Melanie Phillips talks to Dave Gaubatz, a former US Air Force special agent, who passed on vital intelligence to the Iraq Survey Group — and is dismayed that nothing happened
It’s a fair bet that you have never heard of a guy called Dave Gaubatz. It’s also a fair bet that you think the hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has found absolutely nothing, nada, zilch; and that therefore there never were any WMD programmes in Saddam’s Iraq to justify the war ostensibly waged to protect the world from Saddam’s use of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.
Dave Gaubatz, however, says that you could not be more wrong. Saddam’s WMD did exist. He should know, because he found the sites where he is certain they were stored. And the reason you don’t know about this is that the American administration failed to act on his information, ‘lost’ his classified reports and is now doing everything it can to prevent disclosure of the terrible fact that, through its own incompetence, it allowed Saddam’s WMD to end up in the hands of the very terrorist states against whom it is so controversially at war.
You may be tempted to dismiss this as yet another dodgy claim from a warmongering lackey of the world Zionist neocon conspiracy giving credence to yet another crank pushing US propaganda. If so, perhaps you might pause before throwing this article at the cat. Mr Gaubatz is not some marginal figure. He’s pretty well as near to the horse’s mouth as you can get.
Having served for 12 years as an agent in the US Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations, Mr Gaubatz, a trained Arabic speaker, was hand-picked for postings in 2003, first in Saudi Arabia and then in Nasariyah in Iraq. His mission was to locate suspect WMD sites, discover threats against US forces in the area and find Saddam loyalists, and then send such intelligence to the Iraq Survey Group and other agencies.
Between March and July 2003, he says, he was taken to four sites in southern Iraq — two within Nasariyah, one 20 miles south and one near Basra — which, he was told by numerous Iraqi sources, contained biological and chemical weapons, material for a nuclear programme and UN-proscribed missiles. He was, he says, in no doubt whatever that this was true.
This was, in the first place, because of the massive size of these sites and the extreme lengths to which the Iraqis had gone to conceal them. Three of them were bunkers buried 20 to 30 feet beneath the Euphrates. They had been constructed through building dams which were removed after the huge subterranean vaults had been excavated so that these were concealed beneath the river bed. The bunker walls were made of reinforced concrete five feet thick.
‘There was no doubt, with so much effort having gone into hiding these constructions, that something very important was buried there’, says Mr Gaubatz. By speaking to a wide range of Iraqis, some of whom risked their lives by talking to him and whose accounts were provided in ignorance of each other, he built up a picture of the nuclear, chemical and biological materials they said were buried underground.
‘They explained in detail why WMDs were in these areas and asked the US to remove them,’ says Mr Gaubatz. ‘Much of this material had been buried in the concrete bunkers and in the sewage pipe system. There were also missile imprints in the area and signs of chemical activity — gas masks, decontamination kits, atropine needles. The Iraqis and my team had no doubt at all that WMDs were hidden there.’
There was yet another significant piece of circumstantial corroboration. The medical records of Mr Gaubatz and his team showed that at these sites they had been exposed to high levels of radiation.
Mr Gaubatz verbally told the Iraq Study Group (ISG) of his findings, and asked them to come with heavy equipment to breach the concrete of the bunkers and uncover their sealed contents. But to his consternation, the ISG told him they didn’t have the manpower or equipment to do it and that it would be ‘unsafe’ to try.
‘The problem was that the ISG were concentrating their efforts in looking for WMD in northern Iraq and this was in the south,’ says Mr Gaubatz. ‘They were just swept up by reports of WMD in so many different locations. But we told them that if they
didn’t excavate these sites, others would.’
That, he says, is precisely what happened. He subsequently learnt from Iraqi, CIA and British intelligence that the WMD buried in the four sites were excavated by Iraqis and Syrians, with help from the Russians, and moved to Syria. The location in Syria of this material, he says, is also known to these intelligence agencies. The worst-case scenario has now come about. Saddam’s nuclear, biological and chemical material is in the hands of a rogue terrorist state — and one with close links to Iran.
When Mr Gaubatz returned to the US, he tried to bring all this to light. Two congressmen, Peter Hoekstra, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and Curt Weldon, were keen to follow up his account. To his horror, however, when they tried to access his classified intelligence reports, they were told that all 60 of them — which, in the routine way, he had sent in 2003 to the computer clearing-house at a US airbase in Saudi Arabia — had mysteriously gone missing. These written reports had never even been seen by the ISG.
One theory is that they were inadvertently destroyed when the computer’s database was accidentally erased in the subsequent US evacuation of the airbase. Mr Gaubatz, however, suspects dirty work at the crossroads. It is unlikely, he says, that no copies were made of his intelligence. And he says that all attempts by Messrs Hoekstra and Weldon to extract information from the Defence Department and CIA have been relentlessly stonewalled.
In 2005, the CIA held a belated inquiry into the disappearance of this intelligence. Only then did its agents visit the sites — to report that they had indeed been looted.
Mr Gaubatz’s claims remain largely unpublicised. Last year, the New York Times dismissed him as one of a group of WMD diehard obsessives. The New York Sun produced a more balanced report, but after that the coverage died. According to Mr Gaubatz, the reason is a concerted effort by the US intelligence and political world to stifle such an explosive revelation of their own lethal incompetence.
After he and an Iraqi colleague spoke at last month’s Florida meeting of the Intelligence Summit, an annual conference of the intelligence world, they were interviewed for two hours by a US TV show — only for the interview to be junked after the FBI repeatedly rang Mr Gaubatz and his colleague to say they would stop the interview from being broadcast.
The problem the US authorities have is that they can’t dismiss Mr Gaubatz as a rogue agent — because they have repeatedly decorated him for his work in the field. In 2003, he received awards for his ‘courage and resolve in saving lives and being critical for information flow’. In 2001, he was decorated for being the ‘lead agent in a classified investigation, arguably the most sensitive counter-intelligence investigation currently in the entire Department of Defence’ and because his ‘reports were such high quality, many were published in the Air Force’s daily threat product for senior USAF leaders or re-transmitted at the national level to all security agencies in US government’.
The organiser of the Intelligence Summit, John Loftus — himself a formidably well-informed former attorney to the intelligence world — has now sent a memorandum to Congress asking it to investigate Mr Gaubatz’s claims. He has also hit a brick wall. The reason is not hard to grasp.
The Republicans won’t touch this because i
t would reveal the incompetence of the Bush administration in failing to neutralise the danger of Iraqi WMD. The Democrats won’t touch it because it would show President Bush was right to invade Iraq in the first place. It is an axis of embarrassment.
Mr Loftus goes further. Saddam’s nuclear research, scientists and equipment, he says, have all been relocated to Syria, where US satellite intelligence confirms that uranium centrifuges are now operating — in a country which is not supposed to have any nuclear programme. There is now a nuclear axis, he says, between Iran, Syria and North Korea — with Russia and China helping to build an Islamic bomb against the West. And of course, with assistance from American negligence.
‘Apparently Saddam had the last laugh and donated his secret stockpile to benefit Iran’s nuclear weapons programme. With a little technical advice from Beijing, Syria is now enriching the uranium, Iran is making the missiles, North Korea is testing the warheads, and the White House is hiding its head in the sand.’
Of course, we don’t know whether any of this is true. But given Dave Gaubatz’s testimony, shouldn’t someone be trying to find out? Or will we still be intoning ‘there were no WMDs in Iraq’ when the Islamic bomb goes off?
Melanie Phillips is a Daily Mail columnist.