"No one can solve this problem alone, but together we can change things for the better." 

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Hiroshima Survivor
June 6, 2016

Chronology of Bush Administration Claim that Iraq Attempted to Obtain Uranium from Niger (2001-2003)

August 2017

Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, (202) 463-8270 x107

One of the chief arguments used by the Bush administration to justify the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003 was that Saddam Hussein's Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program. For example, only three days before U.S.-led coalition forces invaded Iraq Vice President Dick Cheney claimed that Iraq had "reconstituted nuclear weapons." Central to the administration's argument were erroneous claims that Iraq had recently attempted to obtain lightly-processed uranium, or "yellowcake," from Africa and that it had attempted to acquire specialized aluminum tubes as part of a uranium enrichment program to produce fissile material, which is necessary for making nuclear weapons.

The claim regarding the uranium deal has become particularly contentious because President George W. Bush cited it in his January 28, 2003 State of the Union Address and because officials in the White House and the Office of Vice President Cheney waged a public campaign to discredit former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who publicly challenged the uranium claim in the summer of 2003. The administration's claims regarding Iraq's pre-war capabilities are the subject of the delayed, "second phase" of the investigation by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Contrary to White House assertions that the "intelligence was all wrong," as early as a year before the invasion U.S. intelligence assessments and senior U.S. officials disagreed about the reliability of the information supporting the main nuclear weapons-related assertions. Furthermore, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors working on the ground in Iraq found no evidence that Baghdad had reconstituted its nuclear weapons program.

The chronology of events involving the internal intelligence assessments and international inspections clearly demonstrates that senior Bush officials overlooked intelligence assessments that cast doubt on the claim that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program.

The chronology also highlights that senior Bush administration officials also failed to take into consideration the findings and assessments of the IAEA inspectors working in Iraq from November 2002 to March 2003 that repudiated the nuclear program reconstitution allegation. The administration also gave short shrift to proposals from other UN Security Council members based on the inspectors' finding that called for a the continuation of the inspections, as well as the UN-mandated sanctions regime to contain and dismantle any remaining prohibited weapons activities in Iraq.


Following Iraq's defeat in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the international community discovered that Baghdad had a much more advanced nuclear weapons program than the United States or the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had suspected. The IAEA was charged with undertaking inspections to ensure that Iraq complied with disarmament requirements mandated by UN Security Council Resolution 687, but the United Nations withdrew the inspectors in December 1998 shortly before "Operation Desert Fox," the U.S.-U.K. military operation to strike known Iraqi weapons facilities.

The IAEA, however, reported in 1999 that, based on the inspectors' work until that time, there was "no indication that Iraq possesses nuclear weapons or any meaningful amounts of weapon-usable nuclear material, or that Iraq has retained any practical capability (facilities or hardware) for the production of such material."

The IAEA also cautioned that this statement was "not the same as a statement of [the weapons] non-existence." A 2001 Department of Defense report added that Iraq "still retains sufficient skilled and experienced scientists and engineers as well as weapons design information that could allow it to restart a weapons program."

The absence of inspectors, combined with the remaining uncertainty regarding Iraq's nuclear program, created concern that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program. Long before President George W. Bush sought to do so, many arms control and nonproliferation advocates urged UN Security Council members to pursue steps that would lead to the reintroduction of weapons inspectors.

The UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1441 in November 2002, requiring Iraq to comply fully with its disarmament requirements under relevant Security Council resolutions. Inspections resumed later that month. IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei reported to the Security Council March 7 that the inspectors had found "no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons programme in Iraq."

Prior to a vote on a resolution to authorize the possible use of force to enforce UN Security Council Resolutions, congressional Democrats requested an intelligence assessment on Iraq's weapons capabilities. The October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) stated that that most agencies agreed that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program.

However, the State Department's Bureau for Intelligence and Research (INR) did not agree. Its dissenting views were included in the full NIE report but not in the unclassified executive summary. The INR dissent stated that "available evidence indicates that Baghdad is pursuing at least a limited effort to maintain and acquire nuclear weapon-related capabilities" but that the evidence is "inadequate" to support the claim that "Iraq is currently pursuing an integrated and comprehensive approach to acquire nuclear weapons."



February 20, 2001: Secretary of State Colin Powell tells reporters that, although Iraq is pursuing weapons of mass destruction (WMD), "[c]ontainment has been a successful policy" in limiting Baghdad's ability to threaten other regional countries." "Containment" referred to such measures as UN-mandated sanctions placed on Iraq after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, as well as no-fly zones.

Late 2001-early 2002: The United States gathers what Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet later terms "fragmentary intelligence" about Iraq's attempts to acquire uranium from Africa.

According to a July 2004 report from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the CIA Directorate of Operations (DO) reports October15, 2001 that Niger had agreed to "ship several tons of uranium to Iraq." The DO issues a second report February 5, 2002 providing "more details" about the previously-reported agreement, including "what was said to be 'verbatim text' of the accord." Both reports are based on information from a foreign government service, widely reported to be Italian intelligence.

Based on the second report, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) produces its own report February 12 which states that Niger agreed to provide Iraq with 500 tons of yellowcake [lightly-processed uranium ore] to Baghdad, concluding that "Iraq probably is searching abroad for natural uranium to assist in its nuclear weapons program."

Shortly after, Vice President Dick Cheney reads the report and requests the CIA's assessment. The Director of Central Intelligence's (DCI) Center for Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control (WINPAC) sends a report to Cheney which includes doubts as to whether the two countries had concluded a uranium deal. It also notes that the relevant intelligence "comes exclusively from a foreign government service report that lacks crucial details." The report adds that the CIA is "working to clarify the information and to determine whether it can be corroborated."

The CIA's DO later issues a third report March 25 which is also based on Italian government intelligence reports. This report does not appear to provide any significant new information.

These reports ultimately prove to be inaccurate. The U.S.-led Iraq Survey Group - the task force later charged with coordinating the U.S.-led search for Iraqi prohibited weapons - finds no evidence that Iraq tried to procure uranium from other countries, according to 2004 and 2005 reports from the group's top CIA adviser. And the CIA concludes in March 2003 that all of the original intelligence reporting was "unreliable" because it was based on forged documents, the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction reports March 31, 2005.

Late February 2002: The CIA's DO Counterproliferation Division (CPD)
sends former Ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger to investigate reports about Iraq's attempts to acquire uranium from that country. Wilson later writes in The New York Times July 6, 2003, that "it was highly doubtful that any such transaction had taken place" because Niger's uranium industry is closely regulated by its government and is controlled by a consortium of foreign companies monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Wilson briefs this conclusion to the CIA when he returns in March 2002.

According to a March 8 report from CIA's DO, Wilson also tells the agency that former Nigerien Prime Minster Ibrahim Mayaki described a 1999 meeting with an Iraqi delegation. Prior to the meeting, an intermediary told Mayaki that the Iraqis wanted to discuss "expanding commercial relations" between the two countries - an overture Mayaki described to Wilson as an attempt to discuss yellowcake sales, the CIA report says. But Mayaki told Wilson that the two sides did not discuss uranium. Wilson tells Arms Control Today August 18, 2003 that Mayaki mentioned as an afterthought the possibility that the Iraqis wanted to discuss a uranium deal.

March 1, 2002: The State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) distributes a report stating that claims regarding Iraqi attempts to obtain uranium from Niger are not credible. The analyst who drafted the assessment later tells Senate Intelligence Committee staff that "he had been told that the piece was in response to interest from" Cheney's office in the suspected deal.

March 5, 2002: Responding to a request from Cheney earlier in the month, WINPAC analysts send an "analytic update" regarding the Niger issue to Cheney's morning briefer. According to this report, Italian intelligence has been "unable to provide new information [to the United States], but continues to assess that its source is reliable."

The report also mentions that agency officials will be debriefing Wilson later that day, though apparently does not mention him by name.

March 8, 2002: The CIA's DO "widely distributes" a summary of Wilson's report to intelligence community entities. The CIA does not brief Cheney directly about Wilson's report, according the to the Senate Intelligence Committee, because agency analysts do not "believe that the report added any new information to clarify the issue."

Previous reports from U.S. Ambassador to Niger, Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick and Deputy Commander in Chief, United States European Command, General Carlton Fulford provided no information that Niger planned to sell uranium to Iraq.

May 2002-October 2002: The intelligence community appears to produce inconsistent reporting about the suspected uranium deal, according to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

August 26, 2002: Cheney declares that "we now know that Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons…. Many of us are convinced that Saddam will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon."

September 2002: The CIA expresses "reservations" to British intelligence about information regarding Iraqi efforts to acquire African uranium after the United Kingdom informs the agency about its plans to include the allegation in a forthcoming report about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, according to a July 11, 2003 statement from Tenet.

However, according to a July 2004 UK report regarding British intelligence on Iraq, the "CIA advised caution about any suggestion that Iraq had succeeded in acquiring uranium from Africa, but agreed that there was evidence that it had been sought."

September 24, 2002: The United Kingdom issues a report on Iraq's WMD program, stating that "there is intelligence that Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Iraq has no active civil nuclear power programme or nuclear power plants, and therefore has no legitimate reason to acquire uranium."

According to three UK reports issued in 2003 and 2004, some British foreign ministry and intelligence officials continue to say that London had independent, reliable intelligence indicating that Iraq was indeed attempting to obtain uranium from Niger. But the United Kingdom has not disclosed this intelligence and the available public evidence suggests that it would not prove the uranium claim true.

October 1, 2002: A classified National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), a portion of which is later made public July 18, 2003, states, "A foreign government service reported that as of early 2001, Niger planned to send several tons" of uranium to Iraq, adding that "Niger and Iraq reportedly were still working out arrangements for this deal, which could be for up to 500 tons of yellowcake."

The NIE also says that "reports indicate Iraq also has sought uranium ore from Somalia and possibly the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We cannot confirm whether Iraq succeeded in acquiring uranium ore and/or yellowcake from these sources."

The NIE also contains a State Department INR dissent that characterizes "claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa" as "highly dubious." National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice does not read the INR dissent, a senior administration official says July 18, 2003.

October 1-2, 2002: U.S. intelligence officials tell the Senate Intelligence Committee about the U.S. intelligence community's differences with the British report containing the Iraq uranium claim

October 5-7, 2002: Tenet calls Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley to request that a line referring to Iraqi attempts to obtain "substantial amounts of uranium oxide" be removed from a draft of a speech President George W. Bush is scheduled to give October 7.

The CIA's Associate Deputy Director for Intelligence sends a memorandum to Hadley and White House speechwriter Michael Gerson October 5, asking them to remove a similar line referring to Iraq's attempted acquisition of "500 metric tons of uranium oxide from…Africa."

The agency also sends a memorandum to the White House October 6 providing additional detail about the Iraq uranium claim and noting the U.S. intelligence community's differences with the United Kingdom over the intelligence. The memorandum is passed to both Hadley and Rice.
No reference to Iraqi uranium procurement attempts appears in Bush's October 7 speech.

Hadley and White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett reveal these details in a July 22, 2003, press briefing.

October 8, 2002: After several weeks of debate, the House of Representatives passes a resolution providing Bush with the authority to use military force against Iraq to enforce UN Security Council resolutions. The Senate follows suit October 11 and Bush signs the resolution October 16.

