chasing saddam's weapons
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FRONTLINE: "Chasing Saddam's Weapons"
Air date: January 22, 2004


ANNOUNCER: Just one year ago, the Bush administration was telling the world Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

COLIN POWELL, Secretary of State: Our conservative estimate is that Iraq today has a stockpile of between 100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons agents.

ANNOUNCER: But today the White House is under increasing attack for the claims it made.

JOSEPH CIRINCIONE, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: There's been no evidence from any of the interviews or statements of former Iraqi officials that such stockpiles, in fact, exist.

ANNOUNCER: Tonight on FRONTLINE, the inside story on the search for what happened to Saddam's most deadly weapons.

Dr. DAVID KAY, Iraq Survey Group: The entire credibility of U.S. foreign policy and intelligence has been called into question by our inability to find the weapons.

JANE CORBIN, BBC Correspondent: The team is hoping that they're going to find--

ANNOUNCER: BBC correspondent Jane Corbin was given exclusive access inside the secretive Iraq Survey Group whose missing is to find Saddam's weapons.

JANE CORBIN: You've found no weapons at all so far, actual weapons.

DAVID KAY: We've found no actual weapons of mass destruction.

ANNOUNCER: Tonight, the exclusive story of the frustrations, the pressures and the astonishing discoveries inside America's desperate chase for Saddam's weapons.


JANE CORBIN, BBC Correspondent: [voice-over] On the outskirts of Baghdad lie the rusted remains of Iraq's once-feared armory: old tanks, battlefield rockets and artillery. But amidst the wreckage, there is no evidence of the weapons coalition forces had feared the most, Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Before the war, the politicians had been adamant that Saddam Hussein had those weapons and might give them to terrorists. The danger, they implied, was imminent.

[September 26, 2002]

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: The danger to our country is grave. The danger to our country is growing. The Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons.

[September 24, 2002]

Prime Minister TONY BLAIR: The weapons of mass destruction program is not shut down, it is up and running now.

[December 3, 2002]

DONALD RUMSFELD, Secretary of Defense: The United States knows that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. The U.K. knows that they have weapons of mass destruction. Any country on the face of the Earth with an active intelligence program knows that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.

JANE CORBIN: But as coalition troops advanced on Baghdad, there had been no Iraqi order to fire weapons of mass destruction. The chemical and biological shells the U.S. confidently expected to find within days have never materialized. So for the past seven months, a special coalition military and intelligence unit, the Iraq Survey Group, has been scouring the country, hunting for the weapons the politicians said existed.

I was granted unique access to observe their work. It's the first time any outsider has been on a mission with the ISG.

[on camera] This is a surprise trip right into the heart of downtown Baghdad. The team is hoping that they're going to find not only relevant documents but also Iraqis who can tell them something about the programs of mass destruction.

Today the ISG has received a tip-off that this small Iraqi pharmaceutical company was secretly importing materials to make long-range missiles for Saddam Hussein. The company's own Web site makes clear its view of America's war against terror.

1st SOLDIER: It's got a bullseye on Bush, with a note to make this the home page.

2nd SOLDIER: Some uniforms--

JANE CORBIN: The public was led to expect that coalition soldiers would unearth warheads filled with nerve gas and anthrax, but today they're dismantling computers instead.

Maj. JOHN SUTTER, Iraq Survey Group: The good thing is, we found a lot of email addresses. We found a lot of names of individuals that we're already aware of and other contacts that they've worked with. So that's a good start right there.

JANE CORBIN: Then they find blueprints which reveal this drug firm was really a front company for military procurement.

Maj. JOHN SUTTER: We're finding a lot of standard pharmaceutical stuff on the top of each pile, and usually when you go down further, you find more about military applications-- radar, body armor, a number of other items in here. A lot of chemicals mentioned here. Probably most are pharmaceuticals. We're interested in certain ones that could be used for propellant applications.

JANE CORBIN: [on camera] The ISG group's been here for about two hours now, and they say it is worth taking these boxes back. There are files of interest to them. But the big question is, how significant would all this turn out to be?

[voice-over] Now, months into their mission, the prospect of finding the smoking gun is fading. There's just a giant puzzle the ISG has to piece together.

Maj. JOHN SUTTER: We found lots of documents where they were trying to go around legal ways to purchase these things. And again, it's a front company, so we've got lots of information. We did find the things we're looking for, but we're going to have to sit down and do the research to try to link it to the missile programs. And so yes, no single large missile that we've found or chemicals, but we've found a lot of small pieces so far, and we just need to continue this hunt.

JANE CORBIN: It took two months from the end of the war to set up the Iraq Survey Group and begin the systematic search for the weapons. A thousand experts from America, Britain and Australia were brought together. The U.S.-led group took over an old palace of Saddam's, renamed Camp Slayer. It was trashed and looted, like many of the places in Iraq they were interested in. The coalition's failure to secure sites and preserve evidence created a problem for the ISG from the start. In the new command center, the murals proclaimed Iraq's military might. But what was the truth? Did they possess forbidden weapons? It was the ISG's task to find out.

Dr. DAVID KAY, Iraq Survey Group: This balcony gives you a good view of the grandeur of this complex. And in fact, you can't even see all of it here. That was a Ba'ath convention center.

JANE CORBIN: [on camera] What, in the middle of the lake?

DAVID KAY: In the middle of the lake. This is what was to be a main presidential palace, still under construction at the time of the war.

JANE CORBIN: [voice-over] Under fire for its intelligence estimates before the war, the CIA chose a man they called their "ramrod" to head up the ISG. Dr. David Kay, an ex-U.N. inspector who had helped uncover Iraq's past nuclear program, began work knowing political futures could rest on his findings.

