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Newsmaker: David Kay

October 2, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: The weapons hunt. The man in charge is David Kay. He heads the Iraq Survey Group, some 1,200 coalition military and civilian personnel looking for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Kay is a former international weapons inspector. He briefed the House and Senate Intelligence committees today on his group’s interim findings, and he joins us now for a Newsmaker interview.

Mr. Kay, welcome.

DAVID KAY: Happy to be with you.

JIM LEHRER: So, as of now at least, you have found no weapons of mass destruction, correct?

DAVID KAY: That is correct. We have found no actual weapons at this stage, although we’re not foreclosing any files or any possibilities. We’re still at work.

JIM LEHRER: At this point, where does the preponderance of the evidence lean? Does it lean toward the fact there are still some — there are some weapons out there and you haven’t found them yet, or that they don’t exist?

DAVID KAY: What we have found is a substantial body of evidence that reports that the Iraqis had an intention to continue weapons production at some point in the future. We’ve also found undeclared activities in the chemical and biological and missile area that were never declared to the U.N. and not discovered during inspections. So we have a lot of activity and we simply don’t know whether that points to weapons or does not. That’s why we’re still working.

JIM LEHRER: Is there any evidence at this point as to whether or not Iraq had weapons of mass destruction at the time of the beginning of the Iraq War?

DAVID KAY: There are indications, there are Iraqis who say that but there is nothing yet that rises to the level of evidence. This is, though, a continuing, important and continuing investigation.

JIM LEHRER: What about the possibility of their being used against U.S. forces in Iraq at the time of the war, any evidence of that, that anything was geared or weaponized or ready to go?

DAVID KAY: Well, Jim, we have reports from individual Iraqis, including general officers, who are part of the Republican Guard, that in fact their units were readied to it, but we’re still running that down to find independent confirmation, and, if, in fact, they were ready, we want to find the weapon, and we’re still looking.

JIM LEHRER: What’s the problem? Why is it taking so long? Or is that even a fair question? Is it not taking long the way you would define “long” or is it taking … anyhow, why has it taken this long?

DAVID KAY: Jim, first of all Iraq engaged in its weapons program that we know for over 20 years with thousands of dollars and billions of dollars and thousands of people. And they had an integral security and deception program. So from the point of view of when you’re in the field it doesn’t seem like it’s taking a long period of time. But we also have to remember, we’re operating in a very non-permissive environment. The Iraqis that we deal with report that they’re still afraid that Saddam might come back. It’s not an easy period to conduct an investigation. But I really don’t think it’s taken very long.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Kay, I’m sure you’re aware of the expectation that many Americans had — rightly or wrongly — based on what they had been told that this would be a piece of cake. We would go in there and invade and we would find weapons of mass destruction. Was that your expectation as well, as a professional did you go in there expecting to find something quickly and easily?

DAVID KAY: Certainly as I watched the war unfold I think I did share the expectation. I was actually afraid of use against American troops during the campaign. When that didn’t occur, and the Iraqi Survey Group didn’t get there until late June, almost July, at that point I knew it was not going to be a piece of cake. If it were going to be a piece of cake, it would have been discovered either during the war or in the immediate aftermath, so I knew it was going to be a challenge.

JIM LEHRER: Let’s go through the major areas here: biological weapons, what have you found that you didn’t know before you got there? In other words, what new information have you found about biological weapons?

DAVID KAY: We have found an extensive network of laboratories operated by the Iraqi intelligence service now numbering about two dozen that were not known before. We have also found that the Iraqis initiated work on new agents: Congo-Crimean hemorrhagic fever being one brucellosis being another that they had not done before and had not declared. So we found quite a bit of activity in the weapons area, but we have not, again, we have haven’t found the weapons.

JIM LEHRER: These were experiments you mean really rather than weapons, weaponized things?

DAVID KAY: They were development activities. We’ve also found 97 vials of material that they tried to hide, they did hide from the inspectors to preserve a restart capability.

JIM LEHRER: Same question on chemical weapons. What have you found that’s new?

