Duelfer Report – Iraq Study Group

A friend asked recently for a summary of what the Iraq Study Group reported regarding Iraq WMD. The first head of the ISG was Dr. David Kay. The headlines on Dr. Kay’s testimony, beginning October 2003, typically said “Iraq Arms Inspector Casts Doubt on WMD Claims”. In fact, Dr. Kay had quite a lot more to say:

“Based on the intelligence that existed, I think it was reasonable to reach the conclusion that Iraq posed an imminent threat. Now that you know reality on the ground as opposed to what you estimated before, you may reach a different conclusion — although I must say I actually think what we learned during the inspection made Iraq a more dangerous place, potentially, than, in fact, we thought it was even before the war.”

That comment was in response to the question “Given what the Bush team was being told about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s regime, did it act not only properly, but prudently?”.

In his remarks before the Senate Armed Services Committee [PDF transcript], January 28, 2004 [before handing the baton to Charles Duelfer], Dr. Kay amplified those remarks as follows:

MR. KAY: Senator Warner, I think the world is far safer with the disappearance and the removal of Saddam Hussein. I have said — I actually think this may be one of those cases where it was even more dangerous than we thought. I think when we have the complete record you’re going to discover that after 1998, it became a regime that was totally corrupt. Individuals were out for their own protection, and in a world where we know others are seeking WMD, the likelihood at some point in the future of a seller and a buyer meeting up would have made that a far more dangerous country than even we anticipated with what may turn out not to be a fully accurate estimate.

On January 26, 2004, on National Public Radio’s “Weekend Edition”, Dr. Kay offered these insights:

“I actually think the intelligence community owes the president [an apology] rather than the president owing [one to] the American people.” … “We have to remember that this view of Iraq was held during the Clinton administration and didn’t change in the Bush administration. It is not a political ‘got you’ issue. It is a serious issue of how you could come to the conclusion that is not matched by the [facts].”

Regarding the common meme that the administration pressured intelligence agencies, in his opening remarks before the Senate, David Kay said:

And let me take one of the explanations most commonly given: Analysts were pressured to reach conclusions that would fit the political agenda of one or another administration. I deeply think that is a wrong explanation.

As leader of the effort of the Iraqi Survey Group, I spent most of my days not out in the field leading inspections. It’s typically what you do at that level. I was trying to motivate, direct, find strategies.

In the course of doing that, I had innumerable analysts who came to me in apology that the world that we were finding was not the world that they had thought existed and that they had estimated. Reality on the ground differed in advance.

And never — not in a single case — was the explanation, “I was pressured to do this.” The explanation was very often, “The limited data we had led one to reasonably conclude this. I now see that there’s another explanation for it.”

And each case was different, but the conversations were sufficiently in depth and our relationship was sufficiently frank that I’m convinced that, at least to the analysts I dealt with, I did not come across a single one that felt it had been, in the military term, “inappropriate command influence” that led them to take that position.

It was not that. It was the honest difficulty based on the intelligence that had — the information that had been collected that led the analysts to that conclusion.

And you know, almost in a perverse way, I wish it had been undue influence because we know how to correct that.

The Wikipedia page on ISG is actually pretty good – a good resource. E.g., it has an accurate plain summary of the Duelfer Report. Here are my selections of the more important items:

• Iraq’s main goal was to end sanctions while preserving the capability to reconstitute WMD production.

• Iraq had intended to restart all banned weapons programs as soon as multilateral sanctions against it had been dropped, a prospect that the Iraqi government saw coming soon.

• Smuggling was used by Iraq to rebuild as much of its WMD program as could be hidden from U.N. weapons inspectors.

• Iraq had an effective system for the procurement of items banned by sanctions.

• Until March 2003, Saddam Hussein convinced his top military commanders that Iraq did indeed possess WMD that could be used against any U.S. invasion force, in order to prevent a coup over the prospects of fighting the U.S.-led Coalition without these weapons.

The final Iraq Study Group Report is available here, titled “The Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the Director of Central Intelligence on Iraq’s WMD”, sometimes called the “Duelfer Report” after Charles Duelfer, who replaced David Kay. The ISG/Duelfer Report came to the same conclusions as did Dr. Kay. For example, from the beginning of the “Strategic Intent” section:

Saddam Husayn so dominated the Iraqi Regime that its strategic intent was his alone. He wanted to end sanctions while preserving the capability to reconstitute his weapons of mass destruction (WMD) when sanctions were lifted.

Saddam wanted to recreate Iraq’s WMD capability—which was essentially destroyed in 1991— after sanctions were removed and Iraq’s economy stabilized, but probably with a different mix of capabilities to that which previously existed. Saddam aspired to develop a nuclear capability— in an incremental fashion, irrespective of international pressure and the resulting economic risks— but he intended to focus on ballistic missile and tactical chemical warfare (CW) capabilities.