the COGENT PROVOCATEUR
free agent, loose cannon, pointy stick ... taking an imposing analytic toolkit out of the box, over the wall and into the street ... with callous disregard for accepted wisdom and standard English
reading tea leaves from original angles, we've led with uncannily prescient takes on the federal surplus, the dotcom crash, the "Energy Crisis", the Afghan campaign, the federal deficit.
More where those came from ... stay tuned.
For brief orientation, see this
Welcome to CP
Submit Feedback To:
RonKsFeedbag at aol
COGENT PROVOCATEUR Archives
03/01/2002 - 04/01/2002 04/01/2002 - 05/01/2002 05/01/2002 - 06/01/2002 06/01/2002 - 07/01/2002 09/01/2002 - 10/01/2002 11/01/2002 - 12/01/2002 12/01/2002 - 01/01/2003 01/01/2003 - 02/01/2003 02/01/2003 - 03/01/2003 03/01/2003 - 04/01/2003 04/01/2003 - 05/01/2003
NOTE to READERS:
All "major" articles of older material have now been imported, some with updates worth perusing. We'll keep it all on the main page for a while, will add a few loose pieces of history, will trim the main page and index the archives for convenience later.
the COGENT PROVOCATEUR:
free agent, loose cannon, pointy stick ...
... gateway to the next Progressive Era?
Some say it's nothing but a train wreck ... roll in the big cranes, clear the track, see what the crew was smoking. If I thought so, I'd not be writing this ... and if they thought so, they'd not be drumming so hard.
OTHER GOOD STUFF:
Many thanks to Tony Adragna and Will Vehrs, still shouting 'cross the Potomac at QuasiPundit. Early Camp Enron material can be found in QP's Dispatches department.
Friday, February 21, 2003
--- "Some say the world will end in fire" ---"I ran away ... my cat ran away ... and after that it was every man for himself."
(KCPQ on-street interview with an apartment fire refugee)
Wednesday, February 12, 2003
--- More Powell To Ya ---Colin Powell raised a multitude of eyebrows yesterday morning when he announced the existence of a new bin Laden tape, one that proves Osama and Saddam are in cahoots.
As the news cycle unfolded, al-Jazeera did indeed have a tape. [BBC transcript here.] Assuming the tape is genuine, bin Laden does indeed address the looming Gulf War II. He calls on all good Muslims to repel American "crusaders" and "infidels". And he shares his assessment of US military:
"... in combat, they mainly depend on psychological warfare. ... They also depend on massive air strikes ..."But bin Laden clearly marks Saddam and fellow Ba'athists as "socialists" and "infidels" [not as bad as "apostates", but sword-worthy nonetheless], whose regime is illegitimate, whose "jurisdiction ... has fallen a long time ago", who remain infidels "whether they are in Baghdad or Aden".
[Some confusion arose over whether bin Laden includes Saddam among the "hypocrites of Iraq" who are "apostates and outside the community of Muslims", such that true Muslims may permissibly "spill their blood and take their property". As I read this, it applies not to Saddam, but to those in Iraq and elsewhere who collaborate with "crusaders".]
None of this plausibly supported Powell's morning testimony, and thus raised another multitude of eyebrows. Speculation grew that Powell would reappear to amend his remarks or adjust his position.
Instead, Powell appeared on the Hill again this morning, insisting the tape confirms his interpretation. Here, we have a problem.
To paraphase Powell's UN presentation: "My charges are based on solid intelligence -- intelligence not unlike the impressive-looking artifacts you see here today (which do not address such charges). Take my word for it, similar undisclosed artifacts do support these charges, and I would not interpret them falsely." [see posts below]
Powell's case rests on his reading of privileged evidence. Yet the Osama tape lets us look over his shoulder as he reads public evidence. We can see bin Laden's original lines bent to intersect Powell's predetermined target ... and we imagine this interpretive motif recurring and compounding as information percolates through the pipelines and pyramids of our intelligence infrastructure.
Obligatory note: Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld was so dissatisfied with existing agencies' failure to validate the link between Saddam and al Qaeda, he chartered his own agency. Has CIA's George Tenet now become a true believer? Alone, or with agency buy-in? Or is he playing a classic double game to keep himself and/or his agency in the loop?
