Friday 18 April 2003
WASHINGTON -- The US government should be "embarrassed" over the apparent failure to uncover weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the main justification for going to war, retired intelligence officials said Thursday.
"It's going to be very embarrassing when it turns out they have nothing to declare," said former defense intelligence analyst Eugene Betit.
Another, former CIA station chief Ray Close, said: "I'm hoping they will be embarrassed into acknowledging a role for some independent body. And who could it be but the UN?"
As the "smoking gun" continued to elude US sleuths in Iraq, chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix called for experts to return to the country to determine whether the weapons allegations had any foundation.
Adding to the pressure, Russia, a veto-wielding member of the UN Security Council, said it would not support the lifting of UN sanctions against Iraq unless UN inspectors confirmed the absence of weapons of mass destruction.
But Washington has so far rejected such calls, and US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Thursday sought to deflect concerns that evidence could be planted. "The (US search) teams have been trained in chain of control, really like a crime scene," Rumsfeld told Pentagon staff Thursday.
He said: "They will have people with them who will validate things, they will have the ability to take pictures, and to make sure that the control over any piece of evidence is as clear as it possibly can be."
Rumsfeld warned however: "That will not stop certain countries, and certain types of people from claiming, inaccurately, that it was planted."
Retired CIA intelligence analyst Ray McGovern told AFP: "Some of my colleagues are virtually certain that there will be some weapons of mass destruction found, even though they might have to be planted.
"I'm just as sure that some few will be found, but not in an amount that by any stretch would justify the charge of a threat against the US or anyone else."
He added: "Even if the planting was discovered by and by, they'll say, 'ok, the weapons were planted - fine.'"
McGovern said he was alluding to a remark by Secretary of State Colin Powell after it emerged that a letter purporting to show that Iraq had sought to procure uranium from Niger - a key argument in the case for war and cited in President George W. Bush's January 28 State of the Union address - was a forgery.
Powell told NBC: "It was the information that we had. We provided it. If that information is inaccurate, fine."
McGovern and 24 other former intelligence officials in the CIA, State and Defense Departments, Army Intelligence and FBI formed a group called Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).
They made their first public statement on February 5, critiquing Powell's presentation before the UN Security Council.
CIA spokesman Tom Crispell, asked for comment on the former officials' remarks Thursday, said: "They're criticising policy, not intelligence."
The Quest for Illicit Weapons
New York Times
Friday 18 April 2003
The continued failure of American forces to find any "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq must be worrying some officials, particularly at intelligence agencies that assured the White House that Baghdad had such weapons. If Saddam Hussein authorized his field commanders to use chemical weapons, as Secretary of State Colin Powell suggested to the United Nations in February, presumably some of the weapons should have been overrun by Army and Marine forces as they closed in on Baghdad. Yet so far every report of suspicious items has proved to be a false alarm. The very fact that pressure is mounting on the Bush administration to prove the presence of unconventional weapons makes it imperative that the White House bring in experienced inspectors from the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency to help locate illicit materials and enhance the credibility of any findings. Current White House plans to bypass the U.N. are heading in the wrong direction.
There may be good reasons for coming up dry so far. The Iraqis were expert at hiding forbidden materials, and it could take some time to find secret storage and manufacturing sites in a nation that is the size of California. But with every passing day, American credibility is called into question, particularly by other nations that were not enthusiastic about military action to begin with. The chief justification for invading Iraq was to get rid of Baghdad's stores of chemical and biological agents and dismantle its effort to produce a nuclear bomb. These weapons were deemed a threat not only to Iraq's neighbors, but also to the United States, particularly if Mr. Hussein were to make them available to terrorists, as President Bush suggested in his State of the Union message.
The military units searching for unconventional arms in Iraq are not truly expert in finding hidden weapons. They need to be buttressed not only by American civilian experts but, even more important, by respected international inspectors as well. Such neutral experts need to ensure a strict chain of custody and oversee the accuracy of laboratory analyses. Otherwise there is a danger that any findings will be discounted by a skeptical world that is all too ready to believe that the evidence was planted or manipulated.
The best hope for finding forbidden materials may be tips from Iraqi scientists who worked on the programs or incriminating documents that reveal where illicit weapons were made or stored. Absent such signposts, investigators will have to visit thousands of suspect sites to look for evidence. The whole process could take many months, but it is important to carry through to a conclusion.
Although some administration officials say Iraqi leaders may have transferred banned weapons to Syria, it seems unlikely that such movement would have gone unnoticed by spy satellites and drones watching the key routes. Gen. Tommy Franks, the U.S. commander, believes the regime fell too quickly to give Iraqis a chance to move banned items out of the country. If the weapons are there, investigators should be able to find them.
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