Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 300-319)


18 JUNE 2003

  Q300  Mr Chidgey: So you do therefore believe that the discovery of the empty 122 mm munitions which have been found are the tip of the iceberg?

  Mr Taylor: I believe so. There is a very large number unaccounted for which UNSCOM and UNMOVIC both agree. This is the problem with Iraq. They never answered the questions and it is not good enough to say, "We don't have any weapons of mass destruction" without accounting for hundreds of munitions which are things that are visible in large numbers and could be found if they say they were buried somewhere or were dismantled somewhere, there should be traces. Of course, with UNMOVIC with, at its height, only about 150 people and not all of them working on chemical weapons you have to remember, so we have a very tiny number of people doing this, so unless the Iraqis took them there and said, "Here it is", they were not going to find it.

  Q301  Mr Chidgey: How straightforward is it in your view to conceal elements of chemical and biological weapons programmes within civil industrial facilities? Is it relatively easy, in your experience, to convert from clandestine CBW work to legitimate civilian work and then back again?

  Mr Taylor: Yes. I would not say that it is easy, they have to know what they are doing, and the Iraqis certainly had some very good process engineers, chemical and biological, who really did know what they were doing. The main production site for biological agents, Anthrax and Botulinum which they turned into toxin, was actually a combined single-cell protein plant which made additives for animal food and they did that, and also a bio-pesticide plant, both in the same location, al-Hakam, but we had monitored the flow of materials into that place and it did not match up with what they said they were doing. They could run a production run, clean it out and then a production run of weapons material. They may even bring in different staff to actually run the production lines. That was a regular feature. They also did it at al-Dawrah which was a foot and mouth vaccine plant, which was again one of their main production sites for biological weapons agents. What they would do there was move out the regular staff doing the vaccine production and bring in a staff to run a production line for two or three days and then go back to normal again. These were classic techniques by the Iraqis and with their chemical production—I was talking then about biological—they dispersed it. UNSCOM found a document where they had dispersed the capabilities amongst civil chemical plants so that they could produce the required chemicals' precursors to make chemical weapons in a number of different places. This is not speculation; this is hard evidence. We have the documents. All of those things I have said are hard evidence.

  Q302  Sir John Stanley: Just continuing on the concealment issues, we have heard evidence from Dr Inch and indeed from yourself about the length of time residues of BW and possibly CW are likely to be around once production has taken place. We have heard evidence about the difficulty of moving some of this stuff around. I assume that applies particularly to BW. We have the evidence of the amount of volume of this that has been supposedly unaccounted for. The quotation I gave from what the Prime Minister said on 18 March: 6,500 chemical munitions, that is substantial volume; mustard gas, somewhere between 80 tonnes and 100 tonnes, suggesting again very large volumes. Against these issues like difficulty of moving, the longevity of the residues, the tonnage volumes and the fact that we now have access to a number of people and obviously a lot of the country, it does seem certainly mysterious to me that we have so far made so little progress in uncovering this. Is it a matter of surprise to you?

  Mr Taylor: It is a matter of disappointment but perhaps I am not quite so surprised. I would distinguish between biological and chemical. The biological agent production is easier to hide, smaller facilities are needed and to clean up afterwards and so on. I am not one who believes that the residue is a problem in that regard. On the chemical side, if you have a highly dispersed and many different facilities for production of chemicals and where the Iraqis were probably restricted in having the number of field chemical weapons available for operational use. I am sure that was somewhat restricted. They had a record of putting munitions in hides in locations which you would not expect. If I were to give an example, they had, as a result of our breakthrough in 1995 in forcing the Iraqis to admit that they had a biological weapons programme and, after the defection of General Hussein Kamel al-Hassan, the Iraqis gave us a little bit more. They thought that the General was going to tell us more, so they gave us a bit more. Then they reported that they had deployed, in 1991, four sites with operational biological weapons and the command and control system to go with those. Three of those sites were just out in the desert, in the countryside—holes in the ground camouflaged and covered with tarpaulins. They were not meant to be left there for a very long time. This is the kind of pattern that I would expect. The stocks being moved around. The weapons of mass destruction stocks were guarded by the Special Security Organisation and probably for use by the Special Republican Guard where a very limited number of people would know where they are and where they would be hidden and they would be constantly and regularly moved as far as they could do in a certain erratic pattern. So, there is plenty of experience on the Iraqi side of having these flexible, mobile deployments both for operational weapons and for the facilities. I have noted it looking at the other programmes too, not just the Iraqi one. The old Soviet programme, for example, had production facilities in box cars which they moved around on the railway in order to make sure that they were not vulnerable and they managed to develop a system there. So, it is a feature where you have a regime that has run a clandestine programme and protected it very carefully, not only of course from the coalition oversight and the coalition operations, but they hid it from their own people and that is why it is so deeply recessed and so deeply hidden. That is another feature with the old Soviet programme. I remember a deputy foreign minister, of then what became Russia, saying that it was the best-kept secret in the old Soviet Union. It was so deeply hidden using dual-use facilities and nobody really knew where it was except for a very small number of people. The Iraqis were well capable of doing something like that given the very nature of the regime.

