chasing saddam's weapons
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photo of kayinterview: david kay

It has been a few months now since we saw you, and in the meantime, the Iraq Survey Group has produced your interim report. What have you found to date?

What we've found to date is really quite surprising information in a number of areas. In the missile area, we found major missile programs that were underway in liquid fuel missiles, solid fuel missiles -- negotiations with countries for technology that no one knew about at the time that the war began -- and these are really quite surprising things.

We have found no actual weapons of mass destruction that exist at this point.

For example, they were converting their silkworm missiles to 1,000-kilometer range cruise missiles. Now the silkworms normally [are] about 100- to 150-mile sea attack missiles; quite old technology actually; 1980, 1970 technology. But the Iraqis had found a way to make it a modern cruise missile, and they were working on it.

They were working on liquid and solid fuel missiles that would have gone 1,000 kilometers as well. They were engaged in negotiations with foreign countries for access to advance technology that would make their missiles more effective longer, and more accurate. So we found material like that.

We've found a strong body of evidence with regard to the intentions of Saddam Hussein to continue to attempt to acquire WMD. This ranges from people who say there were some programs underway, to a larger number of very senior officials -- Tariq Aziz is a good example -- who will say there was no WMD that he knew of at the time the war began; but he was absolutely certain -- because Saddam had told him -- that Saddam wanted to continue to acquire WMD.

Were you surprised regarding the missiles? And what, in total, have you found?

Dr. Kay is a former U.N. weapons inspector who helped uncover and destroy Iraq's nuclear weapons program after the 1991 Gulf War. Now he's back, leading the hunt for evidence of WMD as head of the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), a U.S.-led coalition team numbering more than 1,000 military and intelligence personnel. Kay discusses what the ISG confronts in the postwar hunt, the ISG's preliminary findings that no active WMD capability has been found so far, and Saddam Hussein's possible motives if he were bluffing about WMD. This interview was conducted in October 2003 by BBC reporter Jane Corbin.

Editor's Note, Jan. 23, 2004: It was announced today that David Kay is being replaced by Charles Duelfer, a top weapons inspector in UNSCOM's efforts from 1992-2000. Earlier this month, Duelfer told NBC News that he doubted biological and chemical weapons would be found in Iraq.

Read The New York Times' Jan. 24, 2004 interview with Kay, conducted days after his resignation as head of the ISG team in Iraq. Kay discusses how chaos in Iraq's leadership, in particular, notes reporter James Risen,"an increasingly isolated and fantasy-riven Saddam Hussein," had corrupted Iraq's capability to develop banned programs and weapons. This disarray at the top level of the government was something the C.I.A. had failed to detect in the years leading up to the 2003 war.

I think what surprised us really about the missile program was the breadth of a decision that clearly was made in 1999, early 2000, by Saddam to go to missiles that had at least 1,000-kilometer range -- 650 miles, roughly. That would have gotten to Ankara and Cairo, all of the Gulf [area] -- Tel Aviv certainly, in its coverage -- and that he decided to do it in a broad focus, using both liquid fuel and solid fuel and cruise missiles.

The second thing that surprised us is the extent of foreign collaboration in their program. Unfortunately, I can't go into detail about who was involved, except in one case. Now let me tell you, there was extensive foreign collaboration in this program in 1999, through right up to the outbreak of the war. We have the documents on that. There are some countries and companies that ought to be worried about the ultimate exposure, but it's important -- not just to Iraq. We have reason to believe those same companies and countries are probably involved in helping other countries acquire missiles. So that's why we're being quiet about who they are, as we continue the investigation.

The one that's not a surprise that we have talked about is North Korea. The Iraqis were engaged in discussions with North Korea, actually contracts with North Korea, to acquire missile technology for about 1,200-1,300 kilometers. They'd paid $10 million for this technology and other prohibited technology.

