updated 3/30/2004 3:42:37 PM ET 2004-03-30T20:42:37

U.S. weapons hunters in Iraq have found more evidence that Saddam Hussein’s regime had civilian factories able to quickly produce biological and chemical weapons, the CIA’s top weapons inspector told senators Tuesday. But they still have not found any weapons.

The CIA’s special adviser on the weapons hunt, Charles Duelfer, said he did not know how much longer the weapons hunt might take.

“The picture is much more complicated than I anticipated going in,” Duelfer said at a Capitol Hill press conference, nine weeks after he took over the weapons search.

In a closed session with the Senate Armed Services Committee, Duelfer said the Iraq Survey Group has found new evidence that Iraqi scientists flight tested long-range ballistic missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles that “easily exceeded” U.N. limits of 93 miles.

Regime's research
And the survey group has new information indicating the regime engaged in ongoing research to produce chemical or biological weapons on short notice, using civilian — or “dual use” — facilities.

However, in declassified testimony shared with the media, Duelfer didn’t break significant ground on the weapons hunt, saying he lacked sufficient information to draw conclusions about what Saddam had.

“Imagine yourself being asked to determine the secret, behind-the-scenes intentions of our own government with respect to its most secret weapons programs after talking to a few hundred folks who may or may not have been intimately involved, with only a small fraction of documents available, and with a leadership that is not broken and willing to discuss its inner secrets,” Duelfer said in the declassified remarks.

“How much would you really understand?”

Duelfer replaces Kay
Duelfer took over the job of top civilian weapons inspector after his predecessor, David Kay, resigned in January and told Congress “we were almost all wrong” about Saddam’s weapons programs. In a flurry of public statements questioning whether weapons would ever be found, Kay renewed the debate about the very weapons of mass destruction programs that the Bush administration used to justify last year’s Iraq invasion.

On Tuesday, Senate Armed Services Chairman John Warner, R-Va., and Intelligence Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, both called for patience as the search continues. “It ain’t over til it’s over,” Roberts said.

However, with the November elections looming, Democrats are questioning — some loudly — whether the administration overstated the threat Saddam posed and the evidence about his weapons of mass destruction.

Assessing Saddam's intentions
Duelfer said he has tried to determine the Saddam regime’s intentions for the activities investigators have uncovered: Were weapons hidden that were not readily available? Was there a plan for a stepped-up production capacity? Were WMD technologies being developed for the missile and UAV programs? When did the leadership want to see results?

Duelfer said the survey group continues to look for weapons of mass destruction and regularly receives reports — “some quite intriguing and credible” — about possible concealed stashes buried or hidden across Iraq.

He said the survey group also questions former regime officials. However, many are still reluctant to talk because they fear prosecution, as well as retribution from former regime supporters. For these and other reasons, he said, the survey group is struggling to get clear, truthful information.

“We do not know whether Saddam was concealing WMD in the final years or planning to resume production once sanctions were lifted,” Duelfer said. “We do not know what he ordered his senior ministers to undertake. We do not know how the disparate activities we have identified link together.”

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