DAVID KAY: The entire credibility of both the U.S., and I must say, I think British foreign policy and intelligence, has been called into question by our inability to find the weapons immediately. I think we all realize after Iraq, we really do have to readjust our intelligence services for the new demands posed by countries like Iraq and others. We're not going to know how to make that adjustment until we know what the lessons learned here. What was the ground truth?

JANE CORBIN: David Kay had been searching for the truth about Saddam's weapons programs since the first Gulf war in 1991. After that war, Kay was put in charge of one of the U.N. missions to investigate Iraq's nuclear weapons program.

DAVID KAY: So we suddenly appeared at the gate of a military facility at a place called Abu Ghraib and demanded access. The poor commander of the base that day said, "I have no orders to let you in," but he made what turned out to be a genuinely fatal mistake for him. He said, "You can put up as many members of your team as you want to on this water tower, which is right inside the gate."

JANE CORBIN: The inspectors on the water tower spotted Iraqi trucks slipping out the back gate. Kay immediately ordered his team to chase after them.

[June 28, 1991]

INSPECTOR: Go get 'em, Pee Wee! Go get 'em, boy!

JANE CORBIN: The U.N. Land Rovers caught up with the trucks and tried to pull them over. The Iraqis refused to stop.

DAVID KAY: In the process, the Iraqis decided to fire shots over their head, but we did get the photographs, and the photographs are damning as to what the Iraqis were doing.

JANE CORBIN: The photographs showed the trucks were carrying calutrons, giant iron magnets which can be used to enrich uranium.

DAVID KAY: Well, this was the proof that no one could deny. It was physical evidence of a very, very large uranium enrichment program. And it was also the evidence of concealment, that from the very beginning, the Iraqis had not been living up to their obligations.

U.N. INSPECTOR: --that you are in serious violation, a flagrant violation of Resolution 687, and it will be up to the Security Council members and the secretary general of the United Nations to determine how they react.

DAVID KAY: It turned out they had spent over $10 billion in the 1980s to develop a program that explored practically every known way to enrich uranium and to craft a nuclear weapon. This was not a small program, it was one that was so extensive that, as an inspector, when you faced it, your mind just boggled.

JANE CORBIN: U.N. inspectors spent seven years in Iraq. They uncovered thousands of chemical and biological munitions. They unearthed WMD research programs and destroyed laboratories and production facilities. But by 1998, they reached an impasse. Denied access to Saddam's palaces, accused of spying, the U.N. inspectors had to leave.

Iraq's intransigence convinced many, including David Kay, that Saddam was still hiding weapons of mass destruction. In the lead-up to the second war in Iraq, David Kay, now a consultant to NBC, argued publicly that the U.S. should remove Saddam from power.

["NBC Nightly News," September 17, 2002]

DAVID KAY: If you want to disarm Iraq, remove its weapons of mass destruction, there is no alternative to replacing the regime.

[NBC "Meet the Press," December 18, 2002]

Essentially, everyone who runs an active intelligence service knows this regime has been seeking weapons of mass destruction.

[CNBC, "The News With Brian Williams," April 14, 2003]

Well, I think it's there, and it's got to be found. And that is the new priority. The administration has to invest the effort and the people into doing it.

JANE CORBIN: So when, after the war, the CIA put Dr. Kay in charge of finding those weapons, some seasoned observers were concerned.

DAVID ALBRIGHT, Former UN Nuclear Weapons Inspector: David Kay was a very big advocate that Iraq had large WMD programs, and he's had that attitude for quite a while. And in fact, I was surprised that he was appointed to this position. I mean, if you really want to have a credible, objective job done, don't bring in one of the strongest advocates that Iraq has massive WMD programs, and "Give me time, and I'll find it."

JANE CORBIN: Dr. Kay's critics pointed to remarks he'd made just after the war, before he joined the ISG, about two captured Iraqi trailers.

DAVID KAY: --nutrients. Think of it sort of as a chicken soup for biological weapons.

JANE CORBIN: Dr. Kay said these vehicles were very likely mobile production facilities for biological weapons.

DAVID KAY: Literally, there's nothing else you would do this way on a mobile facility. It is it.

JANE CORBIN: The Bush administration was quick to seize on the find and declare the trailers part of Iraq's biological weapons program.

[May 30, 2003]

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: We found the weapons of mass destruction. You know, we found biological laboratories.

JANE CORBIN: The infamous trailers are parked on a back lot at Camp Slayer, but you don't hear much about them now. The Iraqis claim they produced hydrogen to fill weather balloons on an artillery range. Because some pipes are missing, experts can't tell if they carried a gas or a liquid biological agent. The vessel at the center of each trailer is the biggest mystery of all.

[on camera] The experts are pretty much split 50-50 on this bit of kit. Is it a fermenter to brew deadly germs or a vessel to produce hydrogen? Some have even suggested it resembles a giant coffee percolator.

[voice-over] Exhaustive testing of the equipment has failed to reveal any trace of biological weapons agent. Reluctantly, by July, the new ISG leader conceded everyone had been rather hasty.

DAVID KAY: I wish that news hadn't come out.

JANE CORBIN: [on camera] It was premature to announce them as being that definitely, and embarrassing?

DAVID KAY: I think it was premature and embarrassing. That's exactly what we're trying to do. That's why I'm so reticent in my discussion with you, essentially, in early July, when we're talking now, because I don't want this-- I don't want the mobile biological production facilities fiasco of May to be the model of the future.

