Friday, September 29, 2006

"You simply can't say that - it's politically impossible"

This is the second instalment of my interview with The Weapons Detective, Rod Barton. You can buy his book here.

(part one, part two, part three, part four, part five)

I didn't post the blurb about the book yesterday - here it is:
This is the most authentic and reliable inside account of Iraq's weapon inspections, written with humour and urgency by an unsung hero. Rod Barton, an Australian, worked as one of the four weapon inspectors (along with David Kelly) who discovered Iraq's biological weapons program. He was special advisor to Hans Blix, writing parts of his speeches, and later returned to Iraq after the 2003 war. There he dealt with the political attempts, by the head of Britain's MI6 among others, to hide the truth about the lack of WMD. The Weapons Detective describes the fascinating chess-game of weapons inspection, with its mixture of detective work, scientific analysis and mind-games.

In this instalment we discuss Rod's role for the Iraq Survey Group, the mechanics of the lies told by Charles Duelfer and George Tenet etc, the missing interim ISG report and the completeness of the final ISG report.


Luke Ryland: Did you go to Iraq for the inspections immediate prior to the invasion?

Rod Barton: (laughs) No - for political reasons, I didn't go - because I was part of the old guard - and especially in the early days, as a former UNSCOM inspector, it might have caused some problems in Iraq. Blix did ask me to go at one point later on when we were trying to settle some problems with Iraqi co-operation, but I didn't go during that period.

LR: When did you first get there after the war?

RB: I was invited even when I was working for Blix, which was very strange because the war had just started and I was approached in March by the CIA because they wanted experienced people hunting for the weapons - but I didn’t get there till Dec 03.

I was invited by David Kay to go as a part of his 'cabinet' and I think the reason he wanted me because I wasn’t American, and at this point he had reservations about finding anything - in fact I think he came to that conclusion fairly quickly after arriving, probably within a month after getting to Iraq. It didn't look very likely that Iraq ever had any WMD after 1991.

LR: And you didn't expect to find anything?

RB: No, it wasn't any surprise to me that we didn’t find anything when I went back in 2003, and it was no surprise that David Kay realised pretty quickly that we wouldn’t find anything.

By that time we'd alraedy rounded up loads of scientists and engineers and the political leaders. By mid 2003 when the ISG started work, we were busy interviewing all these people, and that's really how we knew that there weren't any WMD - not so much by searching every corner of the country, but just by talking to all the leaders and senior scientists because although some of them might lie to you, most of them were clearly telling us what they knew - and they knew there was nothing there.

So I got there in late Dec to work for David Kay as his special advisor, but by the time I got there, Kay had gone home, never to return. So I was his 'special advisor' - but he wasn't there and I had no-one to advise! It was a strange situation - so I went to see General Keith Dayton - the military head of the ISG - the team that provided the logistics and security, but were not involved with the weapons hunt, and he asked me if I would take over and provide the guidance for the group - which I did for a couple of months.

I didn’t actually have any executive power, per se, because I was only an 'advisor' - so I couldn’t tell people what to do, but I probably knew more about WMD than most people there, and I was the senior person, so we came to an agreement where I’d provide the strategic guidance, and Dayton gave the executive direction for the teams. So I'd tell them what they ought to do, but I couldn’t direct them to do it, which was part of the problem. And we agreed that I would start putting the report together for Congress which was due in March 2004, because Kay had gone home.

The interim report was going to be about 200 pages long, and by January I already had 150 pages of that report already put together - but when Duelfer arrived in mid Feb, he (laughs) had different ideas to me.

I've known Charles for a long time and I thought he was a reasonably good choice. Charles had been a senior official in the State Department, and was a political animal, but I thought that he was independent minded. But when he arrived, he seemed to have very firm idea which seemed to coincide exactly with what George Tenet wanted, and that was bad. We fought a lot, and I struggled for a long time. You see, Charles had a different idea about what to do with the interim report.

