Friday, September 29, 2006

Rod Barton

An interview with Australian weapons inspector Rod Barton conducted by Luke Ryland of Wotisitgood4:

(Part one)

Luke Ryland: Did you think that Saddam had any WMD?

Rod Barton: No. I thought that maybe there were still some old weapons of no real significance, and that's what Blix thought as well. Partly because they didn’t have any delivery systems and partly because old weapons deteriorate. You know, if they had weapons from pre 91, by 2003 they are at least 12 years old - and they deteriorate a lot, particularly chemical and bio weapons.

Anthrax, and conceivably mustard gas, can maybe continue to be viable after a long period but most of the others deteriorate beyond utility. But even then, Iraq didn’t have any delivery systems anyway, so there was no real threat.

As for new weapons, we had inspectors on the ground there - from Nov till the end of Feb - and there weren’t even any facilities that could have made anything. All of the facilities that we looked at were all completely run-down so we knew that they couldn’t have rebuilt anything. If we had a bit more time we could have been more firm about that finding - but we were pretty sure there was nothing there. We knew that Saddam wasn't a threat.

We published a lot of stuff when I was working with Hans Blix - but a lot of it was ignored.

LR: In December 2003, Saddam delivered his 12,000 Weapons Declaration to the Security Council. Did that accurately reflect the status of Iraq's program?

RB: Well, their bottom line: "we don’t have any WMD" was correct - but Iraq didn’t tell the entire truth in that document - there were still a lot of things that were false - significant things, too - false, or misleading. So Iraq didn't really help its own cause.

I helped write Hans Blix's speeches to the UNSC - and we clearly were concerned about some of the things that Iraq said in that declaration because we had information that contradicted it, and we say that in the speeches. We understand a bit better now why they didn’t tell the whole truth - they were partly caught up in lies from the past, and they felt that if they tried to correct the lies from the past then nobody would believe them, and they'd be accused of lying again - so they kept to the old story.

LR: When you interviewed the scientists in Iraq after the invasion, did they tell the truth then?

RB: Yeah - most of them. They had no interest in lying at that point, and we could line up all of their stories - the scientists and the politicians - Tariq Aziz for example.

LR: I have an outstanding FOIA on that document - is there any reason why it shouldn’t be made public?

RB: The redacted elements? No.

We in the UN realised that we had a problem - I helped organise to vet this document in Dec 2002, and we didn’t want it to be a manual about how to make WMD. The P5 members got the unredacted version, and the other members of the Security Council got the redacted version - I don't see any reason why it can't be released.

We had to get the redacted version to the non-P5 members as quickly as possible, it was a heck of a job - we did the redactions of a 12,000 page document in only four days! It was a remarkable effort. But I don’t think that you'll have much success with a US FOIA because it's really a UNSC document - I think the best way for you would be to approach the UN. But I can't see any reason why it shouldn’t be released, especially the redacted version - it's not going to give anybody any clue about how to make anything.

LR: You were at Colin Powell's speech at the Security Council - what was your sense of that? Did you believe it? Were you dismayed? Did you think it was all bullshit?

RB: I wouldn’t say we were dismayed, in fact, I found it quite convincing - but I wondered what the intelligence was, because we hadn’t seen it - we had no inkling of it - we'd never heard of Curveball, for example.

After the speech, we asked for the intelligence but we got no response. But, and this is quite telling - the CIA gave us some information - a list of 48 sites where we'd be likely to find WMD, and we found nothing. Nothing in 48 sites - these are the same sites that the CIA was basing their intelligence on!

Under normal circumstances, that should have told the CIA that something was wrong with their intelligence - they were zero from 48! And what did the CIA do? They criticized the inspectors. Of course, they were long committed to war then - and there was no going back.

LR: You've seen a lot of the intelligence that Howard, Bush and Blair saw - and you know what they said. Let's start with John Howard - you have no trouble calling him a liar.

RB: Correct - I can only interpret what he said as lies. I don't know exactly what Howard believed, but I know what he was told, and I know what he said to the Australian Parliament and to the public, and the only interpretation is that he lied.

Why would he believe different to what he was told? In fact, when he made the speech to parliament, he didn’t quote Australian intelligence, he didn’t refer to Australian intelligence. Like a lot of politicians, he's fairly careful - he referred to the British dossier which was public and the public version of the NIE - and both of those documents were pretty hawkish - for different reasons - the Dossier because it had been sexed up by John Scarlett, and the NIE because a lot of people within the CIA believed it. Or sort of believed it - the groupthink sort of carried it along.

