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Context of 'July 30, 2003: Rice Admits to Responsibility in Not Vetting Iraq-Uranium Claims'

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Four prominent Republican officials make alarming comments about terrorism and especially the use of WMDs against the US:
bullet Attorney General John Ashcroft says on CNN: “We believe there are substantial risks of terrorism still in the United States of America. As we as a nation respond to what has happened to us, those risks may in fact go up.”
bullet White House chief of staff Andrew Card says on Fox News, “I’m not trying to be an alarmist, but we know that these terrorist organizations, like al-Qaeda, run by Osama bin Laden and others, have probably found the means to use biological or chemical warfare.”
bullet Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says on NBC’s Meet the Press, “There’s always been terrorism, but there’s never really been worldwide terrorism at a time when the weapons have been as powerful as they are today, with chemical and biological and nuclear weapons spreading to countries that harbor terrorists.” He suggests several countries supporting terrorists either have WMDs or are trying to get them. “It doesn’t take a leap of imagination to expect that at some point those nations will work with those terrorist networks and assist them in achieving and obtaining those kinds of capabilities.” He does not name these countries, but the New York Times notes the next day that the US military had recently identified the WMD programs in Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Sudan as cause for concern.
bullet Representative Henry Hyde (R-IL), the chairman of the House International Relations Committee, also says on Meet the Press that biological weapons “scare” him more than nuclear weapons because they can be brought into the country “rather easily.”
The New York Times reports that there is no new intelligence behind these alarming comments. By contrast, Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says it is unlikely terrorists are capable of making extremely deadly biological weapons. He says that terrorists might have access to weapons that use anthrax or smallpox, but while “There are those serious things… we can deal with them.” (Dao 10/1/2001) Deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will later observe: “Even the Cheney-driven White House effort to provide all Americans with the smallpox vaccine that was being pushed publicly in the latter weeks of 2002 played into the environment of fear about the Iraq WMD threat. It seems to me a little cynical to suggest that its timing was calculated, but it did not hurt the broader campaign to sell the war.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 138)

Following a number of meetings in Rome and London between SISMI, Italy’s military intelligence, and the British MI6 (Bamford 2004, pp. 303-304) , SISMI provides the British with an intelligence report on Iraq’s alleged efforts to obtain uranium from Niger. The report—delivered by freelance SISMI agent Rocco Martino to the Vauxhall Cross headquarters of Britain’s MI6 in south London—is reportedly based on the collection of mostly forged documents put together in Italy (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001). MI6 will include this information in a report it sends to Washington saying only that it was obtained from a “reliable source.” Washington treats the report as an independent confirmation of the Italian report (see October 15, 2001). (Bonini and d'Avanzo 10/24/2005; Bonini and d'Avanzo 10/25/2005; Collier 10/30/2005; Buncombe, Phillips, and Whitaker 11/6/2005; Unger 2007, pp. 228-229)

In the lead-up to the war, top Bush administration officials make strong statements asserting that Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction. The administration claims that it has incontrovertible evidence, though no such evidence is disclosed to the public—neither before nor after the invasion. (Witt 2/7/2002; Rennie 8/21/2002; Borger and Norton-Taylor 8/22/2002; Cheney 8/26/2002; US Department of Defense 9/3/2002; Jelinek 9/3/2002; Hess 9/3/2002; Yacoub 9/8/2002; NewsMax 9/8/2002; PBS 9/12/2002; US President 9/16/2002; US President 10/14/2002; CBC News 12/5/2002; Associated Press 1/7/2003; White House 1/9/2003; US President 2/3/2003; Powell 2/5/2003; Powell 2/5/2003; White House 3/21/2003; US President 3/24/2003; Wilkinson 6/7/2003; Ridgeway 6/18/2003; Mackay 7/13/2003; Cirincione 7/17/2003; Baier 8/20/2003; Associated Press 12/5/2003) Then-deputy press secretary Scott McClellan later observes: “[A]s the campaign [to sell the Iraq war to the American public] accelerated, caveats and qualifications were downplayed or dropped altogether. Contradictory intelligence was largely ignored or simply disregarded. Evidence based on high confidence from the intelligence community was lumped together with intelligence of lesser confidence. A nuclear threat was added to the biological and chemical threats to create a greater sense of urgency. Support for terrorism was given greater weight by playing up dubious al-Qaeda connections to Iraq. When it was all packaged together, the case constituted a ‘grave and gathering danger’ (see September 16, 2002) that needed to be dealt with urgently.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 144-145)

After more than two months and more than 350 inspections, the UN teams have failed to find the arsenal of banned weapons the US and Britain claim Iraq has. Nor are there any signs of programs to build such weapons. The London Observer reports that International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors are convinced Iraq does not have a reconstituted nuclear weapons program. “IAEA officials and intelligence sources admit it is extremely unlikely that Iraq has nuclear weapons squirreled away,” The Observer reports, explaining that “… the IAEA [had] revealed that analysis of samples taken by UN nuclear inspectors in Iraq… showed no evidence of prohibited nuclear activity.” (Beaumont et al. 1/26/2003; Garley and Drogin 1/26/2003; Chandrasekaran and Lynch 12/27/2003)

Joseph Wilson.Joseph Wilson. [Source: public domain]The CIA sends Joseph C. Wilson, a retired US diplomat, to Niger to investigate claims that Iraq had sought to purchase uranium from that country (see February 13, 2002). The CIA pays Wilson’s expenses for the trip, but does not pay him in any other respect. The identity of the party who requests the mission is later disputed. While Wilson will claim the trip was requested directly by Dick Cheney’s office, other sources will indicate that the CIA had decided (see February 19, 2002) that a delegation to Niger was needed in order to investigate questions raised by one of Dick Cheney’s aides (see (February 13, 2002)). (Kristof 5/6/2003; Pincus 6/12/2003 pdf file; Buncombe and Whitaker 6/29/2003; Wilson, 7/6/2003; US Congress 7/7/2004)
Reason behind Request - Former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman will later note that “Wilson was asked to go to Niger for one specific purpose. It was the CIA’s idea to get Cheney off their backs. Cheney would not get off their backs about the yellowcake documents. They couldn’t get Cheney to stop pressing the issue. He insisted that was the proof of reconstitution of [Iraq’s nuclear] program.” (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 214)
Normal Skepticism - Wilson goes into the situation with a healthy dose of skepticism. “My skepticism was the same as it would have been with any unverified intelligence report, because there is a lot of stuff that comes over the transom every day,” he will recall in 2006. Wilson knows nothing of the influence of the Pentagon neoconservatives (see July 8, 1996, January 26, 1998, July 1998, September 2000, Late December 2000 and Early January 2001, Shortly after January 20, 2001, and Shortly After September 11, 2001) or the growing rift in the intelligence community over the reports: “I was aware that the neocons had a growing role in government and that they were interested in Iraq,” he will recall. “But the administration had not articulated a policy at this stage.” He is not given a copy of the Niger documents before leaving for Africa, nor is he told of their history. “To the best of my knowledge, the documents were not in the possession of the [CIA] at the time I was briefed,” he will recall. “The discussion was whether or not this report could be accurate. During this discussion, everyone who knew something shared stuff about how the uranium business worked, and I laid out what I knew about the government in Niger, what information they could provide.” With this rather sketchy preparation, Wilson leaves for Niger. (Unger 2007, pp. 240; Wilson 2007, pp. 113) Wilson’s wife, senior CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson, will later write, “He figured that if the vice president had asked a serious and legitimate question, it deserved a serious answer and he would try to help find it.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 111)
No Trouble Finding Information - Wilson, who knows the Nigerien government and many of its officials, has little trouble finding the information he needs in the following week. In 2006, he will recall: “Niger has a simplistic government structure. Both the minister of mines and the prime minister had gone through the mines. The French were managing partners of the international consortium [which handles Niger’s uranium]. The French mining company actually had its hands on the project. Nobody else in the consortium had operators on the ground.” Wilson also personally knows Wissam al-Zahawie, Iraq’s ambassador to the Vatican who supposedly negotiated the uranium deal with Niger (see February 1999). Wilson will later observe: “Wissam al-Zahawie was a world-class opera singer, and he went to the Vatican as his last post so he could be near the great European opera houses in Rome. He was not in the Ba’athist inner circle. He was not in Saddam [Hussein]‘s tribe. The idea that he would be entrusted with the super-secret mission to buy 500 tons of uranium from Niger is out of the question.” (Unger 2007, pp. 240-241) Wilson meets with, among other officials, Niger’s former minister of mines, Mai Manga. As later reported by the Senate Intelligence Committee (see July 9, 2004), Manga tells Wilson “there were no sales outside of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) channels since the mid-1980s,” and he “knew of no contracts signed between Niger and any rogue states for the sale of uranium.” Manga says a “French mining consortium controls Nigerien uranium mining and keeps the uranium very tightly controlled from the time it is mined until the time it is loaded onto ships in Benin for transport overseas,” and, “it would be difficult, if not impossible, to arrange a special shipment of uranium to a pariah state given these controls.” (Leupp 11/9/2005)
Meeting with US Ambassador - Wilson arrives in Niger on February 26, two days after Marine General Carlton W. Fulford Jr.‘s meeting (see February 24, 2002) with Nigerien officials. Wilson first meets with US Ambassador to Niger Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, a veteran Foreign Service official, whom Wilson will later describe as “crisp” and well-informed. Over tea in the US Embassy offices in Niamey, Niger’s capital, Owens-Kirkpatrick tells Wilson that she has already concluded that the allegations of uranium sales to Iraq are unfounded. “She had already debunked them in her reports to Washington,” Wilson will later recall. “She said, yeah, she knew a lot about this particular report. She thought she had debunked it—and, oh, by the way, a four-star Marine Corps general had been down there as well—Carlton Fulford. And he had left satisfied there was nothing to report.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 20-22)
Details of Alleged Uranium Production - Niger extracts uranium from two mines, both located in remote locations in the Sahara Desert. It takes well over a day to drive from the mines to Niamey. The mines are owned by a consortium of foreign companies and the Nigerien government, and managed by a French mining company, COGEMA. Because of a recent upswing in the production of Canadian uranium, Niger’s uranium is mined at a net loss, and its only customers are consortium members. Wilson will later write, “[T]he Nigerien government has sold no uranium outside the consortium for two decades.” If Iraq had bought 500 tons of uranium, as the story is told, that would have represented a 40 percent production increase. “There is no doubt,” Wilson will later write, “that such a significant shift from historic production schedules would have been absolutely impossible to hide from the other partners, and most certainly from the managing partner, COGEMA. Everyone involved would have known about it.” Any Nigerien government decision to produce such an amount of uranium would have involved numerous government officials and many well-documented meetings. Because the transaction would have been to a foreign country, Niger’s Foreign Ministry would also have been involved in the decision. To sell Iraq uranium during that time would have been a violation of international law and of UN sanctions against Iraq, a weighty decision that would have ultimately been made by the president of Niger in conjuction with the foreign minister and the minister of mines. Such a decision would have been published in the Nigerien equivalent of the Federal Register and would have dramatic tax and revenue implications. The unexpected huge infusion of cash from the sale would have had a strong impact on the Nigerien economy, and would have been much anticipated and talked about throughout the Nigerien business community. (Wilson 2004, pp. 22-25)
Off-the-Books Production Virtually Impossible - It is conceivable that such an enormous operation could have been conducted entirely “off the books,” Wilson will write, but virtually impossible to pull off. True, a military junta was in power at the time of the alleged sale, one that felt no responsibility or accountability to the Nigerien people. But even a secret transaction would have been impossible to conceal. Such a transaction would have involved thousands of barrels of clandestinely shipped uranium, extensive and complex adjustments to shipping schedules, and other ramifications. “It simply could not have happened without a great many people knowing about it, and secrets widely known do not remain hidden for long. And again, COGEMA, as the managing partner, would have had to know and be complicit.” Add to that Niger’s dependence on US foreign economic aid and its unwillingness to threaten the loss of that aid by secretly shipping uranium to a country that the US considers a dangerous rogue nation. All told, Wilson concludes, the possibility of such a clandestine operation is remote in the extreme. (Wilson 2004; Wilson 2004)
1999 Meeting with Iraqi Official - While speaking with a US Embassy official, Wilson learns about a 1999 meeting between the embassy official and an Iraqi representative in Algiers, perhaps in concert with a similar meeting between Iraqi officials and Niger’s prime minister (see June 1999). (Wilson 2004, pp. 27-28)
Confirmation that Allegations are Unrealistic - After spending several days talking with current government officials, former government officials, and people associated with the country’s uranium business, Wilson concludes the rumors are completely false. He will later call the allegations “bogus and unrealistic.” (Pincus 6/12/2003 pdf file; Landay 6/13/2003; Buncombe and Whitaker 6/29/2003; Wilson, 7/6/2003; CBS News 7/11/2003; Ward 1/2004; Wilson 2004, pp. 20-28, 424; Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 282; Wilson 2007, pp. 113)

