US shelved evidence discounting Iraq's WMD: report
Wednesday, April 12, 2006; 1:41 AM
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration publicly asserted that two trailers captured by U.S. troops in Iraq in May 2003 were mobile "biological laboratories" even after U.S. intelligence officials had evidence that it was not true, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday.
On May 29, 2003, President George W. Bush hailed the capture of the trailers, declaring "We have found the weapons of mass destruction."
But a Pentagon-sponsored fact-finding mission had already concluded that the trailers had nothing to do with biological weapons, the Post reported, citing government officials and weapons experts who participated in the secret mission or had direct knowledge of it.
The Post said the group's unanimous findings had been sent to the Pentagon in a field report, two days before the president's statement.
Bush cited the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction as the prime justification for invading Iraq. No such weapons ever were found.
A U.S. intelligence official, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity confirmed the existence of the field report but said it 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."
The three-page field report and a 122-page final report three weeks later were classified and shelved, The Washington Post reported. It added that for nearly a year after that, the Bush administration continued to public 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 Defense Intelligence Agency, or 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.
"There was no connection to anything biological," one expert who studied the trailers was quoted as saying.