October 9, 2002: An Italian journalist provides the U.S. Embassy in Rome with "copies of documents pertaining" to the suspected uranium deal, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee. The embassy gives copies of the documents to both the State Department and CIA.

INR subsequently distributes copies of the documents to the relevant U.S. intelligence agencies, alerting them that it has "serious doubts about the authenticity of the documents," according to the 2005 WMD Commission report. Nevertheless, the agency continues to reference the suspected uranium transaction in several later assessments. WINPAC does not learn until mid-January 2003 that other intelligence agencies received the documents, the CIA later tells the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

October 16, 2002: Bush signs the congressional resolution authorizing him to use military force against Iraq.

The resolution authorizes Bush to use military force to "defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq" and "enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq."

It also requires Bush to submit to Congress his "determination" that reliance on "further diplomatic or other peaceful means alone" will either be insufficient to protect U.S. national security "against the continuing threat posed by Iraq" or "not likely to lead to enforcement of all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq."

November 22, 2002: A French foreign ministry official tells State Department officials that Paris has "information on an Iraqi attempt to buy uranium from Niger" which it regards as "true," according to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The forged documents also formed the basis for this intelligence, France later informs the United States.

December 17, 2002: WINPAC produces an analysis of Iraq's December 7 declaration to UN weapons inspectors. UN Security Council Resolution 1441, adopted November 8, 2002, required Iraq to submit a declaration "of all aspects of its [weapons of mass destruction] programmes." The declaration is supposed to provide information about any prohibited weapons activity since UN inspectors left the country in 1998 and to resolve outstanding questions about Iraq's WMD programs that had not been answered by 1998.

The analysis omits INR's dissenting viewpoints and states that Baghdad's declaration "does not acknowledge efforts to procure uranium from Niger."

The next day, the Department of State's Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Public Affairs Richard Boucher asks Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton for assistance in drafting a response to Iraq's declaration. Bolton assigns the task to the State Department's Nonproliferation Bureau, who prepares a fact sheet based on a draft of a December 20, 2002 speech by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Negroponte.

December 19, 2002: The State Department fact sheet charges Iraq with omitting its "efforts to procure uranium from Niger" from its declaration. INR does not clear the fact sheet, according to knowledgeable sources. INR requests that the fact sheet be modified to say the uranium procurement effort is "repeated" and notes its assessment that the validity of the allegation is "dubious," but the final fact sheet does not contain INR's suggested language. WINPAC approves the Niger language when it reviews the fact sheet, but later asks that Negroponte's final speech use "Africa" instead.

The IAEA requests information from the United States regarding the uranium claim "immediately after" the fact sheet's release, according to a June 20, 2003, letter from the IAEA to U.S. Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA). This information is not supplied until February 4, 2003, according to a July 1, 2003, State Department letter to Waxman.


January 20, 2003: Bush submits a report to Congress stating that Iraq omitted "attempts to acquire uranium" from its December 7 declaration to the United Nations.

January 23, 2003: Rice writes in The New York Times that Iraq's declaration "fails to account for or explain Iraq's efforts to get uranium from abroad." A White House report issued the same day asserts that Iraq's weapons declaration "ignores efforts to procure uranium from abroad."

January 26, 2003: Powell asks, "Why is Iraq still trying to procure uranium and the special equipment needed to transform it into material for nuclear weapons?" during a speech in Switzerland.

January 27, 2003: IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei tells the Security Council that IAEA inspectors "have to date found no evidence that Iraq has revived its nuclear weapons programme since the elimination of the programme in the 1990s."

January 28, 2003: Bush asserts that "the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa" during his State of the Union address.

January 29, 2003: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld states during a press briefing that Iraq "recently was discovered seeking significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

February 4, 2003: State Department officials give the IAEA the information the agency requested about Iraq's attempts to obtain uranium from Niger, telling the agency that it "cannot confirm these reports and [has] questions regarding some specific claims."

February 5, 2003: Powell presents evidence, based on U.S. intelligence, about Iraq's prohibited weapons programs to the Security Council. He does not mention Iraqi attempts to obtain uranium from Africa.

February 14, 2003: ElBaradei reports to the Security Council that "we have to date found no evidence of ongoing prohibited nuclear or nuclear-related activities in Iraq," adding that "a number of issues are still under investigation and we are not yet in a position to reach a conclusion about them."

February 16, 2003: Hadley writes in The Chicago Tribune that "[a]ccording to British intelligence, the [Iraqi] regime has tried to acquire natural uranium from abroad."

February 24, 2003: Russia and France submit a memorandum to the Security Council stating that military force should not yet be used because there is "no evidence" that Iraq possesses illicit weapons. The resolution suggests several measures to strengthen the UN weapons inspections, noting that they have already "produced results." China also supports the resolution.

The resolution, however, cautions that Baghdad's cooperation, although improving, is not "yet fully satisfactory." Additionally, the memorandum does not rule out the use of military force as a "last resort" and states that "inspections…cannot continue indefinitely."

March 3, 2003: The IAEA notifies the U.S. Mission in Vienna that, based on its analysis of the relevant documents, as well as interviews with Iraqi officials, the agency has concluded that the documents are forgeries.

March 4, 2003: The United States learns that the French had based their intelligence assessments regarding the suspected uranium sale on the same forged documents.

March 7, 2003: ElBaradei tells the Security Council that the documents allegedly detailing uranium transactions between Iraq and Niger are "not authentic," adding that "these specific allegations are unfounded."

March 9, 2003: Powell acknowledges that the documents concerning the alleged Iraq-Niger uranium deal might be fake.

March 11, 2003: WINPAC issues an assessment which does "not dispute" the IAEA's conclusions regarding the documents. Although the report states "we are concerned that these reports may indicate Baghdad has attempted to secure an unreported source of uranium yellowcake for a nuclear weapons program," it describes the intelligence as "fragmentary and unconfirmed."

March 16, 2003: Cheney states on NBC's "Meet the Press" that the IAEA's March 7 assessment that there is no evidence of an active Iraqi nuclear weapons program is "wrong."

March 19, 2003: U.S.-led coalition military forces invade Iraq.

April 5, 2003: The National Intelligence Council states that the intelligence community agrees that the documents in question are forgeries. The report adds that "other reports from 2002-one alleging warehousing of yellowcake for shipment to Iraq, a second alleging a 1999 visit by an Iraqi delegation to Niamey [Niger]-do not constitute credible evidence of a recent or impending sale."

June 8, 2003: Rice acknowledges on "Meet the Press" that the intelligence underlying the Niger claim "was mistaken," but also states that "no one in our circles knew that there were doubts and suspicions that this might be a forgery."

June 17, 2003: The CIA produces a memorandum for Tenet stating that "since learning that the Iraq-Niger uranium deal was based on false documents earlier this spring, we no longer believe that there is sufficient other reporting to conclude that Iraq pursued uranium from abroad." The memorandum is not distributed outside the agency, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

July 6, 2003: The New York Times publishes Ambassador Wilson's op-ed.

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U.S. Failed to Secure Iraq Materials

Paul Kerr

The Department of Defense was not adequately prepared to locate, secure, collect, and remove radiological materials in Iraq until about six months after the U.S.-led March 2003 invasion, according to a September Government Accountability Office (GAO) report. The report from the congressional watchdog agency implies that radiological sources were left vulnerable during the interim and may have gone missing as a result. It also provides recommendations to the Pentagon to improve the conduct of any future such operations.

The report adds to the growing body of evidence that the U.S.-led coalition forces were not adequately prepared to secure Iraqi radiological sources, other nuclear materials, or suspected prohibited weapons and related materials, particularly in a violent post-war environment.

Iraq did not have active nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons programs at the time of the 2003 invasion, but it did have a number of radiological sources. Such sources have a wide variety of civilian applications but also can be combined with conventional explosives to disperse radioactive material in a so-called dirty bomb.

According to the GAO, the Pentagon’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), along with the Department of Energy, ultimately collected about 1,400 radioactive sources. The agencies transferred about 1,000 of them to the United States in June 2004, before the U.S.-led coalition relinquished formal control of the country to the interim Iraqi government. An additional 700 sources deemed adequately secure were left in the country. The sources that have been brought to the United States remain in temporary storage pending an interagency determination as to whether Washington “owns the material or is merely serving as its custodian,” the report says.

It is, however, “likely that other sources remain unsecured in Iraq,” the report says, adding that the total number of such sources is unknown. The report attributes this uncertainty to several factors: the Defense Department’s ignorance of the total number of radiological sources in Iraq prior to the invasion, the Pentagon’s decision not to visit certain relevant sites, and the likelihood that some sources were taken from sites before relevant U.S. personnel arrived.

The report adds that some vehicles leaving Iraq have been caught with radiological sources but does not say whether any such sources have actually left the country. UN inspectors have previously reported that radioactive and weapons-related materials have ended up in other countries. (See ACT, June 2005.)

Planning Failures, Future Fixes

The Defense Department made plans during late 2002 and early 2003 to find and eliminate suspected Iraqi, biological, and chemical weapons and related materials, as well as radiological sources. The department established military units tasked with locating and analyzing suspected Iraqi weapons sites, and DTRA was tasked 12 days before the invasion with hiring a contractor to dispose of weapons-related materials.

However, the GAO report concludes that the Pentagon failed to prepare adequately for this mission.

According to the report, the delays resulted from several factors, including DTRA’s difficult negotiations with its contractor as well as interagency coordinating snags. DTRA did not begin working in Iraq until September 2003.

Furthermore, individual military commanders “initially had no policy guidance on which radiological sources to collect, and what to do with them once they were collected.” Lacking official guidance—and often proper equipment—commanders had to make ad hoc decisions regarding the collection of radiological sources, sometimes tasking troops with guarding the sources at the sites where they were found.

Concerns about the security of Iraqi weapons-related materials have persisted since shortly after the invasion. U.S. and UN officials have reported that sites associated with Baghdad’s past weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs have been dismantled and looted even while the country was formally under coalition control.

Most recently, the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) reported Aug. 30 that, based on its analysis of satellite images, approximately 118 of 378 inspected weapons sites containing equipment and materials of relevance “have been cleaned to varying degrees.” UNMOVIC inspectors examined 411 sites between November 2002 and March 2003. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) also has described similar findings with respect to Iraq’s nuclear-related facilities.

IAEA inspectors recently found Iraq’s known uranium inventory to be intact, the agency announced Sept. 23.


The report recommends that the Defense Department “comprehensively review” its experience in Iraq. It also recommends that the secretary of defense provide specific guidance for collecting, securing, and disposing of radiological sources, including designating a responsible organization within the department, formulating specific procedures for executing the source collection task in a combat environment, improving interagency coordination, and establishing criteria for prioritizing the collection of different types of radiological sources.

In its response to the report, the Pentagon stated that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in January had designated the commander of Strategic Command with “overall responsibility” for issues related to combating WMD, including securing radiological sources. But a Defense Department joint staff officer told the GAO in August that Strategic Command has not yet issued its plan for combating WMD.


