David Kay, former lead inspector of the Iraq Survey Group, spoke with ACT editor Miles Pomper and research analyst Paul Kerr March 5 on the search for weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq. In the wide-ranging interview, Kay urged Vice President Dick Cheney to come clean about the failure to find WMD in Iraq. He also addressed what really happened to Iraq's unaccounted for biological and chemical weapons, called for enhanced international inspections of suspected WMD facilities, and said the Iraq war was not worth waging on WMD-grounds alone.
ACT: The New York Times today reported that it now appears that before the war Russian scientists and technicians had violated United Nations resolutions by helping Iraq develop long-range missiles . Did you come across evidence of that in your investigations?
Kay: Yeah, and we reported it in the October [ISG] report. We didn't identify the countries in the report. Jim [James Risen of The New York Times] has gotten other people in the intelligence community to identify the country. I have said, I think the major reason it's important to continue the work of the survey group is to pull out this international procurement network. We really, you know, we've had a number of cases [like] the A. Q. Khan one. Although I'm a little worried. A. Q. Khan is, everyone is focusing on him. [In fact] it's a remarkable series of networks that seem to be running now, providing both the technology and the equipment to countries. The unknown is: are they also doing it to groups, non-state actors? You don't know that. It's actually, the interesting thing about states. States are easier to penetrate, they have a fixed location, they have a structure that endures and so you can focus on them. And many of them, like the Libyans and the Iranians, are subject to international inspection, so you have a process for verifying the truth. Now, I think the most dangerous phenomenon to crop up in the arms area in the last decade, really since the fall of the Soviet Union. Although some of it existed before, you have to say the Iraqi network that supported their program certainly predates the fall of the Soviet Union.
ACT: Vice President Cheney recently said that there might still be weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq. Your mid-January report was obviously fairly skeptical of that possibility. Do you think he's being realistic? Do you think his comments are helpful?
Kay: I certainly think it's important to continue the search for reasons of the procurement network if nothing else, and I think all of us recognize that since Iraq had weapons pre-1991, it is possible that their efforts to destroy them were less than 100 percent complete. I mean, most things in Iraq don't run at 100 percent efficiency. So, I wouldn't be surprised if there turned out to be rockets or mortars with pre-1990 gas, and so it's worth doing. What worries me about the vice president's statement is, I think people who hold out for a Hail-Mary pass—and lo and behold maybe we'll find that stockpile a year or two years out so everyone keeps searching-delay the inevitable looking back at what went wrong. I believe we have enough evidence now to say that the intelligence process, and the policy process that used that information, did not work at the level of effectiveness that we require in the age that we live in. It's a little like the analogy I sometimes use [of NASA's troubled and nearly fatal Apollo 13 mission to the moon]: in Apollo 13, if when the astronauts had said, "Houston, we have a problem," mission control had responded, "Well, you're only a third of the way to the moon. Why don't you keep going and we'll see how serious this problem is? And if and when you get there you don't make it, we'll investigate and we'll fix it for the next one." I mean, it is very hard for institutions to fix problems while they're in denial as to whether the problem really existed. And I am concerned that statements by the vice president and others—principally the vice president and the administration—really raise that issue.
ACT: So you think they are in denial at this point?
Kay: Well, I think you can read that statement of the vice president and say that he certainly is in denial and is holding hope that well, maybe the weapons will eventually be discovered. I don't think… I think most others at the working level recognize the correctness of the assessment that those weapons don't exist. And one has to say about the president himself, you know the president created the commission, which was to look back at it, and I think that's a hopeful sign. What I really find a little bit strange politically is the president already, even in the [January 2004] State of the Union address, where he didn't refer to weapons, but he referred to program elements, the same terminology I used in October. The president seems to be well beyond the point, but as long as you have others in the administration say, "Well, they may turn up later," you actually—well, I mean, it's really stupid politics. Which isn't my concern, but it creates this impression that some in the administration think they may still be there, while others recognize that it's very unlikely they'll be there and are prepared to get along with the act of understanding what went wrong.
ACT: Prior to the war you were one the leading critics of the United Nations weapons inspectors' effectiveness, yet you've now said that the results of your search indicate that the UN inspectors and sanctions were more effective than any of the critics had thought.
Kay: Well, when you get there, when you're on the inside and you have freedom to look at both what went on, as well as to interview the Iraqis who were involved, it's hard not to come away with the impression that they greatly UNSCOM feared inspections and monitoring. And they clearly took steps in the '90s based on their belief that certain things would be found by the inspectors as they continued. And generally most inspectors, and this includes heads of the inspection process—if you go back and read statements from [former UNSCOM chiefs] Rolf Ekeus and Richard Butler, we focused on the limitations that the Iraqis were imposing on the inspections. And so we were looking at the difficulty that the inspectors had in operating, whereas the Iraqis, we now understand, were looking at the effectiveness the inspectors were achieving even with those limitations.
Now on sanctions I think the issue is somewhat more complicated. The Iraqis never really suffered greatly from lack of money as a result of sanctions. What sanctions did more than anything else—because the Iraqis defeated sanctions by resorting to black market, illegal activities—is clearly push an Iraqi decision-making system and economic system that was already corrupted and based on the Saddam Hussein family, loyalty, and all. It pushed it even more into the criminal vein and as it distorted the economic process of the country, it really played to the worst elements, which were really very bad, of the regime.
