Hans Blix
Sun Mar 7 17:00:42 2004

'I learnt I had been vilified, crucified and made to look like an imbecile'

US tried to force the issue of 'smoking guns' without finding hard evidence

Hans Blix
Saturday March 6, 2004
The Guardian

On February 24, the college of commissioners [of Unmovic, the UN Monitoring, Verifying and Inspection Commission] met ... The normally calm expert group heard some rather heated exchanges, notably between [the assistant secretary of state] John Wolf and myself ... He said the [latest] document provided only a readable historical account testifying to Iraqi deception. Moreover, it spent only a few pages on events after 1998. What had the Iraqis done since then? There was also no adequate account of the question of unmanned aerial drones, about which Colin Powell [the secretary of state] had spoken. There was no sign of any change of the Iraqi mind, which was all that mattered.

The tone of his comments could have been more courteous. The disdain shocked and surprised the other members of the college. I felt indignant and I did not hide it. We had worked hard and long on a line that had had the full approval of the council, including the US government. Now that government seemed to abandon the line altogether. OK, but was it fair to combine this abandonment with criticism of our work for irrelevance and inadequacy?

The heated exchange was one thing. The concrete points Wolf had raised about the drones and the period after 1998 were another. The nearly four-year gap between the end of 1998 and the return of inspectors to Iraq was, indeed, a problem. We had little solid information about the period apart from satellite images showing a variety of refurbishments and new buildings, most of which we had checked in inspections without finding anything proscribed. We would have to admit, as it has been aptly put, that "you don't know what you don't know."

John Wolf supplemented his oral comments with a letter. "The genuine 'dramatic change' by Iraq would have necessitated that it admit openly, not under pressure, that it had and has WMD and WMD programmes. This change would have had Iraq voluntarily take inspectors to the secret hide sites. Iraq would have shown the facilities where production has/is taking place; Iraq would have elaborated the illegal procurement networks ... That is not what Iraq did. That is not what Iraq is doing."

I understood his formulations to say: the witches exist; you are appointed to deal with these witches; testing whether there are witches is only a dilution of the witch hunt.

On mobile labs [Wolf] noted that "we have provided you information that Iraq not only has these mobile plants but also produced agent recently."

Similarly, he noted that on chemical weapons the [Unmovic] document did not draw on "shared information that demonstrates the continuation of a programme beyond the Gulf war."

I have no doubt that Wolf was convinced about the validity of the findings of US intelligence, which had been kindly "shared" with us. We tried in our inspection work to verify such findings. However, we would not present claims by intelligence agencies as our findings unless we found that there was credible evidence supporting them. The claim that there were mobile labs for the production of biological agent had been made by several intelligence agencies. We took it seriously and looked for the labs, investigating various places where they might have been linked to water and electricity. However, without finding evidence we would not assert, as Wolf evidently wanted us to do, that they existed.

After many months of occupation, claims that certain trucks that were found were the famous biolabs have been recognised as "embarrassing". I am not aware of any other intelligence "shared" with us that has been substantiated by credible evidence.

On March 6 2003, I was visited by Wolf. He asked me in a rather discourteous tone why Unmovic did not conclude that the discovery of an Iraqi UAV drone and a cluster bomb for the delivery of chemical weapons were violations of Iraq's obligations. He tossed photographs of a drone and a cluster bomb on my table.

The drone issue was not new. Our inspectors had examined several of them and while Iraqi explanations had not been very satisfactory, we had not yet come to any conclusions about whether the drones were legal. Did any one of them have a range beyond the 150km permissible for missiles?

Although the US claimed they had identified a flight of 500km, it appeared to have been in racetrack [circular] mode, showing that the fuel was enough for this distance, though the effective reach might be limited by how far the guiding signal went. Was its body of drop tanks designed to carry and disperse biological or chemical weapons or only to contain photo equipment?

These relevant questions had not yet been sufficiently explored. Accordingly, we had not drawn any conclusions ... We were certainly not hiding anything. In retrospect the matter seems simple: the US administration had concluded - almost certainly wrongly, it now appears - that the drone was a violation of the security council's resolution. At Unmovic we were not ready to make that assessment. This angered Washington, despite the fact that it must have been known that the US air force itself did not believe the Iraqi drones were for the delivery of biological and chemical agents ... This view was strengthened by the examination of drones after the occupation.

