Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Bill Tierney, a former military intelligence officer and Arabic speaker who worked at Guantanamo Bay in 2002 and as a counter-infiltration operator in Baghdad in 2004. He was also an inspector (1996-1998) for the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) for overseeing the elimination of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles in Iraq. He worked on the most intrusive inspections during this period and either participated in or planned inspections that led to four of the seventeen resolutions against Iraq.
FP: Mr. Tierney, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Tierney: Thanks for the opportunity.
FP: With the Democrats now so viciously and hypocritically attacking Bush about WMDs, I’d like to discuss your own knowledge and expertise on this issue in connection to Iraq. You have always held that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Why? Can you discuss some actual finds?
Tierney: It was probably on my second inspection that I realized the Iraqis had no intention of ever cooperating. They had very successfully turned The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections during the eighties into tea parties, and had expected UNSCOM to turn out the same way. However, there was one fundamental difference between IAEA and UNSCOM that the Iraqis did not account for. There was a disincentive in IAEA inspections to be aggressive and intrusive, since the same standards could then be applied to the members states of the inspectors. IAEA had to consider the continued cooperation of all the member states. UNSCOM, however, was focused on enforcing and verifying one specific Security Council Resolution, 687, and the level of intrusiveness would depend on the cooperation from Iraq.
I came into the inspection program as an interrogator and Arabic linguist, so I crossed over various fields and spotted various deception techniques that may not have been noticed in only one field, such as chemical or biological. For instance, the Iraqis would ask in very reasonable tones that questionable documents be set aside until the end of the day, when a discussion would determine what was truly of interest to UNSCOM. The chief inspector, not wanting to appear like a knuckle-dragging ogre, would agree. Instead of setting the documents on a table in a stack, the Iraqis would set them side to side, filling the entire table top, and would place the most explosive documents on the edge of the table. At some point they would flood the room with people, and in the confusion abscond with the revealing documents.
This occurred at Tuwaitha Atomic Research Facility in 1996. A car tried to blow through an UNSCOM vehicle checkpoint at the gate. The car had a stack of documents about two feet high in the back seat. In the middle of the stack, I found a document with a Revolutionary Command Council letterhead that discussed Atomic projects with four number designations that were previously unknown. The Iraqis were extremely concerned. I turned the document over to the chief inspector, who then fell for the Iraqis’ “reasonable request” to lay it out on a table for later discussion. The Iraqis later flooded the room, and the document disappeared. Score one for the Iraqis.
On finds, the key word here is “find.” UNSCOM could pursue a lead and approach an inspection target from various angles to cut off an escape route, but at some point, the Iraqis would hold up their guns and keep us out.
A good example of this was the inspection of the 2nd Armored Battalion of the Special Republican Guards in June 1997. We came in from three directions, because we knew the Iraqis had an operational center that tracked our movement and issued warnings. The vehicle I was in arrived at the gate first. There were two guards when we arrived, and over twenty within a minute, all extremely nervous.
The Iraqis had stopped the third group of our inspection team before it could close off the back of the installation. A few minutes later, a soldier came from inside the installation, and all the other guards gathered around him. He said something, there was a big laugh, and all the guards relaxed. A few moments later there was a radio call from the team that had been stopped short. They could hear truck engines through the tall (10”) grass in that area. When we were finally allowed in, our team went to the back gate. The Iraqis claimed the gate hadn’t been opened in months, but there was freshly ground rust at the gate hinges. There was a photo from overhead showing tractor trailers with missiles in the trailers leaving the facility.
When pressed, Tariq Aziz criticized the inspectors for not knowing the difference between a missile and a concrete guard tower. He never produced the guard towers for verification. It was during this period that Tariq Aziz pulled out his “no smoking gun” line. Tariq very cleverly changed the meaning of this phrase. The smoking gun refers to an indicator of what you are really looking for - the bullet. Tariq changed the meaning so smoking gun referred to the bullet, in this case the WMD, knowing that as long as there were armed guards between us and the weapons, we would never be able to “find,” as in “put our hands on,” the weapons of mass destruction. The western press mindlessly took this up and became the Iraqis’ tool. I will let the reader decide whether this inspection constitutes a smoking gun.
FP: So can you tell us about some other “smoking guns”?
Tierney: Sure. Another smoking gun was the inspection of the 2nd Infantry Battalion of the Special Republican Guards. After verifying source information related to biological weapons formerly stored at the National War College, we learned at another site that the unit responsible for guarding the biological weapons was stationed near the airport. We immediately dashed over there before the Iraqis could react, and forced them to lock us out. One of our vehicles took an elevated position where they could look inside the installation and see the Iraqis loading specialized containers on to trucks that matched the source description for the biological weapons containers. The Iraqis claimed that we had inspected the facilities a year earlier, so we didn’t need to inspect it again.
