Kamel: What Butler didn’t ask


In August 1995, MI6 received astonishing information about Iraq’s proscribed agents and weapons:  it was that they had all been destroyed shortly after the Gulf War. 


This information didn’t come to MI6 third hand from some shadowy source, like the now discredited 45-minute claim.  It came direct from the horse’s mouth, from an informant who was in a position to know – because for 10 years he had been in administrative control of Iraq’s proscribed weapons programmes, as the director of Iraq's Military Industrialisation Corporation.  The agents and weapons had been destroyed on his orders, he said.


The informant was Hussein Kamel, Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law, who left Iraq for Jordan on 7 August 1995 and was interviewed there by MI6, and by the CIA and by UN inspectors.  He later returned to Iraq and was executed.


This information was missing from the Government’s dossier of September 2002 on Iraq’s proscribed weapons, which, according to its own Executive Summary, reflected the views of the Joint Intelligence Committee.  So, apparently, the intelligence services didn’t believe Kamel when he said that pre-Gulf War stocks of agents and weapons had all been destroyed. 


Kamel provided other information, for example, that in August 1990 Iraq instigated a crash programme to develop a single nuclear weapon within a year (which was not successful) and that Iraq had succeeded in making biological weapons.  This information proved to be accurate, and Kamel’s part in bringing this to the attention of UN inspectors was regularly mentioned by the US and UK governments in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq (see, for example, page 37 of the September dossier).


Kamel was therefore a proven source of reliable information about Iraq’s proscribed weapons and weapons programmes, so the question remains: why was he apparently not believed when he said that, on his orders, all proscribed agents and weapons were destroyed in 1991?


Today, that question cries out for an answer.  The Iraq Survey Group hasn’t made any significant find of chemical or biological agents or weapons, and it looks as if Kamel was telling the truth about their destruction.  In January, Washington Post journalist, Barton Gellman, reported on documentary evidence from August 1995 suggesting that Kamel did tell the whole truth (see below).  In those circumstances, an inquiry into intelligence on Iraq’s proscribed weapons must surely address the question of why Kamel wasn’t believed in August 1995, otherwise it isn’t worthy of the name,


But the Butler inquiry didn’t address that question.  It is true that Kamel is mentioned several times in the inquiry report as an apparently valuable source of information; paragraph 177 goes so far as to say that he claimed that “there are no remaining stockpiles of [chemical] agent”, and doesn’t say that the intelligence services regarded him as a liar when he claimed that.  But the burning question about why Kamel was not believed in 1995 is not posed, let alone answered.


Pages and pages are devoted to examining how the intelligence services came to believe information received third hand in the post-1998 period, information which turned out to be false.  But there is no examination whatsoever of why the intelligence services apparently did not believe information received from a reliable source, whom they themselves interviewed in August 1995, information that seems to be true.


Could it be that this question is too awkward to be exposed to public gaze?  Britain joined the US invasion of Iraq, ostensibly because Iraq had stockpiles of chemical and biological agents and weapons.  That’s what the Prime Minister told the House of Commons on 18 March 2003.  But the intelligence services had received information nearly 8 years earlier from a reliable source that the stuff referred to by the Prime Minister had been destroyed nearly 12 years earlier, but apparently the intelligence services didn’t believe him.


Now, if the Butler inquiry had focused on that question, it would have made sensational headlines around the world, headlines which would have been very unfavourable to the Prime Minister.  The suspicion must be Lord Butler did not feel it appropriate to focus attention on the awkward question of why, when the head of Iraq’s weapons programmes tells you to your face that, on his orders, everything was destroyed, you don’t believe him.  Far better to concentrate on the extraordinary difficulty of assessing scraps of information received third hand, and why it was not unreasonable to believe them.


Newsweek March 2003

Kamel’s astonishing claim of August 1995 didn’t become public knowledge until late February 2003, a few weeks before the US/UK invaded Iraq.  It was revealed by Newsweek journalist, John Barry, who wrote a story entitled The Defector’s Secrets, which was posted on the Newsweek website on 24 February 2003 and published in the 3 March 2003 issue (see, for example, here).  The story began:


“Hussein Kamel, the highest-ranking Iraqi official ever to defect from Saddam Hussein’s inner circle, told CIA and British intelligence officers and UN inspectors in the summer of 1995 that after the Gulf War, Iraq destroyed all its chemical and biological weapons stocks and the missiles to deliver them.”


Kamel had been interviewed in Amman on 22 August 1995, by a joint IAEA/UNSCOM team led by the then head of UNSCOM, Rolf Ekeus.  Barry’s story was based on the IAEA/UNSCOM notes of that interview, a copy of which had come into his possession (presumably supplied by somebody anxious to undermine the US/UK claim that Iraq had proscribed weapons).  Soon afterwards these notes also came into the public domain (see here).


The notes record Kamel as saying:


“I ordered destruction [sic] of all chemical weapons. All weapons – biological, chemical, missile, nuclear were destroyed” (page 13).


