Iraq Arms Inspector Casts Doubt on WMD Claims
David Kay, who recently resigned as head of the U.S. group searching for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, now says he doesn't think stockpiles of such weapons existed. He no longer believes that Iraq had a large-scale production program in the 1990s.
The Bush administration disagrees, and stands by its previous assessments.
Kay joins NPR's Liane Hansen for an extended discussion.
LIANE HANSEN: On Friday, CIA director George Tenet announced the resignation of the chief U.S. weapons investigator in Iraq. David Kay has served as special adviser to the Iraq Survey Group since June of last year. After resigning his post, Kay told the Reuters news service that he does not believe Iraq possessed stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons. The Bush administration stands by its prewar assertions about Iraq's banned weapons, although Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters yesterday, "We don't know yet." Kay will not submit a final report on his work in Iraq, but the weapons search will continue. Charles Duelfer, also a veteran of U.N. inspections, will replace Kay as the new CIA special adviser. David Kay is with us in the studio this morning. Good morning, David. Welcome back.
DAVID KAY: Good morning. I'm happy to be with you. HANSEN: Since you're not delivering a final report, tell us what you found. KAY: Well, I think what we reported in October, and what the president actually cited in the State of the Union address, are the most important things we found. We found that the Iraqi government - particularly, Saddam Hussein and his senior leadership - had an intention to continue to pursue their WMD activities; that they, in fact, had a large number of WMD program-related activities. Now, it's also important what we have not found. We have not yet found actual weapons and certainly, not large stockpiles of weapons. So there was a WMD program. It was going ahead. It was rudimentary in many areas - for example, the nuclear area. But it continued without, though, actual stockpiles of weapons.
HANSEN: So prior to last year's invasion and your report of October, things hadn't really changed.
KAY: Not very much - I think that's true.
HANSEN: Have you determined that you're never going to find clear evidence of weapons of mass destruction?
KAY: Well, I think one has to be cautious in this regard. Because of the breakdown of social and political order at the end of the war, and rioting and looting continued unchecked for at least two months, we're going to be left with ambiguity as to what we found. My summary view, based on what I've seen, is that we are very unlikely to find stockpiles, large stockpiles of weapons. I don't think they exist. That's my personal view based on the evidence as of when I left. The search is going to go on and indeed, one shouldn't be surprised in Iraq by surprises. You continue to be surprised by what you find. I personally think we're going to find program activities; and some of them are quite substantial, as in the missile area. We're not going to find large stockpiles.
HANSEN: Program activities - meaning there's material, it's been processed, and it's ready to deploy?
KAY: No. Program activities meaning that there were scientists and engineers working on developing weapons or weapons concepts; that they had not moved into actual production, but in some areas - for example, producing mustard gas - they knew all the answers. They had done it in the past, and it's a relatively simple thing to go from where they were, to starting to produce it. But they had not made that decision to go ahead at the time of Operation Iraqi Freedom - at least, that's my conclusion.
HANSEN: You told the Sunday Telegraph newspaper that you do believe some weapons materials may have been moved to Syria. What can you tell us about that?
KAY: I think that's a compressed view of what I said. What I've said is, there's ample evidence of movement to Syria before the war. I mean, there's satellite photography; there are reports on the ground, of a constant stream of trucks, cars, rail traffic across the border. We simply don't know what was moved. And that's an important area for which continued work has to be done; although I must say, there's very little you can do in Iraq to determine what was moved. The real answers to that are in Syria, and the Syrian government has shown absolutely no interest in helping us resolve this issue.
HANSEN: Since your October report, Saddam Hussein has been captured. Did you have an opportunity to speak to him yourself, or any high-level political leaders in his regime?
KAY: I certainly spoke to a lot of high-level political leaders. I didn't have the opportunity to speak to Saddam, although people who worked for me have.
HANSEN: Mm-hmm. What did you learn?