Another smoking gun was the inspection of Jabal Makhul Presidential Site. In June/July 1997 we inspected the 4th Special Republican Guards Battalion in Bayji, north of Tikrit. This unit had been photographed taking equipment for the Electro-magnetic Isotope Separation (EMIS) method of uranium enrichment away from inspectors. The Iraqis were extremely nervous as this site, and hid any information on personnel who may have been involved with moving the equipment. This was also the site where the Iraqi official on the UNSCOM helicopter tried to grab the control and almost made the aircraft crash.
When I returned to the States, I learned that the Iraqis were extremely nervous that we were going to inspect an unspecified nearby site, and that they checked that certain code named items were in their proper place. I knew from this information the Iraqis could only be referring to Jabal Makhul Presidential Site, a sprawling mountain retreat on the other side of the ridge from the 4th Battalion, assigned to guard the installation. This explained why the Iraqis caused the problems with the helicopter, to keep it from flying to the other side of the mountain.
We inspected Jabal Makhul in September of 1997. The Iraqis locked us out without a word of discussion. This was the start of the Presidential Site imbroglio. The Iraqis made great hay out of inspectors wanting to look under the president’s furniture, but this site, with its hundreds of acres, was the real target.
During the Presidential Site inspections in Spring of 1998, inspectors found an under-mountain storage area at Jabal Makhul. When the inspectors arrived, it was filled with drums of water. The Iraqis claimed that they used the storage area to store rainwater. Jabal Makhul had the Tigris River flowing by at the bottom of the mountain, and a massive pump to send water to the top of the mountain, where it would cascade down in fountains and waterfalls in Saddam’s own little Shangri-la, but the Iraqi had to go to the effort of digging out an underground bunker akin to our Cheyenne Mountain headquarters, just so they could store rainwater.
A London Sunday Times article in 2001 by Gwynne Roberts quoted an Iraqi defector as stating Iraq had nuclear weapons in a heavily guarded installation in the Hamrin mountains. Jabal Makhul is the most heavily guarded location in the Hamrin mountains. With its under-mountain bunker, isolation, and central location, it is the perfect place to store a high-value asset like a nuclear weapon.
On nukes, some analysts wait until there is unambiguous proof before stating a country has nuclear weapons. This may work in a courtroom, but intelligence is a different subject altogether. I believe it is more prudent to determine what is axiomatic given a nation’s capabilities and intentions. There was no question that Iraq had triggering mechanisms for a nuke, the question was whether they had enriched enough uranium. Given Iraq’s intensive efforts to build a nuke prior to the Gulf War, their efforts to hide uranium enrichment material from inspectors, the fact that Israel had a nuke but no Arab state could claim the same, my first-hand knowledge of the limits of UNSCOM and IAEA capabilities, and Iraqi efforts to buy yellowcake uranium abroad (Joe Wilson tea parties notwithstanding), I believe the TWELVE years between 1991 and 2003 was more than enough time to produce sufficient weapons grade uranium to produce a nuclear weapon. Maybe I have more respect for the Iraqis’ capabilities than some.
FP: Tell us something you came up with while conducting counter-infiltration ops in Iraq.
Tierney: While I was engaged in these operations in Baghdad in 2004, one of the local translators freely stated in his security interview that he worked for the purchasing department of the nuclear weapons program prior to and during the First Gulf War. He said that Saddam purchased such large quantities of precision machining equipment that he could give up some to inspections, or lose some to bombing, and still have enough for his weapons program. This translator also stated that when Saddam took human shields and placed some at Tarmiya Nuclear Research Facility, he was sent there to act as a translator. One of the security officers at Tarmiya told him that he had just recovered from a sickness he incurred while guarding technicians working in an underground facility nearby. The security officer stated that the technicians left for a break every half hour, but he stayed in the underground chamber all day and got sick. The security officer didn’t mention what they were doing, but I would say uranium enrichment is the most logical pick.
What, not enough smoke? There was the missile inspection on Ma’moun Establishment. I was teamed with two computer forensic specialists. A local technician stood by while we opened a computer and found a flight simulation for a missile taking off from the Iraqi desert in the same area used during the First Gulf War and flying west towards Israel. The warhead was only for 50 kilograms. By the time we understood was this was, the poor technician was coming apart. I will never forget meeting his eyes, and both of us realizing he was a dead man walking. The Iraqis tried to say that the computer had just been transferred from another facility, and that the flight simulation had not been erased from before the war. The document’s placement in the file manager, and the technician’s reaction belied this story. UNSCOM’s original assessment was that this was for a biological warhead, but I have since seen reporting that make me think it was for a nuclear weapon.
These are only some of the observations of one inspector. I know of other inspections where there were clear indicators the Iraqis were hiding weapons from the inspectors.
