Friday, September 08, 2006

Rod Barton: The Weapons Detective

I hope to interview Rod Barton in the next little while. He is an Aussie - but from what I gather, he was one of the chief WMD experts involved with the Iraq Survey Group and worked with Hans Blix and UNMOVIC and all that (i.e. I'm nervous about parochialism - but as far as I can tell, he was a world class expert - and my quoting him has nothing to do with his australian-ness)

(see part 2 here)

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."
He resigned in disgust because he knew the CIA was lying about WMD in Iraq - and they were covering up the 'search.'

Barton has a book called "The Weapons Detective" - 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.

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."
does any of that sound familiar?

He emailed me the notes to two of his recent-ish speeches. Here's one speech - emphasis his.

Iraq and WMD: Who knew what, when?
Panel discussion, Sydney Town Hall, 26 May 2006

I must start with a disclaimer: At the risk of sounding a bit like Donald Rumsfeld: only those involved, know what they know. However I am better placed than most to comment on what our leaders knew, or should have known, about Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq prior to the 2003 Iraq war. [I was a Director of Intelligence on WMD, UN inspector from 1991, Special Advisor to Hans Blix, Senior advisor to CIA after the 2003 Iraq War].

So who knew what when?

The “when” will be at the start of the 2003 Iraq War.

Just a note here. The US Administration called the war, OIF, but I refuse to call it that. The war may have freed Iraq of one form of tyranny in the person of Saddam Hussein but it brought other forms of tyranny: instability, violence, civil war. The Iraqi people deserve better than this.

So the “when” is the 2003 Iraq War. With regard to the “who”, I will talk about the UN, and the Coalition that waged the war against Iraq – that is the US, the UK and Australia.

Firstly the UN, or at least the UN organization responsible for inspections in Iraq. As Hans Blix’s advisor I helped him put together his speeches to the Security Council. One of those I helped him with was his address on 27 January 2003. This was after about two months of inspections in Iraq, and about two months before the war. Blix told the Council then:
“We.. do not contend that weapons of mass destruction remain in Iraq, but nor do [we] exclude that possibility”.
But Blix had concerns in some areas. For example he said:
There are strong indications that Iraq produced more anthrax than it declared, and that at least some of this was retained after the declared destruction date. It might still exist”.

However Blix also said that just because material was unaccounted for:
“One must not jump to the conclusion that it exists”.
The concerns that Blix was referring to, related to old weapon systems from prior to the 1991 Gulf War. On this we reported that if any weapons had been retained from the era (ie the late 1980s), they would be few in number and of uncertain reliability by 2003.

So, we in the UN believed there may have been some old weapons, although we could not be certain of this. With regard to new weapons of mass destruction, we thought it unlikely. By February 2003, the UN had inspected over 300 sites in Iraq and we had not found any evidence of renewed weapons programs. In fact the industries we had inspected, showed marked decay, and we assessed that Iraq did not have the industries to support new weapons programs.

If we had been asked to give our views of the threat posed by Iraq at the start of the 2003 war, the inspectors would have said it seems unlikely that there was any significant threat from Iraqi WMD. The Security Council however, never requested such an assessment from us.

Coalition Partners
And now, to the Coalition partners. What did they know? Here I draw a distinction between what I believe our leaders “knew”, and what they said publicly.

First the US. Here we have the advantage now of a series of comprehensive enquiries into the intelligence failures in the US. Extracts from several classified pre-war intelligence assessments have been published. Personally I have also had the opportunity to talk to many of the CIA analysts involved in pre-war intelligence.

In September 2002, a National Intelligence Estimate was presented to President Bush. A NIE is the highest-level intelligence report in the US involving all the key intelligence agencies.
President Bush was told in the Estimate:
We judge that Iraq has continued its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs in defiance of UN resolutions and restrictions. Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons as well as missiles with ranges in excess of UN restrictions; if left unchecked, it probably will have a nuclear weapon during this decade.
Iraq has largely rebuilt missile and biological weapons facilities damaged during Operation Desert Fox and has expanded its chemical and biological infrastructure under the cover of civilian production.
That assessment was at the time highly classified; it was in fact Top Secret.
You will notice that the language in it is pretty definitive: Iraq has chemical and biological weapons; it has rebuilt its facilities.
We now know, of course, that the assessment got it “dead wrong” (to use the words of one post-war review). But it is my belief that the US president believed what he was told in that assessment.

