Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 260-279)


18 JUNE 2003

  Q260  Mr Pope: I worked on the basis that the missiles and the chemical agents that could be deployed within the missile would generally be kept separately and that it is not safe to keep them together. Therefore, there needs to be a technical procedure to insert the chemical agent into the missile and that takes a while.

  Dr Inch: It depends on the weapon system. To illustrate the point, one of the major problems on the disarmament side is how long it takes to demilitarise and to destroy chemicals already loaded into bombs and other weapons. You need special facilities to handle the bomb or the shell. You have to drain it, clean out the chemical and destroy the chemical before you destroy the rest of the weapon. It is much more difficult to destroy chemical-filled weapons than it is for chemicals. A lot of chemicals are stored in the weapon system to be used or they have been in the past.

  Q261  Mr Pope: What is the easiest way of deploying chemical weapons? Is it by dropping a bomb from an aeroplane? Is it by firing a missile such as a Scud, or would it be by a small battlefield weapon like a mortar shell, or spraying? What is the most common way of doing that?

  Dr Inch: It is horses for courses. When the Cold War was on most of our worst-case evaluation was on the basis that the Russians would use a multi-barrel rocket, which is effectively mortar shells in a multi-barrel situation. Most of the worst-case planning was about how much chemical could be put down by using multi-barrel rockets. That is probably the most effective.

  Q262  Mr Pope: One of the things we know about the Iraqi regime is that it had many of those rocket-type launchers. Going back to the 45 minutes, the dossier makes quite a lot of play about that. When I read the dossier the first time I thought that the idea that these kinds of chemical weapons can be deployed within less than an hour was extraordinarily worrying. Do you think that the Government overplayed that or do you think it was a reasonable assessment?

  Dr Inch: I do not understand why it was put in. I cannot see the significance of it other than saying that it is a terrible situation. If you are at war, all weapons have to be deployable fairly quickly—unless they were suggesting at that stage that the chemicals were stored way back and that they had to be brought up.

  Q263  Mr Pope: I think part of the reason why they put it in was because they were alleging a variety of matters. They were alleging that Saddam was developing a missile system that could reach our sovereign bases in Cyprus; they were alleging that he was a threat to his neighbours; they were alleging that he would be a threat to any allied forces that entered the region. The worry was that he could deploy those terrible weapons really quickly and there is not a long lead-in time. That is the politics and that is why they put in the claim that they could be deployed quickly. I want to get to the bottom of whether that is a reasonable thesis to put forward. Was it accurate to say that they could be deployed in that way?

  Dr Inch: One of the pointers about the report is that one really needs to see the raw data that generated that claim. What was the true basis for saying 45 minutes? Is there some significance to that statement that most of us failed to appreciate at this time?

  Q264  Chairman: The Government appear to have qualified the 45 minutes by saying "from the time of the order". One interpretation of that is wholly meaningless because the order would be given only at the point when the delivery system was ready.

  Dr Inch: Yes.

  Q265  Chairman: What significance do you attach to the addition of the words "from the time of the order"?

  Dr Inch: I am afraid that I cannot say any more. I am just totally baffled by why it should be there. That is why I say again that one has to probe the raw data much more carefully to find out why it was there and what the significance was and what the military thinking behind it was.

  Q266  Chairman: If it is meaningless, clearly the insertion of it could only cause confusion and lead to an impression of an imminent threat which may not be there.

  Dr Inch: That is the only conclusion one can reach.

  Q267  Andrew Mackinlay: In the great debate about the justification for the conflict, do you think that too much emphasis has been placed on ready-to-use weapons and not enough on the industrial infrastructure, the skills that existed and were available and were being exercised in pursuit of these weapons?

  Dr Inch: I think we tend to forget at times, particularly when one looks at the dual-use chemicals and the kind of infrastructure, how critically dependent all societies are on the chemicals that we use, in our homes, in all our materials—everything is chemical. Of course, Iraq was a fairly sophisticated society with reasonable demands. With a petrochemical industry one would expect them to have a reasonably sophisticated chemical industry capable of producing many of these things. Many of the compounds concerned are not themselves petrochemical in origin, but are used to convert petrochemicals into other products.

  Q268  Andrew Mackinlay: What you say is correct, unfortunately. It seems to me that we will have a great problem looking ahead to other despots. If we are trying to frustrate proliferation, for ever and a day we shall have increasing problems as regards dual use. States will claim a legitimate need to have them for the well being of their peoples and the development of their commerce and industry.

  Dr Inch: That is absolutely right. That is why again under the chemical weapons convention there is an enormous drive to increase the inspection of discrete organic chemical facilities that I mentioned. There is something like 4,200 or 4,300 around the world and probably a lot more. So if 20 or 30% of those have the capability of being diverted to other things, you have a major inspection problem. That is one of the major concerns of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. How does one carry out worldwide effective inspection of those facilities, not necessarily because of states trying to break out of the convention, but because terrorists may try to subvert some of those activities?