UPDATE: Powell's credibility took another hit today when he announced "The ricin that is bouncing around Europe now originated in Iraq". Per CNN:
A French intelligence source said he was "stunned" by Powell's comment. "There is no, repeat, no suggestion that the ricin was anything but locally produced," he said. "It was bad quality, not technically sophisticated."Iraq processes castor beans (source of ricin) on industrial scale, and has produced ricin in quality and quantity, but does not appear implicated in the current case. Members of the European poison web have contacts with al-Zarqawi, but the ricin cookbook has been open-book since the late 1800's, and current contacts seem linked to Chechnya and Pankisi Gorge.
Monday, February 10, 2003
--- Powell Spoiler Updates ---CP hasn't seen print copy yet, but Newsweek gets in the game with a frame by frame review of Powell's case here. Excerpts:
The intercepts clearly refer to stray items, not big caches.From a more unabashed generalized antiwar perspective, Traprock Peace Center offers Glen Rangwala's point by point analysis, with much useful comment. They also maintain an extensive survey of "Claims and evaluations of Iraq's proscribed weapons". Take the evaluations as you will, Rangwala's comprehensive running index of claims and counterclaims should prove valuable to advocates in both camps.
For more Powell-watch coverage, see:
Slacktivist here and here.Regarding Powell's assessment of al-Zarqawi, numerous doubts have been raised with respect to:
(a) his relationship with al Qaeda, if any. Not previously identified as a Bin Laden subordinate, he fought with Afghan mujahdeen against Soviet occupation (contemporaneous with bin Laden), headed his own group (Al Tawhid), ran his own training camp under Taliban protection.See an International Herald Tribune profile on Zarqawi here. (It's the NYT piece, acessible w/o registration on NYT's IHT.)
Iraqi expatriate nuclear scientist Imad Khadduri suggests Powell may have misread the "death threat" evidence: "The four or five, as I recall such declarations, which I read in detail, held us to the penalty of death in the event that we did not hand in all of the sensitive documents and reports that may still be in our possession!"
And the UK Independent expands on the intel retaliation theme: "Mr Blair is facing an unprecedented, if covert, rebellion by his top spies, who last week used the politicians’ own weapon – the strategic leak – against him."
Sunday, February 09, 2003
--- Colin Powell, the Adlai Moment, and the OJ Question ---We digress from our series Unpacking the Case for Invading Iraq, to unpack Colin Powell's presentation at the Security Council.
Wednesday, Feb.5, 2003 was Powell's "Adlai Stevenson moment" ... an allusion to the time Stevenson rocked the world by unveiling overhead photography of Russian missile sites in Cuba.
US mainstream editorialists pronounce Powell's presentation "convincing". Senator Joe Biden declares "If I had this evidence before ... an unbiased jury, I could get a conviction". Arch-liberal columnist Mary McGrory says "I'm persuaded". "Powell shows litany of regime's deception" blares the teaser for an Aussie newsfeed. Other global reaction was mixed, and Security Council feedback leans to "No sale!". Wonder why?
These "moments" have a way of losing their luster by the time History gets done with them. Reagan's televised moment -- charting "Soviet airbase" construction on Grenada -- was bogus. Bush41's bill of evils against Noriega was juiced with bogus intel. Bogus intel cemented the Gulf War Coalition and stampeded the Senate into approving it. LBJ's Tonkin Gulf "moment" -- bogus. Madeline Albright's "moment" -- displaying the detonator "fingerprint" linking Saddam to a car-bomb intended for Bush41 -- bogus. Stevenson's "moment" was real enough, but the intel gaps behind it nearly pitched us into WW III. Stevenson's other "moment", in the Bay of Pigs affair, held potential for career-ending credibility damage.
Powell's performance was incontestably brilliant. He grabbed our attention, told us what we were going to see, and ninety minutes later most of us left the tent convinced we had seen it. What, if anything, did we really see?
Working from video, press transcripts, and the official State Department version, I've made an effort to identify and dissect every major element of Powell's presentation. Let's see if there's any "there" there. [I may tidy up and add supporting links as I get to them.]
1. Electronic communications intercept ... ElBaradei is coming ... "modified vehicle" ... "evacuated"
Odd. ElBaradei (of IAEA) heads inspection for nuclear weapons -- the last place you'd find a "modified vehicle". Does "vehicle" means vehicle? It could refer to a container or gizmo or who knows what. What ever it is, the general officer in charge ("I'm worried you all have something left") didn't know he had it, and he's not supposed to have it as far as HQ is concerned. "We evacuated everything". In this context, everything clearly does not encompass the "modified vehicle". Curious as to nuance of the Arabic-to-English translation ... the English evacuated conveys a "remove from danger" connotation not carried by removed or emptied or swept.
