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WASHINGTON (CNN) --Weapons inspectors in Iraq have found evidence of a biological weapons program and more substantial activity in the production of missiles than Iraq had disclosed to the United Nations, but no weapons of mass destruction yet, former U.N. weapons inspector David Kay said at a news briefing Thursday afternoon after he met with congressional intelligence committees.
Kay said he needed more time before conclusions could be reached. He urged patience.
"Believe me, we're working as hard as we can. I know the importance attached to this work. There's a lot more work to do before we can declare we're at the end of this road rather than at the beginning.
"We have found a great deal, much of which was not declared to the United Nations," Kay said.
Members of House and Senate intelligence committees were expected to ask him some hard questions about the joint CIA-Pentagon Iraq Survey Group during two closed-door hearings.
"My first question is, 'What have you found and if you haven't found very much, what were the problems with our intelligence leading up to the war in Iraq?'" Rep. Jane Harman of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told CNN.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Georgia, said it is "simply going to take a long time" to determine what happened to the weapons programs the Bush administration said required a U.S.-led invasion that deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in April.
"I don't expect any smoking gun today, but this is another interim report in the process," Chambliss said.
In a letter sent to committee leaders Wednesday, CIA Director George Tenet disagreed with congressional complaints that the pre-war intelligence on Iraq was inadequate.
Harman and the House Intelligence Committee's chairman, Florida Republican Porter Goss, had criticized the CIA's pre-war intelligence on Iraq in a letter to agency chief George Tenet last week. Sources said the letter described the information pointing to Iraq's weapons programs as "circumstantial" and "fragmentary." The CIA disputed that judgment, calling it "premature and wrong."
"The suggestion by the committee that we did not challenge long-standing judgments and assessments is simply wrong," Tenet wrote in a letter to Harman and Goss.
"I emphatically disagree with the committee's view that intelligence reports on Iraq's ties to al Qaeda should have been 'screened out by a more rigorous vetting process' because they were provided to analysts," Tenet wrote. "Providing analysts less information on Iraq's connections to terrorists makes no sense to me."
In the letter, Tenet also complains about the timing of the complaints from the Hill, saying it is premature, since Kay, the CIA's man in charge of the weapons search in Iraq, has much more work to do.
Tenet called the intelligence prior to the war in Iraq "honest and professional," and complained that the lawmakers publicized their complaints before giving the intelligence community a chance to respond.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld Thursday also said that it is too early to reach conclusions about whether there were unconventional weapons in Iraq before the U.S. invasion.
"They have a lot of work left to do, they have a lot of people left to interrogate, they had a lot of leads still to worry through, they have a number of suspect sites that they have not yet visited," he said. "It's quite low at this stage, but there are still a few, and I don't think the administration is having trouble coming to conclusions."
Human intelligence lacking Chambliss said Saddam has admitted to having weapons of mass destruction, and used them against the Kurds in 1988, but has had years to hide or destroy them.
"Since 1998, we have had no one inside of Iraq to monitor what's been going on with his weapons of mass destruction program," Chambliss said. "So it's very difficult for us to say, and he may have destroyed them. They may have given them away, buried them, we don't know."
Because of a lack of spies inside the country, "it may turn out, when we roll this back, that a lot of what we thought was true about WMD in Iraq was false," Harman said.
A U.S.-led force invaded Iraq in March and deposed Saddam, with the accusation that Baghdad violated U.N. resolutions by maintaining stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, long-range missiles and supporting efforts to develop a nuclear bomb. None was used against advancing allied troops, and none has turned up since Saddam's government collapsed in April.
In July, Kay told Congress that investigators, including the Iraq Survey Group, were making "solid progress."
Kay told reporters that investigators had uncovered useful documents about Iraq's WMD programs and was getting increased cooperation from Iraqis.
"I think the American people should be prepared for surprises," said Kay. "I think it's very likely that we will discover remarkable surprises in this enterprise."
But he cautioned that Saddam had engaged in an "amazing" active deception program that would be difficult to unravel.
"It's going to take time. The Iraqis had over two decades to develop these weapons, and hiding them was an essential part of their program," Kay said.
Ex-inspector: U.S. may need to review search methods Hans Blix, the chief U.N. weapons inspector before the invasion, said last month that Iraq may have destroyed its banned weapons after the Persian Gulf War, as it claimed.
Former weapons inspector Garth Whitty said Kay's team may need to revisit some sites linked to Iraq's weapons programs and review its search methods.
"There must be a great deal of information," Whitty said. "The most powerful intelligence agencies in the world have been arrayed against Iraq for a long time, and they've got to go back over everything and make sure they're not missing things.
