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June 21, 2006

CHEMICAL WEAPONS IN IRAQ: Austin Bay has a roundup on this story.

UPDATE: The document is here. And a transcript of the press conference, just received via email, is in the extended entry area. Click "read more" to read it.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Ed Morrissey has more, and observes:

The next question will be why the White House did not release this information at the time of their discovery. Santorum's statement says, “The information released today proves that weapons of mass destruction are, in fact, in Iraq[.] It is essential for the American people to understand that these weapons are in Iraq. I will continue to advocate for the complete declassification of this report so we can more fully understand the complete WMD picture inside Iraq.” That implies that a broader analysis of WMD in Iraq exists -- and that it differs significantly from the common understanding shown thus far.

Some will claim that the release is strictly for political purposes. They may have a point, but I doubt it will have anything to do with domestic politics. If Bush wanted to use it for that, he would have done so in October 2004 and not in June 2006. This information changes the picture about our pre-war intelligence in time for the Iranian confrontation -- and I suspect that the White House wants to declassify it in order to convince European leaders that our intel actually paid off. . . .

So why keep this quiet? Perhaps CENTCOM did not want to tip the AQ-I forces to their continued existence. Another explanation may have been that some of this got captured through active intel sources that would have blown continuing operations. Obviously the Intelligence Committee felt that the need for secrecy had passed.

Stay tuned. WMD wasn't the big issue for me, but it certainly has been turned into a keystone of the war debate, which may turn out to have been a mistake for war opponents.

MORE: Big roundup at the Hot Air blog, too. And here's a transcript and audio of Rick Santorum talking about this on Hugh Hewitt's show.

And Canada's Western Standard blog observes: "The MSM will probably give more play to Saddam's newly announced hunger strike."

John Hinderaker has more, including an email from Michael Ledeen:

Please point out to your readers that Negroponte only declassified a few fragments of a much bigger document. Read the press conference and you will see that Santorum and Hoekstra were furious at the meager declassification. They will push for more, and we all must do that. I am told that there is a lot more in the full document, which CIA is desperate to protect, since it shows the miserable job they did looking for WMDs in Iraq.

Some future historians will have fun with the CIA's bureaucratic turf wars. I just hope that they're writing in English, and not Arabic . . . .

REPUBLICAN MEMBERS OF CONGRESS HOLD A NEWS CONFERENCE TO RELEASE A REPORT ON WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION

JUNE 21, 2006

SPEAKERS: U.S. SENATOR RICK SANTORUM (R-PA)

U.S. REPRESENTATIVE PETER HOEKSTRA (R-NY)

SANTORUM: Good afternoon. Senator Rick Santorum. With me, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Pete Hoekstra. Today we are here to make public a document, an unclassified version of a document that Congressman Hoekstra and I have been working on, trying to uncover, I guess, or find out about with respect to weapons of mass destruction, particularly chemical weapons recovered in Iraq.

On the floor of the Senate today we are debating the issue of the war in Iraq, and three of my colleagues just today said the following things.

Jack Reed, quote: We've heard the initial defenses of the approach to Iraq as we were going after weapons of mass destruction. There were none. They were not there.

Chris Dodd: Mr. President, that if I had known then what I know now, namely that Saddam Hussein possessed no weapons of mass destruction, I would not have given the president my vote.

Patty Murray: We looked for weapons of mass destruction and we found none.

Congressman Hoekstra and I are here today to say that we have found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, chemical weapons. It's a document that was developed by our intelligence community which for the last two and a half months I have been pursuing.

And thanks to the help of the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, ultimately he was able to get it in his hands and I was able to look for and look at.

And I think both of us feel very strongly that this is vitally important information that the American public needs to know. And so I will read the portions of the unclassified version and then I'll turn it over to Peter to make his comments about the significance of that, and then we'll be happy to answer questions.

The unclassified version of this report states as follows. Quote: Since 2003, coalition forces have recovered approximately 500 weapons munitions which contain degraded mustard or sarin nerve agent. Despite many efforts to locate and destroy Iraq's pre-Gulf War chemical munitions, filled and unfilled pre-Gulf War chemical munitions are assessed to still exist.

Now, let me go off the quote. That means that in addition to the 500 there are filled and unfilled munitions still believed to exist within the country.

Back on statement.

Pre-Gulf War Iraqi chemical weapons could be sold on the black market. Use of these weapons by terrorists or insurgent groups would have implications for coalition forces in Iraq. The possibility of use outside of Iraq cannot be ruled out. The most likely munitions remaining are sarin- and mustard-filled projectiles.

And I underscored filled. The purity of the agents inside the munitions depends on many factors, including the manufacturing process, potential additives and environmental storage conditions. While agents degrade over time, chemical warfare agents remain hazardous and potentially lethal.