And so that the graft, the corruption, the figure which we've been given of about 60 percent of the skimming off the UN Oil-For-Food program went into new palace construction, an extraordinary figure. What sanctions did is it really, it drove the system to go underground, become corrupt, become clandestine, and much of the procurement of the weapons systems in the '80s were completely aboveground, arrangements with Western suppliers, mostly. Which were not hidden from view, by and large. And so, it really did have an impact that was distorting on their capability, and I think may have been the final thing that pushed them over the brink to what I call this vortex of total fraud and corruption that they were sinking into.
ACT: What about their ability to actually get necessary materials or dual use items and so on?
Kay: Well here again, it may be whether we're looking at the glass half full or half empty. They managed to continue to import a large amount of technology—both expertise and goods—that clearly were prohibited by the sanctions program. Now, clearly that amount is less than they would have been able to import if there had been no sanctions program. So I think it did inhibit their imports. It certainly made the imports more expensive in that they had to go a clandestine route for importation. Now, there's no evidence that money was a limitation on their program. What was a limitation was having the difficulty of getting it clandestinely and not always being able to openly procure from the best possible source, having to work through three middle men or so to get it, and getting it through a series of countries that trans-shipped it. So, I think it is fair to say that sanctions did limit the robustness of their program. Although I do think, I'm still struck, having spent the last six/seven months there, at how much they were able to get illegally. It just happened we were lucky that it was a system that was breaking down, so most of the stuff they got they weren't able to effectively use.
ACT: What role do you think now is appropriate for UNMOVIC and the International Atomic Energy Agency in Iraq? Should the UN be afforded access to the classified version of your report?
Kay: Well, first of all, let's talk about physical access in Iraq. There were former inspectors, UNMOVIC and UNSCOM inspectors, Australians, and Brits, and Americans, that still are part of the survey group. The difficulty of, for example, inviting UNMOVIC to come back in, or even the IAEA to come back in, is a physical security issue. The UN after its headquarters was bombed withdrew everyone because of the threat of violence. Every inspector that worked for me—and myself included-was weapons—qualified, and carried a weapon. We lived in facilities that were almost routinely mortared. I mean, these were very unsafe conditions, and I couldn't imagine, I don't think anyone could imagine… the UN just does not expose its people to that level of risk, and that's appropriate. No UNSCOM inspector was ever armed, or UNMOVIC inspectors. We all rejected that option at the first inspection when it was considered, but it wasn't considered even very long.
With regard to the free exchange of information, I think it is appropriate at some point for that information to be exchanged. The difficulty of exchanging, in at least the six months I was involved and I suspect the same thing is true now, [is that] just because an Iraqi tells you something, or just because you get some records, you're not at the end-game and you're not prepared. It's raw and you're still looking to see if it's true, seeking other verification. For example, Jim Risen's article is broadly true in today's Times about the Russian missile involvement. The difficulty during my period there is we didn't yet have the names of all the Russian engineers who were there. We were running them down, we were seeking as well to find out whether they had been involved with other countries, because Iraq's not the only proliferation problem in the world. At some point it is clearly appropriate to face the Russian government, as well as the various regimes—[for example] in the case of missiles, the MTCR and you know, here are the cases. And Jim Risen made it clear it's not just Russian firms—there were firms from at least three or four other countries involved. All of that needs to pass into the MTCR, and maybe UNMOVIC. But certainly MTCR, because the concern is not just Iraq, it's other people, other countries.
More broadly, I think there is, and we're almost at that point now where we're going to have to turn long-term monitoring of Iraq over to two different groups. First of all, the Iraqis. We'd already started, before I left, the discussions with the Iraqi authorities about the creation of a national monitoring capability that would in fact continue to perform the appropriate national role in safeguarding its technology and, over the long-term, be responsible for determining anything that turns up that's been missed during inspections. But secondly, Iraq is going to be subject—and it's still subject, depending on how lawyers determine the state succession rules—to treaties it's already signed, like the [nuclear] Nonproliferation Treaty [NPT], and its membership in the UN. Here again, there is this murky area of international law called state succession where you've got to determine whether the new government is still bound by everything the old government, the old state signed. I assume the answer is probably going to be yes, and all the UN resolutions as they relate to monitoring. So, there needs to be some international body that takes, and certainly the U.S. coalition is not the appropriate body for the long-term monitoring of Iraq's responsibility to its international agreements.
Those agreements, in most cases, have their own inspection reporting requirements. It also may be that in this region, given what's going on in Iran, for example, that the Iranians, Iraqis, and other states in the region, may decide, much like the Brazilians and the Argentines, to start with some sort of broader regional arms control agreement, which is not incompatible or in competition with their international obligations. But it would be a shame at this point, if in fact someone doesn't step forward in Iran or Iraq, and suggest regional security and stabilization ought to be something we think about and make this really a historic turning point. Because we went to war with the Iraqi government, we forget that Iraq's real enemies—and it has real enemies—are in the region because they went to war with Kuwait and with Iran. So some sort of regional stabilization that gave people on all sides of the borders confidence in what the others were doing would strike me as an appropriate one. And there again I think that's probably not, there's no role for the U.S. in that, other than [a] provider of technology as we help the other countries seeking to do that.
ACT: Do you think that they also may raise some uncomfortable questions about the Israeli nuclear program?
Kay: Well, that's, you know, that's been the historic problem with arms control in the Middle East. Everyone has said, "Well, we'll do it, but only if the Israelis do it." It strikes me that you've got a moment in time right now, with regard to the Iranian nuclear program, not their missile or chem or bio program, but their nuclear program-and with Iraq, where foresighted leadership might say "our objective is over the long run a more comprehensive Middle Eastern weapons of mass destruction-free zone." Well, we're not going to miss this opportunity to try to readjust the relationships between the two or three countries most involved. And just like, I don't, I would not view that as in competition with the IAEA, NPT, CWC, any of the other arms control agreements, nor would I view any competition with the ultimate objective of a nuclear free zone. One would like to think, even, that there would be the leadership that would say if we can do it between states that have a history of conflict of Iran and Iraq—I mean a million people were killed in that war in the '80s—we can maybe establish the mechanisms and competence that later we can do it with regard to other states in the region.
