U.S. investigators have so far failed
to find any arsenals of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but say it is too
early to give a definitive report. However, the lingering uncertainty over the
state of Iraq's weapons programs has prompted questions about the intelligence
gathered in the lead-up to the war.
Some experts now believe the weapons of mass destruction have not been found
because the United States may have fallen prey to a deception operation run
by Saddam Hussein's intelligence service.
No definitive proof of such a deception operation has been made public. But
Todd Masse, an expert on intelligence matters at the U.S. Congressional Research
Service, says if the weapons did not exist, Saddam Hussein would have wanted
the West to think he had them.
"Hussein was obviously running a massive denial and deception campaign," he
said. "If he did not have weapons of mass destruction, then it was in his interest
to have the United States think he did for reasons of regional prominence and
"I wouldn't put it past that there were, you know, planned sort of agents
who said, 'yes, I'm going to put you in touch with the Americans and the Brits
or UNSCOM, the U.N. Special Commission on Iraq, and I want you to feed them
disinformation,' continued Mr. Masse. "I mean, that's the intelligence business."
Much of the intelligence in the prewar period especially that provided to
the Defense Department came from Iraqi exiles, such as those from the Iraqi
National Congress. Martin Rudner, director of the Canadian Institute for Intelligence
and Security Studies at Carleton University, says Iraqi defectors may have
given U.S. officials bogus information.
"My impression now as we're sitting is that on the defector side there may
in fact have been a deception operation run by the Iraqis," explained Mr. Rudner. "And
this is not the first time in history that defectors were in fact double agents
and were out there as part of a deception operation."
Intelligence experts say U.S. agencies had technical intelligence capabilities
in abundance in Iraq. But, as Mr. Rudner points out, human intelligence was
sorely lacking. "So in the end I think we had an extremely hard nut to crack
with human intelligence," added Mr. Rudner. "And it doesn't surprise me that
with hard nuts to crack you end up with bits and pieces of splinter and shell
in your throat."
Mr. Rudner says the United States also relied heavily on human sources from
British intelligence. But, he adds, even the British found it tough going.
He relates the story of what happened to a British intelligence chief in Iraq
some years back.
"One day their intelligence officer in place in the embassy, who of course
had not been declared to the Iraqis, was picked up by a car, by some thugs,
driven off to a warehouse. They open up the door, then show him hanging from
meathooks on the rafter every one of his Iraqi contacts. Then they turn him
around, put him back into the car, drive him to Baghdad airport, put him onto
an airplane back to Britain," he reminded.
Experts say not only may the intelligence collection have been faulty, but
the intelligence analysis may have been spotty as well. Mr. Masse says intelligence
analysis is not an exact science, and leaves wide latitude for interpretation
by intelligence consumers, the policymakers. "As you know, intelligence does
not form policy," he said. "Intelligence merely informs policymakers.
"Ultimately, it's the policymaker who's making the decision, making the policy," added
Mr. Masse. "And they can choose to accept or reject what comes out of a National
Intelligence Estimate, like the one done in October 2002 on Iraq. They can
choose to look at particular elements of it and ignore other elements, or overemphasize
one element or underemphasize another. So generally what I'm saying is that
there's room, there's just plenty of room, for interpretation."
The United States has dispatched a 1,400 member Iraqi Survey Group to Iraq
to hunt down weapons of mass destruction. The group has found no such weapons,
although its interim report last week says there is some evidence of Saddam
Hussein's intent to acquire them. The group says it may take another six to
nine months to reach any definitive conclusions.