LR: On the other hand, you suggest that President Bush probably believed what he was saying.

RB: Yes, I think he was happy to believe it, and he was happy to accept what he was given. As I say in that speech, he is still culpable, of course, because he got what he wanted. I am not excusing him. He didn't ask any objective, or detailed, questions - and he should have.

The thing is that the policy got far ahead of the intelligence, and I'm well aware of that, because I was working with the CIA and had contacts in the CIA throughout all of that era, and of course, I was the Senior Advisor to the ISG in the hunt for the weapons, so I actually saw what intelligence they had pre-war. And I can tell you as a professional intelligence officer that information they had should never have been accepted - and yet it was accepted, because the policy was that they had to find a case for going to war against Iraq and of course, WMD was an easy case to make, and intelligence was accepted that should never have been accepted.

LR: Was it accepted for what they call 'group-think' - or were there specific lies along the way?

RB: It was largely Group-Think - I think that's a good term that they used, but it wasn’t just that. There were some people who looked at the intelligence objectively, I met them - but of course, they were pushed aside.

The administration simply did not want to hear any dissenting voices - they were pushed aside - both in the CIA and other agencies too, I'm afraid. So the intelligence professionals who said 'just hang on a moment, how can we accept that?' - say from Curveball and some of the others - they were just silenced. And I also met the people who were the leaders in pushing that dodgy intelligence - and I have to say, they were the career people, and they all did pretty well out of it, I might add. All of these senior analysts who made these wrong assessments, they were either promoted, or have moved out into other jobs - within the system, of course. It's just outrageous - they should have got the sack, or been demoted, or re-educated or something! Yet they all got promoted. To me this is just outrageous. When we do things this way, we never learn anything.

LR: Right. And it was the same in the UK, too. Scarlett got promoted.

RB: Yes, John Scarlett got promoted from the Chairman of the JIC to the head of MI6 - and he was the main pusher of Iraq being a threat. I know the intelligence officers there in the UK very well, I had a posting in London - so I know how the UK system works, and I know many of the characters because I've worked with them over the years, and the actual intelligence that was being given to the UK government was similar to what happened in Australia.

In other words, there was lots of doubts and possibilities and uncertainties and so on, and was Iraq a threat? No. In fact, when the dossier came out, the head of the group, Brian Jones, who was my counterpart in the UK in the defence intelligence staff - I was the equivalent in Australia in the Defence Intelligence Organization - he was head of WMD programming, including Nuclear, Chemical and Biological, and when the dossier came out under Scarlett, Jones actually wrote a letter in protest to Scarlett, which is very unusual because he's a very conservative guy, and it's also a very unusual procedure anyway.

His protest letter said that this dossier is not what the intelligence shows. You know, "the 45 minute claim is nonsense, and the other claims in the dossier are overstated - it's not what Blair was told either". In the classified version that Blair received, although it was a bit more upbeat that the Australian ones, they still had a lot of caution - highlighting the uncertanty and so on, and 'was Iraq a threat?' No.

And it was the same in Australia, in fact our assessments were even blunter, as you saw in those pieces, I gave you exactly what the words were (1, 2). I was consulted on that, in Dec 2002 - I saw those assessments and I thought that they were reasonable - they mentioned that perhaps there were some old weapons, but there weren't any new weapons, and that Iraq wasn't a threat from WMD - but both Blair and Howard joined in with Bush because they are an alliance, and that was more important than other considerations, I believe.

LR: One of the things that surprised me particularly over that period was Tony Blair repeatedly saying "I think we'll find WMD, I think we'll find WMD" - I can't believe that he stuck to that line.

RB: I couldn’t believe it either - he did give it away eventually by the middle of 2004. Once Blair said it, the question was put to Howard and Howard was still clinging on, despite the fact that he, too, knew the truth.

You see, John Gee, another whistleblower, and I had already been to Canberra and reported that there was nothing to be found, and the Australia government accepted it, but Howard was still playing the game, saying 'We'll have to wait for the ISG report' - and when Howard was asked about Blair's statement, he said "well, the Brits have come to their conclusion, but we rely on our own information" You have to remember there was an election in Australia later that year and he couldn't come out and say what he knew.

