Case Not Closed: Iraq's WMD Stockpiles

In the summer of 2003, I served as Chief of Staff in the Iraqi Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST), an organization formerly called the Ministry of Atomic Energy. The Ministry had a small staff of Americans and Iraqis, and was one of several ministries of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Baghdad. One of our key tasks was to transition several thousand Iraqi scientists and engineers from military and state—owned enterprises to private enterprises involved in more peaceful endeavors.  Working there, I enjoyed a unique vantage point on the activities of the Iraqi Survey Group (ISG), the inspection agency headed by Dr. David Kay, charged with finding WMD. Dr. Kay's recent report and his testimony before Congress have helped fuel flames of criticism of the Bush Administration, and of 12 years of prewar intelligence on Iraq—region>.


We at the MOST were a vital link in the WMD reporting chain, and in coordinating interviews by the ISG with the scientists of the ministry. In addition, we had resident scientific and technical expertise, and some of our people also had extensive experience working with intelligence organizations in the conduct of tactical ground and maritime reconnaissance operations. Based on this background, I want to report to my fellow Americans on some of the problems and missed opportunities I observed in the work of the ISG. In doing so, I speak only for myself, not for my colleagues, or for any organ of the CPA, or for any agency of the United States Government.


The ISG's search for significant stockpiles of WMD has so far come up empty.  It may be that there are no large stockpiles, as Dr. Kay has stated.  But from my perspective in the MOST, this lack of a positive finding may also be the result of unfocused and uncoordinated ISG search operations.  It is entirely possible that the much sought—after WMD stockpiles may be literally right under the feet of coalition forces, and until a properly coordinated search effort is completed, no firm conclusions about their presence or absence can be reached. The case remains open.


In his recent testimony, Dr. Kay pronounced that there are no large stockpiles of WMD.  This is a pretty bold assertion considering that actual surveys of sites we were familiar with were haphazard and uncoordinated.  Also, according to his own interim report published in October of 2003, the ISG had not even searched 120 of the 130 known ammo storage points, much less any underground sites.  In addition to these known sites, 'neighborhood' arms caches are discovered all the time in Iraq—region>.  It is entirely possible that WMD stockpiles were moved out of Iraq—region>, or that they were dispersed in Baghdad neighborhoods and throughout Iraq—region>.  All of this may even have been accomplished while the unfocused search operations were ongoing.


My most fundamental criticism of the ISG is that previous intelligence assessments, however partial or inadequate they may have been, were not used to provide an operational focus to the search efforts.


Before Dr. Kay's arrival, the ISG, and its predecessor in the search, the 75th Exploitation Team, were supposedly operating off a list of locations to search for WMD.  Presumably, this list was developed based upon pre—war intelligence assessments. However, many of the US—region> intelligence analysts who had been working on Iraq—region>'s WMD, and knowledgeable UNSCOM personnel who had conducted United Nations searches for WMD, were not initially present on the ground in Iraq—region>. 


When Dr. Kay arrived, he shifted the focus from the list of sites to interrogating scientists; not just certain scientists based upon a focused plan, but any and all scientists, as the developing trail would lead.  It was apparent that the ISG was largely conducting a massive collection exercise without an operational search scheme to guide it. 


The effort to interrogate scientists was obviously necessary, and promised to be a valuable source of information.  But the shotgun approach was inefficient. The ISG was swamped by the amount of potentially corroborating documentation, which should have been used to shape interview priorities and test the validity of the scientists' stories, as they were told. It was not until the Fall of 2003, however, that the Defense Intelligence Agency finally contracted out for assistance to go through the reams of documentation available to the Coalition. 


The scientists who were interrogated provided information which was suspect at times, due to several factors.  Outright deception on their part was always a possibility. People who were themselves incriminated, or who knew of incriminating data, had a very real fear of long—term detention and sequestering by the ISG, not to mention ultimate trial as war criminals. One supposedly cooperative scientist was held incommunicado for weeks, without even telephonic contact with his family. This sort of treatment hardly provides an incentive for others to spill their beans.


