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Washington, 28 January 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The former chief U.S. weapons inspector, David Kay, told a Congressional panel today that it is highly unlikely that Iraq had a "large stockpile" of illegal weapons before the war last year.
Kay made the assessment in Washington testifying before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee. It was his first open public testimony before Congress following his resignation on 23 January as head of the Iraq Survey Group (ISG).
"I believe that the effort [by weapons inspectors in Iraq] 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," he said.
Kay said it is "theoretically possible" that some banned weapons would still be found but said that he doubts it. He said his team has been unable to uncover any evidence that even small stockpiles existed.
"When the ISG wraps up its work, whether it be six months or six years from now, there are still going to be people to say, 'You didn't look everywhere," Kay said. "Isn't it possible it [WMD] was hidden someplace? And the answer has got to be, honestly, 'Yes, it is possible.'"
The issue of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons and related research was a key reason cited by President George W. Bush to attack Iraq. Kay said the failure to turn up weapons of mass destruction in Iraq exposed weaknesses in America's intelligence-gathering apparatus. He said U.S. intelligence gathering capabilities need to be improved: "There's a long record here of being wrong. There's a good reason for it. There are probably multiple reasons. Certainly, proliferation is a hard thing to track, particularly in countries that deny easy and free access and don't have free and open societies."
Kay was chosen last year by the Bush administration as the chief weapons inspector in Iraq. At the time of the appointment, Kay said he believed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. The hunt for banned weapons continues.
The former chief weapons inspector said it was not unreasonable for Bush and other senior administration official to believe that Saddam Hussein's Iraq did represent a danger to the United States and the rest of the world: "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."
The phrase "gathering threat" was repeatedly used by Bush prior to the March 2003 invasion.
Kay denied suggestions by Democratic senators and other critics that intelligence analysts felt pressured by the administration to shape intelligence in order to help Bush justify the invasion. He said he spoke to several analysts who prepared the intelligence and "not in a single case was the explanation that I was pressured to this."