For all his many accomplishments in a long and distinguished career,
David A. Kay will probably be remembered for one memorable phrase
uttered before a Senate committee in January: "It turns out we
were all wrong."
||PHOTO BY PETER CUTTS
He was, of course, debunking the nearly universal prewar belief--and
the major reason for the preemptive war--that Iraq had weapons
of mass destruction (WMD). And he was speaking with some authority.
He had just resigned as head of the Central Intelligence Agency-led
Iraq Survey Group (ISG), tasked with finding those weapons.
This Ph.D. political scientist didn't set out to be the man
who proclaimed the emperor had no clothes. Rather, he ambled along
that road in a fashion emblematic of the sixties, first as an
undergraduate at the University
of Texas, Austin, where he began as a major in physics but
by the age of 19 realized, "I loved science, but I didn't like
the isolation of being a scientist." Then at Columbia
University, where he received his doctorate and continued
to attend physics seminars--not for their scientific concepts
so much as for the principles he could later apply to regulations,
economics, and business.
From the late sixties until the early seventies, he hopscotched
from the University of Wisconsin,
Madison, to Columbia, teaching political science and eventually
becoming a full professor at Wisconsin. As is typical of his career,
Kay took a year's hiatus from teaching. In 1967, he became a special
assistant to Arthur J. Goldberg, who was then-president Lyndon
B. Johnson's ambassador to the United Nations.
When Goldberg resigned in 1968, Kay returned to academia but
continued to consult for the State Department. In 1972, he took
a leave of absence from Wisconsin to work with the American
Society of International Law, which had a National Science
That grant was for NSF's Research Applied to National Needs
(RANN) program, and Kay directed several studies that attempted
to understand emerging problems that transcended a single country's
boundaries. As part of the RANN effort, Kay also worked on a nuclear
safeguards project funded by the State Department.
That last study brought Kay to the attention of State Department
officials who, in 1978, asked him to serve as a U.S. representative
to Paris-based UNESCO, the
UN Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organization. It took
him all of two minutes to decide he wanted to be an American in
Paris, and he accepted, figuring he would be in Europe only two
But two years turned into 15. The first five were at UNESCO,
where he set up an evaluation unit that monitored technical assistance
programs around the world. That effort brought Kay to the notice
of Hans Blix, then-director general of the International
Atomic Energy Agency, in Vienna.
Blix wanted Kay to set up a similar unit to monitor IAEA's
technical assistance program. So in 1983, Kay became the first
American hired by Blix after the U.S. resumed its participation
In the mid-1980s, IAEA's safeguards program was in disarray,
as evidenced by a poorly written and reasoned document that was
leaked to a German newspaper. Blix tapped Kay to rewrite the safeguards
document, instructing him to beef up its analytical underpinnings.
And then along came the first Gulf War in Iraq in 1991.
Kay, then on assignment for IAEA, was temporarily residing
in a Chinese Communist guesthouse about 200 miles from Beijing
when the war broke out. In rapt fascination, he watched the air
war on Chinese television, and he says, "We were losing badly
on Chinese television!"
That war's messy ending left unanswered the question of what
was to be done about Iraq's assumed WMD program. The UN's answer
was to set up the UN Special Commission on Iraq, UNSCOM,
to uncover and destroy those weapons. The nuclear side was assigned
to IAEA, and Blix asked Kay to be one of three senior officials
to lead IAEA's efforts.
Kay went to Iraq as IAEA's deputy for management and administration,
but was soon leading nuclear inspection teams.
A major breakthrough occurred when one of Kay's teams discovered
Iraq's well-concealed electromagnetic isotope separation program.
But, for sensationalism, nothing can top Kay's and other inspectors'
four-day standoff with Iraqi military on a Baghdad parking lot.
That episode earned Kay CIA's nickname "Ramrod."
Kay left IAEA in 1992 to serve for one year as director general
of a London-based trade association, the Uranium Institute. From
London, he went to Science Applications
International Corp. (SAIC), a major defense and intelligence
contractor in northern Virginia, where, until 2002, he served
as a senior vice president for nonproliferation and counterterrorism.