JANE CORBIN: [voice-over] As they moved into Camp Slayer in the summer of 2003, the ISG adopted a forensic approach to the hunt. U.S. troops had already failed to find any weapons at sites that were suspicious before the war, so the ISG concentrated its search on people and records. Iraq had been a bureaucratic nation. Members of Saddam's regime tried to destroy many documents as they fled, but mountains of paperwork from ministries, barracks and factories were soon collected at Camp Slayer.

SOLDIER: There's no exact figure been done, but we estimate it's about seven-and-half miles, if it was laid end to end.

JANE CORBIN: Twelve years earlier, after the first Gulf war, it had been a paper trail which led the U.N. inspectors to Iraq's hidden weapons programs. Although denial and deception had been built into the very fabric of the regime, clues had inadvertently been revealed in documents. So that's where the ISG began, sifting through tons of paper. Selected documents were passed to the heart of the operation, the secret intelligence analysts working with translators. Their job: to identify any Iraqi who might be involved in producing, storing or moving weapons of mass destruction.

OFFICER: Could I get everybody's attention again? What we're looking for are high-ranking officials, starting with major and above, working with the Special Republican Guard, Republican Guard.

SOLDIER: This is a Special Security Force, and it's about information.

JANE CORBIN: The mood at the Iraq Survey Group in July was upbeat, but a change of language was already detectable, with less emphasis on finding actual weapons.

DAVID KAY: I can say that we've already found enough evidence to convince me that we will be successful, if you judge success by finding a weapons program that involved weapons of mass destruction.

JANE CORBIN: [on camera] What about the weapons themselves? Because I think the public expected to see weapons lined up, ready to use against our troops.

DAVID KAY: Well, if I'd found weapons ready to be used and lined up, I would-- I'd be breaking news. I just don't know. We're looking for them. The Iraqis engaged in quite a bit of destruction and dispersal effort prior to the war, certainly during the war and after the war, and that's why it's not an easy task.

JANE CORBIN: [voice-over] In New York, just as Dr Kay was beginning his hunt, another weapons inspector, who had found Iraq no easy task, was retiring. Dr. Hans Blix's U.N. teams had searched Iraq for weapons of mass destruction just before the war. He had suspected Saddam might have forbidden programs but came under fire from the Americans for failing to find stockpiles of anthrax and other weapons. Watching the ISG, Blix, too, had noted how the Americans now talked, not about actual weapons, but only about WMD programs.

HANS BLIX, Exec. Chmn UN Inspectors, 2000-'03: I've even seen American spokesmen sort of veering in that direction, rather than talking about big stocks of these supplies, talking about the capability and programs. That's conceivable. Saddam might have said that, One day we'll be out of sanctions and then we can do-- can do these programs again. That is possible. But that doesn't-- did not make them into an imminent danger at all.

JANE CORBIN: Two years earlier, before September 11, the Bush Administration seemed to agree Saddam Hussein and his weapons did not pose a serious threat.

[February 24, 2001]

COLIN POWELL, Secretary of State: He has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors.

JANE CORBIN: But by the fall of 2002, when President Bush came to the U.N., everything had changed.

[September 12, 2002]

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: The history, the logic and the facts lead to one conclusion: Saddam Hussein's regime is a grave and gathering danger. To suggest otherwise is to hope against the evidence. To assume this regime's good faith is to bet the lives of millions and the peace of the world in a reckless gamble.

JANE CORBIN: It was American insistence that Iraq now had to be disarmed that led to a new U.N. resolution and the return of U.N. inspectors to Iraq. Hans Blix's team searched hundreds of sites but found no active programs, no stockpiles of weapons. But the Iraqis did not produce complete documentation proving they had destroyed all their old stocks of chemical and biological agents, as they claimed.

HANS BLIX: I never said that what is unaccounted for exists. But there was a tendency among governors to say that, Well, it is unaccounted for, so where is it? Well, the Iraqis said they had destroyed it all in the summer of 1991. Maybe they did. I don't know yet, but maybe they did. And one can simply not jump to the conclusion that it exists.

JANE CORBIN: During their four months in Iraq before the war, U.N. inspectors found nothing to back up American claims that Iraq was still producing weapons of mass destruction. But this did not lead to any change in the U.S. assessment of the threat that Saddam posed.

DAVID ALBRIGHT, Pres. Inst. for Science & Int'l Security: I think that it's one of the mysteries, is why the administration could not change its assessment as new information became available. And you're left to conclude, unfortunately, that perhaps the WMD was somewhat an excuse, that they had made up their mind they were going to attack Iraq, and they needed a reason. This was the sellable reason. This is why people would get behind a war.

JANE CORBIN: In Washington, as President Bush and his deputies sold their policy of regime change in Iraq, they frequently raised the ultimate specter of modern warfare: the nuclear bomb.

[October 7, 2002]

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof, the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.

[February 5, 2003]

COLIN POWELL: Saddam Hussein is determined to get his hands on a nuclear bomb. He is so determined that he has made repeated covert attempts to acquire high-specification aluminum tubes from 11 different countries.

JANE CORBIN: These aluminum tubes became a weapon in Washington's armory to make its case that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program. The U.N. nuclear inspectors believed Iraq's explanation: the tubes were for conventional battlefield rockets. But at that time, David Kay agreed with the president's officials, who said the tubes were for centrifuges to enrich uranium for a bomb.

[September 2002]

DAVID KAY: The centrifuge tubes look like they're of the design, which is German-derived, that the Iraqis acquired some time in the 1980s and developed. They're for enriching uranium. That is, taking natural uranium up to the level that makes it useful for a weapon.

