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Iraq Findings Conclude No Weapons of Mass Destruction Existed in Iraq

April 27, 2005 at 12:00 AM EST
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MARGARET WARNER: A two-year search for Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, sponsored by the CIA formally ended this week. The final report by the Iraq Survey Group reaffirmed its earlier conclusion that Iraq did not possess any stockpiles of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons before the U.S. invasion in 2003.

But it said: “Saddam wanted to recreate Iraq’s WMD capability after sanctions were removed.” In an addendum this week, the survey group also said that despite administration suspicions: “It was unlikely that an official transfer of WMD from Iraq to Syria took place before the war,” though it couldn’t completely rule out the possibility that some material was smuggled out.

For more on all this and what it says about the flaws in America’s intelligence about WMD programs in Iraq and elsewhere, is the survey group’s chief former U.N. Weapons Inspector Charles Duelfer.

Welcome back to the program, Mr. Duelfer.

CHARLES DUELFER: Thank you.

MARGARET WARNER: Does this settle it? Is the debate over? Are you totally confident that the U.S. government or the Iraqi government is not going to stumble on some significant stockpile of WMD in Iraq?

CHARLES DUELFER: I have confidence that the reality represented in the report is going to be borne out by what happens in the future. But it’s — I would emphasize that the report is more than just a statement that there are no weapons in Iraq, and there were no weapons at the time of the war.

What it does is it describes the relationship of the Saddam regime with WMD. Here is a guy who chose at one point to have weapons of mass destruction and at another point not to, and we wanted to understand what was his thinking behind those two decisions, and I think the report does a good job on that.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, I want to ask you about that, but first let me just ask, and what about Syria?

CHARLES DUELFER: Syria, we had some intelligence that perhaps some materials, suspicious materials, had been moved there. We looked as closely as we could at that, there were a few leads which we were not able to fully run down, largely because of the security situation, but it’s my judgment that had substantial stocks, important stocks been moved to Syria, someone would have told something to us about that. So I have a lot of confidence that basically the picture is as you reflected it.

MARGARET WARNER: So one question on Saddam, following up on what you just said: What is your conclusion about the great mystery, one of the great mysteries, which is: if leading up to the war Saddam had no big stockpiles of weapons, why didn’t he just invite the inspectors to go wherever they wanted, give them all the information they were demanding, essentially remove any pretext for an invasion?

CHARLES DUELFER: Well, I’ve had this debate not only with a lot of Americans, but with a lot of Iraqis, including very senior ones. And I must say that some of his own ministers debate that point themselves. But I think there’s a few factors, which are important in bear in mind.

One is that, you know, Saddam had other threats besides the United States. He liked to present some ambiguity about whether, in fact, he had given up all of his weapons, and he did that intentionally.

The second point is, you know, his sense of place in history and glory among the Iraqi leaders is important to him, and in a certain way he was I think fatalistic. There was also a sense that this President Bush was going to complete the work that the first President Bush did not complete. So there’s a mix of things.

MARGARET WARNER: Meaning he was going to invade anyway, that’s what Saddam thought?

CHARLES DUELFER: That it was inevitable at a certain point; that there were also messages which Saddam was getting from other members of the Security Council, that perhaps telling him that this was not really going to happen. It’s difficult to know with great confidence, but clearly he made a series of mistakes, which Iraqis acknowledge themselves.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, in the report, in the addendum, you do identify some lingering dangers, and one has to do with Iraqi scientists who have all of this WMD expertise.

CHARLES DUELFER: That’s correct. And we analyzed to a certain extent no matter how much residual risk there was, how much residual proliferation risk there was. The reality is somewhat smaller than you might think, but it’s not to be ignored. Many of these scientists have lost their jobs because the weapons programs turned out to have ended in the early 90s.

So they’ve already been looking for other jobs. But many of them are getting old. Things like a nuclear program takes a large number of them, but there are a few that you have to concern yourself with, largely in a biological area, where one or two people can make a big difference in a program.

MARGARET WARNER: The other lingering danger you identified is that there was still a lot of equipment and infrastructure, which was then looted, WMD manufacturing equipment or dual use equipment. How serious a risk is that?

CHARLES DUELFER: We judge that that’s fairly small. We went to a lot of sites and there of course was a lot of looting; some of the looting was destructive, a bit like a demolition derby. And some of it was with malice of forethought; I mean, there were carefully removed pieces of equipment. But, you know, our sense was that this was done for economic reasons rather than to try to export it to a country that might obtain or have a weapons of mass destruction program.

Bear in mind that if Iraq could get this equipment, then other countries could as well, and would you buy a used piece of equipment from a country, which had just been invaded and at war — probably not.

MARGARET WARNER: But your report did say something about – I’m just looking at my notes here – that it could contribute to terrorist production of chemical or biological agents.