So, I mean, I think, it would be a shame if the traditional bugaboo of arms control in the Middle East—that is, the Israeli program—were to get in the way of real statesmanship now. And I think there is some possibility of that. I mean, the interesting thing to me that makes it a valid idea is you have a large number of Shias [Shiite Muslims] on both the Iranian and Iraqi side of the border. The Shias in Iraq are going for the first time in 35 years or so, play a role in government. So, for them, reestablishing a basis of cooperation of both the Iranian and Iraqi side, which involves some sort of arms control arrangement, would strike me as being an issue that is really quite separate from the Israeli issue, in terms of the domestic politics of Iraq.
ACT: In a recent speech at the U.S. Institute for Peace you mentioned that international inspections can play an important role in coping with future weapons of mass destruction (WMD) threats. What do you think is the proper role for international inspections regimes such as the IAEA and UNMOVIC, and what's your opinion on suggestions that UNMOVIC be retained as some sort of permanent inspections body?
Kay: Well, let me deal with the first one and come back to the last one. I think the challenge right now is to try to find a way to break out of this old argument between those who support international institutions and treaties, and those who found them to be less effective and has concentrated on military unilateral military solutions, and to seek ways to make international inspections more effective. You've got to realize, if you just take the nuke programs, you've got the Iranians now saying they had an illegal nuclear program that the IAEA did not identify for about 18 years until recently. And the Libyan program seems, although the information—at least in the open press—is less, seems to have been going on through 12 and 15 years. Also not detected. So, quite apart from Iraq, there is this issue of, "Can we make inspections more robust, so that programs like this would indeed be detectable?" I think the answer is yes. I think a combination of intelligence capability and new inspection technology can make those organizations much more effective [and] we have an obligation to do that. I think in the process of doing that, then the role for the existing international institutions that have inspections regimes—that's principally CWC and the NPT—I think is very good, and is important to do. It still leaves us with this problem of biological [weapons], where we have a treaty, but we don't have an inspection [regime].
ACT: Doesn't it also leave us with the problem of missile proliferation?
Kay: Well, and missiles…you don't have inspections. What you've got-and clearly it's not working and that's important to understand—is you thought if you impose requirements on those states that have missile capabilities (who are members of the MTCR), that would be one way of controlling it. Now it's quite clear, as a result of what happened in Iraq, states didn't exercise that authority very well. And so indeed you do need to consider, I think, whether, in fact, there is an inspection capability that needs to be created around the missile area. In some ways that's going to be as difficult as biological, but it certainly needs to be done. The issue of retaining UNMOVIC, to me it's a hard one to understand, because how would that play against IAEA inspection capabilities? In other words, what would its mission be?
ACT: Hans Blix, the former head of UNMOVIC, has suggested that the organization concentrate on the biological and missile areas, that these could be somewhere that UNMOVIC could play a role.
Kay: Well, it, it might be, although I would think the recent history of negotiating BWC expansion would suggest that it's more likely to be done among specialists that are focused in the same way you did IAEA nuke inspections or CWC. The slice of those states that have the technical capabilities and have the programs make it easier than a sort of UN negotiation. I think the same thing. I mean the whole MTCR arose out of that similar belief. We need to reexamine that and say, "Would it be easier to get more effective regimes if we did it multilateral across all regime areas, or across those two that don't have major inspection capabilities right now?" I'm just not certain… I would hate to see anything that would weaken either the…legitimacy of the CWC or the impetus to improve NPT. I think the urgency on the nuclear area and on the chemical area, is such that I would hate to see, for example, the additional protocol become the last step in the modernization of the NPT while we wait for some broader international negotiation that would make UNMOVIC more capable. Now, if the argument is going to be, "well, we'll just make UNMOVIC capable for biological and for missiles, and we'll let the reformation of the NPT and the improvement of CWC just go along the natural [path]. I guess that makes, that's less of an issue in terms of how it impacts with… it doesn't strike me that's a logical nature. And so much of UNMOVIC came out of the Iraqi experience. I mean, it's the logical successor to UNSCOM. Actually, I think many states would be reluctant to become subject to something that had that sort of parentage. UNSCOM and UNMOVIC were designed for a defeated state that was in opposition to the UN. I would like to believe that we…some of the rights to go anywhere, anytime, anyplace, that UNSCOM pioneered and that UNMOVIC later took up, would be key parts of this reformation of the inspection process. But I'm not sure that it's going to be easy to negotiate that in terms of the parentage of UNMOVIC. I'm agnostic on this, as to which is going to be the easiest way.
ACT: What about long-term monitoring? Clearly any regime would be better than Saddam's, but still people say they have a history of developing nuclear weapons…
Kay: You mean for long-term monitoring of Iraq? Sure.
ACT: Right, but also what we're asking the Iraqi government to do, and we're probably in a position to do, is to accept being an exception. That they have to accept a regime of inspection, and other people don't. What if you applied that more broadly? What if you could keep, say UNMOVIC, as a body you use for the hard cases, for the the Iraqs of the world, the North Koreans, and maybe the Iranians of the world?Instead of kind of worrying about the problem of universalizing a regime, you keep a body of expertise for the times when a country does have to be subjected to extraordinary measures?
