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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Iraqi Chemical Weapons Programs
2003 Prewar Assessments

In the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), the Intelligence Community (IC) concluded with "high confidence" that Iraq had renewed its production of illicit Chemical Weapon (CW) agents, including mustard, sarin, GF (cyclosarin) and VX nerve agent. Although it estimated that the production would be smaller than pre-Gulf War levels, owing to much destroyed infrastructure during bombing, NIE estimated that Iraq possessed between 100 and 500 metric tons (MT) of CW agents. In addition, the NIE, concurring with previous intelligence reports, stated that the expansion of the Iraqi chemical industry was primarily undertaken in order to support CW production. The NIE's conclusions regarding Iraqi CW were:

  1. Baghdad has chemical weapons.
  2. The IC judged that Iraq is expanding its chemical industry primarily to support chemical weapons production.
  3. The IC assessed that Baghdad has begun renewed production of mustard, sarin, GF (cyclosarin), and VX.
  4. Although the IC had little specific information on Iraq's CW stockpile, Saddam probably had stocked at least 100 metric tons and possibly as much as 500 metric tons of chemical warfare agents much of it added in the last year.
  5. The Iraqis had experience in manufacturing chemical bombs, artillery rockets, and projectiles.
  6. Baghdad probably is hiding small scale agent production within legitimate research laboratories.
  7. Baghdad has procured covertly the types and quantities of chemicals and equipment sufficient to allow limited CW production hidden within Iraq's legitimate chemical industry.

Although many of these conclusions agreed with previous intelligence assessments, it went much further than previous reports on several points. First, the NIE unequivocally stated that Iraq had restarted CW production. Previous reports had stated that although Iraq retained the capability to restart its CW production at reduced levels, none found to support the conclusion made in the NIE. As late as September 2002, one month before the NIE was released, a DIA report on Iraqi CW wtated that, "There is no reliable information on whether Iraq is producing and stockpiling chemical weapons, or where Iraq has or will establish its chemical warfare agent production facilities. Unusual munitions transfer activity in mid-2002 suggests that Iraq is distributing CW munitions in preparation for an anticipated US attack." The assessment said that "Iraq likely has resumed some chemical...agent production, but we lack conclusive proof due to Iraq's effective national level denial and deception (D&D) effort." Second, the stockpiles described in the NIE were much larger than those in previous reports. As late as 2002, the IC estimated that Iraq possessed between 10 and 100 MT of CW agent. These numbers were based largely on accounting inconsistencies between known pre-Gulf War CW stockpiles and those acknowledged by Iraq. The upper estimate given by the NIE (500 MT) was based on its conclusion that Iraq had reconstituted its CW production, which was based largely on satellite imagery.

On 20 March 2006 it was reported that Naji Sabri, Saddam Hussein's last Foreign Minister, was a paid asset of French intelligence. As a senior member of Saddam's inner circle and a friend of his son, Qusay, Mr Sabri would have seemed an extraordinarily good source, but the US intelligence community did not trust him as a source. French intelligence and the CIA used a third-country intermediary to get information him before Saddam's government was toppled by American troops in March 2003. In September 2002, the French arranged a meeting between Sabri and a CIA intermediary while Sabri was attending a UN meeting in New York. At that meeting the Iraqi Foreign Minister provided intelligence on Iraq's weapon programs and Saddam's inner circles to the CIA. NBC reported the information was provided in exchange for a payment of $100,000. The Washington Post reported "It was never clear what he wanted," one former official familiar with the situation said of Sabri, "but we never paid him."

Sabri later broke off the secret contacts with US intelligence agents after refusing to accept the CIA's proposal, hoping for a public relations coup, that he defect to the United States and publicly renounce Saddam. But Sabri came from a prominent Iraqi family and defection was not an option. His brother was an Iraqi official that Hussein had previously killed because of suspected disloyalty.

Sabri reportedly told the CIA's middleman that Iraq possessed chemical weapons. Sabri said Iraq had stockpiled weapons and had "poison gas" left over from the first Gulf War. A former intelligence official familiar with the situation said Sabri told his handler that some chemical weapons existed, but they were not under military control. Another former official added: "He said he had been told Hussein had them dispersed among some of the loyal tribes."

Sabri, who now lives in Qatar, said: "The information carried by NBC are lies, totally fabricated and unfounded. .... After the lies about the weapons of mass destruction which do not exist and the alleged links with al-Qa'eda, it seems that this new lie is aimed at giving a new fake pretext to justify the crime of the century: the invasion of Iraq."

