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photo of blixinterview: hans blix
 

With regard to the question of weapons of mass destruction, you yourself created the impression, a lot of people would have said, before the war, that there were these weapons. You were suspicious of Iraq; you hadn't been given the right answers. You helped to create this impression they were there.

Every day, it's more unlikely  [they'll fine something], and the question becomes  more interesting Why did they deny access to UNSCOM if there actually were no weapons of mass destruction?

… It's true that we did say that this [material] is unaccounted for. I also warned the Security Council that you cannot jump from that to saying that they have it. The only area in which I think we came close to saying that we think they have it was anthrax, because they were saying there was strong indications. … But I've gone through that very carefully with one of our inspectors, and I've concluded that it was not watertight. There was not compelling evidence of that, we didn't go that far.

There is a lot of discussion now about the quality of intelligence, now that people are in the field and they can test it. How did you feel the intelligence was that you were given?

I had excellent relations with some of the intelligence people on the British side and German side, [and] others, as well. I have a great respect for them, and they have a difficult job. At the same time, I think there are some built-in problems for them. If they do not warn enough and something happens, then they get blamed for it. I'm sure they got blamed in 1991, when they discovered all the weapons of mass destruction that neither we at the IEA nor they had found. So they had a built-in inclination, I think, to be a little more alarmist than us, because if they are too alarmist and they don't find anything, they're not going to be criticized for that.

Dr. Blix headed U.N. teams that searched hundreds of sites in Iraq for WMD in the months prior to the March 2003 invasion. They found no active programs and no stockpile of weapons. Blix, though he personally suspected that Saddam might possess banned weapons, came under fire from the U.S. for failing to find stockpiles of anthrax and other weapons right away. Here, he offers his thoughts on the lack of evidence so far of active WMD capability, on what might have been going through Saddam's mind, and on the lessons he's drawn from what we now know. This interview was conducted in November 2003 by BBC reporter Jane Corbin.

Then of course they had the difficulties of interpretation. The satellite images are very objective. But the satellite team don't tell you what is under the roofs. President Bush was able to say in the autumn of 2002 that they had seen how some nuclear installations had been recently extended, and he said, "I don't know what more evidence is needed." Well, sorry, they didn't see what was underneath. The Iraqis were sensible and clever enough to invite journalists and say, "Come on, come on, you can see what there is," and there weren't any centrifuges even. So satellites have their beauty, and they were clearly very helpful in 1991. But they are also difficult to interpret. I think some of the evidence Colin Powell had from satellites was not all that compelling, and I did say so in the Security Council.

What about the quality of intelligence you were given when you were working on the ground?

The first occasions when I became more skeptical about intelligence was in January 2003, because we had sent the inspectors to a number of sites we'd got intelligence; and in none of those cases did we find any weapons of mass destruction. In one case, we found a dump of conventional ammunition. In another case, we found material for rockets which had been illegally imported, but they were not related to weapons of mass destruction per se. In a third case, we found a stash of nuclear documents, which was a surprise. It was interesting and important; but weapons of mass destruction, no. So we said to ourselves, as I think I said at the time, "If these tips are the best -- what is the rest?"

Now the whole question of the so-called centrifuge tubes, the aluminium tubes-- Nothing much has come of that, has it? And yet much was made of it.

Oh, much was made of it. … We have learnt since then that the Department of Energy, which are the ones who do enrichment in the U.S., that they had also expressed doubts about it. I see that on the U.S. side of intelligence, they are still saying, "Well, there was one batch that was a little less precise, and there was another batch where the specifications were more demanding," etcetera. But to me, this looks more like a rear-guard action. They would rather end the whole thing by controversy than by an admission that it was wrong.

So no one can say, "Well, there definitely weren't weapons."

I think so. Controversy will be preferable to a judgment.

What's your view of that?

I think that, again, I'd like to get to the truth -- what is the reality, and looking at the evidence. It may take time, but I think we'll get there. Maybe the historians will have to do it. Politicians will prefer to retreat under a cloud of dust or mist, but we ordinary people would like to have some clear clarity.

Your remarks apply to WMD overall, not just the tubes?

