Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Mr Terence Taylor[5]

Examination of Witness (Questions 284-299)


18 JUNE 2003

  Q284  Chairman: Mr Taylor, we welcome you again. You gave evidence to our last inquiry on weapons of mass destruction. You are a member of the directing staff for the International Institute for Strategic Studies; you are the President and Executive Director of IISS in the United States; you have much experience in international security policy matters as a UK Government official, both military and diplomatic, and for the United Nations, both in the field and at UN Headquarters; perhaps very relevantly, you led UNSCOM inspection teams in Iraq in the 1990s, had military field operation experience and in the development and implementation of the policies; and you were also a career officer in the British Army. I think you heard the final part of Dr Inch's careful evidence in respect of the role of weapons inspectors. Can you set out what your role was in the old UNSCOM and to what extent that was changed with the UNMOVIC.

  Mr Taylor: It is a very interesting question. I was a chief inspector mainly employed for investigations into biological weapons and, for each of my missions, the detailed mission was given to me by the Executive Chairman and, for most of my time, that was Ambassador Rolf Ekeus who was in charge at that time. The missions were cleared in detail with him, for they varied in type. Some would be of the surprise inspection variety, some may be more routine in background investigation and others were destruction missions. I was involved in the destruction of the main biological weapons agent production site at al-Hakam.

  Q285  Chairman: I recall that the Foreign Secretary said that certainly your successors, UNMOVIC, were not meant to be detectives but were

  Mr Taylor: No, it is not different. Inspections will not make any progress without some co-operation from the Iraqi side—this was as true in 1990 as it was in 2002-03—so the onus was on Iraq to show and tell and not for the inspectors, to use Dr Blix's words, to play catch as catch can, but that is what we were doing for most of the 1990s, which is why it took four-and-a-half years of dedicated forensic investigation to find the evidence which forced the Iraqis to admit that they had a biological weapons programme. In other words, this was what is now called the "smoking gun".

  Q286  Chairman: You were actually ready to sign off Iraq in respect of its biological weapons programme until there was this major defection.

  Mr Taylor: That is not quite true. That is fundamentally untrue. Certainly after a number of years and a lot of effort by a lot of people of which I was just one, there was some wilting and thinking that perhaps we were not going to find anything. We were urged to keep going and, in March 1995, we had a breakthrough in that Iraq failed to account for 40 tonnes of growth media, which we knew they had imported. We knew the companies that had sent it to them, we had the transit documents and everything, so they could not deny that, in one year, they had imported 40 tonnes of growth media. This was far, far in excess, many, many times what Iraq would need for legitimate purposes.

  Q287  Chairman: Let me provide a platform for Mr Hamilton. Can you comment generally from your experience during the 1990s on the degree of co-operation UNMOVIC received from the regime.

  Mr Taylor: UNSCOM in the 1990s. It was very familiar to that which UNMOVIC received in 2002-03. Generally, on my inspections we were allowed access. There were some difficulties sometimes, but they were usually overcome through negotiations. So, generally speaking at least on my part, there were no limitations on the access; I could go more or less where I wanted. Of course, they had a comprehensive concealment plan. They also were monitoring our communications and also they had penetrated UNSCOM from New York right the way through to Baghdad. So, we had this challenge that we had to face. We knew this and so we had to try to deal with this situation and we had to be very creative about how we went about our inspections, in order of course to achieve surprise.

  Q288  Chairman: Were there allegations that UNMOVIC had been similarly compromised?

  Mr Taylor: I have no hard evidence that that was the case, but the Iraqis have a very good intelligence and security service and it would not surprise me that they would try, but I have no evidence that they tried this.

  Q289  Chairman: We have heard that one of the reasons why there was a reluctance initially to provide intelligence was the fear about the compromising of sources and the leakability of UNMOVIC.

  Mr Taylor: I think that is a reasonable fear; I think it has substance to it; and the experience of the 1990s showed that very graphically indeed. I think that governments, when handing over sensitive information and wanting to protect their sources, would have to take that into account. I think it would be very imprudent to just simply hand over information; it would have to be sanitised in some way. I have to say that I have not seen any evidence.

