Problems surface with Iraqi "defector" evidence...

General Hussein Kamel is a key player in the U.S. case for Iraq’s weapons regime. His defector testimony has been cited again and again by administration officials as saying that Iraq had not destroyed its weapons.

Then, someone leaked a transcript of that fabled 1995 interview:

Kamel definately confirms what anyone should agree upon: Iraq still had ambitions to restart its weapons programs post 1991. But he also says that it did destroy its weapons in 1991 (“All weapons-- biological, chemical, missile, nuclear, were destroyed.”). Why is this a problem? Because the administration has repeatedly used this previously classified interview as part of their case for why Iraq is a danger, citing Kamel’s description of what weapons the regime had in 1991… and then simply ignoring the parts where Kamel says that these weapons were destroyed.

Indeed, the administration has basically used Kamel as the cornerstone of their argument that inspections don’t work in getting Saddam to disarm (which Kamel’s actual story contradicts), that Iraq will never disarm (again, Kamel describes them doing so), and, most ironically, that defectors are far more reliable sources of evidence than inspections findings.

Let’s keep in mind that, even though the administration has assured us that Kamel’s story is water-tight evidence, he never led us to any substantive proof or documentation of any weapons destruction. And, I’m sure if this story gets any big play in the media, it will soon be revealed that the administration doesn’t think we should put much stock into defector testimony… I mean, what are we: that guilible? Sheesh.

So, whither now? Well, Kamel’s story, if true, tells this.

  1. Up until Kamel’s defection, Iraq had every intention of starting its weapons programs up again sometime in the future, and has HAS been hiding the techonology and industrial equipment necessary to build them.
  2. It did, however, destroy the very same batches of weapons that administration has continually talked about (VX, anthrax, various nuclear components) all the way back in 1991.
  3. The administration has been very misleading up until know about point #2 whenever they publically cited Kamel (often citing him in ways that implied he gave them evidence of Iraq NOT destroying those very same weapons)

What do we make of all this?

(Newsweek has a story on this

(On preview, the link to the key document seems extremely overloaded and slow: I reccomend downloading it for local view, rather than trying to load the pdf in a browser. I have it downloaded, so I know it isn’t just a phantom doc)

First of all, defectors as intelligence tools are suspect; more so than any other form of intelligence, corroboration is key to any value they might have. Unfortunately, it has been my experience that Iraqi defectors have often been extremely un-reliable: they are too intent on giving you reasons why you should treat them as important people, and they usually embellish and exaggerate a great deal. As such, an Iraqi defector’s de-brief is usually only considered noteworthy as possible corroboration for other forms of intel; typically, it is used as the last piece in the puzzle. We have never been able to reliably form new analyses from any defector; from what I have seen from Hussein Kamel, his story is no different. Usually, the higher the alleged rank of the defector, the taller the stories, and the harder they are to confirm. One has to constantly keep in mind the personal agendas that are always in play.

As I think was evidenced by Powell’s statements to the UN on 5 Feb, there is little actual intel being used as support for the invasion effort; most is quite generic, and of questionable quality. Same with the defector’s stories: if they are of a type that supports the administration’s theories and desires, they are put on show. Most in the intel business will tell you about the difficulty of corroboration with Iraqi defectors, as I said above, and it will be in a negative way; however, there is a good side to this, as well. If a defector gives you information that is difficult or impossible to corroborate, you can still use it to support any pet theory you might have; who can prove you wrong? I have seen this done by intel officers that are just dying to make a case for a particular action; in time, these guys would be shot down, as more information came to light, but for the short-term, it was surprising how many would put all kinds of trust in unreliable sources. Looks like the administration got caught in the same crack…

I see this revelation as no different from the other pieces of “evidence” that have been trotted out to support the administration’s view: they are flashy, get attention, grab the public, but don’t stand too much scrutiny; once again, the short-term solution was to have a war by now, so it wouldn’t have mattered, as events should have overtaken the time for real scrutiny. The only thing that slowed anyone down was the massive scale of the anti-war sentiment; it definitely took Blair by surprise, and it seems the Bush administration was similarly caught off-guard. Otherwise, we would be knee-deep in it by now, I can assure you; all the plans were for things to have already started. Luckily, they haven’t yet, so maybe I will make it home before the fireworks start…



What would be the purpose of presenting evidence that will stand up to a certain amount of scrutiny at this point in time? When all is said and done, what you ultimately have is a picture from a satellite from many miles above and is subject to the onlookers interpretation. Without actually going there and securing the actual items, Iraq and its supporters can merely deny its existence and at worse, destroy that very item. The suspected item can also be hidden better, broken apart or exported. Your human sources will be rounded up and killed along with many innocent bystanders. New sources will be hesitant to contact you. Contacts and possible allies will disappear as a renewed Iraqi crackdown on US Spies start. And of course, loyalists will come out by the droves and refute any testimony or evidence that your sources will produce.

I wholeheartedly agree that Kamel and Khidhir Hamza are not credible sources taken at face value, but there are some things that can be corroborated secretly. If Kamel and Hamza independently say the same detail, theres reason to believe them. If Hamza says look here and there is something there, then his credibility grows even more. All of which cannot be handed over to the Iraqis, or anyone will will hand it over to them and one of those that you shouldnt hand sensitive information is the media and certain delegates in the UN. Now is not the time to show all your cards. The time would be when all the chips are down and Saddam says “I call your bluff”