As long rumored, David Kay has resigned as head of the Iraq Survey Group. On his way out, he gave an “exit interview” to Reuters. It is being widely reported that he told Reuters that he thinks there were no illicit weapons in Iraq prior to the start of the recent war, and that Iraq’s WMD programs were never restarted on a large scale after the Gulf War.
This may be significant, especially politically, but as a threshold matter we don’t know yet know exactly what Kay said. This is the closest I’ve found to a transcript of his interview, but it’s only excerpts. What Kay says plainly is that he doesn’t think “large stockpiles” of biological and chemical weapons existed. At this point, that’s hardly a shock. But he also says:
I think the best evidence is that they did not resume large-scale production, and that’s what we’re really talking about, is large stockpiles, not the small. Large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons in the period after ’95.
The country is such and he hid so much that you can probably spend the next decade of your life in the country, and you will find things, but I think in terms of understanding that program, we’re well on the way, almost at the end, so that you can say what went wrong, what they had.
Now, when we’re talking about biological and chemical weapons, small stockpiles can obviously be very significant. And it isn’t clear to what extent Kay means to rule out the widely-reported possibility that supplies of biological and chemical materials were shipped out to Syria and hidden there. The Survey Group’s final report may or may not answer these questions definitively.
In the meantime, Kay’s performance is disappointing. After his interim report was released some months ago, he expressed astonishment that the report was misconstrued in the press as indicating that the Survey Group had found little or nothing, when in fact they had found a great deal. He went around giving follow-up interviews to try to set the record straight, with partial success at best. Knowing as he does the politically charged nature of his mission, it is hard to understand why he would give this sort of casual, seemingly careless interview to an anti-American news source like Reuters, and then disappear.
When we finally get an opportunity to read the interview in its entirety, some questions may be answered. More likely, we will have to await the Survey Group’s final report. In the meantime, the implications of Kay’s interview are pretty much all political.