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

– Setsuko Thurlow
Hiroshima Survivor
June 6, 2016

Getting it Right the Next Time: An ACT Interview with Hans Blix

 Interviewed by Miles Pomper, Paul Kerr, and Daryl Kimball.

 Hans Blix, former executive chairman of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and former director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), spoke with Arms Control Today June 19. He shared his insights on nonproliferation and disarmament issues as well as his account of the momentous events leading to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Some interview excerpts follow. (For a complete transcript please click here)


The Need for Further Disarmament Steps

One of my strong feelings is that we need to get back to dynamic work on the disarmament agenda. I find it so politically puzzling that we have not been moving on this agenda. We were celebrating and recollecting the Reagan era, and Mr. [Mikhail] Gorbachev was here in Washington and recalled the ambitions that they had, to do away with nuclear weapons. I was at the opening of the Cold War, and indeed the end of the Cold War was the greatest thing that has happened for disarmament. Tensions drive armament, and the de-tension, détente, helps to promote disarmament. And it did. Indeed, much has happened. You see the dismantling of weapons, and it’s nice that the problem is rather how to do away with plutonium [more] than anything else.

However, there still remains the fact that this disarmament process [the UN Conference on Disarmament] has stalled in Geneva for a number of years. There are, to my knowledge, no big territorial or ideological issues at stake between great powers and continents or blocs, if there are any blocs any longer. We shall see, of course, more civil wars; we shall see more regional conflict in the world, but we do not see over the horizon any conflict between the blocs, and that being so, it is puzzling that we are stuck in the big disarmament process. A relaunching of the disarmament process would inject a new atmosphere. I’m not going so far as to contend that it would affect the North Korean situation or Iranian situation, but there would be a new atmosphere. It’s hard to work up a great enthusiasm…among the non-nuclear-weapon states at a time when you see a strong reluctance on the part of the [United States] at any rate to move ahead with the big issues that are stuck.

On North Korea, Iran, and Pakistan

I’m probably known to the world mostly as an inspector, and I had that function at the IAEA. But I always felt that the first barrier to proliferation is the political one, and sometimes I feel that, in the arms control community, we tend to look at all these technical fixes and the control of this material, and that’s fine—I’m not against all that. But let us look at what is the basic thing that drives countries to go for nuclear weapons or get more of them: it is security concerns. When you look at Iran; or you look at Israel; or you look at India, Pakistan, Iraq, certainly North Korea, you have to see what are the perceived security concerns they have.

In the case of North Korea, I think it’s absolutely clear that they have that concern. They have been talking about a nonaggression pact, using language that we had around the Stalinist period, and we laugh a little at it. But when you look at what they want, it seems to me that they want an assurance that their borders are inviolable, and I don’t see that that part of the problem should be very difficult. I don’t see anyone who wants to invade North Korea because the problems of taking care of them would be very great.

The other side of the Korean thing may be the more difficult part of establishing inspection, verification, which must be sufficiently far reaching, and you only ever talk about nuclear issues. What about biological and chemical and missiles in North Korea? In Iraq [biological and chemical weapons were] not that irrelevant, but when you come to North Korea, you have the feeling that no one talks at all about it. So, inspection I think will be important and it raises special difficulties in a country so hermetically closed as North Korea. But what must drive them a lot is an almost paranoic feeling that they have no friends. They used to have the Russians, and they had the Chinese, etcetera, and they felt stronger earlier. But today, they feel on insecure grounds, and I don’t think this guarantee should be a difficult one to give.

Therefore, I think that it is right to zero in on the six-party talks and on their demand for a guarantee on inviolability. And when we talk about their demand for oil and for food, etcetera, I [would] see if this can be [done], not as a humanitarian prop-up, but for an evolution of North Korea into a more viable [state]. If North Korea is to have a peaceful exit, what I would like to see would be that the outside assistance, which they no doubt will ask for, be geared toward an economic development in which they will come over in the Chinese direction. Not simply helping them not starve for the next period, but actually leading them somewhere.

Clearly, Iran is [in] an area equipping itself with weapons. You had of course first Israel. But Iran must also be aware that Iraq will now be a sovereign state, and although I hope that there will be effective verification remaining in Iraq after sovereignty is supposed to pass to it, nevertheless the technical know-how still remains in Iraq. And I’ve seen the holes in the Bushehr reactors, which the Iraqis shot with some Exocet rockets in the past. So, I imagine this will also figure in their [Iran’s] thinking.

And while I approve of the diplomatic efforts of the European states,[1] which are also coordinated with the [United States], I think that they must not lose sight of the larger political approach to détente in the Middle East. It seems very far away, and I’m not naïve, and I know it’s not happening tomorrow. However, it has been conspicuous all the time that all the states in that region support the notion of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction. Israel does, and so does Iran…and if one were to tackle the central problem of the Middle East, the relations between Israelis and Palestinians, I think it will also prove easier to tackle the issues of weapons of mass destruction. I’m not at all against the Europeans’ initiative, but I think in all these cases, we need to remember the political dimension.

The [United States] doesn’t have much by way of economic relations with Iran today, but in Europe they do. That should hover in the background. If you begin to brandish them, then it may be counterproductive, especially when you’re talking in the case of Iran. Yes I agree, they have not been forthright, they have not been open, their lack of transparency increases the suspicion—all of that I agree with.

At the same time, when one asks them to renounce or suspend their enrichment capacity, I think one also has to remember there’s a certain pride in these things and [in] technological prowess. I have heard it said, “Why should Iran have nuclear power, they have oil?” No one asked that question when the shah was about to launch a huge [nuclear] project. I think this nuclear technology is part of the feeling that, yes, we are also able to do the most advanced modern technology.