KAY: Well, I think that's an ongoing intelligence inquiry from Saddam. I can tell you, you know, very little in detail about it. It certainly is important. I wish we'd captured him earlier, as I think everyone does. From others in his leadership, it's a mixed bag. There are some who still absolutely deny everything. There are others who have helped the inspection effort considerably, and are talking frankly.
HANSEN: Your public comments about Iraq's weapons are at odds with those that were offered last week by Vice President Dick Cheney on MORNING EDITION, NPR's MORNING EDITION. Mr. Cheney said - and he's talking about Iraq - "I believe they had programs designed to produce weapons of mass destruction." You've mentioned it. But you've also said the best evidence is that Iraq did not resume large-scale production after the 1991 Gulf War. Are you agreeing with Mr. Cheney? Do you dispute his assertion?
KAY: No, I think we're both looking at what is an enigma from slightly different positions. Based on what I've seen there, my conclusion is they had not resumed large-scale production. There is uncertainty;that's one reason it's important that the inspections continue. And I look forward to Charlie Duelfer - who I know well, and have a great deal of respect for - leading those inspections now, so that we can come to a consensus view. My warning to the American public, though, is there's always going to be unresolved ambiguity here. The failure to establish security at the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and allowing the looting to continue, meant that records have been destroyed and destroyed forever, and can't be put back together again.
HANSEN: Can you say there was ambiguity before the war?
KAY: I think there was. You know, if you talk before the war, the interesting thing is there was very little difference in opinion between U.S. intelligence, French intelligence, German, even the Russians, with regard to whether they had weapons or not. There was differences of opinion about how one dealt with the program. The most important task before the nation - and actually, the world right now, in my view - is understanding why the picture we see after the war is the almost unanimous picture that all intelligence services saw of Iraq before the war.
HANSEN: In that light then, Rep. Jane Harman, who's the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said Friday, "The president owes the American public and the world an explanation." And your statement would have fit into what she had heard from you before. So does the president owe the American public an explanation for this idea of the ambiguity, why the search didn't find stockpiles of WMDs in Iraq?
KAY: Oh, I actually think the intelligence community owes the president, rather than the president owing the American people. We have to remember that this view of Iraq was held during the Clinton administration, and didn't change in the Bush administration. It is not a political "gotacha" issue. It is a serious issue of how you could come to the conclusion that is not matched by the future. It's not unusual - I'd remind you, as you well know, at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the intelligence estimate was that there were no nuclear weapons in Cuba. We learned only afterwards, and as former Secretary of Defense McNamara said in the recent movie "The Fog of War," two societies came within seconds of destroying each other, based on a misperception of what reality were. Often, estimates are different than reality. The important thing is when they differ, to understand why. This is not a political issue. It's a fundamental issue of national security.
HANSEN: You made it clear, though, before and after the war began, you believed that weapons would be found. In an interview on CNBC a couple of months before you joined the search, you said you were absolutely confident they would be found. We have a minute, but I'd like to be able to keep you here in the studio because we have more questions to ask. But for now, on that, are those words in that interview coming back to haunt you?
KAY: Not coming back to haunt me in the sense of, I'm embarrassed. They're coming back to haunt me in the sense of, why could we all be so wrong? Almost everyone believed, regardless of how you felt about whether you should have unilateral military action or wait for the U.N., there was no disagreement about the belief that the weapons existed. The search - and people forget, we led this search to find the truth, not to find the weapons. The fact that we found that - so far - the weapons did not exist, we've got to deal with that difference and understand why. And it's not a political issue. It's an issue of the capabilities of one's intelligence service to collect valid, truthful information.
HANSEN: We are speaking with David Kay, CIA adviser to the Iraq Survey Group, and who acted as chief U.S. weapons inspector as well as U.N. weapons inspector. He resigned from the Iraq Survey Group just this past week.