Peter Ricketts, the British Foreign Office’s political director, offers advice to Foreign Secretary Jack Straw who is to provide Tony Blair with a note (see March 25, 2002) before he sets off for a planned meeting with Bush in Texas. In the memo, Ricketts recommends that Blair back the Bush policy on regime change, in a broad sense, because it would allow the British to exert some influence on the exact shape of the administration’s policy. “In the process, he can bring home to Bush some of the realities which will be less evident from Washington,” he says. “He can help Bush make good decisions by telling him things his own machine probably isn’t.” But he acknowledges that the British, in backing US plans against Iraq, may have a difficult time convincing Parliament and the British public to support the use of military force against Iraq because of scant evidence supporting Washington’s allegations against Iraq. “The truth is that what has changed is not the pace of Saddam Hussein’s WMD programs, but our tolerance of them post-11 September.” He adds that the “figures” being used in a dossier on Iraq that Downing Street is drafting needs more work in order for it to be “consistent with those of the US.” He explains: “[E]ven the best survey of Iraq’s WMD programs will not show much advance in recent years on the nuclear, missile, or chemical weapons/biological weapons fronts: the programs are extremely worrying but have not, as far as we know, been stepped up.” He also says the US has little evidence to support its other allegation. “US scrambling to establish a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda is so far frankly unconvincing,” he says. (United Kingdom 3/22/2002 pdf file; Smith 3/21/2005; Norton-Taylor 4/21/2005; Daniszewski 6/15/2005)

Defense Intelligence Agency analysts issue a “fabricator notice,” warning the intelligence community that the agency has determined (see Between February 12, 2002 and March 31, 2002) that Iraqi defector Mohammad Harith is of questionable reliability and recommending that agencies disregard any intelligence that he has provided. It also notes that Harith had been “coached by [the] Iraqi National Congress” on what to tell US interrogators. (Jehl 2/13/2004; Hosenball and Barry 2/16/2004; Landay and Strobel 7/16/2004 Sources: Unnamed US intelligence official) The classified memo is “widely circulated within intelligence agencies, including the DIA and CIA,” Newsweek will later report, citing unnamed intelligence officials. (Hosenball and Barry 2/16/2004 Sources: Unnamed US Intelligence Officials, Linton Wells) Almost a year later, in a presentation to the UN, Secretary of State Colin Powell will make the claim that Iraq has mobile biological weapons labs (see February 5, 2003), and cite Harith as one of US Intelligence’s four sources. Explaining how the reference to a dubious source made its way into Powell’s speech, the State Department will say that the “fabricator notice” had not been properly cross-referenced in intelligence computers. (Hosenball and Barry 2/16/2004)

Khidir Hamza.Khidir Hamza. [Source: Radio Bremen]Khidir Hamza, “who played a leading role in Iraq’s nuclear weapon program before defecting in 1994,” tells the Senate Judiciary Committee that according to German intelligence, Iraq has “more than 10 tons of uranium and one ton of slightly enriched uranium… in its possession” which would be “enough to generate the needed bomb-grade uranium for three nuclear weapons by 2005.” He says that Iraq is “using corporations in India and other countries to import the needed equipment for its program and channel it through countries like Malaysia for shipment to Iraq.” He also claims that Iraq is “gearing up to extend the range of its missiles to easily reach Israel.” The testimony is widely reported in the media. (CNN 8/1/2002; Borger 8/1/2002; Harnden 8/1/2002) Hamza, however, is considered by many to be an unreliable source. David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security where Hamza worked as an analyst from 1997 to 1999, says that after Hamza defected “he went off the edge” and “started saying irresponsible things.” (Collier 10/12/2002; Massing 2/26/2004) And General Hussein Kamel, Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law who was in charge of the dictator’s former weapons program but who defected in 1995, told UNSCOM and IAEA inspectors at the time of his defection, as well as US and British intelligence, that Hamza was not a reliable source (see August 22, 1995). (Kamal 8/22/1995 pdf file; Hersh 5/12/2003) The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will say in 2004 that before the US invasion of Iraq, it had warned journalists reporting on Iraq’s alleged nuclear weapons program that Hamza was not a credible source. “Hamza had no credibility at all. Journalists who called us and asked for an assessment of these people—we’d certainly tell them.” (Massing 2/26/2004 Sources: Unnamed IAEA staff member)

Cheney speaking before the Veterans of Foreign Wars.Cheney speaking before the Veterans of Foreign Wars. [Source: White House]In a speech to the Nashville convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Vice President Dick Cheney says Saddam Hussein will “seek domination of the entire Middle East, take control of a great portion of the world’s energy supplies, directly threaten America’s friends throughout the region, and subject the United States or any other nation to nuclear blackmail.” He also states unequivocally that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. “Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt that he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.… What he wants is time, and more time to husband his resources to invest in his ongoing chemical and biological weapons program, and to gain possession of nuclear weapons.… Deliverable weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a terror network, or a murderous dictator, or the two working together constitutes as grave a threat as can be imagined,” he says. “The risks of inaction are far greater than the risk of action.… The Iraqi regime has in fact been very busy enhancing its capabilities in the field of chemical and biological agents, and they continue to pursue the nuclear program they began so many years ago.” Therefore he argues, the answer is not weapons inspections. “Against that background, a person would be right to question any suggestion that we should just get inspectors back into Iraq, and then our worries will be over. Saddam has perfected the game of shoot and retreat, and is very skilled in the art of denial and deception. A return of inspectors would provide no assurance whatsoever of his compliance with UN resolutions.” He also says: “Regime change in Iraq would bring about a number of benefits to the region. When the gravest of threats are eliminated, the freedom-loving peoples of the region will have a chance to promote the values that can bring lasting peace.” (Cheney 8/26/2002)
First White House Assertion of Iraq's Nuclear Program - Cheney’s speech marks the first major statement from the White House regarding the Bush administration’s Iraq policy following a flood of criticisms from former officials. Significantly, the speech was not cleared by the CIA or the State Department. (Fineman and Lipper 9/9/2002) Furthermore, Cheney’s comments dismissing the need for the return of inspectors, were not cleared by President Bush, according to White House chief of staff Andrew Card. (Fineman and Lipper 9/9/2002) The speech creates a media stir because it is the first time a senior US official has asserted Iraq has nuclear capabilities with such certainty. The CIA is astonished by the claim. CIA official Jami Miscik will later recall: “He said that Saddam was building his nuclear program. Our reaction was, ‘Where is he getting that stuff from? Does he have a source of information that we don’t know about?’” CIA analysts redouble their efforts to collect and review evidence on Iraq and nuclear weapons, but analysts know very little. (Suskind 2006, pp. 167-169) Cheney’s assertions are contradicted by a broad base of military experts. (Dean 2004, pp. 138)
Powell 'Blindsided' by Cheney - Three days after the speech, a State Department source tells CNN that Secretary of State Colin Powell’s view clashes with that which was presented in Cheney’s speech, explaining that the secretary of state is opposed to any military action in which the US would “go it alone… as if it doesn’t give a damn” what other nations think. The source also says that Powell and “others in the State Department were ‘blindsided’ by Cheney’s ‘time is running out’ speech… and were just as surprised as everyone else.” (Koppel 8/30/2002) Author and Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward will later describe Powell as “dumbfounded.” (Roberts 2008, pp. 145) Cheney did, however, inform President Bush he would be speaking to the VFW. He did not provide Bush a copy of his speech. Bush merely told Cheney, “Don’t get me into trouble.” (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 175)
'Off Script' - Current deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will later observe that it was always a tactic of the Iraq campaign strategy for Cheney to “lean a little more forward in his rhetoric than the president.” However, McClellan will go on to say that Cheney did not always “stay on message,” and will blame Cheney’s “deep-seated certitude, even arrogance” that sometimes operates “to the detriment of the president.” Cheney’s assertion to the VFW that it would be pointless to send UN inspectors back to Iraq is, McClellan will reflect, “off script.” Bush wants to continue to “show that he [is] exhausting all diplomatic options” before invading Iraq. (McClellan 2008, pp. 138)