CHARLES DUELFER: We were very concerned about the spread of the knowledge to anti-coalition people and we ran into some evidence that this, in fact, was happening. We had an investigation during last summer in particular of something we call the Alan Boud investigation, but we did find anti-coalition elements trying to create their own chemical weapons. And I think we got ahead of that, I think we nipped that problem in the bud. But it’s something we have to keep an eye then.

MARGARET WARNER: So really looking to the future, let’s talk about the intelligence failures, because a month ago, as you know, the WMD Commission, the one investigating all the intelligence problems with other countries as well as Iraq, concluded that really the intelligence failures on display in the Iraq case are being replicated even now vis-à-vis other countries and what we’re trying to find out about them; Iran, North Korea, a couple of others. What did you conclude about what those failures were?

CHARLES DUELFER: Well, Iraq was a difficult target. And we have difficult targets in North Korea, and then Iran. So in a certain sense the problem is similar. There are ways we could have done things better. You know, bear in mind that with Iraq the United States didn’t have relations with Iraq for, you know, well over a decade so there were very few Americans who had direct experience. Therefore the analysts who were making judgments, making assessments, didn’t have a tactile feel, they didn’t — many of them had never even met an Iraqi. But their reality comes from a computer screen.

MARGARET WARNER: Not terribly different from the situation in either Iran or North Korea.

CHARLES DUELFER: It is very similar. Those Americans and other nationalities who had experience in Iraq, who were members of the U.N. inspection team, you know, they had a better sense.

For example, many of my former colleagues at UNSCOM, when they listened to Secretary Powell give his speech at the United Nations where Secretary Powell gave a lot of evidence for why weapons of mass destruction exist in Iraq, many of my colleagues looked at that and said, well, a lot of that’s wrong. They wouldn’t know what parts were wrong, but they knew from experience that when you got a report like that and then you went into Iraq to find, you know, what exists on the ground, there would be some weird unanticipateable Iraqi explanation for that behavior.

MARGARET WARNER: So is the problem though with the U.S., which now has a massive effort to try to improve its intelligence capability on WMD — was it collection and analysis failures, and are these, did you see evidence of failures that you would agree are systemic, which is what the commission — I mean I know you’re not an expert in Iran or North Korea, but these were failures that cut across the board?

CHARLES DUELFER: I think there were a number of things which, you know, the intelligence community is looking at now: the relationship between collectors and analysts, I mean, it’s often very distant. But I think that can be closed up a bit so that the people out there who are doing the real spying have a better sense of what it is that the analysts really need. I think that’s one factor that can be addressed.

Access to countries, I think that we make it harder than it really is in many ways. I think access to some of these countries like North Korea doesn’t need to be that hard.

MARGARET WARNER: Why not? It’s a very closed society.

CHARLES DUELFER: Well, but these are not hermetically sealed pieces of geography, people go in and out all the time; it’s just a question of can you get to the right ones. You know, I think – for example, when Iraq – you could go to your local physician and he may have a brother in Baghdad and he could call him up and he could tell you what going on in Baghdad.

So it’s just a question of how you – how you — what kind of information you’re after. I think open source information may be more useful. But there’s a number of incremental steps, which the intelligence communities can take, and I think the analysts could be improving their work by getting out more, looking at, spending more time doing analysis as opposed to current threats. There’s a lot of responding to questions, which are put to by political leaders rather than doing original analysis themselves.

MARGARET WARNER: So you mean that it’s – they let it be known that the president or vice president or the secretary of state wants to know about X that happened overnight, and you think maybe there’s just too much focus on that and not in a broader sense?

CHARLES DUELFER: Well, two things: It is natural and appropriate that political leaders put questions to the intelligence community; that then serves as their agenda, and that shapes in some ways the analysis. Not that they’re satisfying, you know, intentionally the political, but because political people put the question to them, that’s what they analyze.

The other thing is they tend to serve one customer, the president. And I think if there was a broader attitude where the intelligence community had to make a case – intelligence information for 280 million customers — that might serve everyone a bit better.

MARGARET WARNER: Finally, one other thing; the WMD Commission talked about deliberate deception. I assume when you went out in Iraq you were following up on leads on suspect sites that had been given to you by various agencies of U.S. Intelligence Were those leaps just wrong and if so, why, where did they come from?

CHARLES DUELFER: Well, there’s a number of reasons, sometimes they were defectors who, you know, had other agendas; sometimes we were seeing something which we didn’t understand. And the Iraqis, for example, they knew how we thought much better than we knew how they thought. I mean, no one on my IST team had gone to the University of Baghdad. Many of the Iraqis had studied in the United States, so that was our change.

Also our analysts tend to think of things from our own perspective. We have, you know, an operating system in our head, like Windows 2000, the Iraqis don’t, they have a different perspective, and we have to be able to move from our own perspective to the Iraqi perspective.

MARGARET WARNER: So all lessons that apply going forward?

CHARLES DUELFER: All lessons apply; the same is true of North Korea; the same is true in Iran.

MARGARET WARNER: Charles Duelfer, thank so you much.

CHARLES DUELFER: Thank you.