In any event, this -- like the other two intercepts -- smacks of nothing more than routine pre-inspection brass-polishing ... same chatter you'd pick up eavesdropping on any US corporate branch office or military base on the eve of a VIP tour.
Why compromise signals intelligence by disclosing this? It is not dispositive. If Powell has better, why didn't he share it?
2. Second intercept ... "forbidden ammo" ... "destroy the message"
More brass-polishing and ass-covering, i.e., I hope you cleaned up what I told you to clean up ... and don't leave tracks, because I promised my boss it was already clean. "inspect the scrap areas and the abandoned areas" doesn't sound like top-secret project discipline.
3. "What we're giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence"
Solid intelligence is something of an oxymoron. Powell vouches for his own forthcoming conclusions, based on his own sources and credibility, and plants the suggestion that you have seen and will see evidence supporting each point. Our evidentiary tour de force soon wanders from solid intel onto shaky ground.
4. "We know" ... weapons were "ordered removed" from palaces ... scientists hiding documents ... files driven around in cars ... hard drives replaced ... not only documents -- weapons ... missiles distributed in Western Iraq ... satellite photos of "banned materials" being moved
Vouching again. If we have solid intel on these points, why not present solid intel instead of those lame intercepts?
5. Active CW bunkers ... decontamination truck ... cleaned out ... "on the 22nd of December" just before inspection
Photo imagery lends an aura of substantiality to Powell's assertion ... but if the bunker was cleaned out 22 Dec., why is the "before" image dated "10 Nov"? Out of 30 similar sightings, why not cite a single more compelling example?
In any case, US would deploy similar decontamination support if it were working around a known high-toxicity legacy site, industrial or military.
6. UK's "fine paper ... which describes in exquisite detail Iraqi deception activities."
This paper documented deception activities, all right, and it became notorious only hours later. Heads are going to roll over this, and Blair's may be one of them. Plagiarized (clumsily, typo's and all) from published sources including Jane's and a grad student thesis ... except that the original thesis detailed Saddam's operations in Kuwait in 1991. Not just plagiarized, but plugged with more alarming estimates to punch up the conclusions. Foolish enough and obvious enough to suggest a deliberate effort to embarrass 10 Downing Street. What possible motive ... revenge for Blair's arm-twisting Brit intel for support of the case against Saddam?
The story is still unfolding ... start with this CASI discussion and this from Channel 4.
7. "housecleaning at close to 30 sites" ... "don't know precisely what Iraq was moving" ... "We must ask ourselves, why would Iraq suddenly move equipment"
Proof by suspicion. We don't know, so we must assume the worst.
8. U-2 flights, safe conduct denied
Iraq claims it can't guarantee safety of U-2 surveillance flights so long as US air patrols penetrate Iraqi airspace. Iraq asserts the right to shoot at these patrols (though it never hits anything), and the international community seems to agree. The 1991 cease-fire created "no fly" zones, but did not grant US enforcement powers. From US/UK perspective, we're enforcing an agreement the only way possible. From Iraq's perspective, they're exercising a legitimate right to territorial defense. It would be helpful if US sought, and UN approved, a resolution formally legitimizing US patrols and requiring Iraqi air defense to stand down. US doesn't want to seek formal approval, as any such request would imply we've been operating for 12 years without that authority.
9. Witness intimidation ... espionage accusations against UNMOVIC are "a veiled threat" that cooperative Iraqi's will be treated as traitors ... "human sources" reveal more explicit death threats ... "these are not assertions. These are facts"
But in point of fact these statements (though very likely true) are literally no more and no less than assertions -- in this case, assertions of hearsay.
10. Small vial is held up to the light ... ominous tones ... "less than a teaspoon ... shut down the United States Senate"
The anthrax moment ... high drama, but contrary to fact. "Mr. DASCHLE ... At about 10:15 this morning, a member of my staff opened an envelope ... the substance was anthrax ... this Senate and this institution will not stop. We will not cease our business. We will continue to work. ..." And so they did. (Congressional Record, 2001-10-15, Page S10673.)
Why gild the lily with a HOWLER so easily checked in preparation, and so easily exposed as fabrication? Why not gild the lily? Nobody called him on it.
At this point in the presentation, Powell has laid down a hypnotic groove and is plowing it deeper with each pass ... lulling us into a pattern of acceptance by rhythmically alternating assertions with evidentiary exhibits. Assertion, exhibit, assertion, exhibit, assertion, exhibit ... only the least susceptible subjects notice the exhibits are growing thinner and fuzzier, while assertions are growing bigger and heavier. Weak-minded subjects -- journalists and the like -- will go away convinced they have seen an exhibit to support every assertion.