DAVID KAY: Well, I think — and frankly, it’s the chemical weapon is the area that surprises most of us because most of us thought there was little doubt. They had used chemical weapons against their own people and against the Iranians. What we have found is a lot of dual-use equipment, Iraqis being frank that it would not have taken them long to start chemical weapons production. We have not found the actual weapons. Now part of that is the weapons themselves would have been submerged in a very large conventional program: 600,000 tons of conventional ordnance, about one third of the amount the whole U.S. Military has. It’s scattered all over the country and the looking — and you have to look through every ammunition storage point — is just taking time.

JIM LEHRER: But you haven’t found any yet.

DAVID KAY: We have not found any yet.

JIM LEHRER: Now on the nuclear program, what’s new?

DAVID KAY: The nuclear program at best on the evidence that we have today is one in which there was an interest in restarting it. They were tentative but quite frankly rudimentary efforts to reconstruct the program to continue the science base. It’s not substantial at all.

JIM LEHRER: As you continue your work now, are you operating on the thesis that there are weapons to be found? Is that your presumption at this point?

DAVID KAY: Jim, we try not to tightrope ourselves, hog tie ourselves into any presumption. We’re starting — and it was our starting presumption — we’re going in and we’re going to discover what their weapons program was from the very beginning, whether it was a surge capacity, whether it was actual weapons, whether the weapons moved some place. All options still remain on the table.

JIM LEHRER: So if you don’t ever find any weapons, you want to find out why you didn’t find weapons or where they might have gone or what they had in mind beyond developing weapons specifically? Is that what you’re saying?

DAVID KAY: Absolutely. Look, it’s no surprise to me or anyone else who has spent a great deal of time looking either at intelligence or the results of various other campaigns that what we ultimately find will differ from what we estimated that we would find in the beginning. The very act of estimation means you don’t know the answer. You’re trying to estimate the conclusion. I think probably the most important thing we can do is understand the difference between what we estimated before the war and what ultimately turns out to be the truth. Weapons proliferation is not going to stop as a threat to global society. The only way we’re going to get better at it is if we learn how to improve our intelligence.

JIM LEHRER: But it doesn’t surprise you that the… in other words, you’re saying get ready for the intelligence to be proved wrong? In other words the pre-war intelligence may very well have been wrong and don’t be surprised if you finally conclude that?

DAVID KAY: Don’t be surprised if there are differences between what you thought before and what turns out to be reality. Every war, the fall of the Soviet Union, the Second World War, has always had surprises to intelligence. I would be surprised if this one didn’t show differences.

JIM LEHRER: Yeah. But as you say, when you went in, you expected to find a lot more than you’ve already found.

DAVID KAY: Certainly when I watched the war I was greatly concerned about their being used.

JIM LEHRER: I read something today, Mr. Kay, that there’s a new theory out that maybe Saddam Hussein may have pulled off a huge hoax — not only on the United States but even on his own people and the rest of the world, where he acted like he had these weapons and wanted everybody to think he had the weapons but he never had them. Does that make any sense to you at all?

DAVID KAY: Well, Jim, in a sense, no, quite frankly, I think that’s a risky gamble that even the riskiest poker player would be hesitant to play because he lost his country if that was his gamble for it. What it does point to is the fact that we all have trouble explaining if he didn’t have weapons, why did he act like he had weapons and why did he refuse to cooperate fully with the inspectors? It would have been easy to prevent the war by simply opening the borders and saying, “go anywhere you want, anything you could.” He didn’t do it. We have to understand why he didn’t do it.

JIM LEHRER: That could add some credence to this, that he wanted people to think that he had them, even though he may not have had them, right?

DAVID KAY: I have six or seven possible hypotheses to explain why he behaved. That happens to be one. It’s not the only one.

JIM LEHRER: What’s your favorite one?

DAVID KAY: I don’t have a favorite one. My job is to try to be sure that we don’t lock in prematurely on favorites, that we really find the truth. That’s the obligation that drives all of us who are operating out there.

