Jewish World Review Feb. 3, 2004 / 11 Shevat, 5764
Potemkin WMDs? Really?
So now comes David Kay, a good man, a person I like a lot, with a lot to say. He set out to find large stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction and didn't. He says there's evidence that some stuff may have gone to Syria, but nothing like the quantities he expected to find. He has no doubt that Saddam had or rather had ordered, and was told he had a full-blown WMD program. But there's no sign of it, at least so far as David Kay and his CIA minions could find.
So what happened?
David now thinks that it was a Potemkin program. Count Potemkin was the lover of Tsarina Catherine the Great of Russia, and he was told to build new towns and cities for the grandeur of the regime. He couldn't manage it, but he couldn't tell his mistress the terrible truth. So he lied to her. And when she asked to see the new places, he created the eighteenth-century equivalent of movie sets. She sailed down the river, the movie sets were set up on the banks, and happy people waved at her. When the royal ship was out of sight, the villagers packed up the set, and raced downstream to the next site. From this, the expression "Potemkin village."
Thus, David tells us, Saddam's WMD program. He ordered his loyal servants to make him atomic bombs, chemical and biological weapons, and effective delivery systems. They couldn't manage it, but they couldn't tell Saddam because he would have killed them. So they faked it, producing a vast documentation for a program that did not really exist. The CIA (and the Brits, the French, the Germans, the Israelis, the Russians, etc. etc.) got some of this, and got some of the same false reports as Saddam received, and they went for it, just as Saddam did.
It's a great theory. It's imaginative and entertaining. It explains our failure to find what we expected to find, and it explains what we did find: considerable documentation about WMD programs. It also explains how Saddam could have ordered the deployment of WMDs, and nothing happened. Nothing could happen, because there was nothing there.
It's also devastating to the CIA and the other intelligence services, because one of its central conclusions is that the intelligence world didn't really have a clue about what was really going on or rather, what wasn't going on. It suggests that the intelligence world never really challenged its own conclusions, even though there was no physical evidence to support them. If David Kay is right, then every datum in the analysis was fictional.
What a scandal! CIA's supposed to create such fictions, not be gulled by them.
As I say, it's a terrific theory. But I'm skeptical, and I've got a real reason for my skepticism, which David can easily confirm. Last August I called him in Baghdad to tell him that I had a person a good person, like himself, a person I trust who was prepared to take him to an underground laboratory from which a quantity of enriched uranium had been taken a few years ago, and smuggled to Iran. Wow, he said, let's go look. Have the guy call me, we'll check it out.
The guy could never get David on the phone because the CIA decided not to investigate after all. The CIA never went to look, and I don't know if that stuff was real or fictional. But this case was totally different from the Potemkin WMDs of David's elegant theory. Because my guy was in contact with the people who said they had moved the stuff from Iraq to Iran. They were now sick, and wanted to tell their story before they got much worse. But, as I say, the CIA never went to look. They pretended they wanted to, they finally met with my guy, but they told him they didn't believe his story (although there was really no reason to either believe it or not, it was a matter of either looking or not, and if you didn't look you couldn't know anything one way or the other). He said the people who had done the smuggling had a full description of the material on a CD Rom, which they were willing to provide. CIA wasn't interested. And that's the end of it, so far as I know.
So there's one instance where the CIA wasn't curious enough to take a ride and look at a lab. And I ask myself whether there were other such cases. I know of other examples, not involving WMDs, but involving Saddam's money, where CIA refused to look, and the stories they were told and decided not to believe turned out to be true.
And then I read the words of Peter Hain, the leader of the House of Commons in London. He says "I saw evidence that was categorical on Saddam possessing chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction." And we know, from the recent Hutton Report, that Tony Blair's claim that Saddam could be prepared to launch WMD attacks against Coalition forces "within 45 minutes," had come directly from MI6. Were the Brits fooled too? Hain insists they were not.
And then there's the story from the Syrian journalist in Paris who claims to have maps from high-ranking military intelligence officials in Damascus, identifying the sites where, he says, some of Saddam's stockpiles were moved. Have we checked that story?
I love the theory. But I have my doubts. Maybe time will tell.
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JWR contributor Michael Ledeen is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of, most recently, ""The War Against the Terror Masters," Comment by clicking here.
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© 2001, Michael Ledeen