Powell's "8,500 liters", by the way, pertains to liters of anthrax slurry ... not the equivalent of refined, dried, particulated spores simulated in Powell's vial. And hundreds of people did NOT receive emergency medical treatment ... they received -- or at least they were offered -- prophylactic doses of antibiotics.
11. Mobile BW production facilities
Powell makes up in detail what he lacks in documentation. Interior schematics, artists conceptions based on "firsthand descriptions" ... 7 units, 2 or 3 trucks each ... an accident killed 12.
Former UNSCOM exec Rolf Ekeus is skeptical: "... UNSCOM detected a system of mobility [but] a production line up on the flatbed of the truck, that sounds still a little difficult to believe ... not even Iraq is always that reckless. I still need to be a little convinced about that."
UNMOVIC exec Hans Blix has already complained about acting on US tips and "busting" mobile food safety inspection labs.
12. Iraq "weaponized" anthrax, botulinum, aflatoxin, ricin ... investigated a laundry list of others ... "has the wherewithal to develop smallpox"
Anthrax and botox are legitimate threats. Aflatoxin is a laughing stock in BW circles.
Ricin heretofore was relegated to the footnotes on Iraqi BW research ... well down the laundry list of other BW agents investigated. It is powerful -- a single molecule can kill a cell -- but BW community consensus does not rank it as well-suited to mass-casualty attacks. Iraq has NOT weaponized ricin ... it test-fired a single artillery shell loaded with ricin solution in 1988, with unsatisfactory results.
Suddenly, ricin is the latest Fear Factor Flavor of the Month ... all the rage in Europe! Powell headlines "ricin" to seed the mental association of Saddam with recent news events.
Smallpox is potentially disastrous ... not so much for the US as for the other 95% of Earth's population. There's no way to tell how fast it would spread in today's more mobile population, where the "speed bumps" of residual immunity (by vaccination or survived infection) are increasingly sparse. [We knew of Iraq's suspected "wherewithal" for many months, but only surfaced it publicly a few days before the November 2002 election.]
13. F-1 Test video of Mirage F-1 sprayer-modified drop tank
To many viewers, this was the emotional clincher. Powell recites the lethal effect of a pinch of this or a pinch of that, then wows us with the image of 2,000 pounds sprayed over vast territories. In context, most of the audience probably remembers it as US intel revealing Iraqi BW advances ... but that's not what they saw and heard.
The chilling dramatic effect would be attenuated if Powell emphasized that this is Iraqi footage, not US surveillance ... that it dates to 1990 or 1991, not 2002 ... that Iraq provided it to UNSCOM in the mid-90s ... that US has conducted similar open-air tests with similar material (harmless lookalike B. subtilis in lieu of B. anthracis) ... that tests (theirs, ours, and others') found the wet aerosol spray method rather ineffective ... and that Iraq has a snowball's chance of getting an attack jet across anybody's borders.
A number of detachable tanks remain unaccounted for ... could one of these be the "modified vehicle" mentioned above?
14. Chemical weapons ... missing inventories ... precursors for 500 tons ... four tons VX ... dual-use infrastructure
Reciting items of well-known concern and widely debated status. Saddam may or may not retain them, and might or might not be able to document them if he wanted to. Nothing new here.
15. Unusual activity at a CW transshipment point in May 2002 ... satellite image corroborated by a human source ... topsoil removed and sites graded.
US works around toxic nightmares in huge legacy stores and dumping grounds of discontinued war material, and takes similar precautions. Even Seattle's beautiful but quirky Gasworks Park, a fossil fuel processing site many decades ago, got a wall-to-wall soil transplant recently.
16. Procurement of CW precursors that "can also be used for legitimate purposes ... why did we have to learn about them [the hard way]?"
Proof by suspicion.
17. A third intercept: "nerve agents" ... "wireless instructions"
Caught 'em red-handed! Or did we? Anyone who has maintained tech manuals or S.O.P.'s might read this passage differently. A directive to strike the phrase "nerve agents" throughout a set of documents -- without scrapping the documents, and thus apparently without compromising their continuity -- does not indicate Iraq has nerve agents, any more than it indicates Iraq does not have nerve agents. It simply does not signify.