I think the missiles is in a category by itself. We ordered the Iraqis to destroy Al-Samoud missiles, and we ordered them to destroy some other items as well. They were clearly trespassing there, and I think David Kay may find more evidence of it. We have heard now about a contract they tried to conclude with the North Koreans. It's quite possible. There has also been a statement by Tariq Aziz to the effect that Saddam felt that missiles were not prohibited unless they were to carry weapons of mass destruction. That's a separate area, and the conclusion may well be that they violated their [Resolution] 687 there.

On the other areas, I think that the nuclear is probably the dossier that was the most securely empty, and we said so at the IAEA. I said it in 1997 when I was still there. Muhammed said it in 1998 when he was there, and I think that still remains. They had had defectors subsequently who said they are reconstituting their teams, etcetera, and they had some evidence. But I doubt that it was very good evidence.

Then the pieces we have heard now about Niger and the yellowcake and these tubes. They had, I think, largely fallen apart; on bio and on chemical; they hadn't found any. I don't think it's so improbable that Kamal, who defected in 1995 to Jordan, was telling the truth when he said that he had ordered the destruction of all this in 1991. This is also what Amer Al Sa'adi said to us -- that it was destroyed in 1991.

Amer Al Sa'adi said also that regrettably it was destroyed in the absence of inspectors. He said that was a great mistake. Now I didn't take any statement from that guy, who is a high-caliber individual, as evidence. But it could also be true, or it could not be true. I don't know. But in retrospect, when nothing is found, it seems not unlikely that this is what they did.

Of course, there were some chemicals left in declared sites, and UNSCOM destroyed chemicals later than 1991. But these were sites that were declared. They are declared certain big quantities, but the quantities which existed were much larger. But they had not been hiding them, as I understand it. They were in these sites, and then destroyed.

When you read David Kay's Iraq Survey Group interim report which came out October 2003, what did you think?

Of course I took note, like everybody else, that they haven't found any weapons of mass destruction, which really was a negation of what the governments were saying. … But I don't think there was anything else you could do in the circumstances. I felt rather that they wanted very much to come to the conclusion that there were still programs -- the intention was there. Saddam never abandoned the intention of building up his weapons of mass destruction. They talked, for instance, about things that were dual use, and hinting that yes, this might be an indication of the existence of weapons.

Take the contention that they have found a series of laboratories which belonged to the Muhabharat, the secret intelligence organizations, and they were "suitable" -- if I remember the right word they used -- they're suitable for research and development of biological and chemical weapons. Well, let's have the evidence -- did they actually use it for that purpose? Was it ever used? But this innuendo is not enough to convince me. It could be, but we'd like to see more about that.

You sound pretty skeptical, as if this report really didn't amount to much.

I've been skeptical all through, but I've also been skeptical about what the Iraqis told us. You see, I think that we need a critical thinking in this. When you look at evidence, a court uses examination of witnesses and cross-examination. At university, when you submit your thesis for your doctorate, you have an opponent appointed by your faculty who is there to cross-examine you and say what's behind this. I think that here, we are talking about the guilt of a nation, and we also need some cross-examination. We need a critical eye to look at it.

You sound pretty dismissive of this report.

No, I don't exclude that Iraq could have tried to retain a jumpstart capability, or that individual scientists might have retained some things. That is possible. But I think we need hard evidence. I wouldn't like the whole thing to stop at the point where, "Well, it's just impossible, that's where we were, we didn't get any further, but it would have been nice to get to the bottom of the barrel."

David Kay also talked about this vial of botulinum toxin that was found. How significant is that, do you think?

From what I understand, it is not at all significant. In the first place, it was a vial that had been sitting in the refrigerator in the private home for about ten years. He also had lots of other vials of biological material, which was perfectly legitimate apparently for a biologist to have. The botulinum that he had there was of a strain that was not really convenient for biological warfare.

But the scientist who gave him that strain had given him others which he refused to keep, presumably because they were dangerous. Surely that is worrying. What happened to those strains?

I think that Kay said that they had been buried somewhere or disappeared, and the inspectors would be told where they were. But they had not at the time of the report been taken there, so that question is still open. If they find it, then they find it, but we have not seen any evidence of that so far. So I think you cannot hang a biological weapons program on that particular issue, no.

There was also a lot of evidence uncovered of a number of missile programs. Do you think that's significant?

