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Administration Now Turns to Finding Prohibited Weapons (Post, April 10)
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War in Iraq
With Mel Goodman
Senior Fellow, Center for International Policy

Tuesday, April 15, 2003; 10 a.m. ET

Where are the weapons of mass destruction? Before U.S. invasion, the Bush administration made a detailed case to the world about Iraq's extensive weapons capabilities. However, there has been no proof of prohibited weapons reported by coalition forces.

Mel Goodman, senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and former CIA analyst, will be online Tuesday, April 15, at 10 a.m. ET to talk about intelligence investigations and inspections for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

Mel Goodman: Good Morning! It appears that it is time to make an initial and preliminary look at the US case for the invasion of Iraq and the evidence that supports the US case. The US went to war because of alleged links between Iraq and the 9/11 attacks (although there is no evidence to support US insinuations), alleged links between Iraq and Al Qaeda (again, no substantiation of such charges), and the US view that Saddam Hussein had maintained huge stocks of strategic weapons and had reconstituted his capability of nuclear weapons as well. It is obvious that the US has exaggerated Iraq's nuclear capabilities and it is apparent that the US has probably exaggerated the size of Iraq's chemical and biological weapons as well. It is particularly worrisome that the intelligence community, particularly the CIA has supported the administration's case on links between Iraq and Al Qaeda and the size of the chem/bio program WITHOUT authoritative evidence. This certainly suggests that there has been politicization of intelligence, which we also saw during the Vietnam War. In any event, US and UK forces occupy virtually all of the Iraqi territory that houses the so-called chem/bio network, but no evidence has been found thus far. Obviously, we have a great deal to talk about. Mel Goodman

Washington, D.C.: Mel, I really like your insights and I have to say you have been one of the few intelligent voices during this whole invasion of Iraq (or liberation -- whatever). What will be the fallout in the intelligence community should no substantive weapons-of-mass-destruction be discovered? It seems to me that threatening Syria over the same thing is probably a bad idea.

Mel Goodman: There will be a major problem for both the Bush administration and the intelligence community if no WMD is found. The CIA will be particularly culpable in view of its preparation of SecState Powell's speech to the UN on 5 February. Certainly if we had serious congressional oversight committees of the intelligence community, which we don't, then there would already be an investigation of the record, the evidence, and the charges. The early line is that we have at the very least, exaggerated the extent of the arsenal and the program. As for Syria, the public attacks are counterproductive at this point. The US apparently has forgotten how to conduct diplomacy....and it is private diplomacy that is called for in this case.

Linwood, Pa.: : Thank you very much for being here today.

I am very interested to know what your opinion is on today's Wall Street Journal article which details how Yasser Arafat sent Palestinian scientists to Iraq to help develop the Iraqi chemical weapons program. Can you confirm this report?

Mel Goodman: I cannot confirm the report, but I contend that Iraq would need no help from the Palestinians on the development of chemical weapons. The Iraqis have a long history of development and, more importantly, use of chemical weapons and, if anything, are in a position to tutor the Palestinians, if the Wall Street Journal report is accurate.

Quebec, Canada: Do you think that, once the Iraqis will start to collaborate, we will find more weapons than everybody expected?

Mel Goodman: Clearly, the key to finding the WMD is getting the support of such officials as Saadi and Jaffar, who are now in the hands of American officials. I'm still inclined to think that we will find less than the expectations of the Bush administration and not more....but we need to be patient. The administration would be well advised to bring in international inspectors early in the process in order to deal with any accusations that the US has planted the evidence in the first place. The US and the CIA have planted conventional evidence in previous crisis situations, but planting strategic materials would be far more difficult and risky.

Iowa City, Iowa: Mr. Goodman, I was wondering if you could comment on a piece written by the well known military affairs analyst William Arkin which he wrote on March 9 right before the war in a different newspaper.

