What Saddam believed, and why we believed it
Today, as we try to examine the reasons why the U.S.-led Coalition toppled the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, the most relevant questions are: What didn’t Saddam know? And, why didn’t he know it?
Here is what we do know: Saddam Hussein invested millions of petro-dollars in programs designed to produce weapons of mass destruction. The most successful of those programs produced chemical weapons that Saddam used against Iranian troops and against his own people – especially, the Kurds. His programs to produce biological weapons were somewhat less successful. And, as far as we know now, his program to produce nuclear weapons was unsuccessful. But his program to produce missile delivery systems capable of reaching Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iran and other Middle East neighbors was successful and his missiles were advancing in both range and payload.
So what didn’t Saddam Hussein know about his programs of to produce weapons of mass destruction? And, why didn’t he know it?
Either out of fear of Saddam’s wrath or out of moral conviction or out of a desire to simply pocket the petro-dollars in the weapons programs, Saddam’s scientists told him those programs were more advanced that was actually the case. While it would be nice to credit Saddam’s weapons scientists and advisers with moral convictions against the use of weapons of mass destruction, the more logical explanations for duping Saddam are fear of his wrath or simple greed.
Either way, the answer to the first question is: Saddam and his military commanders did not know the true state of their programs to produce weapons of mass destruction. And, the answer to the second question is that those in charge of the weapons of mass destruction programs were deceiving Saddam and his military commanders.
Intelligence gathering has two goals: To determine the enemy’s weapons capabilities and to determine the enemy’s intentions. Based on electronic eavesdropping and our unfortunately limited human information gathering apparatus, it was clear to the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency and, ultimately, to President Bush that Saddam had every “intention” of using weapons of mass destruction. So much for the “intentions” part of the intelligence equation.
But when it came to Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction “capabilities,” our intelligence community was duped into believing Saddam’s weapons programs were more robust that has, so far, proven to be the case. Why? Because when the person who should know all there is to know about his weapons programs thinks they are up and running, then the logical conclusion for our intelligence experts is: Yes, they are up and running.
Despite the cutbacks in our intelligence capability that began back in the 1970s with the Church Commission, with the firing of over 200 CIA case officers by President Carter’s Director of Central Intelligence, Admiral Stansfield Turner, and despite the hamstringing of the CIA by President Bill Clinton, we were still able to learn what Saddam and his military commander “believed” about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. And, there’s the rub. We bought into what Saddam believed instead of being able to determine the actual state of Iraq’s weapons programs on the ground.
Thus, we did not have a failure of information gathering. We had a failure to analyze the information gathered and from that information produce accurate intelligence to present to our Command-in-Chief. In short, President Bush came to believe what Saddam Hussein himself believed.
While that gets President Bush off the credibility hook, it does not excuse the failure of our intelligence community to see beyond the misinformation being fed to Saddam Hussein by those in charge of his weapons programs and then determine Iraq’s actual weapons “capabilities.”
In terms of “intentions,” to believe what your enemy believes about himself, is excusable. But to fail to make an accurate assessment of your enemy’s actual weapons “capabilities” is not. Primarily, that must be corrected by a reinvestment in our human intelligence capabilities: Spies who can report on actual enemy capabilities.
William Hamilton, nationally syndicated columnist, featured commentator for USA Today, and a former intelligence officer, is the co-author of The Grand Conspiracy and The Panama Conspiracy – novels about terrorist attacks on Colorado’s water supply and on the Panama Canal, respectively.
©2004. William Hamilton.