UNMOVIC Details Lessons Learned

Two recent reports from the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) have provided some “lessons learned” that may help to improve future inspections of suspected chemical and biological weapons and missile programs.

UN inspectors succeeded in disarming Iraq after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, although they were unable to resolve all ambiguities associated with Baghdad’s weapons programs.

UNMOVIC’s August report included an excerpt of a draft summary from a “lessons learned” compendium that the organization is compiling. The excerpt focused on Iraq’s biological weapons program, observing that greater use of environmental sampling earlier in the inspections process would likely have enabled the inspectors to uncover definitive evidence of Iraq’s biological weapons program more quickly. As it was, the inspectors took several years to uncover the program fully.

A May UNMOVIC report included similar discussions about Iraq’s chemical weapons and prohibited missile programs.

Whether the commission itself will ever get to apply its “lessons learned” is unclear because the UN Security Council has not yet made a decision regarding the commission’s future.


LOOKING BACK: The UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission

Trevor Findlay

The UN Security Council is soon expected to debate the future of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC). The question facing the Security Council is whether to close down and dismantle the organization or to put its human and technical capabilities, as well as its intellectual and archival property, at the continuing service of the international community.

UNMOVIC was established in 1999 to pursue the task of verifying Iraqi compliance with Security Council demands that Iraq divest itself of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and associated capabilities. Although UNMOVIC’s inspectors were withdrawn from Iraq prior to the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, the organization continues to fulfill what remains of its mandate. Denied access to Iraq itself, UNMOVIC uses remote means, such as satellite imagery and open source information, to monitor developments within the country related to chemical and biological weapons and missiles. In addition, it has tried to track weapons-related equipment and materials that have been removed from Iraq since the war. UNMOVIC also is working to systematize its archives and catalog lessons from the Iraq experience.

UNMOVIC has an annual budget of about $12 million. It currently has a staff of 60 at its New York headquarters, as well as a small local staff in Baghdad. Moreover, it has a rostered inspectorate of 383 experts, 33 of whom are on staff in New York. In addition to its own screening facility, UNMOVIC has standing arrangements with 11 laboratories located around the world for chemical, biological, and other sample analysis.

Having succeeded in establishing a sophisticated and demonstrably capable UN-based verification apparatus, a strong case can be made for preserving and nurturing its capacities by bequeathing them to a new, permanent UN weapons of mass destruction (WMD) verification body. Such a body would broaden the range of options available to the international community for tackling the threat from these weapons, including that from nonstate actors; continue the work of expanding the frontiers of inspection, monitoring and verification; and give a much-needed boost to the United Nations’ technical capacities and credibility in this area.

Origins and Mandate

UNMOVIC inherited most of the responsibilities and capacities of its predecessor, the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM). That body was discontinued in 1999 after Iraq refused to deal with it any longer. Increasingly annoyed by UNSCOM’s intrusiveness, Iraq had taken advantage of allegations of intelligence gathering by the inspectorate, using them as an excuse to expel U.S. inspectors and subsequently all UNSCOM personnel.[1]

UNMOVIC was mandated to continue the work of UNSCOM in verifying and assisting in the “destruction, removal or rendering harmless” of Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons capabilities and means of delivering them and Iraq’s nuclear weapons, including missiles with a range exceeding 150 kilometers. Like its predecessor, UNMOVIC was required to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in verifying Iraqi disarmament in the nuclear field. UNMOVIC was endowed, however, with new powers and capabilities and with features designed to neutralize Iraqi excuses for noncooperation.

Given that Iraq had already been substantially disarmed on UNSCOM’s watch, UNMOVIC was instructed to focus on identifying “unresolved disarmament issues” and “key remaining disarmament tasks.” In the expectation that Iraq would need to be observed for several years even after it fully disarmed, UNMOVIC was also tasked with preparing a Reinforced Ongoing Monitoring and Verification (R-OMV) program.

UNMOVIC was encouraged to implement the recommendations of the Amorim panel, named after Brazilian diplomat Celso Amorim. The panel had been appointed by the Security Council to suggest ways forward after Iraq ended cooperation with UNSCOM. The reforms included employing inspectors and all UNMOVIC staff as UN civil servants rather than accepting inspectors on loan from member governments, as was UNSCOM’s practice. This was in part an attempt to avoid national intelligence agents being planted in inspection teams.

Organization and Capabilities

With Security Council approval, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed Swedish diplomat Hans Blix, former IAEA director-general, as UNMOVIC’s executive chairman. Annan also appointed a 16-member College of Commissioners to provide Blix with policy guidance.

When Iraq refused to admit UN inspectors to its territory for another three years, UNMOVIC used the waiting period to great advantage. It determined priority sites for inspection, analyzed the huge amounts of information on Iraq collected by UNSCOM, studied the experiences of its predecessor, created a well-trained cadre of inspectors, and refined its monitoring and inspection methods. Notably, UNMOVIC created innovative, multidisciplinary analytical and inspection teams designed to avoid the “stove-piping” of information into separate tracks for nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and delivery systems, which could result in missed leads and lost opportunities. UNMOVIC, rather than member states, became primarily responsible for training. As UNSCOM had been accused of cultural insensitivity, training now covered Iraqi culture, history, and politics. In an effort to secure greater cooperation from the Iraqis, Blix pledged that the flow of intelligence information would be strictly “one way,” from national intelligence services to UNMOVIC.[2]

UNMOVIC also developed its technical capabilities, assisted by significant improvements in technology after 1998. Detection devices were now smaller, lighter, faster, and more accurate. They included miniature radiation sensors, portable chemical and biological weapons detectors, and ground-penetrating radar. Information technology developments also helped. For instance, the IAEA and UNMOVIC databases were linked, permitting new ways of looking for patterns and linkages across disciplines.

UNMOVIC’s capabilities would also be enhanced by the establishment of regional offices; the ability to fly into Baghdad rather than an airport several hours’ drive away; a fleet of helicopters; access to color satellite images, including from commercial providers; and the use of Mirage and U-2 aircraft for reconnaissance.[3]

Bowing to political pressure from a newly unified Security Council and military pressure from the United States and the United Kingdom, Iraq finally agreed to let UNMOVIC deploy in December 2002. Security Council Resolution 1441, adopted unanimously on November 8, 2002, threatened Iraq with enforcement measures under Chapter VII of the UN Charter if it failed to comply with the council’s demands. The United States meanwhile had begun a steady buildup of its forces and intensified military preparations in Iraq’s neighborhood and, along with the United Kingdom, had increased the tempo of air operations in enforcing no-fly zones over Iraqi territory.

Inspecting Iraq

Given the green light, UNMOVIC quickly swung into action. Its first inspectors arrived in Baghdad in less than three weeks, paving the way for inspections to begin just two days later. The early inspections were low-key, designed in part to test Iraqi cooperation. When Iraqi resistance proved negligible, inspections began in earnest, averaging eight a day. Inspection teams had an average of eight inspectors, but ranged in size from two to 40.

The inspections conducted by UNMOVIC and the IAEA’s Iraq Nuclear Verification Office (INVO) had two distinct phases. From November 2002 until the beginning of 2003, they focused on re-establishing a baseline for declared sites by assessing changes in activity, personnel, or equipment since inspectors left in 1998. Newly declared sites were also visited, and all sites assessed against Iraq’s December 7, 2002, declaration. A second investigative phase began in mid-January, designed to pursue leads obtained from previous inspections, Iraqi documents, and information from other sources, including intelligence. Key sites were re-inspected.

In its 111 days in Iraq, UNMOVIC conducted 731 inspections at 411 sites, 88 of which had not been inspected previously, while the INVO conducted 237 inspections at 148 sites, including 27 new sites, covering more than 1,600 buildings. Most of the sites were located around Baghdad or Mosul, the latter facilitated by the opening of a regional field office there.[4]

In sharp contrast to UNSCOM’s experience, the Iraqis did not prevent entry to any site that UNMOVIC sought to visit and imposed minimal delays even when inspections were conducted with little or no notice. Iraq used delaying tactics, however, in granting permission for helicopter, U-2, and Mirage aircraft overflights. It also obstructed UNMOVIC’s access to Iraqi scientists and other experts for interviews without Iraqi minders being present. In reporting to the council, Blix distinguished between Iraq’s cooperation in “process,” which was good, and cooperation in “substance,” where Iraq continued to be evasive and misleading. Blix identified at least 100 questions that Iraq had failed to answer, many relating to the amount of anthrax and VX nerve agent that Iraq had declared but not adequately accounted for.

UNMOVIC had barely been in the country three months when it was obliged to withdraw because of the decision of the United Kingdom and the United States to invade Iraq, following protracted but ultimately inconclusive debates in the Security Council on how to bring about full Iraqi compliance. UNMOVIC had not yet completed its second phase of inspections, had only just begun receiving overhead imagery, and had not installed the equipment necessary for long-term monitoring of Iraq. Nor had it yet inaugurated an office in Basra, which would have opened up southern Iraq to more thorough inspection and increased the element of surprise. In the end, only seven sites were inspected in the southern third of the country, and UNMOVIC had interviewed few of the many scientists and officials that it wished to query.

UNMOVIC’s Findings

UNMOVIC did not find undeclared weapons of mass destruction, relevant production facilities, or significant amounts of materials and equipment intended for such weapons. On the contrary, it confirmed that Iraq had destroyed the bulk of its capabilities, either unilaterally before UNSCOM inspections commenced in 1991 or under UNSCOM’s supervision. UNMOVIC determined that Iraq’s chemical weapons program had ended, and its previous arsenal, with the exception of a few chemical shells, had been destroyed. In the biological weapons area, although some substantive questions persisted, no weapons or facilities were found. Claims by the United States that Iraq had developed mobile biological weapons laboratories and unmanned aerial vehicles for delivering biological weapons were credibly refuted. Uncertainties also had remained about missiles after UNSCOM’s departure. UNMOVIC detected Iraqi violations of the 150-kilometer-range limit and was in the process of destroying the offending missiles and test platforms when it was withdrawn, but it did not find alleged hidden batteries of SCUD missiles.

Meanwhile, the IAEA essentially closed the nuclear file, concluding that Iraq no longer possessed significant nuclear capabilities and, due to disorganization, corruption, and the effects of sanctions, had been unable to rejuvenate them during the UN inspectors’ absence.[5]

UNMOVIC’s Performance

UNMOVIC succeeded in verifying that Iraq had essentially disarmed itself of weapons of mass destruction and rid itself of associated capabilities. The organization did this expeditiously, professionally, objectively, and without fear or favor in the face of considerable pressure from Iraq and some members of the Security Council to do otherwise. UNMOVIC learned to deal proactively with Iraqi deception and denial tactics and its reluctance to cooperate. It also overcame a failure by the United States to provide timely and reliable intelligence information to permit inspections to move at the quicker pace that it was demanding. It turns out that there was no such information. UNMOVIC ignored insinuations from critics within or associated with the U.S. administration that were intended to discredit it. The UN inspectorate’s reputation has since been burnished by the failure of the U.S.-led Iraq Survey Group, which had relatively free access to Iraq for more than six times as long, to overturn its conclusions. UNMOVIC has been further vindicated by the admissions of the British and U.S. governments that they were wrong about Iraq’s alleged retention and resurrection of its WMD capabilities.

