Original Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/23/us/23believers.html
By SCOTT SHANE
The United States government abandoned the search for unconventional weapons in Iraq long ago. But Dave Gaubatz has never given up.
Mr. Gaubatz, an earnest, Arabic-speaking investigator who spent the first months of the war as an Air Force civilian in southern Iraq, has said he has identified four sites where residents said chemical weapons were buried in concrete bunkers.
The sites were never searched, he said, and he is not going to let anyone forget it.
"I just don't want the weapons to fall into the wrong hands," Mr. Gaubatz, of Denton, Tex., said.
For the last year, he has given his account on talk radio programs, in Congressional offices and on his Web site, which he introduced last month with, "A lone American battles politicians to locate W.M.D."
Some politicians are outspoken allies in Mr. Gaubatz's cause. He is just one of a vocal and disparate collection of Americans, mostly on the political right, whose search for Saddam Hussein's unconventional weapons continues.
More than a year after the White House, at considerable political cost, accepted the intelligence agencies' verdict that Mr. Hussein destroyed his stockpiles in the 1990's, these Americans have an unshakable faith that the weapons continue to exist.
The proponents include some members of Congress. Two Republicans, Representative Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania held a news conference on Wednesday to announce that, as Mr. Santorum put it, "We have found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq."
American intelligence officials hastily scheduled a background briefing for the news media on Thursday to clarify that. Hoekstra and Mr. Santorum were referring to an Army report that described roughly 500 munitions containing "degraded" mustard or sarin gas, all manufactured before the 1991 gulf war and found scattered through Iraq since 2003.
Such shells had previously been reported and do not change the government conclusion, the officials said.
Such official statements are unlikely to settle the question for the believers, some of whom have impressive credentials. They include a retired Air Force lieutenant general, Thomas G. McInerney, a commentator on the Fox News Channel who has broadcast that weapons are in three places in Syria and one in Lebanon, moved there with Russian help on the eve of the war.
"I firmly believe that, and everything I learn makes my belief firmer," said Mr. McInerney, who retired in 1994. "I'm amazed that the mainstream media hasn't picked this up."
Also among the weapons hunters is Duane R. Clarridge, a long-retired officer of the Central Intelligence Agency who said he thought that the weapons had been moved to Sudan by ship.
"And we think we know which ship," Mr. Clarridge said in a recent interview.
The weapons hunters hold fast to the administration's original justification for the war, as expressed by the president three days before the bombing began in 2003. There was "no doubt," Mr. Bush said in an address to the nation, "that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised."
The weapons hunters were encouraged in February when tapes of Mr. Hussein's talking with top aides about his arsenal were released at the Intelligence Summit, a private gathering in northern Virginia of 600 former spies, former military officers and hobbyists.
"We reopened the W.M.D. question in a big way," said John Loftus, organizer of the conference.
In March, under Congressional pressure, National Intelligence Director John D. Negroponte began posting on the Web thousands of captured Iraqi documents. Some intelligence officials opposed the move, fearing a free-for-all of amateur speculation and intrigue.
But the weapons hunters were heartened and began combing the documents for clues.
Mr. Gaubatz, 47, now chief investigator for the Dallas County medical examiner, said he knew some people might call him a kook.
"I don't care about being embarrassed," he said, spreading snapshots, maps and notebooks documenting his findings across the dining room table in an interview at his house. "I only brought this up when the White House said the hunt for W.M.D. was over."
Last week, Mr. Gaubatz achieved a victory. He presented his case to officers from the Defense Intelligence Agency in Dallas. The meeting was scheduled after the intervention of Mr. Hoekstra and Representative Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania, second-ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee.
Mr. Weldon spoke with Mr. Gaubatz last month in a lengthy conference call.
Mr. Hoekstra "has said on many occasions that we need to know what happened to Saddam's W.M.D.," his spokesman, Jamal Ware, said. Mr. Hoekstra "is determined to make sure that we get the postwar intelligence right," Mr. Ware added.
The authoritative postwar weapons intelligence was gathered by the Iraq Survey Group, whose 1,200 members spent more than a year searching suspected chemical, biological and nuclear sites and interviewing Iraqis.
The final report of the group, by Charles A. Duelfer, special adviser on Iraqi weapons to the C.I.A., concluded that any stockpiles had been destroyed long before the war and that transfers to Syria were "unlikely."
"We did not visit every inch of Iraq," Mr. Duelfer said in an interview. "That would have been impossible. We did not check every rumor that came along."
But he said important officials in Mr. Hussein's government, with every incentive to win favor with the Americans by exposing stockpiles, convinced him that the weapons were gone.
Mr. Duelfer said he remained open to new evidence.
"I've seen lots of good-hearted people who thought they saw something," he said. "But none of the reports have panned out."
The hunt clearly appeals to the sleuth in Mr. Gaubatz, who was in the Air Force for 23 years, much of it investigating murder, drug and other criminal cases for the Office of Special Investigations. He retired in 1999 and worked as an investigator for Target, the retail chain, but soon returned to the investigations agency as a civilian.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Mr. Gaubatz spent a year learning Arabic and in February 2003 was sent to Saudi Arabia and then Iraq after the war began.
Stationed near Nasiriya, he and a colleague headed out in a utility vehicle at 6 a.m. and spent their days talking with anyone they saw — Bedouin tribesmen, farmers, hospital workers, former military officers, police officers and city bureaucrats.
Eventually, by his account, Iraqis led him to four places where they said they thought that chemical weapons were hidden in underground bunkers or, in one case, under the Euphrates River.
"We were very excited," he recalled. "We could hardly wait to get back and do our reports."
An official of the investigating agency who was granted anonymity to discuss a former employee said Mr. Gaubatz was known as "a gung-ho, good agent."
When the sites identified to him were not searched, he said, he called the 75th Exploitation Task Force every other day, and later the Iraq Survey Group, pleading with whoever answered to send a team with heavy digging equipment.
He recalled: "They'd say, 'We're in a combat zone. We don't have the people or the equipment.' "
His informants grew angry. "They said, 'We risked our lives and our families to help you, and nothing's happened,' " Mr. Gaubatz recounted.
He was disillusioned.
"I didn't imagine it would be a battle to get them to search," he said. "One of the primary reasons for going into combat was the W.M.D."
Mr. Gaubatz came home in mid-July 2003, and settled in with his wife, Lorrie, a teacher, and their daughter, Miranda, 7. He continued to lobby for searches, but his Iraqi informers and Air Force colleagues have told him that there were no searches, he said.
At his two meetings last week with officers of the Defense Intelligence Agency — meetings that the agency confirms occurred but will not otherwise discuss — he reviewed satellite photographs of the supposed weapons sites with the officers.
"They're very interested," he said.
Yet, he added, "I'm still afraid they might not follow through."
He has revised his Web site to put the nation on notice. "My Web site will remain open," he wrote, "until the sites are searched."