Truman National Security Project

Former Intel Officer: The WMDs That Weren’t

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By Gail Harris | 3.15.13
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I don’t reflect on the Iraq War’s 10th anniversary because that is a wrong date. The Iraq War began in August 1990 when Iraq invaded Kuwait and continued all through the 1990’s and the early 21st century right up until March 2003 when the U.S. and its allies put troops on the ground. The reality is you’re looking at a 20 plus year war. If you don’t know and understand that you can’t really do an analysis of what worked and what didn’t in our national security policy. I’m familiar with the situation because I was at ground zero of what’s been called “The Forgotten Iraq War” for much of the 1990’s.

My involvement in the Iraq problem as an intelligence analyst was unplanned, unexpected and came about through what appeared to be a downward turn in my Navy career. For reasons still unknown to me the man in charge of Navy Intelligence job assignments (Detailor) had it in for me. He tried to force me to retire and when I refused gave me orders without even consulting me to what he thought was a very insignificant job as the intelligence planner at Naval Forces Central Command (Navcent). Navcent headquarters was in Bahrain but my job was in Tampa, Florida, co-located with the Central Command Headquarters. Lucky for me the Detailor was unaware Centcom was standing up a major military operation in support of UN sanctions to deal with Iraq or he wouldn’t have sent me.

After the first Gulf War, Saddam did not abide by the agreed upon cease fire terms and in response the UN kept a major military presence in the region. He was frequently non cooperative which caused the U.S. and its allies to conduct combat operations every single day as they enforced no fly zones and tracked ships violating sanctions. Every day the intelligence community had to keep track of every piece of military equipment the Iraqis had with particular attention paid to troop movements, surface to air missiles and artillery pieces.

At times it got quite intense, for instance during the first day of operation Desert Fox in 1998, 280 cruise missiles were launched against suspected WMD sites. That total was almost as many as were used during the entire Gulf War.  Here’s the so what factor.  Suppose the reason no WMD was found was because the policy of the Clinton administration was more successful than generally realized? As stated in Centcom’s official history, Desert Fox was “aimed at installations associated with development of weapons of mass destruction, units providing security to such programs, and Iraq’s national command and control network. Additional targets included selected Republican Guard facilities, airfields, and the Basrah oil refinery that was involved in production of illegal gas and oil exports.”

There’s been a lot written about the defection of Saddam’s son-in-law, Hussein Kamel, in 1995. I happened to be filling in as the Senior Intelligence Officer for Navcent and was privy to his initial debrief information. Much has been made of his statement that he had ordered the destruction of Iraq’s missiles.  What is hardly ever mentioned in media stories and what stood out the most for me at the time was he also said Iraq retained missile blue prints and molds for production as well as a couple of missile launchers.  When asked why they were retaining launchers he stated:  “it is the first step to return to production. All blueprints for missiles are in a safe place”. To my Geeky mind, that confirmed what I suspected, if Iraq no longer had WMD they were trying to retain the capability so they could reconstitute their military after the UN sanctions were lifted.

Shortly before we put troops on the ground in 2003 I was interviewed and asked if I thought Saddam would use WMD on our forces.  I replied it depended on whether Iraq wanted to win the battle or the war. I said if I was him, I wouldn’t use WMD and if I still had blue prints and/or launchers or other WMD related equipment, I’d get rid of it then the U.S. and its allies would look like idiots. There is precedence for this. During the first Gulf War when it became apparent Iraq could not maintain air superiority they sent the remains of their aircraft to Iran. It was a curious choice since they had engaged in a long, nasty war with that nation in the not so distant past.

The lack of understanding of all of this by the general public is the reason why I chose to blog and write articles on national security policy.

Gail Harris is a Senior Truman Security Fellow.