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Last Updated

16 Apr 2003

Source: New York Times, April 16, 2003


U.S. Civilian Experts Say Bureaucracy and Infighting Jeopardize Search for Weapons


Civilian experts recruited by the United States to hunt for unconventional weapons in Iraq say bureaucratic confusion and infighting have delayed their effort to a point that the search itself may be compromised.

The experts are part of a team of 40 to 60 people, both Americans and foreigners, whose mission is to follow the military's initial searches with more exhaustive ones. Many are scientists who formerly worked in Iraq for the United Nations and are considered experts on Iraqi arms.

So far, some of them say, the military's search efforts seem superficial and misguided. "They're going to blow it," one would-be inspector said. "That's the concern of a number of us."

This expert, and about half a dozen other would-be inspectors, spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear that they could be dropped from the team if they speak out publicly. They said they wanted to go to Iraq to help uncover illicit weapons they believe are still there, but well hidden.

Another expert called the military effort naVve. "They're reinventing the wheel," he said. "It doesn't seem to be a well-executed plan."

Defense Department officials in Washington, while conceding some missteps, defended the military hunt as sound. They said that no date had been set to send civilian inspectors in, but that the main reason for delaying them was concern for their safety. "We don't want to risk them before we know it's safe to go in," one official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

At least two kinds of military arms hunters are already at work in Iraq. Troops on the front lines have detectors to identify suspected deadly germs, chemicals and sources of radioactivity. Behind them is the 75th Exploitation Task Force, a large unit with better skills and equipment, including mobile laboratories.

The next wave, the civilian inspectors, is to be made up of the best scientists and experts the government can find. "What we're trying to set up is a more muscular organization to go in with even more talent," the military official said. "They're the high-quality expertise meant to tell the difference between Saddam's strategic talcum-powder reserve or the anthrax."

Some of the civilians attributed their delayed training and departure to bureaucratic ineptitude and infighting among the nation's military and security agencies. As a result, they say, morale among inspection team members has fallen as doubts rise about the effort's chances for success.

"It's been known for some time that this has to go and it's not moving," one expert said of the civilian effort. He added that recent reports from Iraq told of an important archive that was uncovered and its papers scattered to the wind.

"That's an important part of the picture," he said. "Now it's gone."

Several expressed frustration that the Bush administration had cited the need to disarm Iraq as the main reason for the invasion, yet so far had offered no firm evidence of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.

The civilians said the bureaucratic troubles seemed to center on two Pentagon agencies, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. At times, they said, the agencies stumbled over each other; they spoke of getting calls from a changing cast of characters, some seeming to be poorly informed.

"I said, `What's the schedule?' " one civilian recalled. "They couldn't answer, so I said, 'Sorry, I've got commitments.' "

Another said, "You get the impression that no one is in charge."

Some speculated that the speed of the war may have combined with bureaucratic red tape to produce an untimely start. Members of the military can be ordered to report for inspection duty, but civilians need contracts, pay, flight schedules and logistical aid.

The civilians said a White House expert, Col. Robert P. Kadlec of the Air Force, was trying to untie bureaucratic knots and get the operation moving faster. He did not respond to a message left at his office.

Pentagon officials said the civilians were overreacting out of frustration that the military got into Iraq first. They added that the two Pentagon agencies had distinct roles: the civilian effort is organized by the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Threat Reduction Agency is in charge of destroying any unconventional arms that are discovered.

For the civilian team, the Iraq Survey Group, the government is drawing mainly from the ranks of former United Nations inspectors in Iraq, including ones who worked for the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, known as Unmovic, and its predecessor, the United Nations Special Commission.

Ewen Buchanan, a spokesman for Unmovic, said it had trained more than 300 inspectors to go to Iraq and that about 110 actually went before the war started. He added that except in a few cases, his agency had no systematic way of knowing which inspectors the administration had sought out.

"There were two Americans on the New York staff who were approached and said, 'No thank you,' " Mr. Buchanan recalled. The United Nations insists that it still has legal authority to disarm Iraq.

Pentagon officials said the civilian inspectors were to go far beyond the military's efforts in hunting for chemical, biological and nuclear arms and their delivery systems. The period that civilians will spend in Iraq, officials added, will be open-ended, depending on what is found.

The idea for the civilian team originated last year when Central Command planned the war, military officials said. They added that efforts to organize it had accelerated in the last two months.

The civilians go to Fort Benning, Ga., for vaccinations and refresher training in how to conduct the hunt for Iraq's unconventional weapons. Last Sunday, officials said, 20 civilians flew to Fort Benning, and more are scheduled to go.

Military officials said they had 30 to 40 former United Nations weapons inspectors in the pipeline for Iraq and that they were trying to locate another 20 to ask them to sign up. All told, they added, some 1,000 military personnel and civilians will probably be involved in the search.

The civilians and military officials both said foreign experts would be part of the American team. "We're certainly looking for their help," the military official said, adding that at the very least British experts would be among the specialists.

The official said that an advance team for the inspectors was already working hard in the Middle East to make arrangements for their arrival. "Believe me, we're going to work them," he said of the civilian team. "Things are happening that they're not aware of."

The military inspection teams have already hit the beach, he added, "and the next wave is getting ready to climb into the landing craft."