Top American scientists assigned to the weapons hunt in Iraq found no evidence Saddam Hussein's regime was making or stockpiling smallpox, The Associated Press has learned from senior military officers involved in the search.
Smallpox fears were part of the case the Bush administration used to build support for invading Iraq — and they were raised again as recently as last weekend by Vice President Dick Cheney.
But a three-month search by "Team Pox" turned up only signs to the contrary: disabled equipment that had been rendered harmless by U.N. inspectors, Iraqi scientists deemed credible who gave no indication they had worked with smallpox and a laboratory thought to be back in use that was covered in cobwebs.
Fears that smallpox could be used as a weapon led the Bush administration to launch a vaccination campaign for some 500,000 U.S. military personnel after the Sept. 11 attacks, and to order enough vaccine to inoculate the entire U.S. population if necessary. President Bush also was vaccinated against the disease, which kills about a third of its victims.
The negative smallpox findings reported to U.S. intelligence agencies come nearly six months after the administration went to war to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction that Saddam long denied having and the military hasn't been able to find.