Kay: I think that's a possibility, although you realize that, take North Korea. The real political issue right now has been whether North Korea is an item that should pass from the IAEA to the Security Council. And the only way you would energize something like UNMOVIC would be just passage across the transom, from the specific regimes, or something to do it. And the lessons are, that's very hard. I don't think the Iranians, for example, would take very well to the idea that their past cheating now justifies them being treated by an inspection regime that's called UNMOVIC because of the heritage of UNMOVIC. I don't think the Libyans would either. I mean, there's a real question: "Have you gotten this far with the Iranians because you've been able to keep it within the context of the NPT context without ripping to shreds?" Though—and the same thing is true with the Libyans—you've been able to do it without passing into the high pressure Security Council New York regime. And of course the North Koreans withdrew from the NPT rather than be subjected to that. It just depends on how the political dynamics work.
I think the important lesson that you do want to survive out of UNMOVIC and UNSCOM is the lessons that in certain cases you need expanded rights to provide security and confidence that the state is living up to its obligation. Now whether those expanded rights ought to be within IAEA, CWC, and you do have this fact that for two regime areas, missiles and biological, you don't have a fully robust organization. And so the question has to be, should we now push again on BWC and push to further institutionalize MTCR so it looks more like NPT, CWC, or should we just take it in to the UN? It strikes me the argument is not clear as to which is better on that one. In one sense, I feel better about an inspection process that doesn't draw artificial lines between nuke and chem and bio and missiles, because most states as they operate those programs don't draw those distinctions. So an inspection regime like UNMOVIC has an inherent advantage over stovepiping of the IAEA or some other. On the other hand, the reluctance to go the Security Council supported route, for political reasons, is so great I wonder if it would really be utilized. And in some ways, we're at the point that modernization of the IAEA/NPT inspection regime now for the first time really looks feasible, much more than just the Additional Protocols, because of Libya, because of Iran, because of North Korea. I would hate for that to die because, well, we're gonna wait and see if we can't enhance another inspection regime to take over the hard cases.
ACT: To make the perfect the enemy of the good.
Kay: Yeah, to make the perfect the enemy of the good.
ACT: Getting back to the ISG (Iraq Survey Group) experience. You attributed some of the difficulties to the inherent difficulty of conducting joint operations between different government agencies. How can future inspections operations better integrate intelligence and military aspects such as the coordination between the CIA and the Pentagon?
Kay: I think the fundamental flaw that we got into is, in all this run-up to the war, no one sat down and said, "Okay, we're going to win the war, that's obvious. What are we going to do about the weapons, and what's the organization to find and root out the weapons program?" and then taken a clean sheet of paper and said, okay, here's how we're going to do it. Instead, what happened is the military very late in the planning process created this organization called the 75th Exploitation task force, which was an entire military unit, very small military unit, that was charged with finding the weapons and follow the bulk of the forces into Iraq and Kuwait, rather late and without any capabilities. By June, it was recognized [that there was a problem]. Judy Miller from [The New York] Times did a brilliant series on the problems of the 75th. So then it was thought, "Well we've got to fix that, let's have an expanded organization called the Iraqi Survey Group."
Now the survey group was never in its original formulation intended to be just for WMD. It had prisoners of war—including the case of Kuwaiti prisoners of war—recovery of cultural artifacts, the looting of museums and all that, as well as WMD. And it was to be an entirely military organization. Military commander reporting to a military commander, DOD [Department of Defense] funded, DOD organized. It didn't actually have a CIA component at all in it. Well, when that didn't work either, then there was this quick decision to transfer the authority to the intelligence community, and have the intelligence community lead it, but using this organization that was a military organization. That's what I refer to as really being unworkable.
I think if you have to do this in the future, and let me say I hope we don't have to do this in the future, I think it would be far better to multilateralize it, and—well, it would be far better to avoid the war, but it you have to do it after a post-conflict, it probably… you ought to take a clean sheet of paper and create an organization that is either entirely military and led by the military to do it, or an organization that is staffed, reported, led by the intelligence community. For military assets, there are components of it that flow into it, but they are not a dominant military organization.
Like I say, I hope that will be the relatively rare case. For example, if you take the Libyan case…what you had was an intelligence-led collection effort that went in to remove equipment and to conduct interrogations. I think that would be my model. If you've got to do it, you do it with that intelligence focus. Now, the answer against that is: "You hadn't fought a war with Libya, it wasn't a dangerous battlefield. You didn't need the things you needed in Iraq. We needed people who could shoot, we needed helicopters, we needed force protection. So you needed a lot of things that you normally only get from the military." But I think the structure and the table and the way it was organized was just bound to cause problems. I'm actually remarkably surprised there were as few problems as there were.
ACT: Prior to the invasion last March, U.S. officials claimed to have intelligence Iraq was defeating inspections efforts through various denial and deception tactics. What evidence has emerged regarding Iraqi cooperation with UN inspectors?
Kay: Actually, a fair amount of evidence. I think that's one case in which the claim is largely supported. That is, we have a number of interviews and interrogations that we conducted of scientists and engineers who had been interviewed by UNMOVIC who said that they had not told UNMOVIC the truth, and they then proceeded to take us to documents and equipment and records that they had sequestered away and given to us. And they said it simply was that they didn't believe that UNMOVIC could protect them from the secret police organization, intelligence organization of the Iraqi state, that they had been warned not to cooperate, they had been briefed, and they went into great detail about how they had been briefed prior to interviews. So, there was that.
