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Context of 'Early June 2003-Mid-June 2003: US and British Intelligence Experts Say Trailers Found in Iraq Not for Biological Weapons'

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Judith Miller and William J. Broad of the New York Times report that according to “senior administration officials” US intelligence has “concluded that two mysterious trailers found in Iraq (see April 19, 2003; May 9, 2003) were mobile units to produce germs for weapons.” However, the report also notes that investigators “have found neither biological agents nor evidence that the equipment was used to make such arms.” The report quotes one senior official who says, “The experts who have crawled over this again and again can come up with no other plausible legitimate use.” A theory offered by Iraqi scientists that the trailers were used to produce hydrogen for artillery weather balloons was considered but rejected, according to officials, who said US intelligence analysts believe the story may have been concocted in order to mislead them. [New York Times, 5/21/2003]

Entity Tags: Judith Miller

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iraq under US Occupation

A Pentagon-sponsored fact-finding mission (see May 25, 2003) concludes in a three-page field report that two trailers recently found in Iraq (see April 19, 2003; May 9, 2003) have nothing to do with biological weapons. The report’s authors are nine US and British civilian scientists and engineers, all of whom have “extensive experience in all the technical fields involved in making bioweapons,” according to the Washington Post. The report’s conclusions are agreed upon by all the team’s members. In spite of the report’s conclusions, the CIA and DIA will go ahead with plans to publicly release a white paper (see May 28, 2003) alleging that the trailers are mobile biological weapons factories. Three weeks later, the team will report the details of its findings in a 122-page final report (see (June 18, 2003)). [Washington Post, 4/12/2006]

Entity Tags: Jefferson Project

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iraq under US Occupation

The CIA publicly releases a 6-page white paper titled “Iraqi Mobile Biological Warfare Agent Production Plants” concluding that the two trailers discovered in northern Iraq (see April 19, 2003) (see May 9, 2003) were designed to produce biological weapons—directly contradicting the conclusion of a field report filed the previous day by biological weapons experts working in Iraq (see May 27, 2003). The report—the US government’s first formal assessment of the trailers—calls the discovery of the trailers the “strongest evidence to date that Iraq was hiding a biological warfare program.” It is based on a comparison of the trailers to descriptions that had been provided by Iraqi sources prior to the invasion. Though the report claims that there are no other plausible explanations for the trailers’ purpose, it does acknowledge that senior Iraqi officials at the al-Kindi research facility in Mosul, as well as a company that manufactured components for the trailers, say the trailers were built to make hydrogen for artillery weather balloons. The report calls this a “cover story.” [Central Intelligence Agency and Defense Intelligence Agency, 5/28/2003; New York Times, 6/7/2003; Los Angeles Times, 6/21/2003; New York Times, 6/26/2003] Though the report was authored by the CIA, there is a DIA logo printed on the paper to indicate that the DIA backs the report’s conclusions. But most DIA analysts do not. When the CIA was unable to convince DIA analysts to sign the paper, according to book Hubris, they contacted the one DIA analyst who did agree with their position, and got his approval to place the DIA logo on the white paper. “We were tricked,” one DIA analyst later explains. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 228] It is later learned that the report was completed before the investigation had run its full course. A week after the report’s release, laboratories in the Middle East and the United States were still analyzing more than 100 samples that had been taken from the trailers. A senior analyst tells the New York Times that the white paper “was a rushed job and looks political.” [New York Times, 6/7/2003] It is also discovered that the two agencies did not consult with other intelligence offices. Normally such reports are not finalized until there is a consensus among the government’s numerous intelligence agencies. “The exclusion of the State Department’s intelligence bureau [INR] and other agencies seemed unusual, several government officials said, because of the high-profile subject,” the New York Times will later report. Moreover, the State Department’s intelligence agency was not even informed that the report was being prepared. [New York Times, 6/26/2003] When INR analysts read the report, they go “ballistic.” INR intelligence chief Carl Ford Jr. will later say of the report’s authors, “It wasn’t just that it was wrong. They lied.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 228]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Defense Intelligence Agency, Carl W. Ford, Jr.

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iraq under US Occupation

Several newspapers report that a number of US and British intelligence experts do not believe that the two trailers recently found in Iraq (see April 19, 2003; May 9, 2003) are mobile biological weapons factories. According to the London Observer, experts believe the trailers were probably “designed to be used for hydrogen production to fill artillery balloons.” The newspaper also reports that the Iraqi army purchased its original hydrogen producing system, known as an Artillery Meteorological System, in 1987 from the British-owned Marconi Command & Control. [Observer, 6/8/2003] The experts offer the following reasons for why they do not believe the trailers were intended to produce biological weapons:
bullet No trace of pathogens are detected in the trailers’ suspected fermentation tanks. [Observer, 6/8/2003]
bullet The trailers have canvas sides which would not have made sense if they were meant to be used as biological weapon labs. [Observer, 6/8/2003] “The canvas tarps covering the sides of the trucks appeared designed to be pulled away to let excess heat and gas escape during the production of hydrogen. The tarps would allow in far too much road dust and other contamination if the equipment inside were meant to produce biowarfare agents.” [Los Angeles Times, 6/21/2003]
bullet There is a “shortage of pumps required to create vacuum conditions required for working with germ cultures and other processes usually associated with making biological weapons.” [Observer, 6/8/2003]
bullet The trailers have no “autoclave for steam sterilization, normally a prerequisite for any kind of biological production.” Without a means to sterilize “between production runs would threaten to let in germ contaminants, resulting in failed weapons.” [New York Times, 6/7/2003; Observer, 6/8/2003]
bullet There is no “easy way for technicians to remove germ fluids from the processing tank.” [New York Times, 6/7/2003; Observer, 6/8/2003]

Entity Tags: AMS

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iraq under US Occupation

An investigation sponsored by British intelligence and headed by British defense officers and technical experts from the Porton Down microbiological research establishment determines that two trailers recently discovered in Iraq by US forces (see April 19, 2003; May 9, 2003) are not mobile biological weapons factories as has been alleged. Rather the team concludes that they are for producing hydrogen for artillery weather balloons. “They are not mobile germ warfare laboratories,” says one British scientist and biological weapons expert who has seen the trailers. “You could not use them for making biological weapons. They do not even look like them. They are exactly what the Iraqis said they were—facilities for the production of hydrogen gas to fill balloons.” [Observer, 6/8/2003; Observer, 6/15/2003]

Entity Tags: UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6)

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iraq under US Occupation

A Pentagon-sponsored fact-finding mission (see May 25, 2003) completes its final report on a three-week long investigation of the two trailers that were found in Iraq in April and May (see April 19, 2003; May 9, 2003). The team, led by American and British biological weapons experts, determined (see May 27, 2003) that the trailers were not intended to produce biological weapons, as top US and British government officials, including both President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair, have publicly stated. According to sources interviewed by the Washington Post, members of the team were asked to alter the conclusions of the 122-page report. “The questioners generally wanted to know the same thing: Could the report’s conclusions be softened, to leave open a possibility that the trailers might have been intended for weapons?” [Washington Post, 4/12/2006]

Entity Tags: Jefferson Project

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iraq under US Occupation

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