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State Dept Analysts Had Reservations About Labs
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By Jonathan Wright

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Intelligence specialists at the State Department cast doubt this month on the CIA's conclusion that two trailers found in Iraq must be mobile laboratories for making biological weapons, the State Department spokesman said on Thursday.

But their boss, Secretary of State Colin Powell, now finds the intelligence convincing.

"They (intelligence specialists) said they were not prepared to say with confidence yet that these were definitely and could only be mobile biological laboratories," spokesman Richard Boucher said.

The main intelligence departments -- the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) -- answered questions raised by the State Department analysts, and Secretary of State Colin Powell now found the CIA's case convincing, the spokesman told a briefing.

Asked if the analysts themselves had overcome their doubts, he said: "I don't really know. I have not seen anything subsequent from them. What I have seen is ... from the experts at the CIA and elsewhere who work on this more extensively."

The White House said it also stood by the CIA's conclusion that the trailers were intended for making biological weapons, dismissing the questions raised by the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research.

"I think that the agencies that are charged with the review of this, and have the most expertise on it, have rendered their judgment in a very public setting and it speaks for itself," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters.

The trailers have been central to the Bush administration's attempt to prove that Iraq had an active biological weapons program and thus posed a direct threat to the United States.

The main rationale for the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March was that the government of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was working on chemical and biological weapons and had links with the al Qaeda organization of Osama bin Laden.

Both assertions have been challenged in the aftermath of the war, and critics say no decisive evidence has been presented in either case.

The CIA said on May 28 that there was little question the trailers were designed to make toxins such as anthrax and botulinum in quantities that could kill thousands of people.

On May 30 President Bush pointed to the trailers and said on Polish television that the United States had "found the weapons of mass destruction" for which it was searching. But there was no trace of any toxins inside the trailers.

Some scientists have speculated they might have been for fueling rockets or filling hydrogen balloons.

The State Department analysts raised questions about the CIA's conclusions some days later, in early June. "They were somewhat cautionary in terms of the kinds of conclusions that they felt could be reached," Boucher said.

Powell, who had already backed the CIA's conclusions in public, had their questions forwarded to the CIA, he said.

The State Department's intelligence analysts do not have the same resources as the CIA or the DIA, on whom they rely for most of the data they use for their own analysis.

But they do have a reputation for independence. Last year, one of the analysts disputed an allegation by a senior official that Cuba was working on biological weapons.

At a closed-door hearing by the Senate Intelligence Committee this month, the same analyst complained that senior officials had leant on the intelligence services to produce conclusions which serve the administration's purposes.

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