If there was one failure by UNMOVIC to fulfill its mandate, it was Blix’s understandable reluctance—much criticized by U.S. officials—to remove Iraqi scientists, presumably accompanied by their families, from Iraq for interview. Although plans were being made prior to UNMOVIC’s withdrawal for this to happen, it probably would have been ineffectual. Even if removed far from Baghdad, the individuals concerned likely would have felt too intimidated by the Iraqi regime to have divulged any information of value.

The Future of UNMOVIC

There is disagreement in the Security Council over the future of UNMOVIC and its capabilities. The United States favors simply winding the commission down, but other permanent members, notably France and Russia, propose variously that it be permitted to make a final judgment on Iraq’s compliance and that the organization’s capacities and expertise be used in some form to permanently bolster the UN’s verification capability in the WMD area. Countries currently outside the council, such as Canada and Japan and the member states of the European Union, also favor enhancing the United Nations’ standing verification capacity. Some see particular merit in preserving UNMOVIC’s capacities with respect to biological weapons and missiles, for which there are currently no international verification organizations.

The most radical idea is for a permanent WMD verification body that would absorb UNMOVIC’s capabilities in their entirety. Such an agency could provide the United Nations with much needed technical capacity for dealing with WMD issues in their many dimensions. It would not be restricted to the relatively rare enforced verification operation typified by the Iraq case but could carry out a variety of fact-finding missions, investigations, and verification exercises at the behest of the UN secretary-general or the Security Council. States may themselves invite such inspections in order to demonstrate their compliance or assist the inspectors in detecting nonstate actor activity on their territory.

The new body could absorb the current, largely moribund mechanism available to the secretary-general for investigating alleged chemical or biological weapons use. Its day-to-day operations would include providing the Security Council with briefings and expert studies on WMD issues. These are likely to be particularly valuable to the nonpermanent members, which often lack their own expertise on such subjects. The new body would be designed to complement and cooperate closely with, not supplant, the existing multilateral verification organizations that deal with nuclear and chemical weapon: the IAEA, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization, and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

UNMOVIC’s experience in Iraq has been both salutary and path-breaking. It has added greatly to the store of verification lore and capacity that could be utilized in future verification endeavors. Lessons learned have already been fed into the standing multilateral verification bodies and were notable in the UNSCOM-UNMOVIC transition. It should be the goal of the international community to ensure that such hard-won capacities are preserved and strengthened for future use. Giving the United Nations a ready-made, standby capacity for launching effective monitoring, verification, and inspection operations when required would enhance the tools available for protecting international peace and security and give further pause to the small number of states that are tempted to violate international treaties and norms relating to weapons of mass destruction.

Trevor Findlay is director of the Canadian Centre for Treaty Compliance at Carleton University, Ottawa.


1. “The Lessons and Legacy of UNSCOM: An Interview With Ambassador Richard Butler,” Arms Control Today, June 1999, p. 3.

2. Hans Blix, Disarming Iraq: the Search for Weapons of Mass Destruction ( London: Bloomsbury, 2004).

3. The use of unmanned aerial vehicles was also planned but did not materialize before UNMOVIC’s withdrawal.

4. Of UNMOVIC inspections, 219 (30 percent) were conducted by missile teams, 205 (28 percent) by biological teams, 161 (22 percent) by chemical teams, and 146 (20 percent) by multidisciplinary teams. In addition to inspections, the INVO also conducted 125 surveys, including 42 at locations not previously visited by the IAEA. The surveys included land- and vehicle-based sampling, traveling more than 8,000 kilometers to visit state-run industrial and military locations as well as urban areas. They also conducted a radiometric survey of Iraq’s main watercourses December 9-19.

5. Central Intelligence Agency, “Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the DCI on Iraq’s WMD,” Washington, DC, September 30, 2004.




Final Iraq Report Downplays Brain Drain

Paul Kerr

The CIA released its final account April 25 of the U.S.-led investigation of Iraq’s suspected weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs. Although the new material continues to support previous findings that Iraq did not possess prohibited weapons or active weapons programs, it highlights several “residual proliferation risks,” including missing Iraqi scientists and weapons-related equipment.

The recently released material supplements a September 2004 report from Charles Duelfer, the special adviser to the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), which was charged with coordinating the weapons search after the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003. Duelfer’s report stated that Iraq had destroyed its nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and had not restarted any related programs at the time the war began. (See ACT, November 2004.)

Shortly after that report, the ISG, “due to security concerns,” stopped visiting sites formerly associated with Iraq’s illicit weapons programs, Duelfer wrote in a note accompanying the supplement’s release.

Duelfer said that the ISG is still conducting a “substantial effort” to evaluate documents related to Iraq’s weapons programs, but added that “it is not likely that significant surprises remain.”

Missing Personnel, Materials
The risk that Iraqi personnel with WMD expertise could go to work for insurgents, terrorists, or other governments is “an important concern,” according to Duelfer’s report. The ISG, however, apparently judges this risk to be low.

The supplement states that there is “only very limited reporting” that governments are attempting to recruit Iraqi WMD personnel and “no reports” that any have succeeded.

Additionally, the ISG is “aware of only one scientist” previously associated with Iraq’s weapons programs who has assisted terrorists or insurgents, the report says, adding that there are “multiple reports” of other Iraqis with “general chemical or biological expertise helping insurgents to build chemical or biological agents.”

However, insurgent efforts to obtain such weapons “have been limited and contained by coalition actions,” Duelfer’s note adds.

The magnitude of the potential threat from Iraqi weapons personnel is apparently difficult to discern. The report states that the total number of past participants in Iraq’s WMD programs is “impossible to quantify,” but describes the current “subset” of worrisome personnel as “numerically small” and “shrinking,” as their weapons skills continue to deteriorate.

Nevertheless, the report acknowledges that “one or two individuals with the right skills could make a significant impact in a WMD effort.”

According to an August 2004 Department of State report, U.S. programs to redirect Iraqi weapons personnel had identified “approximately 400-500” relevant individuals. A State Department official told Arms Control Today last October that these programs have the “overwhelming majority” of these personnel “identified and engaged.” (See ACT, November 2004.)

Duelfer’s report also states that the ISG found that weapons-related equipment and materials have gone missing from former Iraqi weapons sites. According to the report, such equipment “could contribute to insurgent or terrorist production of chemical or biological agents.”

As for Iraq’s former nuclear weapons program, Duelfer’s report states that at least some missing items could provide relevant information to a country attempting to acquire nuclear weapons. The report also warns that the new Iraqi government may have difficulty maintaining control over its dual-use nuclear equipment and materials.

UN inspectors have previously raised concerns about weapons-related materials escaping Iraq. (See ACT, April 2005.) Most recently, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei notified the UN Security Council in April that the agency has observed “significant dismantling and removal activities” at 37 relevant sites. The IAEA has identified 175 such sites and reviewed data on 141.

The IAEA was charged with enforcing Security Council resolutions requiring Iraq to dismantle its nuclear weapons program after the 1991 Persian Gulf War. The agency also conducted inspections in Iraq during the months prior to the 2003 invasion. However, the United States has refused to grant the IAEA broad access to sites formerly on its watch list.

Duelfer stated April 27 on PBS’s “Newshour with Jim Lehrer” that the proliferation risk from the missing weapons material and equipment is “fairly small,” adding that the equipment was removed for “economic reasons” rather than for export to another country.

The report also assesses that Iraqi and U.S.-led forces will likely continue to discover chemical weapons left over from Iraq’s pre-1991 stocks, but adds that such weapons “do not pose a militarily significant threat” because the chemical agents and munitions have degraded. Insurgents have attacked coalition forces with two chemical weapons since 2003, the report says. (See ACT, July/August 2004.)

Duelfer’s supplement also addresses speculation that prohibited Iraqi weapons or related materials may have been moved to Syria. (See ACT, November 2003.) Duelfer stated April 27 that the ISG had found no evidence to substantiate intelligence reports suggesting that “suspicious materials” had been transferred to that country. Although he acknowledged that the ISG had been unable to investigate “a few leads,” Duelfer argued that “someone would have told something to us” if such a transfer had taken place.



The Robb-Silberman Report, Intelligence, and Nonproliferation

Ellen Laipson


On March 31, a bipartisan commission led by former Senator Charles Robb (D-Va.) and federal appellate court Judge Laurence Silberman, a Republican, reported to President George W. Bush on what went wrong in the intelligence community when it failed to accurately assess that Iraq did not possess stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The White House-appointed commission also offered recommendations on improving overall U.S. intelligence performance.

For some, the report’s conclusions were bound to be of questionable value because the commission’s mandate ignored policymakers’ actions on the intelligence and the interaction between policymakers and intelligence. True solutions to intelligence performance, in this view, must be considered in a more strategic and holistic way, considering both the supply and the demand side of the ledger. In normal circumstances, intelligence is a supporting function, contributing analysis and occasionally unique and secret data to a policy deliberation that includes many other information inputs. It is quite rare that intelligence shoulders the burden of making a war or peace judgment, particularly when there is no evidence of an intention to launch a direct attack on the United States or its forces.

Still, it is sad but true that there is room for blame at more than one address; we need to study and come to terms both with an intelligence failure and a policy failure. Although the Robb-Silberman report deals only with the first topic, it does it well. Of all the reports breathlessly assessing intelligence failures and proposing to fix the problem, this one is the best in terms of understanding the intelligence profession and in terms of setting a tone of realism and even humility regarding what can be credibly promoted as solutions to a very complex set of problems. The report provides some unusual insight into the art and science of intelligence analysis, and its recommendations, although often not original or dramatic, make common sense. If implemented fully, it would make for a better intelligence process and product.

Equally compelling is the report’s understanding of how much of the failures and underperformance are caused at least in part by the way large bureaucracies behave. The commission benefited from having two university presidents as members, who reportedly were deeply interested in issues of organizational behavior. The report is more satisfying than some for acknowledging that very large, complex organizations inevitably create rules and checks and balances that over time impede the organization’s ability to achieve its core mission and objectives. This is surely true of the intelligence community, which seems to thrive on making processes and procedures more complex.

That is why it is troubling that this commission as well as the ones that preceded it say almost nothing about the size and complexity of the big intelligence machine the U.S. government has constructed over the decades. Each report pays homage to concepts such as “streamlining,” eliminating “stovepipes,” creating greater efficiencies, etc., but none says that a smaller community would almost certainly be a more successful one. Each time we add a new office or agency, do we dis-establish an old one? Of course not, say the “iron laws of bureaucratic behavior.”[1] If the report had followed its own advice to “integrate and innovate,” it would have considered dis-establishing the CIA, since many of its original roles and missions will be transferred to the new director of national intelligence, and calling for a downsizing of the overall community, in the interest of achieving more of a real “community” of common interests and goals.

Intelligence and the Iraq Target
The core purpose of the commission was to look back at the Iraq case and figure out what went wrong and then to look forward at intelligence solutions. The Iraq case spans 200 pages of the 600-page report and is compared briefly to Libya, al Qaeda in Afghanistan, terrorism, and a section on Iran and North Korea, the judgments on which did not make it through the security screen to appear in the unclassified report.

