Saddam Hussein's presumed possession
of weapons of mass destruction was a key rationale for the war in Iraq. But one
year after the beginning of the conflict, no such weapons have been found and
experts and politicians alike have more questions than answers. Many of them
revolve around the performance of U.S. intelligence agencies in Iraq.
Did the weapons not exist, as some have suggested? Or were they destroyed
before the war, as others believe?
In a VOA interview, former U.S. chief weapons inspector David Kay, who led
hunt for Iraq's weapons, says there is no evidence they ever existed. "I personally
don't think there's a chance to find them, because the evidence that they were
not produced is compelling. And, so, if they weren't produced, there's nothing
to be found. Is it appropriate to continue looking? Yes, I think it is appropriate
to continue to look," he said.
But if the weapons did not exist, why did Saddam Hussein let the world believe
he had them, a stance, which plunged his country into war and occupation and
led to his own downfall and capture? It is a key question that confounds experts.
Richard Perle, former assistant secretary of defense for international security
affairs and a Bush administration advisor, disagrees with the idea the weapons
were nonexistent. Speaking by telephone, Mr. Perle says Saddam Hussein did
have chemical and biological weapons, at least in the time leading up to the
"We do know that these things were produced. And we know that Saddam was
asked to explain what happened to them, and he refused to do so," he said. "If
you had to make a judgment at the time under conditions of uncertainty, the
only reasonable judgment to make was that things he could not account for,
he could not account for, because he had hidden them away. And he couldn't
admit to that. So, it was the assumption made by virtually all the world's
The other key question is how intelligence agencies, not only in the United
States, but in Britain and elsewhere, got it so wrong. Mr. Perle agrees that
it was a major, but still unexplained, intelligence failure.
"There's no question that it was an intelligence failure, no question at
all," he said. "The intelligence community believed it had a lot of information,
both inventory information and a great deal of circumstantial evidence about
the movement and hiding of things, and it turns out things were not where they
expected them to be."
David Kay, the former weapons inspector, says he does not believe intelligence
was deliberately distorted, as some opponents of the administration have alleged.
He says that, after the U.N. inspectors left Iraq in 1998, intelligence agencies
found their sources of information to be greatly reduced.
"Then, after '98, we tended to rely very much more on defectors, refugees
that were organized by one or the other of the émigré organizations, and had
their own political agendas, which involved getting rid of Saddam," he said. "And
so, they told us stories about WMD. The stories just didn't happen to be true."
Critics have charged that the intelligence was politicized by an administration
already determined to oust Saddam Hussein. Joseph Nye, also a former assistant
secretary of defense for International Security Affairs and now dean of the
Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, says the administration
selectively picked intelligence to bolster its case.
"I think it was an intelligence failure. And also, there was a great deal
of political exaggeration by politicians, who sort of picked the intelligence
that supported their view, and that was also true, not just in the United States,
but in Britain and other countries," he said.
That brings a forceful denial from Richard Perle. "One thing is absolutely
certain: There was no effort to deceive people about our intelligence judgments," he
said. "We went to enormous lengths to prepare our troops in the field to confront
chemical weapons, for example. That was not a charade, that was not a show.
It flowed from the conviction that he [Saddam] had quantities of these weapons."
The Bush administration has appointed a bipartisan commission to investigate
the intelligence lapse. Nevertheless, experts on both sides of the issue say
U.S. intelligence credibility has been damaged, and believe that the U.S. intelligence
structure is a Cold War relic that is long overdue for a major overhaul.