Examination of Witness (Questions 211-219)|
18 JUNE 2003
Q211 Chairman: We continue our inquiry
into the Decision to go to War in Iraq. We welcome Dr Inch. Dr
Inch, as a Committee we look to you for specialist advice on the
scientific aspects of our inquiry, helping us to pose the correct
questions on matters of science. We ask you to draw on your wide
experience in this area. For the record, I should say that you
were employed by our Ministry of Defence from 1965 to 1985 at
Porton Down. Latterly you were Deputy Chief Scientific Officer
with responsibility for all the basic chemical defence research.
Before attending the Royal College of Defence Studies in 1985,
you were, for a time, Deputy Director of Porton Down. You joined
BP in 1986 where you were Vice President, responsible for BP's
research and technology in the USA from 1990 to 1993. From 1993
until 2000 you were Secretary-General and Chief Executive of the
Royal Society for Chemistry. There will be a number of technical
questions that the Committee will pose to you. We know from your
experience that your answers will be extremely valuable. Dr Inch,
I have first a general question. The inspectors were absent from
Iraq between 1998 until 2002. The assumption in the Government's
paper is that during that time the regime continued to work on
its programmes of prohibited weapons of mass destruction and missile
programmes in violation of a whole raft of UN Security Council
resolutions from the end of the Gulf War. How credible, from your
experience, is that?
Dr Inch: Can I give a kind of
disclaimer at the start? I have had no direct links with Porton
or the intelligence community for about 15 years. So everything
that I say is kind of public record material and common sense
deduction. It is not quite true that I have not spoken to some
of the people at Porton because I am still involved in the Royal
Society working party on decontamination and detection in regard
to anti-terrorist issues. As chairman of the advisory committee
to the National Authority on the Chemical Weapons Convention,
I deal, from time to time, with chemical weapons convention issues.
But I have no direct links in terms of the intelligence on the
Q212 Chairman: That is the disclaimer?
Dr Inch: That is the disclaimer.
I think you have to take the information in the dossier very much
with a pinch of salt. The intelligence behind the dossier may
be quite good, but I think that my interpretation of what is written
raises more questions than answers. In many general terms that
reflects some of the problems of making good technical assessments
of the bits and pieces of intelligence information that comes
your way. Sometimes the scientific community is in agreement with
the intelligence community; and sometimes the scientific community
disagrees strongly with the intelligence community's assessments.
Perhaps I can give two historical examples as it is important
to understand this. In the early 1970s the US intelligence community
reported that there had been an accident in Sverdlovsk in Russia
and that there had been an accidental release of anthrax from
which many people had died. At that time in the US the chief scientific
adviser was not convinced by the intelligence information; he
did not think that it all held together. The signs and the symptoms
did not fit the intelligence report. After the Iron Curtain came
down that same person went to Sverdlovsk and was able to make
a thorough interpretation. The scientific community had missed
one or two important facts and the intelligence community was
absolutely right. The total picture that emerged post-event was
very convincing. That is one plus to the intelligence community.
Rolling on to the early 1980s, the US intelligence community claimed
that a new form of toxic materialT2 toxinwas being
used in Laos and Cambodia which was subsequently dubbed "yellow
rain". The American intelligence community went public at
that time, and the information reached the Secretary of State
and the President of the United States who went public on that
information. Subsequently there was enormous pressure on our intelligence
community to support the arguments. In this country our scientific
community was never convinced; nothing really held together; the
materials in question were insufficiently toxic; and there was
a whole raft of other information that just did not fit. Eventually
it was proven to our satisfaction that yellow rain was simply
the droppings from flocks of bees. That is a big negative for
the US intelligence community who, in my view, made in their interpretation
a whole range of fundamental errors in not carrying out the proper
checks and studies. When you apply those two lessons, there are
signs of dilemma and you have to look at some of the statements
in the dossier to see whether you can make sense of them. The
short answer is that I do not know that you will be able to unless
you have the right raw data from which to make some kind of an
assessment. I can give you some pointers from the report of the
kind of things that worry me as I look through some of the reported
statements in it.
Q213 Chairman: Please do.
Dr Inch: On page 18 of the report
at paragraph 3 it says that the intelligence suggests that: "These
stocks would enable Iraq to produce significant quantities of
mustard gas within weeks and of nerve agent within months".
From a technical perspective I find it very difficult to understand
unless the intelligence was very firm, very clear and very precise
why it should be possible to make mustard gas within weeks but
it would take months to make nerve agents. If you have the facilities
in place, the previous knowledge and so on, and the plants available,
it does not seem to me that it takes more time to make one than
the other. The question is: how good was the intelligence? That
would be the kind of question that I would wish to probe to find
out whether it was hard or soft material that we are looking at.