JANE CORBIN: But Kay's statement glossed over an intense debate in Washington. Energy Department officials, the foremost experts, said the tubes were not suitable for centrifuges. And many in the State Department believed Iraq's nuclear program was dormant.

GREG THIELMANN, State Dept Intelligence Bureau 1998-'02: The State Department Intelligence Bureau was convinced by some of the best experts in the U.S. government and elsewhere on centrifuges that this particular type of aluminum was not suitable for use in centrifuges in a nuclear weapons program.

JANE CORBIN: But in his keynote speech at the U.N. before the war, President Bush used the tubes as proof Iraq was reactivating its nuclear weapons program.

[September 12, 2002]

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: Today Iraq continues to withhold important information about its nuclear program. Iraq has made several attempts to buy high-strength aluminum tubes used to enrich uranium for a nuclear weapon. Should Iraq acquire fissile material, it would be able to build a nuclear weapon within a year.

GREG THIELMANN, State Dept. Intel. Bureau '98-'02: The president, in his speech to the United Nations in September of 2002, just made a flat assertion this aluminum was for a nuclear weapons program. No acknowledgment whatsoever that there was any controversy.

JANE CORBIN: [on camera] Why was that? What was he trying to do, do you think?

GREG THIELMANN: Well, he was trying to build a case that Iraq posed an imminent danger, and there's no better way to scare the American people than to conjure up mushroom clouds.

JANE CORBIN: [voice-over] After the war, the ISG's first missions went out looking for evidence of nuclear weapons facilities. But after several months, the ISG concluded -- and then stated publicly -- there was no evidence Iraq had an active nuclear program. Still, Dr Kay is reluctant to concede there was nothing to the pre-war claims made by him and some American officials.

DAVID KAY: To date, we have found only small indications of interest in centrifusion, not even anything I would call a restart of the centrifuge program.

JANE CORBIN: [on camera] So pretty dormant.

DAVID KAY: I wouldn't say it was dormant. There are signs of new interest in it, but it was certainly not a vigorous, ongoing program.

JANE CORBIN: [voice-over] Though Saddam was no doubt still interested in nuclear weapons, the U.N. had dismantled his nuclear infrastructure and placed his raw stocks of uranium under guard in 1991. Sanctions appear to have made it impossible for Saddam to reactivate his nuclear program. So where did that leave Dr. Kay's certainty about the tubes?

DAVID KAY: Well, the problem we have with the tubes is the tubes-- a year ago, two years ago, when we weren't in the country, we were just looking at the tubes themselves, and the tubes looked like they were suitable for centrifuge. And in fact, I still think, if I were only looking at the tubes, they were suitable for the centrifuge. Now, we've got a great advantage now. We're inside the country, so we don't have to grasp at straws of evidence.

JANE CORBIN: "Straws of evidence." That's the way Dr. Kay now describes what he and the Bush administration once presented as clear proof Iraq was rebuilding its nuclear program.

By August, the heat was on the Iraq Survey Group at Camp Slayer. It was now three months since the end of the war and no weapons of mass destruction had been found. Missions got underway to follow up information found in the documents. People had been traced and some Iraqis had come forward to offer tips on where the weapons might be found. Twelve ISG teams spread out to begin searching 120 huge ammunition dumps. They were looking for hidden stockpiles of chemical weapons which the politicians and intelligence agencies said existed before the war.

[February 5, 2003]

COLIN POWELL: A conservative estimate is that Iraq today has a stockpile of between 100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons agent. That is enough agent to fill 16,000 battlefield rockets.

[ FAQs on the hunt]

JANE CORBIN: Again and again, ISG teams returned to Camp Slayer without finding any weapons of mass destruction. It was an exhausting, frustrating task. It was a familiar story to Hans Blix, now home in Sweden writing a book. By now, the ISG had had the same time on the ground in post-Saddam Iraq as the U.N. had been given before the war and had found no weapons. But Dr. Blix himself had been suspicious. He had not received satisfactory proof from the Iraqis that they had destroyed their WMD a decade earlier, as they claimed.

[on camera] You helped to create this impression they were there.

HANS BLIX: In a way, we did, because we certainly didn't exclude that they had them. But it's true that we did say that this is unaccounted for. And I also warned the Security Council that you cannot jump from that to saying that they have it.

JANE CORBIN: [voice-over] So could it be that Iraqi officials were telling the truth when they insisted they had long since destroyed all of the weapons? Before the war, I had gone to lunch in Baghdad with the man responsible for satisfying the U.N. that Iraq no longer had WMD. A key figure in the weapons programs in the past, Dr. Amer al Sa'adi claimed they had destroyed all the stockpiles in 1991, but there were no records or independent witnesses.

[January 2003]

JANE CORBIN: [on camera] The West still doesn't seem to believe Iraq. There's still this feeling you're hiding something, you're not really laying out your cards on the table.

Gen. AMER AL SA'ADI, Adviser to Saddam Hussein: Well, how else can they justify their military build-up? They must portray things as not being satisfactory, that Iraq is holding back, Iraq is hiding things. How else can they justify their actions to their public? If we have something, we will produce it. We will be happy to produce it, to get rid of it and get done. But we don't. We don't. What do we do?

JANE CORBIN: [voice-over] When I returned to Baghdad after the war, the restaurant had escaped the bombs and the looting, but my host was no longer available for lunch. He'd discovered he was one of the infamous deck of cards, the U.S. wanted List, and so Dr. Amer al Sa'adi chose to give himself up. The city was still violent and lawless, and the doctor's family had been hold up for weeks at home in a suburb of Baghdad. Helma, Dr. Sa'adi's German wife, had heard nothing from him for months, since he disappeared into U.S. custody. She insisted he was innocent and couldn't understand why he hadn't been released.