What are "the wireless instructions"? a stilted translation from the Arabic? weapons training manuals? first aid hot line protocols? an inventory reorder fax blank? an IVR script? ("For Anthrax, Press 1 ... for Botulism, Press 2 ...")
If this is our best intercept mentioning "nerve agents" ... sorry, I'm not impressed.
18. 122-mm warheads "could be the tip of a submerged iceberg"
Or the tip of a moldering scrap heap. Proof by suspicion.
19. "he recently has authorized his field commanders to use [chemical weapons]. He wouldn't be passing out the orders if he didn't have the weapons or the intent to use them."
Intercepts to that effect would be more compelling "smoking guns" ... though Saddam certainly might issue such orders -- and allow them to be intercepted -- even if he had no such weapons. A routine disinformation tactic, and Powell knows this, as any warrior would.
20. Human experimentation with CW ... prisoners strapped to beds
Horrific, probably true, and brought to our attention by Israeli intel back in the 1980s, when Saddam was "our bastard" in the Iran-Iraq War.
21. Recital of Saddam's past lies re nuke developments ... Saddam has scientists ... has design ... needs fissile material
Of course he needs fissile material. That was the stumbling block in 1990, that's the stumbling block today. Any evidence of progress? Oh, yes ...
22. Tubes, tubes, tubes! ... higher tolerance ... anodized ... 11 countries ... magnet production plant ... balancing machines ... "can be used in a centrifuge program" ... "debate this issue, but there is no doubt in my mind"
Clintonesque scope-parsing: "all the experts who have analyzed the tubes in our possession agree". An unspecified population of unnamed experts -- delimited by a qualifying clause entirely under Powell's control -- all agree with Powell. But as Powell admits, "there is controversy". A "Who's Who" of prominent anti-proliferation figures begs to differ. IAEA's ElBaradei. Wisconsin Project's Gary Milhollin. David Albright of ISIS. If you want tubes for centrifuges, you would not want them anodized (the experts say) ... and if the tubes had to be re-bored to centrifuge specs, that would defeat any supposed advantage of anodizing, wouldn't it?
23. Imported rocket engines ... "acquired as late as December" ... "engine test stand ... exhaust vent ... five times longer ... clearly intended for long-range missiles"
Aha, the "smoking test stand"! Powell's long-distance photo evidence conveys an impression of surreptitious development. A pack of journalists then toured the site -- well known to UNMOVIC -- up close and personal. They saw what UNMOVIC saw ... a vertical test stand with a short exhaust track, and a horizontal test stand with a long exhaust track.
24. "He is not developing the missile for self-defense."
Proof by suspicion. We are entitled to our suspicions, but how do we know he is developing the missile, and how do we know his intent? (IRBM's are usually held for deterrent counterstrikes. You can use them to break things, but you can't break enough things to put your side on offense.)
25. Modified MIG-21's, L-29's, and smaller UAV's ... 500 km test flight ... could attack the US
The smaller UAV is an artist's conception. "Iraq is now concentrating" on smaller UAV's ... the MIG-21 program was probably a disaster. UAV's could attack the US how? (From boats, we learn in off-line discussion.) Fair enough, but Iraq could attack Chicago from some ramshackle farmhouse in Wisconsin, using nothing but locally obtained materials. It doesn't matter what does or doesn't exist within Iraq's borders, and it would be foolish to imagine Saddam is the only bad actor perusing this script.
26. "Iraq and terrorism go back decades" ... 1990s nonaggression pact with al Qaeda ... Saddam applauds bombings
Preparing to weave a nebulous nexus between Saddam and al Qaeda. Iraq ... terror ... Iraq ... terror ... Iraq ... terror ... but Iraq's terror history is minimal (by neighborhood standards anyway).
27. Afghan labs were inadequate ... "Where did they go ...? They went to Iraq" ... Abu Atiya developed European poison network ... 116 arrests ... Abu Atiya knew al-Zarqawi ... al-Zarqawi went to Baghdad ... developed a network ... Zarqawi has a camp in NE Iraq
Where did they go? They went to several dozen countries, including all of Iraq's neighbors.
Conveniently, Mr. Z camps out in NE Iraq. Conveniently, Powell omits mention of Qatar, where Mr. Z received safe haven and lavish funding. Shouldn't we land an expeditionary force in Qatar and ... oh, wait ... nevermind. Powell omits mention of Mr. Z's other travels in the region.
Conveniently, Mr. Z is an expert in "ricin and other poisons". Ricin gets star billing these days. Blame a fickle public ... that poor "dog in the box" from the captured Qaeda nerve agent video needed a better agent.
