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Weapons of Mass Destruction and Iraq

Speakers: Patricia Wald, chair, Open Society Institute Criminal Justice Initiative; commissioner, Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, and Charles Duelfer, former deputy executive chairman, U.N. Special Commission on Iraq [UNSCOM]; former special adviser to the director of central intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction; former head, Iraq Survey Group
Presider: Craig R. Whitney, assistant managing editor, the "New York Times"; editor, "The WMD Mirage: Iraq's Decade of Deception and America's False Premise for War"
May 24, 2005
Council on Foreign Relations



Council on Foreign Relations
New York, N.Y.

CRAIG WHITNEY: Thank you all for coming today. I would like to open this session devoted to weapons of mass destruction and Iraq. Before we start, I would ask you if you haven’t done it already to please take a moment to turn off cell phones and other ringing and rattling and buzzing devises you may have. And this meeting, unlike many here, is on the record. The microphone is supposedly on. Can you hear me better if I talk louder? OK.

The main reason that the Bush administration gave for going to war against Iraq, as we should remember, was that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction [WMD] and links with the terrorists or the kind of terrorists who had carried out the 9/11 attacks against the United States. But we now know that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction to speak of in 2003, when we went to war. But he had certainly had them in the past and had used them during the Iran-Iraq War. In 2003, though, it turned out all he had was an evil gleam in his eye, made more serious by the fact that he was siphoning off money, lots of it, from the oil-for-food program, and he had ambitions to develop weapons of mass destruction again some day if he could ever get the United Nations sanctions off his back. Nevertheless, the United States did go to war on a false premise and deposed Saddam and now 1,600 and more American dead and many thousands of Iraqi casualties later, the United States is still struggling to help Iraqis establish democracy there.

Does it matter to Americans that our country went to war on a false premise? Pearl Harbor wasn’t a false premise, the North Korean invasion of South Korea wasn’t a false premise, going to war in Vietnam to prevent Chinese communist domination of all of Southeast Asia, though, was a false premise. [Leader of North Vietnam] Ho Chi Minh and the Vietnamese communists wanted to eliminate foreign domination of their country, not to turn it over to the Chinese. Going to war on false premises is one of the most serious mistakes a country can make, as we saw in Vietnam. Yet the United States made that mistake again in Iraq in 2003. But it’s worth going back to examine and remind ourselves that the weapons of mass destruction had been there, they have been eliminated, though under the pressure of United Nations’ sanctions, imposed largely because of American insistence on imposing them. Nevertheless, American intelligence had failed to see that and had failed to give the president an accurate assessment of Iraq’s programs, while he was making the decision to go to war.

The reasons for this failure have been explored by numerous official investigative bodies, the Iraq Survey Group was one of the first the administration sent in itself after the war, and Charles Duelfer, who had been deputy executive chairman of the U.N. Special Commission in Iraq earlier from 1993 until UNSCOM was terminated in 2000. Later, [he was] head of the Iraq Survey Group, which investigated for the director of central intelligence and produced a comprehensive report; it’s called comprehensive and, believe me, it really is comprehensive, parts of it are excerpted in the book, The WMD Mirage. And Charles, thank you for being here today.

The work of the Iraq Survey Group was the starting point for a number of other official inquiries in Washington into what went wrong with the intelligence. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Report was the first one last summer. The WMD Commission, or more formally, the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, expounded and expanded on these themes in its report, which was issued just this last March 31st. And Patricia Wald, a former chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, was on that commission and is also here today. And thank you, Judge Wald, for being here.

So we now know quite a lot more than we did in early 2003 about U.S. intelligence and how faulty it was and we had, as a result of these commissions’ reports, the reorganization of the 15 government intelligence agencies under a new director of national intelligence [DNI], John Negroponte, who was just sworn in last month. The WMD Commission report found that even this didn’t go far enough towards correcting the failings that we had seen in intelligence, and it recommended going further, particularly in getting the FBI inside the tent as well, which the commission said could be done if a new national security service was established within the FBI, subject to the director of national intelligence. We’ll talk about this and other findings of the WMD Commission in a moment.

People in a democracy I think, need to know why their elected leaders make mistakes when they make them, and voters need to be able to draw their own conclusions about what went wrong when things go wrong. And that’s why Public Affairs commissioned this book, The WMD Mirage, which collects basic documents from the United States and from the United Nations with the idea of offering readers, voters, a factual starting point at least to help build an understanding of what went wrong and what’s been done to try to right the wrong, because WMD has not gone away as an issue in America’s and the world’s attempts to deal with two other important countries: Iran and North Korea.

Well, the documents, the speeches, the investigations answer a lot of questions and raise many as well. They show that the intelligence agencies were not unanimous in agreement that Iraq had these weapons of mass destruction in early 2003. The State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research [INR], for one, correctly pointed out that the aluminum tubes the CIA said Iraq wanted to use for uranium centrifuges to make bombs were more likely intended for artillery rocket engines. So INR did not concur with the finding in the National Intelligence Estimate [NIE] in October 2002 that said Iraq was actively pursuing a nuclear weapons program then.