  Q290  Mr Hamilton: Mr Taylor, in your opinion, what significance do you think the Iraqi regime and Saddam Hussein himself of course attach to the development and retention of weapons of mass destruction during the 1990s after UNSCOM left Iraq in 1998 and immediately prior to the war and invasion in March of this year?

  Mr Taylor: There was certainly no evidence that they had given up these types of weapons as a strategic priority. I think that central for Saddam Hussein was a nuclear programme. High importance was also given to the biological and chemical weapons. Throughout the 1990s, they tried everything that you could conceive of to hide as much as they could and to give away as little as possible. Once the co-operation began to fade away in 1997, by 1998 inspections were not achieving very much at all and I am sure you will recall that the western military efforts were focused on the Balkans at that stage, so Saddam Hussein and the regime felt that they were not going to be threatened by substantial use of force, hence the co-operation faded away. So, they would retain their remaining capabilities. They had an objective of getting the inspectors out of the country. They were trying all sorts of means to do that. One can only conclude that one of the reasons for that was to retain their capabilities and, free of inspectors, it would be unwise to assume that they would stop doing what they were trying to do during the 1990s. We have to recall that, even when inspectors were there, they were, for example, caught importing missile parts. I had the galling experience of going to al-Hakam while they were continuing to build their biological weapons facilities before we had actually proved that this was the case. So, I think that any senior government policy maker would have to take this experience into account when making judgments about what happened between 1998 and 2002 and taking account of the Iraqi behaviour from the time the inspectors returned until March of this year.

  Q291  Mr Hamilton: Presumably then, from what you say, you do not think that the regime ever came anywhere near close to deciding strategically to disarm itself of weapons of mass destruction. There was constantly the determination to develop those weapons whether biological, chemical or nuclear.

  Mr Taylor: Yes, I believe that to be the case and I think you will recall that, in Dr Blix's reports, he repeatedly said time after time, I think in all his Security Council reports, his disappointment that they had not realised what was required of them. I think that of course they realised what was required of them but they were not prepared to do it, so they were trying to retain just as much as they could and only give away the minimum . . . I think that the pattern throughout from 1991 to 2003 was only to hand over information if the inspectors already knew it and that was true between 2002-03.

  Q292  Mr Hamilton: Was therefore the last round of inspections from November 2002 until the conflict started doomed to failure from the start?

  Mr Taylor: Not necessarily. Their chances of success were low, I have to say. It would require a strategic decision by Saddam Hussein himself. On 7 December when they presented their so-called full, final and complete declaration, this was the last chance for immediate compliance and I registered with great disappointment that that declaration was well short and my personal view was that, given the pattern of behaviour, inspections were very unlikely to succeed.

  Q293  Mr Hamilton: In your opinion, Mr Taylor, was the only way left to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction, assuming that they did exist and you have more experience than most in that, through conflict of the type we saw in March?

  Mr Taylor: I would not go as far as that. I think that if the Security Council had been fully united, 15 to zero, on threatening serious consequences, there was just a chance because one of the regime's paramount requirements was regime survival. In the end, Saddam made his third big strategic mistake which resulted in his overthrow, the first one being the invasion of Iran, the second one being the invasion of Kuwait and you cannot do that three times. His strategic mistake was not declaring something extra in that full, final and complete declaration in December. If the Security Council held together in that final month if you like, there was just a possibility that, within the regime itself amongst the hierarchy, they might have seen a chance of survival by giving up at least a major portion of their weapons of mass destruction capability. So, I would not say that it was absolutely certain but I could sense that the use of force was more likely than not.

  Q294  Mr Olner: From what you have just said, if the French position had been adopted and they had given the weapons inspectors forever and a day to find things, they would never have been found.

  Mr Taylor: I think it very unlikely unless the Iraqis made a mistake and they were not likely to because they learned from their mistakes in the 1990s. I think that the inspectors in 2002-03 had a more difficult job because they [the Iraqis] learned from their mistakes. Like, for example, producing forged documents which they did to me, but we soon detected those, so they did not do that again. I doubt very much whether they would have. It [the UNMOVIC inspection process] would have taken years.

  Q295  Mr Maples: As a result of something you said to my colleague Mr Hamilton—it is the same point in a way—I just want to make sure that I understood you correctly. UNMOVIC were never going to succeed without some level of Iraqi co-operation.