There's a small problem here, a missing link, but conveniently ...
28. "Baghdad has an agent in ... Ansar al-Islam, that controls this corner of Iraq" ... "this agent offered al Qaeda safe haven"
So here's Mr. X, an agent from Baghdad with leadership influence in a region outside Saddam's control. Inconveniently, our Kurdish friends in NE Iraq are perplexed ... their understanding of local physical geography, political geography, factional alignment and leadership structure is at apparent variance with Mr. Powell's.
Parse that text again. Is Mr. X an agent of Saddam? Or is Mr. X an agent of anti-Saddam cadre operating in Baghdad. Mr. X offered safe haven? Or Ansar al Islam offered safe haven? Did Mr. X have authority to extend this offer, and could he make good on it?
30. "Some believe ... these contacts do not amount to much."
We've come to the climax -- or the punch line, if you prefer -- the first novel assertion in Powell's catalogue. Ricin plots in Europe are linked to Atiya, a colleague of Zarqawi, under protection of Mr. X, who may be Saddam's agent. If you read carefully, Powell disclaims any sure knowledge of Saddam's direct control or material support of Qaeda terrorist activity.
Still, the allegations are serious, and we should weigh them seriously. Have we heard similar allegations before? Yes. Have they panned out? No, quite the opposite. Have their advocates retreated gracefully from definitively discredited claims? No, anything but. As with the "Prague meeting", they hung on til the last wisp of evidence blew way. After recanting under oath, they let their shills reflate the original reports, making them "common knowledge".
Though it wears many hats and goes by many names, one obvious name for Bad Intelligence is "stupiddity". Press your intelligence resources hard enough, and they'll deliver the results you demand. One problem with this -- when you get the results you want, you can't possibly tell if they're genuine. At that point in the game, though, you probably don't care ... you're locked in on a favorite number, and you probably bet it big.
Powell and the gang are the boys who not only cried "Wolf!" ... they stood pointing to an empty box, insisting it had a wolf in it. If we "age discount" these newly-minted assertions -- if we assume they'll decay over time, along trajectories similar to previous Saddam/Qaeda "clinchers" -- we can't give them much weight at all.
31. "we confront a regime that harbors ambitions for regional domination, hides weapons of mass destruction, and provides haven and active support for terrorists"
Ambitions of domination? Proof by suspicion. Once true, but Saddam's potential for mischief is fading.
Hiding WMD? Proof by suspicion. Probably true, but no new evidence here.
Haven for terrorists? Proof by suspicion.
Instead of "solid intelligence", we're up to here in intelligence quicksand ... while Powell's hypnotic performance has us thinking we can walk on water. His task was to prove what everybody concedes: Saddam practices deceit, Saddam covets weapons of vast destruction, Saddam cheats as much as he can get away with.
We believed it before, we believe it now, only now we believe we've seen the proof, when we've actually seen ... nothing. We are left with many questions, including the classic OJ Question: Why frame a guilty suspect?
Thursday, February 06, 2003
--- Unpacking the Case (I.1): Saddam's Threat Inventory ---This is the first of a series of posts surveying Saddam Hussein's WMD threat potential, within a larger series Unpacking the Case for Invading Iraq.
Here we lay out some principles applicable to all WMD, and to all potential bad actors. We proceed to apply these principles to Saddam and his threats ... though magnified and distorted focus on Saddam is half the problem with The Case.
WMD occur in four widely discussed categories of concern -- chemical weapons (CW), biological weapons (BW), radioisotope dispersant "dirty bombs", and nuclear fission weapons. Biotoxins are produced like BW but applied like CW, and we'll address them in either category as appropriate. [A wily foe might find superior options outside these four categories ... but that's outside the envelope of this discussion.]
WMD threats arise in two very different domains. First is general warfare -- nation against nation, armed force against armed force, contesting supreme and subordinate objectives. Second is terrorism -- unconventional, surreptitious, agenda-driven attack, usually on unsuspecting civilian elements -- basically shooting fish in a barrel. On most counts the two domains have very little in common. They intersect (more rarely than you think) in a zone dubbed "state-sponsored terrorism". Beyond that, tech evolution and proliferation may eventually put Mass Destruction within the ambit of non-agenda vandalism, akin to teenage pipe bombings and computer virus construction.
Segments to follow will zoom in on each threat category, and explore their potential in each domain.