Yes, more significant. We were suspicious of the missile side. We did also instruct the Iraqis to destroy the Al-Samoud, and we were getting on to another type of missile and see whether that was illegal. But the ones we were looking at were not vastly beyond 150 kilometers. … I think we had suspicions. We had suspicions, for instance, that they might have planned to attach two rocket engines to the missile that I think had 780 millimeters or 740 millimeters dimension, and then they would have got up to a range of some 500 or 600 kilometers which would have been a clear violation. But since then, we've heard also of evidence that the Iraqis were looking for this much longer range. I think that strikes me as relatively plausible, at any rate.

So you do agree that, in the missile area, they did find things that you--…

I think so. I mean, yes, clearly this contract with North Korea, we have not seen, and they might have seen more. … I have not registered every piece, and we have only seen 13 pages of the report that Kay has submitted, so we are waiting. … But I think that's likely. I think already now there are some things that they have found there which we have not seen.

When we were in Iraq, we managed to speak to an engineer who'd been involved in a missile program. He talked to us about the way that he and his workfellows had hidden things from you and your inspectors.

I wouldn't be surprised if they did. I mean, that was the sector in which we acted and in which we have suspicions.

But when he says he managed to hide things from the U.N. inspectors, it shows really that they did pull the wool over your eyes. You didn't get to the bottom of certain things.

On the missile side yes, but on the chemical-- Whether they did it on the chemical or bacteriological, well, I'll be more surprised.

So having seen the report, having got to where we've got-- Do you feel, at this point in time, [that] we can say that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?

Unless you include the missiles there, everything points in the direction that there were no weapons of mass destruction there; and the missiles were, after all, means of delivering weapons of mass destruction -- nuclear, chemical and biological. So I think you could probably conclude, yes, there were means of delivering, but there were not actual weapons of mass destruction.

Is that the point that you've reached yourself, in your own mind?

I don't think anyone would totally exclude that you could stumble upon some hidden anthrax, or that you could stumble upon something. But every day, it's more unlikely, and the question becomes more interesting -- why did they behave as they did for 10 years, vis--vis UNSCOM? Why did they come with figures that they had to walk away from later on? Why did they deny access to UNSCOM if there actually were no weapons of mass destruction? This is the question that I think preoccupies me a lot, and I've been thinking a lot about it.

So why did Saddam Hussein deny access? Why did he act in a way that, to most people, seem very suspicious? Why -- if there were no weapons of mass destruction?

I have some theories. One is the theory that they wanted to, on the one hand, send a message to the U.N. -- "Yes, we have done away with it all. You should lift the sanctions," but on the other hand, send a message sort of back door, that, "Well, you know, we might still have them." As I said, it's like putting up a sign on the door, "Beware of the dog" and you don't have a dog. A little more respect among the neighbors and others.And the Americans actually thought they had chemical weapons. [So] that's one possibility.

Another possibility is, why should they cooperate with inspectors if they weren't rewarded for it? And the reward should be a lifting of sanctions. But the U.S. made it fairly clear, at least periodically, that they were never going to lift sanctions until Saddam was gone. If Saddam would not go, well, then the sanctions would remain; so why cooperate? That's the second possibility. They were less relevant at the end, because the sanctions were not biting at the end. They could export as much oil as they wanted. The sanctions were more like glorified export controls to Iraq.

A third reason could be that they didn't want the inspectors to get to places where they had conventional weapons. After all, the lines were pretty open between UNSCOM inspectors and intelligence organizations. Since the U.S. and the U.K. were there in the no-fly zones and could go bombing them any day, maybe they didn't like the inspectors to pass on information to these intelligence [organizations about] where they had conventional weapons, that they could be bombed the next day; that's a possibility.

So you think they may have been seeking to keep hidden conventional weapons, rather than weapons of mass destruction?

Most governments do not tell anybody outside their countries where they keep their conventional weapons, where the antiaircraft artillery is or where their ammunition dumps are. So that's a possibility, and that relates to pride.

…[I think Saddam]thought of himself as the Nebuchadnezzar of Mesopotamia. I think that he regarded us inspectors as sort of creepy crawlies that came in -- they were intruders -- and that they [Iraq] had gone along with Resolution 687, but not one inch more, not in a situation where they felt that they could have a reasonable argument of keeping inspectors out. I think that was a pride on his part. He didn't want to be humiliated. …

However, at the end, there must have been a miscalculation. When we come to January and even more, February 2003, then he should have seen that, with American troops massing nearby, that this is serious. … They misread the signals. It could also have been that Saddam didn't get the right information, that they didn't dare to pass on to him. It's a well- known phenomenon that dictators are told what the people think they want to hear, and that he was not sufficiently well informed. … But he was used to getting away with things at the last minute, and it was a miscalculation.