William Luti.William Luti. [Source: Helene C. Stikkel / Defense Department]Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, both staunch neoconservatives, rename the Northern Gulf Affairs Office on the Pentagon’s fourth floor (in the seventh corridor of D Ring) the “Office of Special Plans” (OSP) and increase its four-person staff to sixteen. (Strobel 8/16/2002; Arkin 11/24/2002; Hersh 5/12/2003; Lobe 8/7/2003; Rosenfeld 8/27/2003; Kwiatkowski 12/1/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) William Luti, a former navy officer and ex-aide to Vice President Cheney, is put in charge of the day-to-day operations (Borger 7/17/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) , apparently at the behest of Cheney. Luti was, according to former Defense Intelligence Agency official Patrick Lang, a member of Cheney’s “shadow National Security Council.” (Lang 6/2004)
Transforming NESA - Luti worked for the Near East and South Asian Affairs desk (NESA) at the Pentagon since mid-2001. Lang later describes NESA as having been “a Pentagon backwater, responsible primarily for arranging bilateral meetings with military counterparts” from various nations. Before the Afghanistan war, NESA worked closely with the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Defense Intelligence Officer (DIO) for the Near East, South Asia, and Counterterrorism. During Luti’s first months at NESA, the DIO was Bruce Hardcastle. The Pentagon dismantled the entire DIO system, partly because of friction between Luti and Hardcastle (see Early 2002). Lang will write, “The roots of the friction between Hardcastle and Luti were straightforward: Hardcastle brought with him the combined wisdom of the professional military intelligence community. The community had serious doubts about the lethality of the threat from Saddam Hussein, the terrorism links and the status of the Iraqi WMD programs. Luti could not accept this. He knew what he wanted: to bring down Saddam Hussein. Hardcastle could not accept the very idea of allowing a desired outcome to shape the results of analysis.” Luti transforms NESA into what Lang will call “a ‘de facto’ arm of the vice president’s office,” and in the process shuts Hardcastle out of NESA (and later OSP) intelligence briefings. Luti does not report to either Feith or Donald Rumsfeld, as his chain of command delineates, but to Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby. OSP staffer Karen Kwiatkowski later recalls being “shocked” to learn that Luti reports to Libby and not to his putative Pentagon superiors. She will say, “In one of the first staff meetings that I attended there, Bill Luti said, ‘Well, did you get that thing over to Scooter? Scooter wants this, and somebody’s got to get it over to him, and get that up to him right away.’ After the meeting, I asked one of my co-workers, who’d been there longer, ‘Who is this Scooter?’ I was told, ‘That’s Scooter Libby over at the OVP (Office of the Vice President). He’s the Vice President’s chief of staff.’ Later I came to understand that Cheney had put Luti there.” Under Luti, NESA becomes a virtual adjunct to the OSP. (Lobe 8/7/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004; Lang 6/2004)
Strong Neoconservative Influence - The Office of Special Plans is staffed with a tight group of like-minded neoconservative ideologues, who are known advocates of regime change in Iraq. Notably, the staffers have little background in intelligence or Iraqi history and culture. (Boehlert 7/16/2003; Lobe 8/7/2003; Kwiatkowski 12/1/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) Some of the people associated with this office were earlier involved with the Counter Terrorism Evaluation Group, also known as the “Wurmser-Maloof” project (see Shortly After September 11, 2001). They hire “scores of temporary ‘consultants‘… including like-minded lawyers, congressional staffers, and policy wonks from the numerous right-wing think-tanks in the US capital.” Neoconservative ideologues, like Richard Perle, Michael Ledeen, and Newt Gingrich, are afforded direct input into the Office of Special Plans. (Borger 7/17/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004; Unger 7/2006, pp. 150) Kwiatkowski later says she saw Ledeen going “in and out of there (OSP) all the time.” (Unger 7/2006, pp. 150)
Planning for Post-Saddam Iraq - The official business of Special Plans is to help plan for post-Saddam Iraq. The office’s staff members presumably “develop defense policies aimed at building an international coalition, prepare the secretary of defense and his top deputies for interagency meetings, coordinate troop-deployment orders, craft policies for dealing with prisoners of war and illegal combatants, postwar assistance and reconstruction policy planning, postwar governance, Iraqi oil infrastructure policy, postwar Iraqi property disputes, war crimes and atrocities, war-plan review and, in their spare time, prepare congressional testimony for their principals.” (Timmerman 12/2/2003)
Covert Source of 'Alternative' Intelligence - But according to numerous well-placed sources, the office becomes a source for many of the administration’s prewar allegations against Iraq. It is accused of exaggerating, politicizing, and misrepresenting intelligence, which is “stovepiped” to top administration officials who use the intelligence in their policy decisions on Iraq. (Strobel 8/16/2002; Arkin 11/24/2002; Hersh 5/12/2003; Lobe 8/7/2003; Rosenfeld 8/27/2003; Kwiatkowski 12/1/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004; Coman 7/11/2004; CNN 7/11/2004)
'Top Secret' - There are very few news reports in the American mainstream media that report on the office. In fact, the office is reportedly Top Secret. (Bamford 2004, pp. 308) “We were instructed at a staff meeting that this office was not to be discussed or explained,” Kwiatkowski will later say, “and if people in the Joint Staff, among others, asked, we were to offer no comment.” (Kwiatkowski 12/1/2003)
Part of a 'Separate Government,' Powell Feels - Colin Powell is said to have felt that Cheney and the neoconservatives in this “Gestapo” office had established what was essentially a separate government. (Hamilton 4/17/2004) Powell’s former chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, is even more blunt. “When I say ‘secret cabal,’ I mean ‘secret cabal,’ he says of the White House officials behind the OSP. He compares Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the neoconservatives to the Jacobins, the radical zealots who plunged 18th-century France into the Reign of Terror. “I see them as messianic advocates of American power from one end of the globe, much as the Jacobins in France were messianic advocates of the French Revolution. I don’t care whether utopians are Vladimir Lenin on a sealed train to Moscow or Paul Wolfowitz. You’re never going to bring utopia, and you’re going to hurt a lot of people in the process.” (Unger 2007, pp. 299-300) Among the claims critics find most troubling about the office are:
Heavy Reliance on Intelligence from Exiles and Defectors - The office relies heavily on accounts from Iraqi exiles and defectors associated with Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC), long considered suspect by other US intelligence agencies. (Hersh 5/12/2003; Boehlert 7/16/2003; Borger 7/17/2003; Lobe 8/7/2003; Buncombe 9/30/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) One defector in particular, code-named “Curveball,” provides as much as 98 percent of the intelligence on Iraq’s alleged arsenal of biological weapons. (CNN 7/11/2004) Much of the information provided by the INC’s sources consists of “misleading and often faked intelligence reports,” which often flow to Special Plans and NESA directly, “sometimes through Defense Intelligence Agency debriefings of Iraqi defectors via the Defense Human Intelligence Service and sometimes through the INC’s own US-funded Intelligence Collection Program, which was overseen by the Pentagon.” (Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) According to Kwiatkowski, the movement of intelligence from the INC to the Office of Special Plans is facilitated by a Colonel Bruner, a former military aide to Gingrich. (Hosenball and Isikoff 12/15/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004; Kwiatkowski 3/10/2004) Bruner “was Chalabi’s handler,” Kwiatkowski will tell Mother Jones. “He would arrange meetings with Chalabi and Chalabi’s folks.” (Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) Kwiatkowski also finds that OSP personnel, along with DIA and CIA officials, are taking part in the debriefing of INC informants. She will recall confronting one DIA officer, John Trigilio, about the practice: “I argued with [Tregilio] after the president’s Cincinnati speech (see October 5, 2002 and October 6, 2002). I told him that the president had made a number of statements that were just not supported by the intelligence. He said that the president’s statements are supported by intelligence, and he would finally say, ‘We have sources that you don’t have.’ I took it to mean the sources that Chalabi was bringing in for debriefing… Trigilio told me he participated in a number of debriefs, conducted in hotels downtown, or wherever, of people that Chalabi brought in. These debriefs had Trigilio from OSP, but also CIA and DIA participated… If [the information] sounded good, it would go straight to the OVP or elsewhere. I don’t put it out of possibility that the information would go straight to the media because of the (media’s) close relationship with some of the neoconservatives. So this information would make it straight out into the knowledge base without waiting for intelligence [analysts] to come by with their qualifications and reservations.” (Lang 6/2004)
Cherry-Picked Intelligence - The Office of Special Plans purposefully ignores intelligence that undermines the case for war while exaggerating any leads that support it. “It wasn’t intelligence—it was propaganda,” Kwiatkowski will later explain. “They’d take a little bit of intelligence, cherry-pick it, make it sound much more exciting, usually by taking it out of context, often by juxtaposition of two pieces of information that don’t belong together.” (Schmitt and Shanker 10/24/2002; Hersh 5/12/2003; Boehlert 7/16/2003; Borger 7/17/2003; Lobe 8/7/2003; Buncombe 9/30/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) “At the OSP, what they were doing was looking at all the intelligence they could find on WMD. That was the focal point, picking bits and pieces that were the most inflammatory, removing any context that might have been provided in the original intelligence report, that would have caused you to have some pause in believing it or reflected doubts that the intelligence community had, so if the intelligence community had doubts, those would be left out… They would take items that had occurred many years ago, and put them in the present tense, make it seem like they occurred not many years ago… But they would not talk about the dates; they would say things like, ‘He has continued since that time’ and ‘He could do it tomorrow,’ which of course, wasn’t true… The other thing they would do would be to take unrelated events that were reported in totally unrelated ways and make connections that the intelligence community had not made. This was primarily in discussing Iraq’s activities and how they might be related to al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups that might be against us, or against Israel… These kinds of links would be made. They would be made casually, and they would be made in a calculated way to form an image that is definitely not the image that anyone reading the original reports would have. The summaries that we would see from Intelligence did not match the kinds of things that OSP was putting out. So that is what I call propaganda development. It goes beyond the manipulation of intelligence to propaganda development.” (Lang 6/2004)
No Intelligence Oversight - The OSP bypasses established oversight procedures by sending its intelligence assessments directly to the White House and National Security Council without having them first vetted by a review process involving other US intelligence agencies. (Hersh 5/12/2003; Boehlert 7/16/2003; Borger 7/17/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) The people at Special Plans are so successful at bypassing conventional procedures, in part, because their neoconservative colleagues hold key positions in several other agencies and offices. Their contacts in other agencies include: John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security; Bolton’s adviser, David Wurmser, a former research fellow on the Middle East at the American Enterprise Institute, who was just recently working in a secret Pentagon planning unit at Douglas Feith’s office (see Shortly After September 11, 2001); Elizabeth Cheney, deputy assistant secretary of state for Near East Affairs; Stephen Hadley, the deputy national security adviser; Elliott Abrams, the National Security Council’s top Middle East aide; and Richard Perle, Newt Gingrich, James Woolsey and Kenneth Adelman of the Defense Policy Board. The office provides very little information about its work to other US intelligence offices. (Boehlert 7/16/2003; Borger 7/17/2003; Lobe 8/7/2003)
'Stealth Organization' - Greg Thielmann, the former director of the Strategic, Proliferation and Military Affairs Office at the State Department’s Intelligence Bureau, later says of the OSP: “It was a stealth organization. They didn’t play in the intelligence community proceedings that our office participated in. When the intelligence community met as a community, there was no OSP represented in these sessions. Because, if they had done that, they would have had to subject their views to peer review. Why do that when you can send stuff right in to the vice president?” (Lang 6/2004; Unger 2007, pp. 299) Lang will say in January 2004 that what happened was fundamentally different from anything that had happened under previous presidents. Cheney’s staff and allies “behaved as though they had seized control of the government in a ‘silent coup,’” The result, according to Lang, is “a highly corrupted system of intelligence and policymaking, one twisted to serve specific group goals, ends, and beliefs held to the point of religious faith.” (Unger 2007, pp. 301)
Pressuring Intelligence Analysts - Retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel Dale Davis, who headed the International Programs Department at the Virginia Military Institute until March 2004, and an expert on Middle East affairs, later says he believes intelligence analysts at the CIA and other agencies were pressured indirectly. Davis will say, “By creating the OSP [Office of Special Plans], Cheney was able to say, ‘Hey, look at what we’re getting out of OSP. How come you guys aren’t doing as well? What is your response to what this alternative analysis that we’re receiving from the Pentagon says?’ That’s how you do it. You pressure people indirectly.” Vincent Cannistraro, a former senior counterterrorism official with the CIA, will agree: “Over a long period of time, there was a subtle process of pressure and intimidation until people started giving them what was wanted… When the Senate Intelligence Committee interviewed, under oath, over 100 analysts, not one of them said, ‘I changed my assessment because of pressure.‘… The environment was conditioned in such a way that the analyst subtly leaned toward the conceits of the policymakers… The intelligence community was vulnerable to the aggressiveness of neoconservative policymakers, particularly at the Pentagon and at the VP’s office. As one analyst said to me, ‘You can’t fight something with nothing, and those people had something. Whether it was right or wrong, fraudulent or specious, it almost didn’t make any difference, because the policymakers believed it already, and if you didn’t have hard countervailing evidence to persuade them, then you were at a loss.’” (Lang 6/2004)
Strong Pro-Israel, Anti-Arab Biases - Lastly, the people involved in Special Plans openly exhibit strong pro-Israel and anti-Arab bias. The problem, note critics, is that the analysis of intelligence is supposed to be apolitical and untainted by ideological viewpoints. (Kwiatkowski 12/1/2003) According to a CIA intelligence official and four members of the Senate’s Intelligence Committee, Special Plans is the group responsible for the claim Bush will make in his 2003 State of the Union address that Iraq had attempted to procure uranium from an African country (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). (Dreyfuss 6/19/2003; Leopold 7/16/2003)
Personal Grudges against Intelligence Community - The OSP reflects the personal grudges and ill will of many in the Office of the Vice President against the intelligence community, in part because of the CIA’s refusal to give much weight to the claims of Chalabi and the INC. “This had been a fight for such a long period of time, where people were so dug in,” a friend of one of Vice President Cheney’s senior staffers will later reflect. A colleague of the senior staff later says, “They so believed that the CIA were wrong, they were like, ‘We want to show these f_ckers that they are wrong.’” (Foer and Ackerman 11/20/2003)
Propaganda - Kwiatkowski will later recall that the OSP generated a large amount of what she terms propaganda, in the form of “talking points” used in briefings and in press conferences. “With the talking points, many of the propagandistic bullets that were given to use in papers for our superiors to inform them—internal propaganda—many of those same phrases and assumptions and tones, I saw in Vice President Cheney’s speeches and the president’s speeches,” she will say. “So I got the impression that those talking points were not just for us, but were the core of an overall agenda for a disciplined product, beyond the Pentagon. Over at the vice president’s office and the [neoconservative news magazine] Weekly Standard, the media, and the neoconservative talking heads and that kind of thing, all on the same sheet of music.” Kwiatkowski identifies Abram Shulsky, a neoconservative academic and recent Pentagon hire, as the source of many of these talking points. (Lang 6/2004)
Denials, Counter-Accusations after Public Learns of OSP - After the existence of the Office of Special Plans is revealed to the public, the Pentagon will deny that it served as a direct conduit to the White House for misleading intelligence, instead claiming that its activities had been limited to postwar plans for Iraq. (Hersh 5/12/2003) And a December 2003 opinion piece published in Insight magazine will call the allegations surrounding the Office of Special Plans the work of conspiracy theorists. (Timmerman 12/2/2003)

At a meeting of the White House Iraq Group, speechwriter Michael Gerson suggests that Bush argue in his next speech that the US should not wait until there is conclusive evidence that Iraq has acquired a nuclear weapon because the first sign of a “smoking gun” may be a “mushroom cloud.” Gerson’s suggestion is met with enthusiastic approval. The soundbite is so well liked that the phrase is leaked to the New York Times before the speech, appearing in an article on September 8 (see September 8, 2002). (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 35) Gerson, a devout evangelical Christian, was trained by former Nixon aide Charles Colson, whom Colson’s former colleague John Dean describes as “Nixon’s hatchet man and political schemer.” (Dean 2004, pp. 62)

Condoleezza Rice appears on CNN to discuss the alleged threat posed to the US by Saddam Hussein. She insists that Iraq is intent on developing a nuclear weapon. “We do know that he is actively pursuing a nuclear weapon. We do know that there have been shipments going into Iran, for instance—into Iraq, for instance, of aluminum tubes that really are only suited to—high-quality aluminum tools that are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs. We know that he has the infrastructure, nuclear scientists to make a nuclear weapon. And we know that when the inspectors assessed this after the Gulf War, he was far, far closer to a crude nuclear device than anybody thought, maybe six months from a crude nuclear device. The problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don’t what the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” (CNN 9/8/2002; CNN 9/8/2002; Risen, Sanger, and Shanker 7/20/2003; US House Committee on Government Reform 3/16/2004) In his 2006 book The One Percent Doctrine, author Ron Suskind writes, “The statement sent off shock waves. Rice was criticized for fear-mongering, for suggesting that there was evidence that Hussein might have such a weapon. Arguments about proof, though, were missing the point—Rice’s roundabout argument was that the United States should act whether or not it found a “smoking gun.” She was showing an edge of the actual US policy: the severing of fact-based analysis from forceful response; acting on any inkling was now appropriate—to be safe, to be sure, to get an opponent before he can develop capability, so others know to not even start down that path.” (Suskind 2006, pp. 170)