From SAIC, Kay went to the Potomac
Institute for Policy Studies. He was there barely a year when
the Bush Administration, in June 2003, asked him to lead the CIA-directed,
1,400-member Iraq Survey Group.
Kay recently sat down with C&EN
Senior Correspondent Lois R. Ember to talk about why he believed
Iraq had WMD, why he changed his mind, and why he resigned from
his CIA assignment so publicly after only six months.
C&EN: You were on the ground in
Iraq twice, in 1991 and then again in 2003. Describe the similarities
and the differences.
KAY: Well, there are really more differences
than similarities. In 1991, when we United Nations inspectors
went in after the first Gulf War, Saddam was still in power. There
was no U.S. military presence. Essentially, we had no security
and were surrounded by Iraqi security officers who hindered our
The first mission I took into Baghdad, the city was still struggling
with the aftermath of the war. There was one functioning traffic
light in the entire city. We had no U.S. military support, and,
in fact, the U.S. government had refused to give us almost anything.
The vehicles we initially used were diesel-fueled British Land
Rovers, and we had a real problem getting fuel.
The Iraqis were contending they had no WMD program. We had
to unmask a program we knew little about and the other side was
trying to hide. To do so, we had to build an organizational infrastructure
from the ground up.
You have to realize that in the history of the UN, no group
had ever conducted inspections of this type. The old IAEA safeguards
program inspections were cooperative inspections. There was at
that time, in 1991, no organization conducting chemical weapons
inspections. Those came later after the chemical weapons treaty
was ratified. There were no biological or missile inspection mechanisms.
C&EN: You were with IAEA, focusing
on nuclear inspections. UNSCOM inspectors were charged with conducting
chemical and biological inspections, correct?
KAY: This is one of the things in diplomacy
that is not as clear as it should be. UNSCOM had the overall responsibility
for uncovering Iraq's WMD program. But IAEA had the lead for the
nuclear inspections. UNSCOM was to support IAEA. But IAEA was
to work under the direction of UNSCOM. Only UN diplomats would
ever come up with something like that. And you can imagine that
this was a source of constant tension and innumerable snafus between
the two organizations.
In fact, every time I went to Iraq, I had a letter that designated
me as an UNSCOM chief inspector and an IAEA inspector. I was dual-hatted,
so to speak. I really worked for two bosses: Rolf Ekeus, who was
executive chairman of UNSCOM, and Hans Blix, who was director
general of IAEA.
Remember: We inspectors were dealing with Iraqis who owned
the city, owned the weapons, and had a security force. We invoked
all the powers we could to deal with them, because that's all
C&EN: How did your 2003 experience
as head of the CIA-directed ISG compare with your 1991 experience
as a UN inspector?
KAY: When I went back this time, in the summer
of 2003, the U.S.-led coalition had won the war. Saddam was gone--not
yet found--but he was gone from Baghdad. There had been tremendous
looting, which was actually worse than the destruction from the
bombing. Electric power was down because of the looting that had
occurred after the war ended on April 9, so we had to deal with
that. And there were a lot of coalition security forces around.
You'll remember that ISG had actually been created before I
arrived. But it hadn't been in the field very much when President
George W. Bush decided to transfer responsibility for the survey
group from the Pentagon, where it had been resident, to the CIA.
So having a group in place before I arrived was a huge difference
Also, in 1991, I was out in the field leading inspections and
making decisions. In 2003, I had a two-star general I had to keep
happy and informed. I had people to consult. I had briefings to
do. I managed people. So in 2003, there was less hands-on stuff
and more management.
C&EN: What most surprised you
in 1991 and in 2003? And what most frustrated or disappointed
KAY: The most surprising find of 1991 by far
was Iraq's immense nuclear weapons program. For example, in the
enrichment area, the Iraqis had made huge progress with an EMIS
enrichment system, an electromagnetic isotope separation system.
