Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Back Story

You'd think the discovery of 500 chemical weapons in Iraq would be a big story, even if they are leftovers from Saddam's arsenal in the 1980s. This discovery confirms that WMD remained present in Iraq, despite the old regime's proclamation that such weapons had been destroyed, and fruitless searches conducted by U.N. inspectors, and later, the Iraq Survey Group (ISG). These weapons, which include artillery shells and rockets, were filled with mustard gas and nerve agents of varying toxicity. The discovery of these weapons suggests (surprise, surprise) that Saddam planned to retain at least a portion of his WMD capability, and would have likely resumed full-scale development and production, had UN sanctions been removed.

More importantly, these weapons remain a threat to coalition forces in Iraq. True, insurgents aren't likely to get their hands on a howitzer or rocket launcher and bombard a base with chemical rounds. But in the hands of terrorists, these chemical weapons could easily be used in IEDs or VBIEDs, daisy-chained together for increased effectiveness. According to Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra of Michigan (who announced the discovery yesterday), these chemical weapons have recovered by coalition forces over the past two years, on a regular basis. More of these weapons remain unrecovered, and could possibly wind up in the hands of terrorists. So much for the "no WMD in Iraq" mantra that has dominated coverage of our military operations in that country since 2003.

Big story? Guess again. Drudge has links to coverage from Fox News and AFP, but that's about it. You won't find a mention of this story on MSM sites; MSNBC is pre-occupied with the latest combat casualties from Iraq and Senate debate on John Kerry's "cut-and-run" resolution. Ditto for CNN. The Washington Post buried the story on page A10. Guess that unambiguous evidence of chemical weapons in Iraq doesn't fit too well with their editorial and reportorial assertions that "Bush lied" about WMD. Refusing to even acknowledge the Santorum-Hoekstra announcement is another black eye for American journalism, and furhter evidence that the MSM is (thankfully) on its last legs.


While a number of bloggers, including Captain's Quarters and Powerline, have done an excellent job in tracking yesterday's announcement (and the underwhelming media response), there is a back story that must be told. It's a story of brueaucratic inepitude, apparent political and personal agendas, and the efforts of a few courageous individuals to get the truth out.

The story begins in April of this year, when a team of intelligence analysts, assigned to the Army's National Ground Intelligence Center (NGIC) published an exhaustive report on the continued recovery of chemical weapons in Iraq. Their report clearly noted that the weapons were clearly manufactured before the first Gulf War. However, the NGIC analysts also observed that some of the weapons remained in good condition (suggesting an Iraqi effort to preserve them), and posed a potential threat to coalition forces, if they fell into the hands of insurgents. From what I'm told, the report contained a full listing of all chemical weapons discovered in Iraq since the fall of Saddam, cut-away diagrams of the weapons, locations where they were found, and their potential lethality if employed by terrorists.

Obviously, the NGIC report ran against the conventional wisdom that "Iraq had no WMD" after the U.S.-led invasion, and (to its credit), the organization published the report, which was posted on INTELINK (the intelligence community's classified intranet) in April of this year. In that forum, the report could be easily accessed by anyone with access to the system, the proper security clearance, and a valid need-to-know. From an analytical standpoint, the team at NGIC did their job, and they deserve tremendous credit for publishing their report. That's what analysts are supposed to do--tell the truth, and let the chips fall where they may, even if their findings run contrary to popular assumptions and political agendas.

Shortly after the NGIC item was posted on INTELINK, Senator Santorum learned of its existence, and began pressing the Army for more information, and declassification of the report's key findings. At this juncture, however, political agendas and bureaucratic tail-covering became a factor. A GOP source sent me a copy of Senator Santorum's letter, requesting information on chemical weapons in Iraq, back in April. Amazing (or, perhaps not-so-amazingly), both NGIC and the Army's Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM) ignored Santorum's request. Normally, DOD agencies are supposed to respond to a request from a member of Congress within 48 hours; the Army ignored Santorum's request for more than a month. In fact, Santorum and Hoekstra didn't get their information until the Intelligence Committee chairman obtained a copy of the NGIC report and reportedly "hit the ceiling." After that, the Director of National Intelligence, Ambassador John Negroponte, agreed to declassify portions of the report, which were released yesterday.