  Andrew Mackinlay : Would it have been easy for the regime to have hidden their WMD capacity just prior to the opening of the conflict, to have destroyed it or to have spirited it away? The nature of these things cannot be seen from satellite or other surveillance techniques. Is that correct? Could their disposal or despatch to other locations or hiding them within the state be done fairly easily?

  Q269  Chairman: We are talking of a period of six months or so.

  Dr Inch: What surprises me most is the intelligence information that went into the compilation of the dossier, the ideas about the number of sites and particularly the suspect sites that were used for the production of chemicals. However, over the past few weeks, when the inspectors have been inspecting, they have not found substantial evidence in terms of traces of materials that would be manufactured on those sites. They may not have found the weapons, they may not have found the bulk materials, but I would have expected there to be some evidence of the presence at one time of some of the chemicals concerned. That is much more difficult to hide if one is carrying out the analysis in the right kind of way.

  Q270  Mr Olner: It may be small-scale manufacture.

  Dr Inch: Yes, small-scale manufacture too, if you know what the site is.

  Q271  Mr Olner: If by necessity it is small, it will be very difficult to find.

  Dr Inch: You have to sample in the right place.

  Q272  Andrew Mackinlay: It is possible that things have been discovered but for wider security interests they have not yet been disclosed because they are putting together a jigsaw puzzle and you want to corroborate what you are doing and find the trail.

  Dr Inch: That could be possible.

  Q273  Mr Chidgey: One issue that has become apparent in the post-war situation is a switch of emphasis to the importance of the interrogation of the scientists and engineers and so on involved in this programme, this delivery. Be that as it may, in that context, would it be absolutely standard practice for the administration in Iraq to have absolutely full records of what was being produced and where it was going as a matter of course? I am trying to get at whether it would have been feasible for a chemical weapons and biological weapons programme to be in production without a full record of what was happening being kept and there being monitoring? It strikes me that it would be very unsafe not to have that.

  Dr Inch: There must be reasonable records. You have to know what you are making, where you are going to store it, whether it will go into the weapons, whether you are producing the warheads for it and so on. You have to have an overall plan. I do not know how else you would operate.

  Q274  Mr Chidgey: That would not just have been held centrally, I presume. Presumably the manufacturing plants and processing plants would have had their own records too.

  Dr Inch: They should have had their own records.

  Q275  Mr Chidgey: It would have been country-wide?

  Dr Inch: Yes.

  Q276  Andrew Mackinlay: I have two more questions. One flows from a previous point. Yesterday, the former Foreign Secretary put to us a rhetorical question. He said he could not understand why the UN weapons inspectors have not been allowed back, certainly into the United Kingdom jurisdiction in Iraq. Is it true that the function of the diligent United Nations weapons inspectors would be different from those who are trying to pursue a trail of seeking these weapons? Another legitimate reason for not allowing them back would be that their narrow remit would frustrate the detective agency, as it were—I forget the terminology of the group that is in there now, the survey group, whose functions are different—and they would impede the work of the survey group if the UN weapons inspectors diligently went about doing what was their narrow remit.

  Dr Inch: There are a number of areas here that trouble me. There is the problem of inspection post-event, the importance of understanding the industrial processes and whether or not they can be easily diverted. There is the problem of obtaining analytical data which is totally rigorous and indisputable. The people most experienced in that now are the inspectors who routinely carry out industrial inspections, the OPCW in The Hague. The United Nations groups under Hans Blix, was totally independent of that group and had a much wider remit. Now, the kind of special investigation teams are, I think, independent in both those groups. That is not to say that there is not some read-across and some collaboration—I do not know the detail—but it does raise a number of issues as to how you get, even at this stage, very authentic and authenticable information. There has been set up under the Chemical Weapons Convention a so-called group of designated labs. They are not easily maintained in terms of the quality of analysis they produce: 20 or 30 labs participate in the programme and only about a dozen at any one time are designated as being capable of doing a good job. Most are in Europe; one in Singapore, one in South Korea, one in China and one in the United States. None unfortunately in Arab countries, so there is no kind of read-across there. There is no clarity at the moment, even if samples were to be found in Iraq, that the products would be actually going to some of those independent labs for analysis. Maybe the situation is clearer now than it was, but it is still a little confused and not well planned.

  Q277  Andrew Mackinlay: If you were advising the British Prime Minister or President Bush as to how to pursue this as at this time, what vehicle, what grouping, what combination would you have been suggesting?

  Dr Inch: I would have certainly tried to involve some of those international teams who sit in The Hague and I would also want to make sure that, for any final analysis, it went to the independent labs around the world which are trained up for those purposes.

  Q278  Andrew Mackinlay: And you do not think it is happening at the present time?

  Dr Inch: I believe that the United Kingdom Government have pushed for some of those things to happen but whether that is happening I do not know.

  Q279  Mr Hamilton: Dr Inch, just very briefly to help my technical understanding. We have been talking about the delivery of chemical weapons on the battlefield. Can you just explain to me why those chemical weapons are not destroyed by the ordinance that is used to project them into the enemy territory.

  Dr Inch: That is part of the design of the material. Some of them are reasonably stable. That is all part of the design and there is not a problem there.

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