2003 December 21 Sunday
Libya Abandons Nuclear Program That Was More Advanced Than Expected

George W. Bush and Tony Blair have come in for a great deal of criticism for overhyping the threat of Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) development programs. My own view of much of this criticism is that it misses the point that it is very difficult and probably impossible to accurately assess the state of a closed secretive society's weapons programs. In the aftermath of Gulf War I the US government was very surprised at the highly advanced state of Saddam's nuclear weapons program. Saddam was able to conceal much of what was going on. This intelligence lapse caused the Bush Administration and other governments as well to expect that Saddam still had a lot going on that was hidden. Now after Gulf War II it is still not clear what all Saddam was or was not up to. There remains the possibility that he could have had a lot of evidence destroyed or hidden.

Buttressing this argument that it is hard to know what closed secretive societies are up to are revelations of what Muammar Ghadafy was doing with his recently disclosed nuclear program. Libya has struck a deal with the United States and Great Britain to abandon its WMD development programs in exchange for a dropping of sanctions against Libya and in the process of striking this agreement Libya has revealed to US and British intelligence and weapons experts a nuclear program that was further along than US intelligence expected it to be.

Libya, which agreed to give up its weapons programs Friday, told the agents that it possesses tons of mustard gas and other chemical weapons materials, facilities that could manufacture germ weapons, Scud missiles, and a more advanced nuclear weapons program than previously known, the officials said. They briefed reporters on condition that they not be identified.

The economic pressure of sanctions and the unwillingness of the Bush Administration to let the Libyans free of the sanctions without first abandoning their WMD programs were essential in bringing the Libyans to agreement.

Congress and the Bush administration, however, said sanctions would be maintained until Libya gave up its illicit weapons programs and links to terrorist organizations. That position, American and British officials said, forced Libya -- economically crippled and desperate for the return of foreign oil companies -- to consider the new concessions.

A State Department official said Libya felt an urgency to act because of the U.S. stances on Iran and North Korea and the war in Iraq. An intelligence official said Khadafy was also concerned about the threat to his government from militant elements in the country.

The CIA sees the revelations coming out of Libya as confirming the accuracy and prowess of the CIA analysts who try to monitor WMD developments in rather closed societies.

Though the country's uranium-enrichment capabilities were further along than expected, the intelligence officials said that much of what the CIA saw confirmed its analysts' projections, which they hailed as a vindication of the agency's ability to monitor weapons programs around the world. That ability has been called into question by the failure of the U.S. hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Is the CIA just spinning? Or do the CIA folks really believe that even though Libya was further along toward developing nuclear weapons than the CIA suspected that these revelations demonstrate the CIA's prowess in monitoring weapons development programs? Perhaps they view a partial success in figuring out an enemy WMD program as an excellent performance for an intelligence agency. That might even be true. It is hard to figure out what a fairly closed society's government is up to.

My guess is that the CIA analysts who are patting themselves on the back are missing the point that this level of performance is not sufficient to allow a US President intent on a strategy of preemption to stop the spread of WMD to make correct decisions about when to intervene in other countries with military force. A President is bound to either wait too long before intervening or to intervene and then not find enough evidence to justify that rationale for intervention.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 December 21 10:50 PM  US Foreign Weapons Proliferation Control

Luke Lea said at December 23, 2003 6:45 PM:

Excellently well put. Diserves more exposure.

Patrick said at January 1, 2004 4:26 AM:

Doesn't the total failure of the US to find a bunch of partly assembled bombs with radiation symbols on the sides and written details showing that each one was targeted at Children's hospitals in the US and Europe PROVE that the CIA and Pentagon ISN'T lying and making up false evidence they way they are often accused of doing?

Randall Parker said at January 1, 2004 10:33 AM:

Pat, I missed the part about children's hospitals. Really?

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