CIA Adviser: Progress in Iraqi WMD Hunt

AP Diplomatic Writer

WASHINGTON – A CIA adviser told lawmakers Thursday that progress was being made in the hunt for Iraq (news – web sites)’s weapons of mass destruction, but Democrats decried the so-far fruitless searches and questioned the Bush administration’s rationale for war.

David Kay, who is serving as a special adviser for the weapons search, said inspectors have found physical evidence of Iraqi activity on weapons of mass destruction, but he declined to discuss details. He said investigators had made a “tactical and strategic decision” to focus on biological rather than on chemical or nuclear programs, saying, “Those are the areas that we’re principally talking about progress.”

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, expressed concern that the searches are being diverted away from finding actual weapons.

“Signs of a weapons program are very different than the stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons that were a certainty before the war,” Rockefeller said. “We did not go to war to disrupt Saddam’s weapons program, we went to disarm him.”

“It’s looking more and more like a case of mass deception,” Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., said after Kay briefed the Senate Armed Services Committee. “There was no imminent danger, and we should never have gone to war.”

Those concerns surfaced as the Bush administration approved payment of $30 million to the informant who helped troops find Saddam’s two sons, the largest reward ever made under a U.S. program.

“It’s actually for services rendered,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. “It’s a lump sum payment of $30 million.”

The informant’s tip led to the death of Odai and Qusai Hussein in a firefight July 22 in a villa in Mosul in northern Iraq. For his protection the tipster was not identified by the government.

“We’re being very careful about the individual’s identity in every possible way,” Boucher said.

Secretary of State Colin Powell gave final approval to the award of $15 million each for the sons.

Boucher said the informant had provided the critical piece of information that led to the brothers and “took a risk in what is a very important development.”

The reward offered for Saddam is $25 million, and Boucher urged anyone who knows where he is to turn him in.

Neighbors of Sheik Nawaf al-Zaydan Muhhamad, an Iraqi with ties to Saddam, have said he tipped off coalition forces that Odai and Qusai were staying with him and his family. They said they became suspicious when his wife and their four daughters left the house early the morning of the shootings and did not return.

Three hours after the women left, U.S. troops knocked on the front door and asked all those inside to come out. Muhhamad and his only son, Shalan, left with their hands on their heads, neighbors said. Coalition forces took them away.

Coalition forces are also searching for weapons of mass destruction. President Bush (news – web sites) built his case for going to war on hidden arsenals, but in the three months since victory was declared none have been uncovered.

Kay told reporters after talking in secret to the Senate Armed Services Committee that there was a “truly amazing” deception program to throw U.N. weapons inspectors off the trail.

“We have people who participated in deceiving U.N. inspectors now telling us how they did it,” he said.

The U.S. Army’s 4th Infantry Division is hunting for Saddam with tanks, satellites and flying robots. The soldiers also are using more traditional, low-tech search methods. Patrolling soldiers and interpreters are collecting trips from residents.

Since the death of the sons there has been a surge of tips.

The CIA, meanwhile, has determined the latest audio message purportedly from Saddam — in which he refers to the death of his sons — is most likely authentic, according to a CIA official.

The tape was played on the Al-Arabiya satellite channel, which broadcasts across the Middle East, including Iraq.

Meanwhile, Bush extended for another year trade sanctions and the freezing of Iraqi government assets.

“The crisis that led to the declaration of a national emergency on August 2, 1990, has not been fully resolved,” he wrote leaders of the Senate and House.