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Dismantling Iraq's mass destruction weapon programs has long been a major goal of U.S. policy-makers. Whether this goal can be achieved by renewed U.N. inspections is now a key topic of debate. In light of eleven years of non-compliance by Saddam Hussein and the failure of previous inspections to fully expose and eradicate Iraq's weapon programs, how likely is it that new inspections can succeed without a change of heart in Baghdad?
For the purpose of shedding more light on these topics, the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control hosted a roundtable discussion in Washington, D.C. on June 11, 2002. The six panelists were chosen on the basis of their experience with the previous inspections in Iraq and included both former inspectors and a former U.S. intelligence officer. They were Stephen Black, a chemical weapon inspector and the historian for the U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM, the former U.N. inspection regime in Iraq), Robert Gallucci, who served as Deputy Executive Chairman of UNSCOM, David Kay, who led nuclear inspection teams in Iraq, David Kelly, who led biological inspection teams in Iraq and who is presently advisor on Iraq issues to Britain's Ministry of Defense, John Larrabee, who led missile inspections in Iraq and is a specialist on ballistic missile technology, and Gordon Oehler, who headed the C.I.A.'s Non-Proliferation Center between 1992 and 1997 and was responsible for the U.S. intelligence community's support to the U.N. inspectors. The panelists took up the following questions:
Can inspections disarm Iraq under the present rules?
Is the new U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) more likely than UNSCOM to defeat Iraqi concealment efforts?
The panelists found, in sum, that U.N. inspectors have virtually no chance of disarming Iraq under the present rules unless Iraq suddenly decides to cooperate, which it has not done for the past eleven years. The reasons for this conclusion are as follows:
* UNMOVIC, the new inspection agency, is not set up to use intelligence information effectively, and may therefore have difficulty receiving such information;
* UNMOVIC is not likely to be able to conduct surprise inspections, even if intelligence information were provided;
* Iraq has made much of its secret weapon work mobile, allowing it to be removed before inspectors can arrive at a suspect site;
* UNMOVIC may not have the personnel needed to defeat Iraqi concealment efforts;
* Iraq's right to designate large geographical areas as "presidential sites" - making them virtually impossible to inspect - creates sanctuaries for illicit activities;
* UNMOVIC will be reluctant to accuse Iraq of not complying with inspection obligations.
These findings are a composite of the panelists' individual views; no particular finding should be attributed to any single panelist, nor should the findings be thought to represent the views of any organization with which a panelist is affiliated. The full text of the panel's findings follow.
Finding 1: UNMOVIC is not set up to receive and use intelligence information effectively; thus, UNMOVIC is not likely to receive such information.
Because intelligence sharing poses a risk to sources and methods, national governments must be confident that the shared information will be both protected and used effectively - that is, that the information will help achieve some practical purpose that furthers the national interest of the government concerned. When U.S. intelligence officials agreed to supply secret information to UNSCOM, they did so only after becoming confident that UNSCOM was willing and able to use the information to uncover proscribed Iraqi weapon programs. The information was communicated directly to inspectors who were individually trusted to protect it. The most sensitive information tended to be given to government officials with security clearances on loan to UNSCOM. These officials, who received the information on a privileged basis, could also be counted on to use the information quickly and aggressively in an inspection. Some inspectors and teams developed a reputation for the protection of information and therefore were rewarded by having a good intelligence relationship with various governments. However, this relationship required a great deal of time to develop, which is a luxury that UNMOVIC will probably not have.
At UNMOVIC, no inspector will be allowed to receive intelligence information on a privileged basis. On the contrary, UNMOVIC is split into divisions, each of which would demand to be told about fresh intelligence. This would make it more difficult to prevent the information from leaking. Thus, there will not be the same level of confidence that the information will be protected.