  Mr Taylor: Yes, that is correct. The requirement was for the Iraqis to co-operate fully, absolutely fully. They could probably make some progress if there was more than minimal co-operation, but all there was was minimal co-operation.

  Q296  Mr Maples: External intelligence from whatever British and American intelligence sources were prepared to give them and their own efforts on the ground would not have resulted in discovering Iraq's weapons of mass destruction without some level of co-operation from the Iraqis.

  Mr Taylor: That is correct.

  Q297  Sir John Stanley: From your very extensive background as a chief inspector, when you went through the British Government's assessment paper Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction, did it basically ring accurate to you or did you at a particular point feel there was anything that might be exaggerated or overplayed?

  Mr Taylor: In its main substance, it seemed to me to be very accurate. Of course, I was not party to intelligence information myself, so I was judging it from open sources and from what I knew and from what I could judge. I suppose it is fair to say that I am an insider in many ways and, having studied the information in detail, I think that in main substance, the UK Government's dossier was correct. On certain details of certain aspects of particular weapons, I really cannot judge because I can only assume that this came from very specific intelligence that I did not have access to, so I cannot really form too much of an opinion, I can only speculate about certain aspects.

  Q298  Sir John Stanley: From that standpoint, are you, again with the huge background you have of trying to get access to the key people and so on in Iraq, given the fact that the war has now ended and given the fact that presumably we had identified previously who were the key people in the WMD programme—we have access to them and we have had access to other people within the government including a lot of the top people whom we have now picked up—are you surprised that we have not so far managed to unearth anything of any significance?

  Mr Taylor: I am disappointed but, in a sense, not surprised because most of the people who have come into the hands of the coalition, either voluntarily or otherwise, were people like General al Saadi and Dr Rehab Taha and so on who never really gave us any new information at all and I do not know what interrogation is going on at the moment and what the results of those interrogations are, but it would not surprise me that they are not at the point of telling the coalition any details. Most of the information that was valuable during the 1990s came from mid-level and below people in the organisation who were either perhaps wrong-footed in some way or simply honestly answered the questions. I do not believe that a lot of progress will be made until the Iraq Survey Group, which has of course only just started its work and you have to remember that, up until now, we have had the military exploitation teams, some 200 people with very basic equipment who do not have the knowledge and depth of the programmes and the people they are talking to and so on, so only now is the Iraq Survey Group starting and my hope is that if the security situation can improve, that, if we do get the information in the end, it will come from the more junior members involved in the programmes, the lab technicians, store-men even and military people from the special security organisation who are responsible for protecting particularly filled munitions that might be ready for use, the inner core of the regime who are very hard to get at. Unless there is a big change of heart by some of the more senior members who are already in coalition hands and I do not know what bargaining is going on in that regard. There is the fear of prosecution as well, particularly by more junior members. They are worried that if they say, "I have been involved in biological weapons programmes" or something like that, they might be prosecuted. There are all sorts of complicated factors involved and maybe they worry about their families. If they do come into the coalition and do give information, then there are still elements out there that might make their lives difficult and their families' lives difficult. It is a very challenging situation and I think that it will take a little while.

  Q299  Mr Chidgey: Returning to the September dossier, what is your view of the assessment that Iraq has useable chemical and biological weapons capability in breach of UNSCR 687 which includes recent production of chemical and biological agents?

  Mr Taylor: From all the information available, I think it would be very surprising if they did not have operational biological and chemical weapons, very surprising indeed. They certainly had all the capability to do that. They never satisfactorily accounted for all the munitions, filled and unfilled, and they never satisfactorily accounted for all the material by a long way. We are not talking about marginal differences, we are talking about hundreds of kilograms, we are talking about hundreds of munitions, that is things like 155 mm artillery rounds and 122 mm rockets, air delivered bombs. It would be extraordinary if there were not filled weapons somewhere. How many is the challenge. For a number of technical reasons, they held a large number of unfilled munitions, chemical ones for example, and kept a limited number ready filled. This would be for storage reasons, for security reasons and for a number of other factors.

5   Ninth Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 2002-03, The Decision to go to War in Iraq, HC 813-II, Ev 3.ascertaining whether or not there was the degree of co-operation from the regime demanded by UN Security Council Resolution 1441; is that different from your role then? Back

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