DCI Remarks on Iraq's WMD Programs
George J. Tenet at Georgetown University
February 5, 2004
Iraq and Weapons of Mass Destruction
I have come here today to talk to you—and to the American people—about something important to our nation and central to our future: how the United States intelligence community evaluated Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs over the past decade, leading to a National Intelligence Estimate in October of 2002.
I want to tell you about our information and how we reached our judgments.
I will tell you what I think—honestly and directly.
There are several reasons to do this. Because the American people deserve to know. Because intelligence has never been more important to the security of our country.
As a nation, we have over the past seven years been rebuilding our intelligence—with powerful capabilities—that many thought we would no longer need after the end of the Cold War. We have been rebuilding our Clandestine Service, our satellite and other technical collection, our analytic depth and expertise.
Both here and around the world, the men and women of American intelligence are performing courageously—often brilliantly—to support our military, to stop terrorism, and to break up networks of proliferation.
The risks are always high. Success and perfect outcomes never guaranteed. But there is one unassailable fact—we will always call it as we see it. Our professional ethic demands no less.
To understand a difficult topic like Iraq takes patience and care. Unfortunately, you rarely hear a patient, careful— or thoughtful—discussion of intelligence these days.
But these times demand it. Because the alternative—politicized, haphazard evaluation, without the benefit of time and facts—may well result in an intelligence community that is damaged, and a country that is more at risk.
The Nature of the Business
Before talking about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, I want to set the stage with a few words about intelligence collection and analysis—how they actually happen in the real world. This context is completely missing from the current public debate.
By definition, intelligence deals with the unclear, the unknown, the deliberately hidden. What the enemies of the United States hope to deny, we work to reveal.
- The question being asked about Iraq in the starkest of terms is: were we “right” or were we “wrong.”
- In the intelligence business, you are almost never completely wrong or completely right.
That applies in full to the question of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. And, like many of the toughest intelligence challenges, when the facts on Iraq are all in, we will be neither completely right nor completely wrong.
As intelligence professionals, we go where the information takes us. We fear no fact or finding, whether it bears us out or not. Because we work for high goals—the protection of the American people—we must be judged by high standards.
Let’s turn to Iraq.
Reviewing the Record on Iraq
Much of the current controversy centers on our prewar intelligence on Iraq, summarized in the National Intelligence Estimate of October 2002. National Estimates are publications where the intelligence community as a whole seeks to sum up what we know about a subject, what we do not know, what we suspect may be happening, and where we differ on key issues.
This Estimate asked if Iraq had chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them. We concluded that in some of these categories, Iraq had weapons. And that in others—where it did not have them—it was trying to develop them.
Let me be clear: analysts differed on several important aspects of these programs and those debates were spelled out in the Estimate.
They never said there was an “imminent” threat. Rather, they painted an objective assessment for our policymakers of a brutal dictator who was continuing his efforts to deceive and build programs that might constantly surprise us and threaten our interests.
No one told us what to say or how to say it.
How did we reach our conclusions? We had three streams of information—none perfect, but each important.
- First: Iraq’s history. Everyone knew that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons in the 1980s and 1990s. Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against Iran and his own people on at least 10 different occasions. He launched missiles against Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. And we couldn’t forget that in the early 1990s, we saw that Iraq was just a few years way from a nuclear weapon—this was no theoretical program. It turned out that we and the other intelligence services of the world had significantly underestimated his progress. And, finally, we could not forget that Iraq lied repeatedly about its unconventional weapons.
- So, to conclude before the war that Saddam had no interest in rebuilding his WMD programs, we would have had to ignore his long and brutal history of using them.
- Our second stream of information was that the United Nations could not—and Saddam would not—account for all the weapons the Iraqis had: tons of chemical weapons precursors, hundreds of artillery shells and bombs filled with chemical or biological agents.
- We did not take this data at face value. We did take it seriously. We worked with the inspectors, giving them leads, helping them fight Saddam’s deception strategy of “cheat and retreat.”
- Over eight years of inspections, Saddam’s deceptions—and the increasingly restrictive rules of engagement UN inspectors were forced to negotiate with the regime—undermined efforts to disarm him.
