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David Ensor: Official says U.S. might 'show more leg'

CNN's David Ensor
CNN's David Ensor

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CNN's David Ensor explains how the Bush administration will try and make its case against Iraq's Saddam Hussein using intelligence (January 29)
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is expected next week to show the United Nations what the Bush administration calls evidence that Iraq is deceiving inspectors searching for weapons of mass destruction.

Iraq has repeatedly denied White House allegations that it possesses such weapons -- chemical, biological or nuclear.

CNN National Security Correspondent David Ensor has been following the story and filed this report:

ENSOR: I understand the evidence is likely to include photography -- imagery. There may be some imagery showing Iraqis clearing out sites just before inspectors come to them. There also is the possibility of imagery showing mobile biological weapons laboratories that the Iraqis are using, according to U.S. intelligence.

Also included in the package that Colin Powell will have with him, will be prisoner interrogation results and information from Iraqi defectors. The big debate, though, is how specific should they be in terms of releasing classified information on voice intercepts and on human intelligence from agents.

For example, if you give information about a specific facility in Iraq that came from an agent at that facility, that agent could be caught -- could be killed.

Another example: If you give the specific language of an intercepted communication then that communication could be lost. We all remember when Osama bin Laden's satellite phone was being monitored, and when that news came out he stopped using it. It's a delicate balance between the political credibility that the president seeks and protecting sources and methods.

There is one other problem: There's no stark smoking gun. There are no photos that you can put up and definitely say, "This is the smoking gun."

start quoteThere's sharp debate within U.S. intelligence about how good the evidence is of a connection between Iraq and al Qaeda.end quote
-- CNN's David Ensor

So putting out the evidence requires weaving the intelligence together and a lot of explaining. It's going to be difficult but U.S. intelligence officials say they know that -- as one put it -- they may have to "show some more leg" next week.

There's sharp debate within U.S. intelligence about how good the evidence is of a connection between Iraq and al Qaeda. On the one hand -- and we've reported -- you have the visit of Ayman al-Zawahiri, a senior al Qaeda figure who reportedly went to Baghdad to seek medical care. Officials say that's definite -- he did go.

And you also have the evidence about Ansaw al-Islam, the group that holds a tiny piece of northern Iraq -- is pro-al Qaeda and is thought to have been at least tolerated by the Iraqi regime and perhaps even helped by it.

But these officials say the evidence that Iraq is in cahoots with al Qaeda -- most of them just don't think it's there.

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