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Pentagon Briefing

Aired May 7, 2003 - 14:03   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: But first that briefing at the Pentagon, the subject: weapons of mass destruction.
STEPHEN CAMBONE, UNDERSECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR INTELLIGENCE: One is to talk a bit more broadly at the start about what we're trying to do over in Iraq in theater to look after weapons of mass destruction and other things, and then to get to the subject of interest, I suspect, for the day toward the end.

So let me start broadly with what we're trying to do in the theater in terms of the weapons of mass destruction program in particular.

We do have a -- the coalition -- a comprehensive approach to identifying, assessing and eliminating Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs and delivery systems, and that effort is focused on three things.

We're looking to interview and obtain cooperation from key Iraqi personnel, some of whom are doing so as walk-ins and voluntarily, others are those who have been members of the former regime.

We're looking to access and to assess and exploit a number of sensitive sites throughout the country.

And we're working very hard to obtain and exploit documents, computers, hard drives, things like that, which can give us some indication of how that WMD system operated and to glean from that additional information that we can use for another round then of interviewing people and going after sites and looking for documents.

So what we have ongoing here is a highly iterative process in the theater where we try to take advantage of each bit of information to get to the next step in unraveling the puzzle that is the weapons of mass destruction program.

We have been, as you know, interrogating captured members of the regime and obtaining the cooperation of key Iraqi personnel. In some cases, most recently, for example, we have had a mid-level scientist come in and help us to a number of sites, three, four, five sites, from which we have gleaned more information that has been useful for continuing that process.

With respect to the exploitation of documents and such, you have undoubtedly heard that there are large groups, troves of documents that are at various places throughout Baghdad, for example, and we have taken people up to those sites. They have begun the process of surveying them, triaging them, trying to find some way to in the end use modern electronic means of scanning those documents in, sending them back here for further work by experts, who in turn then return that information back to theater for further information and exploitation.

And out of those documents, which are terribly important, we think we will be able to gather the evidence and the details on the scope and the content of WMD programs there, to look after the organization of that WMD operation, as well as the command and control procedures both for the development side of the house, as well as for plans to make use of those weapons of mass destruction.

And finally, and terribly important as well, is to learn more about the proliferation network itself, both inside of Iraq and abroad, related to things like front companies and people who may be involved in the technologies that, for instance, may still be in pipelines and might be diverted to other places.

So let me tell you a little bit about how we do this every day and give you a little bit of feel for what happens.

The command, CENTCOM, has a command inside of Iraq known as the Coalition Land Component Commander, Coalition Forces Land Component Commander or CFLCC, as you know. Each day within that organization in what they have as their operations center, which is known as the C3, they sit down and work through their priorities. That priority list itself has been pulled together as a consequence of information that we had going into the conflict of sites that we thought important. As you know, there are some 1,000 that we identified.

Those sites included not just weapons of mass destruction sites, but also prisoner of war -- prisoner camps -- prisons, rather, prisoner of war locations, terrorist camps and facilities, as well as regime and leadership targets.

So there's some thousand of them, roughly, of which about half are related to weapons of mass destruction. And each day they sit down, and based on what they have learned they try to set down their work for the day and then they send a group -- and I'll get to that in a minute -- out to do the kinds of exploitation or the interrogations and so forth that are necessary in order for them to go through the process each day.

As it stands now, we have been to about 70 of the sites that we were looking to cover. Now, what's interesting about that is that those are the 70 sites that were on the list when we started. Since then we have been to about another 40, which have come to light as a consequence of this process that I have been describing to you.

And the way this works is with respect to a WMD site in particular, once it's been identified, there is a survey team which may have been there already, having come up with the troops as they came through the countryside or sent out in advance. And they will go to the site. They will do a survey and determine whether or not it's important for more advanced units to come in and take a look at what's there. So it's a site survey team. And so, their job is done. Next would come in a mobile exploitation team, an MET, as they're being called, which would do a much more thorough assessment of the site and also inspect any additional sites that CENTCOM might have recommended.

And then, to the extent you need disablement of a facility or a capability in the site, there are disablement teams that are sent out to disarm or render safe or destroy those -- any delivery systems, weapons, agents or facilities that might be found.

Now, the organization that currently is assigned this mission is, as I said, working for the Coalition Forces Land Component Commander, or CFLCC. It is known as the 75th Group. It is assigned this discovery and exploitation mission. It, in turn, is supported by a military intelligence brigade, the 513th. These units have been by the by in theater for a very long period of time.

The expertise within the 75th Group extends across some 600 people, and they are distributed across interrogators, interviewers, people who do the document exploitations, the material exploitations and the analysts. That is the people who each day sort of come together, take the information that's come on board and try then to make recommendations about what might be done next.

The expertise within the group is made up of people from the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, from the individual services, from DTRA -- the Defense Threat Reduction Agency -- the FBI, and then there are coalition partners who themselves are part of this ongoing effort.

That group, the 75th, will soon, toward the end of this month, begin to have an augmentation take place, and that will be done under the auspices of what we're calling the Iraq Survey Group. That group will be headed by a two-star general, a major general, Keith Dayton, who, as it turns out, is a member of Admiral Jacoby's staff.

It will take the lead for the discovery and the exploitation that we have been talking about, and in particular its mission is to discover, take custody of, exploit and disseminate information on individuals, records, materials, facilities, networks and operations as appropriate, relative to individuals associated with the regime, weapons of mass destruction, terrorists and terrorist ties and their organizations, information having to do with the Iraqi intelligence security and overseas services and those accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity and POWs.

So it's a very large undertaking of which the weapons of mass destruction effort is a part and an important part of that effort, but only a part.