The Department of Energy reached the same conclusion, but believed that other evidence pointed towards the existence of an Iraqi nuclear weapons program. And in fact, as we know now, it has been stopped. Saddam hoped to resume it some day and he kept expertise and siphoned off huge amounts of money from the oil-for-food program to use for that and other weapons of mass destruction programs if he ever got the chance.

I think many people have come to the conclusion reading the report, Charles Duelfer’s report, that the Bush administration didn’t cook the books as conspiracy theorists like to believe on the intelligence against Iraq, because the intelligence agencies had done that themselves. Still, there are people who ask, “Well, were WMD not only a false premise but a false pretext to go to war against Iraq?” In other words, one way of looking at it is to ask, “Would the Bush administration have gone to war against Iraq even if the prewar intelligence had been correct and told them Saddam didn’t have WMD, but he was never going to stop trying?” No commission has really tried to explain what the deliberative process inside the administration was that led to the war. Some journalists have tried to with, I think, on the whole, unsatisfying results.

The president occasionally cited other grounds, of course. He did cite the cruelty of Saddam, the benefits that freedom would bring to Iraq and the whole Middle East, the inefficiency, if that’s the right word—that’s a diplomatic word—of the United Nations sanctions, but these were not the main reasons he gave for going to war. You can see that when you go back and read his speeches. The main reason was the weapons of mass destruction.

The conspiracy theory was recently given a boost by the Sunday Times of London in a report many of you may have seen about a document that was supposedly published—written, that is—in May, mid-2002, by an adviser to Tony Blair, who reported after a Bush-Blair meeting in July of 2002, and I quote, “Military action was now seen as inevitable; Bush wanted to remove Saddam through military action justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD, but the intelligence and the facts were being fixed around the policy.” That’s the way this British adviser to Tony Blair saw things in mid-2002.

Well, I would like to start our discussion today with that assertion or with issues around it. It’s not—that assertion—supported by any of the documents in my book or by any legislative or executive commission that has looked into intelligence failures. Still, the WMD Commission and the Senate Intelligence Committee both said they questioned intelligence analysts about whether they had felt political pressure from hawks in the administration to make their conclusions fit what the policy-makers wanted to hear, and both committees said that they judged that there had been no such pressure to do that, although in the WMD Commission report, Judge Wald said that analysts lived in a zeitgeist in 2002 that was dominated by the feeling that war against Iraq seemed inevitable and, indeed, if you try to remember back to the summer of 2002, it did.

So perhaps I would ask: Was there more subtle pressures than the British report indicates that was at work? If you look at the Curve Ball fiasco, for instance, you get a taste of what I am talking about. Curve Ball was an Iraqi defector who told his foreign country intelligence handlers that Saddam had mobile biological weapons factories mounted on trucks and he and other defectors persuaded U.S. intelligence that these trucks existed, but Curve Ball turned out to be fabricated. And one Pentagon expert, who had seen Curve Ball and had doubts about him, wrote a CIA colleague in an e-mail the day before [then-Secretary of State] Colin Powell’s speech to the U.N. He expressed alarm that Secretary Powell’s speech would use unverifiable information from a dubious source. And he got this answer back from the CIA officials, and it’s quoted in the Senate Intelligence Committee report, quote, “Let’s keep in mind the fact that this war is going to happen regardless of what Curve Ball said or didn’t say and that the powers that be probably aren’t terribly interested in whether Curve Ball knows what he is talking about.” So let me ask Judge Wald, what you think we should take from this Sunday Times report? What is the truth there?

PATRICIA WALD: Well, I certainly don’t know what the truth is. I’m in exactly your position, or maybe you are in a better position than I am. I know the same quote which caused me some puzzlement. Let me repeat just the one line that everybody sees as the so-called smoking gun—I am always a little suspicious of smoking guns, but Bush wanted to remove Saddam justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD—but the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy and went on to some other things. A couple of questions arise in my mind. One, as I understand it, that report was made in July of 2002 and it was made after the head of MI—the then head of MI-5 [British secret service] came back from talking to some people. One, no idea who he talked to. Secondly, in July of 2002, the most basic document in terms of the intelligence community, the National Intelligence Estimate, hadn’t been written yet. It was written at the Senate’s request, actually—at Senator [Richard] Durbin’s [D-Ill.] request—in October of 2002.

The other thing that bothers me a little bit about that is we do—we have had some experience ourselves with heads of intelligence agencies sometimes saying things that they later regret, that may be taken out of context, [and that] didn’t mean what they seemed to have. I refer to the slam dunk of our own head of intelligence, George Tenet, who later said he regretted making that [statement].

The other thing that bothered me a little bit about that; taking it at face value to say fixed, is when they say facts and intelligence were fixed around that policy. If you look at that period, as we did in the WMD report, you will see that, in fact, before the NIE there was a steady stream of intelligence which was going up to the president either in the daily briefing or in articles inside the intelligence—and it was pretty fixed if you take fixed in it’s ordinary meaning, which means it’s stable, it seems to be steady, et cetera. It was steady—almost drumbeat—saying that, yes, WMD—Saddam Hussein was building up WMD.