Nor will there be the same level of confidence that the information will be acted upon. UNMOVIC has not indicated that it will conduct surprise inspections, quite apart from its ability to do so, a point covered in finding two below. Until national governments are convinced that UNMOVIC can protect and "operationalize" intelligence, not much of significant value is likely to be provided. This is especially true today, when solid intelligence on Iraq has become more scarce and therefore more valuable.
In addition to these considerations, the intelligence officials who provided information to UNSCOM also benefitted from the fact that the intelligence relationship was a "loop." Information uncovered by inspections flowed from UNSCOM back to national intelligence services for further analysis, which resulted in new information flowing forth to UNSCOM for additional inspections. This loop produced benefits for both sides, and a clear incentive to provide the information.
UNMOVIC, however, has announced that there will be no loop. Information will only flow into UNMOVIC, not out. A loop is essential, however, for effective operations. Without a loop, UNMOVIC will not be able to fully develop operational leads. For example, if UNMOVIC were to receive information from a defector who said "go look in that building," it would be unable to vet that information through the services of national governments. UNMOVIC would have to vet the information using only its own sources. If no such source can verify the information, UNMOVIC will probably be reluctant to act, and an opportunity will have been lost. Further, location of the exact inspection site would be difficult without the aid of national governments that have the technical assets to turn a defector report into an inspection target.
The lack of a loop will also prevent UNMOVIC from following up on information gleaned from an inspection. There will be no opportunity to compare inspection results to other information possessed by national intelligence services. The result will be a process that moves in fits and starts with little continuity. UNMOVIC's prohibition on discussion apparently extends even to analysis of information that UNMOVIC already has in hand. UNMOVIC recently refused an offer from a supporting Western government to assist UNMOVIC with analysis because UNMOVIC did not want to say anything in return. By depriving itself of access to national governments in this way, UNMOVIC will greatly dilute its effectiveness. And by refusing to inform national governments of the results of inspections, UNMOVIC will take away one of the greatest incentives for providing the information in the first place. Moreover, without information flowing in return, national governments will have little confidence in UNMOVIC's inspection reports. This will be especially true if UNMOVIC reports favorably on Iraq's efforts - precisely the time when confidence is most important.
UNMOVIC's inspectors will also lack experience with security procedures. Unlike their predecessors at UNSCOM, they have been required to sever all links with their national governments and become U.N. employees. But without a security clearance process, there is no clear way to assess an inspector's personal reliability or to guarantee that the inspector is not an intelligence agent. In addition, there is no punishment for revealing secret information, other than being fired from an inspection team, which is not a sufficient deterrent. This lack of security clearance procedures would probably preclude, for example, a national government from providing sensitive equipment and analytical methods because they could be leaked, compromising their effectiveness not only for UNMOVIC, but also for applications elsewhere.
Finding 2: UNMOVIC is not likely to be able to conduct surprise inspections, even if intelligence information were provided.
By virtue of conducting some 260 inspection in Iraq over seven years, UNSCOM became a state-of-the-art operation at launching surprise inspections. Yet, Iraq's intelligence operatives often managed to defeat UNSCOM. Of the 260 inspections UNSCOM carried out, only a half-dozen actually surprised the Iraqis. While many of these inspections were not designed to catch the Iraqis unaware, those surprise inspections that failed did so because of a lack of "operational security." Iraqi agents were active in both New York and Baghdad. It was a rare inspection when the Iraqis did not know what the inspectors were looking for before they arrived at the site to be searched.
UNMOVIC is not likely to do better at this than UNSCOM, and will probably do worse. Most of the UNMOVIC inspectors have either limited or no experience in Iraq. Most of them also have limited or no experience with operational security. UNSCOM inspectors were usually government officials on loan to the U.N., and brought with them experience in handling intelligence information, which was a great benefit. Many of the UNMOVIC inspectors, however, come from academic or industrial backgrounds where such information is uncommon. In effect, UNMOVIC will be a team of rookies going to bat against a world-class intelligence organization highly practiced at foiling inspections.
