Examination of Witness (Questions 220-239)|
18 JUNE 2003
Q220 Mr Chidgey: My question on that
particular point is whether, due to the way in which you describe
the situation, we should not talk about dual-use facilities, but
about multi-use processing facilities. In other words, the plants
that you describe could do any number of things one of which is
producing chemical weapons.
Dr Inch: One has to be a little
careful. Dual-use chemicals are things like phosgene or hydrogen
cyanide, in the kind of definitions that are highly toxic in their
own right and could be used as a chemical warfare agent, although
maybe not too effectively, whereas the facilitiesyou are
absolutely rightare multi-purpose facilities rather than
Q221 Mr Chidgey: Given that situation,
if you were in the position of trying to define whether or not
Iraq was operating a chemical weapons warfare programme and you
were presented with a site that was a pharmaceutical chemical
complex, what would you be looking for? Clearly the plant itself
is not sufficient evidence to say that it is definitely a processing
plant for chemical weapons.
Dr Inch: Personally, I would have
given as much attention to carrying out some environmental analysis
on the plant as I would to the facilities, given the situation
in Iraq. We read in the report that they have gone to great lengths
to hide things. I do not believe that you can hide the fact that
you had been making some toxic chemicals on that site. If a site
had been declared as a chemical weapons producing site, or if
the original inspectors at the end of the Gulf War knew it was
a site, you would not find out the information, but if there was
intelligence pointing to quite new production facilities that
were being denied as production facilities by the Iraqis, then
I believe that the trace analysis and so on of certain residues
would probably give confirmation of whether or not that was a
Q222 Mr Chidgey: On that basis, what
is your view of the assessment that Iraq was continuing to produce
chemical and biological weapons after the inspectors left in 1998?
Dr Inch: I have to say that I
have no view. I do not think that there is any compelling evidence
to say that they did, but again there is no compelling evidence
to say that they did not. You really need to make a close inspection
of the data available.
Q223 Mr Chidgey: Do you have a view
on the assessment that Iraq had a usable chemical and biological
weapons capability in breach of UN Security Council resolutions,
which has included the recent production of chemical and biological
Dr Inch: I have no view. I think
you really need to judge the data. There are some other statements
on the dual-use facilities. It says: "New chemical facilities
have been built, some with illegal foreign assistance". Again,
that is talking about the import of precursors and so on. I would
have thought that that evidence needed to be pretty hard if it
exists, and it should be quite clear. Under the various UN embargoes
and under the chemical weapons convention now signed by over 150
countries and under the terms of the Australia group regulations,
which is the western group which embargoes supplies of materials
and products, Iraq would definitely be a "no go" area
for any of those materials from any respecting western government.
Under the convention it is the responsibility of national governments
to ensure that there are no exports to places like Iraq. Otherwise
the treaties and so on are not being properly implemented.
Q224 Mr Chidgey: Dr Inch, if you
could attach to the note that you are going to give us on the
dossier the specific questions to which we should seek answers
in regard to this matter it would be very helpful.
Dr Inch: I shall try to do that
Q225 Sir John Stanley: We are in
some difficulty because we are taking a great deal of evidence
the rest of today and again tomorrow. Your subsequent paper will
be of great interest to us. Could you help us with some pointers?
At the outset you said that there were some specific points where
you felt that the Government's assessment should be treated with
a pinch of salt.
Dr Inch: Yes.
Q226 Sir John Stanley: On the one
example that you gave us in paragraph 3 on page 18, if I understood
what you said correctly, you were saying that the Government were
probably under-estimating the degree of threat rather than over-estimating
it because from what you said you were suggesting that not only
could the mustard gas be produced within weeks but that the nerve
agent could as well. Did I understand you correctly? Is that what
you were saying to us?
Dr Inch: I was not making any
comment on that. What I was saying was that I would have thought
that to be able to make that kind of statement in terms of weeks
for mustard gas and months for nerve agents, that there must have
been some pretty good intelligence that suggested where and how
those two time scales were going to differ. That would be a question
that I would want to ask: how good was that?
Q227 Sir John Stanley: Can you point
out to us the particular paragraphs and points in the paper where
you felt the comment should be treated with a pinch of salt?