Of course, the meaning that everybody takes from it here and perhaps it was the meaning that the author meant was fixed, meaning they went and then they said, “You come out the way we want you to come out,” but the National Intelligence Estimate, as I say, didn’t come out for a couple of months later and, as I think [reporter] Walter Pincus pointed out in an article in the Washington Post yesterday, despite the fact that the large body of people working on these reports did adhere to the notion that Saddam Hussein was reconstituting a nuclear program, had production facilities, mobile-production facilities, biological warfare, had indeed converted in the last year and was doing—had chemical weapons. There was still some voices inside who were not—and including, for at least, as to some aspects—unfortunately, not as to the most important one, the secretary of the state. So if there was this big fix, unfortunately, the intelligence community or the administration didn’t do a good job of it. It was more like keystone cops because you were getting all sorts of—in other words, everything that we saw does not lead to the conclusion that a fix was on in any sense in which, say, for instance, assertions, allegations came about during the [John] Bolton nomination [to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations] that somebody said, “If you don’t change that, you got to be—going to be transferred and maybe your job will be on the line.” We did interview all of the—virtually all—I would say all, but there’s always a possibility we missed somebody—of the analysts that worked on it. To a person, they said no, they had never been threatened, intimidated. So I think, from my point of view, you can put that side.

Now, you get to the much more subtle notion. I think—I have never worked in the intelligence community. At various periods of my life, I worked around the outskirts of the intelligence community, but I have heard from many inside, and Charles might be able to amplify on this, the analysts in the intelligence community, you know, are not insulated. They are not like the members of the Federal Reserve Board or something. They are only supports—supposed to report the pure facts. They are indeed part of the executive agency. They read the paper. They get the inquiry sometimes directly from the policy-makers. They know what the policy-makers want them to say. The question is, will they stand up inside that and not purposely taint—change what they believe to be the facts and what they believe to be the proper inferences to be drawn from the facts?

It’s not a question of, do they have no notion of what the president is saying, or the fact that [Vice President Dick] Cheney did make 10 visits down to see the analysts while they were report—does that mean—everyone of them said, “We knew he was coming. We knew he—we knew what he wanted, but it did not change our mind.” Now, we could—the commission could have done what we accuse or what we concluded had happened in the case of actually the intelligence community. We could make the assumption that because the—it was well-known what policy-makers wanted and the fact that, actually, the intelligence community came out that way, so therefore the inference is they put the fix on.

I think it is much more subtle and I think the commission actually said, however—apart from the quote you gave, however, inside the intelligence community there was an atmosphere, as my guess is there has been in all critical times with critical reports. There was an atmosphere that did not encourage dissent, did not encourage people to question, but rather, encouraged an atmosphere of going along with it. And that is where we said, quite basically, from many of the analysts, well, including the Department of Energy people, who did not agree with the aluminum tube—with the aluminum tube conclusion, that they were meant for the centrifuges rather than for the rockets, but said—so said, well, you know, why did the Department of Energy go on with that part because they did not dissent from the actual NIE? And they said, “Well, we knew there was a war coming and we didn’t want to be out in front.”

WHITNEY: Of course, the idea that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction didn’t come out of nowhere. It had—it had them, so I would ask Charles, on the ground in Iraq, what did you find and how did it square on your view with the prewar intelligence?

CHARLES DUELFER: Let me—first, let me offer a bit of an apology to the Council members. I am normally [inaudible] to a fault—very candid in my speaking, but since the normal Council rules are—or held in abeyance, since the television camera’s on, I’ll be a little bit more guarded in what I say and base many of my answers on the methodology of the work that we did at the Iraq Survey Group. And since we are promoting things, I would like to promote my report. The Comprehensive Report is very comprehensive and it does not have an executive summary. I was asked if I would do the executive summary for this thing and I said no, and it was not because I wanted to punish innocent readers, but because it’s a very, very complicated issue and I didn’t feel that I could carve out a piece and say this represents the whole body.

The comprehensive report was, as I understood it, meant to collect the knowledge of what was the relationship between this regime and weapons of mass destruction. That issue has vexed countries, people, for three decades. Wars have been fought over it. Probably half a trillion dollars of resources and untold hundreds and thousands of life died largely associated with that issue. So what I felt was incumbent upon me was to record as thoroughly as possible all aspects of that relationship. To me—and I am very proud of the methodology, and I don’t think that has gotten much attention—but the methodology was intended to not just determine a point on a curve, not just whether that in fact were weapons of mass destruction in May 2003 or not. That’s one point on the curve, but as I said in the beginning, I wanted to not do algebra, I wanted to do calculus. I wanted to know the curve in the area underneath the curve. What were the dynamics?

There was a case clearly where Saddam at one point elected to have weapons of mass destruction and use them; at another point he elected not to; and at a future point, he may make another decision. What were the factors which caused him to alter those judgments? I am getting to your question. I’m not just answering another question. I will get there, but to do that I wanted to re-center the analyst’s universe; not have them look at the world as you do in Washington, but have them look at the world as they do in Baghdad. There are two ways of bounding a problem—two convenient ways. One was to understand Baghdad, you only really had to understand one guy: Saddam; very different than Washington. The other way of bounding the problem is by resources. Because Iraq had been under financial constraints due to the sanctions for a long period of time, you could kind of get a universe of what were the resources available.