  Q303  Sir John Stanley: Just one other important issue and this really goes back to your time as a professional soldier. If as a professional soldier you were given this sentence, which is the sentence in the Government assessment, I would like to understand how you would construe that as to what it actually meant. The assessment is and I quote, "Intelligence indicates that the Iraqi military are able to deploy chemical or biological weapons within 45 minutes of an order to do so." Can I ask you as a military man, how would you understand that sentence in terms of the capability facing you?

  Mr Taylor: I would read it—and of course I do not know where the intelligence came from and I do not know about its accuracy—that that would have been based on the Iraqis having ready-filled biological and chemical weapons. The fact that they would have filled munitions would not surprise me. Unlike conventional munitions which would be ready to fire immediately, these munitions . . . If I think back on the way in which we used to handle our nuclear weapons because I was actually involved in one of the units that guarded the nuclear weapons and moved them out to their missile batteries and we had a very short time in which to do that. So, from that firsthand historical experience, I would imagine that there were special controls for these chemical weapons and they were not placed immediately with the artillery batteries, with the 120mm multi-barrel rocket launchers or the artillery or with the air force base, so somebody had to do some kind of handover to get them into the hands of the people who were actually going to fire the munitions. I am entirely speculating but that is how I would account for the 45 minutes. Otherwise, if it was conventional ammunition, the ammunition would be ready with the batteries.

  Q304  Sir John Stanley: Does that Iraqi military are able to deploy chemical or biological weapons within 45 minutes of an order to do so imply to you that the stocks of those munitions were within 45 minutes' drive of the artillery tubes or does it imply to you that the stocks might be quite a substantial distance away but that, from 45 minutes of an order being given, those stocks would be rolling out of wherever those stocks were held?

  Mr Taylor: I think it is a normal practice for countries that have weapons of this type, special weapons, that there would be deep storage. When it came to possibly being used in a conflict, they would be moved to hides and temporary locations, probably being moved around, taking account of the deployment of the artillery. So, both would be moving and, so at a certain point through special instructions, then there would be a convergence and the two would come together and be useable. I would find that sort of timing not to be unusual. I would think it probably could be credible. I am not commenting on the quality of the intelligence.

  Q305  Sir John Stanley: It is really interpretation because obviously this was what was given to the public. Are you saying that it does not necessarily imply that the stocks were going to be held within 45 minutes of the artillery tubes but that it would imply that the stocks were held some distance away but, from the moment an order was given, the stocks would be rolling out from wherever they were being held?

  Mr Taylor: Yes and married together. I imagine that the term "ready to deploy" does not necessarily mean "ready to fire". I imagine that "ready to deploy" means that the ammunition is married to the delivery means.

  Q306  Sir John Stanley: Married to it within 45 minutes?

  Mr Taylor: I imagine that is what it means.

  Q307  Mr Pope: The allegations that the Committee has heard against the Prime Minister in particular and against the Government in general are of the gravest nature. The allegation is that the Prime Minister has misled Parliament about the reason for going to war, that Iraq did not have chemical or biological weapons, that it was not an imminent threat and that the Government exaggerated the nature of the threat in order to provoke the conflict. Those are essentially the allegations that we heard yesterday. Obviously I cannot ask you to defend every word that has ever been uttered by a government minister but, in general terms, do you think that the Prime Minister has misled Parliament and the country over the nature of the threat that Iraq posed?