"Moreover, most know that, after nearly four months of renewed weapons inspections by the United Nations and the most intensive effort in the history of the U.S. intelligence community, American analysts and war planners are far from certain that chemical and biological weapons even exist in Iraq's arsenal today.

Incredible as it may seem, given all the talk by the administration -- including Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's discourse last week about continuing Iraqi deception -- there is simply no hard intelligence of any such Iraqi weapons.

There is not a single confirmed biological or chemical target on their lists, Air Force officers working on the war plan say."

If what William Arkin wrote was correct it certainly sounds like the administration was (to put it nicely) exaggerating the evidence that Saddam had WMDs, and it wouldn't be surprising if he didn't have any. Was what Arkin said true? And if it was true don't you believe it was dishonest for the administration to pretend it had such hard intelligence that Iraq had WMDs when it turns out it had none whatsoever?

Mel Goodman: Arkin is one of our best military analysts and I believe that his article is essentially correct. There is no question that the Bush administration exaggerated the extent of the WMD program and that the intelligence community has put a definite spin on the intelligence. The CIA, after all, warned us that Iraq would use its chem/bio weapons if we invaded. See CIA director Tenet's letter to the Congress last October. I'm not willing to say that Iraq had no capability, but there is no question that the administration dissembled and that a major investigation by the Senate intelligence committee needs to be made. This looks like Vietnam and the Tonkin Gulf resolution all over again, with the CIA playing a key and dangerous role.

Sneedville, Calif.: It doesn't seem like the American people care anymore whether WMD's are found or not. The "freedom of the Iraqi people" seems now to be the acceptable justification for a pre-emptive, enormously expensive war that has destroyed America's credibility as effectively as we've destroyed Saddam's Republican Guard. With such a high percentage of the U.S. population having graduated high school it seems incredible to me that support for this war remains so high. Have the brains of the American people been taken over by aliens? Thanks for your thoughts.

Mel Goodman: You are certainly right about public opinion. The same number of people who supported the war before it began now support the war even if we find no WMD. I find this incredible. And, yes, it points to the dumbing down of our opinion leaders and our legislative representatives across the board. This is a very serious issue, but no one wants to take it on.

New York, N.Y.: I have two questions:

(1) Clearly the effect on the views of the rest of the world would be large if the U.S. finds no WMDs in Iraq. But what would the effect be on the attitude of the people of Iraq towards the occupying forces? This seems important, not just because of what Iraqis would learn about the rationale for the war, but because the only basis in international law for maintaining the sanctions on Iraq for the past decade was the regime's continued possession of banned weapons.

(2) What is the significance of Amir Al-Saadi stating to German television, just before surrendering to U.S. forces, that Iraq has no remaining banned weapons? Is there any incentive he would have had to lie at that point?


Mel Goodman: I see no reason for Saadi to lie at this point and, in fact, it would be dangerous for him to do so. But we should wait to examine his evidence and recollections, as well as those of Jaffar. These two men--and others from the WMD programs who will be found or come forward--are the keys to solving this mystery. My guess is that issues other than WMD will be the key to Iraqi attitudes toward the US as an occupying force. We are off to a terrible start because of the inability to guard hospitals and other key facilities. There is no reason for our lack of preparation in these key areas...and no reason to permit the sacking of Iraq's cultural and historical artifacts. The Pentagon was warned that this would happen months ago, but couldn't even make one platoon available to guard one of the finest museums in the world....the same goes for the hospitals of key Iraqi cities. Inexcusable...and perhaps a violation of various Hague and Geneva conventions.

Sarasota, Fla.: Now that our war with Iraq is essentially over, the fundamental issue of WMD is on the board. This is basic since President Bush rallied the American people on the basis of this issue. Since the question of whether we went to war knowing of the death and destruction that would ensue was based on whether we should give the inspectors more time, or attack Iraq on the premise of WMD (even alone, and against the expressed demand of most of the UN), or give Blix and company more time. Now that we are in this bind of finding no WMD, how can we know if a report of the existence of WMD will be produced when in fact no WMD exist?