I wanted our people to look at the world as Saddam did and we did that by way of a timeline and mapping out where there were inflection points in terms of decisions made with respect to weapons of mass destruction. We built a room with a wall, 20 feet long, six feet high, where we plotted events which were of importance to the Baghdad regime; of all sorts, you know from Egypt to Monica Lewinsky. These were the things that affected the regime. Then we plotted where there were decisions made on weapons of mass destruction and we plotted funding available. And at each point in time, what was the view that Saddam had and what was his experience to that point in time?

So in 1991, he made a decision to get rid of weapons of mass destruction—existing stocks. He did that, as it turns out, because he established as a high priority getting out of sanctions: that was his prime objective. Other things were on a non-interference basis with that. Now, he tried to negotiate. He wanted to try to see how much could get away with and that led to a period of hide and seek with various sets of inspectors. He tried to retain a production capacity, intellectual capability, but when we arrived on the ground in 2003 and we were examining three sets of data—people, documents, and sites—we found, fundamentally, that weapons themselves had been destroyed in 1991.

Subsequently, decisions were taken to get rid of production equipment, and nevertheless, there was an intention to try to sustain the capacity to restart these programs at a point in the future, and we have a fair amount of evidence to that. But what I would really like to emphasize here is to not just look at this as a bumper sticker at one point in time, but to look at it as a dynamic process, which began, you know, in the ‘70s, carried forward through two or three wars, and was continuing on in the future.

WHITNEY: Well, there weren’t any UN inspections between—what was it—the end of 1998 and the end of 2002. Then they resumed and the reports of [weapons inspector] Hans Blix was giving the General Assembly and the Security Council and that [Director of the International Atomic Energy Agency] Mohammed ElBaradei was giving were indicating that they could get to all the sites and verify whether or not Saddam had these weapons. The Bush administration said, “No, there isn’t time for that, and we don’t believe him anyway.”

Do you think that the sanctions might have continued to work and the inspections could have been effective on the basis of what you know about the UN inspections process before 2002?

DUELFER: I would have to answer that, again, with an eye towards methodology. Don’t look at it as a static point in time. You can say Hans Blix in March 2003 was in Iraq and Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction. I think it’s important to ask the question: Is that a—was that a sustainable set of circumstances? What caused Saddam to opt in ‘03 not to have weapons of mass destruction? Well, it was a combination of things. One was, he was surrounded by a huge military force. Secondly, you know, he had sanctions on him and bear in mind that the sanctions, even with the leakage on the oil-for-food program, were causing problems on the Iraqi people.

Had Blix reported that in fact there were no weapons, that in fact Saddam had complied with the disarmament provisions of the UN resolutions, then was the Security Council going to proceed to say, “OK, the sanctions are lifted?” I mean, there are various conundrums there that I don’t think people have focused enough on, but there is a lot of dynamics there. Yes, Saddam at that point in time had elected not to have weapons. Would that carry on forever? If a component of carrying on forever was to starve Iraqi people forever, I’m not sure people thought that through.

WALD: If I could just—I can’t add anything factually, obviously, to Charles’s report, but I do think I just want to stress one point that the commission tried to keep in mind all the time, and that was: What is the function of the intelligence community even in a fluid situation, which may change all that’s going on? It is to—I think I would have a consensus view here—it is to report what the intelligence community knows as a fact. And there are now certain factual things, which you wouldn’t find anyone to dispute about. Also, what it doesn’t know, so that policy-makers know where the gaps are. And certainly, the intelligence community has a right to make inferences from what it knows and maybe from what it doesn’t know, but it should be clear to the policy-maker that those are inferences and what they are based on.

Thus, the intelligence community might have said, “Look, Saddam Hussein has this record in the past of having cultivated weapons of mass destruction. He gets rid of them only under duress; he hasn’t been forthcoming in his reports. The inspection people have not found them, but Hans Blix made a statement 10 days before we went to war saying we can’t confirm that they are there and we can’t confirm that they are not there,” so and—and if the intelligence community does that and so, here—so we know here, is we don’t know here, so what we think—and here is why, OK, so then the policy-makers—they want to go to war and that, plus some other justifications, they can do it.

What I think bothered most of us was that the intelligence reports, the NIE and some of the others that they came up, including some of the daily briefings that went to the president, were—didn’t specify and didn’t articulate that the assumptions—that those were the assumptions that were driving it. They seemed to read to the normal reader as though they were real evidence, which was driving those conclusions, and that evidence has turned out—we revealed and so did the SSCI—the Senate Intelligence Committee—a year before us, was very thin.


WALD: That’s what they are called, sorry—I don’t want to mean to sound like an insider; I’m not.

