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US President George W. Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Australian Prime Minister John Howard are preparing a rejoinder to quell the domestic credibility crises Iraqi WMD skeptics have whipped up in their countries, with the help of anti-American, anti-war factions in politics and foreign intelligence services – particularly in some parts of Europe, such as Russia, Netherlands, France, Germany, Denmark and even the UK.
That rejoinder will draw on the paper and on-the-ground evidence amassed day by day by a new coalition intelligence research project launched a month ago under Dr. David Kay, a former UN weapons inspector, to winkle out hard evidence of Saddam Hussein’s proscribed weapons programs.
(DEBKA-Net-Weekly broke the story of the Kay mission on July 18 in Issue No. 117 and added further revelations a week later in issue no. 118. Excerpts from both reports are featured in this article.)
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Thursday, July 31, Dr. Kay reported to the US Senate Intelligence Committee that his 1,400-strong team of American, British and Australian researchers had found in just over a month’s operation physical evidence of Iraqi activity on weapons of mass destruction. Without going into detail, Kay told the senators that the most progress had been made on biological weapons.
He was responding to the concern voiced by Senator Jay Rockefeller (Dem.-West Virginia) that the searches were being diverted away from finding the actual weapons. “Signs of a weapons program are very different from the stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons that were a certainty before the war,” said Rockefeller. “We did not go to war to disrupt Saddam’s weapons program, we went to war to disarm him.”
The Kay team spent the first month of its mission sorting into three batches what he described as “an estimated seven and-a-half miles of documents”, many of them collected by US military from Iraqi official buildings, but many others handed over by Iraqi civilians.
The data yielded is substantial:
Batch One: Records of Saddam’s chemical, biological and nuclear programming with notes on budgets, manpower and procurement requirements. Detailed are the Saddam regime’s plans, productions processes and timetables for WMD development as well as special programs for concealing it all from UN inspectors for twelve years. Saddam’s officials hid these thousands of documents from the United Nations Blix-ElBarardei inspection team and left them out of the voluminous “full accounting” Baghdad submitted to the UN Security Council before the war.
Batch Two: This group, which also consists of many thousands of pieces of paper, tracks the implementation of the WMD programs with time schedules and assessments of progress made in each category and inventories the stocks building up in the illegal arsenal. Scientists or engineers would often win bonuses for notable progress in their work.
Batch Three: This pile offers leads to locations where forbidden weapons may have been concealed when the records were drawn up and ways to access them, including the evidence of the transfer to Syria by Saddam’s agents of large parts of the forbidden program.
After talking in secret to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Kay declared there was a “truly amazing” deception program to throw UN weapons off the trail. We have people who participated in deceiving UN inspectors now telling us how they did it.”
The public remarks made by the three coalition leaders Bush, Blair and Howard will soon bear the imprint of these findings and their expert evaluation by CIA analysts. General elections are very much on the minds of all three and their campaign managers. The Australian prime minister, for instance – DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Canberra have learned – is thinking of calling a snap election at year’s end to catch his Labor Party rivals off guard, confident that the proof of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction will come to light in time for him to pull off a victory at the polls.
In addition to sifting through and collating mountains of paper, Kay team scouts are also crisscrossing Iraq to examine sites and test tips received from local “human intelligence”, which has proliferated since the deaths of Uday and Qusay Hussein in Mosul on July 22. They are pinpointing unmarked mass graves scattered around Iraq from which more than 300,000 bodies of Saddam’s victims have thus far been disinterred.
One of the most horrendous discoveries so far is the secret graveyard of convicts abused as human guinea pigs of Saddam’s illegal programs. Kay sent a special team out to Baquba, northeast of Baghdad after a collection of videotapes was discovered in Iraqi central intelligence archives, on some of which Iraqi officers talked freely with dates and locations about prisoners and detainees subjected to biological and chemical weapons experiments. Some involved toxic chemicals or gases; others were infected with germs in varying quantities, their symptoms recorded from stage to stage until their death.
At Baguba, the burial site most frequently mentione, Kay’s scouts uncovered the remains of 3,000 men and women who had succumbed to mysterious causes of death. Autopsies and forensic examinations are in progress to establish these causes.
