absolutely.

SEN. JOHN WARNER: That given the size of Iraq — California — the size of Baghdad — Los Angeles — we could discover some facts that would confirm the conclusions that were reached by the intelligence community, not only in this country, but other nations in the future. Am I not correct in that assumption?

DAVID KAY: I certainly think that’s a theoretical possibility. Yes, Senator Warner.

SEN. JOHN WARNER: So maybe we better not pronounce “we’re all wrong” yet, because I think until we have finished the work — the ISG. And the other nations that are working for this with the ISG — I think we better hold such conclusion in abeyance. That would be my thought.

DAVID KAY: I believe that the effort that has been directed to this point has been sufficiently intense; that it is highly unlikely that there were large stockpiles of deployed militarized chemical and biological weapons there. Is it theoretically possible in a country as vast as that, that they’ve hidden? It’s theoretically possible —

KWAME HOLMAN: Kay agreed that Saddam Hussein posed great danger.

DAVID KAY: I think the world is far safer with the disappearance and the removal of Saddam Hussein. I have said I actually think this may be one of those cases where it was even more dangerous than we thought. I think when we have the complete record, you’re going to discover that after 1998, it became a regime that was totally corrupt. Individuals were out for their own protection, and in a world where we know others are seeking WMD, The likelihood at some point in the future of a seller and a buyer meeting up would have made that a far more dangerous country than even we anticipated, with what may turn out not to be a fully accurate estimate.

KWAME HOLMAN: Arizona Republican John McCain reminded Kay of the political aspect of the weapons of mass destruction issue.

SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Dr. Kay, you find yourself today in a very highly charged political environment, and you are by nature a scientist, and not one who’s familiar with these kinds of passions around an election year.

KWAME HOLMAN: Massachusetts Democrat Edward Kennedy blamed top administration officials rather than intelligence professionals.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY: Many of us feel that the evidence so far leads only to one conclusion: That what has happened was more than a failure of intelligence; it was the result of manipulation of the intelligence to justify a decision to go to war.

KWAME HOLMAN: Kennedy asserted some intelligence officials in fact were appropriately cautious about Iraq’s weapons.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY: Can you give us any explanation of why these agencies, in retrospect, appear to have had it right and the information that the administration used appear to have it wrong?

DAVID KAY: It’s a lot easier after the fact and after you know the truth to be selective that you were right. I have gone through this a lot in my career. All I can say is, if you read the total body of intelligence in the last 12 to 15 years that flowed on Iraq, I quite frankly think it would be hard to come to a conclusion other than Iraq was a gathering, serious threat to the world with regard to WMD.

KWAME HOLMAN: New York Democrat Hillary Clinton said the administration’s recent decision to reassign some of those searching for weapons raises questions.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: This wasn’t a priority. You know, if you have a real priority, you figure out how to meet that priority. And I think that the administration’s decision to divert resources and personnel speaks volumes about what they really thought was at stake.

I think by certainly November, if not by September, the fact that so much of the documentary evidence had been destroyed in the looting — the preliminary reports that you provided to the Congress and the administration presaged what has become the final conclusion you’ve reached; that we were not going to find such evidence of weapons of mass destruction — certainly raises, for me, serious questions about the real intention of the administration to begin with.

KWAME HOLMAN: In addition to suggesting an investigation into intelligence failures, Kay recommended that the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq continue.