The Iraqis also had tried to develop a gaseous diffusion centrifuge,
and were even playing around with laser enrichment. They tried
just about everything.
Their nuclear program was huge. At its peak, it probably had more
than 10,000 people employed in various categories. We estimated
that the Iraqis were somewhere between six months to a year and
a half from having a crude nuclear device. This was a tremendous
surprise to everyone--a great surprise.
||PHOTO BY PETER CUTTS
The biggest disappointment was the difficulty we had in getting
the Iraqis to understand that it was in their own best interest
to cooperate with inspectors rather than to attempt to protect
the program, shield it from inspectors, and only concede having
what we had uncovered while continuing to lie about the rest of
I tried to convince the Iraqis that, in the end, no one was
going to believe them about anything, even when they told the
truth. And I was disappointed that they didn't understand that
it was in their own best interest to come clean on the program.
The extent of the looting and the deteriorated security situation
made work in 2003--sensible, scientific work--really very hard.
It was difficult to get Iraqis to cooperate because they feared
for their lives, they feared to be seen working with Americans.
Recall that Saddam wasn't captured until late December. And so
from June to December, we not only had an active insurgency but
a lot of Iraqis who thought Saddam might really return as president.
That fear complicated the relationship.
Ultimately, I would have to say my greatest shock in 2003 was
concluding that Iraq did not have WMD at the time the war broke
out. But almost as surprising was uncovering the serious deterioration
of the Iraqi infrastructure and scientific establishment.
You have to realize that in the 1980s, the Iraqis created something
that was unique for the Middle East, outside of Israel. They had
a productive scientific establishment that had produced missiles
and chemical and biological weapons, as well as a nuclear program
well on the way to producing nuclear weapons.
By 2003, the scientific establishment had deteriorated--and
not just from the war. It had descended into a vortex of criminality
C&EN: Why do you think you were
chosen to lead ISG?
KAY: The Bush Administration faced a very
difficult issue. The agency that had written the assessment of
what Saddam had before the war was being asked by the President
to go and find the weapons. That's inherently a conflict of interest
for the intelligence community.
In order to give the exercise credibility, it was important
to have someone from the outside who had some record of independence.
Now, it may have turned out I had more independence than they
wanted. But I had found stuff the Iraqis had been hiding before.
I think the success I had in 1991 in penetrating Iraq's nuclear
program was something the Administration looked forward to using.
The process of finding and understanding Iraq's WMD program before
ISG was set up was not one of great accomplishment.
There was an earlier group called the 75th Exploitation Task
Force that was badly led, badly managed, totally unsuccessful,
and chaotic. So the Administration needed to walk away from that,
and it needed to walk away with someone who had a clue as to how
to do it.
C&EN: Why did you accept the position?
KAY: It's one of those offers when it is put
to you that the President has decided to do something and wants
you to do it, and you feel it's important and what has been done
to date has been done poorly, you accept the challenge. Realize:
I had been in Iraq in May 2003 reporting for NBC on the chaos
of the previous inspection effort, the 75th Exploitation Task
Quite frankly, I thought, and said so on the air, that the
major reason the Administration gave for going to war was that
Iraq had WMD. If the President didn't make an honest and effective
effort to find them, he was going to have a major political problem
on his hands. And believing the job had not been well done, for
me, it was one of those put up or shut up jobs. And, besides,
I've always enjoyed this kind of challenge.
C&EN: When you accepted the position,
why did you believe Iraq had weapons?
KAY: Well, I thought the best evidence was
if Saddam didn't have WMD, why did he continue to act as if he
At that time, I was not a consultant for the CIA, and I didn't
have access to classified information. So I sort of took on faith
the National Intelligence Estimate that the intelligence community
had prepared for Congress and from which a number of assertions
about Iraq's capabilities had been made public. I naively, I now
realize, assumed that if the intelligence community wrote that,
it must have a reason for doing so.
And so, faced with the Iraqis' behavior--which I could see
and observe--along with this reference to classified information
that I could not see and observe, I drew the conclusion that Iraq
must have WMD. And I was wrong.