Mel Goodman: There is no question now that Blix and company were doing good work and should have been given more time and more personnel and more funding. Since this type of inspection activity is key to dealing with the problem of proliferation of WMD, we have lost for the time being a key instrument of counterproliferation. This is very regrettable. In view of the lack of credibility of the US government on these issues, it is essential to bring in the international community immediately for the inspection and authorization phase of the hunt for WMD.

New Orleans, La.: A 3-part question:
What would be the reason for overstating the case on WMD in Iraq?
In my estimation, the Administration has gotten away with it in the domestic political context: ratings are up, re-election assured. In the I'l context (esp. Arab Middle East) it will long be remembered and suspicion about alternative U.S. motives given credence. Do you agree?
In particular, how do we now respond to assertions that Sharon has coopted U.S. foreign policy?

Mel Goodman: The reason for overstating the case on WMD is obvious....to make the case for war, which the international community opposed. Certainly our position in the Middle East will be weaker over the long term as a result of this war...and the fact that we guarded the oil wells and the oil ministry....and not the hospitals and museums...points to our motivation in invading Iraq in the first place. I don't agree, however, that Sharon has hijacked US foreign policy. The Bush administration has its own dubious motives for this war, and it is merely convenient at this point to allow Sharon to continue his belligerent tactics on the West Bank and Gaza. It is terribly unfortunate that Bush referred to Sharon as a "man of peace," because that will hinder US diplomacy in the Middle East over the short term.

Arlington, Va.: It seems your being judgmental about the results of the search for WMD before we even have a chance to interrogate the top scientist. What's your motivation for accusing the CIA of bias at this juncture of a war that's far from over?

Mel Goodman: I'm calling for patience in making final judgments on CIA and WMD. But it is obvious that the CIA has exaggerated nearly all aspects of the WMD program in Iraq in order to support the administration. The CIA has done this before...in Vietnam, in Central America, etc. The CIA prepared a phony assessment to link Moscow to the Papal Plot and a phony intelligence estimate to make the case for Iran Contra. With this history and evidence, I believe that some initial debate is called for, even before the final evidence has been judged.

Baltimore, Md.: If no WMD are found within Iraq, what repercussions could you foresee taking place against the United States? How would international institutions such as the U.N. react to our war, were it to eventually be deemed unjustifiable based on our not finding any WMD?

Mel Goodman: There is no question that we will lose a great deal of respect, legitimacy, and credibility in the international community. And the UN has already been weakened by the US war and the US unwillingness to share responsibility for the reconstruction of Iraq in the post-war phase. We will remain a major player, the major player, because of our military power, but if we continue to use that power in an irresponsible way, there will ultimately be consequences. The enmity of the Islamic world is one major consequence. The formation of a European bloc against the United States is another.

Morristown, NJ: I feel that before the war, the USA was considered weak by Muslim fundamentalists and the states that sponsor them. After this incredible display of both technical and human power they respect us more than ever. This was the real reason for going to war and it seems to be paying dividends already. Would you agree with this assessment?

Mel Goodman: I totally disagree. The Islamic community had no illusions about the power of the US and this display of lethal military power will not earn us increased respect. I see more problems on the horizon, particularly if India decides to use our preemptive doctrine to deal with its Pakistan problems, thus creating a crisis of major proportions. Our national security situation has been worsened by this war.

Cleveland, Ohio: What are the long term problems we are going to face in Middle East?

Mel Goodman: The long term problems included increased resort to terrorism, increased instability, increased proliferation of WMD, increased contempt for Israel, and increased lack of credibility for the US as a source of stability in the region. And if democratization should work (very unlikely), we will see a serious of fundamentalist governments that are hostile to the US.