It has been reported in the open press that insurgents and Iraqi groups desire to acquire and use chemical weapons.

This is an incredibly -- in my mind -- significant finding. The idea that, as my colleagues have repeatedly said in this debate on the other side of the aisle, that there are no weapons of mass destruction, is in fact false.

We have found over 500 weapons of mass destruction. And in fact have found that there are additional weapons of mass -- chemical weapons, still in the country, that need to be recovered.

And so, I would suggest that this is a very important look-back. We've been focused and continue to focus on what we need to do moving forward, but it is important for the American public to understand that these weapons did in fact exist, were present in the country, and were in fact and continue to be a threat to us.

Mr. Chairman?

HOEKSTRA: Thanks, Senator, and thank you for your help.

You know, as we've been continuing the work and the research on WMD and what existed when, it's been interesting. We spent a lot of time working or people have been coming to the committee, what we call unconventional sources.

The senator has indicated that a few months ago, an unconventional source went to Rick and said, You ought to look for this report. And the senator spent some time looking for it, couldn't get his hands on it and called over and said, Can you help get this report? And we went looking for it, and we found it.

I think it's important to put this report in the context of the WMD discussion. Everyone knows, and has agreed, that there was WMD in Iraq prior to the Gulf War, the first Gulf War. He used weapons of mass destruction extensively, killing thousands of his own people and thousands of Iranians.

From the Kay report and the Duelfer report, the conclusions that they reached indicated that during that period of time from the Gulf War to Operation Iraqi Freedom, there was evidence of continuing research and development of WMD, an ongoing effort with various kinds of chemicals, research programs and those types of things.

The piece that still remains unanswered, or remained unanswered, was that piece of exactly what, other than the programs, what existed in Iraq in 2003?

The Iraqi Survey Group, or the impression that the Iraqi Survey Group left with the American people was they didn't find anything.

The report that Rick and I reference -- and I'll have to tell you that I'm disappointed in the summary that was provided for us in an unclassified version from the intelligence community because I think you lose some of the context of exactly what Rick and I and others on the committee have seen from that report.

But this says: Weapons have been discovered; more weapons exist. And they state that Iraq was not a WMD-free zone, that there are continuing threats from the materials that are or may still be in Iraq.

And I think what that points out to us -- and remember, the Iraq Survey Group was in Iraq for about 16 months, employing up 1,700 people. They didn't find many chemical weapons.

And since that period of time, we have found hundreds. This assessment says more exist. And I think what that points out is that there's still a lot about Iraq that we don't fully understand.

The Iraq Survey Group suspended field visits five months after they were there. So they stopped field visits in October of 2003. So what we're now finding are our troops stumbling across these as they go into Iraq.

The full-blown effort to discover these caches of chemical weapons stopped a year and a half ago. And this is the kind of stuff that we are still finding.

We continue to get unconventional sources coming to the committee. We're trying to get the intelligence community and the military to investigate some of the other sites and some of the other leads that have been forwarded to us. It's not a high priority.

So what do we do after this report comes out?

Number one, I think Rick and I are in agreement: More of the classified report has to be released to the American public. They need to get this in a more complete context.

The second thing that needs to happen is under the direction of the House Intelligence Committee, we are going to do and go back and ask for a more complete reporting by the various intelligence agencies as to reporting on WMD.

Some of you may have the question -- and we had the same question -- if this report was completed in April, why couldn't a senator receive it for six weeks and why did it take eight weeks for it to be brought to our attention and finally put into our hands? What other reports exist about either the existence or the nonexistence of chemical weapons in Iraq?

That information is information that we need to have and is information that needs to be brought to the American people.

So we are working on the declassification of the report. We are going to do a thorough search of what additional reports exist in the intelligence community. And we are going to put additional pressure on the Department of Defense and the folks in Iraq to more fully pursue a complete investigation of what existed in Iraq before the war.

Because this now is not only an issue of what exists; this also gets to be an issue of force protection. Finding these quantities of weapons indicates that they're out there. The terrorists have indicated in press reports that they desire to acquire and use chemical weapons.

So the question is: Have we secured all the sites? What efforts are we taking, right now, to secure, identify and locate all of these sites so that we locate them and find them and move forward before they get into the hands of people who we'd prefer not to have access to them.

With that, I think we'll open up for your questions.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

SANTORUM: The only thing that's available is what I read you. That's all that's available. The report remains to be classified. When I wrote to -- I think it looks like General DeFries (ph) -- is that how you say his name? I don't know -- I don't know him -- about a report, and I have letters that we can certainly make available to you that I heard about in April, early April.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) in April, but we don't know when it was started?

