Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 320-337)


18 JUNE 2003

  Q320  Andrew Mackinlay: And the carrot/stick of immunity or immunity from prosecution, that is the carrot and stick, was at the disposal of UNMOVIC.

  Mr Taylor: That is correct. So, I do not think it is practical at the moment.

  Q321  Andrew Mackinlay: You mentioned VX and I know I should understand the gravity of it but you did flag that up. He was developing VX in the past. Do we know that he definitely did abandon that? Can you explain to a layman the gravity of VX as it were because you said that this was the highest . . .

  Mr Taylor: It is a persistent nerve agent and, if it is properly produced, it is the most lethal nerve agent. It is delivered in liquid form, so it is persistent depending on the weather. In summer, it does not last as long, whereas Tabun and Sarin disperses very rapidly and it is much more concentrated. You need a smaller amount to achieve the same effect. In terms of the production of VX, of course Iraq denied they were producing it but UNSCOM was of the opinion that they did produce weaponised VX and eventually UNMOVIC in their deliberations, and Dr Blix came to the same conclusion, believed they had done that. The Iraqis did have technical problems with the stability of the agent, and as far as I can tell, but of course we do not know what went on after 1998, there were some views that they did overcome the stability problems, others that they did not. I think they had a storage problem. I do not think the quantities were that large. Again, they had the capability, they had the people with experience, this was the kind of programme that they would restart given the opportunity when the pressure was off.

  Sir John Stanley: I have just got one remaining question on the 45 minutes and then I would like to turn to uranium, if I may. On the 45 minutes, and this, I fear, will upset Mr Pope's radiant day, if I refer to the Today programme—

  Mr Pope: That will always upset my radiant day.

  Q322  Sir John Stanley: On the Today programme of 29 May, Mr Humphreys asked the Armed Forces Minister, Mr Ingram, this question: "Why was Tony Blair in a position back last year, last September, to say that these weapons could be activated within 45 minutes?", to which Mr Ingram replied: "Well, that was said on the basis of a security source information, single sourced, it was not corroborated". The Armed Forces Minister, by virtue of that reply, suggested that the 45 minutes claim might not be very well substantiated because it was based on a single source and that was how he sought to deflect it. I would just like to ask you, from your extensive intelligence background, would you regard it as being certainly less than satisfactory to have a major point like this single sourced and, therefore, without corroboration?

  Mr Taylor: My background is more as a user of intelligence as policy for military operations. I am more of a user. I find it hard to comment without knowing the quality of the report and who delivered it. In the past there has been information that certainly I have knowledge of which has come from a single source which has proved to be correct. You cannot always find that corroborating evidence. Of course, as a user of intelligence one would always ask for that and try to get it. I really cannot comment on the specifics of this case without knowing where it came from. Usually, as a user of intelligence you do not know, it just gets delivered to your desk or through your communications, you do not actually know the source, so you have to rely on the intelligence service giving you an idea that it is good quality, medium quality or whatever.

  Q323  Sir John Stanley: Can I just now turn to uranium supplies. The Prime Minister in his speech to the House on 24 September last year, column four, said: "We know that Saddam has been trying to buy significant quantities of uranium from Africa, although we do not know whether he has been successful". As we know, President Bush paid the British Prime Minister a great compliment by specifically referring to this in his State of the Union address on 28 January of this year when President Bush said: "The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa". Subsequently, of course, we know that Dr Mohamed El-Baradei, Head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said that the claim about a uranium deal in Niger was based on forged documents. Can I just ask you, in your experience in Iraq, given the fact that there were undoubtedly people, possibly those inside Iraq but certainly people outside Iraq, who were very, very keen that military intervention should take place in order that the Saddam Hussein regime should be removed, did you come across any other examples of forged intelligence being deliberately put in the way of the intelligence services, the British and the American intelligence services, in order to serve particular political objectives?

  Mr Taylor: I am not aware of anything of that kind.

  Q324  Sir John Stanley: You are not, right. Have you got any comments about the issue of whether or not Saddam Hussein was trying to acquire uranium from Africa?

  Mr Taylor: I am not aware of any specific information indicating that was the case. I know what you have read out but that is all I know, I am afraid I cannot add to that.

  Q325  Chairman: What other sources could the relevant fissile material be obtained from?

  Mr Taylor: There is a wide range of countries. It is well known that the former Soviet Union states, that is Russia itself and the other now independent states, are areas of concern and that is why a lot of effort has been put in by the United States, through its Co-operative Threat Reduction programme, and by the European Union and Japan helping with the International Science and Technology Centres to try to do something about trying to stem the possible flow of radioactive material from that area. That is where the biggest single source of material lies, in Russia. A lot of effort has been made to try and limit that. One could go to a number of countries around the world where there might be sources. Relevant to this particular case, I do not have any specific information.

  Q326  Andrew Mackinlay: So I fully understand it, your evidence earlier was that your anxiety is all the components over a decade could have been procured and/or created and probably attention not drawn to them and they could be dispersed for relatively swift assembly.

  Mr Taylor: Yes.

  Q327  Andrew Mackinlay: Then you only need the final ingredient, the material itself, and in the marketplace around the world, alas, that would be available. It only has to be available once anyway, does it not?

  Mr Taylor: Yes.

  Q328  Andrew Mackinlay: A relatively small amount for one device.

  Mr Taylor: I would not pretend that it would be easy to get that kind of weapons grade material, it is difficult, but the apparatus that Iraq had and the amount of money in the hands of the regime certainly made it something that those responsible for security would have to worry about. What I cannot offer you is any specific evidence of that, or where it might be obtained.