The judgment on Iraq is stark and sobering: “We conclude that the Intelligence Community was dead wrong in almost all of its pre-war judgments about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. This was a major intelligence failure.”[2] After this show-stopper, the report goes on to say with some insight and even empathy that the pre-war hypothesis that Saddam Hussein had such weapons was reasonable given his past behavior, but should not have been turned into a presumption. It says that it would not have expected the community to get it all right but, rather, less wrong. This is a subtle but important understanding of the limits of intelligence that many in the U.S. media and therefore the American public do not fully grasp.

In a recent public presentation, Silberman said it was a “grave, grave mistake” to go from a judgment of past behavior to a “90 percent certainty that he had weapons of mass destruction.” The report faults the community for not remembering or implementing its own tradecraft on the question of weapons of mass destruction. It failed to be sufficiently aggressive in questioning the bona fides of human sources; it became lax in questioning assumptions, red-teaming (the use of a parallel, independent analytic group to use different assumptions and presumably come to different conclusions), and considering alternative hypotheses; and it conducted a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) process that appeared to treat some dissenting views as trivial and failed to vet some technical disputes thoroughly through available auxiliary analytic processes.

Techniques to invite first-rate scientists in universities and private laboratories to critique government analysis exist and are often used on issues less vital than the war and peace context in which analysis on Iraq was conducted, so it is particularly disturbing that the community seemed to ignore or neglect some of its own internal checks. Examples of the weak tradecraft apply to each of the WMD subcategories: the aluminum tubes were allegedly linked to the nuclear program, the mobile laboratory trucks to biological weapons, and the water trucks to chemical weapons. Several of these issues were in dispute at the time of Secretary of State Colin Powell’s testimony to the UN Security Council in February 2003.

The commission also acknowledges that, in terms of broad political analysis, assuming the worst from Hussein’s regime was a reasonable position to take but faults the analysts for taking that hypothesis and making it a premise that was no longer subject to scrutiny—again, a sign of poor tradecraft. At all levels of the analytic cadres, there was a comfortable consensus among analysts that Hussein’s regime was not capable of reform and was relentlessly ambitious to accumulate additional attributes of national power. This was based on more than a decade of experience watching a closed and cruel regime, with proven aggressive behavior toward Iran, Kuwait, and its own citizenry.

Long before the Bush administration came into office, analysts were on a kind of automatic pilot with respect to the fundamental behavior and attitudes of the regime in Baghdad. Workshops and exercises tried to anticipate new and different actions by the regime, but very few posited that Iraq was largely passive and hunkered down. It would have been startlingly counterintuitive for analysts to argue that the regime had been pacified; there was too much data on Iraqi noncompliance and defiance of international efforts to make such an alternative hypothesis credible. Surely, independent minded analysts occasionally voiced such opinions, but it would have taken some definitive new evidence to allow the subtle and collective group think to shift to a new bottom-line judgment. The commission report makes some straightforward, common sense recommendations on how to reinvigorate some of the checks and balances in the analytic process but sensibly judges that such alternative analysis mechanisms are an incomplete solution.

The commission’s treatment of the Iraq case has two shortcomings. First, the role of the UN Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) as a source of vital insight into Iraqi activities is understated and underacknowledged in the report. In the early 1990s, UNSCOM relied heavily on leads provided by UN member states, the United States almost certainly the most active among them, in helping UNSCOM launch its work and identify the suspected weapons sites in Iraq. Over time, UNSCOM became a mature and competent organization, with accumulated knowledge of Iraq that surpassed that of any member state, including states that provided professional cadres as inspectors. The U.S. intelligence community has difficulty admitting how dependent it was on UNSCOM reporting and on the experience brought back by inspectors. In the mid- to late 1990s, UNSCOM began to articulate its doubts about the likelihood of remaining stockpiles of proscribed weapons; despite its own acquired distrust of Iraqi declarations, its own methodology was leading it to certain conclusions. Yet, within the intelligence community there was subtle instinct to be more skeptical than UNSCOM, to assume that a UN organization could not be as tough-minded as the United States. The absence of new collection meant the analysts had little basis on which to challenge UNSCOM or draw a different conclusion than UNSCOM’s experts.

This is a fascinating tale of the evolution of a UN body that actually became more competent than the capabilities of the United States. The power of knowledge shifted from the United States to UNSCOM, but it was difficult for the U.S. side of the equation to admit it. The commission report skims lightly over the changing dynamic between UNSCOM and U.S. intelligence and therefore understates the value that future UN inspections and perhaps a permanent inspectorate could have on the ability of the United States and the international community to stay smart in a changing proliferation environment. It is a topic worthy of more attention, a book perhaps that only Charles Duelfer can write.[3]

Second, on the question of whether analysts were subjected to political pressure, the report insists that it left no stone unturned to get to the bottom of the allegations. It provided hotlines and means by which analysts could report anonymously, and it concluded quite forcefully that it found “no evidence of politicization of the…assessments concerning Iraq’s reported WMD programs…and no evidence of politicization even under the broader definition used by the CIA’s Ombudsman for Politicization,” which includes any “unprofessional manipulation of information and judgments…to please what those officers perceive to be policymakers’ preferences.”[4]

The commission concedes that “there is no doubt that analysts operated in an environment shaped by intense policymaker interest,” but this formulation seems to understate the problem. Analysts are rewarded for working well with customers and for focusing on policy-relevant work. The administration was highly confident in its own analysis, and government analysts were frequently challenged to demonstrate that they could hold their own or make useful contributions to the strong personalities in the president’s team, personalities who did not hesitate to express their disagreement if not disdain for views that did not conform to their own. So, it would seem a serious shortcoming on the commission’s part not to think beyond the narrow question, “Did you ever change any language because of pressure,” to imagine the highly charged and stressful environment in which the community’s Iraq experts were working. This is not to absolve analysts from responsibility, but to question whether the commission’s own fine work will be marked by this perceived politically correct conclusion. The commission could have been bolder and more strategic in its understanding of this critical issue, even within the constraints set by its mandate.

The WMD Proliferation Challenge
The commission was also tasked with thinking beyond the Iraq case, and it attempted to derive lessons from the Iraq experience for continuing intelligence coverage of proliferation. It usefully points out that the proliferation problem is getting more difficult, given changes in technology, information networks, and the emergence of black-market nuclear networks such as those led by Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan.[5] At the same time, the threshold for intelligence performance is also rising.[6] That is to say, if you thought Iraq was hard, just wait and see how much more difficult Iran and the next cases will be. The report judges that the intelligence community’s efforts have not kept pace with proliferation and will need to be more aggressive and innovative in the future. Many of the recommendations, however, are ideas that have long been accepted and at least partly implemented by the community, including very active outreach to nongovernmental experts in academia and in industry. The commission may have somewhat unrealistic expectations of what nongovernmental experts bring to the table in such exchanges. At best, a creative synergy occurs, and new insight is gained, but the selection of outside experts for such exchanges can be fraught with political correctness and can lead to different but also erroneous judgments.

Fixing Intelligence
The commission considered systematically all aspects of the intelligence business, from collection to analysis to information sharing and the special problems of integrating new parts of the federal system since the September 11 attacks. It faced the awkward situation of having to adapt its analysis midstream to the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which, when the commission was founded, faced poor prospects for becoming law. For political more than merit reasons, the bill passed and the president signed it into law, creating the new director of national intelligence position that will now be held responsible for the increasingly large and complex intelligence system. One infers from the report that many of its recommendations could have been implemented by the leaders of the old system, that the authorities of the director of central intelligence could have been strengthened, and that adding a new system on top of the old was not necessary or desirable.

Still, the commission took the new legislation into account. It noted that, under the law, the director of national intelligence has the authority to create a national nonproliferation center comparable to the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC). The NCTC combines analysis and operational planning and is mandated by last year’s law. Interestingly, the commission recommended a different model for the proliferation problem. It believes the National Counter Proliferation Center should provide all-source intelligence to a policy-based “Counterproliferation Joint Interagency Task Force,” which would conduct interdiction activities and coordinate interagency and partner nations’ counterproliferation activities. The task force would therefore be broader than an intelligence organization, drawing on military and law enforcement capabilities and playing a supporting role to the U.S. Strategic Command, which in January 2005 was designated the lead military command for WMD issues.

This focus on interdiction and on the military role in a robust counterproliferation strategy lends itself well to nuclear delivery systems and some components for developing reprocessing and enrichment capabilities, but seems not a perfect match for the biological weapons challenge, which the commission determines is the hardest challenge of all. The report recommends more coordination with the biological sciences community. It is a worthy thought, but given new post-September 11, post-anthrax restrictions on biological research, it will take wise leadership and courage both in the private biological science community and in government to manage all the security and professional disincentives to such coordination.

The commission was also wise to take on one of the most dysfunctional parts of the way the intelligence agencies create barriers to sharing of key information, which often makes a mockery of the concept of “community.” The report challenges the concept of ORCON, or originator controlled, which permits an agency that has generated raw data or intelligence to determine its distribution. The commission stated clearly that a change in mindset is called for; the information is “owned” by the U.S. government, not a single intelligence agency. A more standardized and streamlined classification system, a more integrated process for providing clearances to intelligence community personnel, and a shift away from information “sharing” to information “integration” would be important improvements in culture and procedures.[7]

Less persuasive was the commission’s recommendation to create a new cadre of open-source information experts, even an “Open Source Directorate.” Again seeming to neglect their own mantra of innovation and integration, a better solution would be to train everyone in the analytic structures in better utilization of all-source information. To create a compartmented approach to the information that most concede probably constitutes well more than 90 percent of the total information needed for finished intelligence production seems to undermine their own beliefs.[8]

Other enduring myths and practices in the intelligence community cannot easily be overcome. It is difficult to fix a culture that was created to warn the president and prevent future Pearl Harbors. Given the self-conscious promotion by intelligence community leaders of an ethos that distinguishes intelligence from other national security disciplines, many analysts begin to default to a warning function in their analysis. They are rarely discouraged from speculating on worst-case scenarios because they see their core mission as helping policymakers prepare for dangers and threats. It is counterintuitive to most trained analysts to speculate that things might be better than they appear. In the Iraq case, for example, it is easy to imagine that analysts, sensing that war was the likely choice of the president, gave their best shot at describing the risk environment in which U.S. forces would be sent, firm in the belief that warning was part of their unique role.

The NIE process, which has now been so fully scrutinized by the press and every commission, is never perfect but is also difficult to replace with something reliably better. Estimates vary in their utility to policymakers, not only because of how they are crafted, but because of different ways policy customers use them—back again to the structural limits of the commission’s mandate. Estimates that take into account all of the alternative analytic processes and that benefit from all possible collection initiatives will risk not being timely for decisions on fast-changing issues or being too complex in offering multiple outcomes to be easily absorbed by policymakers.

Fixing the Debate About Intelligence
Beyond the daunting task of reforming an excessively complex bureaucratic system, fixing intelligence also means fixing the debate about intelligence, i.e., getting public expectations into more realistic boundaries. In our increasingly information-saturated open society, everyone is entitled to an opinion or two about what’s wrong with government and why the fools in Washington keep doing such dumb things. Over the past few years, the sequence of intelligence failures well documented in the press and increasingly in academic literature creates the impression of a well-informed debate over intelligence issues. This is desirable, and surely many thoughtful citizens are better informed and can take responsible positions on intelligence reform and can convey such preferences to their elected officials.

