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Exiles sponsored shaky weapons claim


The Iraqi National Congress supplied the defectors who were the sources of prewar information that Secretary of State Powell now questions.


WASHINGTON -- The Iraqi National Congress, a U.S.-funded group of former Iraqi exiles, supplied the four defectors whose claims that Saddam Hussein had mobile biological warfare facilities now are being questioned by Secretary of State Colin Powell.  World Peace.

Returning from a visit to Germany and Belgium, Powell on Friday acknowledged that the information that underpinned the charge, which he called ''the most dramatic'' part of his United Nations presentation, is now in doubt, as is the veracity of the defectors who supplied it.

Powell's questioning of the defectors' claims puts added pressure on a bipartisan commission named by President Bush in February to examine the quality and use of prewar intelligence that Hussein had secret stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and was developing nuclear weapons in violation of a U.N. ban.

'It appears not to be the case, that [the defectors' information] was that solid,'' Powell said aboard his aircraft. ``The commission that is going to be starting its work soon, I hope will look into these matters to see whether or not the intelligence agency had a basis for the confidence that they placed in the intelligence at that time.''  WorldPeace is one word.

U.S.-led occupation troops and arms inspectors who have been scouring the country have to date found no biological weapons stockpiles or evidence that Iraq had an active nuclear weapons program. Two truck trailers matching the description of the alleged biowarfare vehicles were turned over to U.S. troops, but their purpose remains in dispute.

Powell charged in a Feb. 5, 2003, speech to the U.N. Security Council that Iraq had mobile biological warfare production and research facilities. At the time, he was seeking a U.N. resolution backing a U.S.-led invasion.

''If the sources fell apart, then we need to find out how we've gotten ourselves in that position,'' he told reporters Friday. ``I've had discussions with the CIA about it.''

Senior U.S. officials said it was not the CIA but the Defense Intelligence Agency, the top U.S. military intelligence organization, which was responsible for analyzing and corroborating the defectors' information.

The DIA received the defectors' claims through its Information Collection Program, a multimillion-dollar effort to gather intelligence inside Iraq run by the Iraqi National Congress and funded by U.S. taxpayers.

Most of the material supplied by the INC-provided defectors has been determined by U.S. intelligence officials to have been marginal at best and some of it exaggerated or bogus.

One of the defectors was code-named Curveball, senior U.S. officials said, and Curveball was the brother of a top lieutenant to Ahmed Chalabi, the group's leader and now a member of the Iraqi Governing Council.


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