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Top Iraq weapons inspector draws full house

Former top Iraq weapons inspector David Kay: “I do not think that President Bush lied to the American people. The problem is that the evidence was not challenged enough, and for that we paid a very high price.”
4:46 p.m., April 29, 2004--Former weapons inspector David Kay told a capacity crowd in Mitchell Hall that he does not believe that President George W. Bush purposely misled the American people about his reasons for going to war in Iraq.

“I do not think that President Bush lied to the American people,” Kay said. “The problem is that the evidence was not challenged enough, and for that we paid a very high price.”

Based on the failure to find evidence of weapons of mass destruction after returning to Iraq in 2003, Kay said that the accuracy of America’s prewar intelligence should have been subject to much greater scrutiny.

Kay made his remarks during a talk, “Working With the Enemy-Intrusive Inspections,” on Wednesday evening, April 28, as part of UD’s Global Agenda lecture series, “Enemies List: Not Always What They Seem.”

A crowd of 500+, many of whom arrived early, attended the lecture.

The lecture series is organized by Ralph Begleiter, UD’s Rosenberg Professor of Communication and distinguished journalist in residence, and cosponsored by the University and the World Affairs Council of Wilmington.

Having served as chief U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War, Kay returned to the country last year at the behest of the Central Intelligence Agency, after President Bush ordered the agency to take over the search for weapons of mass destruction from the defense department.

After heading the 1,400-member Iraq Survey Group’s effort to find weapons of mass destruction, Kay issued a report in January saying that no evidence had been found of the existence of such weapons at the start of the war.

Kay, who currently is a senior fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies with a concentration on counterterrorism and weapons proliferation, told the audience that U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq did find a huge stockpile of chemical and biological weapons in 1995.

When they left Iraq in 1998, Kay said the inspectors had every reason to believe that the Iraqi dictator was continuing his efforts to acquire such weapons. This previous experience, he said, may have accounted in part for the overestimation of Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction at the start of the current war in Iraq.

“How could we get it so wrong this time?” Kay said. “The Brits and the French and the Russians all thought the same thing. There was unanimity about the issue of whether Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.”

Kay also addressed the issue of why Hussein continued to behave as if he had weapons of mass destruction when subsequent searches by the inspectors found none.

“It is a very difficult thing to understand,” Kay said. “The external behavior [of Saddam Hussein] remained constant, but the reasons for the behavior had changed.”

By 1998, Iraq had rid itself of its clandestine cache of weapons of mass destruction, but it was necessary for Saddam to make people believe he still had such weapons and that he would use them, Kay said.

“He feared the Kurds and the Shiites, and he had used chemical weapons against the Kurds,” Kay said. “He wanted both groups to believe that he was willing to use these weapons on them.”

Kay also said that the Iraqi dictator got bad advice from the French and the Russians who told him that America would not attack. If the United States did decide to attack, the French and Russians assured Hussein that they would block any such action in the U.N. Security Council.

“Because of what happened in Iraq, we probably have lost our credibility among our allies for at least a generation. We have to start to repair this by saying that we made a mistake.”
Intelligence failures

One of the reasons for America’s intelligence failure, Kay said, was that during the Cold War the United States had adopted an intelligence system designed to measure capabilities.

”The safety of the United States during the Cold War made capability our best measurement,” Kay said. “We didn’t need to know down to the last missile how many they had; we just needed to know that they had them.”

This approach, Kay noted, led the United States into an over-reliance on spy satellite technology, as opposed to placing human agents on the ground in hostile countries.

“The satellites couldn’t tell us everything,” Kay said. “So, we decided to use Iraqi defectors who supplied us with a lot of false information.

“Much of the evidence was totally fabricated by a single defector,” Kay said. “Somebody decided to buy a bad penny, and those who were dissenters about the validity of this information were driven out.”

Kay also addressed the issue of whether the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, could have been prevented if intelligence available at the time had been properly evaluated and acted upon.

“People say we should have connected the dots,” Kay said. “The problem is that if you do not collect dots, you should not attempt to connect them.”

One way to avoid making future costly decisions based on faulty intelligence information, Kay said, is to challenge the validity of the information, regardless of its source.

“We do not do a good job of observing governments that are falling apart. We missed this in the Soviet Union, and we missed this in Iraq,” Kay said. “If we had adopted a contrarian approach, we would have found out that about 80 percent of the intelligence we gathered from the defectors was fabricated.”

Kay said that the damage done to U. S. credibility among its allies because of these intelligence failures will take years to repair.

“Intelligence can help prevent wars,” Kay said. “Because of what happened in Iraq, we probably have lost our credibility among our allies for at least a generation. We have to start to repair this by saying that we made a mistake.”

Kay also reminded the audience that, in the end, it is not intelligence alone, but the sacrifices of committed individuals that win wars.

“Intelligence might prevent wars, but it does not win them,” Kay said. “Wars are won by young men and women who lay down their lives for national aims.”

Article by Jerry Rhodes
Photos by Duane Perry

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