Wednesday, September 14, 2022

How Could The US Get Iraq’s WMD So Wrong?

There is a well known argument that the United States simply lied about the Iraq threat and its weapons programs to justify the war. The presidential and Senate investigations reject that line of thought and so does Charles Duelfer who was the deputy head of the United Nations inspectors in Iraq in the 1990s and then in charge of the Iraq Survey Group which searched for weapons of mass destruction after the 2003 invasion. In his book Hide And Seek he has an example of how U.S. intelligence made assumptions about Iraq which became the basis for all of its reports and assessments about WMD.


While he was an inspector in the 90s Duelfer had a discussion with the CIA about Iraq’s SCUD missile arsenal. The Agency claimed that Iraq had 100-150 SCUDs when the U.N. found none. Duelfer asked CIA Director James Woolsey where the U.S. came up with its number. Woolsey said the CIA was not convinced about how many SCUDs the Iraqis said they bought from the Soviet Union and how many it used during the Iran-Iraq War which led to the 100-150 estimate. Duelfer thought this was bad intelligence based upon sketchy analysis. He told CIA officers that Iraq used far more missiles during the Iran war than the U.S. believed. That included on short range targets which the U.S. did not detect. Agency analysts rejected that because it would be an inefficient use of a SCUD and not how they were designed but that’s what actually happened. The CIA also had no evidence that Baghdad had up to 150 SCUDs. There were no pictures, no sources, nothing it was simply a guess it made based upon assumptions. Duelfer had several discussions with the Agency about this but they were unwilling to change their assessment. In the end the inspectors were right and the CIA was completely off.


Duelfer believed this was how the U.S. ended up claiming Iraq had a large stockpile of biological and chemical weapons. It was impossible for a CIA analyst to say that Iraq had no SCUDs or WMD after the Gulf War because the conventional wisdom was that Saddam hid his weapons from the U.N. in the 1990s and restarted producing when they left at the end of that decade. This was based upon assumptions which led to group think within the American intelligence community. It’s the reason why these reports were made years before President Bush was elected and why stories like Iraq had mobile WMD labs or tried to buy aluminum tubes for centrifuges to enrich uranium for a nuclear bomb were widely accepted and anything that said the opposite were not. They fit the U.S. world view about how Saddam acted.




Duelfer, Charles, Hide And Seek, The Search For Truth In Iraq, New York: Public Affairs, 2009


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