You found a lot of indications of missiles being planned, but they were on the drawing board. …

They were more than the drawing boards. There were test stands. Engines were being tested. Hard fuel engines were actually being cast. They cast one in a barrel from the super gun they had reworked. Propellants were being done. Actual vehicles, transporters and solid fuel were being designed. So it's much more than drawings on drawing boards. This is why, for us in many ways, the missile work is so significant: The missile is a "long pole in the tent." If I take the answer that the Iraqi scientists have given us about mustard gas, they said they could produce mustard gas in as little as two weeks, as much as six months. No one can produce a 1,000-kilometer missile in six months. If you see a country that has started -- and they started in late 1999, early 2000, according to documents and testimony and physical evidence -- with a 1,000-kilometer missile, that tells you that that country is serious about having a capability, an existing capability, and almost at a point, in two to three years, is how long it would take them to get their missiles.

So that's I think very significant. … They're the long pole in the tent. They're the thing that takes the longest to produce. … Consequently, you focus on the missiles as the intent of a WMD program. …

Intentions are one thing. But the impression that was given before the war, what the politicians said, was that Saddam Hussein is an imminent threat facing us, and that is why we went to war. Have you found any evidence of this?

Well, look, our job is not to prove or disprove what politicians said before the war. Our job is to find out what the facts are here. … People often forget, we've only been at work three months. This organization [the ISG]was stood up from nothing on June 17. In fact, it wasn't even in country; it was in Qatar at that point. We arrived first on June 23, and literally this building was a completely empty shell at that point.

So we've had three months to work. What we have found is intentions, ongoing activities in a number of areas; the missile area is just one. So we were trying to get the ground truth about what was the situation when the war broke out with regard to WMD. I'm convinced we'll be there. We're not there yet.

You're convinced you'll still find WMD?

No, I'm convinced we will find the truth about WMD. Our intention is not to find or not find. Our intention is to find out what was the real situation when the war broke out.

And so far, you have found no actual weapons?

We have 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. We didn't start until June. There had been widespread looting April and May; material had disappeared. It's a huge country. It's not possible to easily move around. In fact, I actually had greater freedom of movement and ease in a surprising sort of way, as limited as it was, as a U.N. inspector.

Today, I go around-- I'm armed today. Almost every one of our inspectors and personnel is armed, and it's not because we're Rambo-like. It's because we are under constant threat as we move around. This building has been hit with mortars just a week ago. It's an environment that in fact makes it difficult to rapidly move around the country freely. So we're working under those conditions. I'm not complaining. I think we've set in place a mechanism that will adjust and will handle that, but it does affect the pace at which we can move.

What about the biological warfare program? What indications have you found there which you find interesting or surprising?

The surprising thing we've found in the biological program is a vast network of labs. It's now over two dozen labs that were not declared to the U.N., even though they had equipment and were clearly conducting activities that were declarable. Now quite frankly, we're not sure fully what they were doing right now. They had biological and chemical production equipment in them. Most of them are relatively small by historic Iraqi standards. They're mostly in houses and residential areas. Some are in business establishments. One was in a hospital. These are facilities that, at the minimum, carried out research and development and kept the scientific skill level.

They may have been strictly for-- As you know, the Iraqi intelligence service ran a worldwide assassination program directed at Iraqi exiles who were opposing Saddam Hussein. That may have been their main burden. But what we do know is that they had equipment and activities that should have been declared to the U.N. inspectors, and were never declared.

But the final product, the actual biological or chemical weaponry. if you like-- …

No, we have not found the actual weaponized material, that's correct.

Certainly they could be research and development. But there's nothing to link them to WMD?

There is something to link them to WMD, and that's the equipment. The equipment was on the prohibited list that had to be declared. It was on that list because in fact that was the equipment essential to produce biological or chemical weapons.

The fact that they didn't declare the equipment-- Not only did they not declare it, it was imported. A lot of it we dated was imported after 1998, in spite of U.N. sanctions. So it was clandestinely imported, never declared to the U.N., and it carried out some sort of activities. We're still searching. We have got some Iraqis talking to us who worked in these facilities, so we may eventually get to the bottom of this one. We're not there yet.