Yet, there is also a cost to the frenzy of public attention, often in the form of ridicule, toward intelligence issues. The public debate has benefited from former officials becoming more comfortable talking about their careers in intelligence, and memoirs and even works of fiction by former intelligence officers appear more and more frequently. The ease with which matters once considered sensitive and secret can be discussed openly with no fear of penalty, however, means that policymakers should be less confident that intelligence matters will be kept in that special channel.

This can have—indeed may already have had—a chilling effect on whether policymakers request intelligence reports such as NIEs on the most sensitive topics or avoid them for fear of leaks. The erosion of public confidence in intelligence performance has also almost certainly made it more difficult for intelligence leaders to present information about new emerging threats to policymakers without careful scrutiny and questioning of the information. That in and of itself may be a healthy thing and gets us to the place where policymakers and intelligence share responsibility for making judgments that lead to policy decisions, but it could also lead to delays or reluctance to act for fear of unintended consequences.

The commission worked hard to untangle many of the complexities of modern intelligence but could not resolve the most difficult part of all, which is how publicly accountable policymakers use intelligence, particularly in circumstances where war is a choice but not the only option.

Ellen Laipson is president and chief executive officer of the Henry L. Stimson Center. She held various foreign policy and national security positions in a 25-year U.S. government career, including serving as vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council from 1997-2002.


1. Report of the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, March 31, 2005, p. 6, available at http://www.wmd.gov/report/wmd_report.pdf (hereinafter commission report).

2. Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, report transmittal letter to the president.

3. Charles Duelfer served as deputy executive chairman of UNSCOM for seven years and was the last leader of the U.S. Iraq Survey Group. He knows both sides of the story.

4. Commission report, pp. 188-192.

5. Commission report, p. 519.

6. Greg Treverton points out that, given the limits of intelligence, a doctrine of pre-emption to eliminate an adversary’s weapons of mass destruction essentially means eliminating the adversary. Gregory F. Treverton, “Intelligence: The Achilles Heel of the Bush Doctrine,” Arms Control Today, July/August 2003, pp. 9-11.

7. Commission report, pp. 429-444.

8. See commission report, pp. 395-398.



Commission Slams WMD Intelligence

Paul Kerr

A White House-appointed commission March 31 offered a scathing account of U.S. intelligence failures prior to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Additionally, it acknowledged that U.S. intelligence is not much better on other weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs, such as those of North Korea and Iran. The report also contains a series of recommendations for improvement.

In a letter and accompanying report to President George W. Bush, the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction stated that the intelligence community was “dead wrong in almost all of its pre-war judgments” concerning Iraq’s suspected chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons programs. Former Sen. Charles Robb (D-Va.) and U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Laurence Silberman chaired the commission, which was established by Bush in February 2004.

In addition to Iraq, the report includes case studies of the intelligence community’s assessments of Libya’s and al Qaeda’s WMD activities. The commission also evaluated U.S. intelligence capabilities with regard to several other countries.

For example, the report notes that the United States lacks sufficient intelligence regarding Russia’s and China’s “nuclear arsenals and emerging capabilities,” which “pose a challenge” to Washington.

The more than 600-page unclassified version of the report also indicates that the intelligence community lacks “critical information” about Iran’s and North Korea’s WMD programs, but the relevant sections are classified.

Case Studies


The report adds little new information to previous reports from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), the task force charged with coordinating the U.S.-led post-war search for Iraqi prohibited weapons.

An October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) stated that Baghdad possessed chemical and biological weapons and was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program. An NIE is supposed to be the intelligence community’s most authoritative assessment of a given subject.

These assessments were inaccurate. The ISG reported in September 2004 that Iraq neither possessed chemical or biological weapons, nor had it restarted its nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons programs before the invasion. (See ACT, November 2004.) An April 25 addendum to the report did not change these conclusions.

International weapons inspectors reported prior to the invasion that they had not found any evidence that Iraq either had WMD stockpiles or had reconstituted its related programs. They had not been able to account, however, for the disposition of some of Iraq’s previous chemical and biological weapons, as well as some related materials.

The commission attributes the inaccurate U.S. pre-war assessments to deficiencies in intelligence gathering, such as a lack of useful human intelligence and reliance on unreliable Iraqi defectors. The Senate Intelligence Committee articulated similar conclusions in a report issued this past summer. (See ACT, September 2004.)

The commission’s report also echoes the committee’s finding that the intelligence assessments were skewed by a presumption within the community that Iraq was concealing prohibited weapons. This presumption, reinforced by Iraq’s past efforts to conceal its WMD programs from UN inspectors, led analysts to dismiss evidence that Iraq did not possess illicit weapons.

The report’s evaluation of the evidence underlying the assessments largely recapitulates the committee’s work, but there are some new details, such as an extensive discussion regarding the intelligence community’s reliance on an unreliable defector for much of its information regarding Iraq’s biological weapons program.

The commission did not examine policymakers’ use of the intelligence. This issue has been particularly controversial because administration officials, including the president, made definitive public statements regarding Iraq’s suspected weapons that appeared to be unsupported by the NIE, which contained numerous qualifiers and caveats.

The report does provide a glimpse of some policymakers’ thoughts regarding the Iraq weapons issue. Carl Ford, former assistant secretary of state for Intelligence and Research (INR), told the commission that, prior to the invasion, he discussed with “senior administration officials” the possibility that Baghdad had not reconstituted its nuclear weapons program. Ford raised the issue because INR analysts doubted that Iraq had done so. INR had dissented from the assessment in the NIE.

The commission also addressed whether policymakers put pressure on intelligence analysts to influence their judgments. The commission “found no evidence” of such pressure, the report says, but adds that “intelligence analysts worked in an environment that did not encourage skepticism about the conventional wisdom.”

Perhaps providing an illustrative example of this environment, a Department of Energy intelligence analyst told the commission that the department supported the NIE’s judgment regarding Iraq’s nuclear weapons program because it “didn’t want to come out before the war and say [Iraq] wasn’t reconstituting.”

Additionally, three Democratic senators had previously claimed in a supplement to the Senate committee’s 2004 report that administration officials pressured analysts, for example, by “repetitively tasking” them to “revise their analytical judgments.”

The Senate committee is conducting another investigation into intelligence activities conducted by the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). Senior policymakers in the department are suspected of using intelligence gathered and analyzed outside conventional channels.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), ranking member on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told NBC’s Meet the Press April 10 that Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith bypassed the CIA and gave flawed intelligence supplied by Iraqi exiles “directly to the White House.”

Feith has acknowledged that OSD staff members tasked with reviewing intelligence concerning Iraq briefed staff from the National Security Council and the Office of the Vice President on their findings regarding Iraq’s suspected links to terrorists. A former senior Department of State official told Arms Control Today April 27 that OSD aides’ conclusions were more alarmist than the intelligence community’s, but said he was unsure how much policymakers were influenced by these views.

The Senate committee is also investigating whether policymakers’ public statements concerning the Iraqi threat were supported by intelligence. (See ACT, April 2005.)


By contrast, the commission terms the intelligence community’s performance regarding Libya a “success story.” Tripoli announced in December 2003 that it would dismantle its nuclear and chemical weapons programs as well as its longer-range missiles. Libya also agreed to allow U.S. and British officials, as well as relevant international organizations, to verify its pledge.

According to the commission, assessments of these programs were largely accurate but still contained some errors. For example, the intelligence community judged correctly that Libya was pursuing a uranium-enrichment program, but it somewhat overestimated the country’s ability to produce nuclear weapons. The CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency had estimated that Libya could develop enough fissile material for a nuclear warhead as soon as 2007, the report says, noting that the CIA qualified this assessment.

The report adds that Libya’s declarations revealed “some surprises that are discussed in the classified report,” but it does not elaborate.

The assessment that Libya had an ongoing biological weapons program appears to have been incorrect, but some doubt remains. According to the report, the United States judged since the early 1990s that Libya “maintained the desire for an offensive biological weapons program, and most [analysts] assessed that Libya was pursuing at least a small-scale research and development effort.” Beginning in the late 1990s, the intelligence community had additional evidence that Libya was revitalizing the program.

The commission did not offer any evidence that Libya had a biological weapons program. Indeed, the report concedes that Libya may not have had such a program, but it also asserts that Tripoli’s declarations “have failed to shed light on Tripoli’s plans and intentions for its biological program.”

Commission spokesperson Carl Kropf told Arms Control Today April 27 that there is a “discrepancy” between the information Libya has provided concerning its biological weapons efforts and previous U.S. intelligence judgments. “Specific information on this point remains classified,” he added.

The commission also notes that accurate U.S. intelligence, as well as the intelligence community’s penetration of a procurement network run by former Pakistani nuclear official Abdul Qadeer Khan, aided considerably the efforts to persuade Libya to disarm.

Al Qaeda
Prior to the U.S.-led October 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, the intelligence community correctly assessed that al Qaeda had “limited ability” to use WMD “to inflict mass casualties,” the report says. However, information collected after the invasion revealed that the group’s biological weapons research and development efforts were more advanced than analysts had realized.

Saying al Qaeda’s biological weapons program “was further along…than pre-war intelligence indicated,” the report points to the group’s research concerning an unidentified biological agent. Al Qaeda also had an “extensive, well-organized” research program that operated for two years prior to the invasion, the report adds.

The intelligence community also judged prior to the war that al Qaeda was unlikely to possess either a nuclear weapon or the necessary fissile material to build one. The intelligence community did assess that a radiological weapon was “well within” al Qaeda’s capabilities but could not conclude whether the group had the nuclear material for such a weapon.

A radiological weapon uses conventional explosives to disperse radioactive material but lacks the destructive power of a nuclear weapon.

The intelligence community has since judged that there is “no credible information” that al Qaeda had obtained either fissile material or acquired a nuclear weapon, the report says.

Captured documents indicate, however, that al Qaeda has been interested in producing such a weapon. According to the report, al Qaeda “established contact with Pakistani scientists who discussed development of [explosive] nuclear devices.”

The commission also found that the intelligence community was correct in its pre-war assessments that al Qaeda had only rudimentary chemical weapons efforts underway, although “questions persist” regarding al Qaeda’s chemical and biological weapons programs.

The report contains an array of recommendations for improving the intelligence community’s performance. These proposals, most of which concern the newly established director of national intelligence (DNI), focus on organizational changes, as well as improving information sharing and intelligence gathering.

The report contains specific recommendations for combating WMD proliferation. For example, the commission recommends the creation of a National Counter-Proliferation Center (NCPC) to oversee intelligence on WMD across the intelligence community.

There are also several recommendations directed at combating biological weapons proliferation. The proposals focus on enhancing cooperation between biological sciences and intelligence communities, centralizing the analysis of relevant intelligence, and augmenting intelligence collection capabilities.

For example, the commission suggests creating a new office within the NCPC to coordinate and process intelligence regarding biological weapons. Additionally, the report contains several recommendations for strengthening the relationship between the intelligence community and entities such as the National Institutes of Health that have only recently become intelligence consumers.

