Comment at end
3oth November, 2009
Iraq Inquiry: 2nd day of public hearings with Ehrman and Dowse
These are the most significant quotes from the second session of the Iraq Inquiry
2nd day of public hearings
25th November 2009: Morning session: Evidence by
- Sir William Ehrman (Director International Security in the Foreign Office from 2000 to October 2002; Director General Defence and Intelligence in the Foreign Office from October 2002 until the end of July 2004; Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee from September 2004 to July 2005)
- Tim Dowse (head of Non proliferation Department in the Foreign Office January from 2001 until November 2003)
“Perhaps I should just define “weapons of mass destruction”. It is a term that in general is taken to refer to nuclear weapons, biological weapons, chemical weapons.”
“In the case of Iraq there was a very specific definition of WMD, which was set out in Security Council Resolution 687, which referred not only to the weapons, but to weapons used for material components, subsystems, manufacturing facilities of that sort.”
“I think the position we were in by 2001 was that these various international regimes had clearly delayed and obstructed proliferation, but we were extremely concerned that in some specific cases determine proliferators were making progress. We were concerned about Iran, we were concerned about Libya, we were concerned about Iraq. We had the cases of North Korea which had been caught cheating in 1993, and we had also begun to get information of the activities of AQ Khan in Pakistan who were offering nuclear assistance for weapons programmes covertly to a number of countries, notably Libya.”
“When we looked at the motivations behind WMD proliferation, we would say most proliferators were looking for a deterrent. They feared for their own security. In the case of Iraq, we thought that might be the exception. Saddam’s history of aggression against his neighbours, against his own people, meant that it was extremely difficult, I think, to make a firm calculation that he, when equipped with WMD, would not again attack within the region.”
“The 45 minutes report speaking personally, when I saw the 45 minutes report, I did not give it particular significance because it didn’t seem out of line with what we generally assessed to be Iraq’s intentions and capabilities with regard to chemical weapons.”
“I think that in a democratic country governments are always going to have an obligation to try to explain to the electorate, and to Parliament, why they feel it necessary to take action, particularly if it is going to involve military action, to remove threats, and if those threats are threats that develop in secret, as terrorism and proliferation often do, then inevitably one is going to have to draw on intelligence material.”
“We didn’t have a high expectations of this because so much of what the inspectors were going to do to achieve their objective depended on Iraqi cooperation. And really this was the test: would Iraq cooperate? We didn’t have a high confidence that they would but the possibility was always there.”
(On the weapon’s inspector’s job)“Diplomatically, politically, it would perhaps have been of benefit to have for them to have had more time, but in substance I share Sir William’s view that it wouldn’t have made a difference without Iraqi cooperation and we didn’t see that we were getting Iraqi cooperation”
“I think there is one other thing that you need to recall about Iraq, which was different in a sense from some of the other countries.
First of all, they were in breach of a great many Security Council Resolutions.
Secondly, as Tim Dowse has mentioned, Iraq had used chemical weapons both internally against its own people and externally against Iran.
“I think the first thing to say is that nobody really challenged the picture that we presented right the way up to March 2003.
The Russians said, “Well, show us the proof”, but they didn’t actually say, “We fundamentally disbelieve you”.
The Germans made no particular comment.
The Prime Minister of Spain said publicly, “We all know Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction.”
The Chinese didn’t express a view publicly but nor did they challenge the picture that we were presenting to them I think some of the things the French said are quite interesting.
The French Foreign Minister in the debate in New York on 5 February 2003 spoke about presumptions about VX, mustard gas, anthrax and botulinum toxin. President Chirac, in February, said to the press, “Are there nuclear arms in Iraq? I don’t think so. Are there other WMD? That’s probable. We have to find and destroy them.” In March, he was asked by the press whether he thought there were still prohibited weapons in Iraq and he said, “There are undoubtedly some. We are in the process of destroying the missiles which have an excessive range and there are probably other weapons.”
So I think the short answer is we were not being challenged by other countries.”
“I think one of the things that came out very clearly in the case of Iraq was that, whilst Saddam Hussein remained in power, unless he changed his mind very fundamentally and he was given a last chance to do so through 1441, but if he didn’t, it was very hard to see a way of removing the threat without military action.”
“So he met neither of the two tests which were set him in 1441 and, of course, 1441 determined that he was in breach and he had to he was black, in other words, and he had to prove himself white, and he did not do so.”
“He was in material breach unless he met the two tests in 1441. So he was already judged by 1441 to be in material breach. Did he meet the two tests in 1441? We say he didn’t.”