Why did the Army ignore Senator Santorum's initial request? That's an issue that the INSCOM commander, Major General John D. Freitas III, may be asked to explain the next time he's on the Hill. The same holds true for the NGIC Commander, an Army Colonel. But beyond the DOD's efforts to "slow-roll" Senator Santorum and Chairman Hoekstra, there's the larger issue of why the Defense Department and Intelligence Community "sat" on this information. Sources tell me that there is no evidence of the NGIC report making its way into high-visibility intelligence products, such as the daily update for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the CIA's flagship National Intelligence Daily (NID), or the Presidential Daily Brief (PDB), now handled by Negroponte's staff. Additionally, there was no effort to inform key members of Congress on this issue, until they began demanding answers. Congressman Hoekstra has every right to be pissed; the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee should not learn about the discovery of WMD in Iraq via an "under-the-table" copy of an Army report that was published almost two months earlier.

As a young intelligence officer, I was drilled that important information should make its way up the chain of command as soon as possible. Apparently, things have changed since I left the business. Information that contradicts prevailing judgements can be ignored, or simply buried on an intelligence website--let the customer find out on his own. If members of Congress want information, simply delay your response as long as possible, and provide data only when someone with enough horsepower (in this case, the HPSCI chairman) demands answers. Then, provide only a fraction of what they ask for.

If all this sounds vaguely familiar, it should. Such tactics have been part-and-parcel of how the intel community does business for decades. It's the sort of behavior that has created barriers between various intelligence agencies, and generated lingering suspicion and distrust between the community, the Congress, and (ultimately) the American people. More than a year into his tenure as DNI, Negroponte's intelligence community is still operating a lot like its predecessor. The American people have a right to know that we've been uncovering WMD in Iraq--just as they were led to believe that none still existed. Withholding that information is inexcusable; intel bureaucrats were apparently uncomfortable with the revelation that they had been wrong on Iraqi WMD, not once, not twice, but a total of three times.

The MSM--if it ever gets around to this story--will likely claim that Santorum and Hoekstra are playing politics with intelligence. This blog has been critical of Congress playing fast-and-loose with intel information in the past, but that doesn't appear to be the case this time. Santorum and Hoekstra played by the rules, made their requests through proper channels, and only released declassified portions of the document, with the approval of the DNI. Compare that to the antics of Vermont Senator Pat Leahy--who was booted from the Senate intel committee for leaking classified information--and you'll see that Santorum and Hoekstra were models of patience and decorum.

Kudos to the NGIC team for publishing this discovery, and to the members of Congress--Santorum, Hoekstra (and Pennsylvania Congressman Curt Weldon)--who pushed for its public release. Our elected officials should demand answers on why this important data never made its way up the chain of command, and why their requests for information were apparently stone-walled by the Pentagon and the intel community.


Wanderlust said...


What you fail to grasp is that deep in the intel community, you are a spook first, and then military (whatever branch of service colors your uniform) a distant second.

The analysts who published the report were not deep enough in the community to be affected; they did their jobs and posted the info where it was supposed to go. Very likely it will be demonstrated that they also informed up the chain of command, as they were supposed to do.

The heads of NGIC and INSCOM, however, are intelligence heads first, high-ranking members of a community that has lost its way - not unlike NASA did after Apollo, or the three letter agencies after 1991.

What worries me about this little episode is that it means Negroponte has either been unsuccessful in effecting change, or he hasn't bought into the need to effect change, in the intelligence community.

I can only hope Hayden will fix this...

Tim said...

" Oh, and the occupation of a deteriorating country full of people who hate us, in a region of people who hate us all the more intensely."

Agreed, Liberals and Democrats surely hate us, but most of our armed forces are here naturally, rather than as occupier, no matter how much you might hate them.

Coach Mark said...

Former spook, thanks for the recap. If this intel is there, then there was a reason. It's a shame some libs have already changed their story, as I knew they would.

Duke said...

Bravo! both for an excellent, informed post; and the bullseye responses to bull!

Tom the Redhunter said...

"Should Donald Rumsfeld and other Reagan administration officials be subject to criminal penalties for their roles in arming Saddam with the WMD we had to invade to discover?"

Should Henry Stimson and other Roosevelt Administration officials be subject to criminal penalties for their roles in arming Stalin with some of the weapons he used to invade eastern Europe?

Tom the Redhunter said...

I should have said "...should have been subject..."

Boghie said...


Can you provide a link to the study (certainly in the clear and public) to TNRs claim of:

"Records from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a 1994 Senate Banking Committee investigation show that during Reagan's presidency, the United States sold Iraq anthrax, bubonic plague, and botulinum toxin, all supposedly for medical research"

I only find references to TNR. I trust TNR about as much as I trust CBS and it's unimpeachable sources.