HELMA AL SA'ADI, Wife of Iraqi Scientist: He was so convinced about what he had always said. And up to the-- half an hour before he left and he went to the Americans, he said that, "I know there is nothing to be found and I've always said that, and I'm repeating it again. And time will bear me out." These were his sort of last words. I remember very well.

JANE CORBIN: Dr. al Sa'adi is being held at Camp Slayer in a special prison. He is one of the "high value detainees," as the ISG calls them, top officials and scientists from Saddam Hussein's regime.

[on camera] What about Dr. Amer al Sa'adi? You're now holding him. Is he saying anything? And what do you really think about his role?

DAVID KAY: Well, we are talking to him. And he is talking. Do I think it's the whole truth and nothing but the truth? [laughs] No, indeed, I do not. I think Dr. Sa'adi continues to withhold vital pieces of information. But we're actively talking to him. As you know, Dr. Sa'adi was involved in a missile chemical program in the 1980s, the deception effort beginning in 1991, after some of my first missions. So I have a personal interest in him. And he continued throughout the 12 years being a public face. So he knows a great deal, and we would like him to tell us what he knows.

JANE CORBIN: [voice-over] By the autumn of 2003, the interrogations of Dr. Sa'adi and other high ranking Iraqis hadn't led to the discovery of any weapons.

The ISG team, now 1,400 strong, was about to deliver its first report. Public criticism of the Bush administration over Iraq was growing, and so was the pressure on David Kay.

DAVID KAY: I just want to produce the facts, and others have to draw the answers of what were the differences and what are the implications of any differences that exist.

JANE CORBIN: [on camera] You've found no weapons at all so far, actual weapons.

DAVID KAY: We've found no actual weapons of mass destruction that exist, at this point. But having said that-- and I know that sounds like a pretty startling statement -- you know how large this country is. The situation that we found ourselves in, for example-- we didn't start until June. There had been widespread looting in April and May. Material had disappeared. It's a huge country. It's not possible to easily move around.

[ Read David Kay's interview]

JANE CORBIN: [voice-over] In October, I went with David Kay to visit one of his ISG teams as they investigated suspicions Iraq had a continuing biological weapons program. Before the war, the politicians insisted on the basis of intelligence that Iraq was producing such weapons.

[February 5, 2003]

COLIN POWELL: There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more. And he has the ability to dispense these lethal poisons and diseases in ways that can cause massive death and destruction.

HAMISH KILLIP, Iraq Survey Group: We've been through this headquarters building here. It's taken us quite a long time to go through all the documents.

DAVID KAY: Any documents left?

HAMISH KILLIP: Lots of documents.

JANE CORBIN: The ISG was looking at evidence Iraq had misled the U.N. at this agricultural research center south of Baghdad.

HAMISH KILLIP: OK, what you've got down this side is a whole series of laboratories--

JANE CORBIN: A former U.N. inspector with long experience of Iraq's WMD, Hamish Killip, had been conducting an inventory to see what was here and determine if anything had been removed.

HAMISH KILLIP: There's a bit of looting here. Clearly, things that have been ripped out from the wall like that-- that looks like looting. On the other hand, there are buildings that we do find here where you come into a place like this, and it is suspiciously clean. There is absolutely nothing left, and you know that was done some time ago.

JANE CORBIN: In the past, Iraqi scientists lied, denying they had developed a military bio-weapons program while hiding it behind civilian facilities.

HAMISH KILLIP: There are one or two bits of equipment here which do interest us.

JANE CORBIN: Under a crucial U.N. resolution, 1441, Iraq was given one last chance to declare equipment which could be used in forbidden programs. Here the ISG says it's found evidence of Iraq's deception.

DAVID KAY: It is interesting that this fermenter was not declared. I mean, that in and of itself is a violation of 1441. That fermenter was subject to declaration.

JANE CORBIN: [on camera] And it ends up in a biological laboratory context.

HAMISH KILLIP: It ends up in one-- a highly secure, highly competent center of excellence of Iraqi science, which is, as you saw, you came in, extremely well protected, one of their secret enclaves in the country. Yes, I mean, the context of this is very strange.

JANE CORBIN: [voice-over] The ISG now says the fermenter was suitable for culturing bio-warfare germs, but testing hasn't shown that it was used for this purpose. So far, the strongest indication that Iraq may have continued a clandestine program is the ISG's discovery of 97 samples-- reference strains. A scientist had kept them hidden in his refrigerator at home for the past 10 years. One of the test tubes, or vials, contained an organism called botulinum.

[on camera] What about the vial of botulinum that was found? I mean how dangerous is it? I mean, could it have been used for biological weapons?

HAMISH KILLIP: No, that was for diagnostic purposes. It was not one of the strains that Iraq weaponized.

JANE CORBIN: But the suggestion is that it could have been used.

HAMISH KILLIP: It's something that Iraq should have declared to us. This is-- it's like other bits of equipment you've seen here today. Iraq had an obligation to tell us about these things and it did not do so, and that in itself breaks 1441.

JANE CORBIN: But not a substance that could have been weaponized.

HAMISH KILLIP: Not as a vial, no.

JANE CORBIN: [voice-over] This Iraqi ministry was responsible for declaring to the U.N. any items remaining from Iraq's past weapons program. I'd been here before the war, when U.N. inspectors were searching the country.

[on camera] This place has been pretty much cleared out, hasn't it? There's nothing left.