There also were major discoveries of equipment and facilities, and the interesting thing about that is not so much that UNMOVIC didn't find—it's very difficult without intelligence to find stuff in Iraq or anywhere, and that includes the ISG. The interesting thing is, we got access to the records and to the people involved in the discussions in which the Iraqis themselves had decided which facilities they would reveal—put into the full final complete declaration 1441—and which ones they would not. So it's quite clear the Iraqis took some out, [took some facilities] off the table. And we were able, because the Iraqis were more free to talk, to find those. We also discovered that the Iraqis had hidden certain facilities in places that are typically difficult for inspectors to go—mosques is one facility—the best English translation is Chamber of Commerce. It really, it was the Union of Industrialists, which had equipment which should have been declared to the UN of a biological-chemical nature. So, there was a fairly robust D&D [Deception and Denial ] program, considering what they had to hide. Which, I mean, they weren't hiding large production facilities or large stockpiles.
Now, I think it would be unfair to say that that was just designed to mislead UN inspectors. They were even more fearful of U.S. air-attack. So, a lot of the deception and denial techniques were designed to shield the facilities from being identified by—and this is over a long term, throughout the 90s—being identified by the U.S., because they feared air attacks, like Desert Fox.
ACT: In the lead up to the war in March 2003, several UN Security Council members formulated proposals to strengthen the UN inspection regime, give Iraq more time to comply. If these had been accepted, would they have garnered more Iraqi cooperation? Would the UN mandated monitoring and verification system have been effective in halting future Iraqi prohibited weapons activities?
Kay: I think you've got to distinguish between those measures that would have led to fuller Iraqi disclosure, or disclosure of Iraqi activities, and the question of whether those measures would have, in fact, inhibited a massive restart of the Iraqi program. I think the limitation on discovery and disclosure was the fear of the people involved of Saddam Hussein and his police. And I don't think any measures would have really overcome that fear. On the other hand, I think in retrospect it is obvious that rigorous inspections and accompanying sanctions played an important role in limiting the possibilities of the Iraqis to restart their program.
Now, some of their programs were more difficult to, for inspectors to limit and detect than others. The missile program is an interesting one because of [United Nations Resolution] 687, the [Persian Gulf War] cease-fire arrangement which allowed them to keep a missile program [of missiles with ranges not exceeding 150 km. So it was always a cat-and-mouse game throughout the UNSCOM years with the missiles: Were the missiles going to exceed a 150 mile range limitation or not, what was the payload, and all of that. I think that was, that was almost an inherent limitation that we had to live with regardless of how big our… but it…and it didn't limit the cooperation of foreign states.
I don't think the measures that were being discussed prior to the war would have detected the Russian assistance, for example, for that missile program. That assistance came in two forms: actual scientists and engineers who came to Baghdad who collaborated, and…they collaborated in a building that was not identified as part of the missile establishment. And then the collaboration continued when they went back to wherever they came from, and that was electronic and that probably wasn't discoverable. But I think vigorous inspection, I think it did lead to the Iraqi decision to get rid of their large stockpiles. I think…they viewed it as limiting their ability to restart the program while inspectors were there. So I think there was a gain from it. It would not have rooted out their capability, and it would not have stopped small-scale cheating, but I think it would have played a role in limiting a large scale restart of that program.
Now, a lot of this is something you know a lot better in retrospect than you knew at the time, and everyone ought to be on the up and up about this. Most intelligence reports from around the world said that the Iraqi chemical and biological programs had already been restarted and they had weapons. Turns out, I think, those reports were wrong, and now we know that they were wrong because inspections were more of a hindrance, and they feared them more in the mid-90s than we anticipated.
But the interesting question is: Why after '98 when the inspectors left didn't they restart the chemical and biological programs? The answer I have tentatively is two-form. One, is that the chaos and corruption was such that Saddam really just wasn't interested and they had limited capabilities to do it. They went for programs that were essentially science fiction, for detection and killing stealth aircraft instead. And secondly he thought, and most of the Iraqi senior scientists we interviewed thought, that the restart of a biological and chemical program was something they could do quickly. What they didn't have was the delivery system. So, I think what we ought to pay attention to that missile program. And the real question is whether that missile program would have been successful if the war hadn't intervened. …[Saddam Hussein] had pretty high range goals for them, to get up to 1000 kms. …By 2005, 2006, would they have had those missiles? My strong suspicion is that in fact they just weren't technically capable of doing that, even with foreign assistance. It would have taken them longer. They would eventually have gotten it, if the war hadn't intervened, but their own technical chaos, the declining state of efficiency of all of their manufacturing areas just would make that very difficult even with foreign assistance.
ACT: This obviously goes back to the question about UN enforcing its own resolutions, but UN Resolution 687 did mandate that there would be an ongoing monitoring and verification system to exist after Iraq was said to have dismantled its nuclear, chemical, biological, and extended missile programs. It wasn't just a question of saying "forgive and forget we'll go away now," even in a world where we lifted sanctions. It's true that it's harder to detect small scale cheating, but to get a missile of that type of range you have to have testing…
Kay: Well, unless you import it from the North Koreans or someone else.
ACT: I mean do you think that monitoring system could have done something to restrain them?
Kay: Well, I think that monitoring system, the 687 monitoring system, which ended of course when the inspectors left in '98. I mean that was ripped out by the Iraqis. If they had progressed to full-scale monitoring, would it have limited the Iraqi restart of the program? I think, I'm confidant to say that I think it would have detected really large-scale restart on most of the programs. What I'm not confident of is whether in fact the international community would have responded. That's a quite different… for example, the League of Nations response to German rearmament was, "Oh so what?" And it wasn't that it wasn't detected—it was detected.
