Missed Signals On WMD?
By David Ignatius
Friday, February 6, 2004; Page A23
The intelligence failure in Iraq began with U.N. weapons inspectors, who gathered detailed evidence that Saddam Hussein had destroyed his weapons of mass destruction in 1991 but never presented those findings forcefully to the world, according to Iraq's top nuclear scientist.
Jafar Dhia Jafar, who ran Iraq's nuclear program from 1982 on, revealed new details of his country's dealings with U.N. inspectors in a telephone interview yesterday from the United Arab Emirates, where he now lives. His interview was the first broad, on-the-record discussion of WMD issues by a top Iraqi scientist since the end of the war.
Jafar said he has explained the 1991 termination of Iraqi WMD programs in more than 20 voluntary debriefings with U.S. officials since he left Iraq on April 7, 2003. The debriefings took place in the United Arab Emirates and Jordan. To confirm the accuracy of his account, he said, he volunteered to take a lengthy polygraph test, which U.S. officials administered.
The comments from Iraq's most prominent scientist add a new perspective to the intense debate over Iraq's alleged WMD programs. Jafar, 61, who received his doctorate in physics in Britain in 1965, said his chief complaint concerned the U.N. inspectors, who, he said, "had all the facts but evidently did not present them convincingly enough to the United Nations Security Council."
"The United Nations inspectors were on the ground. They were everywhere. They had access to all the documents," Jafar argued. "They knew the facts, and they should have said confidently that Iraq was free of weapons of mass destruction."
Instead, he said, U.N. inspectors -- under apparent pressure from the United States and Britain to continue looking for weapons that had actually been destroyed -- kept asking for more time to conduct further searches. The Iraqis were never able to prove the negative.
If Jafar is right, the U.N. inspectors had detailed evidence to rebut the arguments about Iraqi WMD made in the intelligence dossiers compiled by Britain and the United States that were a main justification for their March 2003 invasion. In the supercharged political atmosphere before the war, that evidence was either diluted, suppressed or ignored.
The United Nations' problems began with Hussein, by Jafar's own account. He said the Iraqi leader initially concealed some of his WMD stockpiles after the 1991 Persian Gulf War by turning them over to his most trusted military unit, the Special Republican Guards.
But after U.N. inspectors discovered some of the material at a Special Republican Guards camp in early July 1991, Hussein ordered the unilateral destruction of all his banned stockpiles. "Before the end of 1991, all proscribed nuclear, chemical, biological and missile assets were destroyed," Jafar said.
Jafar said Iraqis destroyed all stockpiles of chemical weapons -- including mustard gas, sarin, tabun and VX -- and biological weapons, including botulinum toxin, anthrax and aflatoxin. Some of the biological toxins had been weaponized in 1990, but never used, so the regime decided to conceal that program from U.N. inspectors, Jafar said. They also withheld some details of their nuclear program.
The Iraqi regime initially decided to deceive U.N. inspectors about some aspects of the nuclear and biological programs for two reasons, Jafar said. First, to obscure the extent to which they had violated treaties against developing such weapons and, second, to minimize the destruction of the facilities where they had carried out the work.
First hints of the Iraqi bioweapons program were made to U.N. chief inspector Rolf Ekeus in 1995, because the Iraqis knew that defectors had spoken of the program, Jafar said. A full accounting of the bioweapons that had been destroyed four years before came later in 1995, after the defection to Jordan of Hussein's son-in-law Hussein Kamel. Remaining aspects of the nuclear program were also disclosed to U.N. inspectors after Kamel defected, Jafar said.
But U.S. and U.N. officials suspected the Iraqis were probably hiding other violations. The mistrust was amplified by Hussein's antagonism toward the U.N. inspectors, whom he regarded as spies who might threaten his personal security, Jafar said.
As an example of the detailed information given to U.N. inspectors, Jafar cited 26 letters he provided between January and March 2003 to rebut allegations that Iraqis were continuing their nuclear weapons program. The letters, totaling 85 pages with 1,400 more as attachments, countered specific claims made in a Sept. 24, 2002, British intelligence dossier.
Jafar's story reinforces one theme of the unfolding Iraqi WMD saga: Even for intelligence analysts and U.N. experts, facts could not be disentangled from expectations. The will to believe that Hussein had WMD was far stronger than the evidence that he didn't.
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