Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witness (Questions 240-259)

DR THOMAS DAVID INCH, OBE

18 JUNE 2003

  Q240  Mr Olner: Who do you think would know how safety conscious the Iraqis were? I believe that they would take enormous risks, because life is so cheap, to move those things about which we would not even contemplate.

  Dr Inch: The UNSCOM inspectors must have a very good idea from what they saw previously as to what kind of safety precautions were taken. The safety status within the Iraqi production plants and laboratories and so on, must be very well documented.

  Q241  Chairman: Our next witness is a former UNSCOM inspector.

  Dr Inch: It must be very well documented.

  Q242  Mr Maples: We and the public have been surprised that we have not found any of this stuff in Iraq. The numbers sound very big. I am just looking at the report again. It mentions 8,500 litres of anthrax, for instance. I have been doing the arithmetic in my head and that is not a very large volume of anthrax, only about 300 cubic feet or so. Are we talking about huge quantities of the stuff?

  Dr Inch: No.

  Q243  Mr Maples: If you split that 8,500 litres of anthrax into about half a dozen places, it would be very difficult to find.

  Dr Inch: If my memory serves me correctly, in China there are something like 3 million chemical rounds left over from wars in days gone by that they are still trying to clear up. There are some big stocks around. So in those terms it is pretty small numbers.

  Q244  Mr Maples: So they would be difficult to find?

  Dr Inch: Yes. There are not big stocks. The point has been made around this room that with all the human intelligence now available, someone ought to be pointing the finger in the right direction.

  Q245  Mr Maples: Without someone pointing their finger in the right direction it would be quite tricky?

  Dr Inch: It would be quite tricky.

  Q246  Mr Maples: On biological as opposed to chemical weapons, to maintain the production facility and a sample of the toxin that you want to grow or to culture, do you need to store it in large quantities? Or are manufacturing times quite short once you have decided to go ahead, and therefore all you really need to do is to maintain a production facility and a sample of whatever it is you want to grow.

  Dr Inch: Apart from anthrax, most of the other biological agents they talk about are actually chemicals; they are toxins produced by biological species. Ricin is from the castor oil bean; the aflatoxins are fungal products—botulinum toxins and so on—and have to be treated like a chemical; they do not cause a disease but they kill you like a poison; they create a fever or something. They are really just chemicals by any other name.

  Q247  Mr Maples: It is a manufacturing process?

  Dr Inch: It is a manufacturing process.

  Q248  Mr Maples: Whereas with anthrax you actually grow the culture?

  Dr Inch: That is right and produce spores which is much more lethal. The ricin is a particularly interesting one as we have had a case in this country. It is isolated from the castor oil bean. The normal method of isolation, because of heat treatment, destroys the toxin during the process, so you have to adopt a slightly different extraction process to get the ricin out. The problem with ricin at the end of the day is that it is a powder which is not easy to disseminate. Western countries that evaluated ricin during or at the end of the Second World War lost interest in it because of the difficulty of spreading it about. Those are some of the problems; why bother when you have mustard gas and nerve agents?

  Q249  Mr Maples: The only one of Iraq's weapons that is discussed in this paper which is genuinely a biological weapon in the sense of creating a disease which is spread is anthrax?

  Dr Inch: Anthrax.

  Q250  Mr Hamilton: Dr Inch, earlier you said that you were surprised that there were no accidents in Iraq or no reports of any accidents when chemicals were being moved around. Is it such a surprise in a dictatorship where there is no free press that no reports were made public? It could be that there were accidents and that people were killed. Would you necessarily have known about it in a country like Iraq?

  Dr Inch: No. That may be some of the information that is in the raw intelligence data which would be good supportive material.

  Q251  Mr Hamilton: The intelligence services would know only if someone had told them. Presumably if someone was so disgusted by the death and destruction caused by the accident they may tell one of the western intelligence agencies. If that did not happen, how would we know? We would have had no surveillance.

  Dr Inch: That is quite right, but as I read the dossier, there is information in there that tells us what Saddam was thinking and what he planned to do. That could have come only from intelligence sources, somebody telling the intelligence agencies that that was what was happening. If one were receiving that kind of information from within Iraq, one would expect to see within the documentation other similar information about some of the more practical details.

  Q252  Mr Hamilton: Do you draw the conclusion from the fact that there were no intelligence reports, as far as you know—I accept that you were not party to those but none have come through to us of any accidents being concealed or otherwise—that the chemicals were not there in the first place?

  Dr Inch: No, I am not drawing any conclusions. I am just saying that one would have expected to see something.

  Q253  Mr Hamilton: Some of my colleagues have explored arguments about concealment, quantities and toxicity. I want to be clear in my own mind about the kind of quantities of chemical agents that are necessary. Obviously, it will vary depending on the agent itself, compared with the quantity necessary versus the toxicity. It is quite important. As my colleague John Maples was saying, if you can conceal a small amount of chemical agent in a very small place, but it has huge toxicity and can kill a lot of people, could that go some way towards explaining why we cannot find these agents.

  Dr Inch: For battlefield use, for loading up into the missile systems you really need many tonnes of any particular chemical agent, irrespective of how toxic it is. You really have a major problem of dissemination and in the modern battlefield you have to get quantities down quite quickly against a protected force if you are to cause great damage. It is a different matter if you are attacking the civil population that is not protected, in which case a smaller amount would have an enormous effect. If the planning is for military use then large amounts of material are required. Of course, when he was poisoning his own people, much smaller amounts of material could be used and used effectively.

  Q254  Mr Chidgey: You say many tonnes, but can you give us a figure? Is it thousands of tonnes?

  Dr Inch: I think it is many hundreds of tonnes, if you are going to wage warfare against a military group with chemicals. If you are attacking a civil population, a few tonnes can do an awful lot of damage.

  Q255  Mr Hamilton: Would you be prepared to make any guess as to why Saddam—I appreciate you do not know his mind but he may have been prepared—did not use chemical or biological agents in the invasion in March and April?

  Dr Inch: I do not know what his tactics were. I have no idea. He did not use them in the Gulf War either.

  Q256  Mr Hamilton: Could it have something to do with the difficulty of deployment, as you have just described?

  Dr Inch: I do not know. At the time of the Gulf War, quite clearly he had quite large amounts of material. He did not deploy it then.

  Q257  Mr Illsley: You were talking about chemical weapons when you said he never deployed them in the Gulf War?

  Dr Inch: Yes.

  Q258  Mr Illsley: The reason I ask that is that yesterday we heard evidence that tended to suggest that chemical weapons were deployed, but never used.

  Dr Inch: That is what I meant. I am sorry if I said deployed. He did not use them in the Gulf war. They were available for use; and we know he had them for use because we destroyed a lot of them afterwards.

  Q259  Mr Pope: Dr Inch, the most likely chemical weapons that Iraq had were presumably like mustard gas, phosgene and nerve agents. How quickly can they be deployed? What is the time frame from making a decision to use them to firing? The reason I ask is that the dossier refers to 45 minutes several times. That seems to me to be a really short time frame to deploy what must be a fairly complicated weapon. I do not know what the procedures are. How quickly can it be done?

  Dr Inch: I do not know what the military procedures are. If you have your shells, bombs or missiles filled with chemical and they are ready for release, it does not seem to me to make any difference whether it is a chemical weapon or conventional artillery. It is ready to be fired.


 
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