UNMOVIC's inspectors do receive security training before being put on UNMOVIC's roster, but UNSCOM's experience shows that the training usually does not sink in. According to panel members, many UNSCOM inspectors forgot their training almost immediately. One panelist, who was a former UNSCOM team leader, observed that "I had to keep reminding them that we were inspectors, not consultants." Adequate operational security was gained only with experience and practice, which took a long time.
UNMOVIC's inspectors are not likely to master this art in the time they will have available. In addition to planning any surprise inspections they decide to launch, they will have the job of generating new baseline information on numerous Iraqi sites, equipment, and materials; they must plan and carry out discussion missions to resolve remaining disarmament issues; and they must set up a new monitoring regime. As a result, they are not likely to be able to do more than a few no-notice inspections. They are unlikely to avoid producing the myriad small signals that will tip off the Iraqis to their intentions.
The second factor working against surprise is the likely mobility of Iraq's weapon programs. Iraq has spent considerable time and money making its secret weapon efforts mobile. Laboratories, components and materials are ready to go on the road at a moment's notice. In the panel's judgment, there are many things that Iraq can keep mobile, or ready to become mobile, at all times. In the biological weapon sphere, for example, as soon as an inspection team is put together, Iraq will know from the selection of inspectors that a biological site is the target. At that point, Iraq can simply decide to put all of its bio sites (there are only a limited number that are sensitive) on the road before the team arrives.
This mobility was revealed graphically during the days when UNSCOM was conducting inspections. The inspection team arranged for U-2 photos of a suspect site to be taken in sequence beginning when the team left headquarters. The first photos would show no activity at the site, then they would show a great number of vehicles leaving, again no activity, and then they would show the vehicles of the inspectors arriving.
This Iraqi mobility also decreases the value of tips from defectors, who provided much information during the UNSCOM days. After a defector walks out of Iraq, it takes more than 30 days to debrief him, vet the information, get a decision to brief the U.N., and get an inspection team formed and into the country. As a result, the Iraqis know they can defeat any defector's information just by moving their weapon sites every thirty days - a practice believed to already be common.
Finding 3: UNMOVIC may not have the right personnel to defeat Iraqi concealment efforts.
When UNSCOM assembled an inspection team, it was able to ask national governments to supply experts who had actually worked on the specific weapon technology that the inspection was targeting. There could be a fairly close match between the inspector's knowledge and what was being sought in Iraq. UNMOVIC, however, has chosen not to follow the same recruitment strategy. Whereas UNSCOM concentrated on countries that had already built advanced missiles, or that had expertise derived from weapon programs, UNMOVIC has chosen to hire its staff from the broadest possible geographic area. Many of the countries in such an area, of course, do not even possess the relevant weapon programs or expertise.
This has resulted in an inspection staff that may not have the necessary qualifications. For example, it is possible to recruit a person familiar with missile or rocket design to serve as a missile inspector, but even such a designer might not recognize a Scud part. One has to know Scuds specifically in order to identify a component. Given the fact that Iraq is highly practiced in concealment and cover stories, UNMOVIC may not be able to assemble teams with the technical depth needed to succeed.
In addition, the best experts are currently working for their governments or private companies and are unlikely to forgo their careers and retirement benefits for an uncertain three-, six-, or twelve-month contract with UNMOVIC. UNSCOM was able to obtain the best experts because they could maintain their employment status at their governments or companies.
Finding 4: Iraq's right to designate large geographical areas as "presidential sites" creates a loophole that could defeat inspections.
UNMOVIC is obliged by U.N. resolution 1284 to accept the U.N.'s accord with Iraq on so-called "presidential sites." Under this accord, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan agreed that inspectors would be accompanied by a member of a "Special Group" of diplomats on any inspection of these sites. In addition, the inspectors would be required to notify Iraq in advance of any inspection and even of the composition of the inspection teams. These procedures contradict, of course, the principle of immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access that is essential to effective inspections and that is mandated by Security Council resolutions.
