Cold Case?

Thanks to Jeff, I get to grab the controls of this fine sports car of a blog while he is doing something in Paris that he has convinced his funders is of vital importance.

Let me start on a serious note with an elaboration of an analysis I posted on my home blog, Think Progress, last week. The Senate Democratic Policy Committee, lead by Senator Byron Dorgan, had the courage and wisdom to keep open the question of how our pre-war intelligence on Saddam’s weapons became so horribly distorted. I testified at the hearing.

Now I know some are tired of this. The administration is counting on that. Like OJ, they say the jury is in, they have been proven innocent, case closed.

But it isn’t. All the investigations (done by the Senate Intelligence Committee, the British and the president’s hand-picked commission) have focused exclusively on the gross errors in the intelligence community and not on what went on in the White House, the Department of Defense and, most importantly, the Vice-President’s office. Thus, we still have only half the story.

And maybe not even the most important half. We need a thorough investigation of how administration officials dealt with the intelligence agencies, how their own DoD intelligence operations (under Doug Feith and Steve Cambone) operated, and how the officials used the intel they got.

Eric Martin does a nice job dissecting this in a piece called “Euphoric Recall,” on his blog, Total Information Awareness,

Some of those posting comments to my original post seemed to be confused between concerns that Saddam could still have weapons or programs in 2002 with conclusions that he definitely had them. In other words, weren’t we all wrong?

Many agencies, countries and experts (including me and my colleagues then at the Carnegie Endowment) were concerned that without inspections it was possible, even likely, that Saddam still had tons of weapons agents. We also worried that he could be continuing a clandestine nuclear weapons research program. These concerns were largely based on the materials unaccounted for at the time the UNSCOM inspectors had to leave Iraq at the end of 1998. We made estimates of the possible.

Here’s the difference: In late 2002, inspectors went back in. We started getting new intelligence. Dozens of inspectors went to hundreds of sites. The inspectors visited the former nuclear facilities at which US satellites detected suspicious actives.

These guys are the Nuclear CSI. They could now look under the roofs, swipe for radiological traces, interview technicians, audit accounts. They found the facilities in a worse state of repair than when the had left.

There was absolutely no evidence of any renewed nuclear activity. The same for chemical and biological programs. We could now make new, more accurate estimates based on this new intelligence.

In other words, it was never a choice between war and nothing; between taking action and trusting Saddam. We had in place the most coercive inspection regime ever imposed on an independent nation. And it was working. Saddam was in an iron box, surrounded by thousands of troops, his political base deteriorating. David Kay said later that Saddam’s regime was in “a death spiral.” The concerns expressed at the time of the difficulties in keeping troops in the area through the summer to allow inspections to continue seem ludicrous in light of the 2500 US troops killed, 15,000 maimed and $300 billion squandered.

But it is even worse. US officials intentionally disparaged the inspectors and ignored their intelligence. They were bent on war and nothing, certainly not UN inspectors, was going to stop them.

I spoke to inspectors after Secretary Powell’s February 2003 UN presentation. I asked them how they felt to be told that the Iraqis were moving chemical weapons from sites just before their inspections. They said they knew the Secretary was wrong. I asked about the decontamination trucks that the Secretary had identified from overhead photos. They said that those were water trucks. They knew because they had been at the site and seen them. They also said they told the Americans this, but were ignored.

No, it was not for lack of intelligence that we invaded Iraq. It was not because the intelligence analysts misled us. The betrayal happened at a far higher level. The entire nation will pay the price for a generation.


  1. eCAHNomics (History)

    1% Doctrine by Ron Suskind has new details on exactly how the ruse was perpetrated. Also article on David Addington in New Yorker. W’s trying to do same thing with Iran. Shame on us for allowing this to be possible.

  2. Jaunty Jon (History)

    Sen. BRIAN Dorgan?!

    Save your alternative history & nuclear CSI. Saddam had to go.

  3. b (History)

    This never was about WMD, like the war on Iran is not about nukes. So why bother.

  4. John Field (History)

    To me, Bush and his follies are a symptom of a problem not the root cause. Ultimately, I think the war is a failure of free speech in America.

    As I see it, the problem is that there just aren’t enough people capable of thinking about and discussing these very technical and politically complex topics.

    David Albright at ISIS does a good job with the centrifuge issues, and I applaud him. A small handful of people cannot always be assumed to get the right answer, nor even if they do to be heard over the deafening roar of the media. Of course, what we need, is not one or a hundred, but literally thousands of these people. People with no systematic allegiance or bias and with no particular association with the government. Not working in the field, but they need to be conversant in the field.

    The technologies of proliferation are not the ones being spotlighted by today’s technological revolution, and there are relatively few people emerging from the graduate schools today with these skills. Digital logic, no problem. Fermi-Thomas equation of state – that’s hard to find. The reason is that the only entity which needs that kind of knowledge is the government, and the government hires those people and swears them to secrecy.

    Upton Sinclair said that “it is difficult to make someone understand something if their salary depends on them not understanding it.”

    Problem is that in an economy increasingly limited by demand constraints and not supply limits, the more people that are knowledgeable in this area, the more of a problem proliferation may become. So, we arrive at a world in which the government can go to war and have bombs without displacing SUVs at home while at the same time, business conditions can’t soak up the talented people that we need to train in order to reason our way out of this death spiral.

  5. Andy (History)

    Jeez, I can’t wait for Jeffrey to get back for some less politically motivated “analysis.”

    The point you and so many others on the left miss is that had the intelligence and Administration been 100% accurate with regard to WMD, we’d still be fighting this insurgent war and our casualty totals would be no different. The insurgency has nothing to do with WMD. I wonder what your anti-war argument would be if we’d found all the weapons we claimed there were and then found ourselves fighting the exact same insurgent war we’re fighting today.

    Saddam in an “Iron box?” He was undoubtedly less than 5 years from being free of sanctions and was ready to restart his programs. It’s clear from captured documents that he believed his patronage to France and Russia would soon end the sanctions regime. Maybe if we waited until he rebuilt his WMD programs and his military, as he clearly intended to do, we’d have thousands more dead soldiers from an invasion in addition to casualties from the insurgency.

  6. j house (History)

    You failed to point out that, as the Deulfer Report noted, Saddam always had the strategic goal of a NBC capability, and really didn’t view these weapons as taboos.
    Besides, it is logical to think beyond Iran’s possession of the bomb and extended BM capabilities in the future…Saddam had the means (oil $$ and the access to networks like Kahn’s) and motive to re-build it one day.
    Jaunti Jon is right…he had to go.
    Yes, there is an argument over how Bush sold it, but it was the right decision in history, after 9/11.

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