C&EN: You left IAEA in 1991, but
UN inspections continued until 1998 and resumed briefly in 2002.
Do you feel you were current on the information those inspections
were uncovering when you were speaking out about Iraq's arsenal?
KAY: I believe I had up-to-date information.
One of the nice things Ekeus did was meet with me continuously
while he was executive chairman of UNSCOM. I think there was very
little that took place that I wasn't briefed on or was privy to,
even though I was a private citizen and not associated with IAEA.
Almost all those inspectors who spoke out before the war believed
that Iraq had WMD, whether they were currently involved with inspections
or had been involved in the past. As is true among scientists,
the inspection community--and there were not that many inspectors--had
an informal contact network that kept us all informed of what
was being unearthed. And I think most inspectors were of the opinion
that the evidence indicated that Saddam was still hiding something.
C&EN: "We were all wrong" is the
most quoted line from your testimony before Congress in January.
KAY: It will probably be on my tombstone.
C&EN: What did you mean by "all"?
KAY: At that point, I was privy to our own
intelligence estimates as well as those of other countries. I
now knew what the analysts were writing before the war. And so,
as I looked at the analytical community's product--not just in
the U.S. but in the world--I saw a great deal of uniformity in
the assessment that Saddam, at least, had chemical and biological
weapons. That there was this surprising uniformity is, I think,
one of the most serious issues we must now understand and explain.
There were, of course, great differences among countries about
the proper political response to Saddam having chemical and biological
weapons. And there was wide divergence about whether Iraq had
a nuclear program.
C&EN: Was this uniformity produced
because intelligence was being recycled?
KAY: I think there were several reasons. First
of all, at the most basic level, it was the failure of the analytic
The various intelligence communities were reaching the same
conclusion, in part, because they were recycling the same information.
But think about it: In 1991, Saddam really did have WMD. He really
did try to hide them from UN inspectors. His behavior throughout
the 1990s and, really, up until the time of the 2003 war, was
pretty consistent. He tried to limit access, to conceal programs,
and to import things that he shouldn't have been importing under
UN resolutions. So his external behavior was pretty consistent.
Now, information that was collected--and there wasn't much--but
the information that was collected was put upon this preexisting
skeleton. Evidence that didn't conform to that skeleton tended
to be discarded, I think, all too easily. Partly because it didn't
fit. But, more important, I think, the only thing that garnered
ally support for the U.S. policy toward Iraq throughout the 1990s
and up until the time of the war was the threat of WMD.
U.S. policymakers in both the Clinton and Bush Administrations
were interested in regime change. But no one else in the world
was interested in regime change. The only thing that held it together
was Iraq's WMD program.
It was almost as if there were two bars: Evidence that seemed
to support the existence of a WMD program had to pass a very low
bar of credibility. Evidence that did not confirm had to jump
an extremely high bar because if it became accepted, there would
be a real problem in holding the allies together.
C&EN: Were there other reasons?
KAY: Yes, there was a third, though subsidiary,
issue. The U.S. tends to collect intelligence using technical
means. That's America's forte. We monitor targets from outer space;
we intercept their electromagnetic communications; we measure
the effluents from their processes.
The problem is that information collected by technical means
is pretty limited. For example, satellite photography can detect
new buildings, but it can't see inside buildings. And, over the
past 50 years, the U.S. has failed to gather enough reliable human
intelligence--and has suffered from this deficit.
Policymakers in both Administrations didn't want to know if
there was a new building outside of Baghdad. They wanted to know
what was happening with the WMD program. And the only people who
had any information on that were Iraqi defectors.
The defectors wanted to get rid of Saddam because of the hardship
and suffering he had imposed on his people. The U.S. wanted Saddam
gone because of his suspected weapons programs. The defectors
knew this, so they told us tales of WMD to move the U.S. toward
their objective of eliminating Saddam.
