[b]Officials Say Bush Seeks $600 Million to Hunt Iraq Arms[/b]
By JAMES RISEN and JUDITH MILLER
Published: October 2, 2003
WASHINGTON, Oct. 1 — The Bush administration is seeking more than $600 million from Congress to continue the hunt for conclusive evidence that Saddam Hussein's government had an illegal weapons program, officials said Wednesday.
The money, part of the White House's request for $87 billion in supplemental spending on Iraq and Afghanistan, comes on top of at least $300 million that has already been spent on the weapons search, the officials said.
The budget figures for the weapons search are included in the classified part of the administration's supplemental appropriations request, and have not been made public. The size of the request suggests the White House is determined to keep searching for unconventional weapons or evidence that they were being developed under Mr. Hussein. The search so far has turned up no solid evidence that Iraq had chemical, biological or nuclear weapons when the American invasion began in March, according to administration officials.
Counting the money already spent, the total price tag for the search will approach $1 billion.
The money is intended specifically to pay for the activities of the Iraq Survey Group, made up of teams of troops and experts who are managed by the Pentagon but whose activities are coordinated by David Kay, a former United Nations weapons inspector who reports to the director of central intelligence, George J. Tenet.
Officials said the money for the Iraq Survey Group comes under the classified intelligence part of the Pentagon's budget request. A Pentagon spokesman declined to comment on the classified category.
The request for increased funding comes just as Mr. Kay is scheduled to brief Congress in closed sessions on Thursday on an interim report of the Iraq Survey Group's findings so far.
He is to testify before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The C.I.A. is expected to publicly release a declassified statement based on Mr. Kay's testimony after the briefings, officials said.
C.I.A. and other officials said last week that Mr. Kay's report would be inconclusive, suggesting that he will not say that he has found strong evidence of the existence of illegal weapons in Iraq.
Since the fall of the Hussein government, the failure to find evidence of illegal weapons has been a major political embarrassment for the Bush administration.
After the initial military-led effort to find such weapons came under fire, President Bush turned to the C.I.A. to oversee an expanded search. In June, Mr. Tenet asked Mr. Kay to act as his personal adviser on the issue and to provide strategic advice to the weapons hunters.
Officials familiar with the request said that if the administration gets all the money it is seeking, it will provide funding for a staff of 1,400 for the Iraq Survey Group. It currently has more than 1,200 members.
The cash infusion is being sought even though the group has gotten off to what experts and military officials said had been a rocky start.
Though a larger group than the 75th Exploitation Task Force, the military weapons hunting group that preceded it, the Iraq Survey group includes many members drawn from reserve units.
Some weapons hunting units have sat in Baghdad for days, sometimes weeks, waiting for missions, officials say.
"Even when hot tips have come in, it often takes days to mobilize a unit to visit a suspect site or talk to a suspect scientist," said a former member of one unit, who spoke on condition that he not be identified.
The Iraq Survey Group has also been slow to mobilize former international arms inspectors who had volunteered to accompany the Exploitation Task Force and the Iraq Survey Group, those inspectors say.
"Most of us have just given up waiting and gone on with our lives," said one former weapons inspector, who was told he would be sent to Baghdad.
The group has also concentrated on installing an unnecessarily elaborate infrastructure to support its operations, said several military officials who complained there was a disparity between the resources allotted to the two programs.
While the Exploitation Task Force worked out of an abandoned palace and the servants' housing quarters near Baghdad airport and remained short of vehicles, air support, computers and even electricity during the initial months of the weapons hunt, the Iraq Survey Group spent its first weeks installing air-conditioned trailers, a new dining facility, state-of-the-art software and even a sprinkler system for a new lawn, according to officials and experts who worked with the group this summer.
"They kept unloading crates and crates of new Dell laptops," said one Pentagon official who complained that the exploitation force lacked resources.