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April 27, 2005
No Syrian WMD Transfer? Not So Fast ...

Reports based on the release of addenda from last year's Iraqi Survey Group (ISG) report by Charles Duelfer claim that the ISG stated categorically that no evidence existed of WMD being shipped into Syria, one of the explanations given by several high-ranking officers at CENTCOM for the lack of WMD found in Iraq. However, the Washington Times reports this morning that the ISG report did not make any such categorical denial of WMD transfers. In order to understand the nuances of the ISG addenda, take a look at the wording of the original CNN report:

"ISG judged that it was unlikely that an official transfer of WMD material from Iraq to Syria took place," the report said.

The group also said it had been unable to complete its investigation because of security concerns and couldn't rule out an "unofficial" transfer of material. ...

"It is worth noting that even if ISG had been able to fully examine all the leads it possessed, it is unlikely that conclusive information would have been found," the report said.

What does this tell us? First, by its inclusion in the addenda and not the main body, it tells us ... nothing. The data remains inconclusive, and that's all. ISG could not go into Syria, nor into the Bekaa Valley that until this week was controlled by Syria, to determine if any kind of transfers took place. The only conclusion they could reach is that official transfers never took place, meaning that Saddam's files contained no records of any such movement of materiel between Iraq and Syria. The report further tells us that had the ISG had the time and resources to follow up on the leads provided, they still probably would find out nothing, given the geopolitical difficulties of invading Syria to complete the investigation.

Had Duelfer and the ISG meant to conclusively state that no WMD transfers of any kind had occurred, it would not have been left as a footnote or an addendum. That usage indicates an explanation for an unfulfilled mandate of the mission, not a positive conclusion, as a close read of the language used indicates.

The Washington Times article makes this more clear. In reading other parts of the same addenda, the ISG obviously did not intend to close the books on a Syrian transfer of WMD, and in fact still believe that such a scenario not only was possible, but somewhat likely:

Inspector Charles Duelfer, who heads the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), made the findings in an addendum to his final report filed last year. He said the search for WMD in Iraq -- the main reason President Bush went to war to oust Saddam Hussein -- has been exhausted without finding such weapons. Iraq had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons in the early 1990s.

But on the question of Syria, Mr. Duelfer did not close the books. "ISG was unable to complete its investigation and is unable to rule out the possibility that WMD was evacuated to Syria before the war," Mr. Duelfer said in a report posted on the CIA's Web site Monday night.

He cited some evidence of a transfer. "Whether Syria received military items from Iraq for safekeeping or other reasons has yet to be determined," he said. "There was evidence of a discussion of possible WMD collaboration initiated by a Syrian security officer, and ISG received information about movement of material out of Iraq, including the possibility that WMD was involved. In the judgment of the working group, these reports were sufficiently credible to merit further investigation."

But Mr. Duelfer said he was unable to complete that aspect of the probe because "the declining security situation limited and finally halted this investigation. The results remain inconclusive, but further investigation may be undertaken when circumstances on the ground improve."

The media spin on WMD remains in full force. The truth is that without a full reckoning and complete access to the entire Southwest Asia area, no WMD search could possibly be complete. Nor does the evidence in the report support a conclusion that the WMD did not exist, as the above quote shows. Duelfer and his team did not stop because the WMD didn't exist; they stopped because they had run out of time, resources, and jurisdiction. Duelfer recommends further investigation, a clear indication that he believes the question remains open on WMD transfers to Syria, a recommendation that CNN and other media sources predictably leaves out of their reports.

UPDATE: Welcome, Instapundit readers! BTW, Sundries Shack also noticed the same point yesterday; take a look at Jimmie's post there as well.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 27, 2005 6:26 AM

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