Dr Inch: It was in those general
terms really. It is probably easier to do it in writing, but I
found that there were too many weasel-words in the report, as
I read it. They could do this or they might do that and so on,
rather than saying that the evidence was hard. That was some of
the concern that I had.
Q228 Sir John Stanley: Perhaps I
can follow on the point that Mr Chidgey was making. As you know,
the Prime Minister, in the final debate that we had in the House
on 18 March before we went to war in Iraq, set out very clearly
the Government's view as to the scale of the potential CW, BW
stocks that may still be in Iraq. Just for the record, the Prime
Minister said in col. 762: "When the inspectors left in 1998,
they left unaccounted for 10,000 litres of anthrax; a far-reaching
VX nerve agent programme; up to 6,500 chemical munitions; at least
80 tonnes of mustard gas, and possibly more than 10 times that
amount; unquantifiable amounts of sarin, botulinum toxin and a
host of other biological poisons; and an entire Scud missile programme".
Against the scale of those stocksthe implication behind
that was that much of that was unaccounted for and might therefore
still be around in Iraqand from your scientific standpoint,
are you mystified, as certainly those of us who are not scientists
are, that after this length of time after the war, in the post-war
period with the access that we have now had to the Iraqi scientists,
and after large numbers of the people on the 50 most wanted list
are now under interrogation, that we have still been able to turn
up virtually nothing?
Dr Inch: I am totally confused
by this intelligence, particularly about the missile stocks and
so on. It is very difficult to see where it has all gone in such
a short space of time, particularly when such movements, I would
have thought, would have been monitored by our total air superiority.
You cannot move that amount of weaponry around without seeing
it, I would not have thought. The chemical basis is a different
matter. There are even problems in interpreting the reasons for
some of the chemical stocks. It is difficult to be certain of
what the situation was there. For example, if you take the aflatoxins,
which are signalled up strongly in the report, they are potent
carcinogens and not particularly toxic and they were in dilute
solutions, gas. It is given in litres rather than in solid form.
It is difficult for me as a scientist to think why anyone would
want to use aflatoxins as a chemical weapon. If you have a slow
carcinogen and were to use it on people who may have a nuclear
capability, and you want to trigger a nuclear response that is
the kind of chemical to use. When you have something that is slow
acting, you only have to think of the possibility of using something
like that that has insidious slow effects on the civil population
to see what a country like Israel might think of that.
Q229 Sir John Stanley: Do you have
any view as a scientist that these stocks are largely unaccounted
for? Would it be relatively easy to hide them in some incredibly
clever way so that we would be unable to unearth them? Presumably
if they are to be hidden, there must be substantial numbers of
people who must be involved in the hiding operation, so can you
give any explanation as to why we cannot trace where they are?
Dr Inch: None at all. Handling
this amount of material is not a trivial exercise. If you are
trying to move it around quickly, I would find it difficult to
conceive that some accidents did not occur in the process and
you would not have had some kind of civil report of deaths from
poisoning. That is extraordinary to me.
Q230 Sir John Stanley: Does it suggest
to you that the scale of stocks may not have been anything like
the scale as reported in the assessment?
Dr Inch: That is one conclusion.
You have to ask how good is the housekeeping, and how good is
the record keeping in the first place. I do not really know enough
about the way that the Iraqis function, but you may remember the
time we had major problems with our nuclear housekeeping. It may
be 30 years ago now, but I remember that there were problems trying
to make all our numbers add up and that is a much more sensitive
Q231 Mr Illsley: Dr Inch, I have
two questions. The first is that a few minutes ago you referred
to the telltale signs after perhaps chemicals had been removed
from a facility and that you would look at the environment of
that facility to see whether production had been carried on there
at any point. How long would that trace remain after the production
had finished? Is there a timescale that can be measured in months
Dr Inch: It depends on the facility
and the atmospheric conditions and whether there was moisture
and so on. If it is in a plant, in a building, I think you would
find traces for a very long period afterwards. Our analytical
methods now are so sensitive that it is difficult not to find
some kind of traces that would give some indication.