The other thing that complicates that answer, or at least my view of the answer, is that if sanctions had really come off, I think it would have been harder to detect a restart of the biological program or of the chemical program than otherwise. The monitoring program of 687 was very tough as long as Iraq's economy was essentially in the straightjacket of sanctions. Because you controlled everything that went in legitimately, and so you could look for the deviants, the outliers, for the things that weren't legitimate. And you had the on-site inspection accompanying the monitoring, which everyone forgets. It wasn't just technical monitoring, it was really inspectors still on the scene, and that's what I think the Iraqi's really feared.
So…you couldn't have stopped small-scale cheating. And small-scale cheating in the biological area is probably significant—but it would have detected, I think, industrial production of missiles. It might not have detected importation. It would have detected a restart of the nuke program easily.
ACT: Let me ask you a bottom-line question, you have said that despite your discoveries, you still supported the war because of the pre-war human rights situation and the related horrors that you discovered there. Just leaving that aside a minute, if it was just a WMD-based decision, do you think that invading Iraq was a wise decision?
Kay: Well, here again, it's the great advantage of thinking I know the truth. I think [that] not having discovered stockpiles of WMD, you come to the conclusion that if that was the only thing you considered, that all these other things were off the table and didn't matter to you, clearly it was not. It was not worth it. Now, that's my personal perspective, I understand how others could have a different perspective in the shadow of 9/11, if you looked at the record of Iraq, having continued to defy in many ways the UN, would you have, and you had on your table, intelligence reports [pointing to possession of chemical and biological weapons].
ACT: That was certainly the general framework that everyone was sort of given at the time.
Kay: I think that actually affected a lot of the analysis, and it's a lot of the reason why people didn't step aside and challenge… I mean it's unfortunate that the largest challenge to that sort of assumption [that Iraq had given up its WMD] came from people like [former UNSCOM inspector] Scott Ritter who sort of destroyed their own credibility in other forms, and so it never became a respectable position. And I think we all—and I certainly include myself—bear responsibility for not having said, "Let's step aside, and regardless of the fact that it's Scott or someone else arguing this position, let's give it a legitimate shake, and look at the alternative that is a real possibility, and see what evidence fits that explanation." It just seemed to be such a convenient explanation. As additional pieces of evidence became available, people looked at them if they fit the puzzle of "Iraq is continuing to cheat, let's put them in that model," and never tried to look to see if there is another model there.
And this is an analytical failing, as well as a political and policy failing. The evidence that really counted—and this wasn't manufactured, this was real evidence that the Iraqis were continuing to cheat and deceive and try to acquire capabilities—seemed to come from multiple sources. So everyone focused on what fit the puzzle, where you knew what was the picture on the box cover and this was of Iraq continuing its programs. The evidence that didn't fit that puzzle was just sort of cast aside, not attempting to put it into another box that may have had a completely different picture on the cover.
ACT: UNMOVIC had said that the ISG's findings added little to the evidence that UN inspectors found. How do you reconcile those claims?
Kay: Well I think that's wrong, for example, in the missile area. I think in the missile area if you just take public stuff that's in Risen's piece today and the October report, there's a considerable amount of stuff that UNMOVIC did not understand.
But on the other hand, I don't want this to be seen… I value what UNMOVIC found. I mean I think that it extended [the knowledge of] UNSCOM. What it really didn't resolve—UNSCOM in some ways made it harder to resolve—is this material balance issue. The missing… 500 liters of missing x, the missing y, which mostly dealt with material that UNSCOM had determined—correctly I think—that Iraq had imported, but that the Iraqis could not account for. UNSCOM didn't resolve that. I think in the end you'll find that ISG is able to resolve most of that.
You know, the war would have been completely different if Dr Blix—and it's not UNMOVIC's fault, don't misunderstand me, I don't think it's UNMOVIC's fault, I think it's Iraq's fault—but if Dr. Blix had been able to report to the Security Council that "all of these missing amounts we now understand where they were, they're accounted for, they did not go into new weapons, etc." Because of the Iraqi behavior and reporting, and the physical difficulty of resolving the material balance issues, no one was able to resolve that. And so I think we did add considerably, and the final report will explain in detail far more convincing—well UNMOVIC was unconvincing in the sense that they were unable to resolve it. I mean these were real differences, simply unresolvable. I think because the Iraqis are now able to talk, because we've got access to documentation, and we've been able to put that puzzle back together, you will in the following report find a pretty convincing case that says most of these amounts are accounted for and did not go into new weapons.
ACT: So what happened to these weapons? Were they destroyed or something else?
Kay: It varies. Some were destroyed. Some were destroyed in ways that the Iraqis were embarrassed to admit, how they had been destroyed. Some disappeared in the normal chaos and accidents that occurred. Realize they fought two wars they lost before this one—the Iran-Iraq war and the Persian Gulf War—and so, and those weapons, the unresolved amounts, revolved around importation of goods prior to the 1991 Gulf War and had been used to a large extent in the Iranian War. We figured out exactly in each one by piecing it together… and some of these explanations are terribly embarrassing to the Iraqis. Like I say, one major one involves disposal of weapons material and biological agents in ways that were not only not approved, but dangerous to the health of people in Baghdad, or thought to be. And so they just covered it up, and they weren't going to tell anyone that they had gotten rid of it that way. I don't want to go into exact details, I'll leave that to the next ISG report as you attempt to verify it. So, I mean I think it's unfair to say that the ISG has added nothing. In one sense, confirming, as I think we will confirm, some of UNMOVIC's conclusions, is an important add as well. But I think just on the missile area, I think it would be hard to sustain that argument.