On Nuclear Power and Proliferation

I’m a strong proponent of nuclear power, I’m not against it. Not least today, when we are seeing attacks on pipelines in Iraq and when we have a feeling that terrorist movements are trying to scare away Western technicians or Westerners from Saudi Arabia. Then we are getting into a situation that may be similar to the past fear of a cutting off of supplies of oil. And we should be reminded then that with nuclear power you can at least reduce the reliance upon oil somewhat, not that much, but this is one of the most significant ways of doing it for electricity. In [the] long term, if we were to make use of fuel cell cars, instead of gasoline-powered cars, the hydrogen could be produced with the help of nuclear power.

I do not mind countries like India, certainly a huge country, going for nuclear power. I think that’s desirable. But it also leads me to be an even stronger advocate of nonproliferation and of safety in the operation of reactors and the disposal of waste.

We do have quite a number of non-nuclear-weapon states that have enrichment: Brazil, South Africa, Japan, of course. If we are asking that no one else do it, I don’t think that it can be a hard or fast rule. You may have a country that would develop very fast into using nuclear power much more. And I think it would have to be an arrangement on which you can have some flexibility. Suppose that Ukraine for instance, which has a lot of nuclear power, if they would also go for enrichment. Then I don’t see any absolute obstacle why that should not be so. At the present time, we have licensed five nuclear-weapon states. Should we now license a few more for enrichment, and that’s the end of it? That’s a rigidity. I think we need some sort of flexibility in that for the future.

On Inspections and Intelligence

Recently, I’ve been trying to explain how far can you come with inspection, how useful is it? When Mr. [Vice President Dick] Cheney said, for instance, that the inspections are useless at best and instead [the administration relied on] defectors, he clearly went wrong.

On the other hand, I think it’s also risky to say that inspection is the key. Don’t underestimate it, don’t overestimate it. They are like search machines. They have their merits, and they have their limitations. The great merit is that they can go into any place legally, they can be entitled to go in, and especially with the [IAEA] Additional Protocol,[2] so you can go much further than before. You have the right to have access to the information, to people, to documents, etcetera. But they also have their limitations, they cannot go around the country. For that, they need to have information.

Now what can we do then, with an organization like UNMOVIC? Yes, I would be in favor of a modified mandate that would allow it to continue with a broadened base that could be used ad hoc by the [UN] Security Council. It is not a very expensive item for the moment. They are managing on leftovers from the oil-for-food [program],[3] and that will last for a while. But they will need a budget. And the beauty of it is that they are not dependent upon a standing group or standing army of inspectors. Rather, we had the roster system set up for a different reason: that you were not allowed to go in.[4] And so we created a roster system, we train people, they work at home, and they are available like an international reserve that can go in. And it is very economic, they are given the refresher courses, and they learn the latest techniques. So, with a relatively low cost you could have a reserve for some inspection.

Let me say something more about intelligence and merging or mixing it with the inspection. This is fundamental. We know now, after the Iraqi affair, that international inspectors under the authority of the Security Council or the board of the IAEA came to conclusions that were closer to reality than what the intelligence agencies did. There are a couple of reasons that helped us on the [inspectors] side. One was that we had the Security Council as our master. The Security Council did not push us or breathe down our neck to come into any particular conclusions. They just said, “You do your professional work, and you report accurately to us.” Intelligence agencies clearly felt there was an expectation that they would come up with something that pointed to the direction of the existence of the weapons because their executive branch of the government wanted that, both in the [United States] and in the [United Kingdom].

The other [factor] was the international civil servants concept, which is strong in the [United Nations] and the IAEA. You are there to assemble facts, and submit that to a political level. You are not part of the policymaking. I was very clear to the Security Council that I am not advising what you are to do. I simply am responsible for our job of collecting the data and giving it to you.

In the national governments, I think there has been a risk of the blurring, whether we see it, not only in this particular sphere, but we see of course in many areas where government, executive branch, in the policymaking and selling it to the public, will want to create their own reality. And they repeat again and again the same thing of questionable factual value, and it turns it into virtual reality. I think you might say Iraq is a case where eventually the virtual reality collided with old-fashioned, real reality.

So, [we need to retain] this distinction. Not doing away with intelligence data—they have their role—but keep them apart. And as I said, the intelligence can provide the inspectors with ideas where to go because they have other sources than inspectors do.

On Iraq

And what you can see today, of course, is that, after the Iraqi affair, there is no political inclination to rely too much on intelligence.

So, the whole concept of counterproliferation has been weakened. It’s not gone, because if something is imminent, then sure, they will act. But they can also go to the Security Council and share the responsibility of a decision. I don’t accept their contention that the Security Council is impotent. I saw that [British Prime Minister Tony] Blair said that the council is not there just to talk but also to act. All right. Within a short day or two after that, the council acted within less than 12 hours to take a decision on Haiti. So, if they are agreed, they can act.

But in the case of Iraq last spring, they were not agreed, and I think it was to the credit of the council that they did not authorize the war. Where would we have stood today if the council had said fine to the Spanish-U.S.-[British] resolution, had authorized it on erroneous premises? They were skeptical of the premises; they were right. And therefore, I think it was a good thing that they didn’t authorize the war. And with the present composition of the council, there is no automatic veto. The Russians, the Chinese are not automatically vetoing things. And therefore, the council should not be ruled out as impotent. I think it is there, and if you had a threat that is not within 12 hours, well, I think that you might also share the responsibility in taking action by going to the council.

