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Recently I've been puzzling over the implications of David Kay's statement to the Telegraph, which I mentioned in my previous post in this series.

I've been baffled that more hasn't been made of the possibility of WMD materiel going to Syria. So far as I know, the issue has hardly even been raised in other interviews Kay has given over the last week. To add to my puzzlement, the question was addressed in passing in a rather long article at the tail end of last week, from the NYT- which seemingly gives a rather different take:

"Dr. Kay said there was also no conclusive evidence that Iraq had moved any unconventional weapons to Syria, as some Bush administration officials have suggested. He said there had been persistent reports from Iraqis saying they or someone they knew had see cargo being moved across the border, but there is no proof that such movements involved weapons materials."

I'll always prefer a direct, unabridged quotation to a paraphrase. Consider again Kay's reported statement to the Telegraph:

"We are not talking about a large stockpile of weapons," [David Kay] said. "But we know from some of the interrogations of former Iraqi officials that a lot of material went to Syria before the war, including some components of Saddam's WMD programme. Precisely what went to Syria, and what has happened to it, is a major issue that needs to be resolved."

Is this a difference - at first blush apparently quite striking - a bit like the proverbial glass being half-full vs. half-empty? For, considering what in logic is called the "convertability"of propositions, all "Iraqi Officials" (Telegraph) are indeed "Iraqis" (NYT), though the converse isn't the case; all "components of Saddam's WMD programme" (Telegraph) would indeed qualify as "cargo" (NYT), though the converse isn't the case. By implication, an "issue that needs to be resolved" (Telegraph) is one for which there isn't yet "conclusive evidence" or "proof" (NYT), though again the converse isn't the case.

Even if the locution "know from" in the Telegraph quotation is taken somewhat loosely, as equivalent to "believe based on," then the upshot is that Kay there speaks as if the reports are, at the very least, quite plausible; otherwise they couldn't possibly entail a "major issue" (on any understanding of that expression). That view is not conveyed in the NYT paraphrase - and isn't addressed any further in the remainder of the article in which it appears.

A factor which might make us suspicious of the Telegraph is that the piece is very short, centering around this - and only this - matter, which gives the appearance that Kay views the question of materiel going to Syria as occupying a more important (or "focal") point in his overall assessment than is actually the case. This would appear to be borne out by this issue not being addressed in subsequent interviews with Kay - if it were "major issue" arising from Kay's analysis of the situation in Iraq (= central concern, something at the top of the list of questions), surely he would bring it up more frequently, even if interviewers didn't ask him about it directly. In the language of logical analysis, we might think that the Telegraph's presentation commits the fallacy of accent (as in "over-accentuation").

Yet, if the remarks Kay made to the NYT reporter - the basis of the paraphrase- were roughly equivalent to what he said to the Telegraph, then the NYT piece surely de-emphasized Kay's view of the matter, even if it isn't one of the main deliverances/concerns from his investigation. This too would entail a fallacy of accent (here, "under-accentuation"). The NYT piece would then be "technically true," but quite misleading - giving us the "parts" without the whole (significance).

After a good deal of (fruitless) investigation, I found another source of Kay holding forth at some length on the matter of Syria: in the depths of his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, this past Wednesday, January 28. The entire testimony is available for viewing (Real Player) at the excellent CSPAN. One might have thought that, surely, if the matter didn't come up during this hearing, it couldn't possibly be a "major issue" (unless the matter had come up in the immediately prior, classified hearing with the Senate Intelligence Committee, and for some reason had been deemed too "politically sensitive" to amplify in a public discussion).

So far as I know, there is no transcript available of Kay's testimony, so in the interests of time I will have to do exactly what made me cautious about the NYT piece: paraphrase. Perhaps this can be mitigated by the fact that anyone interested in the issue can check my synopsis against the source; the issue is brought up by Senator Ben Nelson (D - Nebraska), and begins at approximate 2 hrs 12 minutes into the testimony.

My impression is that Kay's response to Nelson almost splits the difference between the Telegraph and the NYT.

He says that it's not just possible, but "probable" that WMD-related materials went to Syria pre-conflict, but again emphasizes that there's no certainty as to what exactly was transported, and in any event he doesn't believe the contents consisted of large stockpiles (his reasoning, by implication from his earlier testimony, and mentioned directly in this connection, is that stockpiles would have had to have been produced, and such production would have left an industrial footprint; but there was no such footprint; that they could have been holdovers from much earlier stocks is militated against by unearthed documentation of clandestine Iraqi destruction of those stocks in the mid-nineties).

He noted that many of the persons who would have been involved in conveyance of such items to Syria were members of the Intelligence Service, who have either disappeared, or been killed. Perhaps in this same connection, he noted that not all of the Iraqi scientists in U.S. custody were talking, for fear of prosecution for war crimes for their past misdeeds.

He expressed a quixotic desire to be able to take an investigation to Syria, but noted that such would not be practicable.

In all, he apparently connected the question of Syria to the larger lacuna of "ambiguity" which he believes will probably forever temper our conclusions about the extent of Iraq's WMD-related misdeeds. In light of the fact that much WMD-related documentation was intentionally destroyed - owing to the failure of U.S. troops, on Apri 9, 2003, to secure control over key physical assets - as well as the other factors mentioned above, he thinks that there will likely be permanent unanswered questions.

To sum up my impression: "WMD-related stuff probably went to Syria, but we don't know exactly what; it would be good to pursue the matter further, but we can't; since we're focusing on what we can establish at least somewhat definitively, this one will most likely have to be filed under 'intriguing and unresolvable'."

Could "major issue," then, be an accurate shorthand for this view? Like so many locutions, the expression is fraught with ambiguity. If we mean "a major matter of interest, in principle" I think the answer is "yes." If we mean "something that we expect to get anywhere with, and hence is a focal point of our investigations and related public statements" the answer is "no."

January 26, 2004 | Permalink


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» WMD MIA? from JunkYardBlog
A good title and a good post from Paul Craddick on the case of the missing WMDs. In general, it's a very good and linguistically-rigorous look at David Kay's statements concerning the infamous Iraqi WMD programs. It's definitely worth a... [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 30, 2004 2:22:11 PM

» The Many Ways to Slice a Kay from Dust in the Light
Paul Craddick (whose blog is very handsomely designed, by the way) focuses on David Kay's statements with respect to Syria in a post that is very much worth reading. Parsing various sources, he concludes the following to be the nuanced... [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 31, 2004 7:13:02 AM