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Bush: 'Absolutely convinced' Iraqi WMD will be found

Democratic senator says CIA manipulated intelligence

With Secretary of the Treasury John Snow sitting next to him, President Bush talks about Iraq and the economy during a Monday meeting of his Cabinet at the White House.
With Secretary of the Treasury John Snow sitting next to him, President Bush talks about Iraq and the economy during a Monday meeting of his Cabinet at the White House.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Although U.S. search teams in Iraq have so far produced no proof of weapons of mass destruction, President Bush said Monday he remains "absolutely convinced" the evidence will be found.

The president gave brief comments to reporters at a Cabinet meeting hours after a key Democratic senator told CNN he believes the U.S. intelligence community deliberately manipulated intelligence to win support for the war against Iraq.

"Iraq had a weapons program," Bush said. "Intelligence throughout the decade showed they had a weapons program. I am absolutely convinced with time we'll find they did have a weapons program."

While Iraq was permitted to have conventional weapons under U.N. rules, it was clear Bush was referring to the banned weapons of mass destruction -- specifically chemical and biological agents.

Numerous lawmakers, mostly Democrats, have called for an investigation of pre-war intelligence and publicly questioned the veracity of some claims made by members of Bush administration in the months before the United States went to war against Iraq.

Sen. Carl Levin, ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee and a member of the Intelligence Committee, told CNN Monday, "I do think there's evidence that the CIA did shade and embellish this information in a number of areas. ...

"We're not sure exactly what all of the facts are at this point. All I am confident of is this: There is significant evidence that the intelligence was shaded in order to support a policy, presumably, of the administration."

CIA Director George Tenet has denied that claim.

The alleged existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was the central U.S. argument for war.

When asked whether U.S. credibility is at stake in the search for evidence of illicit weapons, Bush replied, "The credibility of this country is based upon our strong desire to make the world more peaceful, and the world is now more peaceful after our decision" to go to war -- a war, he said, that freed the Iraqi people.

Levin, D-Michigan, said he considers it "very likely" that the United States will prove Saddam Hussein did have weapons of mass destruction. But, he said, that is a separate issue from how the Bush administration handled U.S. intelligence on Iraq.

If it was just "a probability or a possibility," rather than a certainty, that Saddam had such weapons, "that's what we should have been told," said Levin. "It seems to me ... there was not certainty about this issue."

Asked for examples, Levin cited claims by Bush advisers that Iraq had imported aluminum tubes as part of a program aimed at building nuclear weapons. The CIA had evidence, he said, that the tubes were meant to serve other, civilian purposes, and there was some "dispute in the intelligence community" over what the tubes were to be used for.

More recently, he said, U.S. officials reported finding vans in Iraq which they said appeared to be part of a biological weapons program. But a "third independent group used by the Department of Defense" determined the vans may not have been part of such an illicit program, Levin said. He argued that the CIA is trying to bury that information.

"We have to be able to rely on intelligence information from the CIA," he said.

While a summary of a September 2002 report from the Defense Intelligence Agency -- the Pentagon's military intelligence wing -- said it had found "no reliable information on whether Iraq is producing and stockpiling chemical weapons," it also said there was intelligence Saddam was dispersing chemical weapons in advance of a possible war.

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice cautioned against misreading the report or pursuing "revisionist history."

Speaking Sunday to CBS' Face the Nation, she said, "The truth of the matter is that repeated directors of central intelligence, repeated reports by intelligence agencies around the world, repeated reports by U.N. inspectors asking hard questions of Saddam Hussein, and tremendous efforts by this regime to conceal and hide what it was doing clearly give a picture of a regime that had weapons of mass destruction and was determined to conceal them."

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