- To conclude before the war that Saddam had destroyed his existing weapons, we would have had to ignore what the United Nations and allied intelligence said they could not verify.
- The third stream of information came after the UN inspectors left Iraq in 1998. We gathered intelligence through human agents, satellite photos, and communications intercepts.
- Other foreign intelligence services were clearly focused on Iraq and assisted in the effort. In intercepts of conversations and other transactions, we heard Iraqis seeking to hide prohibited items, worrying about their cover stories, and trying to procure items Iraq was not permitted to have.
- Satellite photos showed a pattern of activity designed to conceal movement of material from places where chemical weapons had been stored in the past.
- We also saw reconstruction of dual purpose facilities previously used to make biological agents or chemical precursors.
- And human sources told us of efforts to acquire and hide materials used in the production of such weapons.
- And to come to conclusions before the war other than those we reached, we would have had to ignore all the intelligence gathered from multiple sources after 1998.
Did these strands of information weave into a perfect picture—could they answer every question? No—far from it. But, taken together, this information provided a solid basis on which to estimate whether Iraq did or did not have weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them. It is important to underline the word estimate. Because not everything we analyze can be known to a standard of absolute proof.
Now, what exactly was in the October Estimate? Why did we say it? And what does the postwar evidence thus far show?
Before we start, let me be direct about an important fact—as we meet here today—the Iraq Survey Group is continuing its important search for weapons, people, and data.
And despite some public statements, we are nowhere near 85% finished. The men and women who work in that dangerous environment are adamant about that fact.
Any call I make today is necessarily provisional. Why? Because we need more time and we need more data.
So, what did our estimate say?
Let’s start with missile and other delivery systems for WMD. Our community said with high confidence that Saddam was continuing and expanding his missile programs contrary to UN resolutions. He had missiles and other systems with ranges in excess of UN restrictions and was seeking missiles with even longer ranges.
What do we know today?
- Since the war, we have found an aggressive Iraqi missile program concealed from the international community.
- In fact David Kay said just last fall that the Iraq Survey Group “discovered sufficient evidence to date to conclude that the Iraqi regime was committed to delivery system improvements that would have, if [Operation Iraqi Freedom] had not occurred, dramatically breached UN restrictions placed on Iraq after the 1991 Gulf war.”
- We have also found that Iraq had plans and advanced design work for liquid propellant missiles with ranges up to 1000 km – activity that Iraq did not report to the UN and which could have placed large portions of the Middle East in jeopardy.
- We have confirmed that Iraq had new work underway on prohibited solid propellant missiles that were also concealed from the UN.
- Significantly, the Iraq Survey Group has also confirmed prewar intelligence that Iraq was in secret negotiations with North Korea to obtain some of its most dangerous missile technology.
- My provisional bottom line today: On missiles, we were generally on target.
Let me turn to Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. The Estimate said that Iraq had been developing an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, probably intended to deliver biological warfare agents. Baghdad’s existing Unmanned Aerial Vehicles could threaten its neighbors, US forces in the Persian Gulf, and—if a small Unmanned Aerial Vehicle was brought close to our shores -- the United States itself.
What do we know today?
The Iraq Survey Group found that two separate groups in Iraq were working on a number of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle designs that were hidden from the UN until Iraq’s Declaration of December 2002. Now we know that important design elements were never fully declared.
The question of intent—especially regarding the smaller Unmanned Aerial Vehicles—is still out there. But we should remember that the Iraqis flight-tested an aerial Biological Weapon spray system intended for a large Unmanned Aerial Vehicle.
A senior Iraqi official has now admitted that their two large Unmanned Aerial Vehicles—one developed in the early 90s and the other under development in late 2000—were intended for delivery of biological weapons.
My provisional bottom line today: We detected the development of prohibited and undeclared Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. But the jury is still out on whether Iraq intended to use its newer, smaller Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to deliver biological weapons.
Let me turn to the nuclear issue. In the Estimate, all agencies agreed that Saddam wanted nuclear weapons. Most were convinced that he still had a program and if he obtained fissile material he could have a weapon within a year. But we detected no such acquisition.
- We made two judgments that get overlooked these days—We said Saddam did not have a nuclear weapon and, probably would have been unable to make one until 2007 to 2009.
