David Kay, head of the US inspection team looking for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, has resigned.
Did his resignation have anything to do with the fact that there are no WMD to be found in Iraq? Not at all, says Kay in an interview with Reuters.
Q: Is it true that one of the reasons you wanted to step down was because you don't believe that anything will be found, is that true?
A: "No. No, that wasn't the reason."
According to Kay, two things drove him to leave. The first is that the resources of his Iraq Survey Group were being diverted from the hunt for weapons and used to fight the Iraqi insurgency. The second is Kay's belief that the handoff of power to an Iraqi government in June would make the ISG's work nearly impossible.
Q: Why did you decide to step down?
A: "It related in part to a reduction in the resource and a change in focus of ISG (Iraq Survey Group). When I had started out, I had made it a condition that ISG be exclusively focused on WMD. That's no longer so. The reduction of resources. And the reason those were important is, and at least to me they were important, is I didn't feel that we could complete the task as quickly as I thought it important to complete the task, unless we exclusively focused ISG.
Q: You're talking about that they were asking some of the analysts to do the insurgency work, right?
In fact, the reason I thought it important to complete everything is that ... by the time we get to June ... we're not going to find much after June. Once the Iraqis take complete control of the government it is just almost impossible to operate in the way that we operate. In fact it was already becoming tough. We had an important ministry that would not allow its people to be interviewed unless they had someone present. It was like the old regime.
In surprisingly Scott Ritteresque sentiment, Kay appears to be saying that he is leaving because his job, the important task of finding and securing Iraq's WMDs, is being obstructed.
Taken at face value, the implications of Kay's claims are stunning.
We are fighting Iraqi insurgents at all only as a secondary consequence of our effort to neutralize the threat of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. If those weapons are still out there--as Kay's statement suggests--then it is ludicrous for our government to effectively abandon the search before they are discovered.
Similarly, if the Iraqi regime that takes over in June will so obstruct the hunt for WMD as to make finding them "almost impossible," then we are left with an untenable situation. Can we afford to trust a government that won't let our inspectors do their job? Wasn't it exactly this kind of delay, denial, and deception that led President Bush to courageously yet reluctantly invade Iraq in the first place?
Let me be the first to say it: If the current rulers of Iraq are not with us, they are against us.
Luckily, one thing mitigates against a rash response to Kay's surprising claims: despite his sound-bite answer to Reuters, David Kay does not believe there are any large stockpiles of weapons in Iraq.
It doesn't matter if we divert ISG resources to counter-insurgency, and it doesn't matter if the inspection process ends when an Iraqi government takes power this summer, because there is no WMD threat.
Nor was there a threat during the reign of Saddam Hussein. In another interview, this one with the New York Times, Kay describes what happened in Iraq:
The stockpiles from the 1990s were eliminated due to fear of UN inspections
New projects desired by Hussein were never pursued thanks to corruption among the ranks of Iraq's scientists
American intelligence agencies failed to detect that Iraq's unconventional weapons programs were in a state of disarray in recent years under the increasingly erratic leadership of Saddam Hussein, the C.I.A.`s former chief weapons inspector said in an interview late Saturday.
The inspector, David A. Kay, who led the government's efforts to find evidence of Iraq's illicit weapons programs until he resigned on Friday, said the C.I.A. and other intelligence agencies did not realize that Iraqi scientists had presented ambitious but fanciful weapons programs to Mr. Hussein and had then used the money for other purposes.
[H]is team learned that sometime around 1997 and 1998, Iraq plunged into what he called a "vortex of corruption," when government activities began to spin out of control because an increasingly isolated and fantasy-riven Saddam Hussein had insisted on personally authorizing major projects without input from others.
After the onset of this "dark ages," Dr. Kay said, Iraqi scientists realized they could go directly to Mr. Hussein and present fanciful plans for weapons programs, and receive approval and large amounts of money. Whatever was left of an effective weapons capability, he said, was largely subsumed into corrupt money-raising schemes by scientists skilled in the arts of lying and surviving in a fevered police state.
"The whole thing shifted from directed programs to a corrupted process," Dr. Kay said. "The regime was no longer in control; it was like a death spiral. Saddam was self-directing projects that were not vetted by anyone else. The scientists were able to fake programs."
