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Context of 'February 4, 2003: Top CIA Officials Assure Powell and Top Aide that Evidence for Mobile Weapons Labs is Strong'

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Colin Powell’s chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, tasked with the duty of preparing Powell’s upcoming UN presentation (see January 29, 2003), meets with his hastily assembled team: Lynne Davidson, Powell’s chief speechwriter; Carl Ford, the head of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR); and Barry Lowenkron, principal deputy director of policy planning at State. They also consult with a UN staffer on the logistics of making such a presentation to the Security Council. Later that day, Wilkerson drives to the CIA building in Langley, where he meets with CIA Director George Tenet and Tenet’s deputy, John McLaughlin. Wilkerson examines information provided for Powell’s speech by the White House, and quickly determines that it is unreliable to the point of uselessness (see January 30-February 4, 2003). He decides that his team will assemble its own information. [Unger, 2007, pp. 276]
INR Analysts Not Invited to Presentation Planning Sessions - Over the next few days, Wilkerson and his team works almost around the clock putting together Powell’s upcoming presentation. In addition to Wilkerson’s staff, McLaughlin and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice are frequent participants. Others who take part include Rice’s deputy, Stephen Hadley; National Security Council officer Robert Joseph, who had ensured mention of the Iraq-Niger claim in President Bush’s recent State of the Union address (see January 26 or 27, 2003); another NSC official, Will Tobey; two of Vice President Cheney’s senior aides, John Hannah and Lewis “Scooter” Libby; and Lawrence Gershwin, one of the CIA’s top advisers on technical intelligence. Aside from Ford, there are no representatives from the State Department’s own intelligence analysts of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR). They had refused to give in to White House pressure to “cook” the intelligence on Iraq (see November 14, 2001, January 31, 2002, March 1, 2002, and December 23, 2002). Their absence, author Craig Unger will later write, is “another striking indication that Powell had capitulated and was trying to avoid a showdown with the White House.… [T]he hard-nosed analysts at INR, who had not bowed to White House pressure, would be a political liability for Powell.” [US News and World Report, 6/9/2003; Bamford, 2004, pp. 370-1; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 230; Unger, 2007, pp. 276-278]
Inspirational Film - Early in the process, Wilkerson and his colleagues watch an archived film of then-UN ambassador Adlai Stevenson’s historic 1962 speech before the UN Security Council. Stevenson’s ringing denunciation of the Soviet Union, and his dramatic use of irrefutable evidence that showed Soviet missiles in Cuba, inspires the team to seek what Wilkerson calls “a similar confluence of evidence and rhetoric.” They want Powell to have his own “Stevenson moment” before the UN. [Unger, 2007, pp. 276-278]
Roadblocks - Throughout the process, Wilkerson’s team is deviled by the insistence of White House representatives, most notably those from Cheney’s office, on the insertion of information and claims that Wilkerson and his team know are unreliable (see January 30-February 4, 2003). [Unger, 2007, pp. 275]

Entity Tags: John E. McLaughlin, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Central Intelligence Agency, Carl W. Ford, Jr., Bush administration (43), George J. Tenet, Barry Lowenkron, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, William H. Tobey, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of State, Lynne Davidson, United Nations, Robert G. Joseph, Craig Unger, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, National Security Council, Stephen J. Hadley, Lawrence Wilkerson, John Hannah, Lawrence Gershwin

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

CIA Director George Tenet and Deputy Director John McLaughlin assure Colin Powell that the statements he will be making in his February 5 speech (see February 5, 2003) to the UN are backed by solid intelligence. Powell is apparently concerned that the allegations about mobile biological weapons laboratories have little evidence behind them. “Powell and I were both suspicious because there were no pictures of the mobile labs,” Powell’s deputy, Larry Wilkerson, will later recall in an interview with the Washington Post. But the two CIA officials claim that evidence for the mobile units is based on multiple sources whose accounts have been independently corroborated. “This is it, Mr. Secretary. You can’t doubt this one,” Wilkerson remembers them saying. [Washington Post, 6/25/2006]

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell, John E. McLaughlin

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

In the wake of the report by US inspector David Kay that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction (see December 2003), Secretary of State Colin Powell’s mood becomes more and more glum (see February 5, 2003). His chief of staff, Lawrence Wilkerson, will later recall: “Well, [Powell] got a telephone call each time a pillar fell. It was either John [McLaughlin, deputy CIA director], calling Rich [Armitage, Powell’s deputy], and Rich telling him, or it was [CIA Director] George [Tenet] or John calling the secretary. And I remember this vividly because he would walk through my door, and his face would grow more morose each time, and he’d say, ‘Another pillar just fell.’ I said, ‘Which one this time?’ And, of course, the last one was the mobile biological labs (see Mid-March 2004). Finally, when that call came, the secretary came through the door and said, ‘The last pillar has just collapsed. The mobile biological labs don’t exist.’ Turned around and went back into his office.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]

Entity Tags: Richard Armitage, Colin Powell, George J. Tenet, John E. McLaughlin, Lawrence Wilkerson

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

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