Alan Reynolds

The Senate Intelligence Committee is investigating whether intelligence assessments about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) were full of honest or dishonest mistakes, or whether temperate CIA reports were hyped by administration officials to gain support for the war.

I wrote about WMD in February, citing an October 2002 CIA report on "Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction" that is readily available at This report contains no top secrets, but it illustrates very well the sorts of evidence later cited by Secretary of State Colin Powell, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and others.

The opening summary stated that "Baghdad has begun renewed production of chemical warfare agents." Later, this turns out to mean "Iraq has the ability of produce chemical warfare (CW) agents" and "gaps in Iraqi accounting and current production capabilities strongly suggest that Iraq maintains stockpiles of chemical agents." The report also said, "Chlorine and phenol ... have legitimate civilian uses but also are raw materials for the synthesis of precursor chemicals used to produce blister and nerve gas."

The report repeatedly relies on things "unaccounted for" such as chemical precursors and "about 550 artillery shells filled with mustard agent." But precursors are not weapons and artillery shells are of no use to terrorists -- particularly if filled with useless mustard gas left over from the war with Iran.

Iraq and Iran both used gas against each other from 1983 to 1988, but even information from that period is murky. The CIA wrote, "Although precise information is lacking, human rights organizations have received plausible accounts from Kurdish villagers of even more Iraqi chemical attacks against civilians ... in areas close to the Iranian and Turkish borders." Approximate casualties from the infamous gas attack on "his own people" at Halabjah in March 1988 are listed as "hundreds" in the CIA report and included Iranians, not just Kurds.

What about biological weapons (BW)? The summary said "Iraq has some lethal and incapacitating BW agents and is capable of quickly producing and weaponizing a variety of such agents, including anthrax, for delivery by bombs, missiles (and) aerial sprayers ..." As with CW, to be capable of making BW is not the same as having a stockpile anybody will ever find. What Iraq had, the report explains later, is "the capability to convert quickly legitimate vaccine and biopesticide plants to biological warfare (BW) and it may have already done so." Any country producing chlorine, pesticides or castor oil could thus be accused of plotting to produce precursors for WMD.

Alan Reynolds

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