In a speech in February 2004, then-CIA Director George J. Tenet referred to Sabri, although not by name, when he said the CIA had obtained information from "a source who had direct access to Saddam and his inner circle." In that speech Tenet said that Sabri was characterized by CIA's foreign partners as an "established and reliable" source. Tenet said the " .... a source who had direct access to Saddam and his inner circle 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.""

Evidence for Chemical Weapons Program

Satalite Imagery

The NIE's judgment that Iraq had restarted CW production was based primarily on imagery intelligence. As analysts subsequently explained, this imagery showed trucks transshipping materials to and from ammunition depots, including suspect CW sites, in Iraq. These transshipments began in March 2002 and continued until early 2003. At approximately 11 sites, imagery analysts saw a number of "indicators" in the imagery that suggested to them that some of the trucks were possibly moving CW munitions; then, because imagery analysts observed evidence of numerous such shipments, CW analysts in turn assessed that Iraq was moving significant volumes of CW munitions and therefore that Iraq had restarted CW production. These indicators included the presence of "Samarra-type" trucks--a distinctive type of tanker truck--which were regularly associated with CW shipments in the late 1980s and during the Gulf War; atypical security patterns "associated with" the Special Republican Guard, which was believed to be responsible for protecting parts of Iraq's WMD programs; at least at one site, the grading of the topsoil, which likewise suggested to analysts deliberate concealment of suspect activity; and other indicators.

Construction at Potential CW Sites

The judgment in the NIE that Iraq was expanding its chemical industry primarily to support CW production was based on intelligence reports which showed construction and other activity at suspect Iraqi CW facilities, particularly the Fallujah II chlorine and phenol plants (see satalite image below). Iraq's Fallujah II chlorine and phenol plants were designed and built as dedicated CW precursor production plants in the 1980s, but were heavily damaged during the first Gulf War. Iraq told inspectors in the 1990s that it was rebuilding the plants for civilian chlorine and phenol production. Both chlorine and phenol have CW applications, but also have legitimate civilian uses such as water treatment or pesticide and resin production. The IC judged that Iraq's civilian needs for chlorine were already adequately met through UN authorized imports and three other chlorine plants in the country. The IC also noted in the NIE that Iraq modified the phenol plant after the departure of UN inspectors in 1998, which they assessed suggested that it was modified for illicit use. In addition, reports provided by the IC indicated that in 2000 and 2001 several individuals who worked in Iraq's CW program were working at the Fallujah II facility. One of the reports noted, however, that there was no indication that these individuals were conducting chemical warfare research at the facility.

Unaccounted CW

IC analysts' assessment that Iraq had CW was based in part on Iraq's inability to fully account for the destruction of pre Gulf War CW and precursors, suggesting that Iraq may have retained some of those chemicals. Information from the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) reports provided to the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee showed that Iraq's total production and holdings of CW agents could not be verified, and that Iraq could not account for over 1,500 metric tons of chemical precursors and over 550 artillery shells that had been filled with mustard CW agent. According to LINSCOM, in 1998, the mustard agent was still of the highest quality and was still militarily viable. The CIA estimated in 1998, based on UN reports of precursor chemicals for which Iraq had not been able to account, that Iraq could have had up to 200 metric tons of mustard agent.

Although the IC had long held that Iraq had not revealed all of its CW stockpiles, two events in the 1990s solidly confirmed that view. The 1995 defection of Hussein Kamil, the head of Iraq's Military Industrialization Committee, revealed that Iraq had successfully weaponized VX nerve toxin, an unknown admission at the time. In July 1998, weapons inspectors found documents--now commonly known as the "Air Force Documents"--that detailed Iraqi CW use in the Iran-Iraq War. This finding was significant because the documents indicated Iraq had expended far fewer CW munitions in the Iran-Iraq War than previously thought, thus suggesting that Iraq possessed more unexpended CW munitions than analysts believed. Analysts lent additional credence to the information because Iraqi officials refused to let inspectors actually keep the relevant document, which suggested to analysts that the documents were incriminating and important. Though both of these revelations concerned Iraq's pre-1991 CW effort, analysts saw them as lending support to the assessment that Iraq was continuing its deliberate efforts to obscure elements of its CW capabilities.

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Page last modified: 24-07-2011 04:44:34 ZULU