  Q329  Andrew Mackinlay: The thrust of the former Foreign Secretary's evidence yesterday was that containment was working. I do not want to put words into your mouth, but it seems to me the thrust of what you are saying is that you would question that, would you not, because containment would not give the security or satisfaction to you or I to know that this guy had not got the capacity once the pressure was off

  Mr Taylor: We certainly could not be 100% sure it was working. Given the catastrophic possibilities of getting that wrong, I think you have to err on the side of caution. It is very important to do that in this particular case.

  Chairman: Two final questions, if I may. The first one is on concealment. You said you were disappointed but not surprised that we have found nothing as yet. On the one side, clearly there have been many months in which Saddam Hussein has had the opportunity to conceal, and some who argue the possibility of trains taking the material elsewhere in Iraq or outside the country, some talk about many hundreds of miles of underground tunnels, learning techniques from the Yugoslavs and so on, that is agreed, but surely—I think Sir John made this point—with those in custody, no longer can there be the cement of loyalty to the regime, there must be many inducements offered—I think Clare Short said the farm in Texas or whatever. Would you not be surprised if one of the people in custody were not prepared to point out where this stuff is?

  Q330  Andrew Mackinlay: Not publicly.

  Mr Taylor: I suppose unless you have been in the same room with them it is hard to imagine, but I am not surprised they have not done that.

  Q331  Andrew Mackinlay: If you arrested Geoff Hoon today or whoever, he or she would not necessarily be able to know all that is in their jurisdiction. It seems to me at the government level, whether it is a dictatorship or democracy, by the nature of things it is down, is it not?

  Mr Taylor: May I just make a point?

  Q332  Andrew Mackinlay: I was not trying to be flippant, I meant it as a genuine question. These guys would not necessarily know the exact details, locations, etc, etc.

  Mr Taylor: If I could make two comments. One, the situation is nowhere near secure yet, the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein is not known. The nature of the regime was absolutely extraordinary and the threat that the regime internally and certain elements still exercise over people is extraordinary. This is one of the difficulties. Also, Sir, you are absolutely right, very few people have an overview of everything. Even the scientists at the senior level would certainly not know where the weapons were. They would know about research and development, they would know about possibly some production, they would know names of certain people, but the Special Security Organisation which had the responsibility and some elements of the Special Republican Guard were the people that really knew. These were the hardest core part of the regime and that is really where I think those coalition members doing the investigation need to get to. The Iraq Survey Group really has not begun its work yet.

  Q333  Chairman: This is the final point and I am not asking you not to be an analyst, but a psychiatrist. Here we have after November 8 of last year a resolution giving Saddam Hussein a final opportunity, with serious consequences if he did not co-operate. If he had destroyed those weapons of mass destruction, and he had an army building up on his doorstep, he had all these pressures on him, we know or at least we have heard that they are meticulous bookkeepers, so can you give any sort of explanation as to why under those circumstances he still prevaricated and still did not come clean?

  Mr Taylor: I would not have expected him to come clean if it was to match earlier behaviour, but what I would have expected, which surprised me, was that he did not decide to deliver up something new, something substantively new, not to give up the whole programme. That might have been enough and would have made things very difficult.

  Q334  Chairman: When Dr Blix was forced into a corner on this, I think, on the Today programme, he was trying to explain Saddam's failure by the possibility that pride was one explanation which he sought to give and the other was the prestige of the regime which would be damaged in the region. How plausible do you think that Blix explanation was?

  Mr Taylor: That is a very hard one to answer. I think they are obviously factors you had to think about, but my personal view is that this was about regime survival and making strategic mistakes. As I said earlier, I believe this was Saddam Hussein's third strategic mistake in the brinkmanship that he played. For him, the weapons of mass destruction were of a very high order of importance and given the divisions in the Security Council, which were obvious at that stage, he felt he could play this game for much longer, but it still surprised me that he just did not deliver up something more, though I do not think he could be expected to deliver up all of his weapons at once in that way.

  Q335  Chairman: Mr Taylor, there is the final question: are there any matters which you think we have failed to cover now or any points you would like to leave with the Committee?

  Mr Taylor: Well, I suppose I am repeating something I have already said, but I think it is important that the Committee thinks about what was on offer as an alternative, and I am sure you are doing this, so forgive me for perhaps pointing out the obvious. Given that the Government was faced with having to go ahead with military action, whereas the alternative was that one could only see more inspections, I think if you were to do a rigorous risk analysis, a really rigorous one, looking ahead two years, and there is always a challenge about this term about `imminent threat', but we are in a kind of new environment with weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons, and if you look at other weapons programmes, like India, Pakistan, I am not saying they are anything like Iraq, do not misunderstand me, but rolling back those programmes is extraordinarily difficult, so in that sense it is imminent that something had to be done about Iraq's weapons programmes. Inspectors were only there because there were large numbers of troops in the region. There would have been no inspectors in Iraq in 2002 and 2003 had it not been for very large numbers of troops. I think the regime was gambling that they would not be able to keep them there for a long period and eventually they might survive to live another day and continue on and revive their programmes. I think I would ask the Committee that they do a risk assessment that takes account of these things.

  Q336  Chairman: On that risk assessment, looking at the key dossier of September 24 of last year, from your background, do you see anything which struck you as being exaggerated?

  Mr Taylor: Excluding the detailed intelligence assessments, and the 45 minutes is one and so on, I find it hard to make a judgment on that, but the main thrust of the dossier seemed to me to be the best course, the best recommendation that the Government could make to Parliament and to the public about the state of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programmes, and not forgetting of course the other issues associated with the UN Security Resolution in Iraq, so I think the main substance of the dossier was, in essence, a good judgment based on the evidence available.

  Q337  Chairman: Thank you. You have been extraordinarily helpful to the Committee members.

  Mr Taylor: Thank you.

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