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Profile: Iraq Survey Group
Iraq Survey Group was a participant or observer in the following events:
The Iraq Survey Group closely inspects the Iraqi drones that the Bush administration had alleged were being developed to deploy chemical and biological weapons. ISG head David Kay later says of the investigation: “We knew the range, navigation, and payload capability. There was no way this was a threat to anyone.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 309]
David Kay. [Source: Publicity photo]David Kay, just recently appointed to head the Iraq Survey Group, is given access to all the CIA’s prewar intelligence on Iraq’s weapons programs. “Now I’ll get the good stuff,” he thinks to himself. But after reviewing the CIA’s reports he realizes that the agency’s evidence is not too solid. He is disappointed to see that the mobile biological weapons trailer allegation was based on just one source—and an iffy one at that, Curveball (see Late January, 2003)—and that the US intelligence community had sided with CIA WINPAC over the Energy Department’s nuclear scientists in the aluminum tubes debate (see October 1, 2002). As he continues reading the WMD material, a favorite song of his comes to mind—Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 233-234]
The Iraq Survey Group (ISG) visits the Nasr munitions plant where the Iraqis used to manufacture 81mm artillery rockets. The plant’s inventory includes a large supply of 81mm aluminum tubes. ISG investigators conclude that the aluminum tubes confiscated in Jordan two years earlier (see July 2001) had been purchased by the Iraqis for use as artillery rocket bodies, not centrifuge rotors as alleged by the Bush administration. As reporters Michael Isikoff and David Corn will explain in their book Hubris, “ISG investigators questioned the Iraqi plant managers. They also interrogated the senior official who had overseen Saddam’s military industrial commission. All the Iraqis told a consistent story: the rockets had been falling short. The problem was the propellant. But changing the propellant—the obvious solution—wasn’t an option. The propellant was produced at a facility run by a friend of one of Saddam’s sons. So to avoid interfering with the flow of business to a regime crony, the engineers devised a Rube Goldberg solution: lower the mass of the rockets and use tubes that had a higher strength than otherwise necessary, that was why the Iraqis had been using the Internet to procure tubes with unusually precise specifications (The whole thing reminded [David] Kay of some of the Pentagon’s own procurement messes.) ‘We had this down,’ Kay later said. ‘The system was corrupt.’” Kay will also say of the tubes fiasco, “The tubes issue was an absolute fraud.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 306-307] Some observers find it telling that US forces never attempted to secure the Nasr facility or its inventory of tubes. “They’re not acting as if they take their own analysis seriously,” Joseph Cirincione, director of the nonproliferation project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, will later tell the Washington Post. “If they were so worried about these tubes, that would be the kind of sensitive equipment you’d think the administration would want to seize, to prevent it from going somewhere else—Iran, Syria, Egypt.” [Washington Post, 10/26/2003]
David Kay quits his job as head of the Iraq Survey Group. [Los Angeles Times, 11/20/2005] He is being replaced by former senior UN weapons inspector Charles Duelfer, who recently said that the chances of Iraq being found to possess chemical or biological weapons is “close to nil.” Kay gives no reason for his resignation, but sources in Washington say he is resigning for both personal reasons and because of his disillusionment with the weapons search. Kay says he does not believe Iraq possesses any major stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons, and he does not believe it has had any such weapons since the 1991 Gulf War. “I don’t think they existed,” he says. “What everyone was talking about is stockpiles produced after the end of the last Gulf War and I don’t think there was a large-scale production program in the 90s. I think we have found probably 85 percent of what we’re going to find.” [BBC, 1/24/2004] He adds: “I think they gradually reduced stockpiles throughout the 1990s. Somewhere in the mid-1990s, the large chemical overhang of existing stockpiles was eliminated.” [New York Times, 1/25/2009] In 2005, Kay will say: “My view was that the best evidence that I had seen was Iraq indeed had weapons of mass destruction. It turns out we were all wrong, and that is most disturbing. If the intelligence community had said there were no weapons there, would the policymakers have decided for other reasons, regime change, human rights, whatever, to go to war? All you can say is we’ll never know, because in fact the system said, apparently, it’s a slam dunk, there are weapons there.” [CNN, 8/18/2005]
Misled by Internal Duplicity of Iraqi Scientists, Failure of Fundamental Intelligence Gathering and Analysis - Kay says that the CIA and other US intelligence agencies were misled by duplicitous Iraqi scientists, who, in the words of New York Times reporter James Risen, “had presented ambitious but fanciful weapons programs to [Saddam] Hussein and had then used the money for other purposes,” and by the agencies’ failure to realize that Iraq had essentially abandoned its WMD programs after the 1991 war; what remained of the Gulf War-era WMD stockpiles was destroyed by US and British air strikes in 1998 (see December 16-19, 1998). According to Kay, Iraqi scientists realized they could go directly to Hussein and present fantastic plans for weapons programs, and receive approval and large amounts of money. Whatever was left of an effective weapons capability was quickly turned into corrupt money-raising schemes by scientists skilled in the arts of lying and surviving in Hussein’s autocratic police state. “The whole thing shifted from directed programs to a corrupted process,” Kay says. “The regime was no longer in control; it was like a death spiral. Saddam was self-directing projects that were not vetted by anyone else. The scientists were able to fake programs.” Kay adds that in his view the errors committed by the intelligence agencies were so grave that he recommends those agencies revamp their intelligence collection and analysis efforts. Analysts have come to him, he says, “almost in tears, saying they felt so badly that we weren’t finding what they had thought we were going to find—I have had analysts apologizing for reaching the conclusions that they did.” The biggest problem US agencies had, Kay says, was their near-total lack of human intelligence sources in Iraq since the UN weapons inspectors were withdrawn in 1998. [New York Times, 1/25/2009]
'Rudimentary' Nuclear Weapons Program - Iraq did try to restart its moribund nuclear weapons program in 2000 and 2001, Kay says, but that plan never got beyond the earliest stages. He calls it “rudimentary at best,” and says it would have taken years to get underway. “There was a restart of the nuclear program,” he notes. “But the surprising thing is that if you compare it to what we now know about Iran and Libya, the Iraqi program was never as advanced.”