The White House publishes a 26-page government white paper titled, “A Decade of Deception and Defiance,” which seeks to demonstrate that Saddam Hussein represents a serious and imminent threat to the United States. The report, written by White House Iraq Group member James Wilkinson, relies primarily on public sources, including reports that have been published by human rights groups and the State Department, as well as various newspaper articles, including two by the New York Times. (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 48) Section 5 of the report deals with “Saddam Hussein’s support for international terrorism,” though it makes no attempt to tie Hussein’s government to al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden. It lists six points linking Saddam Hussein to terrorist activities, some dating as far back as the ‘70s. One of the points criticizes Iraq for its ties to the Mujahadeen-e Khalq Organization (MKO), an obscure militant Iranian dissident group whose main office is in Baghdad. The report says: “Iraq shelters terrorist groups including the Mujahedin-e-Khalq Organization (MKO), which has used terrorist violence against Iran and in the 1970s was responsible for killing several US military personnel and US civilians.” The paper notes that the US State Department classified MKO as a “foreign terrorist organization” in 1997, “accusing the Baghdad-based group of a long series of bombings, guerilla cross-border raids and targeted assassinations of Iranian leaders.” (Isikoff 9/26/2002 Sources: Richard Durbin) The administration is quickly ridiculed for making the claim when, two weeks later, Newsweek reports that MKO’s front organization, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, has a small office in the National Press Building in Washington, DC. It is also reported that only two years beforehand this very group had been supported by then-Senator John Ashcroft and more than 200 other members of Congress. On several issues the senator and his colleagues had expressed solidarity with MKO at the behest of their Iranian-American constituencies. (Isikoff 9/26/2002) Another allegation included in the paper states that Iraqi defector Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, a civil engineer, “had visited twenty secret facilities for chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons.” According to the White House dossier, Haideri “supported his claims with stacks of Iraqi government contracts, complete with technical specifications.” Ten months earlier, the CIA had debriefed Haideri in Bangkok and concluded from the results of a polygraph that Haideri account was a complete fabrication (see December 17, 2001). (Executive Office of the President 9/12/2002 pdf file)

The French arrange a backchannel meeting between a friend of Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri Hadithi and the CIA’s station chief in Paris, Bill Murray. Sabri’s friend, a Lebanese journalist, tells Murray that Sabri would be willing to provide the CIA with accurate information on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction program in exchange for $1 million. The CIA agrees to advance the journalist $200,000. (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 45; Roston and Myers 3/21/2006) When CIA Director George Tenet announces the deal during a high-level meeting at the White House—attended by President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice—the news is greeted with enthusiasm. “They were enthusiastic because they said, they were excited that we had a high-level penetration of Iraqis,” Tyler Drumheller, the agency’s head of spying in Europe, later tells 60 Minutes. (CBS News 4/23/2006) But Sabri does not tell the CIA what the White House is expecting to hear. In a New York hotel room, the Lebanese journalist says that according to Sabri Iraq does not have a significant, active biological weapons program. He does however acknowledge that Iraq has some “poison gas” left over from the first Gulf War. Regarding the country’s alleged nuclear weapons program, Sabri’s friend says the Iraqis do not have an active program because they lack the fissile material needed to develop a nuclear bomb. But he does concede that Hussein desperately wants one. (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 62-63; Roston and Myers 3/21/2006) “He told us that they had no active weapons of mass destruction programs,” Drumheller, will recall. (Unger 2007, pp. 246-247) The White House immediately loses interest in Sabri as a source after the New York meeting. Sabri, Bush says, is merely telling the US “the same old thing.” The CIA continues to corroborate material provided to the agency by Sabri. Wiretaps on Sabri’s phone conversations by French intelligence back up Sabri’s claims, but Bush could not care less. “Bush didn’t give a f_ck about the intelligence,” a CIA officer will later say. “He had his mind made up.” CIA agent Luis (whose full name has never been disclosed) and John Maguire, the chief and deputy chief of the Iraq Operations Group, also lose interest in the lead. In one confrontation between Maguire and Murray, Maguire allegedly says: “One of these days you’re going to get it. This is not about intelligence. This is about regime change.” Drumheller will agree, saying the White House is “no longer interested.… They said, ‘Well, this isn’t about intel anymore. This is about regime change.’” (Roston and Myers 3/21/2006; CBS News 4/23/2006; Unger 2007, pp. 246-247)

Within “two hours and ten minutes” of the British dossier’s publication (see September 24, 2002), Iraqi government officials invite British journalists on a tour of the sites named in the document as suspected weapon sites. The journalists are permitted to choose which facilities, of those mentioned in the dossier, they want to visit.
Al-Qa'qa complex - The first site they visit is the al-Qa’qa complex, located 30 miles south of Baghdad, which according to the British government’s paper has “been repaired” and is now “operational.” “Of particular concern are elements of the phosgene production plant,” states the dossier, which makes two claims. The first is that the substance, phosgene, is being produced at the facility and can be used “as a chemical agent or as a precursor for nerve agent.” The second claim is that the facility’s phosgene production plants had been “dismantled under UNSCOM supervision, but have since been rebuilt.” (United Kingdom 9/24/2002; Sengupta 9/25/2002) Both claims are disputed by the Iraqis. Director-General Sinan Rasim Said concedes that the plants produce phosgene as a byproduct of centralit, a stabilizer for gunpowder (which is not illegal), but denies that it can be used “as a chemical agent or as a precursor for nerve agent,” as alleged in the British document. He explains to reporters that phosgene can “not be extracted from the manufacturing equipment, let alone be used for making nerve agents.” To support his claims, he says that during the Gulf War, the US had never attempted to destroy the phosgene plants “because they knew we can’t make use of it.” Instead they had bombed the boiler room and the storage area, he says. Said also disputes the claim that UNSCOM had attempted to dismantle the facility’s phosgene production plants. There was no reason to, he explains, because the plant was not in violation of any laws. He tells reporters that if the British had simply requested the relevant documents from the UN they would have seen that they were wrong. (Sengupta 9/25/2002) Amir al Sa’adi, a senior Iraqi weapons expert, offers his own opinion as to why the facility was referred to in the dossier. He suggests that Blair singled out the plant “because it could produce propellant powder for weapons from pistols to artillery guns for Iraqi air defenses.” (Sengupta 9/25/2002) UNMOVIC weapons inspectors will visit the site in February 2003 and find nothing. (CNN 2/3/2003; Financial Times 2/14/2003; Oliver 2/14/2003)
Amariyah Sera - The second site they visit is Amariyah Sera, a facility which the British say UNSCOM inspectors had concluded “was used to store biological agents, seed stocks and conduct biological warfare associated genetic research prior to the Gulf War.” (United Kingdom 9/24/2002; Sengupta 9/25/2002) It is also claimed by Downing Street that the facility “has now expanded its storage capacity,” implying that the expansion is related to biological weapons. (United Kingdom 9/24/2002; Sengupta 9/25/2002) But the facility’s director, Karim Obeid, disputes the dossier’s claim that UNSCOM had earlier determined the plant was used for genetic research and storing biological agents. He tells the Independent of London: “They were coming here ever since the Gulf War until they left, and they have never accused us of any of those things in that time. All our work was done with their supervision.” He says the facility is being used “for testing typhoid fever.” Moreover, he adds that he is morally opposed to biological warfare “both as a scientist and a human being.” (Sengupta 9/25/2002) Obeid also explains that the storage capacity of the facility has been increased, as the dossier states, but that the additional rooms are not being used in a way that violates international law. A reporter from the Independent, who visits the additional rooms, reports that one of the added areas is “a large mostly empty room” which the director says is being used “to store solutions for blood tests, imported from the Melat pharmaceutical company in France,” while a second area is “stacked with empty bottles of various brands of vaccine.” (Sengupta 9/25/2002) Weapons inspectors will visit the site on December 15, 16, and 22 and find no evidence of biological weapons. (UN News Center 12/15/2002; UN News Center 12/16/2002; UN News Center 12/22/2002; Financial Times 2/14/2003; Oliver 2/14/2003)

In his weekly radio address, President Bush tells the nation: “The Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons, is rebuilding the facilities to make more, and, according to the British government, could launch a biological or chemical attack in as little as 45 minutes after the order is given. The regime has long-standing and continuing ties to terrorist groups, and there are al-Qaeda terrorists inside Iraq. This regime is seeking a nuclear bomb, and with fissile material could build one within a year.” Many Americans are shocked and frightened by Bush’s flat litany of assertions. What they do not know is that none of them are true. The CIA had reluctantly agreed to produce a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq less than three weeks before (see September 5, 2002); the result is an NIE packed with half-truths, exaggerations, and outright lies (see October 1, 2002). None of Bush’s statements are supported by hard intelligence, and all will later be disproven. (Bush 9/28/2002; Center for Public Integrity 1/23/2008) In 2007, author Craig Unger will write that the conflict seems to have gotten personal with Bush. “There’s no doubt [Saddam Hussein’s] hatred is mainly directed against us,” Bush says during the address. “There’s no doubt he can’t stand us. After all, this is a guy that tried to kill my dad at one time.” (Unger 2007, pp. 264)