The standard WMD threat involves a particular actor (state, faction, rogue military element, stateless organization, or the ubiquitous "accidental actor"), with respect to a particular capability. Before we welcome any new applicant to the Threat Club, we should cover a couple basic interview questions: What are his capabilities? What are his ambitions?
What are his Capabilities?
Can the actor in question invent active WMD ingredients? Not required. Most active ingredients have been around forever -- mustard "gas" (1910's), sarin (1930's), uranium/plutonium (1940's), VX (1950's) -- and the basic recipes are not well-kept secrets. Important new discoveries are incredibly rare ... though the biotech revolution may soon bless us with a whole new catalog of horribilia, and somebody someday may figure out how to build a fusion device without the more bulky and detectible fission trigger.
Can he produce or procure these active ingredients? Not a high hurdle. Any dot-on-the-map island with a modern medical center can roll their own dirty bomb. Any town with a brewery, any two-star restaurant, can brew BW, and most seed cultures aren't that hard to come by. Any town with a 20th-century economic base can cook up potent CW. Scores of nations can refine weapons-grade material from power reactor waste. If you can't make it, you can buy, beg, borrow or steal it.
Can he weaponize them? Mandatory. A chunk of fissile material is not an atomic bomb. CW molecules make lousy weapons without stabilizers, thickeners, dispersants and aerosol sprayers or bursting charges. Likewise most pathogens and biotoxins. Innovative preparation/presentation is the locus of most contemporary "Iron Chef" competition.
Can he deliver them? Mandatory. Until you rain them on the enemy in a controlled fashion (at controlled distance from your guys), WMD stockpiles mainly threaten the night watchman. For CW and most BW, controlled dispersal is a critical challenge. Big-league missiles are resource-intensive, nukes are resource-intensive, one isn't much good without the other, and a long row of technical hurdles separates the test stand nuke from the missile warhead. [Meanings of "weaponize" and "deliver" diverge dramatically in general versus terrorist applications.]
Can he test them prior to delivery? Not strictly required, but highly advisable. Most WMD make people mad even faster than they make people dead. Any WMD launch is a high-risk proposition, even riskier if you don't know it works ... and you don't with home-brew, even with best-effort copies of proven designs. State actors have a definite edge over rogues and stateless actors in the testing department.
What are his Ambitions?
Is the actor hostile? Maybe not ... but he can learn. Amities and enmities are even more mutable than national boundaries and identities. Whole regimes -- and subordinate chains of command -- can change in a heartbeat. Remote, obscure developments can drag friendly powers abruptly into conflict. Misunderstandings occur, mistakes are made, accidents happen, leaders miscalculate, counterplay escalates, bluffs are called, events overtake us. Hostile attitude elevates the risk that ordinary mishap will escalate to hostile action, and it sometimes predicts coalition structure, but it's at best a rapidly decaying intermediate-term predictor. (Both Saddam and Osama have realigned repeatedly.)
Can he use WMD to advantage? Usually not. The stronger party prevails without WMD. The weaker party fears retaliation. Most 20th-century WMD were held for deterrence and defense, and almost never used. Non-state actors are less sensitive to retaliation, more likely to miscalculate, and may inflict damage as a mission per se (rather than a side effect of a means to an end) -- but most terrorists serve political agendas that are poorly served by indiscriminate destruction.
Are WMD his preferred implements? He might be reluctant to bet the ranch on his technology and his chain of command, against our countermeasures and intelligence capabilities. He might prefer a series of bargaining games to a single-elimination shootout. He might envision more effective ways -- economic sabotage, etc. -- to inflict consequential damage. Mass destruction alienates allies and trading partners, who may be vital to his larger agenda.
Is the US his preferred target? He may identify higher priorities, more opportune targets, more troublesome immediate adversaries. He might very well reserve his options, anticipating unspecified emergent priorities in the indefinite future.
What are Saddam's capabilities?
Saddam finds Xtreme weapons fascinating. If you want to crack his inner circle, approach him with "mad science" schematics for an antigravity beam or a weather machine. Much of his portfolio is junk ... incompetent knock-off's of purloined plans, outlandish schemes sold by cranks and hustlers, useless production runs by bureaucrats trying to make quota. Several technically sound projects have been disrupted by discovery. We should assume some of the others are deliberately mounted as intelligence decoys.
Saddam's labs have all the popular recipes. He has sponsored research in all four classic WMD quadrants, though dirty bomb efforts appear extremely limited (as Doomsday weapons, they leave a lot to be desired).
