There were also Iraq-specific factors. The intelligence community will have had in mind that Iraq had not only owned but used its chemical weapons in the past. It will inevitably have been influenced by the way in which the Iraqi regime was engaged in a sustained programme to try to deceive United Nations inspectors and to conceal from them evidence of its prohibited programmes. Furthermore, because SIS did not have agents with first-hand knowledge of Iraq’s nuclear, chemical, biological or ballistic missile programmes, most of the intelligence reports on which assessments were being made were inferential. The Assessments Staff and JIC were not fully aware of the access and background of key informants, and could not therefore read their material against the background of an understanding of their motivations for passing on information.
We have also noted in the papers we have read that the broad conclusions of the UK intelligence community (although not some particular details) were widely-shared by other countries, especially the assessment that it was likely that Iraq had, or could produce, chemical and biological weapons which it might use in circumstances of extremity. We note that Dr Blix, Executive Chairman of UNMOVIC, has said19 that:
My gut feelings,which I kept to myself,suggested to me that Iraq still enga ged in prohibited activities and retained prohibited items,and that it had the d ocuments to prove it.
Where doubts existed, they were about the extent to which the intelligence amounted to proof, as opposed to balance of probability.
However, we detected a tendency for assessments to be coloured by over- reaction to previous errors. Past under-estimates had a more lasting impact on the assessment process than past over-estimates, when both should have been as deserving of attention. We have also noted that where for good reasons20 the JIC chose to adopt a worst case estimate (which in most cases it described as such) there was a tendency for that basis of calculation not to be made clear in later assessments. As a result, there was a risk of over-cautious or worst case estimates, shorn of their caveats, becoming the ‘prevailing wisdom’. Subsequent Iraqi declarations being tested against such estimates for truthfulness would have been seen as falling short - a view that will have been reinforced by proven shortfalls in Iraqi declarations during the early- and mid-1990s and by Iraqi prevarication, concealment and deception.
The JIC may, in some assessments, also have misread the nature of Iraqi governmental and social structures. The absence of intelligence in this area may also have hampered planning for the post-war phase on which departments did a great deal of work. We note that the collection of intelligence on Iraq’s prohibited weapons programmes was designated as being a JIC First Order of Priority whereas intelligence
Dr Hans Blix, “Disarming Iraq” (Bloomsbury, London, 2004), page 112. In particular, in relation to chemical and biological weapons it would have been irresponsible in the highest degree to send armed forces into battle on the assumption that Iraq did not have chemical or biological weapons and would not use them.