Senators, Lords, Spies – and Divergent Cultures

Though published only a week apart in Washington and London, the contrast between the two independent inquiry reports on pre-Iraqi war intelligence is too stark to go unnoticed.


Since neither document is likely to be the last or definitive word on the subject, DEBKA-Net-Weekly is throwing a large part of this issue open to its intelligence experts to put their two nickels into the debate.


In his Review of Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction, released in London on Wednesday, July 14, veteran civil servant and former cabinet secretary Lord Butler points up the flaws in British intelligence but does not fix blame on anyone, whether prime minister Tony Blair, who is said to have “acted in good faith,” the MI6 Secret Intelligence Service or its newly appointed chief, John Scarlett, who headed the Joint Intelligence Committee prior to the war.


In his critical remarks, Butler says key intelligence used to justify the war is now shown to have been unreliable, MI6 did not check its sources, relied too much on third hand reporting, used inexperienced agents and had no good sources in Iraq.


Yet Scarlett was not asked to resign. Unlike his transatlantic collaborator, CIA Director George Tenet, his contribution to the intelligence effort won praise from the inquiry panel.


On July 11, the Senate Select Intelligence Committee chairman Pat Roberts – R. and Vice Chairman Jay Rockefeller – D. summed up their report in a few tough sentences. Pre-war assertions on weapons of mass destruction were groupthink, wrong in many cases, overstated in others; after 1998, the CIA had no human intelligence assets in Iraq on WMD; the consensus of the intelligence community was that Saddam Hussein had contacts with al Qaeda but no formal relationship.


Deputy Central Intelligence Director John McLaughlin replied with a crisp: We got it.


He knew that the CIA and its chief, George Tenet had been damned. Tenet had already resigned in advance of the report’s release without a word of commendation.


Scarlett and Tenet worked in close harness during the critical period. It is therefore hard to comprehend how the one was judged a success by one panel and the second a dismal failure by its fellow – that is if the same objective criteria were applied by the two commissions. Indeed, Butler refers to the close collaboration between US and UK intelligence in the run-up to the war.


The British panel cites an intelligence report “described as significant,” received in September 2002, that the production of biological and chemical agents had been accelerated by the Iraqi regime, including the building of further facilities throughout Iraq.


In view of their collaborative ties, it stands to reason that the intelligence received in London must have been shared with the SIS’s collaborator in Langley. Why then was it not mentioned in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report?


A review of the difficult and time-consuming nature of the search for significant data in Iraq might have modified some of the harsher judgments handed down by the senators against the US intelligence community. As Butler pointed out, “Saddam’s Iraq was a difficult intelligence target” with strong counterintelligence.


The British panel takes issue with the US senators on the controversial report of Iraq’s attempts to procure uranium in Niger, which Butler terms “well-founded” – an epithet he also applies to President George W. Bush’s reference (which he later withdrew) in his State of the Union address.


On mobile biological labs, the British report confirms they were found during and since the war but were not the vehicles to which “the source” was pointing.


Summing up, the Butler team notes Iraq is a big country and does not rule out the possibility of WMD being found even now “hidden in the sand.” He concludes: “It would be a rash person who asserted at this stage that evidence does not exist or will never be found.”


OUR COMMENTS ON SALIENT CONCLUSIONS OF THE US SENATE REPORT
Including fresh disclosures from DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s special sources


From Conclusion 1: The failure of the intelligence community to accurately analyze and describe the intelligence in the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) was the result of a combination of systemic weaknesses, primarily in analytic trade craft, compounded by a lack of information sharing, poor management and inadequate intelligence collection. Many of these weaknesses, which are described in detail below, have not yet been fully addressed, despite having been identified previously by other inquiry panels…


COMMENT


These conclusions are simply incorrect. According to our information, from the second half of 2002, when the Bush administration’s determination to invade Iraq became known, intelligence gathering on the Iraqi army and focusing on its mass destruction weaponry became vigorous and efficient. It was conducted inside Iraq, around the Middle East and inside the United States.


Proof of this, which the committee omits to mention, is the fact that from the March 18, 2003 invasion until the April 10, 2003 capture of Baghdad, hardly any serious fighting took place, no Iraqi military or big air bases were blown up, no strategic Tigris or Euphrates bridges destroyed and no essential facilities like water and electricity badly damaged.


This was not fortuitous. It was achieved through months of negotiations between senior American CIA and British MI6 agents and their Iraqi opposite numbers. Two months before the invasion, the agency and the US military command had the addresses, phone and fax numbers of all the Iraqi army commanders in charge of units whose cooperation was required to prevent the invasion descending into a bloody, ruinous disaster. US agents found one circle totally impenetrable: the tight group around Saddam Hussein and his sons. But they too were reached through Arab proxies, mostly from Lebanon and the Gulf States.