I never said in the Security Council that I would advise against war. It would be presumptuous of me…. Now my personal wish was of course to continue the inspection, and I think that’s probably how people perceived my attitude. But I did not explicitly ask Security Council to vet that.

However, on the question of the evidence, we were not silent. You will find in my book[5] the description of the conversation with Blair. I have the transcript of it, and it is amusing. I think it was in February [2003]. It makes clear that I do not exclude the possibility that there are still weapons. But I am making clear to him that we were not impressed by the evidence that we had. I do say to him that it would be paradoxical if you invaded with several hundred thousand men and you didn’t find anything. This was in February. And he then said, no, no. All the intelligence agencies are agreed. And to top it off, he said “and the Egyptians too.”

So, I had no doubt at all that he was [acting] in good faith, nor have I ever suggested that President George W. Bush was [acting] in bad faith. But our doubts or skepticism about the evidence began in the autumn because David Albright [president of the Institute for Science and International Security] and his people were doubting the [claim about] aluminum tubes. And I was doubtful about the yellow cake contract,[6] not because I had any suspicion at all that it was a forgery, but I felt that yellow cake is a long way from a bomb. And why should the Iraqis bother to import yellow cake? That was my simple layman thought about it.

But then in January and in February, we went to dozens of sites given by intelligence—U.S., [British] and others—and found no weapons of mass destruction. That shook us quite a lot. Then came [Secretary of State] Colin Powell with his beautiful presentation—I won’t use another noun for it—his beautiful presentation to the Security Council. Perhaps we should have felt humiliated because he was then presenting all these smoking guns we hopeless inspectors had failed to see. However, I felt more like sitting in a court bench, saying, well, the chief prosecutor is now putting forth the evidence; then let’s see what the experts say about this evidence. So, I let our experts dig their teeth into it. Now there were of course many things they could not check, the intercepted telephone calls and so forth that they could not check, but there were several others that they could check and each they were skeptical about.

Now that was when I said I have to go to the Security Council and also register our doubts about the evidence, and I did so. There I referred to three things. I referred to the fact that you cannot say that simply because something is unaccounted for it exists. Secondly, I referred to the sites that we had been to [that were] not building any weapons of mass destruction. And thirdly, I took up the case of the chemical sites, which…Powell had referred to, it was the only one that I took up. I said the trucks that he had seen [that] they thought were decontamination trucks our inspectors had seen.... And we had taken lots of environmental samples and seen no traces of chemicals. So, this was still in February [2003 when] I went before the [Security] Council. Maybe I could accuse myself today of not speaking louder, but that was the only voice that came.

If Inspections Had Continued

If inspections had continued, I think that two things would have happened. First, we would have been able to go to all sites suggested to us by intelligence—[British], U.S., or any other—and since there weren’t any weapons, we wouldn’t have found any. And we would have reported that fact, and I think that ought to have shaken the intelligence agencies. We didn’t have bad relations with intelligence; we were not so antagonistic at all. I think it should have shaken them to say, “Sorry, but then our sources were bad.” Maybe the time was too short, maybe the number of cases was too short for them to retreat on that, or draw that conclusion.

So, that would have been the most important [outcome]. The other thing that could have happened was also important, but slightly less work: that was that the Iraqis gave us at the end of February and the very beginning of March, they gave us long lists of people whom they said had participated in the unilateral destruction operation in 1991. And what we would have done would have been to interview these people. And there are difficulties you have with interviewing in totalitarian countries, but nevertheless there were some 80 or so names and in such a large number if you could interview them, there might have been some hope that we would understand more.

And it was quite clear that, when inspections were over, then you go into long-term monitoring,[7] and there was no end to that. [It] wouldn’t require a specific decision of the Security Council. Now with [UN Security Council Resolution] 1284, this system was modified, and they constantly introduced what they called “reinforced long-term monitoring.” Well anyway, they were reinforced inspections, and so they made no difference between inspection and monitoring and there was no limit set to that. The real limit would not be formal, but it would be the risk of a fatigue in the council; [that is] a beginning resistance from the Iraqi side, and a fatigue in the council, a wish not to implement it, to enforce it. That could have happened but you know, that’s containment. And if they saw a sign of new nuclear things, then they would probably pull up their socks again. So, that’s the risk of containment, yes.

But the result would have been that Saddam [Hussein] would have stayed in power probably. Some people say that he couldn’t have survived the rumor that they had weapons of mass destruction—that’s not so sure, I think. The sole good result of the war I see is the disappearance of one of the world’s worst regimes.

However, what would have been the case then? It would have been a little like [Fidel] Castro, like [Moammar] Gaddafi, who is now supposed to be a good boy. It would have been a situation similar, where the world does not intervene on a humanitarian basis but leaves it to foreign policy by obituary, as The New York Times calls it elegantly, that you wait him out. And it would have had many negative aspects, but it also would have had many positive aspects.


1. See Paul Kerr, “With Deadline Looming, European Foreign Ministers Strike Deal to Restrict Iran’s Nuclear Program,” Arms Control Today, November 2003, p. 24.

2. States concluding additional protocols to their safeguards agreements with the IAEA are obliged to disclose to the agency significantly more information regarding their nuclear activities than they would under their original safeguards agreements. Such protocols also increase the IAEA’s authority to detect clandestine nuclear activities.

3. The oil-for-food program, which allowed Iraq to sell oil and use the proceeds to purchase medicine, health supplies, food, and other supplies “essential” for civilian needs, was created in 1995.