Houston, Tex.: In regards to the war drums being beaten by Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld to attack Syria. Wasn't this Middle East diplomatic policy(Attack Iraq, Syria, Iran) mapped out in the PNAC report written in 1997 by 10 key Bush Administrative officials. My question is, "Why doesn't the media or political pundits question the administration on the report and the fact that it was written almost 6 years ago?"

Mel Goodman: You cite a key document...another key document is the Wolfowitz draft of our Defense Planning Guidance in 1992, which was leaked to the NYTimes, and presaged the militant policy that the Bush administration is currently pursuing. I guess that the media are more embedded than we realize because there has been insufficient scrutiny of the policies of the Bush administration.

Cheverly, Md.: I understand that the former Soviet Union ran a massive biological weapons program even after they signed a 1973 treaty banning production of such weapons. There were scientist given the job of deceiving international inspectors and apparently then did a pretty good job because the not find out about the program until after the demise of the Soviet Union. More recently, UN inspectors found very little in Iraq before the war started.

My questions are how effective can international weapon inspections be? Can anything be done to make inspectors more effective? Is there any chance the UN would be agreeable to hostile inspections?

Mel Goodman: In the 1990s, the international inspection efforts were satisfactory on all aspects, including nuclear, biological, and chemical. Blix was having good results this year as well and, if the US had intelligence on sensitive sites, it should have been provided to Blix. The media have done a very poor job of explaining the successes of the UN and UNMOVIC in Iraq over the past seven years. Yes, coercive inspections would be more effective and I believe that the UN would agree to conduct them with the proper safeguards.

Valencia, Spain: Do you think that if the Democrats press the administration hard on this "exaggeration" (a word that is reminiscent, by the way, of Clinton's "misleadings" and his eventual impeachment), the wind of public opinion could turn forcefully against the White House?

Mel Goodman: I believe that the Democrats are unwilling to raise their heads above their breastplates on any of these issues and that, even if they did so, there would not be great success due to the public support for the war. This is a sad commentary on the current situation, but possibly true.

Washington, D.C.: Mr. Goodman: I talked to different people from different parts of the world about Allied Forces Justification to go to the war, because I personally was never convinced. One school of thought is (was so surprised to hear that), United Nations actually helped US by destroying the Al Samud's and also the President, lacking any other directive to improve the economy & his political ambitions for second term went to the war. What do you think?

Mel Goodman: I would not dissociate the timing of the war and the decision to go to war from the 2004 elections, but I don't believe it was the key factor. Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz have their own reasons for going to war that are separate from electoral politics and that relate to US military dominance in the post-cold war age. It is an extremely risky and provocative policy.

Arlington, Va.: What do the large stocks of gas masks and anti-chem weapon medicines that were allegedly discovered in certain places by our military tell us? Were the Iraqis afraid we were going to gas them? Or were they preparing to use them themselves? Or was it all just a ruse to make us think they would use them?

Mel Goodman: You raise a good point that will need further examination. Clearly the vestiges of a chem-bio program still exist, but there is still the question of whether Saddam Hussein was holding on to old materials or actually aggressively pursuing a new capability. I don't believe that Saddam Hussein ever intended to use whatever he may have had, because he didn't believe (until it was too late) that the US would actually attack. I don't believe that he was a strategist, but he was certainly an incredible optimist.

Oakland, Calif.: Assuming you're right or that U.S. forces will come up with WMD but not in strategic quantities or capabilities for threatening the United States, what lessons will be drawn? Will they be drawn by this administration or more by foreign powers? How much of this is politicization of intelligence, as you suggest, and how much an ideological tendency to muster military force based on worse-case scenarios?

Mel Goodman: I think there are elements of worst-case thinking (Pentagon) and politicization of intelligence (CIA). We still haven't learned the lessons of previous CIA politicization of intelligence (the Soviet Union, Vietnam, Central America, etc.) so I don't expect that we will learn much of anything with regard to lessons. Foreign nations will learn a great deal, unfortunately, about the word of the US. Remember Ambassador Adlai Stevenson's lies to the UN in 1961 about the so-called Cuban air forces attacking Fidel Castro, which was actually CIA piloting of planes from the Alabama National Guard.