[voice-over] In January, 2003, in this same ministry, I'd been allowed to meet a Ba'ath Party official and senior scientist, who, it now turned out, had given the botulinum to her colleague to hide. Dr. Rihab Taha, the woman U.N. inspectors called "Dr. Germ," had used her skills in Iraq's past bio-weapons program. She admitted that in the 1980s, she'd played a key role in developing anthrax and botulinum-- for Iraq's self-defense, she claimed.

[January 2003]

Dr. RIHAB TAHA, Iraqi Scientist:: I think it is our right to have a capability and be able to defend ourselves and to have something as a deterrent.

JANE CORBIN: [on camera] So even though you were producing toxins and bacteria that could kill hundreds of thousands of people?

RIHAB TAHA:: Well, we never have this intention to use it.

JANE CORBIN: [voice-over] But the ISG say it has now been told by Dr. Taha's colleague that as well as botulinum she wanted him to hide other samples, including anthrax, an agent Iraq had weaponized.

DAVID KAY: This scientist turned back after two days the larger box of samples, he says, to Dr. Taha and said -- he was keeping it in his refrigerator -- "It's too dangerous. I have a small child in the house. Take it back." We've not been able to find that group of samples, and we need to.

JANE CORBIN: [on camera] And what does she say? What does Rihab Taha say about this?

DAVID KAY: She says absolutely nothing about this.

JANE CORBIN: She denies it?

DAVID KAY: No, she just doesn't talk about it. She just won't respond to questions on this issue.

JANE CORBIN: [voice-over] Another Iraqi scientist has told us Dr. Taha gave samples of a third bio-warfare agent, aflatoxin, to a colleague to keep at home. But there was still no proof Iraq had restarted a bio-weapons program, and the ISG's language was changing again. They weren't talking so much about programs, but Iraq's violation of the U.N. resolution.

[on camera] But those who would say that this war was fought on faulty intelligence would point to the fact that you found a few old vials of material. This doesn't constitute a biological program or even, really, proof of an intention to start one.

DAVID KAY: We haven't said that it constitutes a biological program or the intention. What we have said, and I think it's undeniable, is that this was a clear violation of U.N. Resolution 1441. The Iraqis, under the resolution, were required to give up all of this material, to declare it to the U.N. For over 10 years, they failed to declare it and failed to return it. That's all we've said about this.

JANE CORBIN: [voice-over] Last October, David Kay came back to Washington to deliver the ISG's first interim report.

[October 2, 2003]

DAVID KAY: At this point, we have found substantial evidence of an intent of senior-level Iraqi officials, including Saddam, to continue production, at some future point in time, of weapons of mass destruction. We have not found yet-- we have not found, at this point, actual weapons. It does not mean we've concluded there are no actual weapons. It means, at this point in time -- and it's a huge country with a lot to do -- that we have not yet found weapons.

DAVID ALBRIGHT, Former UN Nuclear Weapons Inspector: Well, I think what the ISG has shown but is not willing to say it, is that the administration was wrong. The administration claim there were large stocks of chemical and biological weapons, there was an active nuclear weapons program. And the ISG, I think, has proven that those programs did not exist.

JANE CORBIN: The Iraq Survey Group did have one revelation to make in its October report. It concerned long-range missiles, another weapon which the politicians had insisted before the war that Saddam was developing.

[February 5, 2003]

COLIN POWELL: Saddam Hussein's intentions have never changed. He is not developing the missiles for self-defense. These are missiles that Iraq wants in order to project power, to threaten, and to deliver chemical, biological and, if we let him, nuclear warheads.

JANE CORBIN: The ISG had been gathering up Iraq's battlefield rockets, weapons with a range up to 150 kilometers, which were allowed under U.N. resolutions. But Iraq had been secretly developing several long-range missiles and seeking forbidden technology from North Korea. There was no sign of Iraq's old Scuds, but the ISG discovered evidence that engineers had continued to produce fuel for those rockets.

DAVID KAY: Missiles are very significant to us because they're the long pole in the tent. They're the thing that takes the longest to produce. You do not get a 1,000-kilometer-range missile in a matter of weeks or even months. The Iraqis had started in late '99, 2000 to produce a family of missiles that would have gotten to 1,000 kilometers.

JANE CORBIN: Valuable information was coming from an Iraqi engineer prepared to risk his life to expose Iraq's illicit missile programs. I set off to meet him in a safe house in Baghdad. He didn't want to be identified. The engineer explained his team had been given orders in April, 2001, to begin secretly to design a long-range missile.

[on camera] So how far was this missile designed to go?

ENGINEER: [through interpreter] Five hundred kilometers.

JANE CORBIN: Five hundred kilometers. That's beyond the permitted range.

ENGINEER: [through interpreter] Yes.

JANE CORBIN: [voice-over] The design involved adding an extra engine to a short-range rocket. The Iraqis reckoned they'd be able to hide things more successfully inside an existing program that was allowed. Then the team were told to double the missile's range.

ENGINEER: [through interpreter] This rocket from 1,000 kilometers.

JANE CORBIN: [on camera] So this was even further, 1,000 kilometers.

ENGINEER: [through interpreter] A thousand kilometers, yes.

JANE CORBIN: And how many engines?

ENGINEER: [through interpreter] Five engines.

JANE CORBIN: Why did you work on this forbidden program?

ENGINEER: [through interpreter] Our regime here was harsh. We could not refuse to work. When the state ordered us to make a missile with a range of 500 kilometers, we couldn't say we would not work on it because we would have been killed or imprisoned.

JANE CORBIN: [voice-over] The missile was never built. The designs we've seen show only a conventional warhead. But when the U.N. visited last year, everything was hidden.