4. After UN inspectors left Iraq in December 1998, the Iraqi government did not allow them to resume work in Iraq until November 2002.

5. Hans Blix, Disarming Iraq (New York: Pantheon Books, 2004).

6. For more background on these claims, see Paul Kerr, “Bush’s Claims About Iraq’s Nuclear Program,” Arms Control Today, September 2003, p. 22.

7. Resolution 1284, adopted in 1999, authorized the creation of UNMOVIC to replace UNSCOM after UN inspectors were withdrawn the previous year and to verify that Iraq had fulfilled its remaining disarmament obligations.





Disarmingly Bland

Disarming Iraq, by Hans Blix, Pantheon Books, March 2004, 285 pp.

Greg Thielmann

The emerging story behind America’s intervention to disarm Iraq would be comical if it were not so tragic. The primary objective of the invasion was to destroy Saddam’s “weapons of mass destruction,” but these weapons had already been destroyed. Another stated objective was to uphold the authority and effectiveness of the United Nations Security Council, but the invasion was launched after the majority of Security Council members refused to authorize it. The efforts of UN inspectors were being dismissed by U.S. leaders as feckless, even while the inspectors themselves were making progress at resolving outstanding issues and destroying short-range ballistic missiles judged to be in violation of UN limits. And as self-styled paladin of the world community in pursuit of nonproliferation, the United States ended up doing long-term damage to some key nonproliferation tools, such as weapons inspections, while discrediting and marginalizing the UN’s point man for disarming Iraq.

The task of eliminating Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction” programs after the 1991 Gulf War was exceedingly complicated. While the legitimacy for the effort was provided by the U.N. Security Council, its implementation depended upon a small cadre of UN inspectors on the ground, backed by the “carrot” of relief from sanctions, and the “stick” threat of military force. Success was contingent on winning the cooperation of Saddam Hussein—a wily politician and utterly untrustworthy tyrant. In retrospect, the international community’s success was remarkable. But it didn’t appear that way when UN inspectors were forced to leave Iraq in 1998 before completing their mandate: international resolve had weakened amid the suffering of the Iraqi people under post-war sanctions and the progress already made in dismantling unconventional weapons programs. After launching punitive air strikes, even the U.S. and U.K. governments seemingly capitulated in the face of Saddam’s defiance.

Yet in spite of everything, the expressed willingness of the United States and the United Kingdom to use force in the fall of 2002 to ensure full Iraqi compliance with UN Security Council Resolutions opened up new possibilities. In exploiting these favorable winds to navigate the treacherous course toward resolving outstanding issues, the UN had found an excellent pilot in Hans Blix. The 74-year-old, former Swedish diplomat had served for 16 years as director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency and had supervised the dismantling of Iraq’s nuclear weapons program in the 1990s. He understood the importance of intelligence, of military means of suasion, and of inspectors taking direction from the Security Council rather than from individual UN members. As Executive Director of the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) since 2000, Blix had worked effectively to assemble and train an expert team, and to maintain professional distance from the Western intelligence agencies whose activities had undermined the legitimacy of UNMOVIC’s predecessor organization, UNSCOM.

In style, Hans Blix displayed an unusual combination of brilliance and blandness, of careful diplomacy and droll wit, of fairness and professionalism. He also was meticulous in characterizing the activities and findings of his inspectors, allowing his record to withstand well the revelations that have exposed so many of his fellow actors in the Iraqi drama as incompetent or dishonest.

If the UN had the right individual for the job of policing Security Council Resolutions on Iraq and a large enough military club to get Saddam to pay attention to UN demands, what went wrong? One problem was that those who wielded the club were using arms control as a means to bring Saddam down rather than as a mechanism to provide assurance that unconventional weapons were not being pursued. The other problem was that Saddam overestimated his ability to manipulate the UN or U.S. public opinion, ultimately providing too little, too late to divert the oncoming juggernaut.

Vice President Cheney’s August 2002 speech to Veterans of Foreign Wars was the first clear indication that the Bush administration had decided to act on its wish for regime change in Iraq. However, the final decision to go to war appears to have been made in early January 2003, as graphically reported in Bob Woodward’s recent Plan of Attack. All of the events thereafter were presumably designed to build support for war rather than to avert it. This helps explain why the White House never asked for an update of the Intelligence Community’s October 2002 estimate of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) even after three months of fresh inspections and revelations had resolved some ambiguities and seriously undermined the contention that Iraq had reconstituted its nuclear weapons program. It also helps explain why UNMOVIC’s success in achieving the destruction of al Samoud missiles—which had a longer range than permitted under U.N. resolutions—and beginning interviews with knowledgable weapons scientists under satisfactory conditions made no difference in the Bush administration’s persistent contention that the inspection effort had failed.

In Disarming Iraq, Blix describes meticulously his role in the diplomatic dance leading up to the invasion. He does so with careful accounts of his consultations with Western leaders and his Iraqi interlocutors, and generally refraining from speculation about events to which he was not party. He makes no excuses for the inadequacy of Iraqi cooperation; but he uses no hyperbole in describing evidence of Iraqi non-compliance. He is refreshingly honest in explaining sympathetically the real-world dilemmas faced by the United States and other members of the Security Council in trying to secure compliance from a recalcitrant Iraqi government. Ron Suskind’s The Price of Loyalty and Richard Clarke’s Against All Enemies offer authoritative inside looks at an administration obsessed with removing Saddam. Blix provides the perspective on U.S. Iraq policies of a key outsider, whose actions and judgments were seen as an ever present danger to the war party in Washington.