HOEKSTRA: The report would have been started -- it's intended to build on the findings of the Iraq Survey Group. The Iraq Survey Group completed its report -- its report was issued October, November of 2004.

SANTORUM: The agency I wrote to ask for the report was the National Ground Intelligence Center.

QUESTION: Senator, so the report came from the National Ground Intelligence Center, that's the agency that produced the report?

SANTORUM: That is correct.

QUESTION: And that's part of the Department of Defense?

SANTORUM: That is correct.

QUESTION: Do you know who originally requested the report be made?

SANTORUM: I think that this is their ongoing work in terms of force protection, collecting the tactical intelligence that our ground forces are acquiring as they are forward deployed, gathering that intelligence to make sure that they can take that information and redistribute it to ground forces, again, for force protection, so that the forces that are deployed know the potential threats that are out there.

And obviously, we want our forward-deployed troops to know that, number one, they may come across these things in their activities and second, that if they fall into the wrong hands, they may be used against our troops.

QUESTION: My question was, number one, if the statement -- you quoted those senators at the outset who say there were no weapons of mass destruction. You're saying here's a document that establishes that in fact there were.

Why is the Bush administration, why is Secretary Rumsfeld or President Bush not holding a press conference a high noon to say, Look, this makes the case that we've been trying to -- we were making for three years...

SANTORUM: I think that's a question you have to ask them. It's certainly a question that we have asked them. You'd have to ask them that question.

This is from the intelligence community. This document is one I have complete confidence in.

HOEKSTRA: Let me also answer that.

I think the president has very much been focused on forward looking. I mean, the threats are out there and we want this Iraqi government to be successful. And we want to secure the country. You know, this is not a proverbial silver bullet, smoking gun. This indicates one more time that there is a lot of things in Iraq that we don't fully comprehend and understand.

But what it does dispel is the very simple notion that there was not a single weapon of mass destruction in Iraq, but that actually hundreds of these existed and continue to exist in Iraq from various time frames.

It appears that most of this was pre-'91 production, but they're still there.

SANTORUM: And the other thing that I think is important to understand, that one of the reasons that at least I supported the intervention into Iraq was the fear of Saddam transferring these weapons to terrorist organizations for use. And so I think it's pretty clear that, from the standpoint of what a terrorist might need, there were plenty of munitions around for Saddam to do nefarious things with.

QUESTION: But is that news, the fact that there were pre-1991 munitions in his stockpiles that still existed on the day we invaded in March 2003? Is that news or is that old?

SANTORUM: To my understanding -- you can talk about the Duelfer report. They said they found no weapons of mass destruction.

HOEKSTRA: Or that what they found was in contained dumps and these types of things.

I think what the news here is is a couple of things. Number one, the quantity that actually is publicly being reported -- hundreds of warheads filled with -- perhaps in some cases degraded -- but still very, very lethal material.

And you know, when you say 500, you know, big deal -- 500. I think in some of the attacks that have been identified with Saddam, 15 or 20 of these shells strategically placed in a city can have a very, very deadly impact, impacting, you know, killing hundreds, if not thousands of people.

This is not, you know, 500 artillery shells of the standard type that are going off on a regular basis. This is chemical weapons. And if they're in the stockpile -- you're not talking about transferring hundreds to make an impact in New York, in a subway or anything like that. One or two of these shells, the materials inside of these, transferred outside of the country can be very, very deadly.

SANTORUM: Just recall -- the Duelfer report said there were no stockpiles. And I remember when the report came out. The whole mood was: There was no WMD at the time we went into Iraq.

And you hear three United States senators today saying there was no WMD. So I don't know -- maybe it's not news to you, but I think it's news to at least those three senators and a lot more and I think to most of the American public who believed that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq at the time we went into Iraq.

QUESTION: Then why isn't it a smoking gun...

HOEKSTRA: Because I don't think that -- I think the overall picture on Saddam's intent and capabilities on WMD and how those of us in the House and the Senate reached a conclusion was, number one, this guy had them and he used them. All right? That's a piece of the puzzle.

The second piece of the puzzle was the Duelfer report saying there was ongoing research in the ability to turn some of the manufacturing capabilities from conventional sources to WMD, and also the statement saying that he would be willing or had the capability to start producing anthrax within four weeks of lifting of sanctions.

And now, actually finding some stockpiles of WMD, when you put all of that together, you get an overwhelming case -- any one of those pieces in and of themselves is not the silver bullet. They all help put a complete.

SANTORUM: This is a missing piece -- a very important missing piece of the puzzle.

HOEKSTRA: And there are still other additional pieces that from my perspective need to be filled in and other questions.