The CDC and Banking Committee publish their studies. Or is this double super top secret with black helicopters or something...

It could be true though...
Just want to read the study referenced.

I will keep looking for it as well.

AMac said...

ReflectionEphemeral is presenting a misleading picture of how the Iraqi military obtained biological warfare agents.

It gets worse. Records from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a 1994 Senate Banking Committee investigation show that during Reagan's presidency, the United States sold Iraq anthrax, bubonic plague, and botulinum toxin, all supposedly for medical research...

All this was justified at the time, of course, by the need to stop fundamentalist Iran...

The United States did not sell biological agents to Iraq. The ATCC, based at the time in Rockville, MD, shared these agents, so it thought, with researchers in Iraq. In conformity with its policies at the time. However naive they were.

Readers who want facts (cf. innuendo) can go to the Riegle Report that RE offered up to Boghie at 11:19am. Search for "ATCC" to see what little this document offers on the matter.

A much more detailed account is available in this 1997 Washington Post article. Again, search for the string "ATCC".

Further investigations were undertaken by Science magazine (IIRC) and others; they came to the same conclusions as the WaPo.

ReflectionEphemeral, you have accused ATCC of complicity in a U.S. government plot to deliver BW agents to Saddam. Reckless, dishonest, and dishonorable are words that this anonymous attack brings to mind.

How about offering a retraction and apology--given the absence of credible supporting documentation.

AMac said...

You don't state that the Iraqis received germ cultures as the result of a US Government conspiracy, but you strongly imply it.

Again--on what grounds?

As far as I know, during the time period in question, the ATCC and similar repositories around the world shipped microbiological samples to any qualified individual working for any appropriate agency.

In the pre-Photoshop, pre-color-printer days, the common phrase was along the lines of "accompany your purchase order with a signed request on your institution's letterhead."

You have a case if, in the 1980s, ATCC and similar repositories were sending samples to Iraq but not to other suspect countries. Say the Soviet Union, East Germany, Iran, Cuba, Bulgaria, China, South Africa, Poland--countries might reasonably have been suspected of aiming to do harm with biological samples (some did).

Was the ATCC willing to ship to these various parties when asked? Did the Commerce Department smooth the way for Iraq? Or would that have been superfluous, because any letterhead-toting scientist from any of these countries could have obtained these "research-use-only" samples with little or no difficulty?

If there was a conspiracy, it necessarily had to be because simply requesting the samples wouldn't work.


If there was a conspiracy, the people at ATCC were involved, either actively or as patsies.


Unfortunately, I was wrong about Science magazine publishing on the case; at least I can't find anything in their archives. The best I can dig up as far as direct quotes is this, an article which is hardly favorable to my position--but the quotes suggest that at the ATCC, it was "business as usual."

As far as the attitudes of the day: one can condemn the ATCC and the Commerce Department for naivete, for counting on ethical conduct by scientists, for failures of imagination, for a sclerotic bureaucracy.

As satisfying a jigsaw-puzzle fit as this would be: you have not illuminated the footprints of a Conspiracy, except by the standards of hundreds of websites that are devoted to things that might-be-true.

Can you cite evidence to back up the assertions you have made?

Boghie said...

ReflectionEphemeral and AMAC,

Great discussion. I am reviewing the links right now. Long...

A few points:
1. Could it be possible that the WMD capability and technology used by Iraq might have come from their primary allies - the Soviet Union?

2. How much chemical and biological WMD precursor material was provided by the Soviet Union, France, Germany, and maybe China? That would be interesting to know, eh.

3. What kind of technology did the Iraqis use to manufacture their own indiginous material? Was it largely US (doubtful since it was loaded into Soviet munitions, but I am open to it) or one of his major military suppliers?

Finally, if ReflectionEphemeral is right in stating that we made the mess and we should clean it - what else could have been done with Saddam going off the deep and violent end? It took the Unibomber's brother to turn him in and stop the murdering. Maybe President Bush is just doing the right thing by taking Saddam out and ending WMD development in that country. Eh...

Back to reading. I hope it is decisive…

Boghie said...

ReflectionEpheral and AMAC,

Your links and viewpoints are helpful and your points are well argued - and both at least partially valid... Through them, I actually found - and started reading - the Duelfer CIA report.

This document (I will track down the Kay report as well) should be required reading.

It is absolutely scary regarding Iraq's repeated capability and proven desire to develop and improve WMD capability.