LYNE: “You said more than once that if the sanctions regime had gone, there was concern that Saddam would rebuild his WMD capabilities and could develop a nuclear capability within about five years, but that, despite the leakages in sanctions, the fact that the regime wasn’t working very well, it was at this time continuing to curtail his capabilities. So does it follow from that that if the sanction regime had been maintained, either in its existing form or in some improved form, smarter sanctions, that that would have continued to contain the threat of WMD from Iraq?”
DOWSE: “The nuclear threat. I think that certainly was our view, that if the sanctions regime had been maintained, that the nuclear threat would have been contained and there would have been constraints on his other activities, although we believed he was making progress with missiles, with chemical and biological weapons, despite the constraints. The problem was, we had with, I think we did not have high confidence that the sanctions regime would be maintained. Our general experience of sanctions, going back to Rhodesia, was that they tend to be a diminishing asset. Over time, the countries subject to sanctions find ways around them, and that was certainly the experience we were beginning to see with Iraq, as you were discussing with the witnesses yesterday. The international support for a robust sanctions regime, we felt was diminishing. So the trend line seemed to us to be bad.”
CHAIRMAN: “I would like us to turn to the September 2002 dossier. Just to start with, can I ask each of you what your understanding of the essential purpose of the dossier was and then of its general effect? Sir William, would you like to start?”
EHRMAN: “I think the purpose of the dossier, as I saw it, was to produce information to show why Iraq should be action should be taken to bring Iraq into compliance with its obligations under Security Council Resolutions.”
DOWSE: “Rather similarly, I was regarding it as material to help support the government’s case that the situation with respect to Iraq and WMD could not be simply allowed to drift on, as it was, that action needed to be taken. The action, as far as I was concerned at the time, was to try and get the inspectors back.”
LYNE: “I just think it is important that we are very clear about this question of time, because it is an important one in the public mind. Do you believe that the inspectors were actually given enough time to do thoroughly the job that they had been asked to do?”
EHRMAN: “My own response to that would be there could never be enough time absent cooperation.”
25th November 2009: Afternoon session: Evidence by
- Sir William Ehrman (Director International Security in the Foreign Office from 2000 to October 2002; Director General Defence and Intelligence in the Foreign Office from
- Tim Dowse (head of Non proliferation Department in the Foreign Office January from 2001 until November 2003)
“So it was not impossible that there could have been a peaceful solution to the issue of removing the threat of Saddam’s WMD but with noncooperation, it is very hard to see how that would have been done.”
“Obviously, we did think: how do you explain all of this? I would give two reasons to explain it. One, a great deal of intelligence, particularly, which underpinned our assessments on the production of chemical and biological weapons was withdrawn. So that changes, of course, the picture quite a bit.
The other was something that we touched on this morning, which was Saddam’s current strategic intent which we simply did not know at the time and also the fact that he had not wanted to show himself quite so weak vis a vis Iran. So I would put those as two particular reasons. “
“Dr Blix himself, I think, he had a rather good phrase. He said, “Inspections aren’t a game of hide and seek.” What we were looking for was for the Iraqis to be open to produce to provide the data which the inspectors could then go and verify, and that was not what we were getting. Again, it is this difference between passive cooperation and active cooperation.”
“I think we always thought that, in addition to weapons, there would be evidence in the form of documentation of components of and in terms of scientists that we had interviewed. One of the things we were quite concerned about was that Iraqi WMD experts would escape out of the country and go and sell their services to other countries.”
“In the south we were getting, as I recall, Iraqis coming to our military and saying, “We know where there is some WMD”, and certainly from the Foreign Office and we were encouraging the Ministry of Defence, and through them the forces in theatre, to pursue these leads because obviously we were very anxious to both secure the evidence, because we did still think it was a possibility that remnants of the Ba’ath Party or Saddam’s regime would still be trying to destroy some of the evidence, but we also wanted to recover it, for, as I say, exposure to the world.”
“There was a network of secret laboratories, although the eventual conclusion was that they were for the Iraqi intelligence services to work on assassination methods, but it is still not certain what that was for. We hadn’t known about those previously. We did, of course, discover some trailers and that occupied a lot of attention because they looked very, very similar to the trailers, the biological weapons trailers that Colin Powell had described to the Security Council and we thought that that was really a very significant find. There was then quite a lengthy discussion between experts. I remember some of our MoD BW experts went and looked at trailers and said, “Yes, we can’t see that these would be used for anything else other than BW“. Americans, or American experts, took the same view, but the other experts took a different view.”
“The Prime Minister was making a statement with his level of confidence. As I say, I also believed for a long time that we would find them, because I, at that stage, found it hard to believe that there would have been so much reporting from before the war without there being some fire behind that smoke.”
FREEDMAN: “The difficulty they still had is that, when they said there wasn’t anything there, they were actually correct.”
