WMD hunters tout progress in Iraq
Kay says search will 'take time'
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. investigators are making "solid progress" in the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, one of the leaders of the effort said after briefing senators.
"I think the American people should be prepared for surprises," said David Kay, a former U.N. weapons inspector who is leading the CIA's weapons investigation. "I think it's very likely that we will discover remarkable surprises in this enterprise."
Kay and Maj. Gen. Keith Dayton, head of the Pentagon's Iraq Survey Group, spent about six hours Thursday updating the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence committees in closed-door hearings on the weapons investigation, which includes U.S., British and Australian personnel.
"Every week, it is phenomenal what we're finding," Dayton told reporters afterward.
Kay told reporters that during the first six weeks of the effort, investigators have uncovered useful documents about Iraq's WMD programs and are getting increased cooperation from Iraqis.
He also said the team has "found some physical evidence" related to Iraqi weapons, though he declined to characterize that evidence.
The task of finding physical evidence related to Iraq's weapons programs was made more difficult by the destruction during the war and the looting afterward, he said.
"I think we are making solid progress," he said. "It is preliminary. We're not at the final stage of understanding fully Iraq's WMD program, nor have we found WMD weapons.
"It's going to take time. The Iraqis had over two decades to develop these weapons, and hiding them was an essential part of their program."
Kay said Iraqis have been showing investigators how WMD programs were concealed.
"The active deception program is truly amazing once you get inside of it," he said. "We have people who participated in deceiving U.N. inspectors now telling us how they did it."
He also said Iraqis have been leading investigators to locations unknown to U.S. officials before the March 20 invasion that ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Sen. John Warner, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, called the panel's briefing "very lengthy and very forthright, candid and helpful."
"I never did expect we would find a smoking missile or the smoking gun," Warner told reporters.
"I think if you're able to put together the weapons of mass destruction program of denial and deception, it will lead you to discover what happens to the weapons of mass destruction."
The Senate committee hearings came as the Bush administration faces persistent questions about whether intelligence about Iraqi weapons was hyped to build support for invading Iraq. No weapons of mass destruction have been found since Saddam fell.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said he thinks "there's a very good chance" that weapons of mass destruction will eventually be found.
On Wednesday, Rockefeller chided White House officials for what he saw as a retreat from their original assessment of the Iraqi threat by pointing to evidence of weapons programs, rather than to actual weapons.
Asked Thursday after his committee's briefing whether he had confidence actual weapons would be found, Rockefeller said, "I don't know whether I'm confident or not, but I certainly am hopeful that we're going to find weapons of mass destruction, and I think there's a very good chance of that."
He also said he doesn't believe that if the weapons exist they would have been found by now.
"I've always had the feeling that somewhere out in the deserts in a country the size of California, these things could be buried. There could be surprises," Rockefeller said.
"I want to see this validated in the sense that we went to war for the right reasons, and that would be weapons of mass destruction."
But some lawmakers, particularly Democrats, said it is critical that actual weapons be found -- not just evidence of a program.
"If we do not find weapons of mass destruction, and if we do not find that they were positioned in a way for imminent use, the credibility of the United States government abroad and the credibility of the United States government with its own people here in the United States will be significantly eroded," said Sen. Bob Graham, D-Florida.
Graham, who is running for his party's 2004 presidential nomination, was chairman of the Intelligence Committee last year.
Kay said uncovering information about Iraq's weapons programs is significant because it can tell investigators whether weapons of mass destruction were developed, and if they were what has happened to them.
Kay conceded it was theoretically possible that Iraq did not have banned weapons, but he said, "That's not what I believe the evidence we're seeing is going to lead us to."
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, also said that uncovering information about Iraq's weapons programs is a key advance, adding that he "never did expect we would find a smoking missile."
"After you've determined what the program is, you can say, 'Ah ha, now we know what happened to the weapons of mass destruction,'" he said.
Kay works for the CIA establishing strategies on how the search for WMD will be conducted. Dayton heads the 1,500-man survey team made up of personnel from several agencies who then conduct the work.
They visit sites, interview suspects or others with knowledge, and evaluate captured documents and equipment.
The Iraq Survey Group was put into place several weeks ago to improve the intelligence gathering effort rather than just focusing on searching suspect sites.
CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr contributed to this report.