ENGINEER: [through interpreter] We were told that we must hand documents and designs for long-range missiles to the project director-- that is, the director general. We would hand them over to him, and he would hide them. When the U.N. left, these documents would be returned to us and we would start work again.

JANE CORBIN: I wanted to talk to another missile scientist to find further evidence for the engineer's story. It meant traveling to another part of town. Baghdad is a dangerous place for Westerners and Iraqis alike.

[on camera] I have just come back from talking to a second Iraqi scientist. He's a more senior individual, and he confirms he was involved, too, in this illicit missile program. He won't let me film him, however. He won't even let me say who he is. He's absolutely terrified. He's scared of retribution, he says, from members of Saddam's old regime.

[voice-over] Iraqi scientists have learned the risks of talking. One man who had cooperated with the ISG has already paid the ultimate price.

DAVID KAY: One was killed right after being talked to by us. Someone came up to him in front of his house, put a gun to the back of his head and blew his brains out. Another source, very important source to us on the biological program, took six bullets into his body, and it's only by the grace of God that he's still alive. Others report routinely that they're under threats, and we're trying to deal with that.

JANE CORBIN: [on camera] So what's the answer? I mean, this reign of fear, it's likely to continue. Will you ever really get to the bottom of this?

DAVID KAY: Well, we all have hopes that when Saddam is captured, the pressure will go off somewhat.

PAUL BREMER: Saddam Hussein was captured Saturday December, 13th, at about 8:30 PM local in a cellar in the town of Adwar, which is about 15 kilometers south of Tikrit.

1st SOLDIER: Two hands appeared. The individual clearly wanted to surrender. That individual was removed from the hole.

2nd SOLDIER: He said that, "I'm Saddam Hussein. I am the president of Iraq, and I want to negotiate." And then the response from the U.S. soldiers was, "President Bush sends his regards."

JANE CORBIN: [voice-over] The capture of Saddam Hussein elated the Bush administration and many Iraqis. The ISG tells me it has diminished the violent reprisals and fear amongst their Iraqi sources who worked in Saddam's weapons programs. But would Saddam himself reveal vital information about what happened to his weapons of mass destruction?

[December 15, 2003]

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: I don't trust Saddam Hussein, I don't believe he'll tell the truth. He didn't tell the truth for over a decade. I just can't believe he's going to change his ways just because he happens to be captured.

JANE CORBIN: Saddam has now been in U.S. custody for more than a month and has reportedly revealed nothing about the elusive weapons.

So what was Saddam's game? Why hadn't he come clean with the U.N. inspectors?

[on camera] What do you think might have been going through Saddam Hussein's mind, personally, when it came to this whole question of weapons of mass destruction, if he didn't have them?

HANS BLIX, Exec. Chmn UN Inspectors, 2000-'03: I think a lot of pride. I think that he thought of himself as the Nebuchadnezzar of Mesopotamia, and I think that he regarded us inspectors as sort of creepy-crawlies that came in. He never received either Ekeus or Butler or myself. I think we're far too lowly creatures to be seen by this emperor.

JANE CORBIN: In the center of Baghdad lies Iraq's most important war memorial. It commemorates the million lives lost in the bloody struggle with Iran in the 1980s. It was during that conflict that Saddam developed most of his weapons of mass destruction. Iran is Iraq's great historic enemy, Israel its ideological foe. These regional conflicts are the most likely reason Saddam continued to develop his forbidden missile program. It's a view confirmed by the Iraqi engineer I'd interviewed.

ENGINEER: [through interpreter] The minister said that Iran had fired a 750-kilometer-range missile. So within six months, we had to design one that went 500 kilometers. The government wasn't on the best of terms with Iran, and a missile like that could reach Israel.

JANE CORBIN: And if Saddam still had chemical weapons, as the U.S. believed, why hadn't he used them when coalition forces crossed the "Red Line" on their approach into Baghdad? We spoke to an officer from the elite Special Republican Guard who was there defending the city. He believes Saddam's way of countering all his enemies was to bluff.

OFFICER, SPECIAL REPUBLICAN GUARD: [through interpreter] He used chemical weapons at Halabja. Everybody was afraid of him using them, even during the war with Iran. People in Kuwait were afraid of chemical weapons. Israel was afraid of them. So everybody was afraid that Iraq would use chemical weapons against them, so they avoided him.

JANE CORBIN: The officer says he ran his unit's weapons inventory. Western intelligence believed the Special Republican Guard had responsibility for Saddam's weapons of mass destruction.

OFFICER: [through interpreter] After the sanctions -- that is to say, from 1991 onwards -- there were no stocks of chemical weapons, neither with the Special Republican Guard nor other units. There were none available at all. It was no more than talk, a lot of hot air.

JANE CORBIN: If it was a bluff, it was also a massive miscalculation. Saddam lost his army, his family and his country. And many of the scientists who served Saddam, like Dr. al Sa'adi, have lost their freedom.

HELMA AL SA'ADI, Wife of Iraqi Scientist: [reading from letter] "My only regrets for the life I have lived so far: Was it all futile? I tend to think so now."

JANE CORBIN: [on camera] Why didn't Saddam Hussein come clean? What happened? What is-- there is a big mystery here. What's the answer?

HELMA AL SA'ADI: My husband was fighting on two fronts. He was trying to convince the U.N., and also he was trying to convince the government, the regime, to cooperate with him. But somehow, they always kept decisions or admissions right to the last moment. Maybe the president was bluffing, thinking they will be afraid.

