First Published: 2004-02-06

 
Iraq’s WMD: Why so many were so wrong for so long
 

Iraq, as a result of US invasion, has become a danger to its neighbors says Col. Daniel Smith.

 

Middle East Online

It may have been fortuitous that David Kay's testimony about U.S. intelligence failures in Iraq came just before the Super Bowl. Watching the game--and the “flash dance” finale of the halftime show--the everyday observer could begin to understand the truth in the caution: “Don't believe everything you think you see.” Or in the case of instant replays, “re-see”--as in, “Did the Patriots really get those few inches and a first down?”

David Kay has flatly stated that U.S. and other national intelligence agencies with which the U.S. has close ties essentially got it wrong on Iraq 's weapons of mass destruction. Kay traced the main failure to December 1998. Then the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) looking for weapons, toxic stockpiles, and missile delivery systems since 1991 was forced to withdraw because of the U.S.-UK Operation Desert Fox bombing campaign. Suddenly, the on-the-ground eyes and ears on which the U.S. intelligence community had relied since Operation Desert Storm vanished, leaving only easily spoofed optical and communications “spies in the skies.”

Why were so many so wrong for so long? Essentially, because no one could fathom the wheels within wheels that existed within Saddam's inner circle, beginning with Saddam himself. In short, the most basic rule of intelligence--know your opponent--wasn't observed. George Tenet conceded as much in his speech at Georgetown on February 5, 2004 , in which he defended the pre-war performance of U.S. intelligence. And he specifically contradicted David Kay on individual points, leaving the public wondering where the truth lies.

The baseline the intelligence agencies seemed to work from rested on two “irrefutable” premises. First, Saddam had produced, stockpiled, and used chemical weapons, had been working on developing a nuclear weapon capability, had produced biological agents, and had surface-to-surface missiles. Second, Saddam knew everything that happened in Iraq and was ruthless when someone crossed him.

Flowing from the first premise was the assumption that Iraqis would not adjust to post-1991 realities. These included sanctions and the intrusive inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency and UNSCOM--and the latter's 2002-2003 successor inspection agency. The second premise carried an implicit assumption that in a rigid, highly centralized society like Iraq , everything would be documented. Thus, the absence of documents detailing destruction of weapons and agents “proved” that large stockpiles still existed somewhere.

Exactly opposite information was emphatically provided to the UN and western intelligence in 1995 when Hussein Kamel, Saddam's son-in-law and the head of Iraq 's weapons programs, defected to Jordan . Hussein told his questioners: “I ordered destruction of all chemical weapons. All weapons--biological, chemical, missile, nuclear were destroyed…nothing remained.” Based on information in the public domain, it appears that Hussein's statements were never refuted; nonetheless, they were also apparently discounted, perhaps because they went against the grain.

Kay believes that post-1998 corruption and deception was so endemic in Iraq 's ruling circles and scientific community that Iraq constituted a major, growing danger. But the real danger was to Iraq itself. Saddam, according to Kay, was being massively deceived. Scientists would relate their progress in developing weapons and toxins, outline next steps, and ask for (and receive) money. Saddam, meanwhile, in what could be described as reverse psychology, was telling the UN he had no weapons or stockpiles. But since everyone--his subjects and his neighbors--“knew” he had weapons, he could cow the former and face down the latter who might consider his overthrow. Moreover, he could count on the UN inspectors not finding anything no matter how long they looked--because there was nothing to find. And he probably figured that, unlike in 1998, when his refusal to cooperate with inspectors led to Desert Fox, his procedural and substantive cooperation would be enough to keep the UN on the ground and the U.S. out. What he didn't count on was the single-mindedness of George W. Bush when it came to Iraq .

David Kay said he could find no evidence that the assessments of analysts were influenced by or changed in response to pressure from any official. Given that Vice President Cheney paid multiple visits to CIA headquarters to speak to analysts and that an independent intelligence “unit” created in the Office of the Secretary of Defense fed raw information and its “analysis” directly to the White House, a red flag should have gone up the highest flagpole. Because of these and quite possibly other, unknown, visits and pressures, analysts would be prone to weave into assessments any information supporting their long-held suspicions as a “defense” against the extremist positions (e.g., Saddam is an imminent threat) of Bush administration officials. Similarly, analysts may have omitted the usual caveats to make their case more convincing. But the price of defending a “rational” position resting on old premises was to be so wedded to history that the actual situation, which occasionally was glimpsed, was not even considered to be possible.

If Kay is right about the corruption in Iraq and the extent of the deception practiced on Saddam and others in the Baathist and military elites, in effect Iraq was on the verge of becoming a failed state ready to disintegrate at the slightest push. That push came in March 2003, and the resulting and continuing inter-ethnic, inter-confessional, and jihadist carnage attest to the danger Iraq has become to its neighbors as a result of the U.S.-led invasion.



* Dan Smith is a military affairs analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus (online at www.fpif.org), a retired U.S. army colonel and a senior fellow on Military Affairs at the Friends Committee on National Legislation.

 

US warns Iran over imprisoned Americans

Saudi King sets up new state security agency

Kuwait protests to Lebanon over Hezbollah training

30 extremists in Sinai operations

Foreign food chains hoping for taste of Iran market

Three Palestinians shot dead in Jerusalem

Nearly 360 injured in Turkey by magnitude 6.7 quake

UN says Saudi to blame for deadly Yemen strike on civilians

Police fire tear gas to disperse Morocco protest

Germany reviews arms sales to Turkey

Hezbollah launches Syria border operation

China calls for Gulf crisis talks

Israel bars men under 50 from Jerusalem Old City prayers

Intensifying Jihadist-rebel clashes in Syria's Idlib

Rebel ambush kills 28 regime fighters near Damascus

Turkey slams 'dangerous' Cyprus energy plans

Saudi prince 'arrested over leaked abuse videos'

Israel boosts 'security measures' as Al-Aqsa tensions simmer

Kuwait expels Iranian diplomats over 'terror' cell

Germany vows to overhaul Turkey ties as row escalates

Home cooked meals a relief for fighters in Syria's Raqa

US maintains designation of Iran as top 'state sponsor'

US halting support for Syria rebels

30 civilians dead in anti-IS strikes in Syria

Palestinian civilians urge ICC to speed up probe

Turkey PM opts for stability in light cabinet reshuffle

UN aid flight carrying journalists barred from Yemen

Former IS slaves fight for revenge in Raqa

US, Iran trade tit-for-tat sanctions

20 Yemeni civilians killed in air strike

14 killed in opposition infighting in Syria's Idlib

Morocco sentences 25 to prison over W. Sahara killings

Egypt police kill top militants

Heavy rainfall hits Istanbul causing transport chaos

Palestinians protest Israeli security measures at Al-Aqsa compound

Saudi police question woman who wore miniskirt

Rebels, US-backed Kurds clash in northern Syria

Netanyahu says Hungary is 'standing up for' Israel

Lebanon army to launch operation near Syria border

Morocco delays currency reform amid speculation

Iran parliament vows to fight US 'adventurism'

4 killed in suicide car bomb at Kurdish checkpoint in Syria

Israel opposes Syria truce deal over Iran presence

Egypt to end visas on arrival for Qatari citizens

Erdogan to visit Qatar, Saudi Arabia