- Most agencies believed that Saddam had begun to reconstitute his nuclear program, but they disagreed on a number of issues such as which procurement activities were designed to support his nuclear program. But let me be clear, where there were differences, the Estimate laid out the disputes clearly.
So what do we know today?
- David Kay told us last fall that “…the testimony we have obtained from Iraqi scientists and senior government officials should clear up any doubts about whether Saddam still wanted to obtain nuclear weapons.”
Keep in mind that no intelligence agency thought that Iraq’s efforts had progressed to the point of building an enrichment facility or making fissile material. We said that such activities were a few years away. Therefore it is not surprising that the Iraq Survey Group has not yet found evidence of uranium enrichment activities
- Regarding prohibited aluminum tubes – a debate laid out extensively in the Estimate and one that experts still argue over -- were they for uranium enrichment or conventional weapons? We have additional data to collect and more sources to question.
Moreover, none of the tubes found in Iraq so far match the high specification tubes Baghdad sought and may have never received in the amounts needed. Our aggressive interdiction efforts may have prevented Iraq from receiving all but a few of these prohibited items.
- My provisional bottom line today: Saddam did not have a nuclear weapon. He still wanted one and Iraq intended to reconstitute a nuclear program at some point. But we have not yet found clear evidence that the dual-use items Iraq sought were for nuclear reconstitution. We do not know if any reconstitution efforts had begun but we may have overestimated the progress Saddam was making.
Let me turn to biological weapons. The Estimate said that Baghdad had them, and that all key aspects of an offensive program—Research and Development, production, and weaponization—were still active, and most elements were larger, and more advanced than before the first Gulf war.
We believed that Iraq had lethal Biological Weapon agents, including anthrax, which it could quickly produce and weaponize for delivery by bombs, missiles, aerial sprayers, and covert operatives. But we said we had no specific information on the types or quantities of weapons, agent, or stockpiles at Baghdad’s disposal.
What do we know today?
- Last fall, the Iraq Survey Group uncovered (quote) “significant information—including research and development of Biological Weapons -applicable organisms, the involvement of the Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) in possible Biological Weapons activities, and deliberate concealment activities. All of this suggests Iraq after 1996 further compartmentalized its program and focused on maintaining smaller, covert capabilities that could be activated quickly to surge the production of Biological Weapon agents.” (unquote)
- The Iraq Survey Group found a network of laboratories and safehouses controlled by Iraqi intelligence and security services that contained equipment for chemical and biological research and a prison laboratory complex possibly used in human testing for Biological Weapon agents, that were not declared to the UN.
- It also appears that Iraq had the infrastructure and talent to resume production—but we have yet to find that it actually did so, nor have we found weapons. Until we get to the bottom of the role played by the Iraqi security services—which were operating covert labs—we will not know the full extent of the program.
- Let me also talk about the trailers discovered in Iraq last summer. We initially concluded that they resembled trailers described by a human source for mobile biological warfare agent production today. There is no consensus within our community over whether the trailers were for that use or if they were used for the production of hydrogen. Everyone agrees they are not ideally configured for either process, but could be made to work in either mode.
- To give you some idea of the contrasting evidence we wrestle with, some of the Iraqis involved in making the trailers were told they were intended to produce hydrogen for artillery units.
- But an Iraqi artillery officer says they never used these types of systems and that the hydrogen for artillery units came in canisters from a fixed production facility. We are trying to get to the bottom of this story.
- And I must tell you that we are finding discrepancies in some claims made by human sources about mobile Biological Weapons production before the war. Because we lack direct access to the most important sources on this question, we have as yet been unable to resolve the differences.
- My provisional bottom line today: Iraq intended to develop Biological Weapons. Clearly, research and development work was underway that would have permitted a rapid shift to agent production if seed stocks were available. But we do not know if production took place – and just as clearly—we have not yet found biological weapons.
Before I leave the Biological Weapons story, an important fact you must remember. For years the UN searched unsuccessfully for Saddam’s Biological Weapons program. His son-in-law, Husayn Kamil, who controlled the hidden program defected, and only then was the world able to confirm that Iraq indeed had an active and dangerous biological weapons program. Indeed, history matters in dealing with these complicated problems. While many of us want instant answers, this search for Biological Weapons in Iraq will take time and patience.