UNSCOM photo of an Iraqi unmanned aerial vehicle.UNSCOM photo of an Iraqi unmanned aerial vehicle. [Source: CIA]The National Intelligence Council, a board of senior analysts that prepares reports on crucial national security issues, completes a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq. The purpose of an NIE is to provide policy-makers with an intelligence assessment that includes all available information on a specific issue so they can make sound policy decisions. The formal document is supposed to be the result of a collaborative effort of the entire intelligence community and is supposed to be untainted by political interests. The decision to produce the assessment on Iraq followed criticisms that the administration had already made a decision to invade Iraq without having thoroughly reviewed all available intelligence on Iraq. Congress wanted the NIE completed prior to voting on a bill authorizing the president to use force against Iraq (see September 5, 2002). NIEs such as this usually take months to prepare, however this document took a mere three weeks. The person in charge of preparing the document was weapons expert Robert Walpole. According to the Independent of London, Walpole has a track record of tailoring his work to support the biases of his superiors. “In 1998, he had come up with an estimate of the missile capabilities of various rogue states that managed to sound considerably more alarming than a previous CIA estimate issued three years earlier,” the newspaper later reports. “On that occasion, he was acting at the behest of a congressional commission anxious to make the case for a missile defense system; the commission chairman was none other than Donald Rumsfeld….” (Gumbel 11/3/2003; Barstow, Broad, and Gerth 10/3/2004)
Summary of NIE Conclusions - The NIE says there are potentially links between Iraq and al-Qaeda, but uses cautionary language and acknowledges that its sources—Iraqi defectors and captured al-Qaeda members—have provided conflicting reports. The sections dealing with weapons of mass destruction are also filled with caveats and nuanced statements. In the second paragraph of its “key judgment” section, the NIE states that US intelligence lacks “specific information” on Iraq’s alleged arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. And while the NIE says that Iraq probably has chemical and biological weapons, it also says that US intelligence analysts believe that Saddam Hussein would only launch an attack against the US if he felt a US invasion were inevitable. It also concludes that Saddam would only provide terrorists with chemical or biological agents for use against the United States as a last resort in order to “exact vengeance by taking a large number of victims with him.” (Central Intelligence Agency 10/1/2002; Pincus 6/22/2003; Agence France-Presse 11/30/2003)
Reconstituted nuclear weapons programs - According to the NIE, “most” of the US’ six intelligence agencies believe there is “compelling evidence that Saddam [Hussein] is reconstituting a uranium enrichment effort for Baghdad’s nuclear weapons program.” The one agency that disagrees with this conclusion is the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), which says in its dissenting opinion: “The activities we have detected do not, however, add up to a compelling case that Iraq is currently pursuing what INR would consider to be an integrated and comprehensive approach to acquire nuclear weapons. Iraq may be doing so, but INR considers the available evidence inadequate to support such a judgment. Lacking persuasive evidence that Baghdad has launched a coherent effort to reconstitute its nuclear weapons programs, INR is unwilling to… project a timeline for the completion of activities it does not now see happening.” It is later learned that nuclear scientists in the Department of Energy’s in-house intelligence office were also opposed to the NIE’s conclusion and wanted to endorse the State’s alternative view. However, the person representing the DOE, Thomas Ryder, silenced them and inexplicably voted to support the position that Iraq had reconstituted its nuclear weapons program (see Late September 2002). The DOE’s vote was seen as critical, since the department’s assessment was supposed to represent the views of the government’s nuclear experts. (Central Intelligence Agency 10/1/2002; Milbank 7/19/2003; Landay 2/10/2004; Landay 2/10/2004)
Iraqi attempts to obtain uranium from Africa - According to the NIE, Iraq is “vigorously trying” to obtain uranium and “reportedly” is working on a deal to purchase “up to 500 tons” of uranium from Niger. It reads: “A foreign government service reported that as of early 2001, Niger planned to send several tons of ‘pure uranium’ (probably yellowcake) to Iraq. As of early 2001, Niger and Iraq reportedly were still working out arrangements for this deal, which could be for up to 500 tons of yellowcake. We do not know the status of this arrangement. Reports indicate Iraq also has sought uranium ore from Somalia and possibly the Democratic Republic of the Congo.” But the alternative view—endorsed by the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR)—says that it is doubtful Iraq is trying to procure uranium from Africa. ”(T)he claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa are, in INR’s assessment, highly dubious,” it reads. (Central Intelligence Agency 10/1/2002; Milbank 7/19/2003)
Iraqi attempts to obtain aluminum tubes - The NIE says that most “agencies believe that Saddam’s personal interest in and Iraq’s aggressive attempts to obtain high-strength aluminum tubes for centrifuge rotors—as well as Iraq’s attempts to acquire magnets, high-speed balancing machines, and machine tools—provide compelling evidence that Saddam is reconstituting a uranium enrichment effort for Baghdad’s nuclear weapons program.” To support its analysis of the tubes, it includes a chart which compares the dimensions of the aluminum tubes sought by Iraq with those that would be needed for a “Zippe-type” centrifuge. The chart’s comparison of the tubes makes it appear that the tubes are similar. But the NIE neglects to say that the aluminum tubes are an exact match with those used in Iraq’s 81-millimeter rocket. The estimate also claims that the tubes are not suitable for rockets. The assertion ignores the fact that similar tubes are used in rockets from several countries, including the United States. (US Congress 7/7/2004, pp. 84; Barstow, Broad, and Gerth 10/3/2004) It does note however that the 900 mm tubes ordered by Iraq would have to have been cut in half to make two 400 mm rotors, and that the tubes would have needed other modifications as well in order to be used in centrifuge rotors. (The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction (aka 'Robb-Silberman Commission') 3/31/2005) The NIE’s conclusion about the tubes is challenged by two US intelligence agencies, the DOE’s in house intelligence agency, and the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research. In its dissenting opinion, the DOE says, “It is well established in open sources that bare aluminum is resistant to UF6 and anodization is unnecessary for corrosion resistance, either for the aluminum rotors or for the thousands of feet of aluminum piping in a centrifuge facility. Instead, anodization would likely introduce uncertainties into the design that would need to be resolved before a centrifuge could be operated.” The DOE’s dissenting opinion—written mainly by nuclear physicist William Domke at the Energy Department’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and nuclear physicist Jeffrey Bedell at the Los Alamos National Laboratory—also notes that anodization is a standard practice in missile construction for environmental protection. The Energy Department’s centrifuge physicists suggested more than a year before that the tubes were meant to serve as casings for conventional rockets (see May 9, 2001), but CIA analysts held fast to their theory. (Milbank 7/19/2003; Nichols and Diamond 7/31/2003; Gellman 10/26/2003; US Congress 7/7/2004, pp. 59) Years later a DOE intelligence analyst will tell two journalists, “[The DOE’s nuclear scientists] are the most boring people. Their whole lives revolve around nuclear technology. They can talk about gas centrifuges until you want to jump out of a window. And maybe once every ten years or longer there comes along an important question about gas centrifuges. That’s when you should really listen to these guys. If they say an aluminum tube is not for a gas centrifuge, it’s like a fish talking about water.” (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 40) The State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, similarly writes in its dissenting footnote: “In INR’s view Iraq’s efforts to acquire aluminum tubes is central to the argument that Baghdad is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program, but INR is not persuaded that the tubes in question are intended for use as centrifuge rotors. INR accepts the judgment of technical experts at the US Department of Energy (DOE) who have concluded that the tubes Iraq seeks to acquire are poorly suited for use in gas centrifuges to be used for uranium enrichment and finds unpersuasive the arguments advanced by others to make the case that they are intended for that purpose. INR considers it far more likely that the tubes are intended for another purpose, most likely the production of artillery rockets. The very large quantities being sought, the way the tubes were tested by the Iraqis, and the atypical lack of attention to operational security in the procurement efforts are among the factors, in addition to the DOE assessment, that lead INR to conclude that the tubes are not intended for use in Iraq’s nuclear weapon program.” (Milbank 7/19/2003; Nichols and Diamond 7/31/2003)
Chemical and Biological Weapons - On the question of chemical and biological weapons, the NIE says: “We judge Iraq has some lethal and incapacitating BW agents and is capable of quickly producing and weaponizing a variety of such agents, including anthrax, for delivery by bombs, missiles, aerial sprayers, and covert operatives.” But the document also highlights the belief that it is unlikely that Iraq has any intention to use these against the US. “… Baghdad for now appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks with conventional or CBW [Chemical/Biological Weapons] against the United States, fearing that exposure of Iraqi involvement would provide Washington with a stronger case for making war.” Iraq would probably only use such weapons against the United States if it “feared an attack that threatened the survival of the regime were imminent or unavoidable, or possibly for revenge.” (Central Intelligence Agency 10/1/2002)
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles - Citing defectors and exiles, the NIE states that Iraq possesses unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) which can be used to deploy biological and chemical weapons. But the document includes a dissenting opinion by the Air Force’s National Air and Space Intelligence Center. The center, which controls most of the US military’s UAV fleet, says there is little evidence that Iraq’s drones are related to the country’s suspected biological weapons program. Current intelligence suggests that the drones are not capable of carrying much more than a camera and a video recorder. The Air Force believes that Iraq’s unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are for reconnaissance, like its counterparts in the US. The dissenting opinion reads: “… The Director, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, US Air Force, does not agree that Iraq is developing UAVs primarily intended to be delivery platforms for chemical and biological warfare (CBW) agents. The small size of Iraq’s new UAV strongly suggests a primary role of reconnaissance, although CBW delivery is an inherent capability.” (Linzer and Lumpkin 8/24/2003; Graham 9/26/2003; Landay 2/10/2004) Bob Boyd, director of the Air Force Intelligence Analysis Agency, will tell reporters in August 2003 that his department thought the allegation in the NIE “was a little odd,” noting that Air Force assessments “all along” had said that reconnaissance, not weapons delivery, was the purpose of Iraq’s drones. “Everything we discovered strengthened our conviction that the UAVs were to be used for reconnaissance,” he will explain. “What we were thinking was: Why would you purposefully design a vehicle to be an inefficient delivery means? Wouldn’t it make more sense that they were purposefully designing it to be a decent reconnaissance UAV?” (Linzer and Lumpkin 8/24/2003; Graham 9/26/2003) The NIE also says that Iraq is attempting to obtain commercially available route-planning software that contains topographic data of the United States. According to the NIE, this data could facilitate targeting of US sites. But Air Force analysts were not convinced by the argument, noting that this sort of information could easily be retrieved from the Internet and other highly accessible sources. “We saw nothing sinister about the inclusion of the US maps in route-planning software,” Boyd will tell reporters. (Graham 9/26/2003) Analysts at the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency are said to back the Air Force’s National Air and Space Intelligence Center’s position. (Linzer and Lumpkin 8/24/2003)
Appendices - Most of the caveats and dissents in the NIE are relegated to a variety of appendices at the end of the document. (Unger 2007, pp. 266)
Aftermath - After the completion of the National Intelligence Estimate, the Bush administration will continue to make allegations concerning Iraq’s weapons capabilities and ties to militant Islamic groups, but will include none of the qualifications and nuances that are present in the classified NIE. After excerpts from the classified version of the NIE are published in the press in July of 2003 (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003), administration officials will claim that neither Bush, Rice, nor other top officials were informed about the alternative views expressed by the DOE, INR, and the Air Force intelligence agency. They will also assert that the dissenting views did not significantly undermine the overall conclusion of the NIE that Iraq was continuing its banned weapons program despite UN resolutions. (Milbank 7/19/2003; Stevenson 7/19/2003; Milbank and Allen 7/27/2003) But this claim is later disputed in an article by the Washington Post, which reports: “One person who has worked with Rice describes as ‘inconceivable’ the claims that she was not more actively involved. Indeed, subsequent to the July 18 briefing, another senior administration official said Rice had been briefed immediately on the NIE—including the doubts about Iraq’s nuclear program—and had ‘skimmed’ the document. The official said that within a couple of weeks, Rice ‘read it all.’” (Milbank and Allen 7/27/2003) The official’s account, will in fact be confirmed by Rice herself, who reportedly tells Gwen Ifill at the National Association of Black Journalists Convention in Dallas on August 7, 2003: “I did read everything that the CIA produced for the president on weapons of mass destruction. I read the National Intelligence Estimate cover to cover a couple of times. I read the reports; I was briefed on the reports. This is—after 20 years, as somebody who has read a lot of intelligence reports—this is one of the strongest cases about weapons of mass destruction that I had ever read.” (Daily Howler 8/11/2003)
Conclusions 'Overstated' - George Bush is also provided with a summary of the NIE’s dissenting views. According to the Robb-Silberman report, released in early 2005, the president’s summary of the NIE notes that “INR and DOE believe that the tubes more likely are intended for conventional weapon uses.” (The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction (aka 'Robb-Silberman Commission') 3/31/2005) Additionally, senior CIA analyst Stuart Cohen, the acting chairman of the National Intelligence Council at this time, who helped write the document, will tell the Agence France-Presse, “Any reader would have had to read only as far as the second paragraph of the Key Judgments to know that as we said, ‘we lacked specific information on many key aspects of Iraq’s WMD program.’” The Key Judgments section is also where INR’s detailed dissent on the aluminum tubes allegation was located. (Agence France-Presse 11/30/2003) A Senate Intelligence Committee investigation will determine in July 2004 that “most of the major key judgments in the Intelligence Community’s October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), Iraq’s Continuing Programs for Weapons of Mass Destruction, either overstated, or were not supported by, the underlying intelligence reporting.” (US Congress 7/7/2004, pp. 59) And in 2006, one of the report’s authors, CIA senior analyst Paul Pillar, will admit the NIE had been written with the intent of “strengthen[ing] the case of going to war with the American public.” (Pillar 6/20/2006)
NIE 'Distorted' Due to Political Pressures, Author Claims - In 2007, author Craig Unger will write, “At the time, to virtually everyone in Congress, the NIE was still sacrosanct. It was still the last word in American intelligence. Yet it had been distorted thanks to political pressures from the neocons and the White House. If one took it seriously, the Niger documents were real. Curveball had credibility. And the aluminum tubes were part of Saddam’s nuclear program. Only one conclusion could be drawn: Saddam Hussein post an extraordinarily grave threat.” (Unger 2007, pp. 266)

Preparing for a major speech by President Bush on Iraq (see October 7, 2002), the National Security Council has sent the sixth draft of the speech to the CIA for vetting. It includes a line saying that Iraq “has been caught attempting to purchase up to 500 metric tons of uranium oxide from Africa—an essential ingredient in the enrichment process.” It is essentially the same language turned down by the CIA for an earlier speech (see September 11, 2002). In response, the CIA’s associate deputy director for intelligence [ADDI] sends a four-page memo to Bush administration officials, including Bush’s Deputy National Security Adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, and the chief speechwriter, Michael Gerson, expressing doubt over claims that Iraq had attempted to obtain uranium from Niger. On page three of the memo, the ADDI advises removing the allegation from the draft of Bush’s upcoming speech in Cincinnati. “[R]emove the sentence because the amount is in dispute and it is debatable whether it can be acquired from the source. We told Congress that the Brits have exaggerated this issue (see September 24, 2002). Finally, the Iraqis already have 550 metric tons of uranium oxide in their inventory.” (Milbank and Pincus 7/23/2003; Unger 2007, pp. 261-262) Despite the warning, the White House refuses to make substantial changes. Draft seven of the speech, completed later in the day (see October 6, 2002), contains the passage, “[T]he regime has been caught attempting to purchase substantial amounts of uranium oxide from sources in Africa.” (US Congress 7/7/2004) Hadley will later claim in July 2003 that he did not brief his boss, Condoleezza Rice, on the memo. (Milbank and Allen 7/27/2003)