JIM LEHRER: Let me ask you this. Former U.N. Chief Weapons Inspector Rolf Ekeus was on this program last week. He said it was his belief that whatever weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein was working on were designed to be used against Iran, not against the United States or invading forces or anything like that. Does that make sense to you?

DAVID KAY: Well, in one sense and at the intellectual level of course it makes sense. Rolf is not only a good friend, he’s one of the brightest people I’ve ever had the pleasure to work for so I treat everything he says with seriousness, but what we have not found is the empirical evidence that would lead me to say not only does it make sense, that’s not what I need, I need to know whether it’s the truth.

JIM LEHRER: Okay. Speaking of the truth, how long or how much longer do you think it’s going to take your team to reach a conclusion that you would define as the truth?

DAVID KAY: I think we’re probably six to nine months away from where we can have a reasonable prospect of drawing a line and saying not in every last detail have we discovered everything but on balance, this is the situation that prevailed at the onset of the war and here is how it differs from what we thought would be the case.

JIM LEHRER: You’ve got 1200 folks working for you now, correct?

DAVID KAY: That’s correct.

JIM LEHRER: You’ve asked for more. Is that right? You want some more.

DAVID KAY: Yes I do want some more — 1,200 seems like a lot but remember of those a lot are support people who do invaluable work translation, security, but in terms of front-line people who are everyday out in the field, it’s a much smaller number and quite frankly too small for the size of the country.

JIM LEHRER: Lehrer: Is the hunt itself mostly physical where your folks are actually going looking at locations that people have told you about or is it interviewing scientists or it’s all of the above and other things? Give us a feel for what these 1,200 people do.

DAVID KAY: Well, Jim, the one way we distinguish ourselves from previous inspectors, including those that I carried out, is we concluded that we did not have the time or the material to wander around the desert trying to find stuff that if we were going to get there, we had to identify Iraqis who would help us and talk to us about what they engaged in.

So we concentrate very heavily on understanding and finding the middle level Iraqis, the people who were actually engaged in the weapons activity and getting them to help us unravel the mystery of the Iraqi program. A lot of our effort is searching for people, interviewing people, and then using the evidence they provide to guide our physical searches.

JIM LEHRER: Is this story in The New York Times today that you want 600 million more dollars, is that true?

DAVID KAY: Jim, I don’t do budgets. I was in the field. What I have asked for is requirements. I was intrigued by that story because it talked about a sprinkler. I think I know every square yard of what we’ve engaged in and I’ve got to go hunting for the grass. I’ve never seen the grass much less the sprinkler.

JIM LEHRER: Finally, Mr. Kay, let me ask you this. How independent are you? How much are you your own person in this investigation?

DAVID KAY: Well, you’ll have to take my word for it unless you can get people who deal with me. But I think I’m very independent. I’ll give you the examples. When I took this job when Director George Tenet of the CIA pitched it to me and said will you take it, he started out by saying your job, David, would be to find the truth. I said, George, you realize if I go out there, I’m not going out there to prove your national intelligence estimate, the British dossier, I will only take this burden on if you say I can find the truth. He said that was the mission, and he’s lived up to it.

The only time the president of the United States has spoken to me about what I’m doing there is to ask what he could do to help me. I really paused because here is the most powerful man in the country maybe in the world asking what he can do for me, and I said I need time and patience. He didn’t ask me to find a conclusion. He didn’t ask me to prove a case. He asked me what he could do to help. I have not had anyone tell me what I must do, what I must find or that I could not do something.

JIM LEHRER: The reason the independence question comes up, as you know, Mr. Kay, is because President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Secretary Powell all within the last several days have said David Kay will find the evidence to prove there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Why are they saying that?

DAVID KAY: I think they have great confidence in the team I lead, and they believe, as a lot of people do, that the weapons are there. I’m saying if the weapons are there, we will find them. If they’re not there, I will not hesitate to report that the weapons are not there and were not there or were there and went someplace else. That gets to the independence. I’m glad they have that confidence. I’m glad they still believe their convictions. We have a strategy that I think will get the answer.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Kay, thank you very much.

DAVID KAY: Thank you.