Thursday, October 12, 2006

Rod Barton: Black Box Intelligence

Here's the final installment of my interview with Weapons Detective Rod Barton
(part one, part two, part three, part four) You can buy his book here.

This installment is mostly just cleaning up the remnants that I haven't been able to publish in the other installments.

Luke Ryland: I mentioned to some friends that I was going to be speaking to you and they sent through some questions. Here’s one:
"At what point in time did you begin to believe that political influence was having an effect upon the findings or lack of findings by UNSCOM/UNMOVIC?"
Rod Barton: I don’t think that politics affected us - certainly not Blix anyway. There were people pulling him in different directions - it wasn’t just the US. Blix walked a pretty steady line - and you only have to read his Dec-Jan-Feb speeches to the UNSC - the critical months before the war - he wasn’t going easy on Iraq, he said that Iraq wasn’t cooperating - they were quite balanced speeches, and I think he got the balance right. He was treading a very thin line - but it was all based on our assessments. He had a stream of politicians of all stripes trying to get him to say this or that - but he did his own thing. If you go back to the old UNSCOM days, there was some political interference - particularly with Richard Butler - he was very much a US man - and I think he was swayed by the US at time to do something that favoured them, rather than favoured the UN. Do you know the Black Box episode?

LR: No

RB: The black box was put in our mission in Baghdad to collect communications intelligence - with Butler's permission - this is something that Scott Ritter talks about. We installed a device that would intercept Iraqi communications. Because the communications were secure, all the tapes had to go back to the NSA to be deciphered and the idea was that we would receive the product of that, but we received nothing. Nothing! And that was a problem with Butler - he didn’t keep control of that process. I think it was legitimate to install the black box - but it was being used by the US intelligence services, rather than for the benefit of the UN, and the inspectors. So that was a big mistake by Butler. He always claimed that he didn’t know that the US was going to do that, but how naive! And if he didn’t know, he should have asked! That was his job - he authorised it, the black box belonged to the US. You know, before putting something like that into a UN building to collect communications, he should have enquired. He claims that he was misled - I find it hard to excuse him on that - and he did get too close to the US, I believe. He lost a bit of independence and of course that was partly the reason that UNSCOM came crashing down and the whole organisation was wound up - we were totally discredited. I remember being in New York at the time and my colleagues were embarrassed about the whole story, and genuinely apologetic! It got to the point that I was embarrassed to say that I worked for UNSCOM!

LR: Here's another question. It doesn’t make much sense to me - but it might to you:
"Was there ever any significant consideration that those actual weapons (R400 chemical bombs, chemical Scud warheads, 155mm chemical artillery shells) which remained unaccounted for might have been used either during the 1991 Gulf War or at Halabja in 1988?"
RB: It's a good question - because one of the things that the ISG did not do was to account for all those weapons. We didn’t account for all of them - which isn’t to say that they still exist - but could they have been used elsewhere? I think we accounted for what was used at Halabja. We didn’t account for everything that was used in the 1991 war - I'm sorry, there were no chemical or biological weapons used in the 1991 war, but after the Gulf War... and this is where some of the accounting, we now know, and the ISG has found this out, is that after the 1991 Gulf war, Iraq still used chemical weapons - which seems remarkable to me - but its true, and the Iraqis have confessed to it. They used the chemical weapons to suppress the Shia uprising in Karbala and that’s where some of the R400 bombs were used - filled with nerve gas - and that’s why we couldn’t account for some of those bombs. That’s why some of them were missing. And going back to the 12,000 word document that you mentioned - this wasn’t mentioned in that document - and we only got that confession out of Iraq via some of the scientists and engineers and politicians that were locked up in 2003 - they freely admitted it, we didn’t have to extract it.

LR: there were no chemical scuds used in 1991?

RB: No - in 91, they had 50 chemical warheads - 50 scuds with chemicals, and 25 scuds with biological warheads - and we’re fairly sure of those numbers now. UNSCOM always argued that there could be more, or maybe not. I can tell you that we are close to being 100% sure as you can be on this sort of thing. None of them were ever fired, and I think we can account for all of them.

LR: ok - here's another question that I don’t really understand:
"What was the significance of the 'Air Force Document' and the documents relating to equipping of Missile Unit 223 in relation to the withdrawal of Iraqi cooperation in 1998?"
RB: The question makes sense to me. The 'Air Force document' was something that we recovered from a safe in 1996 or 97 - and the 'Air Force document' accounts for the number of chemical weapons that were dropped in the war against Iran. Iraq had always said that they knew how many they dropped but that they didn’t have any records about how many they dropped. But we found the records, this document, that showed how many they dropped - and the two don’t reconcile - so, basically, you could deduce that there were some missing weapons.

The 'Air Force document' was given to us in 2003 - as a last desperate measure - to indicate that they were cooperating - but we actually got a hold of that document in 1997 - I think - but it was grabbed back off the inspector. But before it was grabbed back off her, she had 30 mins with a translator and made a record of what it said. We’d demanded the document back but it was always a bone of contention because they said it had nothing to do with UNSCOM.