ACT: Could we just go back to something you said about in terms of the records. One of the frequent arguments made is that when the Iraqis couldn't produce records, UNMOVIC would say you should have records to produce or if you don't have that you should have some personnel who did it. I know one explanation was that Iraqi society was just not as well organized as we had thought it to be. It sounds like what you're saying today is different, that there were ways to account for the weapons and they just didn't in many cases.
Kay: All of us-and that includes UNSCOM and UNMOVIC—all of us dealing with Iraq, knew that Iraq had tremendous record—keeping requirements, and they really kept records on almost everything. And so this inability to produce records on people that were involved on the destruction hung in everyone's mind as just not a credible explanation. I think what we have found out is that while there were some areas where records were not kept, the explanations for why they didn't keep records were not the ones they consistently gave to the UN. It was just reasons of protecting themselves and the regime from how they had destroyed certain things. That some of the records would have disclosed what they thought were importation networks that were not known about. There were a variety of reasons, not a single case. And there are some areas where, in fact, you're going to have to say the Iraqis were right. The chaos of the moment, losing two wars, led to some destruction and disappearance of stuff that was undocumented, and, you know, they were telling the truth.
And this gets back to really a fundamental point in the Iraqi case, which the Iraqis themselves have recognized, many of those under interrogation that is they got in the habit in 1991 of lying. They were caught in a series of lies, so that when they later told the truth in some cases—like why some of these records don't exist—no one would believe them because they were already convicted as consistent liars. It wasn't the fault of UNSCOM, it certainly wasn't the fault of UNMOVIC, and it largely wasn't the fault of the outside analysts. It was Iraq's fault for having ever gone down this way of such massive lying—principally in the initial stage to the IAEA, and then subsequently on the biological area and the chem area to UNSCOM. Or the missile area when you caught them with the gyroscopes they had imported and some turned up in the Euphrates. You know, they just, they lied about everything, so when they told the truth they didn't get credit for telling the truth. We thought it was just another lie.
ACT: Well, often they didn't have anyway to demonstrate they were telling the truth.
Kay: It's hard to demonstrate when you say, "We didn't keep records of this." How do you prove it? And it was hard because it came back to, "Okay well, bring the people involved who were there when it was destroyed," and they refused to do that. The explanation for that happens to be because those people were deadly fearful that if the regime understood—and the regime being Saddam—how they destroyed some of this material their heads would have been in a noose.
ACT: In your Jan. 28 testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, you stated that Iraq was more dangerous than we had thought, citing the regime's lack of central control over personnel with expertise in WMD. Has the invasion exacerbated that situation by increasing the chances that these personnel could provide their expertise to terrorists or rogue governments? And what do you think of the current efforts to reduce the spread of that expertise?
Kay: Well, in one sense it has been exacerbated. That is, the ability to flee Iraq, to leave Iraq is probably much easier to do now than it was under Saddam, although a lot of people did it under Saddam. In one sense, probably less so. That is, unless they took the technology, records of the technology, or pieces of equipment home, they don't have access, a lot of that has been destroyed. So they've got what's in their mind, and they've got their technical capability. But there's not much else that they can get access to.
No, I worry—I think we all, who were there, worry—that we continue to come across cases of Iraqis that we wanted to talk to who had left the country and no one knew where they were. The efforts to set up the equivalent of a program to retain scientists and engineers like we set up in the wake of the fall of the Soviet Union has been much slower in Iraq than it should have been. There are some efforts finally getting underway, but quite frankly the largest incentive to stay—and it was true in the Soviet Union too—is if you believe that the future is going to be better than the present and you see that progress is being made. Then most scientists will not go to the Sudan or even to the Gulf area. Iraqis are-we don't give them enough credit-they are very proud nationalists, very proud of their culture. They are extraordinarily family-centered organizations. So it's not a case of David Kay being willing to go to the United Arab Emirates…they've got to take both sides of their family's children, aunts and uncles, because they are responsible for them. And that's hard to do. As long as they believe that security and progress—economic progress, a legitimate way to make money and contribute—is in the near-term future, they'll stay in Iraq.
The greatest problem we have, of course, is giving them the confidence that there is physical security and that the economy is restarting. So I think that to the extent you can do that, and that there is a political process that will allow stability, the greatest fear the Iraqis have is not very much different than people who look at Iraq in this town is, that is civil war, breakdown of political society, failure to be able to restart the economy. So…anything we can do on that that benefits the average Iraqi also benefits the retention of the scientists.
There are special programs that are just now being pushed to try to target the scientists. It's too little too late, but …it's better to do it at anytime than not to do it. It's just been slow to get done.
ACT: You also said that the leading destruction of the facilities after the invasion hampered the ISG's ability to get a complete picture of Iraq's weapon program, and you made some comments earlier about the lack of prewar planning for securing those facilities. How would you assess the initial plans for locating and securing WMD there?
Kay: Practically useless. I do not think the U.S. military gave a very high priority to locating WMD. They gave the highest priority to WMD that might possibly be used against troops during the course of the war. And that was their great fear, so on the actual battlefront, attempts that were designed to deter any possible Iraqi use or to make it overwhelming that they would gain no advantage from using it, I think those activities were actually good.
But the longer-range issue of finding what was in the WMD, locating the infrastructure, and protecting it, was horrible. I mean, Tuwaitha—the principal nuclear research center that we know about—was essentially left unprotected. There was vast looting of radioactivity material and sources, looting of technical equipment. Records were destroyed. Now it was even worse in office buildings in Baghdad where the Military Industrialization Commission, for example, had its headquarters—those records were very, very valuable but they were looted and burned. The Ministry of Finance: looted and burned. And those went unprotected for well over a month, from April 9 to the end of May. I remember in May going out to the headquarters of the Iraqi Intelligence Service and it was a field day. Anyone could go in and collect records and dig through. … These were unprotected. This was not a task that the military planned to take on or gave a high priority to.