That Blix understood the administration’s tactics in early 2003 is readily evident from a chapter title in his book: “Bashing Blix and ElBaradei.” But just as his measured language in the face of Iraqi actions infuriated administration officials in the months prior to war, so the lack of purple prose in Blix’s book will frustrate some critics of the Bush administration today. Instead of registering open contempt for the arguments of National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice—e.g., that Iraq was allowing its al Samoud missiles to be destroyed “just to mislead,” Blix comments that he “always found our talks straight forward…She relied on rational arguments, not on the authority of her position.”

Acknowledging that Secretary of State Colin Powell’s February 5, 2003 speech to the UN Security Council was probably intended to discredit the work of his inspectors, Blix nonetheless notes that Powell did so “implicitly and in a courteous manner.” In response to Powell’s sophistic use of evidence, Blix recalls his immediate reaction that the “interesting” cases described would “need to be examined critically by our experts.” Blix also has the magnanimity to credit David Kay’s contributions to the UNSCOM inspections, even though prior to a well-publicized post-war conversion as head of the Iraq Survey Group, Kay was one of his most vociferous critics. Indeed, only Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation John Wolf earns Blix’s open scorn.

Whatever resentment or frustration Blix harbored, he remained focused throughout the lead-up to war on trying to convince Iraq of the urgent need to demonstrate that it had destroyed its past unconventional weapons and had dismantled equipment and facilities that could produce future weapons. Meanwhile, as Bush secretly ordered war and pretended to give Saddam a final chance to come clean, Woodward reports that “Some in Bush’s war cabinet believed Blix was a liar…not reporting everything and not doing all the things he maintained he was doing.” Future historians will no doubt marvel at this psychological projection by those who had already decided on war.

In Disarming Iraq, Blix offers valuable insights in understanding the inspection function. Just as his writing displays the kind of judicial temperament needed to fulfill the role of inspector, his tips for inspectors and advocacy of a strengthened international civil service constitute an excellent primer on the task. Future inspectors can be expected to emulate the behavioral and attitudinal patterns Blix established.

As rich as the book is, one could wish for a little more. Blix noted that intelligence organizations err on the alarmist side of estimates, but he could have also explained why intelligence organizations are sometimes obligated by governments to make guesses when confidence levels are insufficient. From a professional analyst’s perspective, it was the failure to properly label confidence levels about the existence of chemical and biological weapons that was more objectionable than getting the wrong answer. While acknowledging in his book the primacy of the nuclear category among “weapons of mass destruction,” Blix could also be faulted for doing little to counter the deliberate conflation of nuclear, chemical, biological, and missile categories under the “WMD” label by the Bush administration.

Following the invasion, Blix realized that “the UN and the world had succeeded in disarming Iraq without knowing it.” The intriguing question remains: Could Blix have gained that knowledge with a few more months of inspections in 2003 and were there ways that the danger of Security Council fatigue could have been warded off in the meantime?

Greg Thielmann retired in 2002 as director of the Strategic, Proliferation, and Military Affairs Office in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research.


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A Review of Disarming Iraq by Hans Blix

Chemical Munition Found in Iraq

Paul Kerr

The Iraq Survey Group (ISG)—the task force charged with coordinating the U.S.-led search for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD)—has confirmed that an artillery round filled with sarin nerve agent was found in Baghdad, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt told reporters May 17.

A U.S. convoy found the shell, which was rigged as an improvised explosive device (IED), Kimmitt said, adding that a “very small” amount of nerve agent was released from the shell because it partially detonated before it could be disarmed. Two members of an explosive ordnance team sustained minor injuries as a result of exposure to the agent.

Kimmitt added that the round—the first such weapon to be found in Iraq—was “virtually ineffective as a chemical weapon” because it was used as an IED and not an artillery shell. The people who built the device probably did not know it contained chemical agents, he said, adding that the United States believes the shell was built by Iraq’s previous government.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld stated May 17 at the Heritage Foundation that the field test conducted on the shell “is not perfect” and that further tests should be conducted to identify the substance.

Iraq produced sarin prior to the 1991 Persian Gulf War but never provided a satisfactory accounting of its postwar stockpile to UN inspectors. In a March 2003 report to the UN Security Council, the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) stated that there were discrepancies in Iraq’s claims about the status of nearly 4,800 rocket warheads and 12 aerial bombs filled with sarin-type agents. UNMOVIC also reported that it was “unlikely that [past sarin-filled munitions] would still be viable today.” (See ACT, April 2003.)

During inspections that began in November 2002 and ended just before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, UNMOVIC found no chemical weapons but did learn that Iraq possessed 18 empty 122-millimeter rocket warheads that could be used to deliver chemical agents. (See ACT, July/August 2003.) The ISG’s search for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction has yet to turn up any weapons stockpiles.

Hans Blix, former executive chairman of UNMOVIC, said the shell could be “debris from the past” and was not necessarily a sign that there are weapons stocks. Blix has previously said Iraq likely destroyed the bulk of its prohibited weapons in 1991. (See ACT, January/February 2004.)

Rumsfeld said May 17 that “[w]e don’t now know what actually happened” to Iraq’s WMD, adding that the ISG’s investigation could continue for “maybe a year-plus.”

Meanwhile, a commission established in February by President George W. Bush to investigate U.S. WMD intelligence held its first hearing May 26-27. The commission’s task includes comparing U.S. prewar intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction with the ISG’s findings. Its report is due March 31, 2005. (See ACT, March 2004.)