You also declared that you'd found a vial of some material that could be used in biological warfare. Now what was that about, and what do you know about those substances?

The story about this is there was a senior scientist who worked for Rihab Taha, better known in the West as "Dr. Germ." She came to this individual in the mid-1990s and said, "Here are some reference stock, seed stock from our biological program. I want you to store it, so we can use it in regenerating our program when the inspectors are gone."

He actually said that?

That's what he says she said. This was in about 1993.

A long time ago.

It's a long time. But as you know, there's a Scottish island that, until very recently, had active anthrax that the British had used for testing anthrax in World War I. Many of these substances, unfortunately, are very long enduring. So it's not so much the issue of age; it's the issue of the intent to hide.

This material should have been declared to the UN. It shouldn't have been hidden, so it's a violation of that. Is it the key to the restart of a biological weapons program? No, I don't think that's true. It's important mostly to us, because it indicates they had an active program of hiding material, and we're still looking.

This scientist has a-- At that stage, I think his child was three years old. He turned back after two days the larger box of samples to Dr. Taha, he says, 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.

What does Rihab Taha say about this?

She says absolutely nothing about this. She just doesn't talk about it. She just won't respond to questions on this issue.

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.

We haven't said that it constitutes a biological program or the intentions. 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 ten years, they failed to declare it and failed to return it. That's all we've said about this.

When I was here in July, we spoke about the mobile laboratories, the trailers that were found in Iraq and have been brought here. What's your view now about them?

What we've done on the trailers is we've subjected them to the most extreme form of technical analysis, the best tools that are available anywhere in the world to look at them. And what the experts have concluded is that they're suitable in some degree for multiple purposes. One is biological weapons production, another is hydrogen, another is regeneration of surface-to-air missile fuel. But they are not perfect; they are not really wholly suitable for any of those. We've sampled them and they don't show signs of any of those three uses.

Not surprisingly, they indicate on the plaque that they were made in 2003, right before the war. So what we've said in the report is that, on the basis of technical analysis, we do not believe that it would be possible to conclude that these two trailers were or were not part of a biological production.

We are currently looking at other sources of information, people who are purported to have been involved in the program. We're searching for other trailers that may have been earlier produced, and hence better in terms of technical sampling. But we just don't think you'll ever, by technical analysis alone, be able to determine what purpose these two trailers served.

So there's still a mystery about these trailers?

There's absolutely still a mystery, and that's the point. Mysteries have to be solved, and that's why we're continuing working.

What about the chemical weapons front? The public was fearful that chemical weapons would be used against our troops.

As you know, this was the area that UNSCOM, for example, and later UNMOVIC, had probably the largest problem in reconciling. … What the Iraqis had claimed in 1991 they had and had gotten rid of, versus what the U.N. was able ever to find -- the 155-millimeter rocket shells filled with mustard and all of that. So what we have done is attempted to look for a large production facility. We have said in the report we have not found yet any dedicated chemical weapons production facility, and obviously we have not found 155-millimeter round shells.

That's not to say we don't have leads. We actually are pursuing today active leads that Iraqis have come in about it, but we still haven't found that. What we are concentrating on at this stage are several things. We're looking at dual use facilities. These are facilities they declared were used in the civilian economy, but also were suitable for chemical weapons production. …

The problem is, these facilities were mostly thoroughly looted at the end of the war. So we've collected records. We're currently interviewing people who worked in the facilities. We're having experts look painstakingly at each of these to try to judge whether in fact there have been any modification. Now we've also had very senior Iraqis talk to us about their intentions. We've got senior Iraqis who say that in 2001, 2002 and 2003, Saddam personally asked them about how long it would take to resume chemical weapons production. Their answers ranged from two weeks, in one case, to two years, depending on the chemical weapon.

But if he was asking them how long it would take, doesn't that suggest that it wasn't current, that they weren't in production?