(Part two)

Luke Ryland: Did you go to Iraq for the inspections immediate prior to the invasion?

Rod Barton: (laughs) No - for political reasons, I didn't go - because I was part of the old guard - and especially in the early days, as a former UNSCOM inspector, it might have caused some problems in Iraq. Blix did ask me to go at one point later on when we were trying to settle some problems with Iraqi co-operation, but I didn't go during that period.

LR: When did you first get there after the war?

RB: I was invited even when I was working for Blix, which was very strange because the war had just started and I was approached in March by the CIA because they wanted experienced people hunting for the weapons - but I didn’t get there till Dec 03.

I was invited by David Kay to go as a part of his 'cabinet' and I think the reason he wanted me because I wasn’t American, and at this point he had reservations about finding anything - in fact I think he came to that conclusion fairly quickly after arriving, probably within a month after getting to Iraq. It didn't look very likely that Iraq ever had any WMD after 1991.

LR: And you didn't expect to find anything?

RB: No, it wasn't any surprise to me that we didn’t find anything when I went back in 2003, and it was no surprise that David Kay realised pretty quickly that we wouldn’t find anything.

By that time we'd alraedy rounded up loads of scientists and engineers and the political leaders. By mid 2003 when the ISG started work, we were busy interviewing all these people, and that's really how we knew that there weren't any WMD - not so much by searching every corner of the country, but just by talking to all the leaders and senior scientists because although some of them might lie to you, most of them were clearly telling us what they knew - and they knew there was nothing there.

So I got there in late Dec to work for David Kay as his special advisor, but by the time I got there, Kay had gone home, never to return. So I was his 'special advisor' - but he wasn't there and I had no-one to advise! It was a strange situation - so I went to see General Keith Dayton - the military head of the ISG - the team that provided the logistics and security, but were not involved with the weapons hunt, and he asked me if I would take over and provide the guidance for the group - which I did for a couple of months.

I didn’t actually have any executive power, per se, because I was only an 'advisor' - so I couldn’t tell people what to do, but I probably knew more about WMD than most people there, and I was the senior person, so we came to an agreement where I’d provide the strategic guidance, and Dayton gave the executive direction for the teams. So I'd tell them what they ought to do, but I couldn’t direct them to do it, which was part of the problem. And we agreed that I would start putting the report together for Congress which was due in March 2004, because Kay had gone home.

The interim report was going to be about 200 pages long, and by January I already had 150 pages of that report already put together - but when Duelfer arrived in mid Feb, he (laughs) had different ideas to me.

I've known Charles for a long time and I thought he was a reasonably good choice. Charles had been a senior official in the State Department, and was a political animal, but I thought that he was independent minded. But when he arrived, he seemed to have very firm idea which seemed to coincide exactly with what George Tenet wanted, and that was bad. We fought a lot, and I struggled for a long time. You see, Charles had a different idea about what to do with the interim report.

By late 2003, most of the evidence that Powell used in his presentation had already been overturned - and that's basically what my 150 page report demonstrated. Most of the pre-war intelligence had been debunked already, and I thought that we needed to put that in the report. At this point, Cheney was still talking about biological trailers for example, and we knew that this was nonsense. The trailers were in our camp, and they had nothing to do with biology, we knew it, and we should say it, but Charles didn't want to even mention them - it was too difficult, so my 150 page report was completely scrapped and Charles told me that he wanted a new 20 page report for Congress. It's still classified, only because it is such an embarrassment!

The report didn't say a thing - it was 20 pages, with a long introduction, and it outlines what we were going to do, but none of the findings! I said 'You can't give this to Congress, they’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars, and lots of lives, and it's been 6 months since the last report, you will be slaughtered when you get to Congress' - and as it turned out, he was slaughtered. Charles told me later that he regretted presenting it that way.

LR: Did he regret not using your report?

RB: I'm not sure about that exactly, but his dilemma, as he described it, was that he'd only been in the job for 6 weeks, and how could he argue everything in the 200 page report in front of Congress? But you know, he knew the report was due when he took the job - and he didn’t come into the job cold, he had a background at UNSCOM, he knew the issues, he'd been following the story all along, he'd been briefed extensively, and we offered to go to Congress and help him - but he still said 'No'

So I told him not to write a report at all, or just to write a letter saying that he hadn’t had sufficient time and he'd get back to them later, or to write a report exclusively on what he was going to do in the future - because if he was only going to write a report and exclude all of the things that we'd found, then that is dishonest. But he wanted to write what he called a 'Status Report' - yet he excluded anything that was contrary to what Tenet wanted to hear.

