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Labs Are Best U.S. WMD Evidence

Members of a mobile exploitation team examine a suspected mobile biological weapons facility that was recovered by U.S. Forces in northern Iraq in late April, 2003.
AP
Where are Saddam's weapons of mass destruction? A new government report offers only circumstantial evidence.

The report from the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency calls it the "strongest evidence to date that Iraq was hiding a biological warfare program." It says three specially designed trucks found in Iraq match the descriptions supplied by an Iraqi chemical engineer who managed one of the mobile plants, reports CBS News Correspondent Howard Arenstein, although they seem to incorporate some design improvements. Iraqi officials have claimed the vehicles were used to produce hydrogen for weather balloons, but U.S. experts have concluded "biological weapons production is the only consistent, logical purpose for these vehicles..."

No actual prohibited weapons were found in the trucks.

The report comes as U.S. military forces in Iraq search for proof of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs that the Bush administration said was justification for the war that overthrew Saddam's regime last month.

Earlier this month, Pentagon officials said the discovery of the first trailer - seized at a checkpoint near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul on April 19 - could prove Iraq had active programs to produce weapons of mass destruction.

It and a second lab found in May have already been inspected by U.S. and British technical experts and a group of scientists from coalition countries. Another team of international experts arrived in Iraq Saturday to inspect the evidence and will likely need a few more days, U.S. officials in Iraq said Monday.

The report says the first truck was captured by Kurdish allies in late April and turned over to U.S. forces. The second, though already looted, was found by U.S. forces in early May at the al-Kindi Research, Testing, Development and Engineering facility in Mosul.

Both contained equipment, such as fermenters, that could be used to make biological weapons, the report says.

"Examination of the trailers reveals that all of the equipment is permanently installed and interconnected, creating an ingeniously simple, self-contained bio-processing system," the report says. "The trailers probably are part of a two- or possibly three-trailer unit. Both trailers we have found probably are designed to produce BW agent in unconcentrated liquid slurry."

A third trailer, found in Baghdad, is a mobile toxicology laboratory from the 1980s, the report says. It could have legitimate uses or be part of a weapons program.

The report dismisses alternate explanations for the trailers.

Captured Iraqi scientists have claimed the vehicles were for producing hydrogen for weather balloons that would support conventional artillery. The report acknowledges the trailers could be used to make hydrogen but says it would be inefficient compared to widely available commercial hydrogen generation systems.

"BW (Biological weapon) agent production is the only consistent, logical purpose for these vehicles," the report says.

The reports about the trailers, based largely on the Iraqi engineer's description, were a key component of Secretary of State Colin Powell's February 2003 presentation to the United Nations regarding Iraq's alleged weapons programs.