Intelligence and Policy Community Cooperation in the Libya WMD Disarmament Case (Occasional Paper 1802)

As the Trump Administration prepares to negotiate with North Korea, a question has arisen as to what model Washington should follow. National Security Advisor John Bolton has suggested that the Libyan nuclear case represents the best example to emulate. Given the violence Libya suffered after it disarmed, this recommendation provoked criticism, not only from the North Korean government, but a number of American analysts. 

Anticipating the importance of this case, NPEC commissioned William Tobey, former Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation at the National Nuclear Security Administration, to write a primary history. Mr. Tobey served on the National Security Council in the Bush (43) Administration when the Libyan nuclear case was being worked. 
For his primary history, Tobey conducted extensive history. Shortly after it was completed, the CIA's Center for the Study of Intelligence presented him with the prestigious Studies in Intelligence Award for 2018. 
Jun 21, 2018
AUTHOR: William Tobey

(Download the complete working paper as a PDF)




I’m particularly proud to release this occasional paper by Will Tobey, “Intelligence and Policy Community Cooperation in the Libya WMD Disarmament Case.” Will wrote this paper as part of my center’s three-year project, “Speaking Truth to Nonproliferation.” After he completed this primary history, the CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence presented Tobey with a Studies in Intelligence award. It makes for compelling reading on how well the intelligence and policymaking communities can work together to prevent and turn back nuclear proliferation.

Henry D. Sokolski

Intelligence and Policy Community Cooperation in the Libya WMD Disarmament Case
By William Tobey


“We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”

Muammar al-Gadhafi’s induced renunciation of Libya’s nuclear, chemical, and longer-range ballistic weapons programs was a signal accomplishment for U.S. and British nonproliferation policy. Thus, the case holds particular interest for those studying how the intelligence and policy communities work together to prevent nuclear proliferation. Yet, Libya’s decision evolved fitfully and during a dark period for efforts to curb the spread of atomic weapons. In early 2003, Washington was still traumatized by the September 11th terrorist attacks, and anguished that al Qaeda was plotting even more gruesome assaults. The Iraq War was unleashed, in part, out of dread that nuclear weapons could be fused with terrorism. As then National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice explained, “given what we have experienced on September 11, I don’t think anyone wants to wait for the 100 percent surety that he has a weapon of mass destruction that can reach the United States, because the only time we may be 100 percent sure is when something lands on our territory. We can’t afford to wait . . . .” Worse still, from the American perspective, a nuclear proliferation tsunami appeared to be cresting, not only from Iraq, but also in Iran, North Korea, Libya, and elsewhere. These broad perceptions and fears by nonproliferation policy makers and intelligence officers informed their approach to the Libya case.

"[I]ntelligence was the key that opened the door to Libya’s clandestine programs,”4 argued George Tenet in February 2004, and he was right. Without detailed, timely, and accurate intelligence, the effort to investigate and the diplomacy to end Libya’s illicit weapons programs would have been far more fraught. Intelligence information supported actions and arguments that ultimately persuaded the Libyans that they were unlikely to succeed against seemingly omniscient and omnipresent adversaries. Moreover, intelligence officers conducted the first phase of the operation, an investigation into whether or not Libya was sincere in its expressed desire to clear the air on weapons of mass destruction. Meanwhile, the policy community created an environment for intelligence officers to succeed through: Clear and brief instructions; short lines of communication; patience and persistence; and international support based on Treaties, norms, and cooperative arrangements. After a positive response from Gadhafi was announced, the Intelligence and Policy Communities worked together to effect and verify the elimination of his illicit weapons programs.

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