This was a sign of non-cooperation of course, because it was relevant, it did refer to chemical weapons, and it did relate to how many bombs had been used. I have to say I still cannot resolve that issue. The numbers do differ - there may be explanations - but we still don’t know the answers. The ISG was so obsessed with pre-war intelligence, with things that officials said, that they didn’t investigate some of the more basic issues - and this is one of them. Whether it really matters or not, I’m not sure - but this was certainly one of the unanswered questions.

LR: and Missile Unit 223?

RB: Right - that's the scud unit. I’m not sure I understand what is being referred to in that question - they did try to hide a lot from us on the missile side. The Iraqis did try to reactivate things on the missile side - not with scuds, so much - we could account for all the scuds in the end - but we couldn’t account for all the components. And what Iraq was doing in what I call 'the dark years' - when the inspectors left at the end of 98 - and didn’t return until the end of 2002 - they had about 4 years with which to fiddle around with things. They didn’t do anything in the chemical and biological or nuclear - but they certainly did a lot of things with missiles. They had long range missile programs going - not based on the scud which was old technology - but on newer technology, and they started the new long-range missile program - and UNMOVIC found this, and then later the ISG discovered the rest - but I’m not specifically sure about what the question about 223 is all about.

LR: Ok - moving on. I mentioned to you this movie about Sibel. David Albright talks about al Qaeda getting nukes - or at least plutonium or uranium, do you know anything about al Qaeda getting their hands on any of that stuff?

RB: No - I don’t. Its a possibility, but I'd have to say that I’d be surprised, partly because nuclear weapons are so valuable - enriched uranium is so valuable, nobody gives it away - but also, to enrich uranium, enough for a weapon, say 25 kg, you are talking about millions of dollars. And so its highly protected - not only because of its strategic value, but because of its commercial value. So I don’t know how they would get this stuff I guess is basically what I'm saying. It's a possibility of course - for ideological reasons or whatever - but this stuff is so protected that you know, one person is not in charge - so I cant really answer the question - and I don’t know what al Qaeda might do with that, or how they might get it - but I have to say, I’d be surprised. More likely, if al Qaeda was doing anything, they'd look at chemical or biological - that's easy compared to nuclear.

LR: OK. Thanks very much for your time. Anything else?

RB: All I can say is that the whole thing is a disgraceful episode - for both intelligence and politics - and what I hope from all of this is that we learn something. It appears that we haven’t - but we do need to learn something because now we are have other concerns like Iran and North Korea (ed: the interview was conducted prior to the recent DPRK test). Have we lost faith in our intelligence communities? Have we learnt anything from it? I fear not. That’s partly why I wrote the book - which is what has been described as a 'ripping yarn.'

LR: How about the situation in Iraq today?

RB: Yeah - Iraq is a very grim situation - however, I've seen worse situations than Iraq - I worked in Somalia. Iraq isn't there yet, but it will be if we don't do something.

LR: There doesn't look to be much good news coming out of there

RB: No - afraid not - and it just gets worse. The Iraqis are paying a terrible price for the actions we took in that war - there are 3000 people dying a month. And the future looks very grim - I'm not sure where it's going to go, or what should happen next. If I had a magic wand, I don't even know what I would do. It's very grim.


So that's the end of this particular interview. I hope both the experts and amateurs amongst you learnt something and/or found it interesting.

If you have any questions for Rod - put them in the comments to this post, and I'll invite him to join in and answer them (either directly or via email, or another voice chat or whatever)

Don't be shy - he appears to be a typically Aussie straight-shooter, and I suspect he'll answer as best as he can any questions - direct or vague, expert or amateur, pointed or otherwise. I know that some of you doubt his purported innocence regarding propaganda, for example, and others want to know more about judy miller, or david kelly, or about chemical weapons in Iraq during the 90s, or curveball and the mobile biological labs.

Ask away, and he'll either answer, or politely tell you that he can't or won't answer. No harm, no foul.


Simon said...

An open letter to Rod Barton.

Hello Rod,

I read with great interest your interview with Luke about the Iraq weapons inspection process. I would like firstly to take this opportunity to thank you and to congratulate you for your openness and your honesty in publicly bringing forwards these globally relevant matters. Secondly, if possible and appropriate, and if you are willing to do so, I would like to ask you to kindly further discuss with me/us some of the points which you have already outlined in your interview to a much greater depth. In particular I would like to ask you about your knowledge, and that also of UNSCOM, UNMOVIC and the Iraq Survey Group, in relation to the 'missing' Iraqi Scud missile issue.

During the interview with Luke you stated:

I'm sorry, there were no chemical or biological weapons used in the 1991 war…


(LR: and chemical scuds, they weren't used in 1991?)