So where are we today? How much longer do you think the Iraq Survey Group has to do its job to find weapons, or to conclude they didn't exist?

I think that they have said they needed, what, another six months and 600 million more. We considered about 80 million per year, so we were fairly inexpensive.

And you didn't get six months, did you, prior to the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003?

No, we didn't. … I mean, it was so urgent to take out the weapons of mass destruction, that you couldn't have one week more. Frankly, I think that many of the Western Europeans and others didn't exclude the use of force. But they simply said, "Let's have a little more of this, and see if it can bring clarity to it." That's perhaps the major criticism or resentment that I have -- that there was not a bit more time given, to some months' more time, see where they would go, because the Iraqis were frantic at the end. Amer Al Sa'adi was frantic at the end to find means of demonstrating that they had destroyed bio and chemical weapons in 1991.

Now -- how long does David Kay stay? I will suspect that they wanted to stay on quite a long time, because the political establishment, the governments perhaps may prefer that it ends in a cloud of dust and mist rather than any clarity. If they don't find good evidence that programs of bio and chemical were going on, then maybe they will continue to search for it. They might search for it for quite some time.

Do you believe that there was an alternative to this war? And what was it?

Yes, I think the alternative would have been to continue the inspections. We might have clarified more, though I think that, with the American attitude, it would have taken a lot to convince them, and convince us, too, that there weren't any weapons of mass destruction. They would probably have said that the inspectors are incompetent, they are too soft and Blix is too soft, etcetera. … So that would have been a hard thing to do.

But the inspectors would have been there, and in reality, would have achieved a containment. Iraq would not have gone ahead and restarted biological and chemical programs under our noses. If they didn't do it between 1998 and 2002, when there were no inspectors, they were not likely to do it when the inspectors have come back.

Do you feel vindicated, as the head of the U.N. inspection team, that you really did get to the bottom of this -- that you found no weapons of mass destruction -- but neither have the Iraq Survey Group so far?

I think that the methods that we used are vindicated. We applied critical thinking. We did not believe in statements by the Iraqis. We wanted to have solid evidence that we did not exonerate them; we did not exclude that they had them, but we did not assert that weapons existed where we didn't have evidence of it.

The closest we got to it was anthrax. … But having gone through step by step, I didn't think it was compelling. … It may still be there; I don't exclude that it could be there totally. But in any case, we were more cautious. We did not jump at these conclusions. We had no particular wish to go in one direction or another.

I've sometimes been accused of -- "Blix didn't want to trigger war." No, that would be a presumptuous attitude. I never felt that that was my job. It was the Security Council, it was Washington, it was London that decided. We were there to present the data, the facts, with critical eyes, and this is what we did; whereas their administrations, I think, were a little more accommodating to the wish to take armed action.

What about the credibility at the end of the day of both the intelligence services in Britain and America and the governments? Does that credibility stand or fall by what the Iraq Survey Group find or don't find in Iraq?

I think they've already failed, because they did assert categorically that there are weapons of mass destruction. They didn't simply say that there are programs or that there is a readiness. No, they said they were there -- and that was wrong. So I think their credibility is gone for the time being. I hope that they will learn the lesson from it, and next time around, if they say that somebody has weapons of mass destruction, I think we will all say, "Well, hey, what's your evidence this time? We'd like to see something solid," and I think that's right.

How do you feel, yourself? There were harsh words spoken against you, particularly by the hawks in the administration. Do you feel that history already in this short span [has] borne out what your findings were?

I think they were mixed. It's true, as you say, that there were hawks who were harsh. On the other hand, I must say that my relations with Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, and Ambassador Negroponte in New York were perfectly civil. On the whole, at that level, it was perfectly civil.

In the media, and what some officials might have been feeding media, it might have been a very different story. I remember well that the London Times had a correspondent who said that I could put that smoking gun against my own head. So there were some nasty things said. On the other hand, if you are in public life and if you feel that you are doing what you are told to do -- in this case by the Security Council -- I did not sleep badly. And I don't sleep badly now, either.