To improve current intelligence-collection capabilities, the report calls for the establishment of an international regime to inspect relevant biological facilities. Presently, the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) lacks a meaningful inspection provision, and the report notes that there is “little prospect in the near future” for such a regime. The United States played a significant role in ending negotiations on a BWC verification protocol in 2001 (see page 43).

The report endorses the use of U.S. regulations to collect intelligence on foreign entities with U.S. commercial ties, as well as to require such entities to adhere to strict U.S. biosafety standards to prevent proliferation.

The report also contains recommendations for improving the United State’s ability to interdict shipments of WMD-related materials. For example, the commission recommends forming a Counterproliferation Joint Interagency Task Force to plan, coordinate, and execute interdictions.

Such interdictions are the hallmark of the administration’s Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), an effort to increase coordination and intelligence sharing in order to restrict trade in WMD, along with related materials and delivery vehicles.

To bolster these efforts further, the commission also recommends that the State Department conclude additional bilateral ship-boarding agreements in order to improve the intelligence community’s ability to track and locate ships. The United States has already entered into three such agreements as part of the PSI. Countries concluding these agreements allow U.S. officials to inspect ships flying their flags if the vessels are suspected of transporting WMD material or missiles and if they do not respond to a U.S. boarding request within an allotted time.

Moreover, the report argues that Washington should take additional steps to ensure that the agreements are structured to serve “intelligence purposes.” For example, the State Department could require ships and aircraft to declare their locations using various technologies, the report says, adding that ships’ failure to do so might “establish reasonable suspicion” to justify interdictions.

As for international weapons inspections, the report states that they will “remain an important counterproliferation tool,” adding that “designing effective inspection regimes will become all the more critical” because countries’ future WMD arsenals will likely be small and difficult to detect. Although the unclassified report only contains the discussion regarding biological weapons, Kropf indicated that the classified report contains a more extensive discussion. In addition, the report includes classified recommendations for improving export controls discussion about inspections.

New Reports Cite Looting at Iraqi Sites; UNMOVIC Future Discussed

Paul Kerr

Equipment and materials related to Iraq’s former prohibited weapons programs are missing from the country, according to new reports. The revelations come as UN Security Council members have been conducting informal discussions regarding the future of the UN organization previously charged with overseeing such materials.

Earlier this month, Iraqi Deputy Minister of Industry Sami al-Araji provided new details about “sophisticated looting” of Iraqi weapons-related sites that had been subject to pre-war UN monitoring. Araji told the New York Times March 12 that unknown individuals had conducted an organized operation specifically targeting dual-use items, which included equipment capable of making components for chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, as well as missiles.

Most of the looting took place between mid-April and mid-May 2003, Araji said.

A Feb. 28 report from the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) supported Araji’s claims. Although UNMOVIC inspectors have not been able to carry out on-the-ground inspections since leaving Iraq just before the March 2003 invasion, satellite imagery has revealed that approximately 90 of 353 inspected weapons sites containing “equipment and materials of relevance have been stripped and/or razed.” UNMOVIC inspectors inspected 411 sites between November 2002 and March 2003.

UN Security Council Resolution 687, which was adopted after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, tasked the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) and later UNMOVIC with inspecting and supervising the destruction of Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons, as well as missiles exceeding UN-permitted ranges. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had a comparable role for Iraq’s nuclear weapons programs. The United Nations withdrew all of its inspectors in December 1998, but Iraq allowed them to return in September 2002.

Both UNMOVIC and the IAEA have previously issued reports stating that Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD) sites had been destroyed and that weapons-related equipment had disappeared.

Araji said he had no evidence concerning the equipment’s whereabouts, but UNMOVIC has previously reported that weapons materials such as Iraqi missile engines have turned up in Jordan and the Netherlands.

Whither UNMOVIC?
UNMOVIC’s future has been uncertain since its inspectors left Iraq.

A spokesperson for the U.S. mission to the United Nations told Arms Control Today March 22 that Washington has been discussing UNMOVIC’s future with Baghdad for “quite some time” and recently “expanded” the discussion to the rest of the council. The spokesperson would not provide details regarding the discussions.

Acting UNMOVIC Executive Chairman Demetrius Perricos met with Security Council officials March 8 to discuss issues germane to UNMOVIC’s future.

A UNMOVIC official told Arms Control Today March 21 that one of the questions being discussed is the establishment of criteria to determine whether Iraq has met its disarmament obligations under the appropriate Security Council resolutions. The disarmament standards are unclear because several relevant resolutions remain in force and the Security Council has taken no action on the matter.

Perricos told the council that he is operating under the assumption that Resolution 687, as well as a May 2003 letter from the United States and United Kingdom, comprise the standards for Iraq’s obligations. Washington and London pledged in that letter “to act together to ensure the complete disarmament of Iraq,” per the relevant UN resolutions.

Describing one possible alternative, the UNMOVIC official said the commission could write a report synthesizing documentation from UNMOVIC and the U.S.-led Iraq Survey Group, which took over the weapons hunt in May 2003 and essentially ended its search several months ago. (See ACT, March 2005.) The latter has so far shared only “bits and pieces” of information with the commission, the official said.

Additionally, according to the UNMOVIC official, some council members wish to devise a way of preserving the commission’s expertise, perhaps by maintaining it as a permanent organization. But no formal proposals have been offered, and the council remains divided on the question, the official said.

Iraq’s permanent representative to the UN Samir Sumaidaie told reporters Feb. 1 that Baghdad wants its inspections file closed. Baghdad, however, will accept “[w]hatever process is agreed upon to wind up this operation,” Samir said later that month.

Congress's Iraq Probes Winding Down

April 2005

By Paul Kerr

A U.S. Senate investigation of intelligence issues related to pre-war estimates of Iraq’s prohibited weapons programs appears to be winding down. A similar House investigation appears to have been concluded about a year ago.

Last summer, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence issued a report criticizing the intelligence community’s pre-war failures to describe Iraq’s weapons programs.

According to that report, the committee was to conduct a second phase of the investigation, including such issues as the nature of intelligence activities conducted by the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, and whether policymakers’ public statements concerning the Iraqi threat were supported by intelligence. Republican and Democratic committee staff members told Arms Control Today that the investigation is ongoing, but the two sides appear divided on some specifics.

For example, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) indicated March 10 that an evaluation of administration officials’ statements would not be productive because the committee could not know the intentions of those officials, who would anyway attribute any inaccurate statements to “bum intelligence.”

However, a Democratic staff member pointed out March 14 that the committee could compare administration officials’ statements with actual intelligence reports.

Roberts also stated that the investigation of the officials’ activities was on the “back burner” because they stopped cooperating after ranking member Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said their actions may have been “unlawful.” The officials obtained lawyers after Rockefeller’s statement.

The staffer said that the officials had “overreacted” to Rockefeller’s statement. Still, the Pentagon has turned over enough material to the committee for members to “comment intelligently” about their activities, the staffer added.

Although Roberts suggested that other committee priorities may impede the investigation, both staff members disagreed. The committee might issue a report, they said.

The House Intelligence Committee’s investigation, which was originally announced in June 2003 and has received much less public attention than its Senate equivalent, has apparently ended. The last official public mention of the investigation was an April 2004 letter from committee Democrats to President George W. Bush recommending intelligence procedure reforms. The committee’s chairpersons had sent a September 2003 letter to CIA director George Tenet criticizing the intelligence community’s handling of Iraq weapons issues.

A U.S. Senate investigation of intelligence issues related to pre-war estimates of Iraq’s prohibited weapons programs appears to be winding down.

Iraq Weapons Hunt Ends; Other Investigations Continue

Paul Kerr

The Bush administration has essentially wrapped up its investigation of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs and of the failure to find significant stockpiles of such weapons after the U.S.-led invasion of that country in March 2003. Several related investigations, however, are still ongoing.

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan told reporters Jan. 12 that a final report from Charles Duelfer, the head adviser to the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), is not expected to add any new information to an interim report Duelfer issued in September 2004, which said that Iraq had no WMD stockpiles. McClellan described the final report as an “addendum,” adding that the September report is “essentially the completion” of Duelfer’s work. (See ACT, November 2004.) Run by the Defense Intelligence Agency, the ISG is the task force charged with coordinating the U.S.-led WMD search.

Before the U.S.-led invasion, Bush administration officials claimed that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons and had an active nuclear weapons program. The threat posed by these weapons was a key administration justification for beginning the war. UN weapons inspectors reported prior to the invasion that they had not found any evidence that Iraq either had WMD stockpiles or had reconstituted its related programs. They had, however, not been able to account for the disposition of some of Iraq’s previous chemical and biological weapons stockpiles and related materials.

Despite the subsequent failure to find such stockpiles, administration officials have continued to argue that the invasion was necessary because deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein still had the capability and intent to develop such weapons. These officials frequently add that Hussein would have produced prohibited weapons if UN economic sanctions imposed after the 1991 Persian Gulf War were lifted. For example, Counselor to the President Dan Bartlett stated during a Jan. 16 television interview that Duelfer’s report showed that Hussein retained weapons production “capabilities that could be turned on a moment’s notice.”

Duelfer told the Senate Armed Services Committee in October 2004 that Iraq “was making progress in eroding sanctions” prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. But he indicated that international opinion had changed following the attacks, helping to shore up the sanctions regime. Lifting the sanctions was not seriously under discussion during the run-up to the invasion.

He told the committee that the sanctions placed “constraints” on Iraq’s ability to produce prohibited weapons, as well as “modified [Hussein’s] behavior because his prime objective was to get rid of those sanctions.”

Duelfer also testified that, in the long run, the sanctions would not have been sustainable. He did not address whether the long-term monitoring measures that the UN Security Council had mandated be left in place after the sanctions were to have ended would have prevented future rearming.

Duelfer’s testimony and report also showed that Iraq had not restarted its nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons programs before the invasion.

Furthermore, the evidence regarding Hussein’s intentions and latent capabilities is mixed. According to Duelfer, Hussein retained ambitions to develop nuclear and chemical weapons, but not biological weapons. As for capabilities, Iraq was expanding its dual-use chemical infrastructure that could have later produced chemical weapons agents, but Duelfer’s report showed that Iraq had not restored significant nuclear capabilities.

Duelfer concluded that Iraq did have limited programs to develop ballistic missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles that exceeded UN-permitted ranges, but Hussein had no plans to equip them to deliver weapons of mass destruction as long as sanctions were in place.

Investigations Continue
Although the ISG’s “physical search has essentially ended,” McClellan said the group will still conduct WMD-related work, such as examining captured Iraqi documents. Department of Defense officials say this work will take place but told Arms Control Today that the ISG has also been given higher-priority tasks, such as combating the anti-U.S. insurgency in Iraq. Duelfer’s predecessor, David Kay, cited the diversion of ISG personnel to these other missions as one reason he left the position. (See ACT, March 2004.)

