US Is to Release Spy Data on Iraq


By David E. Sanger with Julia Preston

New York Times
December 21, 2002

Administration officials said today that they would give United Nations inspectors new intelligence, gathered chiefly by spy satellites, in the hope that it would lead them to Iraqi chemical and biological stockpiles. The new information may be delivered to the United Nations as early as this weekend, they said.

The announcement that the data would be shared, in response to a demand made repeatedly by United Nations weapons inspectors, came as the White House said President Bush was postponing his weeklong trip to Africa in mid-January, in part to be close to home in case decisions on Iraq had to be made.

The revelation that Washington is prepared to release new intelligence is an indication that Mr. Bush is working to keep up the pressure on Iraq even as he heads off to Camp David, where he will stay from Saturday until the day after Christmas, before going to his Texas ranch for 10 days.

Over the last week, Hans Blix, a chief weapons inspector, has diplomatically but forcefully said that he cannot make his inspections more precise without specific intelligence information from Washington.

While pressing Mr. Blix to "pick up the pace" of inspections, the White House has been reluctant to provide the data. Officials said they feared that the information could leak to the Iraqis, especially if it was provided before all the inspectors were in place, with secure communications lines that would enable them to handle highly classified data.

Now, they are ready to begin that experiment. One senior administration official said that as early as this weekend, the inspectors would be given higher quality intelligence that would be delivered to the United Nations inspection team's headquarters in New York and to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. But several officials suggested that the first data sent to the United Nations would not be the best, or most specific, currently available to American agencies.

"Based on our historical experience with Unscom," said one senior official, referring to the United Nations inspection group that operated in Iraq until late in 1998, "they had a very difficult time keeping information from falling into Iraqi hands."

Ultimately, officials said, they hoped to provide Mr. Blix's chemical and biological weapons teams, and the atomic energy agency, with what one official called "just in time" information. The strategy appears to be to feed the inspectors information while they are on the ground, to be acted on before Iraqi intelligence officials can learn of their intentions.

"We are going to give them one piece of information at a time," another official said, "given strategically at the right moment."

Mr. Bush made no mention of the intelligence sharing when he spoke about Iraq today, albeit briefly, for the first time in many days. But his comments were so understated - there were no warnings to Saddam Hussein, no talk of his government as "evil" - that he almost appeared to be orchestrating a role reversal with his usually more-cautious secretary of state, Colin L. Powell.

While Mr. Powell spoke on Thursday of "material breach" of United Nations resolutions, "material omissions" and the possibility of war, Mr. Bush simply said the Iraqi declaration of its weapons and programs "was not encouraging."

In a reference to Mr. Hussein, he added, "We expected him to show that he would disarm."

Mr. Bush's aides say privately that neither they nor the president expected any evidence that Mr. Hussein was moving toward disarmament. The national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, often said she was "skeptical" that Iraq would comply, and Mr. Bush himself frequently used the phrase "cheat and retreat" to characterize the Iraqi leader's strategy.

Mr. Bush's effort to persuade the United Nations to extract scientists from Iraq for interviews - with American help if necessary - also appeared to be gaining steam.

American officials met quietly at the United Nations on Thursday with Demetrius Perricos, the head of operations for the chemical and biological weapons team, to give him specific proposals on how to organize interviews with Iraqi arms experts outside their country, United States and United Nations officials said today. It was unclear how, if at all, the Central Intelligence Agency or the American military might take part in that process.

The postponement today of the Africa trip means Mr. Bush has decided to put off, at least for a number of months, an opportunity to showcase what administration officials call the softer side of his foreign policy. He was planning to use the visit to an African summit meeting in Mauritius, and stops in Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa, to describe his hopes for improving both the quality and usefulness of foreign aid, and for bolstering AIDS research.

But the announcement also suggested that the president is preparing to enter the new year fully prepared for a military conflict with Iraq, should he decide that is the only way to disarm the country. Earlier in the day, he told reporters that Iraq's omissions of critical information from the declaration it turned over to the United Nations two weeks ago constituted "a disappointing day for those who long for peace."

But other officials said that even with Mr. Bush's desire to stay close to the situation room, the underground facility where he meets with his National Security Council and receives other briefings, they did not envision a conflict beginning until late in January at the earliest. "We have a good four weeks left before the Pentagon is ready," one official said.

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