Powell on WMD existence: 'This game is still unfolding'
Author: Political pressure influenced intelligence before war
Powell said the Saddam Hussein regime "was a danger we had to worry about."
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Secretary of State Colin Powell Thursday defended the Bush administration's position that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction programs and defended his speech on the matter to the United Nations last February.
"This game is still unfolding," he told reporters.
He was responding to a study that found Iraq had ended its programs by the mid-1990s and did not pose an immediate threat to the United States before the 2003 war. Powell said he had not read the report but read news reports about it.
The study, released Thursday, was conducted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a nonpartisan, respected group that opposed the war in Iraq.
The United States used the threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction as a justification for launching the war against the regime of Saddam Hussein, according to the report.
The report follows a nine-month search in Iraq for WMD -- nuclear, biological and chemical -- the key reason the administration cited in its decision to invade Iraq.
"We looked at the intelligence assessment process, and we've come to the conclusion that it is broken," author Joseph Cirincione said Thursday on CNN's "American Morning."
"It is very likely that intelligence officials were pressured by senior administration officials to conform their threat assessments to pre-existing policies."
But Powell noted that Iraq used chemical weapons in the Iraq-Iran war and on the Kurds in the 1980s and had the chance to come clean about its programs to the international community through the '90s.
"It's a fact," he said.
He said there was a "solid case" from U.N. inspectors and other officials that the Saddam Hussein regime "was a danger we had to worry about."
"In terms of intention, you always had it," he said. "And anybody who thinks that Saddam Hussein last year was just, you know, waiting to give all of this up even though he was given the opportunity to do so, he didn't do it.
"What he was waiting to do is see if he could break the will of the international community, get rid of any potential for future inspections and get back to his intentions, which were to have weapons of mass destruction."
Powell said Saddam Hussein "kept the infrastructure, the programs intact."
Weapons inspectors conduct an examination in Iraq.
"Where the debate is, is why haven't we found huge stockpiles and why haven't we found large caches of these weapons? Let's let the Iraqi Survey Group complete its work."
The secretary of state also said that his presentation to the United Nations last year made it clear that "we had seen some links and connections" between Iraq and terror groups "over time."
"I have not seen smoking gun concrete evidence about the connection, but I think the possibility of some connections did exist and was prudent to consider them at the time that we did."
But the report says that the "dramatic shift between prior intelligence assessments and the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), together with the creation of an independent intelligence entity at the Pentagon and other steps, suggest that the intelligence community began to be unduly influenced by policymakers' views sometime in 2002."
More than 1,000 U.S. inspectors have worked daily since before the war began in March, searching the country and interviewing scientists and other Iraqi officials, according to Cirincione.
"We found nothing," Cirincione said. "There are no large stockpiles of weapons. There hasn't actually been a find of a single weapon, a single weapons agent, nothing like the programs that the administration believe existed."
The Carnegie report based its conclusions on information gleaned from declassified U.S. intelligence documents about Iraq from U.N. weapons inspectors and the International Atomic Energy Agency, the nuclear watchdog agency for the United Nations. The endowment also said the study used statements from the Bush administration and corroborated reports from the news media.
The report also accuses the Bush administration of misrepresenting the threat from Iraqi WMD by "treating nuclear, chemical and biological weapons as a single 'WMD threat'" instead of characterizing the threats from the three types separately. It says the Bush administration also insisted "without evidence -- yet treating as a given truth -- that Saddam Hussein would give whatever WMD he possessed to terrorists."
Cirincione said the study "is the first comprehensive review of everything we knew or thought we knew about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and it turns out that some of the things we thought were working -- our threat assessments -- we're deeply flawed."
"We exaggerated the threat. We worst-cased it and then acted as if that worst case was the most likely case."
However, Cirincione also said other systems put in place to prohibit Saddam Hussein from developing weapons of mass destruction were working better than experts thought at the time.
Iraq's "programs were crippled by years of [U.N.] inspections and U.S. military strikes," he said, "and the sanctions that prevented them from getting anything going at all."
Cirincione said one reason for the apparent lack of progress in the Iraqi weapons programs was because Iraqi scientists were "telling Saddam that they were further along than they actually were."
"Apparently that was picked up by some of the Iraqi defectors who came to the U.S. telling stories of elaborate advanced weapons programs," he said.
"So the defectors were fooled, Saddam was fooled, but as it turns out Saddam himself had made the decision -- as far as we can tell -- in the mid-'90s to shut down these programs."
The Carnegie report isn't "a gotcha study" seeking to blame officials, Cirincione said. "We're trying to prevent it from happening in the future," he said.
"We recommend the formation of a senior blue ribbon commission to examine this in an independent, nonpartisan way and make recommendations for how to insulate intelligence assessors from political pressures," Cirincione said.
"We don't know what happened in the offices of the administration, but there's a lot of evidence that points to" intelligence assessors being pressured by their bosses.