For a couple months

August 28, 2003 6:24 a.m.

For a couple months a question has been hanging — often unspoken — over the WMD search. There were a lot of Iraqi defectors circulating through DC who claimed some very specific and direct knowledge about post-1991 weapons production.

Now we’ve looked; and a lot of those stories turn out to be baseless.

Intelligence analysts whose stories don’t prove out may be guilty of poor judgments or even incompetence; but alleged eyewitnesses whose stories don’t pan out are, almost by definition, liars. Not all the cases are so clear-cut certainly. But there are a number of celebrity defectors who showed up in a lot of articles and on a lot of panels who have some explaining to do.

Bob Drogin has a must-read story in the LA Times out yesterday evening which seems to do a bit of the explaining for them: Drogin says that the intelligence analysts and inspectors working the WMD case have decided that quite a few of those defectors were either double-agents working for Saddam or else dupes who innocently passed on disinformation that Saddam’s agents wanted them to spread in the West. Others, not surprisingly, were just in the hunt for money, asylum and greeen cards. The intelligence agencies are apparently applying a new round of scrutiny to all the defectors. And, though the article is a touch fuzzy on this detail, they’re also giving another look at the person who handled a lot of those defectors — Ahmed Chalabi.

Among other things the article includes the most concise and — I suspect — accurate synopsis of what the inspectors operating in Iraq under David Kay have actually found …

Evidence collected over the last two months suggests that Saddam’s regime abandoned large-scale weapons development and production programs in favor of a much smaller “just in time” operation that could churn out poison gases or germ agents if they were suddenly needed. The transition supposedly took place between 1996 and 2000.

But survey group mobile collection teams are still unable to prove that any nerve gases or microbe weapons were produced during or after that period, the officials said. Indeed, the weapons hunters have yet to find proof that any chemical or bio-warfare agents were produced after 1991.

Drogin’s collection of comments from inspectors and intelligence analysts demonstrates another point: the folks actually doing the work on the ground in Iraq and the analysts back home are in fullscale reevaluation mode. Only the DC pundits and the White House press office are still pitching the “you’ll be sorry when we find the WMD” line.

More to come on the CIA/State versus the Pentagon political appointees front, who got scammed and who didn’t, and a murky event from the mid-1990s which may be in line for some fresh scrutiny.

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