FP: Ok, so where did the WMDs go?
Tierney: While working counter-infiltration in Baghdad, I noticed a pattern among infiltrators that their cover stories would start around Summer or Fall of 2002. From this and other observations, I believe Saddam planned for a U.S. invasion after President Bush’s speech at West Point in 2002. One of the steps taken was to prepare the younger generation of the security services with English so they could infiltrate our ranks, another was either to destroy or move WMDs to other countries, principally Syria. Starting in the Summer of 2002, the Iraqis had months to purge their files and create cover stories, such as the letter from Hossam Amin, head of the Iraqi outfit that monitored the weapons inspectors, stating after Hussein Kamal’s defection that the weapons were all destroyed in 1991.
I was on the inspections that follow-up on Hussein Kamal’s defection, and Hossam said at the time that Hussein Kamal had a secret cabal that kept the weapons without the knowledge of the Iraqi government. It was pure pleasure disemboweling this cover story. Yet the consensus at DIA is that Iraq got rid of its weapons in 1991. This is truly scary. If true, when and where did Saddam have a change of heart? This is the same man who crowed after 9/11, then went silent after news broke that Mohammed Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence operative in Prague. Did Saddam spend a month with Mother Theresa, or go to a mountain top in the Himalaya’s? Those that say there were no weapons have to prove that Saddam had a change of heart. I await their evidence with interest.
FP: So do you think the WMD is the central issue regarding Iraq?
Tierney: No, and it never should have been an issue. The First Gulf War -- and I use this term as a convention, since this is actually all the same war -- was a prime example of managing war instead of waging it. Instead of telling Saddam to get out of Kuwait or we will push him out, we should have said to get out of Kuwait or we will remove him from power. As it was, we were projecting our respect for human life on Saddam, when actually, from his point of view, we were doing him a favor by killing mostly Shi’ite military members who were a threat to his regime. I realize that Saudi Arabia, our host, did not want a change in government in Iraq, and they had helped us bring down the Soviet Union with oil price manipulation, but we should have bent them to our will instead of vice versa. Saddam would not have risked losing power to keep Kuwait, and we could have avoided this whole ordeal.
We topped one mistake with another, expecting Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party, a criminal syndicate masquerading as a political party, to abide by any arms control agreement. Gun control and Arms control both arise from the “mankind is good” worldview. If you control the environment, i.e. get rid of the guns, then man’s natural goodness will rise to the surface. I hope it is evidence after more than a decade of Iraqi intransigence how foolish this position is. The sobering fact is that if a nation feels it is in their best interest to have certain weapons, they are going to have them. Chemical weapons were critical to warding off hoards of Iranian fighters, and the Iraqis knew they would always be in a position of weakness against Israel without nuclear weapons. The United States kept nuclear weapons to deter the Soviet Union, but we would deny the same logic for Iraq?
There is also the practicality of weapons inspections/weapons hunts. After seventeen resolutions pleading with the Iraqis to be nice, the light bulb still didn’t go off that the entire concept is fundamentally flawed. Would you like to live in a city where the police chief sent out resolutions to criminals to play nice, instead of taking them off the streets?
As I said earlier, I knew the Iraqis would never cooperate, so the inspections became a matter of illustrating this non-cooperation for the Security Council and the rest of the world. No manipulation or fabrication was necessary. There was a sufficient percentage of defectors with accurate information to ensure that we would catch the Iraqis in the act. UNSCOM was very successfully at verifying the Iraqis’ non-cooperation; the failure was in the cowardice at the Security Council. Maybe cowardice is too strong a word. Maybe the problem was giving a mission that entailed the possible use of force to an organization with the goal of eliminating the use of force.
On the post-war weapons hunt, the arrogance and hubris of the intelligence community is such that they can’t entertain the possibility that they just failed to find the weapons because the Iraqis did a good job cleaning up prior to their arrival. This reminds me of the police chief who announced on television plans to raid a secret drug factor on the outskirts of town. At the time appointed, the police, all twelve of them, lined up behind each other at the front door, knocked and waiting for the druggies to answer, as protocol required. After ten minute of toilet flushing and back-door slamming, somebody came to the front door in a bathrobe and explained he had been in the shower. The police took his story at face value, even though his was dry as a bone, then police proceeded to inspect the premises ensuring that the legal, moral , ethnic, human, and animal rights, and also the national dignity, of the druggies was preserved. After a search, the police chief announced THERE WERE NO STOCKPILES of drugs at the inspected site. Anyone care to move to this city?
FP: Let’s talk a little bit more about how the WMDs disappeared.