Queretaro, Mexico: Can you please give an example of where the US and the CIA have planted conventional evidence in past crisis situations?

Are there any other reasons who the US might not want to invite independent UN inspectors?

Thank you.

Mel Goodman: The US planted Vietnamese uniforms and supplies in the Parrot's Beak area of Cambodia to make a case for the still secret war. The US and the CIA planted caches of weapons in Central America to justify and widen the war against the Sandinistas. The State Department and the CIA collaborated on a "finding" of boats on the Salvadoran coast in 1981 to link the FMLN to the Sandanistas. The CIA essentially "planted" intelligence on the Papal Plot in 1985 and falsified a national intelligence estimate on Iran in 1986. Clearly the US for whatever reason does not want to share the inspection duties in Iraq for WMD.

Boston, Mass.: What do you make of the news of 'mobile labs' found buried in Iraq, but with no evidence of any illicit materials? Is it conclusive that the buried container units were mobile labs?

Mel Goodman: Over the past week or so, there have been four or five findings of so-called WMD or WMD materials...in each case, the initial findings turned out to be inaccurate. So-called lethal materials turned out to be examples of pesticides in most cases. The mobile labs are the most interesting finding thus far but, again, we should be patient before rushing to judgment. Thus far, nothing is conclusion....but it would sure help to have international inspectors on the ground to protect the credibility of Bush and the US. In fact, Iraq signed the Chemical Weapons Convention, which requires international inspectors at this point.

Toronto, Canada: What's the likelihood that WMD was moved to Syria?

Mel Goodman: It is certainly possible, but not probable. Right now this is an accusation of Israeli intelligence (Mossad) that has been circulated by the CIA and the US.

Gullsgate Minn: Mel Goodman: Can you give a brief assessment of Carlyle, the 'group home' for ex-CIA'operatives'--plus your view on the investors clam bake--Bush/Baker/ bin Laden family, Calucci retreat in Lisbon in a couple weeks to essentially create a support group to initiate acceptable contractors and contracts involving the rebuilding the infrastructure of Iraq? And also on the team play of representatives meeting today and Woolsey's possible future role as financial guru of the same? Thanks.

Mel Goodman: None of this smells right at this point....and points to the politicization of the reconstruction process. Too many contracts have already gone to Cheney's old firm (Halliburton) and Shultz's old firm (Bechtel). The possible appointment of Jim Woolsey is total farce. Woolsey was a disaster as CIA director in the 90s and is now running around this country calling for a World War IV to deal with the Islamic problem. This is a dangerous individual who should not be part of any reconstruction process.

Boston, Mass.: I was a weapons inspector during the UNSCOM era. During our inspections, we found that the best information came from Iraqi workers who were injured as part of Saddam's weapons program. Many people were exposed to chemical agents such as mustard gas and had long term health problems. While out on inspections, we would sometimes be able to take these people aside to discuss Saddam's weapons program without Iraqi minders being present. From this information, we had a good picture of the weapons programs. I'm really confused as to why the Bush administrations is not seeking out these people or talking to old weapons inspectors.

Mel Goodman: Thanks for your excellent input. I agree that the technicians and workers themselves will be the best sources and that the former inspectors need to be brought to the task. This must be done as soon as possible before the US loses all credibility abroad and perhaps at home as well.

Vancouver, B.C.: Can you describe what threat North Korea poses, in terms of building and delivering WMD?


Mel Goodman: I believe that we have exaggerated the extent and capability of the North Korean program to justify our own national missile defense appropriations, currently at record levels. North Korea could be handled with diplomatic efforts but, again, this administration is not willing or lacks the ability to come up with diplomatic agendas. You know that if the only tool in your toolbox is a hammer, then every problem will look like a nail.

