Former weapons inspector David Kay said Wednesday "we were almost all wrong" about Saddam Hussein's weapons programs, as Congress pressed a high-stakes struggle to pinpoint why that happened and who was responsible.
Republicans say the nation's intelligence agencies were the problem. Democrats point to the White House, questioning possible pressure put on analysts and noting Vice President Dick Cheney's continued assertions that weapons of mass destruction existed.
Asked at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing if an independent investigation was warranted, Kay replied that he believed an outside inquiry would give Congress and the public more confidence. Democrats are sure to make use of that point as they call for more and broader inquiries.
Kay said he spent six months looking for the former Iraqi president's banned weapons and has concluded, based on a "sufficiently intense" effort, that they were not there. Kay said inspectors found no stockpiles _ large or small.
"We were almost all wrong, and I certainly include myself here," he said. "My view was that the best evidence I had seen was that Iraq indeed had weapons of mass destruction."
Kay blamed a lack of human intelligence inside Iraq and inadequate money for U.S. intelligence agencies. He also said he believes analysts have been asked to read too much into limited data.
And, he said, the U.S. intelligence community had become "almost addicted" to information coming from United Nations weapons inspectors during the 1990s, leaving them in trouble when those inspectors had to leave.
Since he resigned Friday as the top weapons hunter in Iraq, Kay's public statements have sparked widespread questioning in Washington about the reliability of U.S. intelligence data and the Bush administration's main justification for war: to remove an imminent threat posed by supposed weapons.
President Bush has vigorously defended his decision to go to war and expressed confidence in the intelligence agencies. But on Tuesday, Bush shied away from previous assertions that weapons would eventually be found. "There is no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein was a gathering threat to America and others," Bush said.
The White House on Wednesday dismissed the notion of an independent investigation.
While many congressional Republicans maintain the world is better off without Hussein _ whether or not banned weapons are found _ some are beginning to doubt the reliability of U.S. intelligence gathering.
Kay said he doesn't think members of the administration pressured analysts to shape evidence to make the case for war. "I deeply think that is the wrong explanation," Kay said, adding that numerous analysts had come to him in recent months to apologize about incorrect estimates.