There is plenty of fault to go around regarding Iraq's Chemical and Biological Warfare capability. They picked the American strain of the plague - but they used Europeans to build their factories and Soviets to provide the munitions (which they reengineered for WMD). But, in the end, Iraq was at fault. They skirted international controls, bribed companies, coerced nations, and reverse engineered technology to build a WMD weaponization capability.

Finally, it is obvious that Saddam viewed his WMD program as a deterrent - like a Cold War ballistic missile fleet. With the threat of WMD he could attack or influence neighbors. He could deter Western reprisals. And, he could blackmail illicit supporters.

I am now more impressed than ever with 'W'. He cleaned up the mess Reagan and Bush Sr. left. And, he is rebuilding the respect (or fear) lost during the Clinton era. Other nations must now think twice about the deterrent factor of Chemical Weapons and/or Biological Weapons. Bush went in expecting WMD - he did not lie.

To be fair to Reagan and Bush Sr. - they had to deal with the Soviet Union and an aggressive and militant Iran. Those were the primary tasks of the time.

To be fair with Clinton - I did not hear a real clamor for action following the Khobar Towers, Embassy Bombings, or the Cole Bombing. Were we ready. Were the hundreds that died in these terror strikes acceptable casualties?

AMac said...

ReflectionsEphemeral said (3:52pm):

Not a conspiracy.

[Regarding ATCC's shipments of biological agents to Iraq.]

This is the sort of policy discussion style that I'm objecting to. RE added biological warfare (BW) issues to the comments in order to (further) demonstrate the US Government's dirty hands with respect to Saddam's WMD programs. The facts as recited to the reader were designed to show the US Government's intentions to arm Iraq with BWs.

If not that--then what? Was RE's point in bringing up BW that Iraqis were clever in evading the spirit of US export regulations? Really?

Not a conspiracy. RE, I challenged you to provide evidence to back up your "dirty-hands" charges with respect to BW. Instead, you offer this "Emily Litella" comment. ("Never mind...")

It is very inadequate.

Lest this be taken the wrong way: I am not stating that ATCC was not involved in the sort of conspiracy that RE describes for US complicity in Iraq's CW program (and where the evidence is fairly persuasive). I don't/didn't work for them--so how would I know? I am making the much more circumscribed point that it is wrong to make such charges casually, and in the absence of evidence to back them up. RE's account of US/Iraq dealings in the CW and conventional armaments realm stands or falls on its own. The credibillity of the narrative is hardly strengthened by this broadening of the indictment. In the absence of evidence.

Thanks to redline for the insightful five points s/he made, immediately prior.

AMac said...


> However, had we allowed the inspectors to continue their work, rather than bombing them out of the country,

This phrasing is cute, but it is not accurate or even serious as a description.

Focusing again, tiresomely, on your account of Iraqi acquisition of BW materials... you have yet to offer evidence to back up your charges.

How about saying, "let's evaluate US/Iraq relations in the 1980s as they concerned CW only. That story is bad enough in a realpolitik way. Even though the BW story is a dog that won't hunt."

low-tech cyclist said...

Since Sen. Santorum has seen the report itself: has anyone asked him if these somewhat aged chemical weapons constitute weapons of mass destruction - the sort of thing that a terrorist could use to kill hundreds or thousands of people? (Notwithstanding the fact that one can do the same with conventional weapons, which kinda blurs the meaning of the term.)

This is the thing: unless you can kill a lot of people with it with greater ease than you could with conventional weapons, there ain't nothing 'mass' about it.

Does any of these shells, or even the coordinated use of the contents of a number of them, constitute a threat to enough people at once that we needed to invade another country to block whatever remote chance that it would be used against the United States?

If not, then these aren't the,'re looking for.

I don't know how accurate it is, but my understanding is that some of the shells in question held sarin gas, and that sarin, while quite deadly, degrades in months. And the rest held mustard gas, which holds up a bit better, but whose limitations are evident from its use in WWI: it's a lot more effective if the recipients of a mustard gas shell are trapped in trenches by the prospect of machine gun fire, circumstances that would presumably not accompany a terrorist attack in America.

low-tech cyclist said...


I've got a longstanding policy re terms of art.
1) Some terms are both in common usage, and are terms of art in one field or another.
2) Their meanings in common usage, and as terms of art in a specialized field, usually diverge.
3) When such terms are used in a publication that is not primarily intended for specialists, terms take on their meanings in common usage, rather than their meanings as specialized terms of art, unless it's spelled out to the contrary.

For instance, you might refer to a quantity as "uncountable" because there's just no way to count it. As a mathematician, I'm NOT assuming you're referring to a number so big that a set with that many elements could not be put into one-to-one correspondence with the rational numbers.