WHITNEY: So I take it you would say that sort of approach is what Americans should expect of their intelligence agencies and—

WALD: Well, it’s what we thought was a reasonable approach, and we’re certainly not the first people that said that. We are not the—you know, there is a point of view not in our report, but I read another intelligence committee [report] that the intelligence committee is set up to help the policy-makers make good policy. It’s not the only input they have. They might disregard the intelligence community and say, “We don’t care what you think, we are going go to war for some other reasons that have nothing to do with what you told us, but”—and so therefore, the policy-makers are the customers—the client, I think, is the verbiage they use, the client of the intelligence community—and if they—the intelligence community needs—the policy-makers need some help from the intelligence community in getting where they want to go, that’s their primary function.

I don’t think that is in what we thought and I think that’s not probably the best thinking inside the intelligence community, but I have seen it.

WHITNEY: You think—

DUELFER: Can I just jump in? One can make a whole lot of comments about the problems in the intelligence community and the system that yields these types of assessments and there is—I think that it is very important to be on that. John Negroponte is going to have to deal with a lot of—a couple of points. One, I think every analyst I have ever dealt with was treated with utmost, you know, earnestness and honesty, but they answered the questions that are put to them, which is what you would expect. A political leader will put to you, “What about x, y, or z? What’s going on this country?” And that’s a process which is systemized in an elaborate way in the community. There are briefings which go around every morning. They go brief a leader, the president, the SecDef [Secretary of Defense], whatever, and they pose questions back and that becomes a cycle of feeding and directing the efforts on the intelligence community. So the policy-makers are formulating the questions, and as journalists and others know, formulating the question also shapes the answer. So there is that.

The other thing on a lot of this analysis is after the fact. This will sound a bit glib, but if a flying saucer landed on the mall in Washington tomorrow, I guarantee someplace, somewhere, there will be an intelligence report that warned of it. And that person will be up there saying, “I told you so and no one listened to me.” I mean, that just happens. I mean, it just—you know, it’s like the Preakness [Stakes]. They just ran the Preakness. Well, some guy says, “Well, I will bet on this horse and aren’t I a genius?” You know, but there is a bit of that.

WHITNEY: Well, that—

WALD: Yeah, it’s sort of—if I just could add one small bit to that—he is absolutely right in terms of what we found that the analysts—and they said to themselves: They are consumed by the process of answering those daily questions which come from the policy-makers, and one of our strong recommendations is that there be a special unit that would be built into the various of the 15 agencies that make up the intelligence community for people to be able to spend some time on long-term strategic intelligence analysis. Like, let’s look ahead: What’s going to happen with the military in China, rather than being actually consumed, as they say they are, by, what did it mean when X general went to Y place yesterday? So that—that is a real problem, but I think it’s one that the intelligence community—

WHITNEY: One hopes they—

WALD: --they have to.

WHITNEY: --they have done that kind of work, or are doing it now on North Korea and Iran and not just reacting to policy-driven or wish-driven policy questions.

Do you think that John Negroponte is going to be able do his job, or will the Pentagon and the other agencies that all are concerned with their trust, are they going to—seem to this new structure how effective it—how can it be effective?

WALD: Who are you asking?

WHITNEY: Yes. [Laughter]

DUELFER: Managing that process is always going to be imperfect. It’s a huge bureaucracy. You know, I have to distance myself from the—some of the way you set up some of your questions here is that, you know, wish-driven intelligence-taskings. I mean, I don’t think that’s the case. I mean, you get political leaders for a reason: to lead. And you don’t hire them to follow intelligence; you hire them to make judgment of which, you know, I just want to point it out, intelligence is just one—one systemized function, you know, how you make that bureaucracy system perform better is very difficult and Ambassador Negroponte is going have to weigh a lot of different things. There’s competition between collectors and analysts, you know? How much do you integrate them? How much does one feed the other? Who is posing the questions? Is it bottom-up or is it top-down? He’s just going to have to apply a lot of the balance to that.

The president certainly has expressed that Ambassador Negroponte has the lead in that position and, to the extent that he will be directing Department of Defense resources and allocations, I think he will do that.

WALD: I think that we said it, but several other people including, I think, [counterterrorism adviser] Richard Clarke in the New York Times magazine section this week said that one of the tests will be how Negroponte, in the first six months or thereabouts, deals with some of the hard, tough issues there. He suggested—Clarke suggested he create them if they didn’t. I wouldn’t go that far—create dispute so he can show how we can solve them. I think there are plenty of disputes left there. I know nothing except what I read in your newspaper and others. I see some hopeful signs; for instance, I think a couple of the key people—without naming names—that Negroponte has appointed to some of the key spot or people just based on the year’s work I would say I find encouraging, as looking at the parts they played in past disputes.

According to your newspaper, he is gung-ho on information-sharing and has already taken some large databases and made them accessible to the whole community. He has also, again, according to the newspaper, told the chiefs of staff—this may be controversial, I don’t know—the station chiefs—the station chiefs in the various countries to report directly to him as well. But it won’t be easy. I saw already where somebody in Congress tried to get a bill, which apparently is not going to go through, which would take away his power which he does have under the new legislation, which allows him with a certain number of personnel to take them from the Defense Department and put them in his own intelligence DNI units and this congressmen would say, “No, before you can do that, you have to come to us and get permission,” so there will be fights.

The president, when he met with us as we were formally presenting the report, said, “As soon as Mr. Negroponte is confirmed, I am going to hand him a copy of this and say this is your roadmap.” We’ll see.

