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White House's Ari Fleischer On The Search For WMDs

Extracts from the daily press briefing of May 29th.

Q Is the President satisfied with the intelligence he got before the war? Because now one Cabinet officer is saying that they buried the weapons; another said they destroyed them; and another official said they -- what is the President's view on all this?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President is indeed satisfied with the intelligence that he received. And I think that's borne out by the fact that, just as Secretary Powell described at the United Nations, we have found the bio trucks that can be used only for the purpose of producing biological weapons. That's proof-perfect that the intelligence in that regard was right on target.

Q We go to war for two trucks?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry?

Q You would go to war from the finding of two trucks?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I don't think it's anything to dismiss. Iraq had, contrary to their protestations to the United Nations, trucks for the purpose of producing biological weapons. They said they didn't have them; they got caught -- proof-perfect that they had them. The only use for those trucks is to produce biological weapons. And so that's one item of it. And on the rest of all the intelligence, of course, the President continues to be satisfied with it. He thinks it's borne out.

Q But doesn't he have sort of a mix -- he gets the CIA, then he gets the Pentagon special briefing -- special intelligence group, and so forth. Do they all gibe?

MR. FLEISCHER: Let me try to -- keep in mind, of course, that under the statute you have a Central Intelligence Director. His responsibility is to oversee all the various intelligence agencies. You have the Defense Intelligence Agency; you have the National Security Agency. There are a variety of agencies who, all under the statute; there's a central intelligence source.

The President, per the way Congress created this, benefits from the fact that you have different agencies which have different slices of intelligence, who look at it, which provides for a varied point of view, as they look at the areas of their expertise at intelligence, and all adds up -- this is often referred to as a mosaic, where they assemble the various pieces of intelligence they get, to paint as full and complete a picture as intelligence can do.


Q Can I go -- just a quick follow-up on Helen's question here -- that the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq goes on, the President's expressed confidence that they will find them. But it seems that whatever is found, is discovered in Iraq will differ to some degree or more from the description that the administration gave of a locked and loaded stockpile, munitions ready to go on the ground, on the battlefield. That was essentially the description that the administration gave before the war. Does the President, as chief executive, not have any concern about the quality of the intelligence he's getting?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think rewind the tapes, and you'll see what the administration said before the war and you'll find a series of statements, all of which are valid.

The concern as it was expressed repeatedly at the United Nations is that when the United Nations was thrown out of Iraq in the late 1990s, the United Nations reported that Iraq had not accounted for the botchulin, the toxin, the VX, the sarin gas. They said, not accounted for. They didn't say, locked and loaded. And we repeatedly cited the U.N.'s words and said, not accounted for.

Q The President said Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.

MR. FLEISCHER: As the war was pursued, we, of course, had concerns about whether or not it would be locked and loaded, and that's why we had our forces in the defensive postures they were and with the uniforms and the equipment that they carried with them. So it was a result of their possession of it in a variety of forms, a variety of facts that led the United Nations to conclude, and to vote 15-nothing, that they had not provided adequate explanation of what was unaccounted for that the U.N. knew they had.

Q But let me just -- once again, as chief executive, does he not have any concern about the quality of intelligence on this, as he described it, one of the most critical security matters before the country, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction?

MR. FLEISCHER: No. As I described to you, when the proof came in about what was known so far -- and I think there's going to be more to learn as different people are talked to, as different documents are looked at, as additional forces arrive for the sole purpose of looking for the weapons of mass destruction and obtaining information from Iraqi scientists, particularly mid-level officials -- what else would those biological trucks have been for? Those biological trucks themselves -- and as Secretary Powell pointed out at the United Nations, it doesn't take a lot to produce a lot of deaths, that biological weapons can be small in quantity and large in death. And that's why the American people had a lot to fear about Saddam Hussein developing these weapons, including biological weapons, which there's now proof-positive that he had these biological mobile trucks for the purpose of producing biological weapons.


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