Washington Huddled over a fleet of abandoned Iraqi drones, U.S. weapons experts in Baghdad came to one conclusion: Despite the Bush administration's public assertions, these unmanned aerial vehicles weren't designed to dispense biological or chemical weapons.
The evidence gathered this summer matched the dissenting views of Air Force intelligence analysts who argued in a national intelligence assessment of Iraq before the war that the remotely piloted planes were unarmed reconnaissance drones.
In building its case for war, senior Bush administration officials had said Iraq's drones were intended to deliver unconventional weapons. Secretary of State Colin Powell even raised the alarming prospect that the pilotless aircraft could sneak into the United States to carry out poisonous attacks on American cities.
The administration based its view on a CIA finding that Iraq had renewed development of sophisticated unmanned aerial vehicles -- UAVs -- capable of such attacks. The Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency also supported this conclusion.
While the hunt for suspected weapons of mass destruction -- and the means to deliver them -- continues, intelligence and defense officials said the CIA and DIA stood by their prewar assertions about Iraqi drone capabilities, some of which Powell highlighted in his Feb. 5 presentation to the U.N. Security Council.
But the Air Force, which controls most of the American military's UAV fleet, didn't agree with that assessment from the beginning. And analysts at the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency said the Air Force view was widely accepted within their ranks as well.
Instead, these analysts believed the drones posed no threat to Iraq's neighbors or the United States, officials in Washington and scientists involved in the weapons hunt in Iraq told The Associated Press.
The official Air Force intelligence dissent is noted in the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq's weapons programs, parts of which were declassified last month as the Bush administration tried to defend its case for war.
"We didn't see there was a very large chance they (UAVs) would be used to attack the continental United States," Bob Boyd, director of the Air Force Intelligence Analysis Agency, said in an AP interview. "We didn't see them as a big threat to the homeland."
Boyd also said there was little evidence to associate Iraq's UAVs with the country's suspected biological weapons program. Facilities weren't in the same location and the programs didn't use the same people.