These meticulous preparations by US intelligence saved many lives in the first part of the war up until the Iraqi guerrilla campaign. Any organization capable of this extraordinary feat of intelligence, control and management in a hostile country the size of Iraq hardly deserves to be put down as the failure described in Conclusion 1.


From Conclusion 3. The intelligence Community suffered from a collective presumption that Iraq had an active and growing weapons of mass destruction program. This “group think” dynamic led intelligence community analysts, collectors and managers to both interpret ambiguous evidence as conclusively indicative of a WMD program as well as ignore or minimize evidence that Iraq did not have active and expanding weapons of mass destruction programs. This presumption was so strong that formalized IC mechanisms established to challenge assumptions and group think were not utilized…


COMMENT


Too many real indications exist, as the Senate Committee itself will show in its own conclusions on nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, that Iraq did have active WMD programs. Indeed the panel admits that US intelligence data on these subjects was serious and credible. Our experts report that taped recordings of conversations between Iraqi military personnel and scientists who conducted experiments in forbidden weapons and substances are held by certain Middle East intelligence agencies. They, together with records of Iraqi fighter-bomber pilots practicing chemical and biological weapons sorties in January-February 2003 were not the product of “group think.”


From Conclusion 3 Contd. The intelligence community’s failure to find unambiguous intelligence reporting of Iraqi WMD activities should have encouraged analysts to question their presumption that Iraq had WMD. Instead, analysts rationalized the lack of evidence as the result of “vigorous” Iraqi denial and deception (D&D) efforts to hide the WMD programs that analysts were certain existed.


COMMENT


In 1995, Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law, Kemal Hassan, defected to Jordan and offered President Clinton all the information he had on Iraq’s WMD programs in return for help in staging a coup to topple his father-in-law and install him instead. The sample hiding places of forbidden weapons he disclosed were simple rather than elaborately deceitful: pits at the bottom of private backyards behind homes and farms or tombs in the country’s many graveyards.


Washington passed up the offer and missed the chance of laying hands on Saddam’s forbidden weapons. The next chance was lost on July 22, 2003, when orders came down from Washington to American troops to kill Uday and Qusay Saddam in the Mosul villa in which they were hiding unless they surrendered. Three months after the invasion, Uday was the only surviving person with detailed knowledge of the whereabouts of the hidden Iraqi WMD. By killing him, the Bush administration and CIA headquarters lost that last chance.


From Conclusion 4. In discussions with the Committee about his experience running the Iraq Survey Group, Dr David Kay suggested that the intelligence community’s mind set before Operation Iraqi Freedom concerning Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs was a train that seemed “to always be going in the same direction.” …pieces that did not fit tended to be thrown aside.


COMMENT


On February 2, 2004, after interviewing military and intelligence officers who had met Dr Kay in the Middle East, debkafile revealed they had examined together with Dr. Kay maps they had shown him marked with coordinates of the precise locations of the main Iraqi illegal weapons caches in Syria.


From OVERALL CONCLUSIONS – TERRORISM


From CONCLUSION 8. Threat analysts are encouraged to “push the envelope” and look at various possible threat scenarios that can be drawn from limited and often fragmentary information. As a result, analysts can no longer dismiss a threat as incredible because they cannot corroborate it. They cannot dismiss what may appear to be the rantings of a walk-in until additional vetting shows those stories to be fabricated.


COMMENT


This “accusation” illustrates a comprehension gap on the nature of CIA work. The only way to make analysts and spies forsake the beaten track and search for real intelligence is to “push the envelope.”


From Conclusion 10. The intelligence community relies too heavily on foreign government services and third party reporting, thereby increasing the potential for manipulation of US policy by foreign interests.
The IC’s collectors must develop and recruit unilateral sources with direct access to terrorist groups to confirm, complement or confront foreign government service reporting on these critical targets.


COMMENT


The CIA freely admits to relying on foreign government services and proxies – and the dearth of American HUMINT – for the very simple reason that no “unilateral” assets can hope to gain access to regimes such as that of Saddam Hussein or the remote tribal areas where the war on global terror is waged. What are the chances of a bunch of Harvard MBA graduates passing themselves off as a troop of jihadists native to the Arab tribal milieu of, say, the Hadhramauth? In the latter Cold War years, William Casey hired Americans of Middle East origin for planting inside extremist Muslim movements in the Middle East. Ten years later, they were found to have been “turned.” They were responsible for sowing many of the anti-American seeds that grew into al Qaeda. All double agents are doubly susceptible to treachery. Therefore, with its eyes open to the risks of being fed manipulative data, the CIA relies for the bulk of its intelligence on Islamic fundamentalist terror on double agents run – not directly, but by friendly clandestine services.