WHITNEY: I take the criticism of my question so seriously that I am going to now turn over the questions to the audience. [Laughter] I would just ask that you please wait for the microphone and speak into it and stand, state your name and your affiliation when I call on you. I would ask George Soros.

QUESTIONER: And leaving aside the—our intelligence failures, I would be very interested if you can shed some light on the failure of Saddam to convince the UN inspectors that he had no weapons of mass destruction. It’s one of the puzzles that I have in this situation: how come he didn’t make a more convincing case that in fact he didn’t have those?

WHITNEY: Charles, you have some answers to that in your report?

DUELFER: Well, one of the advantages that we had in our work that we didn’t have when I was at the UN, was we had Saddam. [Laughter] And that is a question which puzzles a lot of people, that—the advantage that we had, we were able to talk—A, we had documents; B, we were able to talk to people around him and we were able to put questions to Saddam.

And the answer is very complicated and I don’t have a convincing answer. I have a series of things which contributed to that. One is, as I mentioned, in 1991 he established his priority to get out of sanctions. Not that he decided—he had a change of heart and said, “WMD is really not a good idea and, geez, you know, I am really sorry,” but it wasn’t working at the time for him. But he tried to sustain what he could, and during that period of time that he was doing that, it created a great deal of distrust between the inspectors—the UN inspectors—and the Iraqis to the point were there was an inflection point in 1998 where they just decided no matter what they did, that the United States, in particular, was not going to buy off on resolving the sanctions issue. And that was a point in time where they finally cut off their cooperation with inspectors and a couple of months later, there was this [U.S. and U.K.] bombing episode for four days called Desert Fox. But at that point in time, Saddam decided that pursuing a track of co-operation in the hopes to getting out sanctions were not going to work, so he just pursued a path of erosion.

Now, one of the other elements, though, in all this—well, there is two other elements, let me just mention. They—it was clear he was hiding things. It was clear he was trying to thwart inspectors. But it turns out that much of his motivation for that—much of the Iraqi motivation for that was because they just didn’t like inspectors poking around their most secure areas. It was also a point of pride.

Secondly, and we describe this in some detail in the report, there was a greater concern than we could appreciate sitting here in Washington of the threat posed by Iran. And we just, you know, that our gut feeling for that was not the same as the gut feeling one would have sitting in Baghdad, where you had invaded and killed a lot of those people, and then every once in a while they were throwing rockets at you, so there was an ongoing conflict there. And Saddam was certainly aware of the WMD assessments of Iran and he created intentionally a certain ambiguity about what his capabilities were. So there were mixed motivations.

Another one, which I just will mention, is simply pride. I mean, this fellow was a—narcissistic, in a way. He felt that Iraq’s—you know, he was the latest in a long line of great Iraqi leaders; being a leader in science and technology is embodied most in the 20th century, 21st century now, by nuclear capabilities, so he wanted to have that aura.

WHITNEY: He was his own worst enemy in some ways.

DUELFER: In many ways. I mean, his key intelligence failure was in not appreciating the change of the world in 9/11.

WHITNEY: OK. Mr. Perkins? Wait for the microphone.

QUESTIONER: Ros Perkins [inaudible]. Pat, you say that Vice President Cheney made 10 visits. Were you able to get a real sense of the flow of the conversation in those visits? The point has been made that tenor of the questions can have a lot to do with the reaction, and the word intimidation is a pretty strong word, so that one might think that a lot of leading the witness could come without ranking as intimidation. So my question is, did you get a real sense of the flow of those conversations of the vice president and the staff?

WALD: Ros, we got enough of the sense from talking to the analysts that I—they couldn’t always quote exactly, but we got enough of the sense that the conversations were focused mainly on, well, what evidence do you have of this, or what evidence do you have of this, or have you looked for more evidence of this, et cetera? Not a single one of them said that after the conversations they said that they felt that they had been threatened or intimidated in any way. Many of the other analysts said this was not that unusual, actually, to have visits or conversations from policy-makers, especially as importance of a particular—a particular report went up, and there was no question this was in the highlight there, but no quick answers. Nobody suggested that they felt that they had been taken to the brink of exhaustion or that they had no other report. If there was—if there was pressure, and we did say that the atmosphere inside the intelligence community itself was one of encouraging—encouraging going along with the prevailing assumptions rather than—and you quoted the one quote there about the powers that be are going to go to war regardless of what you tend to think of something. It tended to be among the intelligence analysts themselves, the younger ones versus the older ones, rather than—those are what the younger analysts would cite as opposed to the policy-makers.

So I think we have some verification of that from outside here. I was always interested when I was reading about all the Bolton debates, and I only know what I read in the paper, but it generally, you know, appeared there that when real intimidation was even thought about—you know, you are going to be transferred—that the superiors came in—the superiors came in and kind of stood up for their—

WHITNEY: And there is nothing wrong with policy-makers questioning intelligence.