Iraq initially designated eight presidential sites - swaths of land large enough to conceal entire factories, as well as mobile equipment or laboratories. While the sites must be designated in advance of an inspection, Iraq can decide how many sites there are, where they are, how big they are, and what they include. And Iraq can designate new sites at any time. Such sites, in effect, create refuges for mobile items. If Iraq chooses to use them aggressively, they could be a loophole large enough to defeat the inspections.
Finding 5: Inspections can disrupt weapon efforts and provide "ground truth" about their progress, regardless of whether disarmament is achieved.
One lesson learned from UNSCOM inspections in Iraq is that they were disruptive. They forced Iraq to mount a large concealment effort, and to move key equipment from one site to another. All this made it harder to run the illicit programs.
The inspections also yielded essential knowledge about Iraq's actual progress in making mass destruction weapons. Producing a missile, for example, requires particular pieces of equipment. If one knows where those pieces of equipment are, and one can account for them plus any additional equipment that might come in, that information is invaluable in understanding the status of Iraq's missile efforts. One can also study forensic evidence on a piece of equipment to determine what kinds of components could have been made on it. And, at the same time, if one sees weapon-specific activity going on at an undeclared site, one knows that there are parts of the program still unaccounted for. This is true at least for the missile program. It may be less true for the biological program, which is easier to conceal.
Finding 6: UNMOVIC will be reluctant to accuse Iraq of not complying with inspection obligations.
Any new inspections in Iraq will occur under the threat of military action. President Bush has emphasized that the United States remains determined to use "all the tools at our disposal" to remove Saddam Hussein from power, regardless of inspections. Thus, any potential announcement by the inspectors that Iraq is not cooperating is likely to be viewed by UNMOVIC as providing the United States a casus belli. UNMOVIC would therefore be likely to soften any such report.
UNMOVIC will also be reluctant to issue a report that Iraq is not cooperating because such a report could be used to label UNMOVIC's mission as a failure and end its presence in Iraq. Its staff has spent more than two years in New York getting ready to begin work. If work commences, there will be an institutional momentum in favor of continuing. This could be accomplished by defining inspection tasks narrowly, so they would be easier for Iraq to meet, and by avoiding inspections that risked confrontation. UNMOVIC's Executive Chairman, Hans Blix, has the full power to adopt and execute such a policy. He also has the power to follow the opposite course, which would be to define inspection tasks broadly and to plan aggressive inspections aimed at uncovering Iraqi noncompliance. His choice will decide the nature of the inspections.
Mr. Blix's has chosen to avoid confrontation on some occasions in the past. During the period when Mr. Blix led the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), UNSCOM was obliged on several occasions to designate sites in Iraq for inspection by the IAEA despite Mr. Blix's objections. He objected on the ground that the inspections risked being too confrontational. And after the first nuclear inspection in 1991, Mr. Blix was prepared to report to the U.N. Security Council that Iraq was in full compliance with its nuclear disarmament obligations until two American inspectors threatened to file dissenting opinions. The dissenters held up Blix's report until Western intelligence learned from a defector that Iraq was still concealing a vast nuclear weapon effort.
Subsequent to this experience in Iraq, however, Mr. Blix has shown a firmer side. During the IAEA's confrontation with North Korea from 1992 to 1994, Mr. Blix was steadfast in his defense of the IAEA's inspection rights.
If he avoids confrontation, the inspections would then be aimed at monitoring what is already known in Iraq, rather than searching for what is still hidden. The risk is that the failure to find anything new will fuel demands to lift the embargo without achieving disarmament.
The challenge that Mr. Blix faces is made all the greater by the fact that Iraq has not cooperated with inspections since they began in 1991. Iraq has still not met its obligation to file a full, final, and complete disclosure covering its mass destruction weapon efforts. Any claim that Iraq has begun to cooperate will meet with considerable skepticism in the United States.
As of August 2006, Iraq Watch is no longer being updated. Click here for more information.
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