Saddam's WMD: Discovery and Denial

Last week, Senator Rick Santorum and Rep. Pete Hoekstra revealed  declassified portions of a report by the National Ground Intelligence Center (NGIC) that said Coalition forces in Iraq have recovered several hundred munitions containing degraded mustard or sarin nerve agent.  The report also stated that "filled and unfilled pre—Gulf War chemical munitions are assessed to still exist." 

Now that our units in Iraq have discovered the smoking gun that the left has seemingly wanted for the past three years, they have shifted the goalposts again.  And one more time, the facts of Saddam's WMD must be presented to the American people to counter the lies of the media, and regrettably, some people in our own government agencies.

The left and their allies in the press are apparently too dense to understand the significance of the Coalition previously finding biological agent seed cultures, several hundred tons of purified nuclear material, and tons of chemical weapon (CW) precursors.  But this entire controversy has never been about the weapons themselves, the age of the munitions, or the media promoted fantasy of pallets of chemical rounds ready to be loaded into Iraqi artillery pieces.  From the beginning it has been about the campaign of disinformation and deception of the antique media and the shadow government within our intelligence agencies to discredit the administration in a time of war.

The SecState and Pre—war Intelligence

A typical response to the NGIC report on these chemical weapons is found in a piece by Dafna Linzer in the Washington Post.  After briefly covering Santorum's and Hoekstra's news conference, Linzer quotes the proverbial unnamed 'intelligence officials' who said that these,

...shells were old and were not the suspected weapons of mass destruction sought in Iraq after the 2003 invasion.

This is a false statement and in fact, directly contradicts publicly divulged US and European pre—war intelligence estimates as stated by both the President in his 2003 State of the Union address, and former Secretary of State Colin Powell's speech before the UN  a little over a week later.

According to the US and the UN, the age of the weapons was immaterial.  The primary issue has always been one of accountability.  The weapons and banned material either had to have been verified as destroyed or be made available for inspection and inventory by UN agencies.  Since Saddam actively resisted the inspectors, and then later kicked them out of Iraq, Powell was obligated to present to the UN key intelligence assessments about the unknown status of Iraq's chemical weapons:

  •  Saddam Hussein has never accounted for vast amounts of chemical weaponry: 550 artillery shells with mustard, 30,000 empty munitions and enough precursors to increase his stockpile to as much as 500 tons of chemical agents. [Emphasis mine]

  •  If we consider just one category of missing weaponry —— 6,500 bombs from the Iran—Iraq war —— UNMOVIC says the amount of chemical agent in them would be in the order of 1,000 tons

  •  We know that Iraq has embedded key portions of its illicit chemical weapons infrastructure within its legitimate civilian industry. [Emphasis mine]  Illicit and legitimate production can go on simultaneously; or, on a dime, this dual—use infrastructure can turn from clandestine to commercial and then back again.
  • Because of the NGIC report, we now know that Powell's number of 550 unaccounted for CW rounds was amazingly accurate.  Coupled with previous reporting on precursors and on accounts provided by Ken Timmerman, who could now logically contradict Powell's pre—war intelligence on CW?  Ironically, the people who most regret the information provided during the speech are Powell himself and his former military aide.  Somebody had better give them a call and tell them that at least on the CW intelligence portion of his speech, Powell was right.

    Coalition Forces and Chemical Weapons

    What is surprising in the wake of the report is that the military leadership seems to have joined the 'nothing to see here' crowd, even though it has been Army and Marine units in Iraq that have done the heavy lifting in uncovering Saddam's CW.  Almost from the very start of Operation Iraqi Freedom Coalition troops discovered CW precursors co—located with military ordnance yards or in ammo dumps.  These finds included huge warehouses and caches of 'commercial and agricultural' chemicals, including 55 gallon drums buried in bunkers six feet underground.  Notably, this is another instance where the former SecState's assessment has been proven true.

    Tests performed on these substances by chemical warfare specialists produced positive results for sarin, cyclo—sarin, and mustard agents.  But later, the ISG pronounced all of the military's tests as flawed, and the CW uncovered as inconsequential.  Meanwhile, the media and the ISG focused on the technical minutiae of Powell's data on mobile bio—war labs to divert attention from the significance of our troops' discoveries.

    As the NGIC report shows, units continued to turn up large amounts of chemical munitions whose potency could last for well over 20 years.  Yet, in response to the potential force protection problems should these rounds ever be used against our troops, the Coalition command in Iraq has seemingly adopted the ISG's tactics of minimization and disinformation.  Major William Willhoite, a spokesman for Multi—National Forces—Iraq (MNF—I) stated

    No old chemical weapons have yet been rigged to improvised explosive devices used by Iraq's insurgents. "We have never had an IED utilizing anything but conventional munitions,"

    The good Major is either not very well read or he has completely ignored open source civilian and military accounts of our forces' encounters with WMD since the end of major combat operations:

  •  In May of 2004, elements of the 1st Cavalry Division encountered a 155mm binary chemical artillery shell wired as an IED,2933,120268,00.html.  The round exploded before it could be rendered safe exposing two US soldiers to the deadly nerve agent, who then displayed the classic symptoms of sarin exposure: dilated pupils and nausea.  Later tests confirmed that the shell contained three to four liters of sarin.

  •  On May 2, 2004, a 155mm shell filled with mustard agent was discovered; this one also rigged as an IED.  In keeping with the tradition of dismissing Coalition forces recovering WMDs, ISG testing concluded that the mustard gas was "stored improperly" and was thus "ineffective."

  •  Later in May, the 1st Cavalry Division again discovered CW when Troop D, 9th Cavalry Regiment seized over forty 155mm artillery rounds suspected of containing a chemical warfare agent because they were leaking an unknown substance.

  •  And finally last August, US troops raided a warehouse in Mosul and discovered a chemical weapons factory containing 1,500 gallons of 11 different chemical agent precursors.  A military spokesman said that the facility was a new one that was established after the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
  • And before all of these incidents, in January of 2004, Danish forces in Southern Iraq discovered 120mm mortar shells with a mysterious liquid inside that initially tested positive for blister agents.  Further tests by the ISG were, of course, negative.

    In many ways, the effort to publicize declassified portions of the NGIC report is similar to the Weekly Standard's fight with the DIA to release tens of thousands of unclassified documents seized after OIF.  But as Santorum and Hoekstra point out (sign—in required), this episode of obstructing the requests of our lawmakers occurred because elements within our own intelligence community deliberately abused their classification authority to withhold open source information about discoveries of Saddam's chemical weapons. 

    Keep in mind that there is a lot more material left to be 'declassified.'

    The White House is also downplaying the NGIC report, and has for years avoided talking about open source reports on uncovering WMDs that essentially prove one of its reasons for invading Iraq.  Quite possibly they have realized that making the case for war focusing on disarming Saddam of his WMDs was unwise given the inherent imperfections of intelligence collection and analysis, and, as it turns out, the presence of an embedded opposition in both the intelligence and military bureaucracies. 

    By trumpeting the WMD 'stockpile' image, the left and the media could bend and shape public opinion when the imagined stacks of chemical munitions out in the open failed to quickly materialize.  It was holding the President and our units in the field to a standard that they could not possibly meet, especially when the factual accounts concerning CW finds quickly fell into the memory hole thanks to a compliant press establishment.

    Ultimately though, I believe the specifics of the 'slam dunk' on Saddam's WMD will largely be proven true thanks to the hard work of men like Santorum and Hoekstra and of course, with thanks to our courageous men and women fighting in the War on Terror.

    Douglas Hanson is the National Security Correspondent of the American Thinker.

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