A top Pentagon official who was responsible for tracking Saddam Hussein's weapons programs before and after the 2003 liberation of Iraq, has provided the first-ever account of how Saddam Hussein "cleaned up" his weapons of mass destruction stockpiles to prevent the United States from discovering them.
"The short answer to the question of where the WMD Saddam bought from the Russians went was that they went to Syria and Lebanon," former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense John A. Shaw told an audience Saturday at a privately sponsored "Intelligence Summit" in Alexandria, Va. (www.intelligencesummit.org).
"They were moved by Russian Spetsnaz (special forces) units out of uniform, that were specifically sent to Iraq to move the weaponry and eradicate any evidence of its existence," he said.
Shaw has dealt with weapons-related issues and export controls as a U.S. government official for 30 years, and was serving as deputy undersecretary of defense for international technology security when the events he described today occurred.
He called the evacuation of Saddam's WMD stockpiles "a well-orchestrated campaign using two neighboring client states with which the Russian leadership had a long time security relationship."
Shaw was initially tapped to make an inventory of Saddam's conventional weapons stockpiles, based on intelligence estimates of arms deals he had concluded with the former Soviet Union, China and France.
He estimated that Saddam had amassed 100 million tons of munitions - roughly 60 percent of the entire U.S. arsenal. "The origins of these weapons were Russian, Chinese and French in declining order of magnitude, with the Russians holding the lion's share and the Chinese just edging out the French for second place."
But as Shaw's office increasingly got involved in ongoing intelligence to identify Iraqi weapons programs before the war, he also got "a flow of information from British contacts on the ground at the Syrian border and from London" via non-U.S. government contacts.
"The intelligence included multiple sightings of truck convoys, convoys going north to the Syrian border and returning empty," he said.
Shaw worked closely with Julian Walker, a former British ambassador who had decades of experience in Iraq, and an unnamed Ukranian-American who was directly plugged in to the head of Ukraine's intelligence service.
The Ukrainians were eager to provide the United States with documents from their own archives on Soviet arms transfers to Iraq and on ongoing Russian assistance to Saddam, to thank America for its help in securing Ukraine's independence from the Soviet Union, Shaw said.
In addition to the convoys heading to Syria, Shaw said his contacts "provided information about steel drums with painted warnings that had been moved to a cellar of a hospital in Beirut."
But when Shaw passed on his information to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and others within the U.S. intelligence community, he was stunned by their response.
"My report on the convoys was brushed off as ‘Israeli disinformation,'" he said.
One month later, Shaw learned that the DIA general counsel complained to his own superiors that Shaw had eaten from the DIA "rice bowl." It was a Washington euphemism that meant he had commited the unpardonable sin of violating another agency's turf.
The CIA responded in even more diabolical fashion. "They trashed one of my Brits and tried to declare him persona non grata to the intelligence community," Shaw said. "We got constant indicators that Langley was aggressively trying to discredit both my Ukranian-American and me in Kiev," in addition to his other sources.
But Shaw's information had not originated from a casual contact. His Ukranian-American aid was a personal friend of David Nicholas, a Western ambassador in Kiev, and of Igor Smesko, head of Ukrainian intelligence.
Smesko had been a military attaché in Washington in the early 1990s when Ukraine first became independent and Dick Cheney was secretary of defense. "Smesko had told Cheney that when Ukraine became free of Russia he wanted to show his friendship for the United States."
Helping out on Iraq provided him with that occasion.
"Smesko had gotten to know Gen. James Clapper, now director of the Geospacial Intelligence Agency, but then head of DIA," Shaw said.
But it was Shaw's own friendship to the head of Britain's MI6 that brought it all together during a two-day meeting in London that included Smeshko's people, the MI6 contingent, and Clapper, who had been deputized by George Tenet to help work the issue of what happened to Iraq's WMD stockpiles.
In the end, here is what Shaw learned:
The evacuation of Saddam's WMD to Syria and Lebanon "was an entirely controlled Russian GRU operation," Shaw said. "It was the brainchild of General Yevgenuy Primakov."
The goal of the clean-up was "to erase all trace of Russian involvement" in Saddam's WMD programs, and "was a masterpiece of military camouflage and deception."
Just as astonishing as the Russian clean-up operation were efforts by Bush administration appointees, including Defense Department spokesman Laurence DiRita, to smear Shaw and to cover up the intelligence information he brought to light.
"Larry DiRita made sure that this story would never grow legs," Shaw said. "He whispered sotto voce [quietly] to journalists that there was no substance to my information and that it was the product of an unbalanced mind."
Shaw suggested that the answer of why the Bush administration had systematically "ignored Russia's involvement" in evacuating Saddam's WMD stockpiles "could be much bigger than anyone has thought," but declined to speculate what exactly was involved.
Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney was less reticent. He thought the reason was Iran.
"With Iran moving faster than anyone thought in its nuclear programs," he told NewsMax, "the administration needed the Russians, the Chinese and the French, and was not interested in information that would make them look bad."
McInerney agreed that there was "clear evidence" that Saddam had WMD. "Jack Shaw showed when it left Iraq, and how."
Former Undersecretary of Defense Richard Perle, a strong supporter of the war against Saddam, blasted the CIA for orchestrating a smear campaign against the Bush White House and the war in Iraq.
"The CIA has been at war with the Bush administration almost from the beginning," he said in a keynote speech at the Intelligence Summit on Saturday.
He singled out recent comments by Paul Pillar, a former top CIA Middle East analyst, alleging that the Bush White House "cherry-picked" intelligence to make the case for war in Iraq.
"Mr. Pillar was in a very senior position and was able to make his views known, if that is indeed what he believed," Perle said.
"He (Pillar) briefed senior policy officials before the start of the Iraq war in 2003. If he had had reservations about the war, he could have voiced them at that time." But according to officials briefed by Pillar, Perle said, he never did.
Even more inexplicable, Perle said, were the millions of documents "that remain untranslated" among those seized from Saddam Hussein's intelligence services.
"I think the intelligence community does not want them to be exploited," he said.
Among those documents, presented Saturday at the conference by former FBI translator Bill Tierney, were transcripts of Saddam's palace conversations with top aides in which he discussed ongoing nuclear weapons plans in 2000, well after the U.N. arms inspectors believed he had ceased all nuclear weapons work.
"What was most disturbing in those tapes," Tierney said, "was the fact that the individuals briefing Saddam were totally unknown to the U.N. Special Commission."
In addition, Tierney said, the plasma uranium programs Saddam discussed with his aids as ongoing operations in 2000 had been dismissed as "old programs" disbanded years earlier, according to the final CIA report on Iraq's weapons programs, presented in 2004 by the Iraq Survey Group.
"When I first heard those tapes" about the uranium plasma program, "it completely floored me," Tierney said.
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