ACT: You said earlier that the sanctions regime probably worked to force the Iraqis to go underground to use these underground networks to procure material. Do you think that those networks are inherently a bit of a black box, because you don't by definition know what's going on there. Do you think that may have contributed to some of the unease regarding all the suspicions that Iraq was maybe farther along in reconstituting…
Kay: Yeah, you're absolutely right. You saw bits and pieces of what they were getting through the network, and you tended to then worst-case analysis on they must be getting other things through, even though you didn't see it, but you saw a network existed, and that some things were getting through. So, it added to the problem of making sound analysis.
ACT: In terms of export control regimes people talk about choke points, the kinds of technologies you can control—you can't control Playstation 2s, maybe you can control other things. In terms of dealing with the sort of network, the A.Q. Khan network, but others. Do you think that expertise is maybe a choke point?
Kay: Yeah, you can control technical expertise. Though I now…
ACT: Or do you think there's another…
Kay: I now sort of look at your technical expertise as being almost like your Playstation II analysis. When you don't necessarily have to go to the country, but you can do it with a team operating out of a research institute in a capital somewhere else, or you can, as in the A.Q. Khan era, you can take the expertise on designing central parts of a centrifuge and take them to a factory in Malaysia that then translates them into hardware. The technical expertise never goes directly to Libya. We just forget, it's such a different world that there is the technical expertise is now pretty broadly spread in most of these areas that how you would control it. So I don't see it being an effective choke line.
I actually have come to the conclusion that international inspection is even more important now than it ever was. The on-the-ground examination of what's going on is irreplaceable as to what it can do. And so we've got to find a way to be sure that that inspection is as well-equipped and well-funded, organized, and with the maximum access possible, rather than believe that sitting back some place staring through space, or even with domestic export control laws, that you're going to be able to stop it that way. There's not going… I think the conclusion from Iraq—and I think out of Iran and Libya—is going to be there really is no substitute for effective inspections.
And really, the good news part of that story is: I think if there is effective inspection, the need for unilateral pre-emptive action becomes much less critical. And the type of pre-emptive action that you might need, if you were to need it, becomes much less. You don't have to defeat a country, you may at some point decide you have to take out a facility [if] international inspectors are being denied access. That's really a lot different.
1. James Risen, "Russian Engineers Reportedly Gave Missile Aid to Iraq," The New York Tmes, March 5, 2004.
2. Kay testified before Congress regarding the October report about the ISG's findings. See http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2003_11/KayReport.asp
3. See "The Khan Network", March 2004 Arms Control Today, pp. 23-29. http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2004_03/Pakistan.asp
4. The UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) was formed in 1991 after Iraq's defeat in the Persian Gulf War to verify that Iraq complied with UN-mandated disarmament tasks. For a list of relevant UN resolutions, see http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2002_10/UNresolutionsoct02.asp
5. The UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission
(UNMOVIC) was formed in 1999 to carry out inspections in Iraq after UNSCOM inspectors were withdrawn the previous year. For more details see http://www.armscontrol.org/act/1999_12/unde99.asp
6. The Missile Technology Control Regime is an export control regime that aims to limit the spread of ballistic and cruise missiles. For more details see http://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/mtcr.asp
7. The Chemical Weapons Convention, a 1997 treaty ratified by 160 countries, which bans the use, development, production, and stockpiling of Chemical Weapons. It is administered by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague. For more details see http://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/cwcglance.asp
8. The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) was signed in 1972 but lacks enforcement and verification provisions. Efforts to negotiate a binding protocol fell apart in 2001, when the Bush administration rejected a proposed draft and any further protocol negotiations, claiming such a protocol could not help strengthen compliance with the BWC and could hurt U.S. national security and commercial interests. For more details see http://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/bwcataglance.asp
9. See "Verifying Arms Control Agreements: An Interview with Hans Blix, the Outgoing Executive Chairman of UNMOVIC," Arms Control Today, July/August 2003, pp. 12-15.
10. In February 2003, the IAEA Board of Governors adopted a resolution declaring Pyongyang in "further non-compliance" with its obligations under the NPT and decided to report the matter to the UN Security Council. North Korea had ignored two previous resolutions calling for it to comply with its IAEA safeguards agreement, including reversing its January 2003 decision to withdraw from the NPT. See: http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2003_03/nkorea_mar03.asp
11. In response to its failure more than a dozen years ago to discover secret nuclear weapon programs by Iraq and North Korea, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) began an effort in 1993 to make it more difficult for states to illicitly pursue nuclear weapons. That effort eventually produced a voluntary Additional Protocol, designed to strengthen and expand existing IAEA safeguards for verifying that non-nuclear-weapon states-parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) only use nuclear materials and facilities for peaceful purposes. For more details see http://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/IAEAProtocol.asp
12. Resolution 1441 required Iraq to allow "immediate, unimpeded, unconditional and unrestricted access" to "facilities, buildings, equipment, records, and means of transport which they wish to inspect," as well as a "currently accurate, full, and complete declaration of all aspects of its programmes to develop chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and other delivery systems."
For the full text see: http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2002_12/unres_dec02.asp
13. A three-day air campaign launched by President Clinton in 1998 after UNSCOM inspectors withdrew from Iraq, claiming their inspections were being hampered.
14. See Scott Ritter, "The Case for Iraq's Qualitative Disarmament," Arms Control Today, June 2000.