U.S. Shifts Focus in Iraq WMD Hunt

Paul Kerr

Charles Duelfer, the head advisor to the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), provided some new details about the still-fruitless search efforts for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD) during a recent Senate hearing but presented little new evidence regarding prohibited Iraqi weapons programs.

Duelfer testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee March 30 during a closed hearing. According to a public version of his testimony, Duelfer said the ISG—the task force charged with coordinating the U.S.-led search for Iraqi WMDs—is continuing to search for weapons, but is also beginning to focus on former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s related “intentions.”

Defending their failure to locate stockpiles of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons more than a year after the United States invaded Iraq, Bush administration officials have continued to insist that Iraq had “programs” to produce prohibited weapons. However, the ISG’s findings to date have produced only evidence of low-level, dual-use biological, chemical, and nuclear research efforts. Additionally, Duelfer’s predecessor, David Kay, told The Boston Globe in February that Iraq did not have the ability to produce weapons on a large scale. (See ACT, November 2003 and March 2004.)

Kay has indicated that Iraq had programs to develop missiles exceeding the 150-kilometer range permitted under relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions. However, he presented no evidence Iraq was producing such missiles, apart from noting that Iraq had modified 10 cruise missiles as of the recent invasion whose range may have exceeded that permitted by the UN.

Emphasizing that he was providing the committee a “status report” rather than an assessment of the ISG’s findings, Duelfer provided little new information about Iraq’s weapons efforts. He did reveal that Iraq had “plans” to construct facilities to produce large supplies of some dual-use chemicals. Additionally, the ISG has found “documents” indicating that Iraq was working on a conventional weapons project that included “research applicable for nuclear weapons development,” Duelfer said.

The committee’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Carl Levin (Mich.), stated after the hearing that Duelfer’s public statement was misleading because it selectively chose intelligence from a supporting classified report submitted to the committee the same day. Duelfer suggested “that Iraq had an active…WMD program while leaving out information that would lead one to doubt that it did,” Levin said. The charge is reminiscent of one of the most controversial aspects of the invasion: administration officials’ unequivocal prewar statements about the existence of such weapons on the basis of often dubious intelligence.

Duelfer also identified several “challenges” facing the ISG, placing special emphasis on the “extreme reluctance” of relevant Iraqi personnel to cooperate. Consequently, he said, the ISG remains ignorant of several aspects of Iraq’s WMD efforts, including whether Iraq concealed prohibited weapons or was planning to resume production of them in the future. Additionally, the ISG has “yet to identify the most critical people in any programmatic effort” because many have not been located or refuse to cooperate fully.

Duelfer pointed to the postwar destruction of many key documents and the lack of experienced ISG personnel as additional impediments to the ISG’s work. Kay told Congress in January that the destruction of important documents and other evidence would likely render the ISG’s final conclusions ambiguous.

Duelfer did not say how long the ISG’s investigation would take or make any predictions about the prospect for future weapons finds. This stands in contrast to Kay’s January assessment that “85 percent” of Iraq’s prohibited weapons programs “are probably known” and that the ISG’s search is unlikely to turn up any significant stock piles of prohibited weapons.





Charles Duelfer, the head advisor to the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), provided some new details about the still-fruitless search efforts for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD)...

Israeli Subcommittee Faults Intelligence on Iraq

An investigation into Israel’s failure to provide accurate intelligence on Iraq’s weapons capabilities found that Israeli intelligence agencies suffered from a closed “information loop,” as well as other failures.

The conclusions are the result of an eight-month investigation by the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Subcommittee for Intelligence and Secret Services that questioned intelligence officials, military officers, and Cabinet members. On March 28, the subcommittee released an 81-page declassified report pending the completion of a longer, classified version.

The report criticized Israeli intelligence agencies for a number of failures, concluding that the agencies overestimated Iraq’s ability to strike at Israel directly. Likud Knesset member Yuval Steinitz, who headed the investigation, cited an “escalation” between 1998 and the beginning of the war in the number of missiles believed to be possessed by Iraq for which there was “no explanation.”

The subcommittee found that Israeli intelligence agencies used information from foreign intelligence services without recognizing that the other states obtained the data from Israel in the first place. The result, according to Steinitz, was that speculation was passed in circles “without any substantiation from the field.” However, Steinitz rejected suggestions that the Israeli agencies intentionally misled the United States and others in hopes of encouraging them to go to war against Iraq, a longtime enemy of Israel.

Steinitz criticized Israeli agencies for their failure to develop sources of hard data within Iraq, noting that the United States and the United Kingdom were able to obtain superior intelligence because of their direct access to Iraqi airspace.

IAEA Concerned About Iraqi Nuclear Facilities Security

Paul Kerr

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has told the UN Security Council that some declared Iraqi nuclear facilities may not be sufficiently secured and that Iraqi nuclear material may have leaked out of the country.

IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei wrote in an April 11 letter to the Security Council that the IAEA “is concerned” that commercial satellite imagery has revealed “extensive removal of equipment and, in some instances…entire buildings” from Iraqi nuclear sites since last year’s U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. ElBaradei also said that the IAEA has discovered that large quantities of scrap metal from Iraqi nuclear facilities, including some contaminated with nuclear material, have been discovered in other countries.

ElBaradei’s letter expressed concern about “the proliferation risk associated with dual-use material and equipment disappearing to unknown destinations.” The IAEA did not name any specific countries, but the Associated Press reported in January that a Dutch company believed a small amount of lightly refined uranium ore found in a shipment of scrap metal it received originated in Iraq.

