The most vital and scarce commodity sought by the supreme commander of US armed forces, President George W. Bush, in the weeks leading up to the war against Iraq is credible intelligence – just like in October 2001, when America went to war in Afghanistan.
This time the need is even more pressing. The Bush administration needs this precious commodity not only to ensure that 160,000 American troops do not go into battle blind, but also to provide evidence for justifying military action against Saddam Hussein’s regime to public and political opinion at home and abroad.
Yet, however hard they hunt, Bush’s top brains – Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice – cannot be sure of coming up with the necessary smoking gun.
The same uncertainty marks the work of the UN arms inspection teams and was reflected in the reports Chief UN Inspector Hans Blix and Chief Atomic Inspector Mohamed ElBaradei delivered to the Security Council on Monday, January 27. The two encumbrances they cited in uncovering Saddam’s forbidden weapons were Iraq’s lack of cooperation and the lack of intelligence. With precise intelligence data on locations – and more time – they might have turned up more.
Naturally, Messrs. Blix and ElBaradei would be glad of more time for a spot of bureaucratic empire building, which a war would rudely interrupt. However, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources do not believe that the extra months the inspectors want to exhaust their search for incriminating evidence of Saddam’s unconventional weapons will make much difference.
In the closed session held by Security Council members Wednesday, January 29, two days after the inspection reports were presented to the Security Council, Blix had to admit that one of the 16 empty chemical weapons warheads discovered at an ammunition dump south of Baghdad had come back from the laboratory tests as clean as a whistle. None of the delegations were bowled over. As we reported at the time, most Western intelligence agencies believed the warheads were new and unused and planted by Iraqi intelligence for the inspectors to find.
Immediately after the council session, Russian representatives challenged the United States to produce “undeniable proof” of banned weapons in Iraqi hands, implying that Moscow and Russian intelligence were skeptical of the Bush team’s ability to deliver. The Russians know better than anyone that there is no such thing as “undeniable proof” in the intelligence game and are playing this predicament to the hilt to embarrass the administration.
The predicament first bit, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military and intelligence experts explain, when anti-war dissidents in Washington started calling for “a smoking gun” before going to war – presenting the Bush administration with the impossible task of producing a life-size Iraqi warhead stuffed with poisonous chemicals or germs, or an Iraqi plane fitted with spray canisters filled with anthrax.
Little hope of “undeniable proof”
Intelligence services are not built to produce smoking guns for public consumption. The US war command, military intelligence and the CIA are most certainly running teams on the ground to observe Iraqi undercover units under the direct command of Saddam or his sons, which are strongly suspected of being armed with WMD. Those teams would be placed in harm’s way if their markings or locations were exposed or printouts handed round that would identify their electronic surveillance instruments.
Furthermore, some of the locations and units under covert US observation for months may turn out to be innocent of forbidden weapons. This discovery would cause untold harm to American credibility.
For all these reasons, there is very little likelihood of the Bush administration producing a smoking gun or “undeniable proof” to support its case against Iraq.
One senior intelligence officer put it this way to DEBKA-Net-Weekly: “Just imagine that in mid-2001, the American government decided to go to war against Afghanistan and Iraq after receiving advance intelligence of the 9/11 attacks against New York and Washington. Could it have produced a smoking gun? That sort of unshakable evidence takes years and enormous funds to get hold of and even then it may not be usable.”
To break out of its dilemma, the White House this week chose to go forward on two tracks.
On Powell’s advice, US public statements began easing the focus of the war debate away from Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction and over to his links with terrorist groups, such as al Qaeda. Iraqi intelligence’s connections to almost any Middle East terror group, including al Qaeda, are much easier to publicize and prove than Saddam’s unconventional armory.
Secondly, on Wednesday, January 29, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers, verified an earlier DEBKA-Net-Weekly report that US special forces are operating in northern Iraq.