The CIA’s associate deputy director for intelligence (ADDI) receives draft seven of President Bush’s upcoming speech in Cincinnati and sees that the speechwriters have failed to remove the passage on Iraq’s alleged attempt to purchase uranium from Niger, as the CIA had advised the day before (see October 5, 2002). The revised passage reads in part, “the regime has been caught attempting to purchase a substantial amount of uranium oxide from sources in Africa.” The ADDI contacts Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet and tells him that the “president should not be a fact witness on this issue” because the agency’s analysts consider the reporting “weak” and say it is based solely on one source. Tenet then personally calls White House officials, including Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, with the CIA’s concerns. The allegation is finally removed from the speech. Later in the day, to press its point even further, the CIA faxes another memo, summarizing its position on the Africa-uranium claim. The memo states: “[M]ore on why we recommend removing the sentence about procuring uranium oxide from Africa: Three points (1) The evidence is weak. One of the two mines cited by the source as the location of the uranium oxide is flooded. The other mine cited by the source is under the control of the French authorities. (2) The procurement is not particularly significant to Iraq’s nuclear ambitions because the Iraqis already have a large stock of uranium oxide in their inventory. And (3) we have shared points one and two with Congress, telling them that the Africa story is overblown and telling them this is one of the two issues where we differed with the British.” (Pincus and Allen 7/13/2003; Milbank and Pincus 7/23/2003; US Congress 7/7/2004; Unger 2007, pp. 261-262) The memo’s recipients include National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and her deputy, Hadley. (Milbank and Pincus 7/23/2003) Bush will not use the reference in his speech—although he does repeat the “smoking gun/mushroom cloud” trope (see September 4, 2002)—but the administration’s neoconservatives, such as Hadley, are not through with the issue. They will continue trying to insert the language into other speeches (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). Larry Wilkerson, the chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell, will later say: “That was their favorite technique. Stick that baby in there 47 times and on the 47th time it would stay. I’m serious. It was interesting to watch them do this. At every level of the decision-making process you had to have your axe out, ready to chop their fingers off. Sooner or later you would miss one and it would get in there.” (Unger 2007, pp. 261-262)

Fallujah II chemical plant.Fallujah II chemical plant. [Source: CIA]In a televised speech, President Bush presents the administration’s case that Saddam Hussein’s regime is a threat to the security of the nation and insists that regime change would improve lifes for Iraqis. “Some worry that a change of leadership in Iraq could create instability and make the situation worse. The situation could hardly get worse, for world security and for the people of Iraq. The lives of Iraqi citizens would improve dramatically if Saddam Hussein were no longer in power, just as the lives of Afghanistan’s citizens improved after the Taliban.” The speech is widely criticized for including false and exaggerated statements.
Iraq has attempted to purchase equipment used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons - Bush claims that a shipment of 3,000 aluminum tubes to Iraq, which were intercepted in Jordan by US authorities in July of 2001 (see July 2001), had been destined for use in a uranium enrichment program. But by this time numerous experts and government scientists have already warned the administration against making this allegation. (US President 10/14/2002) Three weeks before Bush’s speech, The Washington Post ran a story on the aluminum tubes. The article summarized a study by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), disputing the administration’s claim that the tubes were to be used for gas centrifuges. The report was authored by the institute’s president and founder, David Albright, a respected nuclear physicist, who had investigated Iraq’s nuclear weapons program after the First Gulf War as a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s inspection team and who has spoken before Congress on numerous occasions. In his study, he concluded that Iraq’s attempts to import the tubes “are not evidence that Iraq is in possession of, or close to possessing, nuclear weapons” and “do not provide evidence that Iraq has an operating centrifuge plant or when such a plant could be operational.” (Warrick 9/19/2002; Borger 10/9/2002; Collier 10/12/2002; Albright 10/9/2003) Soon after the speech, Albright tells The Guardian newspaper that there is still no evidence to substantiate that interpretation. As one unnamed specialist at the US Department of Energy explains to the newspaper, “I would just say there is not much support for that [nuclear] theory around here.” (Borger 10/9/2002) The Washington Post article also reported that government experts on nuclear technology who disagreed with the White House view had told Albright that the administration expected them to remain silent. (Warrick 9/19/2002; Fisk 9/22/2002) Houston G. Wood III, a retired Oak Ridge physicist considered to be “among the most eminent living experts” on gas centrifuges reviewed the tube question in August 2001 (see 1950s) and concluded at that time that it was very unlikely that the tubes had been imported to be used for centrifuges in a uranium enrichment program. He later tells The Washington Post in mid-2003 that “it would have been extremely difficult to make these tubes into centrifuges,” adding that it stretched “the imagination to come up with a way.” He also says that other centrifuge experts whom he knew shared his assessment of the tubes. (Gellman and Pincus 8/10/2003) In addition to the several outside experts who criticized the tubes allegation, analysts within the US intelligence community also doubted the claim. Less than a week before Bush’s speech, the Energy Department and the State Department’s intelligence branch, the INR, had appended a statement to a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq disputing the theory (see October 1, 2002). (Central Intelligence Agency 10/1/2002 Sources: David Albright)
Saddam Hussein ordered his nuclear program to continue in 1998 - Bush says that US intelligence has information that Saddam Hussein ordered his nuclear program to continue after inspectors left in 1998. “Before being barred from Iraq in 1998, the International Atomic Energy Agency dismantled extensive nuclear weapons-related facilities, including three uranium enrichment sites,” Bush charges. “That same year, information from a high-ranking Iraqi nuclear engineer who had defected revealed that despite his public promises, Saddam Hussein had ordered his nuclear program to continue.” (Collier 10/12/2002; US President 10/14/2002) But Bush’s “high-ranking” source turns out to be Khidir Hamza, who is considered by many to be an unreliable source. Albright, who was president of the Institute for Science and International Security where Hamza worked as an analyst from 1997 to 1999, says that after Hamza defected, “he went off the edge [and] started saying irresponsible things.” (Collier 10/12/2002) And General Hussein Kamel, Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law who was in charge of the dictator’s former weapons program but who defected in 1995, told UNSCOM and IAEA inspectors, as well as US and British intelligence, that Khidir Hamza was “a professional liar.” Kamel explained, “He worked with us, but he was useless and always looking for promotions. He consulted with me but could not deliver anything…. He was even interrogated by a team before he left and was allowed to go.” (United Nations Special Commission 4/16/1998; Hersh 5/12/2003)
Iraq is developing drones that could deploy chemical and biological weapons - The President claims that Iraq is developing drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which “could be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons across broad areas.” He goes so far as to say, “We’re concerned that Iraq is exploring ways of using these UAVs for missions targeting the United States.” (Borger 10/9/2002; US President 10/14/2002) But this claim comes shortly after US intelligence agencies completed a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, in which Air Force intelligence had disputed the drone allegation (see October 1, 2002). Bush’s drone allegation is quickly derided by experts and other sources. The Guardian of London reports two days later that according to US military experts, “Iraq had been converting eastern European trainer jets, known as L-29s, into drones, but… that with a maximum range of a few hundred miles they were no threat to targets in the US.” (Borger 10/9/2002) And the San Francisco Chronicle will cite experts who say that “slow-moving unmanned aerial vehicles would likely be shot down as soon as they crossed Iraq’s borders” because “Iraqi airspace is closely monitored by US and British planes and radar systems.” The report will also note, “It’s also unclear how the vehicles would reach the US mainland—the nearest point is Maine, almost 5, 500 miles away—without being intercepted.” (Collier 10/12/2002) Anthony Cordesman, a security analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, will say he believes the drone allegation is unrealistic. In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, he says, “As a guesstimate, Iraq’s present holdings of delivery systems and chemical and biological weapons seem most likely to be so limited in technology and operational lethality that they do not constrain US freedom of action or do much to intimidate Iraq’s neighbors.” (Collier 10/12/2002) These criticisms of Bush’s claim are validated after the US invasion of Iraq. Two US government scientists involved in the post-invasion hunt for weapons of mass destruction will tell the Associated Press in August 2003 that they inspected the drones and concluded that they were never a threat to the US. “We just looked at the UAVs and said, ‘There’s nothing here. There’s no room to put anything in here,’” one of the scientists will say. “The US scientists, weapons experts who spoke on condition of anonymity, reached their conclusions after studying the small aircraft and interviewing Iraqi missile experts, system designers and Gen. Ibrahim Hussein Ismail, the Iraqi head of the military facility where the UAVs were designed,” the Associated Press will explain in its report. (Linzer and Lumpkin 8/24/2003)
Saddam Hussein could give terrorists weapons of mass destruction - Bush asserts, “Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists.” (US President 10/14/2002) But not only have numerous experts and inside sources disputed this theory (see July 2002-March 19, 2003), US intelligence’s National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq—completed just one week before—concluded that this is an unlikely scenario (see October 1, 2002). “Baghdad, for now, appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks with conventional or CBW against the United States,” the document clearly stated. “Should Saddam conclude that a US-led attack could no longer be deterred he probably would become much less constrained in adopting terrorist actions.” (Collier 10/12/2002)
Iraq rebuilding facilities associated with production of biological and chemical weapons - Bush claims that surveillance photos indicate that Iraq “is rebuilding facilities that it had used to produce chemical and biological weapons.” (US President 10/14/2002) On the following day, photos are published on the White House website showing that Iraq had repaired three sites damaged by US bombs—the Al Furat Manufacturing Facility, the Nassr Engineering Establishment Manufacturing Facility, and Fallujah II. (US President 10/14/2002) But no evidence is provided by the White House demonstrating that these sites have resumed activities related to the production of weapons of mass destruction. Iraqi authorities will give reporters a tour of the facilities on October 10 (see October 10, 2002).
Iraq has trained al-Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases - Bush alleges that Iraq has trained al-Qaeda operatives “in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases.” (US President 10/14/2002) The claim is based on a September 2002 CIA document which had warned that its sources were of “varying reliability” and that the claim had not yet been substantiated (see September 2002). The report’s main source, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an al-Qaeda operative who offered the information to CIA interrogators while in custody, later recants the claim (see February 14, 2004). A Defense Intelligence Agency report in February 2002 (see February 2002) had also expressed doubt in the claim, going so far as to suggest that al-Libi was “intentionally misleading [his] debriefers.” (CNN 9/26/2002; Jehl 7/31/2004; Isikoff 7/5/2005; Jehl 11/6/2005) And earlier in the month, US intelligence services had concluded in their National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq that this allegation could not be confirmed. (CNN 9/26/2002; Royce 10/10/2002; Collier 10/12/2002; Pincus 6/22/2003)
A very senior al-Qaeda leader received medical treatment in Baghdad - Bush claims: “Some al-Qaeda leaders who fled Afghanistan went to Iraq. These include one very senior al-Qaeda leader who received medical treatment in Baghdad this year, and who has been associated with planning for chemical and biological attacks.” The allegation refers to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born Palestinian who is the founder of al-Tawhid, an organization whose aim is to kill Jews and install an Islamic regime in Jordan. It was first leaked to the press by an anonymous US official several days before Bush’s speech (see October 2, 2002). The allegation is partly based on intercepted telephone calls in which al-Zarqawi was overheard calling friends or relatives (see December 2001-Mid-2002). But on the same day as Bush’s speech, Knight Ridder Newspapers reports that according to US intelligence officials, “The intercepts provide no evidence that the suspected terrorist was working with the Iraqi regime or that he was working on a terrorist operation while he was in Iraq.” (Strobel, Landay, and Walcott 10/7/2002; US President 10/14/2002) Al-Zarqawi will link with al-Qaeda, but only in 2004, after the start of the war in Iraq (see October 17, 2004).

Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, writes to the State Department and White House to warn senior Bush administration officials that he believes the Iraq-Niger documents are forgeries (see January 12, 2003 and February 17, 2003) and should not be cited as evidence that Iraq is pursuing WMD (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). ElBaradei will later say he never received a reply despite repeated follow-up calls to the White House, the State Department, and the National Security Council. State Department officials will later say they do not know if Secretary of State Colin Powell ever saw the letter. (Leopold 1/27/2006)

Iraq reiterates its claim that it has no weapons of mass destruction in the country, foreshadowing the content of its formal declaration, which is due in five days. Responding to the statement, US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld says, “Any country on the face of the earth with an active intelligence program knows that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.” And President Bush says, “He [Saddam Hussein] says he won’t have weapons of mass destruction; he’s got them.” (BBC 12/4/2002)

Barton Gellman.Barton Gellman. [Source: Publicity photo via Washington Post]On December 12, 2002, the Washington Post publishes a front-page story by reporter Barton Gellman entitled “US Suspects Al-Qaeda Got Nerve Agent From Iraqis.” It states: “The Bush administration has received a credible report that Islamic extremists affiliated with al-Qaeda took possession of a chemical weapon in Iraq last month or late in October, according to two officials with firsthand knowledge of the report and its source. They said government analysts suspect that the transaction involved the nerve agent VX and that a courier managed to smuggle it overland through Turkey.” (Gellman 12/12/2002) The story proves so controversial that the Post’s ombudsman Michael Getler writes a column about in on December 22. Getler notes that, “[B]eginning with the second paragraph, which started out, ‘If the report proves true…’ the story contains an extraordinary array of flashing yellow lights.” He asks, “[W]hat, after all, is the use of this story that practically begs you not to put much credence in it? Why was it so prominently displayed, and why not wait until there was more certainty about the intelligence?” However, he says the Post stands by publishing the story. (Getler 12/12/2002) Slate will comment in 2004, “[T]he Gellman scoop withered on the vine.… nobody advanced or refuted the story—not even Gellman.” Gellman will later admit that he should have run a follow-up story, if only to point out that no confirming evidence had come out. (Shafer 4/28/2004) He will later admit the story was incorrect. But he will continue to defend the story, claiming that “it was news even though it was clear that it was possible this report would turn out to be false.” (Kurtz 8/12/2004)

Nicolo Pollari, the chief of the Italian intelligence agency SISMI, personally warns the CIA that the documents “proving” that Iraq attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003) are fakes. (Leupp 11/9/2005)

An official with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) asks the US for information it has that can verify the claims of Iraqi attempts to buy Nigerien uranium (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). (Grier 11/15/2005)

UNMOVIC inspectors say they have yet to uncover evidence indicating that Iraq has resumed its production of weapons of mass destruction. After providing the UN Security Council with a summary of the inspectors’ findings, Hans Blix tells reporters in New York, “We have now been there for some two months and been covering the country in ever wider sweeps and we haven’t found any smoking guns.” (Burkeman 1/10/2003) But Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary, insists that the absence of evidence is of little concern, asserting, “The problem with guns that are hidden is you can’t see their smoke. We know for a fact that there are weapons there.” (Burkeman 1/10/2003) When asked how he knows this, Fleischer quotes from the UN weapons inspectors’ report and notes, “So while they’ve [UN Inspectors] said that there’s no smoking gun, they said the absence of it is not assured. And that’s the heart of the problem. The heart of the problem is Iraq is very good at hiding things.” (White House 1/9/2003) John Negroponte, the US ambassador to the UN, accuses Iraq of “legalistic” cooperation, claiming that it needs to act proactively. He also says, “There is still no evidence that Iraq has fundamentally changed its approach from one of deceit to a genuine attempt to be forthcoming.” (Burkeman 1/10/2003) Colin Powell also seems undaunted by Blix’s remarks. “The lack of a smoking gun does not mean that there’s not one there,” he says, “If the international community sees that Saddam Hussein is not cooperating in a way that would not allow you to determine the truth of the matter, then he is in violation of the UN resolution [1441] (see November 8, 2002)…You don’t really have to have a smoking gun.” (News24 1/10/2003) Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the British ambassador to the UN, echoes views from Washington, asserting that the “passive cooperation of Iraq has been good in terms of access and other procedural issues,” and adds, “But proactive cooperation has not been forthcoming—the kind of cooperation needed to clear up the remaining questions in the inspectors’ minds.” (Burkeman 1/10/2003)

White House speechwriters Michael Gerson, Matthew Scully, and John Gibson decide to include an allegation about the purported Iraq-Niger uranium deal in President Bush’s upcoming state of the union address. They remember that the allegation had been pulled from at least two previous speeches (see September 11, 2002, October 5, 2002, October 6, 2002, and Late September 2002), but figure that if the CIA has a problem with it, the agency will ask them to remove it. They want to include it in the speech to increase the persuasiveness of Bush’s argument. (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 169) Gibson later recalls that his assumption at this time is, “Maybe we had gotten better information on it.” (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 171)

Robert G. Joseph, director for nonproliferation at the National Security Council.Robert G. Joseph, director for nonproliferation at the National Security Council. [Source: CBC]Embarrassed and angered by CIA Director George Tenet’s refusal to support the use of the Iraq-Niger uranium claim in President Bush’s upcoming State of the Union speech (see October 5, 2002, October 6, 2002, January 27, 2003, and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), the White House decides to go behind Tenet’s back to get CIA approval for publicly citing the claim in the speech. Robert Joseph, director for nonproliferation at the National Security Council (NSC), telephones Alan Foley, director of the CIA’s Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control Center (WINPAC), and mentions plans to include the Africa-uranium claim in Bush’s upcoming State of the Union address. When Foley warns that the allegation has little evidence to support it, Joseph instead suggests including a statement about the British learning that Iraq was seeking uranium in Africa, leaving out the bit about Niger and the exact quantity of uranium that was allegedly sought. (Pincus and Priest 7/17/2003; Risen and Sanger 7/17/2003; Carney and Duffy 7/21/2003; Milbank and Allen 7/27/2003; Unger 2007, pp. 273-274) Foley apparently has no qualms about putting his bureau’s stamp of approval on the claim, having already told his staff, “If the president wants to go to war, our job is to find the intelligence to allow him to do so.” Foley rationalizes that if Bush attributes the claim to British intelligence, he can make it without having to worry whether it is actually true. The fact that the CIA has repeatedly labeled the British reports as untrustworthy does not stop Foley from vetting the claim. (Unger 2007, pp. 273-274) Joseph will claim he does not recall the discussion, and White House communications director Dan Bartlett will call Foley’s version of events a “conspiracy theory.” (Milbank and Allen 7/27/2003)

The CIA’s Berlin station chief warns CIA headquarters that information on the alleged mobile biological units supplied by Iraqi defector “Curveball” should be used with extreme caution. The station chief explains that the German intelligence service does not consider Curveball a reliable source and that it has been unable to confirm the defector’s statements. “[T]o use information from another liaison service’s source whose information cannot be verified on such an important, key topic should take the most serious consideration,” the station chief writes. (The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction (aka 'Robb-Silberman Commission') 3/31/2005; Pincus 5/21/2005) This information is forwarded by Tyler Drumheller to CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin. But WINPAC analysts assure McLaughlin that the reporting is solid enough to be in Powell’s upcoming speech to the UN. (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 182-183; Warrick 6/25/2006; Unger 2007, pp. 268-269)

Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who went to Niger almost a year ago to determine the truth or falsehood of the story that Iraq attempted to secure 500 tons of uranium from Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), and his wife, CIA case officer and WMD specialist Valerie Plame Wilson, both watch President Bush’s State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). According to Plame Wilson’s 2007 book Fair Game, Wilson watches from a Canadian television studio, brought there to comment on the address immediately afterwards. His wife watches from their Washington, DC, home. Plame Wilson will recall being dumbstruck at Bush’s “16 words” claim that British intelligence had found a clandestine attempt by Iraq to purchase uranium from an African nation. She will write: “What? Had I heard him correctly? Hadn’t Joe’s report on his trip to Niger nearly a year ago (see March 4-5, 2002 and March 5, 2002), distributed throughout the intelligence community, including presumably the vice president’s office, proved the emptiness of these charges?” When Wilson returns home, he and his wife, according to Plame Wilson’s recollection, “briefly discussed what we thought the president’s claim could have meant. It seemed so odd.” The next day, Wilson asks a friend at the State Department about the claim, and notes that Bush’s assertion is not borne out by the facts. If Bush had indeed referred to Niger in the speech, then his report, along with those of the US Ambassador to Niger and General Carlton Fulford (see February 24, 2002), “had all been wrong. Or had the president misspoken? In that case, the record needed to be corrected.” Wilson’s friend replies that Bush may have been speaking of one of the other African countries that produce uranium—Gabon, South Africa, or Namibia. Wilson accepts the explanation for the time being. As a side note, Plame Wilson adds at this point in her book, “Several years later, the assistant secretary of state for African affairs told Joe, ‘You don’t think that if we had seen the State of the Union address before it was delivered, that we would have allowed that phrase to remain in it, do you?” (Wilson, 7/6/2003; Wilson 2004, pp. 313-314; Wilson 2007, pp. 125-126)

Iraqi bomb allegedly containing botulism toxin.Iraqi bomb allegedly containing botulism toxin. [Source: CIA]President Bush gives his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress, making several false allegations about Iraq. (US President 2/3/2003) An empty seat is left open to symbolize the lives lost during the 9/11 attacks. Author Craig Unger will later characterize Bush’s delivery as somber and effective. He will be interrupted some 70 times by thunderous applause from the assembled lawmakers in the House chambers. One of his biggest applause lines is his statement about the US’s war on “international terrorism:” “The war goes on, and we are winning.” (Unger 2007, pp. 269-270)
African Uranium - He says: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Saddam Hussein has not credibly explained these activities.… He clearly has much to hide.” (US President 2/3/2003; White House 4/18/2003; Grice and Usborne 6/5/2003) The British allegation cited by Bush concerns a SISMI (Italy’s military intelligence) report (see Mid-October 2001) based on a set of forged documents. Months after the speech, with evidence mounting that the statement was completely false, the administration will retract this claim (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003).
Aluminum Tubes - Bush alleges that a shipment of aluminum tubes imported by Iraq was intended to be used in the country’s alleged nuclear weapons program. “Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production. Saddam Hussein has not credibly explained these activities. He clearly has much to hide.” (US President 2/3/2003)
Biological Agents - Bush lists a parade of agents: “anthrax, botulinum toxin, Ebola, and plague,” many of which Iraq has never been accused of possessing, and warns against “outlaw regimes that seek and possess nuclear, chemical, and builogical weapons… blackmail, terror, and mass murder.” He then moves from the general to the specific, accusing Iraq of having enough material “to produce over 25,000 liters of anthrax—enough doses to kill several million people… more than 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin—enough to subject millions of people to death by respiratory failure… as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent.” (US President 2/3/2003; Unger 2007, pp. 270-271)
False Testimony from Iraqi Scientists - Bush alleges: “Iraqi intelligence officers are posing as the scientists inspectors are supposed to interview. Real scientists have been coached by Iraqi officials on what to say.” (US President 2/3/2003) But Hans Blix, the chief UNMOVIC weapons inspector, tells the New York Times in an interview that he knows of no evidence supporting this claim. (Miller and Preston 1/31/2003)
Defector Allegations - Bush, citing intelligence provided by “three Iraqi defectors,” says, “We know that Iraq, in the late 1990s, had several mobile weapons labs… designed to produce germ warfare agents and can be moved from place to a place to evade inspectors.” One of the defectors referred to by Bush is ‘Curveball,’ whom the CIA station chief in Germany warned was not reliable the day before (see January 27, 2003). German intelligence officials watching Bush’s speech are “shocked.” One official later recalls: “Mein Gott! We had always told them it was not proven.… It was not hard intelligence.” (Drogin and Goetz 11/20/2005) Another source for the claim was Mohammad Harith, whom the Defense Intelligence Agency had labeled a “fabricator” the previous May (see May 2002).
Torture, Murder, and 9/11 - Bush accuses Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein of routinely torturing his own people, using such techniques as “electric shock, burning with hot irons, dripping acid on the skin, mutilation with electric drills, cutting out tongues, and rape.” He then connects Hussein, the torturer, murderer, and terrorist supporter, to the 9/11 attacks, saying: “[I]magine those 19 hijackers with other weapons and other plans—this time armed by Saddam Hussein. It would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known.” He invites “all free nations” to join him in ensuring no such attack ever happens, but notes that “the course of this nation does not depend on the decisions of others.” After another long burst of applause, Bush continues, “Whatever action is required, whatever action is necessary, I will defend the freedom and security of the American people.” (Unger 2007, pp. 270-271)
'Direct Personal Threat' - Bush states what former ambassador Joseph Wilson later writes can only be interpreted by Hussein “as a direct personal threat,” saying: “Tonight I have a message for the brave and oppressed people of Iraq: Your enemy is not surrounding your country, your enemy is ruling your country. And the day he and his regime are removed from power will be the day of your liberation.” Wilson will later write: “Not simply promising the disarmament of Iraq as he had in his recent speeches, the president now stated outright his intention to rout Saddam from power, and to kill or capture him. It was an unwise thing to say. It made whatever strategy we adopted for Iraq that much more dangerous because it so blatantly telegraphed our next move and our ultimate goal.” (US President 2/3/2003; Wilson 2004, pp. 315)
Defending America - To America’s soldiers, he says: “Many of you are assembling in or near the Middle East, and some crucial hours lay ahead. In these hours, the success of our cause will depend on you. Your training has prepared you. Your honor will guide you. You believe in America, and America believes in you.” In 2007, Unger will write: “A few years earlier, Bush had confided that he thought to be a great president meant being a great commander in chief. Now George W. Bush was leading his nation into war.” (Unger 2007, pp. 270-271)

