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January 26, 2004

"We led this search to find the truth, not to find the weapons."

PROEM:
Since Glenn Reynolds has paid me the compliment of linking to this post, bringing hoards of people here for the first time, I thought I'd note that, if you find that the page design makes for difficult reading, you can click "Turn Light On" at the top of the left-hand column for a lighter layout that will scroll with the text.


Glenn Reynolds notes Bryan Preston's efforts to make sense of what appear to be contradictory statements by ex-weapons inspector David Kay.

Kay told the Telegraph that some materials — not stockpiles, but perhaps substances and "some components of Saddam's WMD programme" — likely made their way to Syria. On the other hand, AP writer Scott Lindlaw summarizes David Kay speaking to NPR as follows:

U.S. intelligence agencies need to explain why their research indicated Iraq possessed banned weapons before the American-led invasion, says the outgoing top U.S. inspector, who now believes Saddam Hussein had no such arms.

"I don't think they exist," David Kay said Sunday. "The fact that we found so far the weapons do not exist - we've got to deal with that difference and understand why."

What initially struck me was that Kay's statement is in the present tense, while Lindlaw's characterization is in the past tense. Having listened to the actual NPR interview, by Liane Hansen, from which the AP article draws, I think it equally significant that Lindlaw emphasizes "no such arms." Kay is, here, talking about stockpiles, which is a term that he uses deliberately throughout the interview with reference to the lack of evidence:

One has to be cautious in this regard. Because of the breakdown in social and political order at the end of the war and rioting and looting continued unchecked for at least two months, we're going to be left with ambiguity as to what we've found.

My summary view based on what I've seen is that we are very unlikely to find large stockpiles of weapons. I don't think they exist. But that's my personal view based on the evidence as of when I left. The search is going to go on, and indeed, one shouldn't be surprised in Iraq by surprises. You continue to be surprised by what you find. I personally think we're going to find program activities, and some of them are quite substantial, as in the missile area. We're not going to find large stockpiles.

Of course, one could spin this to say that Kay probably believes that the weapons could have been there but have been moved, perhaps to Syria. Unfortunately, that's not the picture that Kay paints in totality. What he's saying is that Iraq clearly had weapons programs, some of which could have been made to bear fruit on short order, but that after the first Gulf War, Iraq did not engage in large-scale production of WMDs. Again, he emphasizes the scale that he is ruling out, and it's important to remember that most (if not all) previous claims of certainty had to do with stockpiles produced before the first war.

I've argued before that we who supported the war have no reason to back down if programs turn out to be all that can be proven, and they've already been proven. As for weapons, when asked why his statements differ somewhat from those of Vice President Cheney, Kay emphasizes that ambiguity will always exist:

I think we're both looking at what is an enigma from slightly different positions. Based on what I've seen there, my conclusion is they had not resumed large-scale production. There is uncertainty; that's one of the reasons it's important that inspections continue, and I look forward to Charlie Duelfur, who I know well and have a great deal of respect for, leading those inspections now so that we can come to a consensus view. My warning to the American public though is that there is always going to be some ambiguity here. The failure to establish security at the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom, allowing the looting to continue, meant the records had been destroyed and had been destroyed forever and can't be put back together again.

More than that, he suggests that, focusing on the WMD component of the argument, the President and the nation as a whole were justified in going to war on the basis of the information that was available. His admonition is that we must understand why our intelligence failed in order to fix it:

I actually think the intelligence community owes the President [an explanation], rather than the President owing the American people. We have to remember that this view of Iraq was held during the Clinton administration and didn't change in the Bush administration. It is not a political "got you" issue; it is a serious issue of how you could come to a conclusion that is not matched by the future. It's not unusual — I remind you — as you well know, at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the intelligence estimate was that there were no nuclear weapons in Cuba. We learned only afterwards, and as former Secretary of Defense McNamara said in the recent movie, The Fog of War, two societies came within seconds of destroying each other based on a misperception of what reality was. Often estimates are different than reality. The important thing is when they differ to understand why. This is not a political issue. It's a fundamental issue of national security.

And here's where Ms. Hansen drops the ball completely as a journalist. Having stated that he believes it was reasonable, before the war, to characterize the threat as imminent, Kay offers this intriguing statement:

I must say, I actually think what we learned during the inspections made Iraq a more dangerous place potentially than in fact we thought it was even before the war.

You can listen for yourself (it's at 11:50 in the streaming audio), but to my ear, Ms. Hansen's stutter and redirect back to "imminent" have the sound of a woman ushering one boyfriend out of a room in which another hides. What that stutter indicates — symbolizes — is that the ambiguity is certain to be exacerbated, even nourished, by the media, as the primary source is skewed and all subsequent coverage pushes the story closer and closer to what the reporters want it to be.

That, at least, is not surprising. But I'd sure like somebody to investigate what Kay meant.

ADDENDUM:
One thing that gave me a chuckle. Asked about the possibility of writing a book, Kay once again emphasized that it would be about the intelligence issues that he believes to be so important. Then he said, "I'm not doing a Paul O'Neill."

Posted by Justin Katz at January 26, 2004 1:24 PM
Middle East
Comments

I can't speak for Kay, but I know what makes me even more concerned about the danger Iraq posed, based on Kay's interviews.