From NUCLEAR CONCLUSIONS


In this chapter, we have strung together and summarized groups of Senate Committee conclusions, also contributing discoveries from our own sources.


Conclusion 29. Regarding Iraq’s efforts to procure high-strength aluminum tubes, the committee believes the tubes were intended to be used for an Iraqi conventional rocket program and not a nuclear program. Conclusion 32. The intelligence report on Saddam Hussein’s personal interest in the aluminum tubes, if credible, did suggest that tube procurement was a high priority, but not necessarily for Iraq’s nuclear program. Conclusion 35. Information obtained by the Committee shows that the tubes were to be manufactured to tolerances tighter than typically requested for rocket systems. The request for tight tolerances had several equally likely explanations other than that the tubes were intended for a centrifuge program, however.


COMMENT


While displaying its own intelligence-gathering prowess, the Senate committee contradicts a separate conclusion that no threat existed of Iraq developing a nuclear weapons program.


Conclusion 45. The statement in the National Intelligence Estimate that the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission was “expanding the infrastructure-research laboratories, production facilities, and procurement networks – to produce nuclear weapons,” is not supported by the intelligence provided to the committee. However, Conclusion 46. states: The intelligence provided to the Committee which showed that Iraq had kept its cadre of nuclear weapons personnel trained and in positions that could keep their skills intact for eventual use in a reconstituted nuclear program was compelling…and Conclusion 47. goes even further, stating: Intelligence information provided to the committee did show that Saddam Hussein met with Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission personnel and that some security improvements were taking place, but none of the reporting indicated the IAEC was engaged in nuclear-weapons related work.


COMMENT


These conclusions are far from conclusive or consistent on the nuclear issue and indicate the senators’ own uncertainties. However, they do confirm that Saddam procured high-intensity aluminum tubes suitable for use in the production of centrifuges for uranium enrichment and that he kept his nuclear weapons personnel on the ready.


Was this a game?


According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s information, he kept this skilled manpower pool on active reserve, ready to move into position in his advancing nuclear weapon program – or as needed to relieve Iraqi scientists employed in nuclear weapons projects in various stages of development in Libya, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Egypt as well as North Korea.


Question: Why does the Senate Report omit mention of Saddam’s secret deployment of Iraqi nuclear scientists in foreign countries?


Note on the Niger uranium controversy


The British Butler report on UK prewar intelligence released Wednesday, July 15, is interestingly at variance with the CIA’s findings and the US Senate’s conclusions in stating that pre-war assessments that Iraq sought uranium from Niger were “well-founded on intelligence.” Regarding the International Atomic Energy Agency’s subsequent assertion that some documents supporting the uranium claim were forgeries, Butler replied the British government had intelligence from “several different sources.” His report added that Iraq had also sought uranium in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He even said that the inclusion of the statement in President Bush’s State of the Union address was “well founded.” The president was later forced to retract the statement although it is now vindicated by the British probe.


This controversy arises from a largely unpublicized incident, as DEBKA-Net-Weekly now reveals: The US intelligence community and the Senate Committee members know that certain witnesses who testified on the Niger uranium question were not entirely truthful or fully frank. A question hangs in particular over the testimony offered by a former US ambassador to Niger who may have been influenced by the fact that his wife was the senior CIA operative who ran the operation to uncover Iraqi uranium purchasing activity in Niger.


The Senate committee, unlike the Butler team, decided not to confirm that Saddam’s agents had indeed tried to procure uranium in Niger. By doing so, the senators would have cut the ground from under those accusing Bush of invading Iraq without the cassis belli of an active WMD program. The committee found it impossible to duck the question altogether and was reluctant to fully expose it to the gaze of the American public. The senators finally opted for a blanket denial of any evidence at all that Saddam had pursued nuclear weapons prior to the war.


From BIOLOGICAL CONCLUSIONS


Conclusion 49. The statement in the key judgments of the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate that “Baghdad has biological weapons” overstated what was known about Iraq’s biological weapons holdings. The NIE did not explain the uncertainties underlying this statement.
Conclusion 54. The assessments in the National Intelligence Estimate concerning Iraq’s capability to produce and weaponize biological weapons agents are for the most part supported by the intelligence provided to the Committee, but the NIE did not explain that the research discussed could have been very limited in nature, been abandoned years ago, or represented legitimate activity.