We bought the lies. And now we have to understand why we were
C&EN: Why do you think Saddam
continued to thwart the UN and never admitted to having destroyed
KAY: I think there were three reasons. He
was still doing things that were illegal under the UN resolutions
that he wanted to hide, and he had aspirations of continuing his
program at some point. So he really did have something worth hiding.
Second, it turns out, he was most afraid of his own people--the
Kurds and the majority Shia. He represented a minority within
a majority who had absolute hatred for him, and he knew it. And,
he knew the Kurds and Shia feared his use of chemical weapons,
so believing that he had those weapons was a constraint on their
He also feared his own military. There had been military coup
attempts against Saddam.
ISG learned from extensive interviews with military officers
that most of his military actually thought Iraq had WMD. And for
that reason, Saddam felt that if he indicated that he had given
up those weapons, it would be a sign of weakness that he had caved
in to the UN and the U.S. He couldn't show weakness in front of
people who had guns--the military.
Throughout the 1990s, U.S. policy, at least CIA policy, had
been to try to form a coup in the military to get rid of Saddam.
The U.S. understood that the people who had guns were the real
threat to him. Saddam understood that the people who had guns
were the real threat to him, and so he tried to look strong. It's
just the strong man facade.
C&EN: What about regional threats
KAY: Well, I think regional threats were of
less concern to him in the end. He really feared his own people,
and his own military, much more than threats from other countries
in the region.
C&EN: What are the lessons learned
from the U.S. foray into preemptive war?
KAY: Exquisite intelligence is needed before
a preemptive attack is launched. There is probably nothing more
destructive to democracy--both internally and in world standing--if
the reasons for going to war turn out to be wrong. For a democratic
country, force always is and should be the last resort.
If the main reason for going to war is--as it was in this instance--eliminating
WMD, then intelligence needs to pinpoint where they are. In this
case, we were wrong about the reasons, and consequently we were
wrong about where they were--because they didn't exist.
So I think this war emphasizes that a country does not go forward
with preemption unless it changes tremendously its intelligence
capability and structure. To do otherwise leads to a coarsening
of democratic debate in the country, creates dissent, and weakens
the country's leadership standing internationally.
C&EN: Other than the need for
good intelligence, are there other lessons learned?
KAY: The second lesson learned is that if
you go into these enterprises, there's a good reason for building
a coalition beyond providing the military strength required to
carry out the operation. Coalitions provide you with some things
you just can't have if you go about it unilaterally: support internationally,
but also domestically.
Coalitions bring you other things as well. For example, in
dealing with Iraqis, the people who were most effective while
I was there were those allies who spoke Arabic, who had experience
in the culture, who were Islamic. They brought things to the table
that as an American I could not bring.
C&EN: You resigned as head of
ISG this January after only six months. Why?
KAY: I came to the conclusion that there were
C&EN: How did you reach that conclusion?
KAY: Everyone expects it to be a eureka moment,
but it wasn't. There were things that from the very beginning
just didn't add up for me. Tallying all that I learned, I reached
a final conclusion that--at my 85% confidence level--there were
no stockpiles of WMD.
I found within the CIA a tremendous resistance to that conclusion--not
because it was wrong, but because it was inconvenient. And yet
I felt it was such an important conclusion, not just because of
Iraq, but because if we were wrong on Iraq, it represented a systemic
intelligence failure. And I felt it was important to address that
systemic failure because of the other security crises around.
I also thought addressing it was not something that should be
delayed because it was inconvenient.
C&EN: Did you resign, in part,
because you were not getting the resources you needed and because
members of ISG were being diverted to other tasks?
KAY: Dwindling resources was a very important
reason. When I accepted the job, I told Central Intelligence Director
George Tenet that there were a couple of conditions I felt were
important. I was to be in charge. When I asked for resources,
I'd get them. And finally, it was important that this operation,
ISG, be totally focused on WMD until we reach some conclusion
about their existence.
But by last November, I was dealing with this combination:
I had resources being drained and diverted, and I had a home office
that was reluctant to listen to my conclusion that there were
no weapons to be found. The conditions that had led me to take
the job had changed, and I saw no reason to continue.