Earlier (page 7), he described anthrax as the “main focus” of Iraq’s biological programme and when asked “were weapons and agents destroyed?”, he replied: “nothing remained”.


Of missiles, he said: “not a single missile left but they had blueprints and molds [sic] for production. All missiles were destroyed.” (page 8)


(This information was reported in the March 2003 issue of Labour & Trade Union Review).


When the Newsweek article was published, the Foreign Office told Private Eye that Kamel’s claims “were dismissed at the time as a complete fabrication” and that the intelligence services believed that Kamel was “lying” (see Private Eye 1111, 23 July 2004).  A CIA spokesman Bill Harlow was quoted by ABC News on 24 February 2003 as saying: "It is incorrect, bogus, wrong, untrue”.


MI6 (and the CIA) also interviewed Kamel, and presumably he told them the same story.  In any case, it is certain that MI6 (and the CIA) were familiar with what he told UNSCOM, whether or not it was UNSCOM policy to inform them officially, since both agencies had personnel within UNSCOM.


Kamel the reliable informant

As we have said, in the months before the US/UK invasion of Iraq, both governments often cited Kamel as a valuable, and reliable, source of information about Iraq’s programmes, and as proof that interrogation of Iraqis who participated in them, rather than detective work by UN inspectors, was the way to acquire a comprehensive picture of them.


For example, in a speech on 26 August 2002, Vice-President Dick Cheney said Kamel's story “should serve as a reminder to all that we often learned more as the result of defections than we learned from the inspection regime itself”.  And in the crucial debate on 18 March 2003, Prime Minister Blair told the House of Commons:


“In August [1995], it [Iraq] provided yet another full and final declaration. Then, a week later, Saddam's son-in-law, Hussein Kamal, defected to Jordan. He disclosed a far more extensive biological weapons programme and, for the first time, said that Iraq had weaponised the programme—something that Saddam had always strenuously denied. All this had been happening while the inspectors were in Iraq.


“Kamal also revealed Iraq's crash programme to produce a nuclear weapon in the 1990s. Iraq was then forced to release documents that showed just how extensive those programmes were.”


The Prime Minister did not to divulge to the House of Commons that Kamel had also told UN inspectors that, on his orders, all Iraq’s proscribed weapons and weapons-related material had been destroyed in the summer of 1991.  This was particularly important since on 18 March 2003 he based his entire case for war on Iraq’s possession of this material left over from before the Gulf War, which UN inspectors deemed “unaccounted for” but which Kamel said had been destroyed.


For reasons which have never been explained, the Prime Minister didn’t restate in March 2003 the confident assertion in his foreword to the Government dossier published in September 2002 that intelligence had “established beyond doubt” that “Saddam has continued to produce chemical and biological weapons”.  Instead, all he talked about was the “old remains” manufactured before the Gulf War.


Even though Kamel’s astonishing claim was in the public domain when the Prime Minister spoke to the Commons, he wasn’t challenged on that day about it, nor has he been seriously challenged about it since.


Butler on Kamel

As we have said, the Butler report mentions Kamel several times.  Thus, the report summarises the available sources of intelligence as follows:


Iraq was a very difficult intelligence target. Between 1991 and 1998, the bulk of information used in assessing the status of Iraq’s biological, chemical and ballistic missile programmes was derived from UNSCOM reports. In 1995, knowledge was significantly boosted by the defection of Hussein Kamil. But, after the departure of United Nations inspectors in December 1998, information sources were sparse, particularly on Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons programmes.” (Paragraph 433)


(The text in bold also appears in the report’s conclusions (Chapter 8).  Strangely, Kamel doesn’t figure anywhere in over twenty pages of conclusions despite his significance as an informant.)


It needs to be emphasised that UN inspectors didn’t “depart” of their own volition in December.  They were withdrawn by President Clinton and Prime Minister Blair prior to their bombing Iraq.  What is more, they were withdrawn in the full knowledge that Iraq wouldn’t let them back in again after the bombing.  We have that on the authority of Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary at the time, who told the Foreign Affairs Select Committee on 17 June 2003:


“It [the bombing campaign] was quite deliberately undertaken by us in the knowledge this would mean that the inspections regime would come to an end and would have to be replaced by a policy of containment.” 


The “sparseness” of information sources after December 1998 is down to Clinton and Blair.


The Butler report mentions several instances of Kamel having supplied information, which appears to have been regarded as reliable.  Although the report doesn’t say so explicitly, it is clear that Kamel’s information prompted a new JIC assessment, dated 24 August 1995.  What is more, it is appears that in August 1995 the JIC believed Kamel about the destruction of chemical agents and weapons and missiles, but apparently not about the destruction of biological agents and weapons.  Again, the report doesn’t say so explicitly.


Section 5.2 of the report (paragraphs 155-209) deals with the intelligence from 1992 to 1998.  Kamel’s contribution to the JIC’s increased knowledge of Iraq’s nuclear programmes is recorded in Paragraph 169, of chemical weapons in Paragraph 177, of biological weapons in Paragraph 185 and of missiles in Paragraphs 199-200.