Iraqi military defections snowball
Gen. Myers’s admission had two purposes:
1. Most countries upon hearing a public admission that a foreign government had sent troops to invade their soil would normally react – either by declaring war on the aggressor or sending an army to resist the invasion. In either case, the Myers statement may be expected to touch off fighting between US and Iraqi military forces. The flaring up of war would put a stop to the interminable argument between Washington and opponents of US military action, spearheaded by France, Germany and Russia. Open combat would also provide British premier Tony Blair with ammunition for shooting down the anti-war faction in his party and stilling the rising disaffection in the UK against Britain’s participation in the war on Iraq.
2. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources report that Iraqi intelligence officers who defected in recent weeks to US special forces operating inside Iraq are willing to publicly attest to the collaboration between Saddam’s covert forces and al Qaeda terrorists. The defectors are now in the hands of US military intelligence and the CIA.
This prospect worried Saddam Hussein enough to prompt the intensive round of interviews he has begun conducting in Baghdad and Tikrit with one group of Iraqi commanders after another. He is asking them all to be on the lookout for treasonable officers of their acquaintance, while making a show of unconcern. Traitors are part of every war, he tells them.
However the interviews began after he was warned by Iraqi intelligence chiefs that the Americans intend next week making public the substance of their debriefing sessions with Iraqi defectors. Some of the officers might even talk directly to the media before or after February 5, when the secretary of state will present the Security Council with evidence of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, the ways in which they are hidden and Iraq’s links with terrorist organizations including al Qaeda.
According to our sources, the early trickle of Iraqi defections to the American side has snowballed into a substantial movement and become a keystone of the edifice the US military and intelligence are erecting for the offensive. Groups of 10 to 12 army and intelligence officers and men willing to collaborate with the Americans are arriving at US special forces forward positions and bases in northern Iraq and CIA posts in Kurdistan. Altogether about 700 Iraqi military men have come over thus far.
Alternative public administration is ready to go
Sorting them into groups for debriefing is given top priority by US intelligence, in the hope that the defectors will yield important data for fueling the administration’s domestic and international war campaigns.
The Myers disclosure is expected to stimulate the Iraq military defection movement, building it up into thousands. At best, it could turn into a stampede that will bring Saddam’s defenses crashing down before the American invasion begins
The US government, the CIA, the Pentagon are also planning to compare and cross-check the information obtained from Iraq defectors with the vast body of information accumulating in the files of the FBI from its comprehensive background checks on hundreds of thousands of people of Iraqi descent across the American continent – the most all-encompassing survey ever carried out among any emigre community.
The FBI inquiry aims to uncover the place of birth of every former Iraqi citizen and his or her ties at home with Iraqi military, scientific and government personnel and leaders of the business community, including oil industry executives.
American war and post-war planners hope to draw on this data bank in a variety of ways:
1. To identify and locate citizens of Iraqi origin who have relatives in Iraq’s military and intelligence services to set up conduits for information of potential value for the war effort, such as the places where non-belligerence or desertion deals can be struck with unit commanders or men.
2. To locate Iraqi intelligence terror and spy cells on the American continent, the Middle East and Europe.
3. To seek out Iraqis associated with the thousands of straw companies Baghdad has established in the West to defy international sanctions and purchase weapons, arms parts and the components for weapons of mass destruction systems.
4. Recruiting ex-Iraqis with backgrounds in the oil industry, both production and marketing, to man the administration that will run Iraqi oil under American control.
5. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources report the FBI has so far enlisted between 2000 and 3000 ex-Iraqi professionals, most with training in running large electricity, water, gas and water systems as well as flour mills, bakeries and public medicine facilities. They have been taken to US bases in America and Europe for advanced instruction in operating these systems in Iraq and assigned the districts of their future employment.
This group will constitute the nucleus of the post-Saddam civil and public services administering the country under Zalmay Khalil-Zad, the American civilian governor designated to officiate in Baghdad in the early post-war months.