I had not been briefed about the cluster bomb, and I said that Wolf could talk to our experts about it. He asked if I did not know what my staff was doing, and I replied that whenever there was something significant, they would tell me. I was confident that my deputy, Dimitri Perricos, would not fail to tell me about any significant discovery. (From the Unmovic experts who subsequently briefed me, I learnt that the bomb and the bomblets - copies of South African munition imported by Iraq long ago - had been found in an old factory store and appeared to be scrap from the past rather than anything of current interest. There were no traces of chemical agents).

In retrospect, I should like to believe that some of the rudeness in Wolf's approach could have been due to his being unaware of the weakness of his cases and, hence, of his démarche.

I asked him where he had got the pictures and he said he would not tell me.

I said I resented it if he had obtained them through Unmovic staff. I could not exclude the possibility that an Unmovic staff member had leaked them, although it would have been a breach of duty.

I could also not exclude the possibility that the US had managed to crack our secure fax, through which the pictures might have passed. The London Observer had run articles claiming that the US was bugging the offices and home phones of diplomats from security council member states. Whatever the explanation regarding our pictures being in Wolf's hands, his reply gave a bad taste.

It does not bother me that we had different views on the nature of these items, but I still find it insulting if they believed that our assessments were prompted by a wish to avoid finding incriminating evidence.

On the following Sunday March 9 the New York Times had a detailed article in which Washington officials revealed that inspectors had recently discovered "a new variety of rocket [the cluster bomb] seemingly configured to strew bomblets filled with chemical or biological agents over large areas". The officials provided the information to reinforce the US view that inspectors had found "incriminating evidence in Iraq."

The weapon had a short but intense political life span lasting from Thursday to Monday, when it was mentioned by US Ambassador [John] Negroponte in the informal consultations of the security council. Thereafter we never heard about it again.

On the same Sunday, Colin Powell appeared on Fox TV ... He focused on the drone and said the US would "be making some news about it in the course of the week". They did.

There was no doubt that this time the administration was set to inject the drone and cluster bomb as issues - indeed, even as "smoking guns", which the inspectors had deliberately chosen to belittle

James Bone, the UN correspondent of the London Times, easily outdid Washington. He now repeated the incorrect Washington assertion that I had not mentioned the drone in my council presentation, and characterised this as "an apparent attempt by Dr Blix to hide the revelation to avoid triggering war".

[In the security council] the drone and the cluster bomb were taken up in some detail by US Ambassador Negroponte, albeit without any direct criticism of Unmovic or myself. He said the drone had not been declared and that this was a serious omission.

I used the occasion to note the relevant fact that Unmovic's cluster/benchmarks document, which we had now declassified, nowhere asserted that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction but showed numerous discrepancies and deficiencies in Iraq's accounts of such weapons. I said that intelligence gathering was difficult and necessary. While we had great respect for it, we must soberly assess the results.

If the Washington officials had failed to set the issue ablaze more generally, they had at any rate very successfully ignited Mr Bone. The next day, March 12, the London Times had an article by him with the headline "Blix should turn the 'smoking gun' on his own head". He explained in the article that it was time for me to resign. I had, so he said, discredited myself and "betrayed the trust of all those many millions around the world who put their faith in the United Nations."

He ended the column by saying that, "when history of this tumultuous time is written, Dr Blix will be the man who tried to hide the 'smoking gun'".

Presumably, the [US] aim was both to give publicity to the alleged smoking guns and to erode confidence in the inspectors.

The US administration's weekend information drive during the first days of March had the expected desired echo, at least in the conservative media. I learnt that I had been vilified, crucified and made to look like an imbecile, and I realised that I saved a lot of adrenaline by hardly ever watching TV and by limiting my reading to a few high-quality newspapers. However, both nasty and amusing messages penetrated my shield of convenience. One email advised me that if I could not see the smoking gun I should turn to my optician-to which I answered with thanks for the advice and the comment that I wanted a pair of lenses without colour.

By and large I was unperturbed by the sniping. We had not been trying to position ourselves somewhere between the US/UK and Iraq, nor, indeed, between any governments. However, the fact that Saddam Hussein's regime was one of the most brutal the world had seen and had long been a danger to the region did not justify any twisting of observations or uncritical attitude to evidence.

I knew our inspections and reports were professional, honest and without any hidden agenda to absolve or indict. Nothing is perfect, and we could have been wrong on one point or another, but I was confident we had our feet on the ground and rendered and assessed the reality with a reasonable degree of correctness.

ˇ Disarming Iraq - The Search for Weapons of Mass Destruction by Hans Blix, published by Bloomsbury

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