No Evidence of Attempt to Purchase Nigerien Uranium - Kay says that his team found no evidence that Iraq ever tried to obtain enriched uranium from Niger, as has frequently been alleged (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). “We found nothing on Niger,” he says. [New York Times, 1/25/2009]
Democrats: Proof that Administration 'Exaggerated ... Threat' - Senator John Rockefeller (D-WV), the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says of Kay’s resignation: “It increasingly appears that our intelligence was wrong about Iraq’s weapons, and the administration compounded that mistake by exaggerating the nuclear threat and Iraq’s ties to al-Qaeda. As a result, the United States is paying a very heavy price.” Rockefeller’s counterpart in the House of Representatives, Jane Harman (D-CA), says Kay’s comments indicate a massive intelligence failure and cannot be ignored. [BBC, 1/24/2004]
Asked to Delay Resignation until after State of Union Address - In 2005, Kay will reveal that he was asked by CIA Director George Tenet to hold off on his resignation. According to Kay, Tenet told him: “If you resign now, it will appear that we don’t know what we’re doing. That the wheels are coming off.” Kay will say, “I was asked to not go public with my resignation until after the president’s State of the Union address which—this is Washington and in general—I’ve been around long enough so I know in January you don’t try to get bad news out before the president gives his State of the Union address.” Kay does not say exactly when Tenet asked him to delay his resignation. [CNN, 8/18/2005]
David Kay tells the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Iraq Survey Group has failed to find any evidence that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. “Let me begin by saying, we were almost all wrong,” he says in his opening remarks, before revealing that the inspection teams found no weapons of mass destruction. “I believe that the effort that has been directed to this point has been sufficiently intense that it is highly unlikely that there were large stockpiles of deployed militarized chemical and biological weapons there,” he says. [CNN, 1/28/2003; Guardian, 1/29/2003; US Congress, 1/28/2004 ]
Hussein Deceived Own Generals - Kay says that apparently even Iraq’s own military commanders believed, falsely, that their military possessed chemical or biological weapons that were ready to be deployed. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) asks Kay: “I believe at one point you noted that even [Saddam Hussein’s] own military officers believed that they had [WMD]. In other words, they would think—” Kay interjects, ”—that someone else had them.” Sessions asks for an explanation, and Kay says: “Well, in interviewing the Republican Guard generals and Special Republican Guard generals and asking about their capabilities and having them, the assurance was they didn’t personally have them and hadn’t seen them, but the units on their right or left had them. And as you worked the way around the circle of those defending Baghdad, which is the immediate area of concern, you have got this very strange phenomena of, ‘No, I didn’t have them, I haven’t seen them, but look to my right and left.’ That was an intentional ambiguity.” [CNN, 1/28/2003; Guardian, 1/29/2003; US Congress, 1/28/2004 ; Wilson, 2007, pp. 154-155]
Trying to Have It Both Ways - In 2007, current CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson (see April 2001 and After) will write, “In retrospect, it appears that Saddam Hussein wanted it both ways: to convince certain audiences that Iraq had WMD, while simultaneously working to convince others that it had abandoned all its illegal programs.” In May 2006, Foreign Affairs magazine will note that Iraq’s former Defense Minister, Ali Hassan Majeed (also known as “Chemical Ali”), knew Iraq possessed no WMDs before the US invasion, but also knew that many of his colleagues “never stopped believing that the weapons still existed. Even at the highest echelon of the regime, when it came to WMD there was always some element of doubt about the truth.” The Foreign Affairs article notes that during a meeting of the Revolutionary Command Council some time before the invasion, Hussein was asked if Iraq indeed possessed such weapons. He said Iraq did not, but refused to countenance any attempt to persuade others outside of the council of the truth. The reason for this deception, Hussein said, was that if Israel believed Iraq had such weapons, it would be less likely to attack Iraq. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 154-155] Kay has just resigned as the head of the Iraq Survey Group (see January 23, 2004).
The Iraq Survey Group concludes in its final report, authored by Charles Duelfer, that Saddam Hussein wanted to acquire weapons of mass destruction as a deterrent against the United States and Iran, but that there is no evidence that Iraq had a WMD stockpile or program at the time of the invasion. Rather evidence indicates that Iraq’s WMD capability was destroyed in 1991. Roughly 1,750 experts have inspected some 1,200 potential WMD sites since the war began. [CNN, 10/7/2004] With regard to the alleged biological weapon labs, the report says that an “exhaustive investigation” has demonstrated that the trailers found shortly after the invasion of Iraq by US forces (see May 9, 2003)
(see April 19, 2003) were not “part of any BW [biological weapons] program.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 9/30/2004; Los Angeles Times, 11/20/2005] Rather they were “almost certainly intended” for the production of hydrogen for artillery weather balloons. [Washington Post, 4/12/2006]
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