  Mr Taylor: I have difficulty in answering the question completely because I did not have access to the intelligence, so I did not see the intelligence and so I cannot comment on that. I think, as you can probably tell from my earlier remarks, that there was substantial, I would say overwhelming, evidence, a mountain of evidence, that Iraq had research, development and production facilities and useable weapons and almost certainly operational biological and chemical weapons. If I were sitting in a position in early March 2003, that would be a conclusion and I think I would be irresponsible if I came to some other conclusion. By that, I do not mean that that automatically means armed conflict. I think that then the political judgment has to be made about that fact. I think it is interesting that all 15 members of the Security Council did not disagree that Iraq was hiding its weapons programmes. There was no disagreement about that. They did not disagree that Iraq was in breach of 1441. These were two issues on which there was agreement. There was disagreement about what you did about those facts. The general thrust—and I cannot comment on the quality of intelligence because I did not see it—of the Government's position alerting Parliament and the public to the dangers, the very real dangers, of the chemical and biological weapons and their delivery means and, in my personal view, the nuclear capabilities as well and one must not lose sight of that because my personal view is they are the most dangerous and most important that we should be worrying about, that if Iraq did not comply, it required serious consequences. Anything else would leave the region and the wider world in a more dangerous situation. I cannot think of any other way of putting it. However, on the 45 minutes and these other detailed questions, I cannot comment.

  Q308  Mr Pope: There seems to be a difference between possessing a weapon and organising a programme to produce the weaponry and that Iraq appears to have been non-compliant in both areas. It not only had chemical and biological weapons but it also had programmes which it concealed from UNSCOM in the time that you were involved in it. Do you think it is a reasonable conclusion for the United Nations, or indeed individuals, to draw the worst conclusions from the fact that they concealed the programmes of manufacturing these weapons?

  Mr Taylor: The catastrophic results that can arise from the use of these weapons, particularly in relation to biological and nuclear weapons, requires urgent and effective action. The chemical weapons are hideous and dangerous and we must not forget all along that the Iraqis used these weapons. This is a country that used these weapons on its own people of course and against Iran and, while we were inspecting, the Iraqi senior officers were quite clear that they saw great value in these weapons. Whatever others may think and I hear some voices say, "Well, chemical weapons are not so serious" and so on, that was not the view of the Iraqi military hierarchy. They thought they were very important and absolutely vital to their survival and overcoming, particularly in relation to Iran who they saw as a potential adversary, being outnumbered by using this particular weapon to make up the difference. Do not forget that they did develop—there was debate about how far they went—VX which is the most lethal of chemical agents in any known arsenal anywhere in the world. Only the Russians and the Americans who are now dismantling their arsenals had this particular agent. So, they were not just doing the basic things with mustard agent and other things, they were going for leading-edge chemical weapons because they assigned high value to them.

  Q309  Mr Pope: This is really helpful information. In the memorandum which you supplied to the Committee, you talked about the information attack on UN communications "at all points from our operations from New York to Baghdad." I wonder if you could elaborate on that. I was intrigued by that comment and I was not entirely clear as to what it meant.

  Mr Taylor: I can only speak generally and I certainly cannot mention individual names and things like that, but I will just give you the range of the type of activities. It ranged from suborning people to steal documents from UN headquarters in New York and that would be true right through to Baghdad, having bugs obviously in hotel rooms where inspectors were staying and it also was found that there were listening devices inside the UNSCOM headquarters in Baghdad itself. They were monitoring our communications—we were open with those—but they were also monitoring the secure fax machines from which we sent back our assessments and our situation reports and we discovered that they were able to read those. We could only be secure with the use of, for example, laptop computers because they could read the communications sent on the linked desktop computers from the cables and so on if they had the right devices. Extraordinary measures would have to be undertaken if we were ever to achieve a surprise inspection. The UN and other international agencies will always make their best efforts to avoid these kind of things, but these are not national governments. They do not have classified information; they have protected information but not classified information in the way that one would have in a national government, in a ministry of defence, a foreign office or something like that. UNMOVIC, the most recent inspection agency, was obviously aware of the history, so I think they did take stronger precautions, but it is still a challenge when you up against the sophisticated and very determined information attack which I am sure continued, but it was very, very challenging. We managed to get round it in various ways, but I would rather not go into that.

