Former Iraqi weapons inspector David Kay has taken some hard shots at the U.S. intelligence community. After he resigned as Special Advisor to the Iraq Survey Group, Kay pronounced the community’s assessments of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs “all wrong.” He has done innumerable interviews and has made the rounds of the Sunday talk shows, always repeating his allegations that the community’s judgments were fundamentally flawed.
And he has not limited his critique of the community’s performance to Iraq. He told a Senate Armed Services Committee that U.S. intelligence has failed to detect or comprehend the sophistication of nuclear weapons programs in Iran and Libya. He said he thinks “There’s a long record here of being wrong.” But it is his judgments about Saddam Hussein’s WMD programs that have become central to the case against Operation Iraqi Freedom. Kay has been around Washington a long time and had to know that his pronouncements would be red meat for opponents of the war on Iraq.
He also had to know that his targets would eventually push back. Thus far, Kay’s critics have avoided the kinds of personal attacks on his reputation and integrity that have become so commonplace in Washington. But the media’s selective reporting of his public statements has left him open to attack. The strongest defense of the community’s performance has thus far come from Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet in a speech at Georgetown University. But a number of Tenet’s rebuttals have been picked up and used by other critics of Kay’s indictment of the Intelligence Community.
Intended or otherwise, Kay has given the impression that his resignation signals the end of the search for WMD in Iraq. In his interim report last October, Kay wrote, “It is far too early to reach any definitive conclusions” about Iraq’s WMD programs. “Much remains to be done,” he warned. His statement, “We have not yet found stocks of weapons” got most of the headlines, but the media ignored his caveat that “we are not yet at the point where we can say definitively” whether weapons actually existed or where they might be. At that point, he said at least six to nine more months were required to complete the ISG’s work.
The ISG must have accomplished a lot in just three short months, however, because Kay now claims that its work is 85% complete. He told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that we now know enough to begin the post-mortem on how and why the intelligence failed. It has been reported that Kay resigned because analysts and other resources were shifted from the ISG to the counter-insurgency effort. In October, Kay outlined the difficulties the team had encountered, particularly in light of the masterful job the Iraqis did in destroying evidence of their WMD programs as coalition forces were nearing Baghdad. The task of uncovering Saddam’s weapons programs has been further complicated by retaliation against Iraqi scientists willing to talk and insurgent attacks on the ISG itself. On ABC News’ Nightline, senior CIA official Stuart Cohen revealed the murder of more than one scientist after ISG debriefings. Kay hasn’t addressed how so much was accomplished in light of dwindling resources and a deteriorating security situation.
In fact, Tenet and others say that Kay is wrong and his judgments are premature. Tenet told the Georgetown audience, “despite some public statements, we are nowhere near 85 percent finished. The men and women who work in that dangerous environment are adamant about that fact.” Republican Congressman Curt Weldon, the Vice Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, says, “The men and women in the trenches, searching for evidence on the ground in Iraq, have tens of millions of documents remaining to be examined and innumerable leads to be pursued.” Senior intelligence officials have made similar claims to the Washington Post.
Kay’s job was to advise Major General Keith Dayton, the ISG Commander. Contrary to media reports, Weldon said that Kay was not running the weapons inspection team, but was instead a “private consultant” to General Dayton. Kay has admitted that he didn’t spend much time “out in the field leading inspections,” but concentrated instead on developing strategies to guide the search. Some believe his time might have been better spent focusing on the composition of the ISG. For example, the ISG is said to be seriously thin in terms of its biological weapons expertise. A former head of UNSCOM’s biological weapons team, retired U.S. Army Colonel Richard Spertzel, has criticized the group for failing to capitalize on the nine years of experience UNSCOM developed penetrating Saddam Hussein’s denial and deception programs. But the media have no interest in reporting that.