LR: So the goal was simply to push out the inevitable for another 6 or 12 months?

RB: The message was so unpopular, so unpalatable, that it was simply very difficult to say what we knew! See, when I arrived, all the senior CIA people left with David Kay. When Charles came out, the CIA brought out a few senior people who were very loyal to DCI - Tenet - they knew where there jobs were going and they were the ones who were politically motivated. One of them said to me "You simply can't say that - it's politically impossible" - about the trailers for example. This guy said 'I don't care what the trailers were for - you cannot say that in this report' (laughs). I got very angry with him, and said 'You might be very political, but I’m not. You must either say the truth, or say nothing - you can't give just part of the story.'

You know, it's like if you go out for a 3 course dinner and finish with a coffee, and the next day someone asks what you had for dinner and you answer 'a coffee' - it's technically true, but effectively false.

I also found the same thing with the CIA back in the US. When I put together the 20 page report, I couldn't mention the trailers, but (laughs) I did mention our separate investigation of Curveball. I sent the draft for comment to DC, London and Canberra - and the comment came back from Washington saying 'The thing about Curveball "doesn't track" with what DCI said last month at Georgetown University' (laughs) and I said 'Correct - it doesn't track at all - becuase it's not true' - but the message was very clear.

LR: So was Tenet knowingly, intentionally, telling lies then?

RB: Well, I read that speech very carefully, and well, he'd make a good politician! He didn't tell any black and white lies - but he basically said 'You have to wait for the ISG report, and there are indications of this, and indications of that.' Well, yes, there were 'indications' of a lot of things, but he simply ignored all of our conclusions, which were completely contrary to what he said.

LR: From memory, the ISG spent $1.2bn - was that reasonable?

RB: I'm not sure exactly how much they spent in total - but that sounds about right. They originally got $700m and we were anxious we were going to run out, but we were told not to worry because the DIA had additional funding if we needed it.

I quit in March after the interim report, and I went back again in September because Charles asked me to go back, and I told him that he'd need to convince me that the process was honest, and he did a turn-around. In fact, I went to DC in October for the congressional hearings and someone at Langley told me that the best thing I ever did was quit in March because, to use this guy's words, 'Charlie found religion' - meaning that after I quit, Duelfer decided to do exactly what he wanted to do - so it was an honest report in the end, and Charles may have been unpopular in Langley because of it. You see, he actually had a degree of independence from the CIA all along, because although he was appointed by the DCI, his role in Iraq was quite independent because he was actually representing the three countries. His only regret later was that he didn’t behave independently when he first started.

LR: And the final report - was that both complete and honest?

RB: Yes - the final report, we call it the 'Substantive Report', because we did another addendum in April 05 - but the Substantive Report was 800 pages - 150 pages of that I had written at the start of the year! In fact, someone at the CIA said 'It's good reporting but you could have done it at the beginning of 2004'! I agreed with him (laughs).

LR: Were there any omissions in that final report?

RB: Not really. In fact, Duelfer wanted to make everything we had unclassified, and we did more or less. I think we got 98% of it declassified, to the point that even I thought some things should remain declassified!

LR: John Scarlett's "nugget" email isn't in there...

RB: No, of course we didn't put all the source material in there. You know, the CIA wanted to put bits in there too, things that were wrong, such as the trailers, and Curveball, and they also wanted to change the stuff about the aluminium tubes - for uranium enrichment, the centrifuges, and we wouldn’t allow any of that. Those were the two main things that I worried about that the CIA sent us. Mind you, the CIA also sent lots of sensible suggestions, too. But no, Scarlett's nuggets didn’t make it in.

LR: Will we ever see those nuggets?

RB: I don’t see why they couldn’t be declassified. I can’t understand why under FOI in the UK, they couldn’t be published. There’s nothing in those nuggets, now, especially since we've published the report, that would compromise national security. So there's no reason that they should still be classified, but of course, they'll keep them classified for as long as Scarlett has his job (laughs)! Because he'd lose his job as soon as they were published.