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Agency: Iraqi defector made up weapons report

U.S. was told about stockpiles of biological arms before invasion

DOUGLAS JEHL

02/07/04: (Charlotte Observer) WASHINGTON - An Iraqi military defector identified as a fabricator by the Defense Intelligence Agency provided some of the information that went into U.S. intelligence estimates that Iraq had stockpiles of biological weapons at the time of the American invasion last March, senior government officials said Friday.

A classified "fabrication notification" about the defector, a former Iraqi major, was issued by the DIA to other U.S. intelligence agencies in May 2002, but it was then repeatedly overlooked, three senior intelligence officials said.

As a result, they said, the defector's claims that Iraq built mobile research laboratories to produce biological weapons were mistakenly included in, among other findings, the National Intelligence Estimate of October 2002, which concluded Iraq likely had significant biological stockpiles, the intelligence officials said.

Intelligence officers from the DIA interviewed the defector twice in early 2002 and circulated reports based on those debriefings. They concluded he did not have any firsthand information and may have been coached in his answers by the Iraqi National Congress, the officials said.

That group, headed by Ahmad Chalabi, who had close ties to the Pentagon and Vice President Dick Cheney, had introduced the defector to U.S. intelligence, the officials said.

Nevertheless, because of what the officials described as a mistake, the defector was among four sources cited by Secretary of State Colin Powell in his presentation to the U.N. Security Council last February as having provided "eyewitness accounts" about mobile biological weapons facilities in Iraq, the officials said. The defector had described mobile biological research laboratories, as distinct from the mobile biological production factories mounted on trailers that were described by other sources.

The intelligence about the mobile facilities was central to the prewar conclusion that Iraq was producing biological weapons, senior intelligence officials have said. No such weapons or production facilities have been found in Iraq since the war, and David Kay, the former chief weapons inspector, has said he believes Iraq never produced large stockpiles of the weapons during the 1990s.

In his speech at Georgetown University on Thursday, CIA Director George Tenet provided the first elliptical hint that the prewar intelligence on Iraq had been tainted by evidence that U.S. agencies had previously identified as unreliable.

Apparently alluding to the Iraqi military defector, Tenet said intelligence agencies had "recently discovered that relevant analysts in the community missed a notice that identified a source we had cited as providing information that, in some cases was unreliable, and in other cases was fabricated." Tenet went to say, "We have acknowledged this mistake."

In interviews on Friday, intelligence officials described the episode as a significant embarrassment. They said that the information provided by the defector had contributed significantly not only to the National Intelligence Estimate but to Powell's presentation to the United Nations last Feb. 5.

"He was either making it up or he heard somebody else talking about it," one intelligence official said of the information the defector had provided.

Within the intelligence community, the DIA and the National Intelligence Council, which reports to Tenet, apparently conducted broad reviews in early 2003 that cast doubt on the credibility of defectors provided by Chalabi's organization. But it had not previously been known that intelligence estimates had been based in part on information that had been judged unreliable.

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