The period after the war was marked by periodic reports by the JIC on the progress made by the IAEA in supervising the dismantlement of Iraq’s nuclear weapons programme, and re-assessments of Iraq’s indigenous capabilities and the timescales within which it might be able to build a viable nuclear device. It is clear that two IAEA discoveries in 1991 had a significant impact on JIC assessments of Iraqi capabilities in the nuclear field.
The first was the discovery that, rather than focusing only on the centrifuge route, Iraq had been pursuing a number of routes for the production of fissile material. The JIC reported that, on the basis of post-war intelligence, it now knew that: . . . in the 1980s Iraq investigated four methods of uranium enrichment,inc luding the use of centrifuges. But the route that had made most progress was electromagnetic isotope separation (EMIS). [JIC, 11 July 1991]
The JIC noted also that, according to the intelligence: . . . enough fissile material had been produced before the coalition air attacks to produce one nuclear device. [JIC, 11 July 1991]
The JIC concluded that, whilst it found the new intelligence generally credible, it did not believe that Iraq could have obtained enough fissile material for a bomb by the route described in the new intelligence - a judgement later supported by the IAEA. It nevertheless cautioned that:
Nonetheless,given our lack of intelligence about the Iraqi nuclear progr amme,we cannot exclude the possibility that Iraq might have produced more fissile material than we have previously believed.
[JIC, 11 July 1991]
The second discovery was that made by an IAEA inspection team in September 1991 of significant volumes of documents about Iraq’s nuclear weapons programme. The JIC noted that the inspection had confirmed the existence of a comprehensive Iraqi nuclear weapons programme. It concluded that:
On the basis of the evidence so far of the programme’s progress before Desert Storm,Iraq could have made its first nuclear weapon by 1993,had its work not been interrupted by the war.
[JIC, 3 October 1991]
that is, at least two years earlier than its pre-war assessment.
It is clear from the papers we have seen and from oral evidence given by witnesses that the IAEA’s discovery in 1991 of the full scale of Iraqi capabilities had a significant impact on JIC assessments thereafter.