RB: no - in 91, they had 50 chemical warheads - 50 scuds with chemicals, and 25 scuds with biological warheads - and we're fairly sure of those numbers now. UNSCOM always argued that there could be more, or maybe not - I can tell you that we are close to being 100% sure as you can be on this sort of thing. None of them were ever fired, and I think we can account for all of them.

As you are obviously aware, Iraq launched a considerable number of these missiles against Coalition forces (and also against Israel) during the 1991 Gulf War. However the exact number of these launches still remains in question. UNSCOM and UNMOVIC both stated many times in publicly available documents that Iraq had admitted to the use of 93 of these missiles. On the other hand, US DoD have stated that Space Command reported 97 launches during the 1991 Gulf War, and UK MoD have previously acknowledged records of 102 launches. Assuming the UK figure is correct, there is the potential for nine missile launches to have taken place which Iraq was thereafter seemingly unwilling to account for (102-93=9.). Scott Ritter has stated (on January 29th 2003) that: "Two were unaccounted for (after the Gulf war) and there was concern there might be seven or eight indigenous ones that we could not account for but were never sure these were operational." (DoD more commonly use the number of eighty-eight missiles landing at targets during the war, subtracted from the ninety-seven missile Space Command count, this again leaves a difference of nine missiles.)

My first question here would be - did UNSCOM, UNMOVIC and the ISG ever take these other claims into full account when Iraq was being challenged to provide evidence of unilateral destruction of its remaining missile force during the long period of the weapons search?

Turning to the warhead numbers, you state above that Iraq possessed a total of 75 special warheads, of which 50 were for chemical weapons. However, UNSCOM document S/1999/94 states that:

In addition, Iraq declared that it had produced 3 special warheads for training purposes, and that 3 additional special warheads had been used in static tests and 2 special warheads had been used in flight tests.

This could potentially seem to add an additional eight warheads to Iraq's arsenal, assuming there was (and this has been suspected and has never been disproven) undeclared indigenous production. The ISG final report states that 73-75 of the Iraqi special warheads could be accounted for, but by using the figure of 74 and subtracting this from a theoretically possible total of 83, this would also allow for a deficit of up to nine special warhead assemblies.

(This numerical deficit would seem to be backed up by Lt. General Amer M. Rasheed, Head of Iraq's delegation at the concluding session of the missile warhead Technical Evaluation Meeting held in Baghdad on 6 February 1998, who stated that: "The material balance for the special warheads, total, shows that 70 were destroyed, including both by UNSCOM and unilaterally, out of the declared 79 warheads.")

What I am suggesting here is that Iraq did indeed use (nine?) chemically loaded Scud missiles during the 1991 Gulf conflict, and then found itself in the position of not being able admit to this for fear of international (political) censure against its leadership, possibly involving invocation of the 1925 Geneva poison gas Protocol.

Further to this, I would suggest that Iraq tried extremely hard to get itself out of this problem by carrying out the unilateral destruction programme exercise in an attempt to disguise its own actions.

I understand that there were considerable difficulties in determining how to account for the destroyed warheads, either by counting nose-cone assemblies or by counting key structural rings. Also there were many problems in determining the manufacturing origin of warheads, either from Soviet or Iraqi indigenous production facilities.

Could it possibly be that Iraq tried to disguise self-destroyed conventional Scud warheads at Nibai as if they were their own CW counterparts? This in turn might assist in determining why Iraq could not also account for a larger number of these other similar weapons, because logically they then couldn't be counted twice.

IF it was truly the case that Scud missile fragments were found to be contaminated with VX precursor chemicals, when no other evidence to suggest such weaponization exists, could it be that this was a deliberate attempt by Iraq to create the impression that the recovered wreckage was indeed from chemical warheads?

Following on from this, would it also even be possible that they also made a small key and serious mistake here, by using the WRONG chemical compound, i.e. VX instead of Sarin related, perhaps again because it was the only such sample that they had remaining and available to themselves, perhaps also because everything they had had relating to Sarin production had already been destroyed?

What we seem to know for sure is, again from the TEM documents, that the available Iraqi document mentioned that the warhead production workshop (shed 12 of Project 144/2) had 40 Al Hussein warheads on 16 January 1991, and also that there is an indication of the designation of 3, 4, 5 to special warheads on 13 September 1990. We can assume that 30 of these were turned over to UNSCOM for eventual destruction.

I would simply like to ask - what was the final disposition of the other exact 10 and what happened to those ones which were designated 1 and 2?

I just wonder if you have ever had (or know personally of anyone who might have) any thoughts about any of this?

Yours respectfully,


Simon said...

(Letter also posted at Scudwatch.Org.)

Miguel said...

I believe this the end of any serious U.N. Weapons Inspection Regime, at least for the near future. Any country would be stupid to allow the kind of access to its facilities Iraq allowed the U.N. Future Sadaam Hussein's will say, "screw you, you're going to invade me anyway, so I won't give you the chance to disarm me before you launch your attack."