Q232 Mr Illsley: Do you have any
knowledge of the quality of the scientific community in Iraq in
terms of their capability of producing chemical and biological
weapons, and perhaps even nuclear weapons? I ask that question
because one or two reports were received and logged in this country
of mobile weapons facilities. Recently in the press the scientific
community in this country now are beginning to think that the
mobile weapons facilities were simply tankers to produce hydrogen
for barrage balloons, which does not suggest the top quality weapons
that we might have been led to believe were in Iraq if they are
still producing vehicles to produce hydrogen for barrage balloons.
Does the Iraqi community lag behind in terms of its expertise
or do they have the capability to produce these weapons?
Dr Inch: They certainly have the
capability to produce the weapons by conventional methods. Whether
they have the technology to think in terms of mobile laboratories
is a different matter. Last year, at this time, in preparation
for the chemical weapons convention review conference, I was one
of the co-ordinators at the conference in Bergen that actually
looked at new synthetic technologies for chemical weapons. The
idea was that other developing technologies may mean that anyone
wanting to break out of the chemical weapons convention could
get away with it undetected, so we looked critically at a whole
range of techniques such as solid phase synthesis, combatorial
chemistry and nanotechnology devices of one kind and another.
The conclusion was that it was all possible, but it required a
lot more work and the answer was probably not yet. If that was
the kind of conclusion from the developed, western nations in
terms of the state of technology, then it is pretty unlikely that
anyone in the hierarchy could do it better than was already possible
elsewhere. So in terms of the mobile situation for chemicals,
I find it very unlikely. I am not sufficiently familiar with the
biologicals although I realise and read that there has been great
doubt, as you say, about those procedures too.
Q233 Mr Illsley: One of the theories
put forward is that perhaps some of the WMD production facilities
and the weapons themselves might have been loaded into railway
carriages and/or lorries and transported into another country.
Would they have the technology to do that as well? Could they
just load the stuff up and transport it across the border in a
train or in a lorry?
Dr Inch: I think that is possible.
Q234 Chairman: You mentioned the
state of technology. Can you also comment on the quality of housekeeping
in Iraq and the general reputation for Iraq in that field? Are
they particularly conscious of health and safety?
Dr Inch: I could not answer that
question. I have no knowledge of that. If you ask that question
about Iran, I have better contacts. I am pretty sure that they
are as good as we are and that they are getting as good as we
are now at housekeeping. That is another issue, but on Iraq, no.
Q235 Mr Olner: Do you think it would
be fair to say that because chemical weapons have been used by
Saddam Hussein on Iran and on his own Kurdish population, and
seeing that they have not signed the chemical weapons convention,
that he was still pursuing acquiring chemical weapons and biological
Dr Inch: I really have no knowledge
of that. It has always been of enormous advantage to him to create
the impression that he was. Some people think that chemical weapons
are more of a kind of bugbear on the battlefield than they are
a weapon of mass destruction. The fact that someone thinks you
have biological and chemical weapons means that any forces opposing
you have to take all the necessary precautions. They have to wear
the protective clothing; they have to have all the injections
and suffer Gulf War syndrome and the rest of it. To force any
potential opposition into that kind of posture has to be an advantage
to anyone. If you go back to the Second World War, Sir Winston
Churchill took strong steps to stop the Germans from using chemical
weapons by pretending that we had things that we could return
in kind, whereas that may not have been very true. At times there
is a powerful argument for making people think that you have something
that you do not have.
Q236 Mr Olner: And you suffer the
consequences, of course, if people think you have them and take
Dr Inch: That is right.
Q237 Mr Olner: In some respects,
Dr Inch: Yes.
Q238 Mr Olner: On a technical point,
how possible is it for chemical weapons or biological weapons
production facilities to be maintained without detection? Chemical
plants are very easy to see. How small can they be and how easily
can they remain undetected?
Dr Inch: You can make chemical
weapons in the garden shed if you wish.
Q239 Mr Olner: So you are saying
that there is no possible way that we could easily detect that
these were being produced?
Dr Inch: No, not on that kind
of scale. That kind of scenario, of course, is always attractive
to a terrorist organisation, but in terms of a state waging war,
the quantities that you would make would be totally useless.
3 Ninth Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee,
Session 2002-03, The Decision to go to War in Iraq, HC
813-II, Ev 2. Back