The selective reporting of Dr David Kay
Published in: Sunday Telegraph
Hardly had Lord Hutton finished summarising his report than the goalposts were promptly moved. Among those who were apoplectic that he had exonerated the government and eviscerated the BBC, the cry arose that he hadn't addressed the 'wider' issue. This was that the Iraq war was based on false intelligence that Saddam posed a threat from his weapons of mass destruction.
This myth has been reinforced by widespread media reports that Dr David Kay, who recently resigned as head of the Iraq Survey Group, has said no WMD actually existed in Iraq, thus proving that Saddam was no threat and we were led up the garden path to war.
If you look, however, at what Dr Kay actually said this week to the Senate Armed Services committee and in media interviews, a very different picture emerges. Certainly, he claimed there had been a major failure of intelligence which had misrepresented the situation. But he was specifically referring to large weapons stockpiles which he now thought weren't there after all, and to Iraq's large-scale weapons programme which he said had been wound down after 1991.
Intelligence agencies, he said, had failed to grasp that in the corruption and chaos of the Iraqi regime, Saddam himself was being told lies about his weapons programmes, whose large-scale production had stalled under the pressure of UN inspections. Such a serious intelligence failure is clearly a huge political embarrassment for both President Bush and Tony Blair, prompting the US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to acknowledge mistakes had been made and President Bush to say he wants to 'know the facts'.
But Dr Kay was not saying Saddam was therefore no threat on the WMD front. On the contrary, not only did he say it was possible that smaller WMD stockpiles remained hidden in Iraq, but that 'right up to the end' the Iraqis were trying to produce the deadly poison ricin. 'They were mostly researching better methods for weaponisation', he said.
Not only that, Saddam had re-started a rudimentary nuclear programme. And he had also maintained an active ballistic missile programme that was receiving significant foreign assistance until the start of the war.
Such revelations corresponded with Dr Kay's interim report last autumn, which detailed 'dozens of WMD-related programme activities' which had been successfully concealed from Dr Hans Blix's UN inspectors. These included a clandestine network of laboratories containing equipment suitable for chemical and biological weapons research, and new research on the biological agents Brucella and Congo Crimean Haemorrhagic Fever. And a scientist who had hidden a phial of live botulinum in his house had identified 'a large cache of agents that he was asked but refused to conceal' and for which the ISG was now searching.
This all suggested, said Dr Kay, that after 1996 Saddam had focused on 'smaller covert capabilities that could be activated quickly' to produce biological weapons agents. And last week, he told this paper that he had discovered from interrogating Iraqi scientists that before the war Saddam had hidden WMD programme components in Syria.
So according to Dr Kay, Saddam had posed a very live threat indeed from WMD. Yet this evidence has been almost totally disregarded, as an almost unanimous chorus of journalists has asserted that Dr Kay said Iraq had no WMD.
His evidence has been brushed aside because of the assiduously promulgated myth that we only went to war because we were told Iraq had WMD that were ready to use.
But this is not so. We went to war because Saddam was grossly in breach of UN resolutions instructing him to prove he had dismantled his WMD programme. True, messrs Bush and Blair asserted he had WMD stockpiles which would be found. But this wasn't the reason for war. Such claims were only made to bolster the case to a public that seemed incapable of grasping that the reason for war was not the presence of WMD but the absence of evidence that it had been removed.
Failure to make this case successfully led Bush and Blair to claim - according to Dr Kay, in good faith but on the basis of flawed intelligence - that since these stockpiles were unaccounted for they were probably still there. That claim has now spectacularly backfired, since the failure to discover any WMD has merely led people to conclude this proves the war was indeed ill-founded.
But this is not so. For the fact that Saddam was actively engaged in WMD programmes, large-scale or not, shows he was indeed in breach of the UN resolutions, and was indeed the threat he had been assumed to be from his record, temperament, regional ambitions and links to terrorism. How much ricin, after all, do you need to kill thousands of people? To listen to anti-war critics, it would seem that modest amounts of biological agent somehow don't count as WMD, or a re-started nuclear programme is no threat because it is only rudimentary.
To Dr Kay, the war was absolutely necessary because Saddam had become 'even more dangerous' than had been realised, and 'it was reasonable to reach the conclusion that Iraq posed an imminent threat.'
Yet virtually no-one has reported these remarks. Instead, Dr Kay is being quoted out of context to sustain the charge by the anti-war brigade of government duplicity.
They have implied he resigned because he realised no WMD ever existed. But actually, he threw down his bat and stormed off the pitch in fury at the Bush administration for failing to give the ISG the money it needed to search for WMD, and for its incompetence in not preventing crucial evidence being destroyed by Iraqi looters.
Those who know him well say he is so angry that he has been determined to embarrass the administration as much as possible. The result is that he has enabled the British media and anti-war politicians to take his finding that Saddam posed a different sort of threat even deadlier than had been thought, and turn it instead into the false claim that he said no threat had existed at all.
History is constantly being rewritten over Iraq by people who were against the war from the start and have presented every development in the most malevolent light to prove that Bush and Blair took us to war on a lie. Logic, rationality and judgment have been suspended; and David Kay's testimony is but the latest casualty.