So in the popular discussion, 'weapons of mass destruction' meant to everybody but the specialists, 'weapons with the potential to kill a shitload of people.' If the Administration didn't bother to clarify how IT was using the term, that's its bad. The conclusion most everyone drew from the apparent equivalence of WMDs and NBC weapons was that bio and chem weapons were more deadly than conventional weapons.

That conclusion was basically incorrect, but the Administration was trying to scare people into war. It worked.

Now you're saying, by weapons of mass destruction, we mean some pretty piddly stuff, as well as nuclear warheads that can level whole cities.

Sorry, too late. These may be WMDs in a 'term of art' sense, but they're not the threat that convinced the American people we needed to go to war.

As far as the latter point is concerned, who's rejecting facts out of hand? Those weapons were mentioned in, I believe, the Iraq Survey Group's report a couple years back. There's nothing new about them. They said there were hundreds of them, just like Santorum is saying. But oddly enough, they concluded (as did the Administration) that there were no WMDs in Iraq.

So I believe they're real, I believe they're old news, and I believe Bush wouldn't have been able to stampede America into war on the prospect that Saddam had enough mustard gas to kill 37 people if they were tied up and thrown into trenches before the mustard gas was released, and there was some remote chance that he might give that mustard gas to terrorists who might bring it over here.

low-tech cyclist said...


"Universal common usage, both popular and otherwise, accepts chemical nerve agents and blister agents as WMDs."

Because the near-universal belief is that biological and chemical weapons can potentially kill thousands of people with a single weapon.

"The 1995 use of sarin in the attack on the Tokyo subway is notorious precisely because it involved a WMD, despite the fact that only 12 people were killed..."

I've never heard this referred to in the popular press as a WMD attack, but rather as a sarin gas attack.

"Compare casualty rates from the atomic raids on Hiroshima/Nagasaki with those from the conventional raids on Tokyo the previous February, for instance -- yet atomic weapons are WMDs while incendary bombs are not."

Now you're being disingenious. It took a LOT of bombs dropped on Tokyo to create that firestorm. We dropped ONE A-bomb on Hiroshima.

"I find it difficult to believe that the "popular" discussion centered around some radically different meaning of the term, given that countless action movies, novels, magazine articles, comic books, video games, etc., etc., used the WMD triad as themes."

OK, find me three instances where the term was used in a popular context to refer to a weapon unlikely to kill, say, 50 people. If you're claiming that the popular media made it readily apparent that "Weapons of Mass Destruction" meant "any NBC weapon" as opposed to "nukes, plus bio/chem weapons capable of killing lots of people at once," they shouldn't be too hard to find. Go for it.

"Our concerned but undereducated citizen who bases his vote for war on whether a weapon can kill "shitloads" (rather than some indefinitely smaller quantum of humanity) should really be reading more and cussing less."

Why?? Wasn't that the crux of the entire debate - the threat that Saddam's weapons represented to us?

We weren't going to go to war over Saddam being able to supply terrorists with a few machine guns. And a few terrorists with machine guns situated around a crowded place could easily kill a hundred or more persons before they were taken down. And if we'd been told that Saddam might have bio or chem weapons, but such a weapon in the hands of terrorists would be lucky (from the terrorist's perspective) to kill 100 people, there would have been little support for invading Iraq to prevent this threat.

To ordinary people, 'mass' means 'mass.' "Weapons of Mass Destruction" is not a complicated phrase - each of the four words, including the preposition, is easily grasped by a child, as is the combination of the four. Its lay meaning is obvious, and no one, in the run-up to war, went around correcting people and saying "WMDs mean nuclear, bio, and chem weapons, regardless of their actual lethality and destructive capacity." Rather, it was "nuclear, bio, and chem weapons are weapons of mass destruction." If you already know (or believe you know) what a weapon of mass destruction is, the implication is that bio and chem weapons can kill lots of people at once.

"It is clear that successive iterations of intelligence product on this subject have been regularly incorrect in key respects."

No, that is not clear at all.

"It is also clear that the full accounting for WMDs was not completed with the delivery of the Duelfer Report."

Nor that.

"I think you're making some pretty silly statements about a not-at-all silly subject."

Hey, the feeling is mutual. Cheerio.

AMac said...


Thanks for the thoughtful response. We have areas of agreement as well as disagreement; I think they've been aired. I appreciate you sticking with the issues.

Coach Mark said...

FYI - I thought some of you might find it interesting that the DOD may be expanding to data mine blogs for info related to the war on terror.