Dr. Kay said that based on his team's interviews with Iraqi scientists, reviews of Iraqi documents and examinations of facilities and other materials, the administration was also almost certainly wrong in its prewar belief that Iraq had any significant stockpiles of illicit weapons.
"I'm personally convinced that there were not large stockpiles of newly produced weapons of mass destruction," Dr. Kay said. "We don't find the people, the documents or the physical plants that you would expect to find if the production was going on.
"I think they gradually reduced stockpiles throughout the 1990's. Somewhere in the mid-1990's, the large chemical overhang of existing stockpiles was eliminated."
He said it now appeared that Iraq had abandoned the production of illicit weapons and largely eliminated its stockpiles in the 1990's in large part because of Baghdad's concerns about the United Nations weapons inspection process. He said Iraqi scientists and documents show that Baghdad was far more concerned about United Nations inspections than Washington had ever realized.
To be clear, the U.S. official formerly in charge of our weapons inspection efforts in Iraq is stating that there is no arsenal of WMD to be found and that the UN inspection process worked.
When asked for a sound bite, Kay was careful to give a politically palatable answer; but his elaborations make it clear that Kay is leaving for exactly the reason that he said he wasn't: he no longer has a meaningful job to do.
The one thing Kay says that's at odds with this conclusion has to do with nuclear weapons, and it turns out to be another example of sound bites contradicting (or at least spinning) more detailed comments.
Here is Kay talking about nuclear weapons to Reuters:
Q: What about the nuclear program?
A: "The nuclear program was as we said in the interim report, I think that will be a final conclusion. There had been some restart of activities, but they were rudimentary.
"It really wasn't dormant because there were a few little things going on, but it had not resumed in anything meaningful."
Kay says essentially the same thing to the Times. Kay's wording is interesting. He says that his final conclusion will be the same as the conclusion of the interim report, then flatly states that there had been some restart of activities, as if this was the conclusion reached earlier as well. But the official interim report that Kay himself submitted in October found no evidence of resumed nuclear activity in Iraq:
"Despite evidence of Saddam's continued ambition to acquire nuclear weapons, to date we have not uncovered evidence that Iraq undertook significant post-1998 steps to actually build nuclear weapons or produce fissile material." [emphasis mine]
David Kay would probably argue that the key word in the above statement is "significant" and that, therefore, his current line does not contradict the interim report. Fair enough. What kinds of insignificant activities were discovered that Kay now classifies as a "rudimentary" "restart" of activities?
The full text of the ISG's interim report includes several paragraphs on the issue of a nuclear weapons program, all of them boiling down to the statement quoted above. The details support the ultimate conclusion. When specifics are mentioned, they turn out to be empty, as this example--the strongest in the report--demonstrates:
Starting around 2000, the senior Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC) and high-level Ba'ath Party official Dr. Khalid Ibrahim Sa'id began several small and relatively unsophisticated research initiatives that could be applied to nuclear weapons development. These initiatives did not in-and-of themselves constitute a resumption of the nuclear weapons program, but could have been useful in developing a weapons-relevant science base for the long-term. We do not yet have information indicating whether a higher government authority directed Sa'id to initiate this research and, regretfully, Dr. Said was killed on April 8th during the fall of Baghdad. [emphasis mine]
It's clear that Kay's interim report showed no signs of any restart of nuclear activities, significant or otherwise. Kay can't claim that nuclear activities were resumed without reversing his earlier conclusion, and he seems to know this, so he hedges by saying that the work was just "a few little things going on." But "it had not resumed in anything meaningful." He wants to have it both ways, so we end up with doubletalk.
Kay is two and oh on doubletalk now, but this is probably inevitable where public figures are involved. Nonetheless, ignoring Kay's spin in favor of the meat of his comments gets you to a pretty striking conclusion.
Even while Saddam Hussein was in power, when he arguably desired to possess weapons of mass destruction, his government had not resumed large-scale production of banned arms. Iraq didn't have an arsenal of weapons, nor was it in the process of producing one. If there was a threat, it was not clear and present.
This is why we can shift ISG's resources to other efforts, and why the entire project might be abandoned when the new Iraqi government takes power.
Kay's resignation has nothing to do with his efforts being obstructed and everything to do with there being no further point to his efforts at all.