Friday, July 30, 2004

# Posted 2:38 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ACCOUNTABILITY: Amidst all the hullabaloo surrounding the Convention, I forgot to do my weekly accountability post. Here goes: One year ago this week, I had just arrived home from England and was deliriously happy about it. Meanwhile, Josh was posting an extended series on erotica, which built on his previous interest in Tatu.

On the political front, I was engaged in yet another polemic against journalists' implicit and simplistic analogies between Iraq and Vietnam. There was also a post about uranium in Niger that would have benefited quite a bit from a more skeptical approach to Joe Wilson's accusations.

But the post that suffers most from its exposure to hindsight is the one in which I asserted that
The [NY] Times avoids praising Powell for his emphasis at the United Nations on intelligence profiling Saddam's comprehensive effort to prevent UN weapons inspectors from uncovering information relevant to his weapons programs. This evidence was and still remains unchallenged. Saddam was both hiding something and in clear violation of Resolution 1441. You remember 1441, don't you?
Unquestionably, I had far too much confidence in Powell's evidence. At one point in his speech, Powell points to a diagram and states that:

Here you see 15 munitions bunkers in yellow and red outlines. The four that are in red squares represent active chemical munitions bunkers.

How do I know that? How can I say that? Let me give you a closer look. Look at the image on the left. On the left is a close-up of one of the four chemical bunkers. The two arrows indicate the presence of sure signs that the bunkers are storing chemical munitions. The arrow at the top that says "security" points to a facility that is a signature item for this kind of bunker. Inside that facility are special guards and special equipment to monitor any leakage that might come out of the bunker. The truck you also see is a signature item. It's a decontamination vehicle in case something goes wrong. This is characteristic of those four bunkers. The special security facility and the decontamination vehicle will be in the area, if not at any one of them or one of the other, it is moving around those four and it moves as needed to move as people are working in the different bunkers.

Now look at the picture on the right. You are now looking at two of those sanitized bunkers. The signature vehicles are gone, the tents are gone. It's been cleaned up. And it was done on the 22nd of December as the UN inspection team is arriving, and you can see the inspection vehicles arriving in the lower portion of the picture on the right.

The bunkers are clean when the inspectors get there. They found nothing.

The amazing specificity of this information makes one wonder how the intelligence community could have gotten things so terribly wrong. Were any of Powell's facts right? Could disinformation provided by Ahmad Chalabi and other human sources possibly account for the total misinterpretation of satellite evidence? I wish I knew the answers to those questions, but I don't. However, Powell himself did suggest that there was a critical interaction between human and signals intelligence. He said:

I'm going to show you a small part of a chemical complex called "Al Musayyib", a site that Iraq has used for at least three years to transship chemical weapons from production facilities out to the field. In May 2002, our satellites photographed the unusual activity in this picture.

Here we see cargo vehicles are again at this transshipment point, and we can see that they are accompanied by a decontamination vehicle associated with biological or chemical weapons activity. What makes this picture significant is that we have a human source who has corroborated that movement of chemical weapons occurred at this site at that time. So it's not just the photo and it's not an individual seeing the photo. It's the photo and then the knowledge of an individual being brought together to make the case. [Emphasis added. -ed.]
Well, it sounded good at the time. Third of all, there is the question of Powell's evidence with regard to the activities of Abu Musab Zarqawi. Once again, the level of detail he provided was quite impressive. But how much of it stands up over time? I don't know. I recall reading some post-mortems on the subject, but have to run at the moment because I'm moving out of my apartment tomorrow.

Now, in light of everything that was wrong about what Powell said, have I changed my position on the war? I don't think so. Iraq was clearly not opening up itself to thorough inspections. While criminal defendants are innocent until proven guilty, that courtesty does not extend to brutal, aggressive dictators who repeatedly defy calls to disarm.
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