C&EN: You resigned saying you
believed Iraq had no caches of WMD and probably hadn't had them
since the mid-1990s.
KAY: That's right.
C&EN: That's dramatically different
from your remarks to Congress in October when you said ISG hadn't
yet found weapons but left the impression that they might still
KAY: I don't think so. I think it's correct
to say I left the feeling that it was possible that they were
there. I actually think the October report stands up pretty well
in terms of its final conclusions.
It's remarkable for a government report in that it says on
the first page that ISG had not found weapons, as opposed to putting
that statement on the last page, as people had advised. And it
lays out conclusions I'm still prepared to stand by: There were
illegal imports, there were program activities, and there was
the intention to reacquire WMD at some point in the future. All
of those things are true.
C&EN: What convinced you to change
your mind so dramatically?
KAY: I don't think I changed my mind. I think
I moved to the logical conclusion. I mean, I said in October that
we had not found WMD. And I laid out the difficulties of finding
them--the lack of security and the looting. I laid out what we
had found in terms of program activities, and that we were continuing
to look for weapons. But two months later, we had played out all
of our strings.
C&EN: But you began this exercise
in June adamantly believing Iraq had weapons. What changed your
KAY: What changes from theory? It's the same
in science: empirical evidence.
When I accepted the job--even prior to that, during the war
while I was doing on-air analyses for NBC--UN inspectors were
not in Iraq, had not been in Iraq since 1998. We lacked physical
evidence. Then, following the war, the coalition suddenly owned
the haystack as opposed to looking at the haystack from the outside.
If there had been WMD, there were three things ISG needed to
find, even if we didn't find the actual weapons: a physical plant
that would have produced the weapons; scientists, engineers, and
technicians who would have worked on the production of those weapons;
and security and other people who would have been involved in
guarding or moving the weapons.
C&EN: By what metric could you
say in January that 85% of ISG's work had been done?
KAY: I was referring to 85% of the work on
being assured that there were not large stockpiles of WMD. I was
not saying 85% of all the work ISG could do in Iraq, which would
constitute a generation of effort.
But in most areas of investigation--whether it be science or social
science--85% is about as close as you could get to an absolute
answer. The last 15% often includes things that can't be done because
they are incredibly expensive or prohibited.
I thought with regard to determining whether there were large
weapons stockpiles that we were at the point where we had done
virtually everything we could do. For those who say they could
still be hidden someplace in Iraq, that it's a big country, yes,
they're obviously right. There always remains a level of unresolvable
There are always possibilities that you don't or can't examine.
ISG didn't go to Syria looking for weapons Saddam might have transferred.
So we can't say with 100% certainty that there are no Iraqi weapons
My fundamental belief is that weapons weren't moved to Syria
because ISG found no evidence that they had been produced. And
ISG found contrary evidence that they had not been produced. Would
it have been better if we had gone to Syria and been able to look?
Absolutely. But that was just not in the cards.
C&EN: Didn't you have enough inspectors
to narrow the level of ambiguity?
KAY: People say, well, you had 1,400 inspectors.
I didn't have 1,400 inspectors. I had 1,400 total personnel, including
a chaplain because ISG is a military organization.
C&EN: How many inspectors did
KAY: In total--if I generously include clandestine
officers, translators, and interpreters--I had fewer than 400
inspection personnel. That isn't a lot, and the 10% reduction
in inspection resources imposed in November was a huge reduction.
Only a relatively small number of inspectors were actually
military officers. Some inspectors were drawn from the Pentagon's
Defense Threat Reduction Agency. The nuclear inspectors were almost
entirely drawn from the national labs. And the biological inspectors
came from various intelligence agencies as well as from the ranks
of former UN inspectors.
C&EN: How do you answer those
people who say you didn't complete the job when you resigned abruptly
KAY: First of all, on whether it was abrupt
or not: It wasn't abrupt if you were on the inside. I told Tenet
in early November that I would resign if my resources were cut.