The defectors -- what do we think about the testimony of men like that now?

It's a bit odd, I must say. There must have been many of them who came out, because the sites that were given to us by intelligence service must have come in most cases from defectors. But they have, of course, reasons. In some cases, they want to have asylum or they want to be settled. That may be the reason why they tell more than they actually know. They might have heard somebody say something, or they might believe-- How that psychology works, I really don't know. But when you listen to it, you have to be very critical. You have to have corroboration. Someone like Rumsfeld, for instance, he said on some occasion …"The real knowledge you get from defectors." Well, I think you should rethink that. He's an intelligent man, so maybe he does.

What about Amer Al Sa'adi? He's been held for a number of months now. Do you think he knew anything? Are they right to hold him?

Firs of all, I think he was a very high-caliber individual. I always thought that we were fortunate to deal with him, rather than with some propagandist. There was never the slightest propaganda. He knew when he had leverage. He was loyal to the instructions that he had. I don't think he went beyond them. There were certain things that he could not do. …

When he surrendered, he said to German television immediately, "There are no weapons of mass destruction, and time will bear me out." Well, that's what he said to us also consistently from the very first time I met him at the United Nations with the secretary-general. He said this, and he also said that it was a mistake not to have had the inspectors present when they destroyed the weapons in 1991. He said that en passant. He also said at that time that "These are not weapons of mass destruction; they are weapons of self-destruction."

So do you think that he's telling the truth when he says that Iraq did destroy them in 1991 -- but just had no proof of it?

It is my job to be skeptical and look at all these things with critical eyes. Therefore he represented the regime that was evil and that had lots of lies and cruelties. So I would not take it or accept as truthful evidence that he said it.

But I had a high regard for him as a man. …

Was there really any other alternative to war, given the uncertainty about weapons of mass destruction -- which you yourself agreed we just didn't know for sure?

No, if they had said that the uncertainty is unbearable, then I couldn't have contradicted them. That was right. But I don't think that they could have sold the war to the public by simply saying that we are uncertain. They sold it on the ground that we know for certain that there are weapons of mass destruction and that they are close to getting a nuclear weapon -- they can get it soon. I think there was an alternative to this. They could have had a slower build-up of the military in the first place. When you sit there with 200,000 men in the desert in February or March 2003 and the hot season is coming, I can well see that there are lots of pressures upon you to take a decision.

The pressure had its effect. The Iraqis were desperate and frantic at the end of January, at least, and beginning of February. With such a pressure on, maybe we would have been able to get them to be very energetic with interviews and even sending people abroad for interviews. That's conceivable.

Now I don't think that the Americans would have been ready to believe negative things coming out. They would probably have said that the inspectors are incompetent. On the other hand, the more that came out, the more difficult it might have been to go to the war. Of course, there was never any possibility that inspections would end, because there was always long-term monitoring that was coming up.

We know now that the many years of inspection in the 1990s-- The Iraqis did not dare to do anything. They were deterred from restarting their programs, so it seems, and they were deterred even during the period when the inspectors were not there, in 1998-2002. So is it then not probable that they would have also continued to be deterred if the inspectors had stayed -- which the Security Council certainly would have insisted upon?

So you feel that the U.N. could have contained the situation -- could have contained Saddam, if you'd been given longer to carry on your work?

Yes, I think so. I mean, there is a risk and I realize that there can be a fatigue in exercising a pressure. Parliaments don't like to have the expenses. On the other hand, long-term monitoring was not all that costly. After all, we cost about 80 million for a whole year. I think David Kay finished … what is 100 million in a much shorter time than that, and he's now asking for 600 million. Our inspections were not a very expensive thing.

Do you think David Kay will deliver for the administration, for the Bush government, which is what seems to be what is required of him?

I hope that he will be objective, because what he says will be scrutinized, and I will not take it as evidence if he simply says that one source [is] cooperating said this or that. That's not evidence. We did not accept this as evidence. Or if he says that he has found something that could have been convenient for producing biological weapons, that's not evidence, again. I think he has to be very careful about that, because the whole world will want to have truth.

Do you think that's what it risks turning into already?

No, I wouldn't say he's done it yet. But I see in the 13 pages that they have published that I've seen some wordings of the kind that I've just quoted. And that will not be enough to prove the case that there were programs on biological and chemical weapons.

 

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posted january 22, 2004

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