Thursday, April 13, 2006

White House denies report on Iraq WMD

White House denies report on Iraq WMD
By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House on Wednesday angrily denied a newspaper report that suggested President George W. Bush in 2003 declared the existence of mobile biological weapons laboratories in Iraq while knowing it was not true.

"It's reckless reporting. Everybody should be agitated about it," White House spokesman McClellan told reporters of The Washington Post report.

On May 29, 2003, Bush hailed the capture of two trailers in Iraq as mobile biological laboratories and declared, "We have found the weapons of mass destruction."

Two days earlier, on May 27, 2003, the Pentagon confirmed on Wednesday, a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) team faxed its preliminary report on the mobile labs. This report concluded the trailers had nothing to do with biological weapons, the Post said.

McClellan said Bush made his statement based on the combined conclusions of the CIA and DIA that were given to him in a May 28 white paper.

That white paper reflected the intelligence community's position at the time that the mobile units were biological weapons laboratories.

The dissenting May 27 view did not appear to have made it to the White House, and in fact, the intelligence community for months stuck to its analysis that the units were weapons labs.

Bush cited the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction as the prime justification for invading Iraq. No such weapons were found. In May 2003, U.S. officials were urgently seeking evidence to support prewar intelligence claims that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.

A U.S. intelligence official, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the field report was a preliminary finding that had to be evaluated.

"You don't change a report that has been coordinated in the (intelligence) community based on a field report," the official said. "It's a preliminary report. No matter how strongly the individual may feel about the subject matter."

McClellan said the Post story was "nothing more than rehashing an old issue that was resolved long ago," pointing out that an independent commission on Iraq had already determined the intelligence on alleged Iraqi biological weapons was wrong.


McClellan criticized ABC News' "Good Morning America" for its version of the report on Wednesday morning.

The network responded later by posting a "clarification" on its Web site acknowledging that anchor Charles Gibson misstated the gist of the Post story by saying that when Bush spoke, he knew what he was saying was not true.

"I hope they will go and publicly apologize on the air about the statements that were made, because I think it is important given that they had made those statements in front of all their viewers," he said.

The three-page field report and a 122-page final report three weeks later were classified and shelved, the Post reported. It added that for nearly a year after that, the Bush administration continued to publicly assert that the trailers were biological weapons factories.

The authors of the reports -- nine U.S. and British civilian experts -- were sent to Baghdad by the DIA, the newspaper said.

A DIA spokesman told the paper that the team's findings were neither ignored nor suppressed, but were incorporated in the work of the Iraqi Survey Group, which led the official search for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

The team's work remains classified. But the newspaper said interviews revealed that the team was unequivocal in its conclusion that the trailers were not intended to manufacture biological weapons.

(Additional reporting by Will Dunham and JoAnne Allen)