I think it is a fair criticism that I hadn't finished the job.
Certainly when I was weighing the pros and cons of taking that
step, leaving the job unfinished was the big negative, mostly
because I felt a responsibility to the people I had recruited
to join the survey group. The major positive outcome was that
my resignation might spark the national debate I thought was one
we needed to have but were not having. For me, the important thing
was that, as a country, we were not addressing large, systemic
It seemed to me that there was an attempt by the Administration
to roll it, to avoid drawing appropriate conclusions. The important
conclusions were not really with regard to WMD and Iraq. Once
the conclusion was reached that the intelligence had been wrong,
the next logical step, it seemed to me, was to try to understand
why it was wrong. And if you look back, prior to my testimony
that wasn't at the forefront.
After my testimony, what did you get? You got the Butler commission
in the U.K. and the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation,
among other studies in the U.S. So actually, I view my decision
to leave as having jump-started the process of understanding why
we got it wrong.
C&EN: Why, after you resigned,
did you say ISG needed to continue its work even though you believed
it wouldn't find weapons?
KAY: Oh, there are a lot of other important
questions to be answered besides the issue of large weapons stockpiles.
The procurement networks, for example. There clearly were illicit
procurements, and we need to uncover those networks to learn exactly
who had been supplying the illegal material ISG was finding but
Iraq had not reported to the UN. I think the survey group is now
concentrating on that.
We also need to understand the decision-making process in the
1990s that led the Iraqis to the conclusion that they ought to
dismantle their weapons and concentrate on programs that would
permit weapons production to resume sometime in the future.
My fear is that the important work remaining won't be done.
Now with a sovereign Iraqi government and the deteriorating security
situation, it becomes harder for the survey group to carry out
C&EN: Why have you said that you
don't believe the Bush Administration cherry-picked intelligence
to support going to war?
KAY: To me, cherry-picking means that you
choose those things that support your position and discard other
things that are inconvenient and don't support it. If you look
at the whole body of intelligence that was sent forward to the
White House, it was pretty consistent with regard to Iraq's chemical,
biological, nuclear, and missile programs. Administration officials
didn't have to cherry-pick.
C&EN: Supposedly, the intelligence
reports contained appropriate caveats and were nuanced in their
conclusions, and that all got lost in translation when they went
up to the White House.
KAY: Well, there's a game that's played in
Washington. The caveats are placed at the ends of reports. Take
a 60-page document such as the National Intelligence Estimate.
The President gets the executive summary, which generally does
not contain caveats.
The executive summary for the NIE on Iraq is among the sloppiest
written documents I've ever read. It is a poor representation
of the back part of the NIE, which I'm sure the President and
vice president probably never got.
I fault the intelligence community for a poor product, one
that left policymakers--who were perhaps less cautious than they
should have been--to act on a poor product and not realize how
poor it was.
C&EN: Even the President has been
reported as having questioned the intelligence. And Tenet supposedly
said "it's a slam-dunk" to reassure the President that the intelligence
KAY: Yes, and that leaves open the question:
If you're the President and you find something less than compelling
and you're thinking about going to war, do you take someone's
sports analogy as a sufficient answer? Or do you say, 'I'm uneasy
about this. Someone go find it out'?
I think the lesson is you do the latter; you give it serious
review. But that's not cherry-picking. I think the evidence is
that the intelligence was not subjected to a great deal of scrutiny
at higher levels of government. And in retrospect, should policymakers
regret that they didn't do that? Absolutely, they should regret
it. You don't go to war lightly, and you don't take on faith what
the intelligence community tells you.
C&EN: What are your future plans?
Are you writing a book about your Iraq experience?
KAY: No, I'm not writing a book about Iraq.
If I write a book at all next year, it'll be about intelligence
reform and intelligence in national security. I think terrorism
and WMD are important issues. But I think there are other national
security challenges for the next generation that are really much
more important. For example, the threats posed by failed states
or, more correctly, vulnerable societies that may resort to terrorism
or the use of WMD.