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Senate intel chairman suggests proof coming on Iraqi WMD

Distinction drawn between program and actual weapons

By Steve Turnham
CNN Washington Bureau

Sens. John Warner, left, and Carl Levin speak at a news conference.
Sens. John Warner, left, and Carl Levin speak at a news conference.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Just back from a trip to Iraq, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, suggested proof is coming soon that deposed leader Saddam Hussein had a WMD program that could have turned out an operational weapon on short notice .

"My judgment is that there is going to be breaking positive news in the very near future," Roberts told a Capitol Hill news conference where he joined colleagues in talking about their trip to Iraq. Roberts said scientists involved with Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program are talking to the U.S. inspection team.

Roberts later told reporters that while the top Iraqi scientist in U.S. custody, Rihab Taha (dubbed "Dr. Germ") is not being helpful, "people under her are telling a different story." He said inspectors are now going through WMD documents.

"There are several items of real interest I think that really make a breakthrough in terms of a positive thing," said Roberts. "I'd be a little careful were I overly critical about the lack of finding any WMD. You may end up with WMD and some egg on your face."

Several Democratic lawmakers have questioned whether the Bush administration manipulated intelligence data -- particularly as it relates to WMD -- in the months leading up to the war against Iraq. The administration has denied that claim.

"Dr. Germ" was head of Iraq's biological warfare program, suggesting at least that the new information concerns germ warfare rather than nuclear or chemical weapons.

At that news conference, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner, R-Virginia, noted that biological weapons are easy to hide.

"Very small physical quantities, a couple of gallons, can literally obliterate tens of thousands of people," said Warner. "Really we want to share with you some of this material but the intelligence community can't do it because they are gaining it through human intelligence."

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, who was with Roberts, Warner, and four other senators on the three-day trip, was cautious about reporting what he had learned.

"We were told that there was some evidence, which we should not reach any conclusion on, that there might have been a program that could lead to a relatively rapid constitution of a weapon," Levin said after the news conference.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-West Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, suggested that Republicans were attempting to blur an important distinction between a program and actual ready-to-go weapons.

Rockefeller said Congress voted to go to war on the basis of intelligence that Iraq had weapons that constituted an "imminent threat," rather than a program to build such weapons .

"If somebody says: 'If they were going to find weapons down the road, that's worth it isn't it?' Well yes it is worth it," said Rockerfeller. "But when the president goes to the people through the Congress and says, 'I want you to vote because there is an imminent threat,' well you can make light of that or you can take it seriously."

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