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Blix: Intelligence on Iraq Weapons Not 'Very Impressive'

Author: Bernard Gwertzman, Visiting Fellow
June 24, 2003
Council on Foreign Relations


Hans Blix, the outgoing chief of United Nations inspectors in Iraq, said Monday that the United States’ intelligence information about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction was “shaky” at best and “did not turn out to be very impressive.”

Speaking to a meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Blix left open the possibility that the U.S. and British teams now in Iraq might yet find some chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons. The failure to date to find any weapons has increasingly become a political issue in the United States and Britain, with critics asserting that the allies exaggerated or lied about the weapons’ existence to justify the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Blix, whose deliberate investigation of Iraq’s suspected cache of unconventional weapons frustrated some U.S. officials, threw a jab at the Bush administration, which before the war issued several statements asserting that Iraq possessed such weapons.

“It is somewhat puzzling that you could have 100 percent certainty about the weapons of mass destruction’s existence and zero certainty about where they are,” Blix said. “We felt that the intelligence did not turn out to be very impressive,” he said. “Shaky was the word I used.”

At another point, Blix, referring to the U.N. inspections that started in November and ended in March, said that “three-and-a-half months for new inspections was a rather short time before calling it a day.”

“And especially when we now see that the United States government is saying that you have to have a bit of patience” as American forces search for Iraqi weapons, he added. “These things take time.”

Blix, a longtime Swedish diplomat who headed the United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Inspections Commission, (UNMOVIC) is retiring next week.

He went into some detail on the sources of the intelligence information provided to his team in Iraq. Some of it came, he said, “from defectors— and we have heard people at the Pentagon say that the defectors were the most important source of information.” Information “also came from satellites and from electronic eavesdropping and spying,” he said. “And all of these sources have their shortcomings.”

As for defectors, he said “the CIA and others know they often are saying a little more than they know to make themselves more interesting than they are.”

He said that, in hindsight, it is conceivable the Iraqis destroyed banned materials and documentary evidence of their existence before the war, but he said this could not be proved.

Blix added that not only the United States and Britain believed before the war that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, but so did many other countries, including Sweden and Germany.

As to why Saddam failed to prove he had destroyed all such weapons— if in fact that was the case— and thereby perhaps avoid an invasion, Blix said that was really “a big question.” He theorized that Hussein had an excess of pride, may have miscalculated that he could win another round of “brinksmanship,” or may have felt public opinion abroad would prevent a war.

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