ARLINGTON, Va. — The Pentagon’s new weapons of mass destruction-hunting team will expand its efforts, the team’s commander said Friday.

The new team will be on the prowl not only for evidence of Iraq’s alleged chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons programs, but also for information on terrorism, war crimes, and the inner workings of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party.

Army Maj. Gen. Keith Dayton, the new leader of the Iraq Survey Group, told Pentagon reporters the reason for the team’s expanded mission is to piece together “what appears to be a very complex jigsaw puzzle” that will form a clear picture of illicit activities.

Dayton, who is director of the Defense Intelligence Agency’s human intelligence gathering operation, leaves Monday for Baghdad, where the ISG will be headquartered.

There, he will head a team of 1,300 to 1,400 people, including military and civilian personnel from the Defense and State departments, and other U.S. intelligence agencies. There also will be some representatives of Britain and Australia.

In addition to the group’s headquarters in Baghdad, about 370 team members will work out of Qatar, Dayton said.

The ISG is replacing the current task force of about 200 U.S. military personnel who have been in Iraq looking for evidence of WMD since the combat phase of the war began. Using a list of 900 suspected WMD sites that was prepared by intelligence analysts back in February and March, the task force has looked for banned weapons in 220 places in Iraq, Dayton said.

Nothing has turned up yet — a failure that has raised doubts around the world about whether Iraq actually did present an imminent security threat.

The ISG “represents a significant expansion” in the hunt for Iraqi WMD, Dayton said.

But even as Dayton was rolling out details of the “significant expansion,” the controversy over the existence of Iraq’s WMD hit new heights, thanks to comments made by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz to U.S. magazine Vanity Fair.

In the interview, Wolfowitz was quoted as saying that the Bush administration focused on Saddam Hussein’s WMD alleged arsenal when justifying the Iraq war “because it was the one reason everyone [in the administration] could agree on.”

Stephen Cambone, the Pentagon’s new undersecretary of defense for intelligence who introduced Dayton to the press, ducked questions about Wolfowitz’ remarks.

“I’m not here to talk about that today,” Cambone said.

“The ISG is in a position to achieve some real synergy here” by consolidating WMD collection efforts “under a single roof,” Dayton said.

“I honestly don’t know” why no WMD has been found in Iraq, Dayton said.

Despite the lack of hard evidence, Dayton said he has always thought U.S. intelligence analysts were offering credible evidence that Iraq had WMD.

“I thought it was credible [before the war began] and I still do,” he said.

Asked if he thinks the ISG will find such evidence, Dayton replied, “Yeah, I kind of do.”

“My personal opinion going into this is that there is a lot of information that hasn’t been gathered yet,” he said. The ISG’s task “won’t be a quick effort, but very thorough.”

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