U.S. intelligence officials said two tractor-trailers found in northern Iraq are laboratories for making biological weapons. But after combing through the mobile trailers for more than a month, U.S. officials still could not say they had found a trace of biological agent on the trailers.
Former inspectors said this is no smoking gun. "I don't think that even evidence that these were biological labs would be sufficient until there is clear proof that weapons were produced in these facilities," said Jonathan Tucker, a former U.N. biological
Scientists and politicians said the failure to find real proof raises serious questions, with Sen. Robert Byrd today accusing the Bush administration of duping the American people.
"They have so far turned up only fertilizer, vacuum cleaners, conventional weapons, and the occasional buried swimming pool," said Byrd, a West Virginia Democrat.
Powell: We Got it Right
A U.S. intelligence report on the trailers, portions of which were read to ABCNEWS, said: "Biological weapons agent production is the only consistent, logical purpose for these vehicles."
The report also said the trailers were "strikingly similar" to mobile labs described by Secretary of State Colin Powell in his U.N. speech in February. In that speech, Powell said such labs were capable of producing anthrax.
Powell met with reporters today, refusing to describe the analysis as a vindication, but nevertheless expressing pride.
"We have taken our time on this one, because we wanted to make sure we got it right, and the intelligence community, I think, is convinced now that that's the purpose they served," he said.
"I think we knew what we were saying when we went to the United Nations on the 5th of February, and I was pleased to be the one to present the case."
However, Powell acknowledged there was still some concern about how much the trailers proved.
"Although you can't find actual germs on them, they have been clean and we don't know whether they have been used for that purpose or not, they were certainly designed and constructed for that purpose," he said.
Frustrated and Frantic
The first trailer was seized at a checkpoint near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul on April 19, and troops from the Army's 101st Airborne Division found the second trailer on May 9 at al-Kindi, a former missile research facility in Iraq.
The second trailer had been looted, and there were signs such as unfinished welding that the apparatus was incomplete, The Associated Press reported.
A chemical weapons specialist for the U.S. Army also told the news agency that soldiers needed to scrounge for tires to put on the trailer to drag it back for analysis.
The trailers provide the strongest suggestions yet that Iraq had chemical or biological weapons, but U.S. officials have no conclusive that such programs existed in recent years despite visits to more than 100 suspected sites since the war began March 20.
After Powell had made his presentation on such trailers in February, the Iraqis said they had mobile labs, but they were not used for weapons.
Such mobile labs were used for food analysis for disease outbreaks, mobile field hospitals, a military field bakery, food and medicine refrigeration trucks, a mobile military morgue and mobile ice making trucks, Iraqi officials said.
Ewen Buchanan, spokesman for the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, said inspectors visited a number of the labs at several sites but found no evidence of chemical or biological weapons activity.
"The outline and characteristics of these trucks that we inspected were all consistent with the declared purposes," Buchanan told The AP, adding extensive forensic sampling had been performed.
Despite Powell's words of confidence, U.S. forces are increasingly frustrated and frantic over their inability to find a smoking gun.
Al Jazeera television reported today that U.S. officials will start offering rewards to Iraqis who can lead them to weapons of mass destruction.
ABCNEWS' Martha Raddatz in Washington contributed to this report.