Let me now turn to Chemical Weapons. We said in the Estimate with high confidence that Iraq had them. We also believed, though with less certainty, that Saddam had stocked at least 100 metric tons of agent. That may sound like a lot, but it would fit in a few dorm rooms on this campus.
Initially, the community was skeptical about whether Iraq had restarted Chemical Weapons agent production. Sources had reported that Iraq had begun renewed production, and imagery and intercepts gave us additional concerns.
But only when analysts saw what they believed to be satellite photos of shipments of materials from ammunition sites did they believe that Iraq was again producing Chemical Weapon agents.
What do we know now?
- The work done so far shows a story similar to that of his biological weapons program. Saddam had rebuilt a dual-use industry. David Kay reported that Saddam and his son Uday wanted to know how long it would take for Iraq to produce chemical weapons. However, while sources indicate Iraq may have conducted some experiments related to developing chemical weapons, no physical evidence has yet been uncovered. We need more time.
- My provisional bottom line today: Saddam had the intent and the capability to quickly convert civilian industry to chemical weapons production. However, we have not yet found the weapons we expected.
I’ve now given you my provisional bottom lines. But it is important to remember that Estimates are not written in a vacuum. Let me tell you some of what was going on in the fall of 2002. Several sensitive reports crossed my desk from two sources characterized by our foreign partners as “established and reliable.”
The first, from a source who had direct access to Saddam and his inner circle said:
- Iraq was not in possession of a nuclear weapon. However, Iraq was aggressively and covertly developing such a weapon. Saddam had recently called together his Nuclear Weapons Committee irate that Iraq did not yet have a weapon because money was no object and they possessed the scientific know how.
- The Committee members assured Saddam that once the fissile material was in hand, a bomb could be ready in just 18-24 months. The return of UN inspectors would cause minimal disruption because, according to the source, Iraq was expert at denial and deception.
- The same source said Iraq was stockpiling chemical weapons and that equipment to produce insecticides, under the oil-for-food program, had been diverted to covert chemical weapons production.
The source said that
- Iraq’s weapons of “last resort” were "mobile launchers armed with chemical weapons which would be fired at enemy forces and Israel."
- Iraqi scientists were “dabbling” with biological weapons, with limited success,
- But the quantities were not sufficient to constitute a real weapons program.
A stream of reporting from a different sensitive source with access to senior Iraqi officials said he believed:
- production of chemical and biological weapons was taking place,
- that biological agents were easy to produce and to hide, and
- prohibited chemicals were also being produced at dual-use facilities.
This source stated that a senior Iraqi official in Saddam's inner circle believed, as a result of the UN inspections, Iraq knew the inspectors’ weak points and how to take advantage of them. The source said there was an elaborate plan to deceive inspectors and ensure prohibited items would never be found.
Now, did this information make a difference in my thinking? You bet it did. As this and other information came across my desk, it solidified and reinforced the judgments we had reached and my own view of the danger posed by Saddam Hussein and I conveyed this view to our nation's leaders.
Could I have ignored or dismissed such reports at the time? Absolutely not.
Continuing the Search
Now, I am sure you are asking: Why haven’t we found the weapons? I have told you the search must continue and it will be difficult.
As David Kay reminded us, the Iraqis systematically destroyed and looted forensic evidence before, during and after the war. We have been faced with the organized destruction of documentary and computer evidence in a wide range of offices, laboratories, and companies suspected of WMD work. The pattern of these efforts is one of deliberate rather than random acts. Iraqis who have volunteered information to us are still being intimidated and attacked.
Remember finding things in Iraq is very tough. After the first Gulf War, the U.S. Army blew up chemical weapons without knowing it. They were mixed in with conventional weapons in Iraqi ammo dumps.
My new Special Advisor, Charles Duelfer, will soon be in Iraq to join Major General Keith Dayton – commander of the Iraq Survey Group – to continue our effort to learn the truth. And, when the truth emerges, we will report it to the American public – no matter what.
REVIEWING OUR WORK
As Director of Central Intelligence, I have an important responsibility. I have a responsibility to evaluate our performance -- both our operational work and our analytical tradecraft.