With Duelfer’s investigation essentially complete, McClellan stated that Bush’s “focus” is on the recommendations of the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, chaired by former Senator Charles Robb (D-Va.) and U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Laurence Silberman. According to the commission, which the president established in February 2004, Duelfer’s final report is to serve as a “point of reference in reviewing the quality of U.S. intelligence concerning Iraq’s WMD program.” The commission’s task also includes an evaluation of the “quality of U.S. intelligence on all WMD and related 21st Century threats.” The commission’s final report is due March 31.

The status of two ongoing congressional investigations is unclear. The Senate Intelligence Committee is conducting a second phase of its review of U.S. intelligence on Iraq. The committee has said that this phase includes an evaluation of administration policymakers’ public statements about the Iraqi threat, as well as intelligence activities conducted by the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy. (See ACT, March 2004.)

The committee issued a report this past July that criticized the intelligence community for failing before the war to describe Iraq’s weapons programs accurately. (See ACT, September 2004.)

The House Intelligence Committee is conducting its own investigation, but both the status and scope of that effort are unclear.


Duelfer Disproves U.S. WMD Claims

Paul Kerr

Charles Duelfer, the CIA’s special adviser to the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), told the Senate Armed Services Committee Oct. 6 that Iraq destroyed its stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, as well as eliminated its nuclear weapons program, after the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Although his findings thus far largely confirm previous reports, they offer the most extensive analysis to date of the state of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) before last year’s U.S.-led invasion.

Duelfer’s testimony came shortly after the public release of a Sept. 30 report from the ISG, the task force charged with coordinating the U.S.-led search for Iraqi prohibited weapons. Duelfer’s predecessor, David Kay, testified in January that Iraq had destroyed its weapons. (See ACT, March 2004.) However, the report goes into even greater detail about Iraq’s weapons efforts.

Duelfer’s testimony and report show that deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, constrained by UN sanctions, had not restarted the country’s nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons programs. However, he was seeking to preserve and restore, to varying degrees, the intellectual and physical capacity to resume the nuclear and chemical weapons programs if sanctions put in place by the UN Security Council after the Gulf War were lifted.

Duelfer stated that escaping the sanctions was a “top priority” for Hussein, who manipulated the UN oil-for-food program by granting rights to low-priced Iraqi oil in exchange for recipient countries’ support for getting the sanctions lifted. Established in 1995, the program allowed Iraq to purchase food, medicine, health supplies, and other civilian goods with proceeds derived from oil sales, which were held in a UN escrow account.

Iraq had some success in circumventing the sanctions, the report said. Baghdad was able to obtain cash through illegal oil sales and the import of illicit goods, including some dual-use items useful in WMD programs.

Duelfer told the committee that the sanctions were in a “free fall” but indicated that international sentiment following the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States halted the move. Duelfer argued that support for the sanctions could not have been sustained indefinitely, but lifting sanctions was not seriously under discussion during the run-up to the invasion. At that time, Security Council members opposed to the invasion were focused on extending the UN-mandated weapons inspections and maintaining sanctions.

Duelfer did not address the fact that Security Council resolutions mandated continued UN monitoring of Iraqi facilities to prevent future attempts at rearming. Kay told Arms Control Today in March that such monitoring would have detected large-scale resumption of prohibited weapons activities, including a “restart” of the nuclear weapons program and “industrial production of missiles.” Monitoring would not have stopped “small-scale cheating” in the case of chemical and biological weapons programs and might not have detected importation of missiles, he added.

In any case, the sanctions were largely effective at restraining Iraq’s weapons programs. Duelfer told the committee that the sanctions both constrained Iraq’s weapons-related imports and induced Hussein not to pursue WMD because such efforts would jeopardize his goal of getting the sanctions lifted.

The Weapons

Duelfer testified that Iraqi WMD “stocks do not exist,” despite occasional finds of pre-1991 chemical munitions. (See ACT, July/August 2004.) He also said that the ISG has found no evidence that WMD were transferred to other countries, a theory some administration officials have advanced.

In his testimony, Duelfer also discussed Hussein’s motives for pursuing illicit WMD, stating that the Iraqi leader believed that Baghdad’s chemical weapons saved it from defeat during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. Hussein further believed that Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons capabilities deterred the United States from overthrowing his government after the Gulf War, Duelfer said, adding that the Iraqi leader also wanted to deter Iran in the future.

Despite the ISG’s findings, President George W. Bush has continued to defend the invasion. He stated Oct. 7 that Duelfer’s report proved that Hussein “retained the knowledge, the materials, the means and the intent to produce weapons of mass destruction.”

Bush administration officials, however, claimed numerous times before the invasion that Iraq actually possessed illicit weapons. Moreover, Duelfer’s testimony and report are more nuanced than Bush’s statement suggests. For example, Hussein appeared to have intentions to develop certain types of weapons but lacked the capabilities. In other cases, the Iraqi leader had some residual weapons capabilities but no evident intentions to make use of them.


According to the report, the ISG “found no evidence to suggest concerted efforts to restart the [nuclear] program” after 1991. Although Duelfer testified that “Saddam did not abandon his nuclear ambitions,” he said that Iraq’s ability to produce nuclear weapons and retain the relevant personnel were in “decay” as a result of the sanctions.

Duelfer also definitively refuted two elements of the Bush administration’s pre-war case that Iraq had reconstituted its nuclear weapons program. First, the ISG found no evidence that Iraq tried to procure uranium from other countries, instead learning that Iraq refused a private offer to help it obtain uranium from the Congo. Second, Duelfer testified that 81mm aluminum tubes Iraq was trying to import were solely for conventional rockets. The administration had argued that the tubes were likely to be used in centrifuges for enriching uranium. A July Senate Intelligence Committee report found the intelligence underlying both the uranium and tubes claims to be weak. (See ACT, September 2004.)


Iraq destroyed its chemical weapons stockpiles in 1991, according to the report, but Hussein still intended “to resume a [chemical weapons] effort when sanctions were lifted.” Iraq was increasing its chemical production infrastructure, which provided “the inherent capability” to produce chemical weapons in the future, Duelfer said, adding that Iraq would have been able to produce mustard agent within “months” and nerve agent “in less than a year or two.” However, the ISG has not “come across explicit guidance from Saddam on this point,” Duelfer said, and there is no evidence that Iraq attempted to procure “precursor chemicals in bulk,” according to the report.

Duelfer also noted efforts by “anti-coalition forces” in Iraq to work with former regime chemical weapons experts, testifying that a “series of raids” uncovered efforts “to put chemical agent of various sorts into munitions.” He added that the ISG likely “contained [this] problem before it matured into a major threat.”


According to the report, Iraq “appears to have destroyed” its biological weapons and bulk weapons agent in 1991 and 1992. Although Baghdad maintained a research and development program until 1996, it then abandoned it. Since then, there appeared to be “a complete absence of discussion or even interest in [biological weapons] at the presidential level,” the report says.

The report asserts that “Iraq would have faced great difficulty in re-establishing an effective [biological weapons] agent production capability,” but it does say that Iraq possessed “significant dual-use capability” and scientific expertise. Baghdad also conducted research with potential weapons applications and could have “re-established an elementary” weapons program “within a few weeks to a few months.” However, there are “no indications” that it had plans to do so, the report says.

Duelfer told the committee that the ISG has found no evidence that Iraq possessed mobile biological agent production facilities—another claim the administration had advanced prior to the war. Expressing perhaps the most definitive judgment to date on two trailers discovered shortly after the invasion, Duelfer stated that “they have absolutely nothing to do with any biological weapons.” A May 2003 CIA report judged that the trailers were likely for weapons agent production.

Delivery Vehicles

Duelfer testified that Iraq was developing, with foreign assistance, missiles with ranges exceeding the UN-mandated 150-kilometer limit. However, the report states that Iraq only produced one type of prohibited missile, which Baghdad began destroying after UN inspectors ordered it to do so. Iraq was developing three other longer-range missile systems, the report says, but none were produced and “only one reportedly passed the design phase.” These systems were described in previous ISG reports. (See ACT, November 2003.)

Duelfer further stated that Iraq “drew the line” at developing WMD warheads for the missiles “so long as sanctions remained.” Duelfer noted that, prior to the Gulf War, Iraq built warheads containing biological and chemical agents within months. According to the report, Hussein distinguished between missiles and weapons of mass destruction, believing that the United Nations would allow greater ranges for the former if he eliminated the latter.

The ISG also resolved a long-standing question of whether Iraq retained Soviet-supplied Scud missiles after 1991. According to the report, there is “no evidence” Iraq did so.

Additionally, Duelfer told the committee that Iraq had tested unmanned aerial vehicles with ranges exceeding UN limits. He added, however, that these vehicles were not for delivering WMD—another administration pre-war claim. A September UN inspectors’ report found no evidence for the former claim but concurred with the latter. (See ACT, October 2004.)

The report’s findings are consistent with those of the UN inspectors, who returned to Iraq in November 2002 and remained until the invasion. The report does, however, describe WMD-related activities that the Iraqis failed to declare to the United Nations, such as several missile research programs and attempts to procure related materials.


The report also sheds some light on Iraq’s uneven cooperation with inspectors, who first worked in Iraq from 1991 until being withdrawn in 1998. According to the report, Hussein attempted “to cooperate with the [United Nations] and have sanctions lifted” while preserving “the ability to eventually reconstitute” the weapons.

For example, Baghdad turned over a large quantity of documents to the United Nations following top-WMD official Hussein Kamel’s 1995 defection and then ordered at least some Iraqi officials to cooperate with the inspectors. However, the documents proved that Iraq had previously deceived the inspectors, which “destroyed the international community’s confidence in the credibility of follow-on Iraqi declarations of cooperation,” the report says.

Indeed, the conflict between Iraq and the inspectors escalated as the latter continued to demand additional documents. “From this experience,” the report continues, “Iraq learned to equate cooperation with [the inspectors] with increased scrutiny, prolonged sanctions, and the threat of war.” Hussein eventually decided to undermine the sanctions because he believed that getting them lifted by complying with the UN resolutions was impossible, the report says.

Iraq, however, made a greater effort to comply with the inspections that resumed in 2002 than U.S. officials claimed at the time. For example, the report states that Baghdad instructed military leaders to “‘cooperate completely’ with the inspectors” because such cooperation was Iraq’s “best hope for sanctions relief.”

Additionally, Iraq did not attempt to intercept inspectors’ communications, as Washington claimed. Iraq did have minders accompanying the inspectors to prevent them from gathering intelligence, which Iraq believed they had done in the past, the report says. UN inspectors had cooperated closely with U.S. intelligence during the 1990s.

Secretary of State Colin Powell told the Security Council in early February 2003 that Iraq attempted tap the inspectors’ “communications.” A month later, he stated that “Hussein has issued new guidance to key officials saying everything possible must be done” to ensure inspectors did not find prohibited weapons.

The report may also explain some pre-war intelligence failures, revealing that Iraq often moved conventional military assets to hide them from potential attacks, but U.S. intelligence often assumed Iraq was actually moving illicit weapons.

Despite pre-war U.S. claims that inspections could not succeed because of Iraqi intransigence, the report states that, “contrary to expectations, [the] ISG’s ability to gather information was in most ways more limited” than the inspectors’ because of the destruction and looting of weapons sites, the increasingly dangerous insurgency, and the reluctance of WMD personnel to speak.


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