By late 2003, most of the evidence that Powell used in his presentation had already been overturned - and that's basically what my 150 page report demonstrated. Most of the pre-war intelligence had been debunked already, and I thought that we needed to put that in the report. At this point, Cheney was still talking about biological trailers for example, and we knew that this was nonsense. The trailers were in our camp, and they had nothing to do with biology, we knew it, and we should say it, but Charles didn't want to even mention them - it was too difficult, so my 150 page report was completely scrapped and Charles told me that he wanted a new 20 page report for Congress. It's still classified, only because it is such an embarrassment!

The report didn't say a thing - it was 20 pages, with a long introduction, and it outlines what we were going to do, but none of the findings! I said 'You can't give this to Congress, they’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars, and lots of lives, and it's been 6 months since the last report, you will be slaughtered when you get to Congress' - and as it turned out, he was slaughtered. Charles told me later that he regretted presenting it that way.

LR: Did he regret not using your report?

RB: I'm not sure about that exactly, but his dilemma, as he described it, was that he'd only been in the job for 6 weeks, and how could he argue everything in the 200 page report in front of Congress? But you know, he knew the report was due when he took the job - and he didn’t come into the job cold, he had a background at UNSCOM, he knew the issues, he'd been following the story all along, he'd been briefed extensively, and we offered to go to Congress and help him - but he still said 'No'

So I told him not to write a report at all, or just to write a letter saying that he hadn’t had sufficient time and he'd get back to them later, or to write a report exclusively on what he was going to do in the future - because if he was only going to write a report and exclude all of the things that we'd found, then that is dishonest. But he wanted to write what he called a 'Status Report' - yet he excluded anything that was contrary to what Tenet wanted to hear.

LR: So the goal was simply to push out the inevitable for another 6 or 12 months?

RB: The message was so unpopular, so unpalatable, that it was simply very difficult to say what we knew! See, when I arrived, all the senior CIA people left with David Kay. When Charles came out, the CIA brought out a few senior people who were very loyal to DCI - Tenet - they knew where there jobs were going and they were the ones who were politically motivated. One of them said to me "You simply can't say that - it's politically impossible" - about the trailers for example. This guy said 'I don't care what the trailers were for - you cannot say that in this report' (laughs). I got very angry with him, and said 'You might be very political, but I’m not. You must either say the truth, or say nothing - you can't give just part of the story.'

You know, it's like if you go out for a 3 course dinner and finish with a coffee, and the next day someone asks what you had for dinner and you answer 'a coffee' - it's technically true, but effectively false.

I also found the same thing with the CIA back in the US. When I put together the 20 page report, I couldn't mention the trailers, but (laughs) I did mention our separate investigation of Curveball. I sent the draft for comment to DC, London and Canberra - and the comment came back from Washington saying 'The thing about Curveball "doesn't track" with what DCI said last month at Georgetown University' (laughs) and I said 'Correct - it doesn't track at all - becuase it's not true' - but the message was very clear.

LR: So was Tenet knowingly, intentionally, telling lies then?

RB: Well, I read that speech very carefully, and well, he'd make a good politician! He didn't tell any black and white lies - but he basically said 'You have to wait for the ISG report, and there are indications of this, and indications of that.' Well, yes, there were 'indications' of a lot of things, but he simply ignored all of our conclusions, which were completely contrary to what he said.

LR: From memory, the ISG spent $1.2bn - was that reasonable?

RB: I'm not sure exactly how much they spent in total - but that sounds about right. They originally got $700m and we were anxious we were going to run out, but we were told not to worry because the DIA had additional funding if we needed it.

I quit in March after the interim report, and I went back again in September because Charles asked me to go back, and I told him that he'd need to convince me that the process was honest, and he did a turn-around. In fact, I went to DC in October for the congressional hearings and someone at Langley told me that the best thing I ever did was quit in March because, to use this guy's words, 'Charlie found religion' - meaning that after I quit, Duelfer decided to do exactly what he wanted to do - so it was an honest report in the end, and Charles may have been unpopular in Langley because of it. You see, he actually had a degree of independence from the CIA all along, because although he was appointed by the DCI, his role in Iraq was quite independent because he was actually representing the three countries. His only regret later was that he didn’t behave independently when he first started.