An important objective of the whirlwind tour of Iraq carried out by deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz last month was to match up the Kay team’s findings with the administration’s PR and political strategy initiatives. The former UN inspectors’ appearances before the Senate committees this week, together with published photos of Wolfowitz visiting Iraqi mass graves, were part of the administration’s new offensive. It signaled an attempt to shift the public debate away from the questions surrounding Iraqi WMD as the justification of war and focus it on the horrors of the overthrown regime’s reign of repression, terror and human rights crimes. Stress is being laid on exposing how a criminal regime applied forbidden weapons for clandestine experimentation on incarcerated victims, the unmarked mass graves providing strong evidence of the ex-ruler’s active development and use of non-conventional weapons against his own people.
This new strategy was unveiled by US secretary of state Colin Powell, when he talked to the editorial staff of the Washington Times on Tuesday, July 22. He said:
“As more graves are opened, as more mass killings are made known and as Mr. Kay completes his work in Iraq searching for the evidence needed to make clear to everybody that we knew what we were talking about with respect to weapons of mass destruction, I think this issue of what was in the State of the Union address will fade into insignificance.”
Were those 16 words really a gaffe?
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources report a fresh piece of data obtained by the Bush administration may well tilt this controversy too. The White House initially admitted that the president’s assertion in his State of the Union that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger was based on false intelligence. The buck passed round from the CIA to Britain’s MI5, then Italian intelligence and finally, Condoleezza’s deputy at the National Security Council, Stephen Hadley.
Our Washington sources now reveal that, according to the new data reaching the White House from “very friendly” intelligence services operating in Africa, the US president got it right the first time. Saddam’s agents had indeed gone on a uranium purchasing mission to a number of African countries on the dates mentioned.
What went wrong was that the documentary evidence – handed to Bush by Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi in confidence, as DEBKA-Net-Weekly now reveals, had been doctored by anti-American, anti-war factions in Italian intelligence in such a way that it would be discovered and appear to be fabricated. They plotted to bring the three war leaders into disrepute by manipulating them into committing an untruth while also souring the warm relations between the Italian prime minister and the White House.
The identities of the Italian intelligence plotters were at the center of the two days of private talks held by Bush and Berlusconi at the presidential ranch in Crawford, Texas July 20 and 21. The Italian prime minister brought with him the results of a private investigation. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources reveal that the agents who falsified the intelligence documents were also involved in staging the mass anti-war demonstrations that swept across Europe ahead of the American invasion of Iraq and accompanied the UN Security Council war debate.
They worked with accomplices in Russian, British, French, Dutch and German intelligence and allies in Africa in an anti-coalition front.
British microbiologist Dr. David Kelly, whose suicide on July 18, threw the Blair government into crisis, had been appointed to a position on Kay’s team of WMD hunters as an expert on biological arms and a former arms inspector. A few days before he was due to leave for Iraq, he was caught up in the political maelstrom raging in Britain around the unconventional weapons dossier Blair presented before going to war in Iraq. Kelly, who shunned politics, found the storm too violent for him to handle.
Now that Bush, Blair and Howard are regrouping, with Berlusconi’s help, to restore their fortunes, their hidden foes are shifting ground. The war leaders are arming themselves with information of Saddam’s deceit over his weapons of mass destruction that is too solid to be shouted down as outright lies. The charge is now toned down to “issuing inaccurate statements just before the war’ – language cautious enough to cool the rhetoric in the debate between the champions and opponents of the Iraq war.
Bush and Blair have urgent need of new ammunition. The American president’s popularity rating is falling at an alarming rate. Blair is in even direr straits. A majority of Britons want him to resign. His fate hangs on the judicial commission investigating the untimely death of Dr. Kelly finding that the BBC lied in the Kelly case, not 10 Downing Street. But, like Bush, he is impatiently waiting for the Kay team to produce evidence to bear out his portrayal of Saddam Hussein as a ruthless developer of illegal weapons. Combined, the two events might partly swing public sentiment back behind him.
The Australian prime minister has taken a sharp drop in popularity but no mass defection to the opposition Labor Party. Like Bush and Blair, Howard believes that once Australians are convinced the Iraqi WMD threat was genuine they will flock back to him, a reversal that would show up in a timely early election.
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