The organization will pretty much double or triple in size. There will be some 1,300 experts who will be associated with this organization, plus another support element of maybe another 800. So you're talking about 2,000 people more or less who will begin arriving with the lead elements of the command starting toward the end of this month. And the expertise, again, from the organizations I described a moment ago, and will include, as well people from Treasury, some of whom are already in theater, by the way, as well as U.S. citizens who had been in the past UNSCOM inspectors, some other contractors and, again, our coalition partners.

Now, that effort is going to be supported by a fusion cell that is being constructed here in Washington, again under the executive agency of the Defense Intelligence Agency. It is made up of experts from around the United States government, and they receive information from the 75th Group now and they will receive it from the ISG as it stands up. And their job is going to be to do that kind of in-depth analysis that's necessary in order to make this a successful effort over time.

So let me say then a word particularly about weapons of mass destruction and how that process unfolds.

When one comes across a site where we think that we need to be taking samples, for example, there are roughly four sets of samples taken. One for processing in theater, two are sent here to the United States, and another one is sent to a non-U.S. laboratory for independent analysis and the verification of the results of those tests.

And there is a very strict chain of custody process that is put in place to assure that those samples are not tampered with, either in the theater, in transit, when they're in the laboratories or when the results come back to us here.

That's all supplemented, then, as I said a moment ago, by interviewing the personnel who we think are involved. I made mention to you of the subordinate scientists, as well as the lead scientists who are being interviewed. The regime figures are interviewed. We go through the documents and so forth.

And then, if we find we've got to dispose of the materials, we do so in a way that is safe for all concerned.

So that takes me then to the issue of this morning's news and probably of your interest.

Isn't that right, Charlie (ph)? I thought so.

Coalition forces have come into possession of an Iraqi trailer which is very similar to that which was described by the secretary of state in his presentation before the United Nations back in February. The interior layout of that trailer matches closely what was described by the secretary of state on the basis of information provided to us by a source.

That source, as you may recall, had a hand in the design and the operation of this type of facility. He was even knowledgeable of the death of a number of people who had been working on such a facility.

The facility, this mobile production facility came into our hands on the 19th of April at a Kurdish check point, near a place called Tall Kayf, T-A-L-L K-A-Y-F, in northern Iraq. The Kurds reported to us that the trailer may have been in the company of military vehicles prior to that, along with the decontamination truck, they said. The trailer, as it turns out is painted a military color scheme and was found on a heavy equipment transporter that is typically used for carrying tanks.

There are common elements between what we had in the statement from the defector that was used in the secretary of state's presentation. For example, the external superstructure and its dimensions, the equipment, such as the fermenter on board, the gas cylinders to supply clean air for production, and significantly a system to capture and compress exhaust gases to eliminate any signature of the production. The fermenters are used for growing cultures and the recovery systems make air filtration unnecessary and prevent the release of signs indicating the fermentation process.

Interestingly enough, the gas recovery systems really are not necessary for and not normally used for legitimate biological processes.

So while some of the equipment on the trailer could have been used for purposes other than biological weapons agent production, U.S. and U.K. technical experts have concluded that the unit does not appear to perform any function beyond what the defector said it was for, which was the production of biological agents.

At the moment -- it had been up around the Mosul area, as I said -- it is either on the way to or has arrived in Baghdad. We will go about the process of going through further sampling of the system. Thus far, we have only been able to sample it on the surface, those things that we can reach.

And what we'll do now is a much more thorough and complete and more intrusive examination of the system, undoubtedly to include its dismantlement in order to be able to reach into those places where we would want to get to in order to take additional samples. And that means that there will be many more tests that'll be taken, and so it will be another considerable period of time before the next round of testing comes back and we get some results.

I should tell you that this testing is taking place in an environment in which this vehicle has had a very caustic substance washed through it. Some call it ammonia. I do not know what the compound is. It's also been painted, nice green military colors, apparently. And so the testing is sort of taking place in that kind of an environment.

And so in part that is the reason for wanting to get much more intrusive and get inside of these systems rather than only being able to touch them on the surface.

So that is about where we are on this at the moment. And I guess if, Admiral, you don't have anything else you need to add, or there's anything you all think I should include, I'd be happy to take a few questions. QUESTION: Are you leaving open the possibility or not that biological agents or traces of biological agents might still be in the van? And if not, is this the smoking gun that you've been looking for to prove that Saddam indeed had active chem-bio research, whatever, going on at the time the war started?

CAMBONE: Part of the reason for wanting to continue with the testing is to be able to reach into those parts of the equipment that can't be reached by the superficial testing that we've been able to do. So that process has to go forward, and we'll see what that yields.

On the smoking gun, I mean, the -- I don't know. I mean, what we have here is what we were -- the secretary of state talked about along with other things in his presentation to the United Nations. That was based on information that was provided by a number of sources and it confirms that what the source said existed and the secretary of state reported is there in the possession of the coalition forces.

As time goes by and the more we learn, I'm sure we're going to discover that the WMD programs are as extensive and as varied as the secretary of state reported in his February address.

QUESTION: Have four sets of samples been taken of this trunk and sent places? And doing the math here, 110 sites have been exploited so far out of roughly 500 on your list, 70 and 40?

CAMBONE: Yes, about that.

QUESTION: Is it...

CAMBONE: No, 70 of the ones we went in with. We went in with about 580, 600 sites that starting the -- that we over time had developed and prior to the conflict thought would be related to weapons of mass destruction. In addition to those 580 there have now been 40 sites, which as a result of activity in the country since the war started, have been identified and visited.

O'BRIEN: We have been listening to the undersecretary of defense for intelligence, Stephen Cambone, talking to us about the apparent discovery of a mobile chemical weapons van in Iraq and up in the northern part in a place called Talcave, not far from Mosul and Irbil. We will be tracking that story as it develops.


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