[ Read an interview with Jane Corbin]

JANE CORBIN: [voice-over] For more than a decade, I had covered the story of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. The first Gulf War had revealed the frightening reality of his aggressive chemical, biological and nuclear programs. The aftermath of this new war was revealing something quite different. Despite his intention to rebuild a weapons program, Saddam's imperial dreams had turned to dust, his country impoverished by sanctions, his pariah regime held in check by intrusive U.N. inspections. Like the man himself, who emerged from his spider hole still claiming to be president of Iraq, his long-feared weapons seem to have been a shabby illusion conjured up by an unquestioning mindset in the West and by the arrogance of Saddam's last, fatal bluff.

Back at Camp Slayer, the hunt for Iraq's weapons was running out of steam by the end of 2003. Saddam's capture had not led to any breakthroughs, and David Kay was fighting to keep the full resources of the ISG. Increasingly, his intelligence analysts were being diverted to the bunt for the insurgents, as attacks against U.S. troops intensified. In my last interview with him, Kay made it clear he was already downgrading expectations.

[on camera] Do you ever think that you may have got it completely wrong, there may be nothing to this at the end of the day, nothing really substantial, nothing current and really threatening?

DAVID KAY: I think we have a process that, if we get to the end of the day and we find nothing, we will all be able to say, "This is the evidence that led-- leads us to the conclusion that there was nothing there or there was something there."

JANE CORBIN: You're prepared to be proved wrong, that there was nothing, at the end of the day?

DAVID KAY: Absolutely. If that turns out to be the truth, you know, so be it.

JANE CORBIN: [voice-over] Meanwhile, back in Washington, President Bush used a media interview to send a new message that seemed to say, with Saddam now in prison, actually finding his weapons no longer mattered.

[ABC News "Primetime," December 16, 2003]

DIANE SAWYER, ABC News: --stated as a hard fact that there were weapons of mass destruction as opposed to the possibility that he could move to acquire those weapons still.

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: So what's the difference?


Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: The possibility that he could acquire weapons-- if he were to acquire weapons, he would be the danger.

DIANE SAWYER: What would it take to convince you he didn't have weapons of mass destruction?

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: Saddam Hussein was a threat, and the fact that he has gone means America is a safer country.

DIANE SAWYER: And if he doesn't have weapons of mass destruction, someday--

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: You can keep asking the question. I'm telling you, I made the right decision for America.

JANE CORBIN: When David Kay returned to Washington to spend Christmas with his family, he threatened to resign his post heading up the ISG. He was frustrated that chasing Iraq's weapons was no longer America's top priority.

The ISG is scheduled to deliver its next interim report in February. It is likely to be David Kay's final word on his long hunt for Saddam's elusive weapons and an ending that might just suit the politicians.

HANS BLIX: They would rather end the whole thing by controversy than by an admission that it was wrong.

JANE CORBIN: [on camera] So in other words, they want to leave it hanging, so--

HANS BLIX: Yes, I think so.

JANE CORBIN: --so no one can say, "Oh, there definitely weren't weapons."

HANS BLIX: I think so. Controversy will be preferable to a judgment.

JANE CORBIN: And what's your view of that?

HANS BLIX: Well, I think that-- again, I'd like to get to the truth. What is the reality, and looking at the evidence. I mean, it may take time, but I think we will 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 I think would like to have some real clarity.



Jane Corbin

Fiona Campbell
Thea Guest

Bob Hayward

Joanna Lee
Eleanor Plowden

Nikki Millard

Grant Lawson

Ginny Williams

Laura Govett

Boyd Nagle

Andrew Sears

Rosa Rudnicka
Karen Sadler

Sophie Lhernoult

Kate Redman

Kathlyn Posner

Key Yip Lam
Alex Newbery

Andrew Bell
Sam Collyns

Mike Robinson

Copyright 2004 BBC


Tim Mangini

Missy Frederick

Steve Audette

Michael H. Amundson
John MacGibbon
Julie Kahn

Chris Fournelle

Chetin Chabuk

Mason Daring
Martin Brody

Erin Martin Kane

Christopher Kelly

Jessica Smith

Jennifer McCauley

Dennis O'Reilly

Jenna Lowe

Jessica Cashdan

Robert Chung

Danielle Gillis

Lisa Palone-Clarke

Eric Brass
Jay Fialkov

Adrienne Armor

Mary Sullivan

Tobee Phipps

Kate Cohen
Justin Grotelueschen

Sarah Moughty

Sam Bailey

Wen Stephenson

Catherine Wright

Robin Parmelee

Ken Dornstein

Karen O'Connor

Sharon Tiller

Michael Sullivan

Marrie Campbell

Jim Bracciale

Louis Wiley Jr.

David Fanning

Chasing Saddam's Weapons is a BBC production in association with WGBH/FRONTLINE.

(c) 2004
WGBH Educational Foundation

FRONTLINE is a production of WGBH Boston, which is solely responsible for its content.


ANNOUNCER: There's more to explore about this report on our Web site, including a talk with BBC reporter Jane Corbin about her work and access on this story, the extended interviews with chief weapons inspectors David Kay and Hans Blix, some frequently asked questions about the hunt for Iraq's banned weapons, plus the chance to join the discussion and more at

Next time on FRONTLINE:

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: Right here in our neighborhood, we have terrorists.

ANNOUNCER: Six American citizens--

JOHN ASHCROFT, Attorney General: We must prevent first, prosecute second.

ANNOUNCER: --arrested in the name of homeland security.

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: One by one, the terrorists are learning the meaning of American justice.

ANNOUNCER: Were they really a threat?

SAHIM ALWAN: We were definitely no sleeper cell. I'm not a terrorist. I love my country. My son lives here.

ANNOUNCER: Chasing the Sleeper Cell next time on FRONTLINE.


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posted january 26, 2004

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