COMMENT


Any intelligence agent reading these conclusions would deduce, first, that Iraq had developed biological weapons and, second, that the Senate Committee was bent on undermining the evidence submitted.


DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources reveal findings made in Iraq in 2002 by a source who prefers to remain anonymous months and never before published.


“Iraq has acquired self-sufficiency in the technology for the manufacture of biological weapons”, according to this source, who goes on to assert that Iraq’s production capacity of germs for use as weapons far exceeded what was admitted to UN inspectors.


Furthermore, former UN inspectors estimated that Iraq held back at least 157 aerial bombs and 25 missile warheads filled with germ agents, sprays for helicopter delivery and enough growth media to produce three or four times the amount of anthrax it admitted producing. Iraq was also suspected in 1998 of concealing smallpox virus. Former UN inspector Scott Ritter found Iraqi scientists had been using human subjects to speed the development and lethality of chemical-biological warfare agents. According to UNSCOM documents, 50 Iraqi prisoners were taken from the Abu Ghraib and al Al Rasafa prisons in 1995 for toxicity experiments that resulted in their deaths. (End Game by Scott Ritter.)


Evidence exists that up until mid-2002, Iraqi military units were carrying out research, experiments and exercises in the use of and defense against biological weapons. At the same time, Kurdish intelligence, reporting to the CIA from northern Iraq, revealed Iraqi military intelligence setting up chemical and biological warfare laboratories to teach Mussab al-Zarqawi‘s men how to wield these forbidden weapons; photographic and documentary evidence found later confirmed these reports.


Should a responsible government or intelligence agency have ignored this body of evidence? Had members of the Senate panel been responsible for submitting pre-war intelligence reports to the government on the state of Iraq’s biological weapons, what would they have said? Would they have reported insubstantial quantities that should cause no concern? Or would they have sounded an alarm?


From CHEMICAL CONCLUSIONS


Conclusions 58 and 59. The National Intelligence Estimate’s judgment that “Baghdad has… chemical weapons” overstated what was known and judged by intelligence analysts about Iraq’s holdings. The NIE judgment that Iraq was expanding its chemical industry primarily to support chemical weapons production was likewise an “overstatement.”
Conclusion 61.
The IC’s assessment that “Saddam probably has stocked at least 100 metric tons and possibly as much as 500 metric tones of chemical weapons agents – much of it added in the last year,” – was an analytical judgment and not based on intelligence reporting that indicated the existence of an Iraqi chemical weapons stockpile of this size.
Conclusion 62.
The IC’s assessment that Iraq had experience in manufacturing chemical weapons bombs, artillery rockets and projectiles was reasonable based on intelligence derived from Iraqi declarations.


COMMENT


The inquiry panel sounds as uncertain on the existence of chemical weapons as it does regarding banned biological agents. The chemical threat is not easily brushed aside when, over a fifteen-year period, many thousands of Iraqi Kurds and Iranians were the victims of Saddam’s chemical poison war.


Indeed, no sooner was Saddam Hussein brought before an Iraqi court to hear the charges against him when Tehran demanded a place on the prosecution team in the name of Iranians killed or maimed in these attacks. The Senate Committee therefore took care not to question the existence of chemical weapons too closely, negating only the presence of stockpiles, before asserting that the IC’s assessment was an analytical judgment not based on intelligence reporting. (Is this not common intelligence practice?)


It must be said however that the danger presented of even very small quantities of toxic chemicals in enemy hands cannot be “overstated” and must occasion urgent intelligent reporting.


The CIA is again accused of “overstatement” in judging that Iraq was expanding its chemical industry primarily to support chemical weapons production.


According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources, however, at least three civilian factories contained closed military sections sealed off from access by ordinary staff. They are the Castor Oil Production Plant at Fallujah, the al Dawrah Foot and Mouth Disease Vaccine Institute and the Amariyah Sera and Vaccine Plant at Abu Ghraib.


From DELIVERY CONCLUSIONS


Conclusions 68. & Conclusion 69. The Intelligence community’s National Intelligence Estimate assertion that Iraq was developing an unmanned aerial vehicle “probably intended to deliver biological warfare agents” is another overstatement. However an Air Force footnote indicating that biological weapons delivery was a possible though unlikely mission more accurately reflected the body of intelligence reporting. In Conclusion 70, the panel dismisses as unsupported by the intelligence provided the assessment that Iraq’s procurement of United States specific mapping software for its UAV’s “strongly suggests that Iraq is investigating the use of these UAV’s for missions targeting the United States.”


