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Intelligence and WMD

by Reason McLucus

The biggest “intelligence” problem isn’t with the intelligence gathered about the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction situation. It’s the inability to understand the limits of intelligence gathering and the importance of understanding the thought processes of people in other nations. The fact WMD haven’t been found in Iraq may only mean that the people seeking WMD aren’t imaginative enough.

The American intelligence community may have trouble understanding Iraq because they view the issue as an American general might instead of the way a paranoid Iraqi dictator might. They also may be forgetting all the differences between chemical/biological weapons and explosive weapons.

Americans have watched too many James Bond movies and episodes of Mission Impossible. James Bond always knows in advance that the bad guy has plans to do something and is able to act to stop the bad guy just in time. On Mission Impossible, “The Secretary”always knew what the bad guys were up to and the IMF team knew what it needed to do to stop them.

In the real world intelligence is seldom more than an educated guess. What is regarded as important can be influenced by beliefs and expectations. American intelligence has traditionally had trouble penetrating dictatorships to obtain information.

American commanders fighting against the Japanese during World War II sometimes had trouble fighting the Japanese because Japanese didn’t act the way Americans expected them to. Japanese officers didn’t think the same way American officers thought. A similar situation occurred in Vietnam. The Viet Cong and North Vietnamese didn’t act the way Americans expected them to because they thought differently.

A similar situation may exist in Iraq. An American general would stockpile weapons so that they would be available in the event of a conflict at some indefinite time in the future. But, Saddam Hussein isn’t an American general. He was a dictator who was afraid his generals might try to kill him.

He might not have wanted to keep weapons around that would have allowed a potential coup plotter to easily kill him. Conventional weapons would have required an attacker to get close to Saddam to have had any guarantee of killing him. Even a conventional bomb would have had to have made nearly a direct hit to succeed. The advantage of biological and chemical weapons is that they potentially have a much higher killing radius. Just inhaling the material can be fatal.

Biological weapons have the potential advantage in that they don’t necessarily have to kill the person immediately. Hours or even days might be required for the infected individuals to show symptoms. The intended victim wouldn’t know to avoid an “infected area” by seeing others suffer symptoms.

There is strong evidence that American air strikes hit some chemical or biological material stockpiles during Gulf War. Saddam might not have wanted to keep such stockpiles around while there was a potential danger of air strikes hitting stockpiles and demonstrating that he had forbidden weapons.

Nuclear material for WMD cannot be produced in a short time. Nuclear weapons take time to construct. Chemical and biological materials can be produced within a few days.

Nuclear weapons need to be part of a bomb or shell. Chemical and biological weapons do not. A chemical could be put into the same type bottle as water or a soft drink. The contents could be poured on a crowd from above or the bottle might be punctured and thrown. A glass bottle could be throw so it would break. Anthrax and some other biological weapons can be converted into a powder, placed in ordinary envelopes and sent through the mail. Some forms of either weapon could be put into the public water supply. Anthrax could be released upwind of the target area on a windy day.

Chemicals wouldn’t need to be stored in bulk quantities. They could be stored in small containers and buried. Chemicals could be put into pipes which could then be pushed next to or under a pipe line so that it would look like a section of an old pipe line that had been replaced. The only new hole would be at the point the pipe was inserted into the ground. A pipe to store chemicals could also be inserted into the ground vertically so that it would look like an old oil well or a dry hole in which the casing pipe had never been removed.

Finding chemicals stored in this manner might be extremely difficult because knowledge of the location would have very limited distribution. Scientists probably would not have been given such information. Storage would have been handled by Saddam’s most trusted officers and troops. People who wouldn’t automatically have been expected to know about WMD. Anyone involved who might have been considered a risk would have been killed.

Written records, if they were made, might be in a code that looked like another type of information such as phone numbers or troop strength. Serial numbers or information about military personnel with specific names might refer to locations of storage sites.

People on both sides of the controversy are thinking of chemical weapons in terms of chemicals specifically designed as nerve gases. Many insecticides are the same as nerve gas in sufficient concentrations. They produce the same symptoms and are treated in the same way. The facilities the Iraqis claimed were insecticide plants might be exactly that, except that the “insecticide” they were designed to produce might have been intended to kill humans rather than insects.

The potential threat from an Iraqi WMD program came from the ability the produce materials in a short time rather than from possession of stockpiles in advance. If Iraq wanted to attack our bases in the region, it would only have needed a few days to produce the material necessary for weapons. Iraq could have knocked our personnel out of action before invading Kuwait. With Iraq in possession of WMD, the U.S. could have faced the possibility of heavy casualties unless it responded with nuclear weapons.

So long as Iraq was in a weakened situation due to U.N. sanctions, it probably would not have attempted anything. However, if it could have gotten those sanctions lifted, it could have built up its conventional military capability sufficiently to be able to conduct an offensive.



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