What we want to know is, when they gave the answers in 2001, did they suddenly take steps that would lead to new production that early? We have Iraqis who tell us that, in 2003, in the run-up to the war, that one of Saddam's sons, Qusay, asked that chemical weapons be made available to the Fedayeen Saddam -- that's a regular [paramilitary] force. Now the individuals who are talking to us now say they refused to authorize any chemical weapons production. But we don't know who else he asked. We're currently running in those leads, so we have a lot of activity.

We're also looking at illicit imports to Iraq during this period that could have been used in chemical weapons production, the dual use chemicals that came in illegally across borders in spite of U.N. sanctions. We found records of them. We found some of the chemicals themselves, and so we're trying to put together this big jigsaw puzzle.

In the speech before the war to the U.N., Secretary Powell showed pictures of decontamination trucks related to chemical weapons possibly, talked about transcripts where Iraqi officers spoke of nerve agents. I mean, it's all suggested that it was very much more current and present. Have you found anything at all that would confirm that?

We are looking for decontamination trucks. We've found a number of trucks of various kind. Unfortunately with regard to the transcripts, the sites that purported to be the sites were either hidden during the war or heavily looted afterwards, so they give very little.

We're currently trying to find a number of the Iraqis who were apparently party to those conversations. In this country, it's not easy to find individuals. The way the war ended, the military essentially dissolved, didn't go through prison camps or no records of people, and so we're out in this painstaking work. It takes a lot of time, trying to identify those individuals. This is still ongoing activity.

… One thing about the looting. The impression from the outside is this was wild mass civil unrest. I've seen that sort of looting -- I've seen it in Nigeria, for example. But -- and the interim report documents this -- we had very targeted looting. For example, if you go in the Revolutionary Command Council, the building downtown-- It was heavily bombed the night during the war, but the basements were untouched by fire.

If you go in, the rooms on every side of the computer server bank [are] completely untouched by fire. You go in that room, the only thing burned are the hard disks in the computer servers. Looters steal computers; they don't burn them. This was direct targeted looting.

We've got one facility associated with biological program that, as late as June, when we went there, there was ash on the floor of the room, which we were told by an Iraqi source contains the records. As we sifted through the ash, it was still warm to the touch. This is indication of an active current resistance trying to cover its tracks.

On the nuclear front, when we spoke a year ago, before the war, we talked about the so-called tubes for enrichment of uranium in the centrifuge method. You said at that time you thought those tubes that Iraq tried to import … were for a centrifuge project. Do you think that still?

The problem we had with the tubes-- 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. 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. We're inside the country, so we don't have to grasp at straws of evidence.

So what we started looking at is not the tubes. We started looking for whether there was a centrifuge program. If there were a centrifuge program, then the tubes become interesting and relevant. If there's no centrifuge program, the tubes become much less interesting and much less relevant. To date, we have found only small indications of interest in centrifuge, not even anything I would call a restart of the centrifuge program.

So, pretty dormant?

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

But again, an Iraq nuclear program was something that was talked about as having been reconstituted. There was this fear put forward that the nuclear program was a real threat.

Most people forget this -- for 13 years, analysts and inspectors had to look at Iraq. If you were an inspector, you knew that the Iraqis controlled who you talked to, tried to control where you went, and listened in to your conversations. If you were an outside intelligence analyst, you knew that they were controlling the inspectors. You were mostly having to get your information, not from agents inside Iraq, but from people who defected. As in any case, many of those defectors have their own agenda. Or you relied on satellites and other national technical means, which have their own limitations, so you were making best guesses at what went on.

We have a unique opportunity now. We're in the country. We don't have to rely on those things. We have our own particular set of difficulties, but we can be more thorough if we take time. I'm absolutely determined that the Iraq Survey Group is going to take the time to give solid fact-based answers, and not grasp at straws.

What about the Niger allegation -- that uranium was sought from an African country by the Iraqis for a nuclear project? Have you found anything at all to back that up?