COMMENT


When Iraq failed to obtain mapping software covering the United States, it tried to get hold of US software covering the Middle East, and Israel in particular. Baghdad’s object was indeed to pinpoint targets for attack by unmanned vehicles with the help of the mapping software.


Conclusion 76: Human intelligence gathered after the production of the NIE (in October 2002) did indicate that Iraqi commanders had been authorized to use chemical weapons as noted in Secretary Powell’s speech.


COMMENT


How could Iraqi commanders be authorized to use chemical weapons unless they had them?


From IRAQI LINKS TO TERRORISM CONCLUSIONS


Conclusion 90. The CIA’s assessment that Saddam Hussein was most likely to use his own intelligence service operatives to conduct attacks was reasonable and turned out to be accurate.


COMMENT


If the CIA was correct about one of the most important developments of the war and subsequent guerrilla campaign why is the Senate Committee so hard on its reporting on all other aspects?


Conclusion 92. The CIA’s examination of contacts, training, safehaven and operational cooperation as indicators of a possible Iraq-al Qaeda relationship was a reasonable and objective approach to the question. Conclusion 93. The CIA reasonably assessed that there were likely several instances of contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda throughout the 1990s but that these contacts did not add up to an established formal relationship.


COMMENT


The use of the term “formal” in the context of Saddam Hussein’s relations is the oddest point made in the Senate Committee report. Applying a Miss Manners term to any al Qaeda relationship is even more incongruous. Is it conceivable that Osama bin Laden was formally introduced to Mullah Omar or Ayman Zuwahiri? The relationship between the Saddam regime and al Qaeda would have been a volatile bond of convenience between two violent though otherwise dissimilar entities. Both employed killer squads engaged in constant turf wars which occasionally settled running contests with ad hoc local arrangements against a common enemy or for profitable illicit business such as gun-running, the smuggling of various war materials and the hiring out of services to various intelligence, security or terrorist outfits. All this would be going on in the murkiest reaches of the international subculture of terrorists and spies.


Conclusion 94. The CIA reasonably and objectively assessed in Iraq Support for Terrorism that the most problematic area of contact between Iraq and al Qaeda were the reports of training in the use of non-conventional weapons, specifically chemical and biological weapons.


COMMENT


This indeed happened, however informally. Iraqi officers did train al Qaeda and Ansar al-Islam operatives in the use of unconventional weapons in northern Iraq. In this conclusion, the Senate Committee supports the CIA’s finding that Iraq did have active biological and chemical weapons programs, as well as contradicting conclusions reached by the Independent Commission inquiry of pre-9/11 intelligence.


Conclusion 97. The CIA’s judgment that Saddam Hussein, if sufficiently desperate, might employ terrorists with a global reach – al Qaeda – to conduct terrorist attacks in the event of war was reasonable. No information has emerged thus far to suggest that Saddam did try to employ al-Qaeda in conducting terrorist attacks.


COMMENT


From September 2000, debkafileand from April 2001, DEBKA-Net-Weekly – consistently reported on the close relations between a then obscure al Qaeda operative called Musab Zarqawi and Iraqi military intelligence. This was many months before there was any thought in Washington of going to war in Iraq, and before anyone outside the Middle East paid much attention to the Jordanian terrorist currently plaguing Iraq. The current Baath-al Qaeda alliance for insurgency and terror springs directly from the longstanding personal friendship between Zarqawi and the former Iraqi intelligence officers running the guerrilla war. This alliance must have been endorsed by Zarqawi in person. He would never have let it go forward unless he were personally close to the Iraqi ex-officers partnering his men in battle.


Conclusion 99. Despite four decades of intelligence reporting on Iraq, there was little useful intelligence collected that helped analysts determine the Iraqi regime’s possible links to al Qaida. Conclusion 100. The CIA did not have a focused human intelligence collection strategy targeting Iraq’s links to terrorism until 2002.


COMMENT


If the CIA’s judgment was reasonable, as noted in Conclusion 97, then the last two Senate Committee conclusions are meaningless. In any case, as noted in previous comments, there is no way American intelligence can “unilaterally” penetrate al Qaeda, nor will there be in the foreseeable future. The only way the agency can operate against fundamentalist terrorist and intelligence targets is by way of indigenous surrogates. In Iraq, CIA relies mostly on the Kurdish population in the north to keep its ear to the ground and provide real intelligence updates. But the Kurds and their intelligence capabilities also have limits. Even they cannot see into the heart of al Qaeda cells. Since the active CIA-Kurdish intelligence relationship goes back to the mid-1990s, Conclusion 99 is incorrect.

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