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, Iranian top diplomats confront each other for first time

Moscow accuses US of hitting Syrian regime forces

Turkey, Iran and Iraq make joint threat against Kurd vote

Thousands of Huthi supporters mark 3 years since Sanaa takeover

Gemstone purchase essential for Najaf pilgrims

UN sets up probe of IS war crimes in Iraq

Air strikes kill 22 civilians in northwest Syria in 48 hours

Iranian supreme leader lashes out at Trump UN speech

Iraq attacks all remaining IS territory at once

Turkey jails lawyers representing hunger striking teachers

Syrian Kurds to hold first local elections in federal push

Qatari expats lauded as statesmen by Arab critics

Shipwreck off Libyan coast leaves over 100 migrants missing

Will Turkey’s opposition to Kurdish state translate into action?

US ups the ante on Iraq Kurds

Macron: Iran nuclear deal no longer enough

Trump’s mind made up on Iran but refuses to divulge

Scores of Iraqis missing during war against ISIS

Netanyahu rejects calls for mixed gender worship at Western Wall

Russia accuses US of missile treaty breach

Iran TV translator mocked for watering down Trump speech

Saudi Arabia hopes Kurdish referendum will not take place

Saudi invites women to sports stadium for first time

Saudi set to create $2.7 billion investment company

Humanitarian disaster grips Yemen three years since Houthi takeover

What will become of Iraq’s Hawija after ISIS?

Multi-ethnic Kirkuk tense ahead of referendum

UN awaits Iran’s defence against Trump nuclear deal threats

US-backed SDF seizes 90% of Syria's Raqa

Man hanged in Iran for rape, murder of child

Saudi to lift ban on internet phone calls

Sisi calls for peace, co-existence in Mideast

Erdogan demands Iraqi Kurds call off referendum

US looking to revisit Iran nuclear deal

Trump expects Gulf dispute to be resolved quickly

Bashir calls on Darfur displaced to return

Saudi Aramco could release accounts in early 2018

Saudi-led coalition says rebels hindering Yemen food imports

Jihadist activity prompts regime, Russian air strikes in Syria safe zone

Two prominent rights activists arrested in Saudi Arabia

Israel shoots down Hezbollah drone over Golan Heights

Iraqi forces launch assault on IS in western Anbar province

Families of the missing, the forgotten victims of war in Lebanon

25 killed in South Sudan clashes

Suicide attack on Iraq restaurant kills three