There are other examples.
Q214 Chairman: It may be helpful
to the Committee, if, having trawled through the dossier, you
were to give us a separate memorandum with your concerns as a
scientist about some of the matters that you find in the dossier.
Dr Inch: I can do that
Q215 Chairman: If there are one or
two startling examples you can give them now, but are you prepared
to do that?
Dr Inch: Yes, I would be very
happy to do that. There are some general matters on that point
in terms of questions about some of the technical claims within
Mr Olner: With regard to supplying that
further information, does Dr Inch know the deadline for our work?
Chairman: Yes, of course. Dr Inch, we
are conducting a rather speedy inquiry, so our clerk will give
you the deadline.
Q216 Mr Chidgey: Dr Inch, it falls
to me to examine this area of chemical and biological issues with
you, mainly because I am the only Member of the Committee with
anything approaching an applied scientific background. To quote
Newton, the more I know the more I know how little I know. I am
hoping that you can help us a little on this. In this series of
question that I am going to ask you I shall be trying to get you
to explain to us how readily you can convert, for example, from
an industrial processthe processing of the basic ingredients
that go into chemical and biological weaponsto military
objectives to create weaponised material. I am quite deliberately
using general terms so that you can be more specific. On the back
of that, one of the issues that exercises me is just how stable
is the weaponised material? How readily can it be stored, transported
and placed within warheads and how difficult would it be to detect
those processes? There is the change from industrial to military
use, the creation of weapons material, transporting it, making
it ready for use, all those kind of technical, challenging issues
for the scientists and engineers, which for a layman are probably
a complete maze. Clearly the telltale signs behind all this are
essential in trying to gauge the accuracy of the information that
is being presented to us in a political format.
Dr Inch: First, I shall comment
on the stability. Some chemicals are obviously more stable than
others. There are problems, mainly with something like VX, but
the other materials are fairly stable and I would have thought
that they would have been stored and stabilised in adequate conditions.
That is not a problem.
Q217 Mr Chidgey: What would those
Dr Inch: To illustrate the point,
the two countries with the big weapons stocks are the US and the
old Soviet Union. Under the chemical weapons convention both countries
are committed to destroying those stocks. It is going much more
slowly than anticipated because of safety concerns. It will be
10 or 12 years before those stocks can be destroyed. Clearly,
there is no real problem with the stability of them. They will
not be in the same high quality as when they started, but they
will still be very effective weapons stocks. That is the situation,
I think, with anything held in Iraq.
Q218 Mr Chidgey: How easy would it
be to be absolutely sure that the storage facility was precisely
the facility for chemical or biological weapons? Could it readily
be mistaken or disguised as something else?
Dr Inch: You asked about production
as well and how easy it is to transfer from a civil to a military
use. In recent years there has been a major change in manufacturing
technology in the chemical industry. One still has the enormous
petrochemical type complexes which are very dedicated to making
one material by continuous procedure. But the pharmaceutical industry,
for example, which also makes highly potent compounds, is in the
mode of just-in-time synthesis. They make a few tonnes of material
and then quickly move to something else. It is the same in a lot
of industries these days; the equipment is designed to be flexible
and used in a wide variety of ways. Once upon a time, when health
and safety concerns around the world were not very important,
one could probably detect a plant making a highly toxic material
by the extra safety precautions. In the modern world everything
is governed by very tight safety regulations and it becomes increasingly
difficult to judge whether a plant is making something that is
highly toxic or something that may just be toxic.
Q219 Mr Chidgey: Does that kind of
health and safety regime apply to Iraq?
Dr Inch: It is pretty general
industrial practice and the kind of equipment and so on is readily
available and may be bought. It is the kind of engineering practice
that gets into the culture. One could still go against that, but
the point I am making is that for many of the compounds involved
there would be no difficulty in switching from one form of manufacture
to another. Can I give you one other example because I think it
makes the point very clearly? Under the chemical weapons convention,
there are scheduled chemicals which are the highly toxic ones,
and there is another class of chemicals called discrete organic
chemicals which are also banned under the convention. The real
inspection regime for those materials is only now getting under
way. But I think that the OPCWinspectors
in The Hague believe that about 30% of the plants that they see
worldwide, making discrete organic chemicals for perfectly legal
purposes, have the capability to be modified very rapidly to make
chemical warfare agents.
1 Ninth Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee,
Session 2002-03, The Decision to go to War in Iraq, HC
813-II, Ev 2. Back
Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Back