Prewar CIA report doubted claim that al Qaeda sought WMD in Iraq
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A January 2003 CIA report raised doubts about a claim that al Qaeda sent operatives to Iraq to acquire chemical and biological weapons -- assertions that were repeated later by then-Secretary of State Colin Powell to the United Nations in making the case for the invasion of Iraq.
CNN on Thursday obtained a CIA document that outlined the history of the claim, which originated in 2002 with a captured al Qaeda operative who recanted two years later.
The CIA report appears to support a recently declassified document that revealed the Defense Intelligence Agency thought in February 2002 that the source, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, was lying to interrogators.
Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, this week released the DIA report in alleging the administration cited faulty intelligence to argue for the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.
In February 2002, al-Libi, a senior military trainer for al Qaeda in Afghanistan, claimed the terrorist network "sent operatives to Iraq" to acquire weapons. His claim was reported in a CIA paper seven months later entitled, "Iraqi Support for Terrorism."
The January 2003 updated version of the report added a key point: "That the detainee was not in a position to know if any training had taken place."
The document obtained by CNN was provided recently to Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee, who have been pressing for an investigation into the ways in which the Bush administration used intelligence on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before the war.
In February 2003 Powell made assertions that Iraq had ties to al Qaeda and argued for military action to prevent Baghdad from providing its suspected stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction to terrorists.
In his speech to the U.N. Security Council, Powell did not name al-Libi, but described the U.S. source as a senior terrorist operative.
"My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we're giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence. I will cite some examples, and these are from human sources," Powell told the world body.
He said the al Qaeda operative told interrogators that al Qaeda labs in Afghanistan were not capable of manufacturing chemical or biological agents.
"Where did they go? Where did they look? They went to Iraq," Powell said. "None of this should come as a surprise to any of us. Terrorism has been a tool used by Saddam [Hussein] for decades."
No such stockpiles turned up after the U.S.-led invasion, and the independent commission investigating al Qaeda's 2001 attacks on New York and Washington found no evidence of a collaborative relationship between the two entities.
Al-Libi recanted in January 2004 a number of claims he made while in custody, according to the CIA document. His reversal prompted the CIA to order all prior intelligence suggesting Iraq trained al Qaeda personnel in chemical and biological warfare "recalled and re-issued" in February 2004.
A U.S. intelligence official said the information from al-Libi used by Powell in early 2003 was "the best we had at the time" and that the CIA informed policymakers as soon as he recanted his claims.
Another official, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, told reporters Thursday that the intelligence used to support the war had been developed over a "long period of time."
"We all looked at the same intelligence, and most people -- on the intelligence -- reached the same conclusion," Hadley said, referring to the present and previous administrations and to Congress.
A senior administration official said Bush would "directly take on some of these false attacks by some Democratic leaders" during a Veterans Day speech Friday.
CNN's David Ensor contributed to this report.
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