We've done nothing about Niger at all. We have found one document which indicates that an unsolicited, or what appears certainly to be an unsolicited offer came from another country in Africa, or a citizen of another country in Africa, to be absolutely correct. We're following it up to see if there is anything behind it.

So to sum up-- On the nuclear discoveries that you've made, no active program. No tubes for centrifuges. No fissile material being sought. Pretty much nothing going on?

I wouldn't say there was no active program. What we're trying to determine is to what degree the program was active. There were some things that were going on. For example, in 1999, the Iraq Atomic Energy Commission received a large jump in its budget and started building new buildings, so we know that was going on. We know that, in 2001-2002, there started to be some movement of personnel. There was a program that was started-- People started asking questions about centrifuges. Some rudimentary experiments were going on, so there was something happening. What we don't know is exactly what it was, and we face a difficulty there.

The individual that all the Iraqis were talking to point to an individual called Khalid Ibrahim Said. He was a major Ba'athist. On April 8, 2003, the day before the city of Baghdad was seized, his driver decided to run a city blockade. The U.S. Marines moved in, and he was killed. So we lost the opportunity to talk to the one individual who probably had the most answers.

Another individual who has been very much looked at in the past is Dr. Amer Al Sa'adi. Are you continuing to question him?

Oh, yes, absolutely. We're getting some things. We're not getting as much as any of us would like. He is talking to us.

Do you think he knew anything? Was he involved?

I think he knew quite a bit. I don't really know exactly what that is in great detail. We're asking him questions. What you do with these senior people who are very difficult to talk to, because they have no interest-- You mentioned earlier Dr. Taha. Is she talking? Dr. Taha was involved, by everyone's admission, in a biological weapons program. There's evidence that some of those biological weapons were used against Iraqi citizens.

You found that evidence?

We found evidence of that. She knows that if she talks to us she could be standing in a major war crimes trial in a new free Iraq that will have a majority of Kurds and Shi'a citizens. So she's not likely to be easily motivated to talk to us, and that's true of most of the senior officials. What we're trying to do is develop contacts at lower levels and go to them and say, "Look, here's the documentation. Here's what three of your colleagues are saying you knew about. Let's talk about this." We're doing that with Dr. Sa'adi right now.

But I think in the case of Dr. Sa'adi, his family feels it's political. He was, if you like, the face between the inspectors and the regime. They believe he knows nothing, but he's been held for six months, and there really isn't much that he can tell you.

I think that underrates Dr. Sa'adi. If you look back to the 1980s, Dr. Sa'adi was responsible for the Iraqi missile program. Well, those same missiles, those same scuds-- The U.N. disputed whether the Iraqis had ever got rid of them. So Dr. Sa'adi certainly knows the fate of the scuds. He never told the U.N. Dr. Sa'adi was also involved in the chemical program at one point. Chemicals were used -- not only on the Iranians -- but they were used at Halabja on Kurds.

Sa'adi was, and is, a talented, engineer and organizer. At crucial points, he was called in to solve problems when the Iraqis ran into them. It is true, he was the face to the world in the most latest round of inspectors. But he was more than that.The WMD program goes back over 20 years. We're interested in the whole history. From our point of view of trying to unravel the WMD program from its origin, Dr. Sa'adi is very relevant.

You've talked about the necessity to speak to Iraqis. Have you had problems there? What has happened to some of the individuals who have come forward and spoken to you?

A number of Iraqis report that they're under threat. The two cases that disturb us the most are two Iraqis who-- One of whom was killed right after being talked to by us. He was shot in the back of his head. Now it's possible it's a robbery, but my familiarity with robberies is usually they steal something, and they just don't shoot you. In his case, nothing was stolen. Another very important source to us on the biological program, took six bullets to 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.

So what's the answer? I mean, this reign of fear-- It's likely to continue.

