updated 9/14/2004 1:33:24 PM ET 2004-09-14T17:33:24

The Bush administration is apparently ready to abandon a major reason it gave the world for going to war with Iraq: Saddam Hussein’s purported storehouses of chemical and biological weapons the administration said he was prepared to use against the United States.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, who made the claim in a dramatic prewar presentation to a skeptical United Nations in 2003, virtually withdrew it Monday during testimony before the Senate Government Affairs Committee.

“There was every reason to believe there were stockpiles,” Powell said. “There was a question about the size of stockpiles, but we all believed there were stockpiles.”

However, Powell said in response to questions from Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, “it turned out that we have not found any stockpiles.”

Moreover, Powell said, “I think it is unlikely that we will find any stockpiles.”

The job now, he said, was “to go back and find out why we had a different judgment.”

Since the war, Powell said he had found that “some of the sourcing that we used to give me the basis upon which to bring forward that judgment to the United Nations was flawed.”

Powell did not elaborate on what he may have thought went wrong. Before speaking to the United Nations, where sentiment was strongly against war and for continuing inspection searches, Powell spent four days in consulation with then-CIA Director George Tenet and other CIA officials.

Powell told the committee Monday that he believed a strong National Intelligence Director would improve the quality of intelligence available to U.S. decision-makers.

“We need a stronger, empowered quarterback,” Powell said.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge joined Powell in endorsing the idea of a new director with budget authority over the nation’s nonmilitary intelligence agencies.

“In this town, it’s the ultimate command and control,” said Ridge, who was denied budget authority over other security agencies when Congress created his department after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Powell also endorsed President Bush’s suggestion that he, Ridge and other top officials sit on a Cabinet-level joint intelligence council to advise the intelligence director. He said he envisioned its work as similar to the military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, where heads of the military branches sit together to decide the armed forces’ needs as a whole.

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