A former special investigator for the Pentagon during the Iraq war said he found four sealed underground bunkers in southern Iraq that he is sure contain stocks of chemical and biological weapons. But when he asked American weapons inspectors to check out the sites, he was rebuffed.
David Gaubatz, a former member of the Air Force's Office of Special Investigations, was assigned to the Talill Air Base in Nasiriyah at the launch of Operation Iraqi Freedom. His job was to pick up any intelligence on the whereabouts of senior Baathists and weapons of mass destruction and then send the information to the American weapons inspectors gathering in Baghdad that would later become the Iraq Survey Group. For his intelligence work he received accolades and meritorious service medals in 2003 and prior years. Before the war he helped uncover a spy in the Saudi military. He also assisted with the rescue and repatriation to America of the family of Mohammed Rehaief, the Iraqi lawyer who helped save Private Jessica Lynch.
Mr. Gaubatz said he walked the streets of the largely Shiite city of Nasiriyah, interviewing local police, former senior civilian and military leaders in Saddam Hussein's regime, and local civilians.
Between March and July 2003, Mr. Gaubatz was taken by these sources to four locations - three in and around Nasiriyah and one near the port of Umm Qasr, where he was shown underground concrete bunkers with the tunnels leading to them deliberately flooded. In each case, he was told the facilities contained stocks of biological and chemical weapons, along with missiles whose range exceeded that mandated under U.N. sanctions. But because the facilities were sealed off with concrete walls, in some cases up to 5 feet thick, he did not get inside. He filed reports with photographs, exact grid coordinates, and testimony from multiple sources. And then he waited for the Iraq Survey Group to come to the sites. But in all but one case, they never arrived.
Mr. Gaubatz's new disclosures shed doubt on the thoroughness of the Iraq Survey Group's search for the weapons of mass destruction that were one of the Bush administration's main reasons for the war. Two chief inspectors from the group, David Kay and Charles Duelfer, concluded that they could not find evidence of the promised stockpiles. Mr. Kay refused to be interviewed for this story and Mr. Duelfer did not return email. The CIA referred these questions to Mr. Duelfer.
The new information from the former investigator could also end up helping the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which recently reopened the question of what happened to the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Like many current and former American and Israeli officials, the chairman of the House intelligence committee, Peter Hoekstra, says is not convinced Saddam either destroyed or never had the stockpiles of illicit weapons he was said to be concealing between 1991 and 2003.
"I have no doubts the sites were never exploited by ISG. We agents begged and begged for weeks and months to get ISG to respond to the sites with the proper equipment," Mr. Gaubatz said in a telephone interview. He returned to his wife and daughter in July 2003, and then wrote letters about the sites to more senior officials in military intelligence. But he said he never received any satisfactory response and says that to this day the sites have never been fully checked out.
He says the reasons he was given by the survey group were that the areas of the sites were not safe, they lacked manpower and equipment, and at the time the survey group was focusing activities in northern Iraq. "The ISG team was not organized nor outfitted for this mission in my opinion and were only concerned to look in northern Iraq. They were not even on the ground during the first few weeks of the war, and this was the most critical time to go out and exploit sites. I feel very comfortable in saying the sites were never exploited by ISG," he said. In one instance a few inspectors did come out once to follow one lead, Mr. Gaubatz said. But they lacked the equipment and manpower to crack the bunker. "An adequate search would have required heavy equipment to uncover the concrete, and additional equipment to drain the water."
Mr. Gaubatz would not disclose the names of his Iraqi sources, but he said they were "highly credible" by his supervisors. He said some of them were members of the new government and others are now in America. "The four sites were corroborated with more than one source. The sources were deemed highly credible due to access and knowledge of the sites. Many of these sources and ourselves put their lives on the line to assist in identifying WMD. The sources would continuously ask us when the inspectors were going to come to the sites with heavy equipment to uncover the WMD," he said.
Mr. Gaubatz said each site he visited had similar characteristics. "Everything was buried and under water. They would drain canals and parts of the rivers. They would build tunnels underneath and they would let the water come back in," he said. But the water would only be allowed back into the tunnels after concrete walls were installed sealing off the secret caches of unconventional arms, Mr. Gaubatz said. He added that the tunnels in all four sites were wide enough for tractors. One of the giveaways, he said, was that homes near the sites were equipped with gas masks and other items to protect against a chemical weapons attack.
One site outside of Nasiryah, near the main highway in an isolated area featured a rock nearby that said, "Death to America," in Arabic. At this site, Mr. Gaubatz found gas masks, boots, and an imprint of an al-Samoud missile in the ground nearby a canal used to flood the tunnel. Mr. Gaubatz said he could find a wall under the earth and in the water whose dimensions were 50 by 75 feet. Another site near Umm Qasr contained the remnants of military activity as well, Mr. Gaubatz said. He said that former senior Iraqi military officers and local farmers confirmed there was military construction over the course of six months in 2002.
Today, Mr. Gaubatz is the chief investigator for the Dallas County Medical Examiner. On the weekends, he trains Texas state troopers in basic counterterrorism and basic Arabic. When asked about the weapons hunt by his students, he says he tells them, "Before we can say there is no WMD in Iraq, we must first look. I have no doubts WMD was and is still in Iraq."