Earlier this week I had the pleasure of interviewing Rod Barton - weapons inspector, author and whistleblower.
(part one, part two, part three, part four, part five)
From his bio:
"UNSCOM was abolished at the end of 1999 and a new organization, the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) headed by Dr Hans Blix was formed to succeed it. Mr Barton was invited by Dr Hans Blix to be an adviser to him and his organisation. Mr Barton worked in this capacity under a series of short-term contracts from May 2001 until after the outbreak of the second Gulf War in March 2003.
In June 2003, the US formed the Iraq Survey Group to hunt for WMD in Iraq. Mr Barton joined the ISG in Baghdad in early December 2003 as the senior specialist advisor to the head of the Group. He left at the end of March 2004 but returned in September to assist in the assembling of the ISG’s substantive report. At the invitation of the US, he also attended hearings in Washington in October 2004 when the report was presented to Congress."
Barton has a book called "The Weapons Detective" which you can buy here - a review in the major Australian daily reads:
"In The Weapons Detective, Rod Barton makes the observation that Australia "seems a strange democracy where truth is discouraged". A vast majority of Australians would agree. We know that truth, accountability and responsibility are the essence of democracy and, ultimately, the only guarantee of freedom, and yet often we do not find it in public life. We yearn for an outbreak of truth.The interview was approximately 90 minutes - so I'll break it up into different bits. In this first instalment, I'll cover the pre-invasion stuff - specifically what was known about Saddam's program, and what was known by the axis-of-evil - Bush, Blair and Howard.
Read Barton's book and you'll find it, fair and square. And in the process be proud of those pragmatic and authoritative Australians who for years have cut the mustard on the international stage with almost no profile back home. Few are as respected as Barton, whose scientific skill, powers of deduction, decency and sense of purpose commanded attention in power centres such as Washington and London.
Up there with the world's best weapons inspectors, Barton was a microbiologist and biochemist who joined the Australian defence intelligence system more than 30 years ago. For much of that time, he was destined to be involved with Iraq. In March 2004, he resigned in protest from the Iraq Survey Group and has since been cold-shouldered by his profession."
(part two here)
Luke Ryland: Did you think that Saddam had any WMD?
Rod Barton: No. I thought that maybe there were still some old weapons of no real significance, and that's what Blix thought as well. Partly because they didn’t have any delivery systems and partly because old weapons deteriorate. You know, if they had weapons from pre 91, by 2003 they are at least 12 years old - and they deteriorate a lot, particularly chemical and bio weapons.
Anthrax, and conceivably mustard gas, can maybe continue to be viable after a long period but most of the others deteriorate beyond utility. But even then, Iraq didn’t have any delivery systems anyway, so there was no real threat.
As for new weapons, we had inspectors on the ground there - from Nov till the end of Feb - and there weren’t even any facilities that could have made anything. All of the facilities that we looked at were all completely run-down so we knew that they couldn’t have rebuilt anything. If we had a bit more time we could have been more firm about that finding - but we were pretty sure there was nothing there. We knew that Saddam wasn't a threat.
We published a lot of stuff when I was working with Hans Blix - but a lot of it was ignored.
LR: In December 2003, Saddam delivered his 12,000 Weapons Declaration to the Security Council. Did that accurately reflect the status of Iraq's program?
RB: Well, their bottom line: "we don’t have any WMD" was correct - but Iraq didn’t tell the entire truth in that document - there were still a lot of things that were false - significant things, too - false, or misleading. So Iraq didn't really help its own cause.
I helped write Hans Blix's speeches to the UNSC - and we clearly were concerned about some of the things that Iraq said in that declaration because we had information that contradicted it, and we say that in the speeches. We understand a bit better now why they didn’t tell the whole truth - they were partly caught up in lies from the past, and they felt that if they tried to correct the lies from the past then nobody would believe them, and they'd be accused of lying again - so they kept to the old story.
LR: When you interviewed the scientists in Iraq after the invasion, did they tell the truth then?
RB: Yeah - most of them. They had no interest in lying at that point, and we could line up all of their stories - the scientists and the politicians - Tariq Aziz for example.
LR: I have an outstanding FOIA on that document - is there any reason why it shouldn’t be made public?
RB: The redacted elements? No.
We in the UN realised that we had a problem - I helped organise to vet this document in Dec 2002, and we didn’t want it to be a manual about how to make WMD. The P5 members got the unredacted version, and the other members of the Security Council got the redacted version - I don't see any reason why it can't be released.
We had to get the redacted version to the non-P5 members as quickly as possible, it was a heck of a job - we did the redactions of a 12,000 page document in only four days! It was a remarkable effort. But I don’t think that you'll have much success with a US FOIA because it's really a UNSC document - I think the best way for you would be to approach the UN. But I can't see any reason why it shouldn’t be released, especially the redacted version - it's not going to give anybody any clue about how to make anything.
LR: You were at Colin Powell's speech at the Security Council - what was your sense of that? Did you believe it? Were you dismayed? Did you think it was all bullshit?
RB: I wouldn’t say we were dismayed, in fact, I found it quite convincing - but I wondered what the intelligence was, because we hadn’t seen it - we had no inkling of it - we'd never heard of Curveball, for example.
After the speech, we asked for the intelligence but we got no response. But, and this is quite telling - the CIA gave us some information - a list of 48 sites where we'd be likely to find WMD, and we found nothing. Nothing in 48 sites - these are the same sites that the CIA was basing their intelligence on!