  Mr Pope: If I could just make a quick comment. I think everybody in this room is an elected member voted in favour of the conflict on 18 March.

  Andrew Mackinlay: And would vote in the same way again tonight if a vote were taken.

  Mr Pope: I just think that this kind of evidence is incredibly helpful. I personally feel better, having heard this evidence, about what I did on 18 March.

  Q310  Chairman: Mr Taylor, you have made Mr Pope feel better today.

  Mr Taylor: Chairman, that makes me feel better too, but that was not my objective!

  Chairman: See if you can make Mr Mackinlay better as well!

  Q311  Andrew Mackinlay: I notice that the gallant members of the press are not present; I look forward to the transcript which I certainly will use my best endeavours to ensure is of some interest to the press. Also, your very helpful memorandum and I will have to ask the clerk when it comes into public domain. I too found that very useful. Can I take you back. In relation to UNSCOM, you rightly pointed out the fact of the number of inspectors who were on chemical and who were on biological. In a sense, this is not new ground because Government ministers have said, "Look at the scale of Iraq, the size of France" and so on. They stated that point. I wonder if you could amplify upon what you were saying. UNMOVIC is presumably not appreciatively different. We do need to focus on the scale of these guys. They are a large country, a large territorial area, and, if you break them down into nuclear, biological and chemical, you are talking a relatively handful of people, are you not? Can you just beef up on that.

  Mr Taylor: The effort has to be targeted and the Iraqis have to co-operate. Those are the two things that you have to remember. When I said UNMOVIC, remember that they are doing the chemical, biological and the missiles, and of course the International Atomic Energy Agency is doing the nuclear side, so there are more inspectors, but not that many, not a huge number.

  Q312  Andrew Mackinlay: Anyway, I think we are all agreed that nuclear is the relatively easier part of the test.

  Mr Taylor: I would disagree.

  Q313  Andrew Mackinlay: Tell me why you disagree then.

  Mr Taylor: The easy part to find or relatively easy part to find are the enrichment facilities and they were found pretty quickly by the UN Special Commission. Within a year, they had found them. What was never really uncovered were the components of the weapon itself, that is to say the non-nuclear bits if one might term it that way and I hope I am clear: the electrical firing circuits, the timing devices, the marraging steel, the lenses and all the bits except for the core in which you put the fissile material. The Iraqis had many years of working on these components. I think the opinion of the IAEA and others, and UNSCOM is involved also in it in some ways, because the IAEA are the experts in uranium enrichment and fissile material but you need other people looking for weapon components. I think the judgment was that they were within two years, in 1991, of having an operational nuclear weapon. I was interested to see last December that Lieutenant General al Saadi, who is now in Coalition hands, actually confirmed that view; he said they were within two years—

  Q314  Andrew Mackinlay: He actually confirmed that?

  Mr Taylor: He said it publicly; I remember him saying that they were within two years in 1991. Well, what went on in 1991 after that . . . To be fair to the IAEA and, if you recall, I remember Dr Mohammed El-Baradei, the Director General of the IAEA, in his last statement when summarising the inspection effort said, "First of all, we had to reconnoitre the sites and then we focused on whether or not the Iraqis had restarted their uranium enrichment facilities" and that was the last Security Council Meeting before military operations began, so they had not actually looked for weapons components and we never had a full understanding of that. That is what worries me a great deal. I think you will find this thinking reflected in the International Institute for Strategic Studies dossier which they produced, which was slightly different from what the Government—

  Q315  Chairman: Is this the one in September of last year?

  Mr Taylor: Yes, this is the 9 September report. This dossier said that, if they managed to get the fissile material from somewhere else, in other words not through their own means of enrichment, they could have an operational weapon in less than a year, maybe in a few months. That was always something that worried those of us who thought about these issues. We worried about it all the time during the 1990s and I can remember thinking, at many meetings thinking and pondering over this when I was actually in the position of a commissioner. It is a real challenge to find that part of a nuclear programme. That is very difficult to find.