DOWSE: “Well, as we now know, but at the time that was not our view.”
FREEDMAN: Absolutely not. All I’m asking is whether there was an alternative hypothesis that couldn’t be supported by the evidence and, given that in these various sites that we sent them to, of which only half had been looked at, stocks had not been found, but in other areas presumably, you had equal confidence in the intelligence something had been found, there was reason to at least warn Ministers that an alternative hypothesis might just be correct, that contrary to what the Prime Minister said on the eve of war, it wasn’t patently absurd.
EHRMAN: I think Sir Lawrence, 4 out of 10 as a strike rate is pretty good.
FREEDMAN: Not when you are going to war.
EHRMAN: On the basis of intelligence, 4 out of is not a bad strike rate.
DOWSE: I wouldn’t put it quite in percentage terms but really the same point in a slightly broader way. As I said before, we were getting through this period in January, February, a fairly steady stream of low level reports saying, “This piece of equipment has been removed. The Iraqis are intending to hide or bury this. They have taken something out by night and taken it around”, so the background music, if you like, that we were working against all tended to reinforce our view that they were not playing straight, that they were concealing, they were still hiding things from the inspectors. So you are right, it was possible to come to a hypothesis that the inspectors were not finding some things because they weren’t there, but against the background of that sort of reporting, against the fact that they were finding some things, it tended to actually reinforce our view that that alternative hypothesis was not the correct one. In fact, our longstanding assessment that the particularly the chemical and biological agent, weapons, existed, was correct. So I think we could have briefed Ministers, perhaps we were wrong, but we didn’t actually think we were wrong. The evidence seemed to us in that period to be rather confirming it.
CHAIRMAN: By January 2004 or a little after, is it now generally accepted in Whitehall by Ministers and officials that nothing will be found, nothing of significance?
EHRMAN: Well, increasingly, as time passed it was thought less likely that things would be found.
DOWSE: I sometimes think I was the last official in Whitehall to think that we still might find something. It clearly became less likely as time went on.
CHAIRMAN: Just to interrupt you, I’m sorry, ballistic missiles with a range well beyond 150 kilometers?
EHRMAN: Yes. On that, they found evidence that they were working on ballistic missiles with a range considerably beyond 150.
DOWSE: Up to 1,000 kilometers, I think, yes.
DOWSE: Of course, they had had the advantage, by the time of their final report, of interviewing Saddam Hussein himself, which helped. So one could say that that added credibility, I would say, to their final conclusions. The fundamental conclusions they reached were that the nuclear programme would have been revived once sanctions were lifted, more or less what we had assessed before the war.
On missiles, again, in general terms, they pretty well confirmed our assessment. Where, of course, they reached a fundamentally different conclusion was that we had been wrong about the production of chemical and biological agents in 2002 and the intelligence that arrived at that time, and that was subsequently withdrawn, had led to us a wrong conclusion, although, again, on chemical in terms of strategic intent, he thought Saddam the ISG concluded that Saddam would have tried to reconstitute the programme.
ADDENDUM, 5th December 2009
Following the Daily Maul … Mail’s recent interview with Hans Blix, I feel it is worth adding these quotes:
DOWSE:I think we recognised that Dr Blix and we shouldn’t forget Dr ElBaradei as well, because the IAEA were also part of this that they were in a very difficult situation. They were, I think, acutely conscious of the fact that what they reported to the Security Council might make the difference between military action or no military action, and, in fact, it was an awkward position to be in. So one recognised that, but, as William says, they didn’t specifically come to us and say, “Give us another month or another six months and it will be done”. We were tending to hear that sort of message from some other countries on the Security Council, notably the French.
DOWSE: I think it does all go to give you the general picture that we were getting some hits, but and Dr Blix himself, I think, he had a rather good phrase. He said, “Inspections aren’t a game of hide and seek.” What we were looking for was for the Iraqis to be open to produce to provide the data which the inspectors could then go and verify, and that was not what we were getting. Again, it is this difference between passive cooperation and active cooperation.
FREEDMAN: Was Dr Blix, both in his report and in his more private conversations with you, puzzled himself by the fact that they weren’t coming up with more? He stated publicly that he expected to find more than he did.
EHRMAN: I think he was quite in his discussions with us quite carefully neutral.
FREEDMAN: Although Dr Blix, I think, compared favourably our support to the support they were given by the Americans.
EHRMAN: We can’t comment on the support the Americans gave, but they were giving support.
DOWSE: He described our support as the benchmark for assistance. Quite a lot of benchmarks.
CHAIRMAN: Is there more to be said about that or is that just it, in effect? There remained, of course, a very large number of issues of noncompliance as declared in Hans Blix’ final report before the invasion. Is that correct?