WALD: You want them to question. You want to have a dialogue between them. Obviously, it’s a thin line between a dialogue and the kind of probing which, you know, as a judge I am very familiar with. You can say to counsel, “Now look, go back on that. I want to know exactly what did you mean by that.” I mean, you don’t have to say, “Oh, you say that? That’s fine. I will just take that and go.” But there is a difference between that and to the point, you know, where you are really sort of threatening the person.

If it comes—there is no question—we suggested in our recommendations many devices that should be built into the intelligence community process, like having—they already have something called red teams—they didn’t use them in this particular instance—which is a team which is designated to go bring the other kind—the other point of view or a comparative analysis or even a devil’s advocate. There ought to be a climate which is more amenable to internal dissent, especially when the momentum outside is going full [inaudible].

WHITNEY: OK, here it comes.

QUESTIONER: This question will be for Mr. Duelfer. My name is Roland Paul. I am a lawyer. Some years ago, I was counsel to a subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In your report, and again today, Mr. Duelfer, you pointed out that Saddam’s primary goal was to get rid of sanctions, but you also stated before the Armed Services Committee in your prepared statement that he could quickly reconstitute his chemical and biological weapons. And your predecessor [U.S. weapons inspector] David Kay told the Armed Services Committee the same thing. Kay also said he was very concerned about the possibility of corrupt scientists selling their technology to terrorists. In any event, Kay also said that he believed that the war against Saddam was absolutely justified. He said it before the committee and also several other times. I wondered if that was your conclusion.

DUELFER: Well, I am not going to comment on the justification of the war. I think I—you know, the points on the reconstitution of chemical and biological capabilities, I think, are laid out in the report. Those two fields are, in particular, easy to sustain in the sense—in the biology area, Saddam had that capability on the shelf because the intellectual capacity existed in Iraq; to translate that into a capability requires, you know, not a lot of equipment and infrastructure. It requires slightly more in the chemical area, where again he had the intellectual capability. He had a program with the availability of funds that came about through the oil-for-food program. He had an effort to renew his civilian chemical infrastructure. Within that would have been implicit an ability to reconstitute chemical weapons, so the—there was a change in Iraq after 1996 when the oil-for-food program began he got a lot more resources.

He began understanding that he could succeed in dividing the Security Council. He purposely gave Council members a stake in this success, and if you look at the Baghdad international fairs, which took place every November, they were increasingly flooded with businessmen. So he had a great deal of reinforcement of the view that the perimeter around him was weakening.

WHITNEY: Which makes you wonder whether UN sanctions, even if continued, and inspections continued, would have ultimately have been able to keep him in check? And it raises the same question now, I suppose, how effective can the UN be in dealing with the same sort of issues in Iran and North Korea?

DUELFER: I think you have to be careful what you ask the UN to do. The disarmament of Iraq was coercive disarmament. It wasn’t arms control. Iraq did not sign a treaty agreeing that it was going to control its arms; it lost a war. The other analogue to this is in World War I, where there was a similar set of circumstances, a similar international inspectorate was created to disarm Germany and it was without occupying the country. It had—when you go back and read these reports, and to me they sound just like the old UN reports—same sets of problems. Both failed ultimately over time, but it’s coercive disarmament, and if you ask an international organization to cause a unitary actor to do something which it believes is not in its national-security interest, that’s tough to sustain.

WALD: I just want to bring the focus in two sentences back to the intelligence community and that’s all that our report dealt with. It is one thing to say, as they had been saying for actually many years, they—that Saddam Hussein could with, say, a small amount of effort, convert some of the dual-use facilities that were producing chemicals, pharmaceuticals into chemical weapons or biological weapons, et cetera. It’s a different—and if they said that, fine. Then the policy-makers could decide if that was a big enough danger to go to war.

The problem here was they said, “Has reconstituted its nuclear program, is producing chemical weapons, and probably has a stockpile of up to 500 metric tons of weapons; has mobile biological production facilities, and has biological weapons.” I mean, to the congressional—those that even read the report—that’s, incidentally, one of the more discouraging aspects, to find out that when they actually put out the report, I think somebody said there is only actually 17 congressmen who actually read the report. They did go to briefings, I guess.

WHITNEY: So write to your congressman.

WALD: But that’s a big difference.

WHITNEY: Bill Drozdiak.

QUESTIONER: Bill Drozdiak; American Council on Germany. I would like to continue with Craig’s line of questioning and ask both of you, what are the lessons from the intelligence fiasco in dealing with what could be the next crisis in Iran? Here we have a pattern of Iranian reluctance to cooperate with authorities; some very suspicious behavior, to say the least, in covering up certain things; and the lack of hard intelligence on the ground. Is there anything that you derive from your scrutiny of the Iraq situation that should be applied in terms of policy-making toward Iran?

WALD: As you know, the chapters on Iran and North Korea that were on our classified report were classified in their entirety. I am going to direct my brief answer to your question in the following format: lessons that we may or should have learned from the Iraqi experience that would apply to other dangerous spots in the world. I am not going to focus on Iran or North Korea. And I think they could be capsulized in, one: we very much need better human capability—human being capabilities on the ground.