I was there when President Bush addressed the UN General Assembly in September 2002, and I was also there when Colin Powell addressed the Security Council in February 2003. What they said then was based on what they had been briefed.

However, I am not excusing them. What had happened, was that the policy had galloped far ahead of the intelligence. Bush had decided to go to war in early 2002. I remember well, his State of Union address on 29 January 2002 when he identified Iraq as part of the Axis of Evil. To me, it seemed like a declaration of war. Let me read you an extract from that talk.
“Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror. The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax and nerve gas and nuclear weapons for over a decade. …. States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger.”

Of course you have to remember the context of that talk – it was the first State of Union address after the terrible events of 911.

The problem was for US intelligence agencies that up to this point there was little evidence to show that Iraq was a “grave and growing danger.”

The intelligence then had to be found to support this declaration of war. Intelligence agencies fed the President what he wanted to hear, and dissenting voices were quieted. He was therefore just as culpable as the intelligence agencies. If the process were honest there would have been more review, and more questioning.

The UK equivalent to the US NIE is a Joint Intelligence Committee assessment (JIC). Again, this is the highest authority in the UK for intelligence. I think we all now know about the Dossier that the UK produced in September 2002. Just to remind you, that is the one that told the world that Iraq’s WMD put us just 45 minutes away from doom. But what was the Prime Minister, Tony Blair told by the JIC in secret reporting? What did he know?

Early in 2002, the JIC was advising caution. For example in March 2002, on biological weapons, the JIC reported to Blair:
Our picture of Iraq’s BW programme is unclear.
Other intelligence which points to the possible research and production of BW agent is unconfirmed. We believe Iraq retains equipment and materials to produce BW.

The JIC had similar uncertainty with regard to Iraq’s chemical and nuclear programs.

Later in the year, and just prior to the 2003 war, the JIC seemed to have found greater certainty, however there was still caution in its reporting to Blair. For example in September 2002 the JIC wrote in a highly classified assessment:
“Intelligence remains limited..” and “Much of this paper is necessarily based on judgement and assessment.”

With these caveats the JIC went on to say that it judges that: “Iraq currently has available, either from pre Gulf War stocks or more recent production, a number of biological warfare (BW) and chemical warfare (CW) agents and weapons”.

This shift in the Joint Intelligence Committee views was criticized in a government inquiry in 2004. The Chairman of the inquiry (Lord Butler) stated “we were struck by the relative thinness of the intelligence.”

In spite of the shift in JIC reporting it was still qualified. Therefore I believe that Tony Blair would have believed that Iraq might have possessed WMD but that there was considerable uncertainty surrounding this assessment. I doubt, however, that he would have believed that Iraq posed a significant threat.

I remind you that none of this uncertainty was reflected in the Dossier on Iraq.

And now to what the Australian government knew or believed.

I was shown the Australian assessment given to Mr Howard towards the end of 2002. I was asked to comment on it, and except for some slight quibbling on language thought it was reasonable and fair. I can now quote to you what it said. For example, on chemical weapons the Defence Intelligence Organisation reported in December 2002:
Iraq probably retains a limited stockpile of chemical weapons, possibly stored in dual-use facilities;

This was actually a reference to possible old stocks retained from the 1991 Gulf War. But the assessment went on to say:
Due to the difficulties in storage and the possible degradation of some chemical agents, the capacity for Iraq to effectively employ weaponised chemical warfare agents is uncertain;
On renewed production DIO told the Prime Minister:
Iraq has the capacity to restart chemical weapons production, but we have no evidence that this has occurred; There is no known chemical weapons production
On biological weapons he was told in December 2002:
There has been no known offensive research and development since 1991, no known biological weapons production since 1991 and no known biological weapons testing or evaluation since 1991.
It is little wonder that when Mr Howard was briefed on this he commented,
“Is that all there is?”
Unfortunately for us, and for the Iraqi people, he did not tell the Australian Parliament this. What he told Parliament and the people of Australia on 2 February 2003 was:
The Australian government knows that Iraq still has chemical and biological weapons
Where did that statement come from? Certainly not from Australian intelligence. He therefore justified his assertion, not by relying on Australian intelligence, but by telling Parliament that:
...there was compelling evidence to support these beliefs within the published detailed dossiers of British and American intelligence.
Which he then went on to list.

I will leave it to you to judge what Mr Howard and our government really knew and when.

see part 2 here - and if you have any questions you'd like me to ask when i interview Rod - let me know in the comments

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