So that's why I'm up here, saying there's not a single stockpile in Iraq that says: Whew, now we've answered that objection. You put the whole thing in context and the overwhelming weight of the evidence says that the conclusions that many of these senators reached three years ago, where they said he is a threat, was the right one. And now, all of a sudden, when they said he wasn't a threat, that's the wrong one.

They were right before they were wrong.

QUESTION: If you have pre-'91 weapons, and you have research going on in the '90s, do you think there was a program in the '90s?

SANTORUM: The Duelfer report says very clearly there was a program.

HOEKSTRA: There was a program of research -- maybe not production. Production was very, very difficult to do.

Remember, if he had the weapons, why produce more under the eyes of the United Nations?

And the focus was on developing the research and the capabilities, recognizing that, as soon as sanctions were left and the U.N. was gone, he could start production relatively quickly.

SANTORUM: Within weeks.

QUESTION: Has the attitude of the Bush administration on the release of this document been not encouraging, not cooperative?

Have they been, essentially, saying: Please go away and stop bothering us?

(LAUGHTER)

And if so, why?

SANTORUM: I can only answer it the way that Peter has answered, is that the administration has been very clear that they want to look forward.

They, talking to several members of the administration who have reviewed the report, they were comfortable with its release but felt that their focus is going to be the current state in Iraq and what we're going to do to be successful.

And they felt it was not their role to go back and fight previous discussions.

QUESTION: And why are they releasing this one little...

SANTORUM: Because we asked them to and...

HOEKSTRA: Not like this.

SANTORUM: We asked them to release a lot more than this. And there's a lot more to release. And the chairman and I are both, as he said it, I will agree with him.

I am completely dissatisfied with the extent of this release. And we hope to get more information out.

QUESTION: Is there any chance, or do you believe there could be other, similar reports that have findings like these, that are...

HOEKSTRA: We're going to do the survey. OK, we have asked for a couple of things. We have asked for all of the documentation that backs up the report so that we can actually get into the tactical reports, as to where and when and how they found them, what they did with the materials, so that we can verify the accuracy of the report that was put in front of us.

And the very nature that this report has existed for upward of two months.

SANTORUM: Over two months.

HOEKSTRA: Over two months. And, you know, neither one of the intelligence committees, as far as I can tell, were notified of the existence of the report. It just says, you ought to ask the question.

We always ask the question of the intelligence community: What is it that we don't know?

And sometimes we go through a process which we call 20 questions. You don't get the information that you want or you believe that the intelligence committees are entitled to until you've asked 20 questions and you finally get to asking the right question in exactly the right way.

QUESTION: Did the administration folks that you talked to agree with you that this was a very significant finding?

SANTORUM: I think the administration is prepared to make a statement on this release that Peter and I are doing today. And so you'd have to ask them.

QUESTION: But with all the debate over weapons of mass destruction, do you find it -- just from a political standpoint, have you tried to make your argument about Iraq?

Do you find it frustrating that the administration hasn't been more forthcoming?

SANTORUM: You know, from my perspective, the story is this: The story is not how the administration is going to interpret this to the American public. The story is what it is.

QUESTION: And, Chairman Hoekstra, you said one or two of these shells could do a lot of damage. Could you try to quantify how dangerous this stuff is and how you know that one or two could do so much damage? And how much damage are you talking about?

HOEKSTRA: Well, it depends on exactly the purity of it. I think we know that when the sarin shells were used in some of the attacks -- I think, either against the Kurds -- I think, in the Kurdish region, they were very, very deadly.

There is information, again, in the report that would help you better understand that.

But again, the lethality of the material will depend on the purity of the material, when it is released and then, obviously, the number of people within the dispersed area.

And the purity will determine the deadliness over the area.

SANTORUM: Also, the size of the munition, obviously.

HOEKSTRA: Yes.

I didn't answer your question.

QUESTION: I'm just trying to get a scope of the find here.

SANTORUM: Yes, we just can't discuss the details.

HOEKSTRA: Yes, but I mean, I think there are videotapes showing -- where was the attack?

QUESTION: We have video, a DVD of a nerve gas attack, March 16, 1988, in Halibayah (ph), Iraq. And 5,000 people were killed. Fifteen shells were reportedly used in this attack. HOEKSTRA: So 5,000 people killed, 15 shells?

I don't know exactly what size artillery shells or whatever, but it may be very similar to the type of stuff that we are finding today.

QUESTION: And can you talk at all about where these munitions were found, where in the country?

SANTORUM: I can't.

HOEKSTRA: I can tell you, but then we couldn't leave the room.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: But you said they were found by troops who stumbled across them. Can you talk at all about, you know, were they in warehouses, were they...

HOEKSTRA: I cannot discuss that. That information has not been released.

Good, thank you.

END

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