So what do I think about all of this?
Based on an assessment of the data we collected over the past 10 years, it would have been difficult for analysts to come to any different conclusions than the ones reached in October of 2002.
However, in our business that is not good enough.
We must constantly review the quality of our work. For example, the National Intelligence Council is reviewing the Estimate line-by-line.
Six months ago we also commissioned an internal review to examine the tradecraft of our work on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. And, through this effort we are finding ways to improve our processes. For example, we recently discovered that relevant analysts in the community missed a notice that identified a source we had cited as providing information that, in some cases was unreliable, and in other cases was fabricated. We have acknowledged this mistake.
In addition to these internal reviews, I asked Dick Kerr, a former Deputy Director of Central Intelligence, and a team of retired senior analysts to evaluate the Estimate.
Among the questions that we as a Community must ultimately reflect on are:
- Did the history of our work, Saddam's deception and denial, his lack of compliance with the international community, and all that we know about this regime cause us to minimize, or ignore, alternative scenarios?
- Did the fact that we missed how close Saddam came to acquiring a nuclear weapon in the early 1990s cause us to over-estimate his nuclear or other programs in 2002?
Did we carefully consider the absence of information flowing from a repressive and intimidating regime, and would it have made any difference in our bottom line judgments?
- Did we clearly tell policy makers what we knew, what we didn’t know, what was not clear, and identify the gaps in our knowledge?
We are in the process of evaluating just such questions - and while others will express views on the questions sooner, we ourselves must come to our own bottom lines.
I will say that our judgments were not single threaded. UN inspections served as a baseline and we had multiple strands of reporting from signals, imagery, and human intelligence.
After the UN inspectors left Iraq in 1998, we made an aggressive effort to penetrate Iraq. Our record was mixed.
While we had voluminous reporting, the major judgments reached were based on a narrower band of data. This is not unusual.
There was, by necessity, a strong reliance on technical data, which to be sure was very valuable, particularly in the imagery of military and key dual use facilities, on missile and Unmanned Aerial Vehicle developments--and in particular on the efforts of Iraqi front companies to falsify and deny us the ultimate destination and use of dual use equipment.
We did not have enough of our own human intelligence.
We did not ourselves penetrate the inner sanctum - our agents were on the periphery of WMD activities, providing some useful information. We had access to émigrés and defectors with more direct access to WMD programs and we had a steady stream of reporting with access to the Iraqi leadership come to us from a trusted foreign partner. Other partners provided important information.
What we did not collect ourselves, we evaluated as carefully as we could. Still, the lack of direct access to some of these sources created some risk – such is the nature of our business.
To be sure, we had difficulty penetrating the Iraqi regime with human sources, but a blanket indictment of our human intelligence around the world is simply wrong.
We have spent the last seven years rebuilding our clandestine service. As Director of Central Intelligence, this has been my highest priority.
When I came to the CIA in the mid-90s our graduating class of case officers was unbelievably low. Now, after years of rebuilding our training programs and putting our best efforts to recruit the most talented men and women, we are graduating more clandestine officers than at any time in CIA’s history.
It will take an additional five years to finish the job of rebuilding our clandestine service, but the results so far have been obvious:
- A CIA spy led us to Khalid Sheik Muhammad, the mastermind of Al Qa'ida’s September 11th attacks.
- Al Qa'ida’s operational chief in the Persian Gulf, Nashiri the man who planned an executed the bombing of the USS COLE – was located and arrested based on our human reporting.
- Human sources were critical to the capture of Hambali, the chief terrorist in South Asia. His organization killed hundreds of people when they bombed a nightclub in Bali.
So when you hear pundits say that we have no human intelligence capability … they don’t know what they are talking about.
Beyond Iraq: The Larger Role of US Intelligence
It’s important that I address these misstatements because the American people must know just how reliable American intelligence is on the threats that confront our nation.
Let’s talk about Libya where a sitting regime has volunteered to dismantle its Weapons of Mass Destruction programs.
This was an intelligence success.
Why? Because American and British intelligence officers understood the Libyan programs.
Only through intelligence did we know each of the major programs Libya had going.
Only through intelligence did we know when Libya started its first nuclear weapon program, and then put it on the backburner for years.