Tierney: In Iraq’s case, the lakes and rivers were the toilet, and Syria was the back door. Even though there was imagery showing an inordinate amount of traffic into Syria prior to the inspections, and there were other indicators of government control of commercial trucking that could be used to ship the weapons to Syria, from the ICs point of view, if there is no positive evidence that the movement occurred, it never happened. This conclusion is the consequence of confusing litigation with intelligence. Litigation depends on evidence, intelligence depends on indicators. Picture yourself as a German intelligence officer in Northern France in April 1944. When asked where will the Allies land, you reply “I would be happy to tell you when I have solid, legal proof, sir. We will have to wait until they actually land.” You won’t last very long. That officer would have to take in all the indicators, factor in deception, and make an assessment (this is a fancy intelligence word for an educated guess).
The Democrats understand the difference between the two concepts, but have no qualms about blurring the distinction for political gain. This is despicable. This has brought great harm to our nation’s credibility with our allies. A perfect example is Senator Levin waving deception by one single source, al-Libi, to try and convince us that this is evidence there was no connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda, as though the entire argument rested on this one source. Senator Levin, and his media servants, think the public can’t read through his duplicity. He is plunging a dagger into the heart of his own country.
Could the assessments of Iraq’s weapons program been off? I am sure there were some marginal details that were incorrect, but on the matter of whether Iraq had a program, the error was not with the pre-war assessment, the error was with the weapons hunt.
I could speak at length about the problems with the weapons hunt. Mr. Hanson has an excellent article in “The American Thinker,” and Judith Miller, one of the few bright lights at the New York Times, did an article on the problems with the weapons hunt that I can corroborate from other sources. But if the Iraqi Survey Group had been manned by a thousand James Bonds, and every prop was where it should have been, I doubt the result would have been much different. The whole concept of international arms inspections puts too much advantage with the inspected country. Factor in the brutality used by the Baath Party, and it amounts to a winning combination for our opponents.
I was shocked to learn recently that members of the Iraqi Survey Group believed their Iraqi sources when they said they don’t fear a return of the Baath Party. During my eight months of counterinfiltration duty, we had 50 local Iraqis working on our post who were murdered for collaborating. Of the more than 150 local employees our team identified as security threats, the most sophisticated infiltrators came from the Baath Party. This was just one post, yet the DIA believes no one was afraid to talk, even though scientists who were cooperating with ISG were murdered. You can add this to the Able Danger affair as another example of the deep rot inside the intelligence community.
I believe that once the pertinent sources have a sense of security, a whole lot of people are going to have egg on their face. I believe the Iraqis had a WMD program, and I am not changing my story, no matter how many times Chris Matthews hyperventilates.
FP: Before we go, can you briefly touch on some of the prevailing attitudes in the U.S. military that may hurt us?
Tierney: There is a prevailing attitude that the U.S. is too big and ponderous to lose, so individual officers don’t have to take the potentially career-threatening risks necessary to win. I have heard it said that for every one true warrior in the military, there are two to three self-serving, career-worshipping bureaucrats. We shouldn’t be surprised. After all, the Army advertised “Be all you can be!” Or in other words, get a career at taxpayer expense.
President Clinton changed the definition of the military from peace makers to peace keepers, and no senior officers resigned or objected. President Clinton took a one star general who ran a humanitarian effort in Northern Iraq, Shalikashvilli, and made him Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The signal was out, warriors need not apply. Shalikashvilli later spoke at a U.N. meeting and listed the roles for the military in the “Revolution in Military Affairs.” He included warm and fuzzy things like “confidence building,” but failed to mention waging war. In my five years at CENTCOM headquarters, I very rarely heard the words, “war,” “enemy,” or “winning.” This was all absorbed into the wonderful term “strike operations.”
Operation Desert Fox was a perfect example of the uselessness of strike operations. Iraqis have told me that the WMD destruction and movement started just after Operation Desert Fox, since after all, who would be so stupid as to start a bombing campaign and just stop.
It was only after Saddam realized that President Clinton lacked the nerve for anything more than a temper-tantrum demonstration that he knew the doors were wide open for him to continue his weapons program. We didn’t break his will, we didn’t destroy his weapons making capability (The Iraqis simply moved most of the precision machinery out prior to the strikes, then rebuilt the buildings), but we did kill some Iraqi bystanders, just so President Clinton could say “something must be done, so I did something.”
General Zinni, Commander of CENTCOM, and no other senior officer had any problem with this fecklessness. They apparently bought into the notion that wars are meant to be managed and not waged. The warriors coming into the military post 9/11 deserve true warriors at the top. I believe the house cleaning among the senior military leadership started by the Secretary of Defense should continue full force. If not across the board, then definitely in the military intelligence field.
FP: Mr. Tierney it was a pleasure to speak with you today. Thank you for visiting Frontpage.
Tierney: Thank you Jamie for the opportunity to say there were weapons, and that we were right to invade Iraq.
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