You said your motivation for stepping down was that the resources for your group were diverted into the fight against the insurgency in Iraq. I mean, can you briefly explain how that happened; and is that frustrating?
KAY: Liane, when I took this job, it was both a difficult personal and professional decision to do. I said that the one condition that really had to rule is Iraq Survey Group be totally, exclusively devoted to the search for WMD. I thought that was an important issue that deserved total focus - and it's very hard to run organizations with multiple missions, particularly if one-half is controlled by the Defense Department and the other half by the CIA - and that the resources had to be made available. Everyone agreed to that; it's actually in writing. By September, when Saddam had not been captured, the security situation was getting worse; the military commanders in the field - particularly Gen. Abizaid, who's overall military commander - started looking for resources that would help deal with the political security issue. I agree; that is the absolute requirement. You've got to stop having Americans killed, and you've got to have stability, or you'll never get political change.
They started looking at the Iraq Survey Group because we had a reputation of having a very well-run organization that was doing its work, and started talking about taking resources and changing missions. By the time we got to December, in fact, they had changed the mission of ISG from exclusively focusing on WMD so that counterterrorism, force protection was an equal priority, and resources started to be moved. I thought that was the wrong thing to do. I particularly thought it was the wrong thing to do, in terms of my skills and capabilities. I didn't think I had the capability to adequately direct an organization that was working both for a four-star general as well as working for me. (Laughter) It's one of those bureaucratic things that never work out. And so I thought the straightest thing to do was for me to express my disagreement, and simply step out. I understand fully the importance of political stability...
KAY: ...and security in Iraq; I lived there.
HANSEN: Knowing what you know now, though, did Iraq pose an imminent threat?
KAY: Liane, I think this is one of the questions the American public and politicians are going to have to grapple with. "Imminent" depends - it's a risk assessment. How risky are you to run? And in the shadowing effect of 9/11, it seems to me that you recalculate what risk. Based on the intelligence that existed, I think it was reasonable to reach the conclusion that Iraq posed an imminent threat. Now that you know reality on the ground as opposed to what you estimated before, you may reach a different conclusion - although I must say, I actually think what we learned during the inspection made Iraq a more dangerous place, potentially, than in fact, we thought it was even before the war.
HANSEN: Maybe we should define imminent. Was it, you know, 45 minutes, a year or two, five or six, seven or eight?
KAY: Well, it's quite clear - before the war, it was reasonable for people to think imminent meant a very short order because you assessed that they had those weapons. After the war - and with the inspection effort that we have carried out now, for nine months - I think we all agree that there were not large amounts of weapons available for imminent action. That's not the same thing as saying it was not a serious, imminent threat that you're not willing to run for the nation. That is a political judgment, not a technical judgment.
HANSEN: What's next for you? Will you be writing a book about your experiences, both working for the U.N. and the CIA and - in Iraq?
KAY: Well, I hope there is a book out there sometime, but as I've told my friends, I'm not doing a Paul O'Neill. No, I would like to deal with the serious issue of proliferation intelligence - lessons we've learned and what we need to do to readjust it. People forget, and I'm one of the worst, you focus on Iraq - we've had three surprises this year. We've had Iran, and we've had Libya. The Iranian program was not found either by the international inspection agencies, or by domestic intelligence services. It was Iranian defectors, Iranian opposition groups outside of Iran that brought that to the world's attention. The Libyan one - I don't think we still know how it was found, but it had very surprising elements: Pakistan connections; plants in Malaysia producing parts. It is, in many ways, the biggest surprise of all, and it was missed. We need to understand our capabilities, and what needs to be done to make the nation better.
HANSEN: David Kay - he has stepped down from his post as special adviser to the Iraq Survey Group. Mr. Kay served as a U.N. and U.S. weapons inspector, and he's been a frequent guest on NPR's WEEKEND EDITION SUNDAY.
Mr. Kay, thank you so much for coming into the studio today.
KAY: Thank you. Happy to do it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.