Only through intelligence did we know when the nuclear program took off again. We knew because we had penetrated Libya’s foreign supplier network.
And through intelligence last fall when Libya was to receive a supply of centrifuge parts—we worked with foreign partners to locate and stop the shipment.
- Intelligence also knew that Libya was working with North Korea to get longer-range ballistic missiles.
- And we learned all of this through the powerful combination of technical intelligence, careful and painstaking analytic work, operational daring, and, yes, the classic kind of human intelligence that people have led you to believe that we no longer have.
This was critical when the Libyans approached British and US intelligence about dismantling their chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs. They came to the British and American intelligence because they knew we could keep the negotiations secret.
And in repeated talks, when CIA officers were the only official Americans in Libya, we and our British colleagues made clear just how much insight we had into their WMD and missile programs.
When they said they would show us their SCUD-B’s, we said fine but we want to examine your longer range SCUD-Cs.
It was only when we convinced them we knew Libya’s nuclear program was a weapons program, that they showed us their weapon design.
- As should be clear to you, Intelligence was the key that opened the door to Libya’s clandestine programs.
Let me briefly mention Iran. I cannot go into detail. I want to assure you that recent Iranian admissions about their nuclear programs validate our intelligence assessments. It is flat wrong to say that we were “surprised” by reports from the Iranian opposition last year.
And on North Korea, it was patient analysis of difficult-to-obtain information that allowed our diplomats to confront the North Korean regime about their pursuit of a different route to a nuclear weapon that violated international agreements.
One final spy story:
Last year in my annual World Wide Threat testimony before Congress in open session, I talked about the emerging threat from private proliferators, especially nuclear brokers.
- I was cryptic about this in public, but I can tell you now that I was talking about A.Q. Khan. His network was shaving years off the nuclear weapons development timelines of several states including Libya.
Now, as you know from the news coming out of Pakistan, Khan and his network have been dealt a crushing blow, with several of his senior officers in custody. Malaysian authorities have shut down one of the network’s largest plants. His network is now answering to the world for years of nuclear profiteering.
What did intelligence have to do with this?
First, we discovered the extent of Khan’s hidden network. We tagged the proliferators. We detected the network stretching from Pakistan to Europe to the Middle East to Asia offering its wares to countries like North Korea and Iran.
Working with our British colleagues we pieced together the picture of the network, revealing its subsidiaries, scientists, front companies, agents, finances, and manufacturing plants on three continents.
Our spies penetrated the network through a series of daring operations over several years. Through this unrelenting effort we confirmed the network was delivering such things as illicit uranium enrichment centrifuges.
And as you heard me say on the Libya case, we stopped deliveries of prohibited material.
I welcome the President’s Commission looking into proliferation. We have a record and a story to tell and we want to tell it to those willing to listen.
I came here today to discuss our prewar estimate on Iraq and how we have followed Iraq's development of weapons of mass destruction programs for well over ten years. It is absolutely essential to do so openly and honestly.
I have argued for patience as we continue to learn the truth. We are no where near the end of our work in Iraq, we need more time. I have told you where we are and where our performance can be improved.
Our analysts at the end of the day have a duty to inform and warn. They did so honestly and with integrity when making judgments about the dangers posed by Saddam Hussein.
Simply assessing stacks of reports does not speak to the wisdom experienced analysts brought to bear on a difficult and deceptive subject.
But as all these reviews are underway, we must take care. We cannot afford an environment to develop where analysts are afraid to make a call. Where judgments are held back because analysts fear they will be wrong. Their work and these judgments make vital contributions to our nation’s security.
I came here today also to tell the American people that they must know that they are served by dedicated, courageous professionals.
It is evident on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq.
It is evident by their work against proliferators.
And it is evident by the fact that well over two thirds of al-Qa'ida's leaders can no longer hurt the American people.
We are a community that some thought would not be needed at the end of the Cold War.
We have systematically been rebuilding all of our disciplines with a focused strategy and care.
Our strategy for the future is based on achieving capabilities that will provide the kind of intelligence the country deserves. The President has ensured that this will be the case.
We constantly learn and improve.
And at no time, will we allow our integrity or our willingness to make the tough calls be compromised.