  Q316  Andrew Mackinlay: I have a few more questions to ask in order that I understand this. In a sense as a parallel, you were telling us about the artillery pieces and the shells coming together in 45 minutes. It seems to me that what you have described, in terms of the components for a nuclear device, a lot of these could be over the decade manufactured in-house or, instead of being imported, they could be done in a very stealthily way because it is a long-term project and each individual component can then be dispersed and, basically in a relatively short time frame of a year, you can literally them together like Lego pieces, as it were, and all you need is the final . . . Basically, to a layman, that is what you are saying. It could be all be out there dispersed in various locations, so it is not put together but the potential is there.

  Mr Taylor: That was from my personal point of view my biggest fear if nothing effective was done. If the only thing that was done was just more inspections and we went on like that for many months, of course troops would have to be withdrawn from the region, you could not keep them there, so the pressure on the Iraqis would have reduced and inevitably, as it did indeed in the 1990s and this is, I am sure, what the regime was hoping for, and then they would have all the parts, they would have all the people and then, in two years' time, we could have found Iraq with an operational nuclear weapon. That was my nightmare and, looking very carefully at all the information available, looking at their behaviour throughout from 1991 to 2003, I think that the Government were faced with doing a risk assessment of a very challenging kind. Only doing something that would not actually address this in an effective way was probably the most dangerous thing that one could do for the region in a strategic sense. It would alter the whole strategic balance in that region if that were allowed to happen. I know that there is a lot of talk about imminent threats and one can play with that, but I think that if Iraq were allowed to get to the point of having an operational weapon, pulling back is terribly difficult as we know from other cases.

  Q317  Andrew Mackinlay: You heard me ask the previous witness—I sort of bounced it off him—that in fact the coalition forces or the survey group, although it has only just gone in, could already have discovered stuff and, from your experience, there is clearly some commonsense in not necessarily revealing this at this stage because you are on a detective exercise now whereas UNMOVIC and UNSCOM were not supposed to be on a detective exercise. Lots of things have happened since as it were and we are in pursuit of things, so you sensibly would not reveal and say, "Here, we have it." Politicians might want to do it because they are probably quite desperate from the point of view of the hunger of the public and press to be assuaged but, in terms of really pursing this, you would not declare it yet, would you?

  Mr Taylor: No and indeed that did happen in the 1990s. When we first discovered what people now call the "smoking gun", the hard evidence that would convince the Security Council, all of them, 15 to zero, they have this programme and here it is. We did not make it public and in fact several months passed and then, on 1 July 1995, the Iraqis, because they knew that the Security Council was about to pronounce, admitted it. That took several months. I think that you have to be very careful when you are interviewing somebody which might lead you to somebody else which might lead you to somebody else. You cannot go public with the rest of the material, so it could take—

  Q318  Andrew Mackinlay: If you had UNMOVIC in parallel with this, it would actually really screw things up.

  Mr Taylor: Of course, they are set up to deal with an Iraqi Government that was meant to co-operate with them. Now we have a different government in Iraq, effectively it is the coalition, and it is a forensic and archaeological search, if I might use that term rather loosely, and it is a very different situation. They are not faced with a regime that is determined to hide things but with a very different challenge in trying to uncover the truth about these weapons programmes which depends on the coalition forces being able to offer security to people coming in and people will only talk if they feel secure. UNMOVIC and the IAEA just cannot do that kind of thing at this point. Maybe at some time later, there may be a role for international organisations, particularly in long-term monitoring.

  Q319  Chairman: Robin Cook, when we asked him yesterday, left us with the key question: why is UNMOVIC not going back? That is the most important matter. What answer would you give to him?

  Mr Taylor: I would say that UNMOVIC is not structured to carry out this new mission, this fundamentally new mission, with a coalition in charge, with having to use all their intelligence resources and their interrogations of people coming in, offering security to them. They are about to deploy 1,200 and I think it could be up to 1,500 people, ten times the size of UNMOVIC, so it has to be led by the coalition and, with all the security implications, I think it makes it very difficult to include UNMOVIC as it is presently structured with the kind of people they have at the moment, they probably need some different kinds of people to do the missions.

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