WASHINGTON -- US intelligence agencies need to explain why their research indicated Iraq possessed banned weapons before the American-led invasion, says the outgoing top US inspector, who now believes Saddam Hussein had no such arms.
"I don't think they exist," David Kay said yesterday. "The fact that we found so far the weapons do not exist -- we've got to deal with that difference and understand why."
Kay's remarks on National Public Radio reignited criticism from Democrats, who ignored his warnings that the failure to find weapons of mass destruction was "not a political issue."
"It's an issue of the capabilities of one's intelligence service to collect valid, truthful information," said Kay, who resigned Friday. Asked whether President Bush owed the nation an explanation for the gap between his warnings and Kay's findings, Kay said: "I actually think the intelligence community owes the president, rather than the president owing the American people."
The CIA would not comment yesterday on Kay's remarks, although one intelligence official pointed out that Kay himself had predicted last year that his search would turn up banned weapons.
Kay said his predictions were not "coming back to haunt me in the sense that I am embarrassed. They are coming back to haunt me in the sense of `Why could we all be so wrong?' "
The White House stuck by its assertions that illicit weapons will be found in Iraq but had no additional response yesterday to Kay's remarks.
Senator John F. Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, said Kay's comments reinforced his belief that the Bush administration had exaggerated the threat Iraq posed. "It confirms what I have said for a long period of time, that we were misled -- misled not only in the intelligence, but misled in the way that the president took us to war," Kerry, a presidential candidate, said on "FOX News Sunday." "I think there's been an enormous amount of exaggeration, stretching, deception."
Senator Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he was surprised Kay "did not find some semblance of WMD" in Iraq. Roberts said a report on Iraq intelligence, to be delivered to his panel Wednesday, should help clarify the CIA's prewar performance. "It appears now that that intelligence -- there's a lot of questions about it," Roberts said on CNN's "Late Edition."
In October 2002, Bush said Iraq had "a massive stockpile of biological weapons that has never been accounted for and is capable of killing millions." In his address two days before launching the invasion, Bush said US troops would enter Iraq "to eliminate weapons of mass destruction."
Kay returned permanently from Iraq last month, having found no biological, nuclear, or chemical weapons nor missiles with longer range than Iraq's captured president, Hussein, was allowed under international restrictions.
Kay, however, reiterated yesterday his conclusion that Hussein had "a large number of WMD program-related activities." And, he said, Iraq's leaders had intended to continue those activities.
"There were scientists and engineers working on developing weapons or weapons concepts that they had not moved into actual production," Kay said. "But in some areas -- for example, producing mustard gas -- they knew all the answers. They had done it in the past, and it was a relatively simple thing to go from where they were to starting to produce it."
The Iraqis had not decided to begin producing such weapons at the time of the invasion, he concluded. Kay also said chaos in postwar Iraq made it impossible to know with certainty whether Iraq had had banned weapons. And, he said, there is ample evidence that Iraq was moving a steady stream of goods shipments to Syria, but it is difficult to determine whether the cargoes included weapons, in part because Syria has refused to cooperate in this part of the weapons investigation.