We all have hopes that, when Saddam is captured, the pressure will go off somewhat. But we'll get to the bottom. We deal with this every day. There are techniques we use to protect our sources, to make it less obvious that they're talking to us, so that people don't detect that they're sharing information with us. I must say that I'm impressed every day when I deal with those Iraqis who are talking to us; with their bravery, and their willingness to talk. Some people believe that they're doing it for money. I can tell you, there are very, very few Iraqis that we reward with money for talking to us. Most of them come to us of their own volition because they want a free Iraq, and they want to get this behind them.

What have you found of significance that's really different from what the U.N. inspectors found in the last round, in the months before the war? They only had four months prior to the war. You've had nearly that so far. Have you really found anything significantly different?

I think we've found a lot significant that they didn't have. First of all, although I know it's easy to dismiss as 1991 programs, the two scientists who came forward-- … All had been interviewed by the last inspectors. They didn't share this, and didn't talk to them about it. The entire missile program of activities was not found by the previous inspectors. In fact, a program to convert surface-to-air missiles to missiles with a 250-mile range and for a land attack was carried out while the inspectors were here in Iraq. Because this was such an important program for Saddam, they just kept the inspectors away from it. So we found a lot in the missile area.

In the biological area, we have found all the labs. They were in operation while the U.N. inspectors were here. In fact, we have a number of senior Iraqis who were involved in dealing with the inspectors. [They] are prepared to testify that they were told specifically not to declare these facilities to the U.N. when they prepared their last full, final and complete declaration -- which was the initial step, and supposedly was supposed to be the triggering step, under Resolution 1441 -- that they'd lied on that basis, and the U.N. never determined that they were lying. So we've got a number of those I consider rather major.

Hans Blix has said recently that he really doesn't feel that you've progressed any further than they did.

Well, that's Dr. Blix's judgement. I think we have. When I say we've found things they didn't, it doesn't mean that I think they were ineffective. They operated under the conditions that they had to operate under. Under their conditions, I think they did a very good and professional job. It's just that they were not allowed to interview Iraqis free of government pressure; we have. They [were very limited] on what they could inspect and go to; we essentially have no limits, except our own physical security.

There is a different set of circumstances. So in no way would I criticize what they did. I think they did a good job under those conditions.

Now I think most people would feel the intelligence that they were led to believe fed into what we knew before the war, and caused the politicians to make the decisions they made -- that that intelligence has not been fully borne out. Why is that? Do you think that the whole role of defectors might have had something to do with that?

I have no idea whether that's even true. My answer to that is that, whenever we finish the activity of the Survey Group, we will know what in fact was ground truth. That's the point at which I think people need to ask, "What's the difference between ground truth and what the intelligence estimates were before the war?" I've never been asked to prove the estimates or disprove the estimates. The teams every day are only challenged to find out what is the truth.

At some point, your question is a question that needs to be asked by others. At least as long as I'm here at the Iraq Survey Group address, I just want to produce the facts. Others have to draw the answers of what were the differences and what are the implications of any differences that exist.

But the pressure is on you, isn't it, because you are here, and you do have to prove or disprove those facts? It's very political, and you're the man in the center of it.

No, I disagree. The only pressure any of us feel here -- and I spend every day talking to the colleagues who are working here, I think I can speak for them -- is not that pressure at all. It's the pressure we feel of knowing that global proliferation remains a threat to global security; that in fact we need to know how well intelligence works, so we can deal with other countries.

The second pressure we all feel is -- and I'm surprised so few people refer to this. No one doubts that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction pre-1991. But 13 years of U.N. activity, including Dr. Blix, was unable to confirm that the Iraqis had actually gotten rid of all those weapons as they claim. So even if there is just the remotest possibility that some of those weapons still remain, don't we owe an obligation to the Iraqi citizenry, now that we're controlling the country, to ensure that those weapons are not used by one political faction or the other against them? Don't we have an obligation to surrounding countries in this region to see that those weapons don't leak and move to other countries and be used by one group or the other there?

So that's the pressure that drives us. The pressure to find out the truth has absolutely nothing to do with whether one or the other dossier or briefing was right or wrong in trying to prove or disprove that. We need to know what the situation was here.