Saddam has produced substantial stocks of BW and CW ingredients (though nothing to rival US or Russian stocks), and has made multiple attempts to produce or procure weapons-grade fissile materials. He likes playing hide-and-seek, he's good at it, and it's fair to assume he still has some of the goods. Case by case, however, it's also conceivable he does not have them.
Much has been destroyed under uncontrolled conditions -- battlefield capture, destruction under aerial bombardment, or casual disposal. [US is uniquely fastidious in WMD disposal, under legal pressure from enviro's. Lots of folks just landfill 'em, burn 'em or dump 'em at sea.] US DOD racks up billions in inventory discrepancies, and we haven't lost staff and records centers under precision bombing. Many intel estimates net out finished goods based on presumed input stocks, presumed production yields and presumed degradation rates. Subordinates might divert assets for their own reasons. And Saddam might encourage deliberate ambiguity to keep potential adversaries' uncertainties up in the yellow zone.Weaponization is a mixed bag. Iraqi and imported researchers have advanced the state of the art in some areas, e.g., particulates, but other results are primitive or incompetent, and some are downright head-scratchers ... either he knows a whole lot more than we do, or a whole lot less, or somebody's pulling his leg.
Delivery is Saddam's weak suit. Iraq isn't much of a force on land, sea or air. Iraq probably never developed effective CW, BW or nuclear warhead designs. For whatever reason, Iraqi rocket scientists aren't exactly rocket scientists. (We'll take up delivery considerations in greater detail under each WMD category.)
All intelligence detail on Saddam's holdings must be taken with a grain of salt. Saddam leaks disinformation, opposing factions invent horror stories, defectors reel out lines of bull in exchange for sponsorship, and US "war entrepreneurs" grasp at straws and scurry them past the usual screens and filters of prudent assessment.
On the whole, Saddam retains an active interest in WMD technology -- greater than that of his near neighbors (possibly excepting Iran). He has taken a scattergun development approach ... initiating more projects and maturing fewer than would be in his best interest. Recent progress and current holdings are uncertain. To the extent his holdings have been reduced, he could reconstitute them on short notice.
What are Saddam's ambitions?
Saddam is situationally hostile to US, not inherently hostile (as per current myth). His major beef is our intent to destroy him ... declared (with intermittent equivocation) for more than a decade, after cultivating him as a regional ally for more than two decades prior. He retains an evident grudge against George H. W. Bush and family. Other than that, he's no more hostile than the average of his immediate neighbors. He properly anticipates that US might revert to form -- courting, coopting, aiding and abetting him -- under different circumstances.
The popular profile of Saddam as territorially ambitious is a bit of a stretch, extrapolated from two incidents over 35 years (again, not atypical for his neighborhood).
First was an opportunistic incursion to resolve long-unsettled boundary issues with Iran. This backfired, escalating into a war which threatening Iraq's very existence. Iraq enjoyed US support in this conflict, while Iran enjoyed minor covert US support (Iran-Contra arms trading). Second was the annexation of Kuwait ... a more serious case of unforced aggression, a serious miscalculation, but not entirely without provocation. Saddam may have believed (or persuaded himself) he had a US green light for this adventure.Saddam appears to value WMD primarily for the same reasons most of us do -- deterrence and defense, especially in light of Iran's 1980s "human wave" attacks -- but we should consider other possibilities.
"Going out with a bang". Saddam unleashes horrific, pointless destruction at the end of a losing battle. No way to know whether he'd do this, or whether subordinates would comply.If developed to maturity, Saddam's WMD programs would give him substantial deterrent capability. No scenario gives him a fighting chance to initiate aggression, and almost all of them hasten his demise ... but we cannot precisely calculate his propensity to miscalculate.
Interim summary: Saddam possesses, or is close to possessing, or can readily reconstitute, a variety of WMD assets. He has few, if any, advantageous offensive uses for them. He may or may not realize that. Many other potential actors have similar capabilities -- some in less advanced stages of development -- and similar prospects.
In subsequent segments, we'll survey each category of WMD ... and reinforce the premise "what Saddam has probably won't hurt us, and what hurts us probably won't come from Saddam".
Saturday, February 01, 2003
--- So Light a Candle, and Lift a Glass ... ---Recite Kirtan, Kaddish, and Mass
Our best in class, brief shooting stars
They reached so high, and fell so hard
The arc of hope, the searing blast
"we interrupt this telecast ..."
The silent prayer, the lines gone slack
The empty chair, the marble plaque
From dust ... to dust and ash and gas
But surely this torch, too, shall pass