WASHINGTON#The United States has found evidence of an active program to make weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, including “truly amazing” testimony from Iraqis ordered to dupe UN inspectors before the war, the man leading the hunt said Thursday.
David Kay, a former United Nations inspector who is joint head of the Iraq Survey Group, offered an unprecedentedly optimistic assessment of the hunt for weapons of mass destruction.
Although he called for patience, he predicted that doubters were in for a “surprise” by the time his work was done.
His 1,400-strong team of American, British and Australian experts now scouring Iraq has not yet found actual biological or chemical weapons, Kay told private Senate hearings.
But there was mounting evidence of an active WMD program, he said.
That evidence included documents detailing how to conceal arms plants as commercial facilities, and for restarting weapons production once the coast was clear, officials told reporters.
Leading Democratic lawmakers have questioned pre-war claims made by President Bush about Saddam Hussein’s weapons capacities.
The Senate Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, expressed concern that the searches are being diverted away from finding actual weapons.
”Signs of a weapons program are very different than the stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons that were a certainty before the war,” Rockefeller said. ”We did not go to war to disrupt Saddam’s weapons program, we went to disarm him.”
”It’s looking more and more like a case of mass deception,” Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) said after Kay briefed the Senate Armed Services Committee. ”There was no imminent danger and we should never have gone to war.”
Kay appeared to want to stem the growing perception that Saddam may have had no weapons program at all.
Though a former UN inspector himself, he was blunt about what he saw as the limits of the inspections before the war.
Kay, briefing officials and lawmakers on the first five weeks of work by the coalition team, said: “We have found new evidence of how they successfully misled inspections of the UN and hid stuff continuously from them.
“The active deception program is truly amazing once you get inside it. We had people who participated in deceiving UN inspectors now telling us how they did it.
“We have Iraqi scientists who were involved in these programs who are assisting us in taking them apart.
“We are making solid progress,” he said after the private briefing, but added: “It is going to take time.”
He said a program shielded by security and deception over 25 years would not be easy to unravel.
Iraqi scientists and officials are coming forward in ever greater numbers, and are leading search teams to key sites, almost all of them previously unknown to Western intelligence, Kay said, dismissing reports that they had run out of sites to explore.