How long do you think you have -- you personally, and the ISG -- to get to the bottom of all of this?

I've said I think we've probably got six to nine months. That's from now, mid-October 2003, until we'll be at a point where we're at the final conclusion. I genuinely believe that 60, 70, maybe 100 years from now, people will still be finding things in this country that we didn't know related to the Saddam empire. He buried a tremendous amount of stuff. He hid stuff. It's a huge country with a relatively small population in a central area. So I think people will be digging things up.

So we won't have the 100 percent solution. We will have an understanding. I think we'll have the evidence, so independent people, including journalists, can examine it and say, "Yes, that evidence supports that conclusion," or "Does it?" That's our objective -- to get in the public domain, at the end of the day, the full record of Saddam's WMD program.

What about the mind of Saddam? What are the theories there as to whether or not it was hidden, whether he never had it, the bluffing?

There are a whole range of theories, but none of them have, at least in my mind, any more prominence than any others. We all know that, in totalitarian regimes, there's a strong pressure of people to lie, because of the ruler who has complete control over your life. I mean, the estimate is about 1 million people in mass graves, and you can go out to some places and see them. So certainly people lied to Saddam to avoid sanctions, just as Saddam lied to his people and others.

So was there an internal deception campaign that misread it, sure. In the case of Nazi Germany, in the case of Stalin, in the case of Maoist China, when those rulers disappear from the scene, you find that, gee, they lied and people lied to them and you get surprises. I'm absolutely sure, at the end of the day, we'll discover that was one element here. But that was only one element. That doesn't explain our difficulty that contributes to it. That's not the full answer.

This was also a country that ruled by terror. People kept their secrets here, because if they didn't, the sanction was prison and death. So some people knew little bits, but didn't know the whole picture. I'm convinced there are absolutely only a handful of people in this country who were really around Saddam who knew fully what was going on. Some of those people are now dead, his two sons being among them. Others are in detention, and are choosing not to talk. I hope that's not forever. There may be a few out there that we haven't found, and I hope we find them.

Dr Kay, many people would say you're a true believer. For in the 1990s, you were an inspector and you found things here in Iraq. You know that they had weapons of mass destruction programs in the past. 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, really threatening?

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 leads us to the conclusion that there was nothing there or there was something there. It's probably because of the background and training, but you always have to be prepared to examine your hypotheses and for them to be proved wrong. That's how you make progress, and that's why we put in this process here that will do that.

And you're prepared to be proved wrong -- that there was nothing?

Absolutely. If that turns out to be the truth, so be it. That is the truth; that's how you make progress. People often forget, when you talk about the estimates of the politicians or the estimates of intelligence services were wrong, [that] estimation is what you do when you don't know the answer. That's where the word comes from in English -- we estimate, because we don't know the answer.

Estimates often turn out to be wrong, you know, and this is even from recent history. Recent English history is that strategic bombing of Nazi Germany during the Second World War rested on two premises… A) that German morale would be broken by bombing civilians and B) that German war production would be destroyed, or at least greatly reduced. After the war, we found out that German war production continued to increase until three months before the end of the war, and the German morale did not deteriorate under bombing of German cities.

The estimates and the hypothesis were wrong, and you learn from that. It may well be that we have big surprises and big things to learn here. I would rather be part of learning that than standing and saying. "I know the truth, I don't care what the facts say." We're here to find the facts.

Does the credibility of the intelligence services, both British, American and other Western services rest on what you find out here?

No, I don't think so. I think the credibility of any intelligence service only rests if you fail to learn lessons to make yourself better in the future, and I'm convinced both the US and the British service are prepared to do that. This is a rare opportunity. You get to find out what ground truth is to address a current problem, and that's why I'd like to remind people. Proliferation is a problem, regardless of what we find in Iraq. It is not going away. Iran, Korea, Syria, other places-- So we need to learn those lessons. That's the real pressure on us.


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posted january 22, 2004

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