A Department of State official told Arms Control Today April 22 that the United States has notified the IAEA that it is “looking into this matter.”

The IAEA was tasked with monitoring Iraq’s nuclear-related sites under Security Council resolutions adopted after the 1991 Persian Gulf War. The agency believes these resolutions “remain valid,” the letter states. The IAEA also monitors countries’ nuclear facilities to ensure governments comply with the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

IAEA inspectors have not been able to carry out their mission since leaving Iraq just before the March 2003 invasion, although a team of inspectors did visit the country in June of last year to secure nuclear material stored at the Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center following reports of looting. (See ACT, July/August 2003.)

In a March interview with Arms Control Today, David Kay, former head advisor to postwar U.S.-led efforts to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, said that prewar planning for securing Iraq’s declared nuclear sites was “practically useless,” citing the fact that the Tuwaitha facility “was essentially left unprotected.”

“There was vast looting of radioactivity material and sources,” Kay stated during the interview.





The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has told the UN Security Council that some declared Iraqi nuclear facilities may not be sufficiently secured and that Iraqi nuclear material...

Controversy Persists Over Failure to Find Iraqi WMD

Paul Kerr

More than one year after U.S.-led forces invaded Iraq with the announced intention to rid that country of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the failure to find such nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons continues to stir controversy in the United States and overseas.

The debate was fueled in March by the publication of “Disarming Iraq,” Hans Blix’s insider account which details the back-room diplomacy leading up to the onset of the war. Blix, the former executive chairman of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), charged that U.S. officials ignored UN weapons inspectors’ pre-invasion reports that there was no evidence that Iraq possessed WMD or had reconstituted its weapons programs.

Despite the inspectors’ reports, Bush administration officials “wanted to come to the conclusion that there were weapons” in Iraq, Blix told NBC’s Today show March 15. Blix’s depiction of the U.S. attitude toward Iraq’s unaccounted-for weapons is consistent with U.S. officials’ professed skepticism about the efficacy of UN weapons inspections, as well as with previous statements from administration officials indicating that the Sept.11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States lowered their tolerance for the perceived risk of Iraqi WMD acquisition. (See ACT, January/February 2004 and April 2003.)

David Kay, former top adviser to the U.S.-led search effort, and Blix have argued that Iraq destroyed its weapons stockpiles during the 1990s—a claim bolstered by a Feb. 27 UNMOVIC report indicating that almost no weapons of mass destruction were discovered in Iraq after 1994.

Blix pointed out in a March 15 FOX News interview that the uncertainty about Iraq’s suspected WMD stemmed from its failure to account for those weapons destroyed outside the presence of UN inspectors. Baghdad had still not accounted for these weapons as of the invasion. Rather than admitting uncertainty, however, U.S. and British officials simply counted any unaccounted-for weapons or related materials as weapons that actually existed. (See ACT, March 2004.)

In a March 5 interview with Arms Control Today, Kay attributed this belief to Iraq’s past noncompliance and deception of weapons inspectors, which had encouraged U.S. and British officials to assume the worst about its behavior. Nevertheless, Kay said that Saddam Hussein’s regime likely did not offer proof of the weapons’ destruction for two reasons. The first is that some were destroyed during the “chaos” following the 1991 Persian Gulf War and its war with Iran during the 1980s. The second is that Iraqi officials were “embarrassed to admit” to some of the methods used to destroy the weapons. For example, Iraq disposed of “biological agents in ways that were…dangerous to the health of people in Baghdad” he said.

Beyond an ingrained mindset, Blix and Kay have blamed poor coalition intelligence for their inaccurate assessments of Iraq’s arsenal of unconventional weapons. Blix said in a March 16 CNN interview that his inspectors received useful coalition intelligence on only three occasions, arguing that U.S. and British reliance on defectors as intelligence sources likely accounted for the divergence between the U.S. and UN assessments of Iraq’s weapons activities. The UN inspectors did not use defectors as sources, he added.

CIA director George Tenet acknowledged in February that some U.S. intelligence came from defectors who were sometimes unreliable. Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), ranking member on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, also stated in a March 5 speech that these human sources “were apparently less reliable than the [intelligence community] thought” and suggested that “other potential intelligence sources [indicating that Iraq had no WMD programs] may have been dismissed.”

Intelligence Controversy

As investigations into U.S. intelligence on Iraq continue, increased attention has been focused on the role of the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) for Policy in disseminating raw intelligence about Iraqi WMD to senior administration officials. Former OSD staff member Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.) Karen Kwiatkowski wrote in a March 10 article for Salon magazine that personnel in the office had a close relationship with Iraqi defectors and produced “talking points” for briefing more senior administration officials that included information at variance with U.S. intelligence on Iraq’s suspected weapons programs.

Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith said in a recently-released June 2003 letter to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner (R-Va.) that he had tasked some OSD staff with reviewing existing intelligence concerning terrorist networks. Feith stated in a press briefing that same month that these staff members found “linkages between Iraq and al Qaeda” and also “looked at” WMD. Additionally, Feith’s letter revealed that OSD personnel briefed staff from the National Security Council and Office of the Vice President on their findings regarding Iraq’s suspected links to terrorists. Tenet told the Senate Armed Services Committee March 9 that he was unaware such a briefing had taken place.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence announced in February that they would look into Feith’s efforts in their ongoing investigation into the intelligence controversy.