LR: And the final report - was that both complete and honest?

RB: Yes - the final report, we call it the 'Substantive Report', because we did another addendum in April 05 - but the Substantive Report was 800 pages - 150 pages of that I had written at the start of the year! In fact, someone at the CIA said 'It's good reporting but you could have done it at the beginning of 2004'! I agreed with him (laughs).

LR: Were there any omissions in that final report?

RB: Not really. In fact, Duelfer wanted to make everything we had unclassified, and we did more or less. I think we got 98% of it declassified, to the point that even I thought some things should remain declassified!

LR: John Scarlett's "nugget" email isn't in there...

RB: No, of course we didn't put all the source material in there. You know, the CIA wanted to put bits in there too, things that were wrong, such as the trailers, and Curveball, and they also wanted to change the stuff about the aluminium tubes - for uranium enrichment, the centrifuges, and we wouldn’t allow any of that. Those were the two main things that I worried about that the CIA sent us. Mind you, the CIA also sent lots of sensible suggestions, too. But no, Scarlett's nuggets didn’t make it in.

LR: Will we ever see those nuggets?

RB: I don’t see why they couldn’t be declassified. I can’t understand why under FOI in the UK, they couldn’t be published. There’s nothing in those nuggets, now, especially since we've published the report, that would compromise national security. So there's no reason that they should still be classified, but of course, they'll keep them classified for as long as Scarlett has his job (laughs)! Because he'd lose his job as soon as they were published.


I'll also have future instalments re curveball, the mobile trailers and Steven Hatfill, another on propaganda & Judy Miller, and an assortment of other various goodies (or some variation thereof.)

(update - part 3 here)


Simon said...

Again very good. And I think I got it generally right when I speculated that there was a second interim report which, as it turns out, was being written by RB and was then quoshed by CD. So CD didn't want to publish the boldest of the newest truths as DK had done previously ("Let me begin by saying, we were almost all wrong, and I certainly include myself here,...").

Remembering that DK has presented his own interim report to Congress back in October of 2003, Congress was then expecting another (final?) report six months later.

It was thereafter CD's responsibility to produce the report for that presentation in March 2004.

RB from interview - Charles told me that he wanted a new 20 page report for Congress. It's still classified, only because it is such an embarrassment!

The report didn't say a thing - it was 20 pages, with a long introduction, and it outlines what we were going to do, but none of the findings!

In a little-known-about interview published in the Guardian at almost the same time (3 March 2004), David Kay iterates:

He now believes the west's intelligence agencies got it wrong for two reasons. First, they were manipulated by Ahmed Chalabi and other dissidents whose central interest was ousting Saddam. Just mentioning the name of the Iraqi National Congress leader makes Kay laugh. "Here's a guy who's so transparent. Chalabi asked me in Iraq once: 'Why are you so concerned about WMD? No one cares about WMD.'

"They manipulated us," Kay admits, "but we weren't smart enough to detect it, and screen it out, and so the greater shame is on us."

The second factor, in Kay's opinion, was a fundamental cultural misunderstanding. The CIA, MI5 and the other western agencies saw blatant smuggling at a time when the regime could quite legally import basic civilian goods, and came to the conclusion the contraband must be military. They failed to understand that smuggling was more lucrative. "You had the Turks, the Syrians and Jordanians - everyone got a cut, so it became in everyone's interest to do it illegally," he says.

Plainly one area, amongst others, where Charles Duelfer didn't want to go.

And with the Turks, Syrians and Jordanians involved, is this what Valerie Plame and others were looking at whilst at JTFI?

Second to that, do Mark Grossman, Douglas Dickerson and Melek Can Harputlu start to enter the picture here?

If they do and there is some connection here, my off-the-wall question(s) would have to be:

Could it be possible that the bottom line of all this be that there was at some point an intra-CIA (etc?) sting operation in progress to open a backdoor WMD smuggling route through Turkey, so that Saddam could then be seen to hang himself on it?

Then when everything else about the case for war was falling apart around their ears, did they have to scuttle the plot by blowing its cover because it was all just plainly too embarrasing?

lukery said...