Kay paints a picture of a country in which WMD research continued while there was a total breakdown of accountability and oversight, resulting in rampant corruption. My biggest concern all along was the possibility that WMD materials and knowledge will fall into the hands of terror networks who cannot easily be deterred from deploying them. With a nation state, at least there are some rational deterences possible.

This adds up to a bigger threat IMO. Now we're talking, not just about passing ricin know how to Ansar al Islam, but possibly also centrifuges, VX manufacturing instructions or vials of botulin being sold to a variety of groups by unknown persons. The extensive looting has covered a lot of traces, I'm afraid ....

Posted by: rkb at January 26, 2004 2:18 PM

My fear is that the issue will become so politicized that we will never know the truth. I hate election years.

Posted by: Terrye at January 26, 2004 2:45 PM

Welcome to the reality of what the term 'failed state' means.

Posted by: JK at January 26, 2004 2:48 PM

How soon we forget the concern over transfer of Soviet WMD to those willing to buy and capable of meeting the relatively low price corruption in the failing/failed regime that was the USSR. Looks like we learned little or nothing about the individual corruption necessary to transfer truly terrible weapons for a price.

Posted by: JorgXMcKie at January 26, 2004 3:29 PM

Has Kay said anything about the yellowcake that found its way to a Netherlands scrap yard, tucked away in metal containers from Iraq?

Joe Wilson has some splainin' to do.

Posted by: Mick McMick at January 26, 2004 4:18 PM

Great job, again, Justin (from Roger). Blogs like yours, feeding upwards, will at least get good info about Kay out to some intelligencia.

Others also think Iraq was quite, if not more, dangerous. Libya and centrifuges ...

But Pakistans Pres. seems to be moving towards the US, for safety, since the Islamists are trying to kill him, now. This could be good news, as long as he stays alive and helpful.
I hope he has a long life.

Posted by: Tom Grey at January 26, 2004 5:03 PM

If all this had happened in 1998, the prez wouldn't be getting such a free ride. Nobody liked Clinton spinning, dodging, and backing off claims when contrary facts came to light. Will anyone in this administration lose their job?

Posted by: Tippy at January 26, 2004 5:45 PM

Immediately following 9-11 it is likely that Saddam knew that the US was going to invade sooner or later. In addition, the US telegraphed the invasion of Iraq by at least 9-months. This leaves lots of time for Iraq to do something with their weapons grade WMD materials, if they had any.

The weapons inspectors reported that Iraq did not account for all of their known stockpiles of WMDs. Nine months after the US occupation, we have not found any weapons-grade WMD materials.

Based on what has been reported so far, one can conclude:

1) The accounting of WMDs was in error and Iraq had actually destroyed all of their weapons grade materials by the mid 1990's.

2) The accounting of WMDs was correct and Iraq had passed all or part of their weapons grade materials to other parties.

3) The accounting of WMDs was correct and Iraq quickly destroyed all of their weapons grade materials during the run-up to the invasion.

4) The accounting of WMDs was correct and Iraq effectively hid all of their weapons grade materials during the run-up to the invasion.

IMO, options 1) and 2) are most likely.

Posted by: Horst Graben at January 26, 2004 9:09 PM

I think what often gets lost here is whether we needed to find weapons to prove legitimacy in acting against Saddam. Fact is, he was evasive. And considering his unique history of non-compliance, attempted assasination of Bush 1 and post 911 racalibration of risk tolerance, that was enough to justify action. Consider a "probation" analogy. He was allowed to operate after the Gulf war not on his own terms, but the terms imposed upon him. This should be a strong signal to any country that finds themselves under a similar "probation" by the international community that playing coy to save face may cost far more. It's just too bad that a number of those in said community are not willing to (in Wes' own ever-evolving words) belly up to the bar and actually use the force they give lip-service to.

Posted by: Rich Reilly at January 26, 2004 9:12 PM

Given much of the info from Mr. Kay, maybe the Baathist realized they had insufficient control of these weapons and that sooner or later an enemy of theirs would some and us it against the regime.

Regarding the failure of intelligence, is it possible that this is more a sign of the limitations of intelligence than bad intelligence. After all, it was not just US intelligence that failed.

Posted by: tallan at January 26, 2004 10:38 PM

Mr. Graben:

Add to the list the possibility that Saddam's scientists were spoofing him with vaporware. Even he thought he had chemical weapons, based on news reports during the war that orders had gone out to launch them against coalition troops. But the chemical attacks never came.

Posted by: The Sanity Inspector at January 27, 2004 11:01 AM

Inspector:

Yes, please add to the list, although your scenario would fall under option 1). IMO, the redline chem/bio launch threat was a ploy to slow the invasion and to fuel their western media organ quagmire bleating machine.

I agree w/ Mr. Reilly: it would be extremely naive of the US to give Iraq a pass based on criminal rules of evidence and reasonable doubt. Now, this question applies to Syria.

Does the state sponsorship of terrorists and the suspicion of receiving Iraq's WMD materials provide enuf suspicion to decapitate and disarm Syria? Unfortunately the perceived intell failure in Iraq may result in an overly cautious approach. Only time will tell.

IMO, if any overt US effort is conducted, it will likely take place after the election if Bush wins.

Posted by: Horst Graben at January 27, 2004 11:35 AM

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