"The other surprise, I think, is that none of the key Iraqis involved in the program have given information that is of value, and I think that has to be revisited as well," he said. (CNN Access: Garth Whitty)
Former weapons inspector Charles Duelfer said the U.S. military's heavy-handed approach to Iraqi scientists like Mahdi Obeidi, who turned over centrifuge parts from Iraq's pre-1991 nuclear weapons programs after Saddam's fall, may have made Kay's work harder. Obeidi was arrested by troops in front of his family even after offering to tell the CIA what he knew.
"Many of the potential people who could cooperate, I think, have probably been scared off," he said.
CNN National Security Correspondent David Ensor contributed to this report.
On biological weapons, a single vial of a strain of botulinum, a poison that can be used as a weapon, located at the home of a known biological weapons scientist
Botulinum fact sheet:
http://www.hopkins-biodefense.org/pages/agents/agentbotox.html Botulinum Toxin Fact Sheet Info Botulinum toxin poses a major bioweapons threat because of its extreme potency and lethality; its ease of production, transport and misuse; and the potential need for prolonged intensive care in affected persons. Botulinum toxin is the single most poisonous substance known.
A number of states named by the U.S. State Department as "state sponsors of terrorism" have developed or are developing botulinum toxin as a biological weapon. Aum Shinrikyo tried but failed to use botulinum toxin as a biological weapon.
Botulinum toxin is derived from the genus of anaerobic bacteria named Clostridia. Seven antigenic types of botulinum toxin exist, designated from A through G. They can be identified based on antibody cross reactivity studies - i.e., anti-A toxin antibodies do not neutralize the B through G toxins.
Naturally occurring botulism is the disease that results from the absorption of botulinum toxin into the circulation from a mucosal surface (gut, lung) or a wound. It does not penetrate intact skin. The toxin irreversibly binds to peripheral cholinergic synapses, preventing the release of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine from the terminal end of motor neurons. This leads to muscle paralysis, and in severe cases, can lead to a need for mechanical respiration.
The incubation period for food-borne botulism can be from 2 hours to 8 days after ingestion, depending on the dose of the bacteria or the toxin. The average incubation period is 12-72 hours after ingestion. Patients with botulism typically present with difficulty speaking, seeing and/or swallowing. Prominent neurologic findings in all forms of botulism include ptsosis, diplopia, blurred vision, dysarthria and dysphagia. Patients typically are afebrile and do not have an altered level of consciousness. Patients may initially present with gastrointestinal distress, nausea, and vomiting preceding neurological symptoms. Symptoms are similar for all toxin types, but the severity of illness can vary widely, in part depending on the amount of toxin absorbed. Recovery from paralysis can take from weeks to months and requires the growth of new motor nerve endings. In the event botulism is suspected, the hospital epidemiologist and local and state health departments should be contacted immediately.
Natural cases of botulism are rare and typically result from food contamination. Many types of food have been associated in outbreaks in the past, with the common factor being that implicated food items were not heated or were incompletely heated. Heat > 85oC inactivates the toxin. The largest botulism outbreak in the U.S. in the past century occurred in 1977, when 59 people became ill from poorly preserved jalape?o peppers.
No cases of waterborne botulism have ever been reported. This is likely due to the large amount of toxin needed, and the fact that the toxin is easily neutralized by common water treatment techniques.
A deliberate aerosol or food-borne release of botulinum toxin could be detected by several features including: a large number of acute cases presenting all at once; cases involving an uncommon toxin type (C, D, F, G, or non-aquatic food associated E); patients with a common geographic factor but without a common dietary exposure; and, multiple simultaneous outbreaks without a common source.
Diagnosis and testing are available at the CDC and some local and state laboratories. The standard test for the toxin is the mouse bioassay. Unfortunately, this assay is time consuming. Future development is focused on rapid diagnosis/detection. Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) assays that can detect the Clostridia spp. bacterial DNA toxin sequences are currently under development. Enzyme Linked ImmunoSorbent Assays (ELISAs) are being developed to detect functionally active toxins.
In the event that there is a clinical suspicion of botulinum toxin, treatment with antitoxin should not be delayed for microbiological testing. In the U.S., licensed botulinum antitoxin is available from the CDC via state and local health departments. An investigational heptavalent antitoxin is held by the U.S. Army. Optimal therapy for botulism requires early suspicion of the disease and prompt administration of antitoxin in conjunction with supportive care. Supportive care for patients with botulism may include mechanical ventilators in the intensive care unit, parenteral nutrition, and treatment of secondary infections.
An investigational botulinum toxoid is used to provide immunity for laboratory workers. It has been used to provide immunity against botulinum toxin over the past 30 years. However, supply of the toxoid is limited, and use of it would eliminate possible beneficial uses of toxoid for medical purposes. The toxoid induces immunity over several months and so would not be effective for rapid, post-exposure prophylaxis.
Existing technologies could produce large reserves of human antibody against the botulinum toxin. Administration of such a therapy could provide immunity of up to a month or greater and obviate the need for rationing the equine antitoxin. The development of such a human antibody reserve would require sufficient resources be dedicated to this problem.
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