WASHINGTON, D.C.—The Kay report just adds to the queasy feeling that the U.S. intelligence community has been way off in its Iraq analysis. While Bush today was using the equivocal report as further evidence to support going to war with Saddam Hussein, his Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, conceded that Kay’s inability to find large stockpiles of dangerous weapons was an intelligence failure. “It’s not clear that it was off by a little bit or a mile at this stage,” Rumsfeld said. “If it is off by a lot, that will be unfortunate.”
Dr. Ivan Oelrich, director of the Strategic Security Project for the Federation of American Scientists, said that even if the U.S. ultimately finds a canister buried in the desert, he doubts Saddam had anything that was militarily “deployable.” Oelrich thinks Saddam got caught in his own bluff—trying to get Bush to think he had weapons of mass destruction, but didn’t want the UN to actually find out what he was up to.
John Isaacs, president of Council for a Livable World and senior associate for policy at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, said of the report: “It confirms everything that’s been discovered—or not discovered—since the ‘end’ of the war. There don’t appear to be any weapons of mass destruction, despite widespread assertions that there were; and it appears that the Bush Administration hyped the intelligence to make a case that war had to be fought immediately. It also raises concerns about the capacity of U.S. intelligence agencies. They had been reporting substantial stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction for more than a decade, and I would also argue that the intelligence agencies blew September 11 just like they’ve blown this one.”
In Isaacs’s view, there is little doubt Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, which he used against both his own people and the Iranians, but “I guess some time after the first Gulf War Saddam Hussein eliminated all or almost all his stockpiles.” It surprises Isaacs that U.S. intelligence didn’t pick this up or that this wasn’t substantially reported by the Iraqis themselves.
He thinks the Iraqis could have produced these dangerous weapons fairly easily, but that up until now no one has found the materials to show they were on the way to doing so.
Isaacs is similarly skeptical of the kind of progress the Kay report mentions in finding out about Iraq’s biological weapons development—i.e., “traces” of an agent discovered in a scientists home. “Having traces of something is a lot different from having the capacity to build weapons!”
Said Isaacs, “It all points to the question, ‘Did Bush need to get the weapons inspectors out when he did and to launch a war when he did?’ And the answer is no.”
John Pike of Global Security Organization in Washington said the two big unresolved issues that surface from the report—comparing what the administration said they knew about WMDs before the war and what they now know—are (1) “What happened to the mobile BW labs?” and (2) “Why did Iraq not fire poison gas at U.S. troops? Why didn’t they have poison gas stockpiles ready to go?”
“It’s a puzzle!” said Pike. “They haven’t found the mobile BW labs,” he said. Maybe they were destroyed, maybe still hidden, maybe they didn’t exist to begin with, maybe it was a trick by Chalabi or by Saddam, who knows.
He said the report shows “there’s more stuff on the missile program than previously reported,” that Iraq had a “fairly active program.” Their missile program was “pretty well established before the war, and the UN concurred,” Pike said. “The ISG found evidence of additional long-range programs that were not previously understood.” On the other hand, he noted that “a lot of people thought there were as many as a dozen scuds stashed away,” and there’s been no
sign of these. “So the missile program is a mixed bag. There continues to be unresolved questions.” He also said many of these unresolved issues predate the Bush administration, as the “overwhelming bulk of estimates on Iraq were built by the Clinton administration.”