The OSD briefing is not the only time that administration officials have appeared to ignore the CIA’s judgments. For instance, Tenet told the committee that the CIA did not approve a Jan. 20, 2003, report to Congress signed by President George W. Bush which referenced Iraq’s “attempts to acquire uranium.” Although Tenet had succeeded in stopping several senior administration officials’ attempts to insert this reference into other presidential speeches, Bush still made the charge during his 2003 State of the Union address. Subsequent revelations have disproved this claim. (See ACT, September 2003.)

Reports that administration officials pressured intelligence analysts to alter their conclusions about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction have also been controversial. In her March speech, Harman stated that “some analysts” who worked on the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on the Iraq threat told her that they believed that the “decision to go to war had already been made [in the fall of 2002], and that their mindset was to advise military commanders” on the dangers of Iraqi battlefield WMD. Harman added that analysts’ belief that they “had to come down on one side or the other” on the question of Iraqi weapons generated “categorical statements” about Iraq’s weapons capabilities in the NIE. Cheney has acknowledged questioning intelligence analysts frequently but denies pressuring them.






More than one year after U.S.-led forces invaded Iraq with the announced intention to rid that country of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the failure to...

Searching for the Truth About Iraq's WMD: An Interview with David Kay

David Kay, former lead inspector of the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), 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 weapons of mass destruction 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.

The following are excerpts from the interview. For a complete transcript, click here

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. 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: 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 feared [UN Special Commission (UNSCOM)][1] 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 middlemen or so to get it, and getting it through a series of countries that transshipped 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: 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 WMD threats. What do you think is the proper role for international inspections regimes such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (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 have concentrated on 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 the [Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC)] and the [nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (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].[2]

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, 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,[3] 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 [Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (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 [Missile Technology Control Regime (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 the 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 the 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.

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 the 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,[4] 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: 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 gave them 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 [in U.N. Resolution] 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.[5]

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 play 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.…[Hussein] had pretty high range goals for them, to get up to 1000 kilometers.…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 the 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, I think that monitoring system, the [Resolution] 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 confidant 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 [Resolution] 687 was very tough as long as Iraq’s economy was essentially in the straitjacket 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 Iraqis 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 [wise]. 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: 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 important 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 any way 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 January 28 testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, you said that the looting and 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: 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. Do you think that expertise is a choke point?

Kay: I now sort of look at your technical expertise as being almost like your PlayStation 2 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 the technical expertise is now pretty broadly spread in most of these areas.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. 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 www.armscontrol.org/act/2002_10/UNresolutionsoct02.asp.

2. 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 www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/bwcataglance.asp.

3. 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, www.armscontrol.org/act/2003_07-08/blix_julaug03.asp.

4. 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 pursue nuclear weapons illicitly. That effort eventually produced the 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 www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/IAEAProtocol.asp.

5. A three-day air campaign launched by President Bill Clinton in 1998 after UNSCOM inspectors withdrew from Iraq, claiming their inspections were being hampered.





Energy Department to Aid Iraqi Scientists

The Department of Energy announced Feb. 25 that the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) will begin a new program “to provide employment opportunities to Iraqi scientists, technicians, and engineers.” The program is designed to aid the reconstruction of Iraq and “prevent the proliferation of…weapons of mass destruction (WMD) expertise to terrorists or proliferant states,” according to an NNSA press release, which added that this program “complements” a similar State Department effort announced in December.

The program is to be “implemented by an international partnership of scientists” from an Arab nongovernmental organization, other international organizations, and the NNSA. The participants will “discuss priorities and options for technical cooperation” after first completing a “survey of Iraq’s science and technology infrastructure.”

In a March 5 interview, David Kay, former lead inspector of the Iraq Survey Group, who has met recently with many Iraqi scientists, criticized the U.S. handling of these projects. Kay said U.S. implementation was “much slower…than it should have been” to prevent the flight of Iraqi WMD personnel.

Australia Cleared of Exaggerating WMD Threats

An Australian parliamentary investigation into Canberra’s intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD) has cleared Prime Minister John Howard’s government of pressuring the intelligence community or grossly exaggerating intelligence claims.

Although the committee concluded that Australia’s intelligence community had not been subjected to overt government pressure to change its assessments of Iraq’s WMD capabilities, a report said that the influence of a “policy running strong” may have unconsciously affected analysis. Overall, the Australian intelligence community was “more moderate, more measured and more skeptical” than American or British intelligence agencies. However, in the months preceding the war, the intelligence community increasingly accepted analyses that assumed the worst. In particular, reports by the Office of National Assessment “extrapolated too much from efforts at concealment and…dropped the caveats of uncertainty.”

In addition, the committee concluded that the government’s presentation of the intelligence to the public was “more moderate and more measured than that of either of its alliance partners.” Howard “did not use highly emotive expressions such as those used in the United States,” and the government did not say that Iraqi weapons of mass destruction were deployable in 45 minutes, although Australian agencies had intelligence similar to that which led the British government to make the claim. However, the government suggested that Iraq had larger WMD arsenals than was suggested by Australian intelligence and exaggerated the immediacy of the threat posed by Iraq.

The committee recommended that an independent inquiry conducted by former intelligence officials assess the performance of the intelligence agencies in order to recommend necessary changes. Howard quickly announced that he would accept the recommendation and appointed former intelligence analyst Philip Flood to lead the investigation. Flood was given wide-ranging powers to interview government officials, and Howard himself said that he would be willing to provide evidence. Howard also announced that the government would provide a $400 million funding boost to intelligence and security agencies. The extra money is in addition to other increases since September 11, 2001, and brings the total Australian security budget to almost $3 billion.


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