We found that the—for all of the technical marvels and signals intelligence, NSA [National Security Agency], or imagery intelligence, the geospatial units, National Reconnaissance, that you could—as we said in the report, you can get hundreds of beautifully precise pictures of suspected buildings and suspected trucks and you don’t have any idea what’s inside them and that’s what bothered—what doomed us with the Curve Ball incident and with the chemical warfare, is where we saw so-called [inaudible] trucks, which had been identified earlier with carrying chemical weapons by Saddam Hussein and then extrapolated from the fact that there was an increased amount of activity and these trucks: they must be carrying chemical weapons, therefore there must be chemical production, therefore he must have restarted chemical—none of that turned out to be true, including the fact that somebody missed the fact that we had more evidence, imagery, pictures of the trucks because we were taking more pictures.

But so, HUMINT [human intelligence] on the ground. And the only way you get HUMINT on the ground is a lot—and I won’t go into the details—a lot more innovative platforms and a lot of different kinds of recruiting of people—not James Bond and not like all of us in this room. I mean people [who] actually fit into the background. There are many other reports, many other recommendations. I think that we hope we learned lessons and we hope that the intelligence community—

WHITNEY: We have time for one last question, unfortunately only one.

QUESTIONER: Gary Sick, Columbia University. I, as somebody who was watching this very much from the outside, have been struck by two different data points that I have not heard discussed very much in any of the reports, and I have not read both of your reports in great detail. One is Hussein Kamel, Saddam’s son-in-law who defected [in 1995], was debriefed at great length and who said, “Here is where the stuff was hidden,” and so forth, but then at the end of his discussion said, “But of course that’s all over. We did away with that years ago and that’s not—that’s not going on in Iraq.” The first part of this report got a lot of attention; the second one was largely ignored.

The second one was a fellow who was a close adviser on the nuclear side, who went on to Canada—actually escaped from Saddam, went off to Canada and while—and he was very quiet for a long time because he was scared, but then as he saw war coming he actually went public and said, you know, “I was very close to the nuclear side and nothing was going on there. This was over for years.” Now, that we paid a lot of attention not only to the Curve Balls, but we also to—the Saddam’s bomb-maker and people like that, who got a tremendous amount of attention. Both of these reports, which were available at great length, I am wondering what the—how they were perceived inside the community and if they got any attention at all. I’m told that the fellow in Canada didn’t—I’m sorry, his name escapes me—was never even interviewed by the CIA.

WHITNEY: Charles, do you want to take a whack at that?

DUELFER: Well, they’re two different cases. The Hussein Kamel one—his presentation was a bit more mixed than you are suggesting. I mean, he described things which we did not know about at the time and so there is clearly, based on that conversation, things which Iraq was still hiding at least factually from the UN inspectors and obviously from the U.S. So, you know, it’s—again, it is this mutual mistrust and if they’re hiding—why would they hide that if they were trying preserve the capability or retain something? You know, that was one of the fascinating experiences to me, because I sat down—I mean, these are people I have known for over a decade and, you know, you kind of can have some conversations while they are in custody. You know, what were you doing when we were doing this? But there really was this element of mutual misunderstanding.

And the second fellow, whose name is Imad Khadduri, he was involved in the nuclear program but more as a—he collected documentation. And yes, he went to Canada. I mean, there were a lot of Iraqis who left Iraq who had more or less something to say. The fact that he said that the nuclear program had ended—you know, I don’t how you would agree to that, but it does point to one of, I think, the systemic problems in the intelligence committee, which they are now thinking about: How do you account for negative information? The system—you know, if you have a 100 people in the day who say, you know, “I was driving in Baghdad and I didn’t see anything,” it doesn’t make it to the president’s desk. It’s just a—it’s unnatural. I mean that, you know, nothing is happening, so you are going to report that to the president?

But you if you do get a guy, you know, who says something is going on, then that attracts attention. I don’t know, is it—part of it is human nature and part of it’s a systemic problem.

WALD: Yeah, I don’t have anything to add on those two fellows. Just one quick further observation. When we came back—we read the president’s daily briefings [PDB], a couple of us did, actually—Judge [Laurence H.] Silberman, who was co-chair, and because he and I are friendly but had our differences on the court in the past. He asked me if I wanted to read them and I—so I sat down and read them and indeed they are—quoting from our report, they are these kind of sound-bite kind of things, so it’s a sound—in order to make it interesting and in order to make it evocative, you know, there were these—and we called it in the report—

QUESTIONER: [Inaudible] newspapers.

WALD: Yes. Yes. That’s—they probably got their training. [Laughter] They called it disastrously one-sided because there would be the one report out of the—it didn’t happen with 9/11 that way, I know, but still it would be the one report. So one of our suggestions there again was to have some—his briefings, even the PDBs contain some more long-term strategic, so that you would say, “Hey, over the last 10 years, only one guy out of 97 has reported that this is going on; the other 96 has gone the other way.” So we will see whether some of that helps.

WHITNEY: Well, thank you. Those are things to think about and I thank Charles Duelfer and you, Judge Wald, for coming, and thank you all. [Applause]







More on This Topic


Inspections in Iraq

Speakers: Charles Duelfer, Khidir Hamza, and Richard Spertzel
Introductory Speaker: Kenneth M. Pollack