Charles A. Duelfer, who took over as the Bush administration's top weapons hunter in January, gained his first experience by looking into Saddam Hussein's programs during the seven years he served as deputy executive chairman of the United Nations' first investigative commission in the late 1990s.
As the chief U.N. investigator, Duelfer led that group to enter one of the former Iraqi leader's palaces in search of documents, and gained a reputation for being thorough and aggressive. Before joining the U.N. weapons-inspection team, Duelfer had spent nine years at the State Department handling regional security issues, defense trade matters, counterterrorism and arms control.
Duelfer, 52, is known as a tough investigator with a reputation for collecting all the facts before reaching conclusions. Colleagues describe his new report, which is more than 1,000 pages and includes charts and timelines, as his own product and not that of his weapons-hunting team, the Iraq Survey Group, or the CIA.
Like others who had dealt with Iraq in the past, Duelfer believed before the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003 that Hussein had retained some weapons of mass destruction. But a year later he had changed his mind. Shortly before he took over as the chief U.S. inspector, Duelfer told NBC in an interview aired Jan. 9, 2004, "I think it's pretty clear right now that they're not going to find existing weapons in Iraq of either a biological or chemical nature."
Nonetheless, then-CIA Director George J. Tenet appointed Duelfer to take over for David A. Kay as head of the Iraq Survey Group. Tenet said of Duelfer, "Given his knowledge of Iraqi weapons programs and his understanding of the nature and extent of Iraqi efforts to conceal these programs, I can think of no one better suited to carry on this very important work."
Before he left for Iraq this time, Duelfer said he saw his role as trying to determine Hussein's "game plan" for banned weapons, since he believed that most of them had been destroyed but that the Iraqi leader still wanted eventually to possess them.
Indeed, much of the report released yesterday attempts to do just that.
Shortly after the U.S. invasion, Duelfer testified before Congress about whether he thought Iraq would use chemical weapons against American and coalition troops.
He recalled discussions he had had with high-ranking Iraqi officers in the mid-1990s who confirmed that Hussein would have used chemical weapons if U.S. forces, during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, had kept going to Baghdad after having forced Iraqi troops out of Kuwait. The Iraqis also believed that knowing Hussein would use those weapons had somehow deterred the United States from overthrowing him at that time.
That information is contained in Duelfer's report. In addition, Duelfer testified at the same time that the Iraqis told him Hussein took seriously a threat delivered before the Persian Gulf War by then-Secretary of State James A. Baker III that the United States would respond forcefully if Iraq used chemical weapons.
Not long after that testimony, Duelfer went to Baghdad on behalf of the State Department shortly after the city was taken, talking with scientists he had met during his earlier time with the United Nations and attempting to understand the situation on the ground at the time.