Under normal circumstances, that should have told the CIA that something was wrong with their intelligence - they were zero from 48! And what did the CIA do? They criticized the inspectors. Of course, they were long committed to war then - and there was no going back.
LR: You've seen a lot of the intelligence that Howard, Bush and Blair saw - and you know what they said. Let's start with John Howard - you have no trouble calling him a liar.
RB: Correct - I can only interpret what he said as lies. I don't know exactly what Howard believed, but I know what he was told, and I know what he said to the Australian Parliament and to the public, and the only interpretation is that he lied.
Why would he believe different to what he was told? In fact, when he made the speech to parliament, he didn’t quote Australian intelligence, he didn’t refer to Australian intelligence. Like a lot of politicians, he's fairly careful - he referred to the British dossier which was public and the public version of the NIE - and both of those documents were pretty hawkish - for different reasons - the Dossier because it had been sexed up by John Scarlett, and the NIE because a lot of people within the CIA believed it. Or sort of believed it - the groupthink sort of carried it along.
LR: On the other hand, you suggest that President Bush probably believed what he was saying.
RB: Yes, I think he was happy to believe it, and he was happy to accept what he was given. As I say in that speech, he is still culpable, of course, because he got what he wanted. I am not excusing him. He didn't ask any objective, or detailed, questions - and he should have.
The thing is that the policy got far ahead of the intelligence, and I'm well aware of that, because I was working with the CIA and had contacts in the CIA throughout all of that era, and of course, I was the Senior Advisor to the ISG in the hunt for the weapons, so I actually saw what intelligence they had pre-war. And I can tell you as a professional intelligence officer that information they had should never have been accepted - and yet it was accepted, because the policy was that they had to find a case for going to war against Iraq and of course, WMD was an easy case to make, and intelligence was accepted that should never have been accepted.
LR: Was it accepted for what they call 'group-think' - or were there specific lies along the way?
RB: It was largely Group-Think - I think that's a good term that they used, but it wasn’t just that. There were some people who looked at the intelligence objectively, I met them - but of course, they were pushed aside.
The administration simply did not want to hear any dissenting voices - they were pushed aside - both in the CIA and other agencies too, I'm afraid. So the intelligence professionals who said 'just hang on a moment, how can we accept that?' - say from Curveball and some of the others - they were just silenced. And I also met the people who were the leaders in pushing that dodgy intelligence - and I have to say, they were the career people, and they all did pretty well out of it, I might add. All of these senior analysts who made these wrong assessments, they were either promoted, or have moved out into other jobs - within the system, of course. It's just outrageous - they should have got the sack, or been demoted, or re-educated or something! Yet they all got promoted. To me this is just outrageous. When we do things this way, we never learn anything.
LR: Right. And it was the same in the UK, too. Scarlett got promoted.
RB: Yes, John Scarlett got promoted from the Chairman of the JIC to the head of MI6 - and he was the main pusher of Iraq being a threat. I know the intelligence officers there in the UK very well, I had a posting in London - so I know how the UK system works, and I know many of the characters because I've worked with them over the years, and the actual intelligence that was being given to the UK government was similar to what happened in Australia.
In other words, there was lots of doubts and possibilities and uncertainties and so on, and was Iraq a threat? No. In fact, when the dossier came out, the head of the group, Brian Jones, who was my counterpart in the UK in the defence intelligence staff - I was the equivalent in Australia in the Defence Intelligence Organization - he was head of WMD programming, including Nuclear, Chemical and Biological, and when the dossier came out under Scarlett, Jones actually wrote a letter in protest to Scarlett, which is very unusual because he's a very conservative guy, and it's also a very unusual procedure anyway.
His protest letter said that this dossier is not what the intelligence shows. You know, "the 45 minute claim is nonsense, and the other claims in the dossier are overstated - it's not what Blair was told either". In the classified version that Blair received, although it was a bit more upbeat that the Australian ones, they still had a lot of caution - highlighting the uncertanty and so on, and 'was Iraq a threat?' No.
And it was the same in Australia, in fact our assessments were even blunter, as you saw in those pieces, I gave you exactly what the words were (1, 2). I was consulted on that, in Dec 2002 - I saw those assessments and I thought that they were reasonable - they mentioned that perhaps there were some old weapons, but there weren't any new weapons, and that Iraq wasn't a threat from WMD - but both Blair and Howard joined in with Bush because they are an alliance, and that was more important than other considerations, I believe.
LR: One of the things that surprised me particularly over that period was Tony Blair repeatedly saying "I think we'll find WMD, I think we'll find WMD" - I can't believe that he stuck to that line.
RB: I couldn’t believe it either - he did give it away eventually by the middle of 2004. Once Blair said it, the question was put to Howard and Howard was still clinging on, despite the fact that he, too, knew the truth.
You see, John Gee, another whistleblower, and I had already been to Canberra and reported that there was nothing to be found, and the Australia government accepted it, but Howard was still playing the game, saying 'We'll have to wait for the ISG report' - and when Howard was asked about Blair's statement, he said "well, the Brits have come to their conclusion, but we rely on our own information" You have to remember there was an election in Australia later that year and he couldn't come out and say what he knew.
Next up, we talk about Barton's time in Iraq with the ISG. If I'm not mistaken, emptywheel and others have speculated that there may be another ISG report that didn't see the light of day. I can answer that in the affirmative, and explain how that came about.
(update - part two here)
I'll also have an instalment re curveball, the mobile trailers and Steven Hatfill, another on propaganda & Judy Miller, and an assortment of other various goodies.
(update - part 3 here)