Fear of reprisal from Baathist Party 'dead—enders' and enforcers was another very powerful inducement to lying and covering up important information. Lacking corroborating documents to trap liars, scientist interrogation became another collection effort with no strategy for identifying and checking on the veracity of key personnel.


In addition, there was apparently little operational control of the search activities which did take place. For example, a report came into the Ministry about a potential biological warfare (BW) equipment cache in the house of a scientist, only blocks away from the palace HQ of the CPA.  The ISG operative came to the Ministry and was briefed on the specifics, points of contact, and so forth.  The man then went and met with the scientist. Eventually, he gained access to the house.  His initial reports back to us were enthusiastic about the equipment and substances he found.  For about a week, we heard nothing further, until we received an email from the ISG, stating that he had gone on two weeks leave. Could we please let no one into the house while he was gone?


This sort of ball—dropping, unfortunately, was standard operating procedure for the ISG.  There was little or no operational coordination with Combined Joint Task Force—7 (CJTF—7) , which is the headquarters of the Coalition military forces in Iraq—region>, or the tactical units responsible for the area of operations that could have actually secured suspected WMD sites.


Dr. Kay has concluded that Iraq—region>'s key scientists had ended up working directly for Saddam in development of WMD programs, and that they had fooled him into believing in non—existent weapons. My experience, and the character of day to day life in Iraq—region>, indicate just the opposite. We at the MOST have been trying to put 8000 scientists and engineers back to work without their Baathist enforcers and 'project managers.'  It has been a Herculean task.  While the scientific knowledge of the individuals is intact, actually managing complex programs is well beyond the reach of these people.


To assert that the scientists bypassed the Baathist infrastructure, the Iraqi Intelligence Service, and Special Republican Guard commanders, all the while fooling Saddam is, to put it mildly, a real stretch.  To this day, many still fear the consequences of cooperating with the ISG. We would need to see the detailed rationale for Dr. Kay's conclusions on this matter to gauge if Saddam was really fooled by scientists scared to death of him and the Baath Party, or if he ran one of military history's most successful deception operations.  If he did the latter, we must also ask why he would risk the toppling of his regime, and his death or capture, over non—existent WMDs. The only alternative explanation to these two questionable scenarios is that WMD stockpiles did in fact exist, but that they have been hidden, and/or spirited out of the country.


Dr. Kay and the ISG have already proven that Iraq—region> was in violation of several UN resolutions.  Their findings include, among others, that Iraq—region> was involved in manufacturing of the biotoxin Ricin 'right up to the end,' the restarting of Saddam's nuclear program, and the development of BW 'seed' agents, such as botulinum, that could be used to regenerate stockpiles of BW agents once UN sanctions were lifted. 


Unfortunately, several factors worked against the ISG in locating actual stockpiles of WMDs. These factors included lack of analysis of historical data and preparation of an operational framework to focus the search, over—reliance on unsystematic interrogation of scientists, and poor operational monitoring and coordination of the search effort. 


Some factors were beyond the ISG's control. For example, the ISG faced a lack of resources (especially evident in the WMD and hazardous material clean—up effort), poor security of suspected WMD sites on the part of CJTF—7, and failure of US forces to prevent looting. 


While the US—region> examines the validity of national intelligence as it relates to Iraq—region>'s WMD, it is also important to analyze the lessons of the ISG's search operations.  It would stand to reason that any continuing effort to find banned weapons would need to rely more on sound tactical intelligence preparation, and a careful handoff to experienced operational units.  High—level intelligence assessments and collection efforts are not enough. 


Douglas Hanson was a US Army cavalry reconnaissance officer for 20 years, and is a Gulf War I combat veteran.  He has a background in radiation biology and physiology, and was an Atomic Demolitions Munitions (ADM) Security Officer, and a Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Defense Officer.  As a civilian analyst, he has worked on stability and support operations in Bosnia—region>, and helped develop a multi—service medical  treatment manual for nuclear and radiological casualties.  He was initially an operations officer in the operations/intelligence cell of the Requirements Coordination Office of the CPA, and was later assigned as the Chief of Staff of the Ministry of Science and Technology.