On chemical agents and weapons, Paragraph 177 says:


In the same vein, in August 1995, drawing on evidence provided by Hussein Kamil after his defection, the JIC concluded that: ‘We assess [Iraq] may also have hidden some specialised equipment and stocks of precursor chemicals but it is unlikely they have a covert stockpile of weapons or agent in any significant quantity; Hussein Kamil claims there are no remaining stockpiles of agent.’ [JIC assessment, 24 August 1995]”


From that, it is fairly clear that the JIC believed Kamel when he said that chemical agents and weapons manufactured before the Gulf War had been destroyed.  And there is no indication later in the report that the JIC’s original confidence in Kamel’s claim was overridden by later information. 


Nevertheless, this material was still on UNSCOM’s “unaccounted for” list when its inspectors were withdrawn in December 1998, and was still on UNMOVIC’s “unaccounted for” list in March 2003.  On 18 March 2003, the Prime Minister reeled off a list of chemical agents and weapons from this “unaccounted for” list, and gave the misleading impression that we had on UN authority that they definitely existed – even though it appears that in August 1995 the JIC believed Kamel when he said they had been destroyed.


From Paragraphs 199 and 200 of the report, it is clear that in August 1995 the JIC also believed what Kamel said about missiles and missile components having been destroyed:


“… the JIC assessment of August 1995 included an analysis of Iraq’s residual ballistic missile capabilities, taking into account information provided by Hussein Kamil after his defection. We noted in particular that the JIC recorded that: ‘UNSCOM has verified destruction of the declared Scuds (and the Iraqi derivatives) and their launchers and believes it has a satisfactory account of what happened to the rest. UNSCOM has also supervised destruction of components and much of the missile-related infrastructure . . .’ [JIC assessment, 24 August 1995]


“In the same reassuring vein, the JIC said that: ‘We would expect Kamil to know a lot about the missile programme . . . He has also said that all the Scuds and their components have been destroyed . . .’ [ibid]”


Nevertheless, the Prime Minister felt able to tell the House of Commons on 18 March 2003 that “an entire Scud missile programme” (whatever he meant by that) had been “left unaccounted for” by UNSCOM in 1998 and it was “palpably absurd” that Saddam had destroyed it.


However, it seems that the JIC did not believe Kamel about the destruction of biological agents and weapons.  Paragraph 185 of the report says:


“… following the defection of Hussein Kamil and the Iraqi admission of an extensive biological weapons programme, the JIC had growing concerns that Iraq was concealing biological agent stocks.”


Gellman on Kamel

Before the Butler inquiry was established on 3 February 2004, there was information in the public domain suggesting that Kamel had told the truth, at least about the destruction of biological agents and weapons.  This was in an article by Barton Gellman entitled Iraq’s Arsenal Was Only on Paper published in the Washington Post on 7 January 2004.


Gellman says he has obtained a copy of a 6-page handwritten letter to Saddam’s son Qusay, composed just after Kamel’s defection and setting out what Kamel was in a position to reveal to UNSCOM that was not already known to UNSCOM.  Gellman writes:


“The new evidence appears to be a contemporary record, from inside the Iraqi government, of a pivotal moment in Baghdad's long struggle to shield arms programs from outside scrutiny. The document, written just after the defection of Saddam Hussein's son-in-law on Aug. 8, 1995, anticipates the collapse of cover stories for weapons that had yet to be disclosed. Read alongside subsequent discoveries made by UN inspectors, the document supports Iraq's claim that it destroyed all production stocks of lethal pathogens before inspectors knew they existed.”


The letter was apparently written by Hossam Amin, then and until his arrest on 27 April 2003, responsible for liaison with UN inspectors, and as such the keeper of Iraq’s remaining secrets about its proscribed weapons programmes.


According to Gellman:


“The person who provided a copy to The Washington Post had postwar access to the presidential office where he said he found the original. Iraqis who know Amin well and experienced government investigators from the United States and Europe, who analyzed the document for this article, said they believe it to be authentic. They cited handwriting, syntax, contemporary details and annotations that match those of previous samples. Markings on the letter say that Qusay read it, summarized it for his father and filed it with presidential secretary Abed Hamid Mahmoud.


“Just before his ‘sudden and regrettable flight and surrender to the bosom of the enemy’, Amin wrote, ‘the traitor Hussein Kamel’ received a detailed briefing on ‘the points of weakness and the points of strength’ in Iraq's concealment efforts.

Amin then listed, in numbered points, ‘the matters that are known to the traitor and not declared’ to UN inspectors.”


Gellman concludes:


“The most significant point in Amin's letter, US and European experts said, is his unambiguous report that Iraq destroyed its entire inventory of biological weapons. Amin reminded Qusay Hussein of the government's claim that it possessed no such arms after 1990, then wrote that in truth ‘destruction of the biological weapons agents took place in the summer of 1991’”


The Butler report did not comment on this evidence unearthed by Gellman.



Labour & Trade Union Review

August 2004