Atlanta, Ga.: What do you feel the consequences of this war will be on the world stage? Will there be more terrorism from the Middle East? Will North Korea act more proactively against us? And what about the "Wild Card" Iran?

Mel Goodman: Consequences....all bad: Iran is moving ahead with its strategic programs, in part to protect itself from future US actions......North Korea is using its primitive nuclear program as leverage against the US.....India is threatening preemptive attack against Pakistan.....Europe and Russia are becoming increasingly anti-American......the Atlantic Alliance has suffered its first setback since the end of WWII....the Islamic world is shocked and saddened by our actions.....etc. etc. etc.

College Park, Md.: Why is the US leading the rebuilding efforts and not the UN?

Mel Goodman: I believe that the US insistence to dominate the rebuilding process is part of the triumphalism of the Bush administration.....we have seen evidence of this across the board dealing with the International Criminal Court, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, etc. etc. etc.

Reston, Va.: How much room would be required to hide a strategic level of WMD? Also, how difficult would it be to hide such a structure or two to house these materials given the terrain of Iraq?

Mel Goodman: I believe that you can bury strategic levels of WMD in countries far smaller than Iraq. Thus, we do need to be patient with the search...but we should insist on an international component because of the setbacks to US credibility in going to war and justifying the need for war at this time.

Bethesda, Md.: One of the things that Bush stressed before the war is Iraq's ties with terrorist groups. I have yet to see evidence that points to this link, other than rumors. What evidence that you know of establishes this link?

Mel Goodman: There is no evidence that links Iraq to the terrorist organization that we are pursuing. Clearly Powell overstated this evidence in his speech to the UN in February and Tenet exaggerated this evidence in his letter to the Congress in October.

Alexandria, Va.: It seems like you are stating that little WMD will be much different than lots of WMD. In your assessment, what quantities of Chemical weapons (100s of pounds, tons, many many tons) would justify our action in Iraq?

Also, if the report in 1998 by the inspectors are true (tons), where could they all go? These are not something you can just flush down the drain?

Mel Goodman: I don't know how many angels are dancing on the head of this particularly pin, but it is safe to say that we are not finding any of the materials that we claimed totally certainty of finding. Rumsfeld talked about "bulletproof" evidence, whatever that means.

Dayton, Ohio: Could we have used our intelligence and special forces capabilities to accomplish our objectives in Iraq instead of doing what we did?

Mel Goodman: I believe that we should have strengthened and expanded the international inspection effort, kept the no fly zones in place, modified the sanctions process, and thus kept Saddam Hussein contained and deterred. The proponents of war, such as Kenneth Pollack, believe that Saddam Hussein could not be deterred.....the evidence demonstrated that he was contained.

Lexington, Ky.: Do you think Congress will hold a major investigation of the role of the intelligence agencies, and if not, why not?


Mel Goodman: The congressional oversight committees have become self-proclaimed advocates of the intelligence agencies and have been reluctant to carry out their oversight function as required by the various laws between 1976 and 1980. They seem to have been coopted by the intelligence community. More embeds, n'est-ce pas?

Somewhere, USA: Now that the war is over (for most part) and no weapons of mass destruction were used, should we assume that the detailed case made by the Bush Administration about Iraq's weapons capabilities had a number of serious credibility problems or that the Iraq government displayed enormous restraint by choosing not to use them?

Mel Goodman: There is no question that the Bush administration has a serious credibility problems .... and that eventually we will learn more about Saddam Hussein's war plan. I believe that he didn't expect the US to invade and started to position his forces much to late in the process to defend key areas and certainly to use chem/bio effectively. But there is certainly the case that he never intended to use such weapons against the US. Saddam Hussein was a classic bully....and used WMD against the defenseless and never indicated he would use such weapons against a stronger force.

Mel Goodman: I believe that we are out of time. Obviously these are controversial and timely issues that require more thought and more discussion. Hope that we can review these issues next week because the problem is an important one and US credibility is at stake.


That wraps up today's show. Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion.

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