French officials are shocked by the claims Bush made in his state of the union speech (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) concerning Iraqi attempts to obtain uranium from Africa. One government official will later recall in an interview with the Los Angeles Times that French experts considered Bush’s claim, which he attributed to the British, as “totally crazy because, in our view, there was no backup for this.” Notwithstanding, the French launch another investigation (see Late April or Early May 2002-June 2002) and again, find no evidence supporting the US and British claim. (Hamburger, Wallsten, and Drogin 12/11/2005)

Former Ambassador Joseph Wilson attempts to contact the White House through his contacts in the State Department and Senate with the message that it needs to correct the record on Iraq, specifically the allegation Bush recently made that Iraq sought uranium from Africa (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). Wilson had been sent to Niger nearly a year before by the CIA to investigate these claims (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Both he and the current US ambassador in Niger confirmed that the country’s uranium supplies were under the complete control of a French consortium and that it would have been impossible for Niger to divert uranium to Iraq. Wilson also tells his contacts about General Carlton W. Fulford Jr’s trip (see February 24, 2002) to Niger. On that trip the four-star Marine Corps general had similarly reported to Washington that the purported uranium deal was probably not true. (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 174) The White House refuses to communicate with Wilson. The only message he receives is one from National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice saying that he can state his case in writing in a public forum. (Leopold 1/23/2007)

Colin Powell and George Tenet, at the UN presentation.Colin Powell and George Tenet, at the UN presentation. [Source: CBS News]US Secretary of State Colin Powell presents the Bush administration’s case against Saddam to the UN Security Council, in advance of an expected vote on a second resolution that the US and Britain hope will provide the justification to use military force against Iraq. (Powell 2/5/2003) At the insistence of Powell, CIA Director George Tenet is seated directly behind him to the right. “It was theater, a device to signal to the world that Powell was relying on the CIA to make his case that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction,” Vanity Fair magazine will later explain. (Bamford 2004, pp. 371-2; Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 232) In his speech before the Council, Powell makes the case that Iraq is in further material breach of past UN resolutions, specifically the most recent one, UN Resolution 1441 (see November 8, 2002). Sources cited in Powell’s presentation include defectors, informants, communication intercepts, procurement records, photographs, and detainees. (Powell 2/5/2003) Most of the allegations made by Powell are later demonstrated to be false. “The defectors and other sources went unidentified,” the Associated Press will later report. “The audiotapes were uncorroborated, as were the photo interpretations. No other supporting documents were presented. Little was independently verifiable.” (Hanley 8/9/2003)
Iraq's December 7 Declaration Was Inaccurate - Powell contends that Iraq’s December 7 declaration was not complete. According to UN Resolution 1441 the document was supposed to be a “currently accurate, full and complete declaration of all aspects” of its programs to develop weapons of mass destruction. But Saddam has not done this, says Powell, who explains that Iraq has yet to provide sufficient evidence that it destroyed its previously declared stock of 8,500 liters of anthrax, as it claimed in the declaration. Furthermore, notes the secretary of state, UNSCOM inspectors had previously estimated that Iraq possessed the raw materials to produce as much as 25,000 liters of the virus. (Chivers 2/5/2003; Powell 2/5/2003; Warrick 2/6/2003)
Iraq Has Ties to Al-Qaeda - Powell repeats earlier claims that Saddam Hussein’s government has ties to al-Qaeda. Powell focuses on the cases of the militant Islamic group Ansar-al-Islam and Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born Palestinian, who had received medical treatment in Baghdad during the summer of 2002 (see December 2001-Mid-2002). (Powell 2/5/2003) However, just days before Powell’s speech, US and British intelligence officials—speaking on condition of anonymity—told the press that the administration’s allegations of Iraqi-al-Qaeda ties were based on information provided by Kurdish groups, who, as enemies of Ansar-al-Islam, should not be considered reliable. Furthermore, these sources unequivocally stated that intelligence analysts on both sides of the Atlantic remained unconvinced of the purported links between Iraq and al-Qaeda (see February 3-4, 2003). (Sengupta 2/3/2003; Smith and Rennie 2/4/2003) Powell also claims that Iraq provided “chemical or biological weapons training for two al-Qaeda associates beginning in December 2000.” The claim is based on a September 2002 CIA document which had warned that its sources were of “varying reliability” and that the claim was not substantiated (see September 2002). The report’s main source, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an al-Qaeda operative who offered the information to CIA interrogators while in custody, later recounts the claim (see February 14, 2004). (CNN 9/26/2002; Jehl 7/31/2004; Isikoff 7/5/2005) Larry Wilkerson, Powell’s chief of staff, will later say that neither he nor Powell ever received “any dissent with respect to those lines… indeed the entire section that now we know came from [al-Libi].” (Isikoff and Hosenball 11/10/2005) Senior US officials will admit to the New York Times and Washington Post after the presentation that the administration was not claiming that Saddam Hussein is “exercising operational control” of al-Qaeda. (Gordon 2/6/2003; Pincus 2/7/2003)
Iraq Has Missiles Capable of Flying Up to 1,200 Kilometers - Describing a photo of the al-Rafah weapons site, Powell says: “As part of this effort, another little piece of evidence, Iraq has built an engine test stand that is larger than anything it has ever had. Notice the dramatic difference in size between the test stand on the left, the old one, and the new one on the right. Note the large exhaust vent. This is where the flame from the engine comes out. The exhaust vent on the right test stand is five times longer than the one on the left. The one of the left is used for short-range missiles. The one on the right is clearly intended for long-range missiles that can fly 1,200 kilometers. This photograph was taken in April of 2002. Since then, the test stand has been finished and a roof has been put over it so it will be harder for satellites to see what’s going on underneath the test stand.” (Powell 2/5/2003; Chivers 2/5/2003) But according to the Associated Press, “… UN missile experts have reported inspecting al-Rafah at least five times since inspections resumed Nov. 27, have studied the specifications of the new test stand, regularly monitor tests at the installation, and thus far have reported no concerns.” (Hanley 2/7/2003) Similarly, Reuters quotes Ali Jassem, an Iraqi official, who explains that the large stand referred to in Powell’s speech is not yet in operation and that its larger size is due to the fact that it will be testing engines horizontally. (Ladki 2/7/2003; Steele 2/15/2003) Several days later, Blix will report to the UN that “so far, the test stand has not been associated with a proscribed activity.” (Steele 2/15/2003)
Iraqis Attempted to Hide Evidence from Inspectors - Powell shows the UN Security Council satellite shots depicting what he claims are chemical weapons bunkers and convoys of Iraqi cargo trucks preparing to transport ballistic missile components from a weapons site just two days before the arrival of inspectors. “We saw this kind of housecleaning at close to 30 sites,” Powell explains. “We must ask ourselves: Why would Iraq suddenly move equipment of this nature before inspections if they were anxious to demonstrate what they had or did not have?” (Powell 2/5/2003) But the photos are interpreted differently by others. An unnamed UN official and German UN Inspector Peter Franck both say the trucks in the photos are actually fire engines. (Stober 3/18/2003; Agence France-Presse 6/6/2003)
'Literally Removed the Crust of the Earth' - Another series of photos—taken during the spring and summer of 2002—show that Iraqis have removed a layer of topsoil from the al-Musayyib chemical complex. This piece of evidence, combined with information provided by an unnamed source, leads Powell to draw the following conclusion: “The Iraqis literally removed the crust of the earth from large portions of this site in order to conceal chemical weapons evidence that would be there from years of chemical weapons activity.” (Powell 2/5/2003; Warrick 2/6/2003) Showing another series of pictures—one taken on November 10 (before inspections) and one taken on December 22—Powell says that a guard station and decontamination truck were removed prior to the arrival of inspectors. Powell does not explain how he knows that the truck in the photograph was a decontamination truck. (Powell 2/5/2003; Warrick 2/6/2003; DeYoung and Pincus 2/6/2003) AP reporter Charles Hanley says that some of Powell’s claims that Iraq is hiding evidence are “ridiculous.” Powell says of a missile site, “This photograph was taken in April of 2002. Since then, the test stand has been finished and a roof has been put over it so it will be harder for satellites to see what’s going on underneath the test stand.” Hanley later says, “What he neglected to mention was that the inspectors were underneath, watching what was going on.” (Moyers 4/25/2007)
Communication Intercepts Demonstrate Iraqi Attempts to Conceal Information from Inspectors - Powell plays recordings of three conversations intercepted by US intelligence—one on November 26, another on January 30, and a third, a “few weeks” before. The conversations suggest that the Iraqis were attempting to hide evidence from inspectors. (Chivers 2/5/2003; Powell 2/5/2003; Reid 2/6/2003; Sydney Morning Herald 2/7/2003) Senior administration officials concede to the Washington Post that it was not known “what military items were discussed in the intercepts.” (Priest and Pincus 2/13/2003) Some critics argue that the intercepts were presented out of context and open to interpretation. (Sydney Morning Herald 2/7/2003; Sydney Morning Herald 2/9/2003) Others note that the conversations were translated from Arabic by US translators and were not analyzed or verified by an independent specialist. (Breslin 2/6/2003)
Biological Weapons Factories - Colin Powell says that US intelligence has “firsthand descriptions” that Iraq has 18 mobile biological weapons factories mounted on trucks and railroad cars. Information about the mobile weapons labs are based on the testimonies of four sources—a defected Iraqi chemical engineer who claims to have supervised one of these facilities, an Iraqi civil engineer (see December 20, 2001), a source in “a position to know,” and a defected Iraqi major (see February 11, 2002). Powell says that the mobile units are capable of producing enough dry biological agent in a single month to kill several thousand people. He shows computer-generated diagrams and pictures based on the sources’ descriptions of the facilities. Powell says that according to the chemical engineer, during the late 1990s, Iraq’s biological weapons scientists would often begin the production of pathogens on Thursday nights and complete the process on Fridays in order to evade UNSCOM inspectors whom Iraq believed would not conduct inspections on the Muslim holy day. (Chivers 2/5/2003; Powell 2/5/2003; Warrick 2/6/2003; Marshall 2/11/2003) Powell tells the delegates, “The source was an eyewitness, an Iraqi chemical engineer, who supervised one of these facilities. He actually was present during biological agent production runs. He was also at the site when an accident occurred in 1998. Twelve technicians died from exposure to biological agents.” He displays models of the mobile trucks drawn from the source’s statements. (CBS News 11/4/2007) Responding to the allegation, Iraqi officials will concede that they do in fact have mobile labs, but insist that they are not used for the development of weapons. According to the Iraqis, the mobile labs are used for food analysis for disease outbreaks, mobile field hospitals, a military field bakery, food and medicine refrigeration trucks, a mobile military morgue and mobile ice making trucks. (Plesch 2/5/2003; ABC News 5/21/2003) Iraq’s explanation is consistent with earlier assessments of the UN weapons inspectors. Before Powell’s presentation, Hans Blix had dismissed suggestions that the Iraqis were using mobile biological weapons labs, reporting that inspections of two alleged mobile labs had turned up nothing. “Two food-testing trucks have been inspected and nothing has been found,” Blix said. And Ewen Buchanan, spokesman for the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, said, “The outline and characteristics of these trucks that we inspected were all consistent with the declared purposes.” (Plesch 2/5/2003; ABC News 5/21/2003)
'Curveball' Primary Source of Claims - Powell’s case is further damaged when it is later learned that one of the sources Powell cited, the Iraqi major, had been earlier judged unreliable by intelligence agents at the Defense Intelligence Agency (see February 11, 2002). In May 2002, the analysts had issued a “fabricator notice” on the informant, noting that he had been “coached by [the] Iraqi National Congress” (INC) (see May 2002). But the main source for the claim had been an Iraqi defector known as “Curveball,” who was initially believed to be the brother of a top aide to Ahmed Chalabi. The source claimed to be a chemical engineer who had helped design and build the mobile labs. His information was passed to Washington through Germany’s intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), which had been introduced to the source by the INC. In passing along the information, the BND noted that there were “various problems with the source.” And only one member of the US intelligence community had actually met with the person—an unnamed Pentagon analyst who determined the man was an alcoholic and of dubious reliability. Yet both the DIA and the CIA validated the information. (Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity 8/22/2003; Drogin and Miller 3/28/2004; Landay and Brown 4/4/2004; Newsweek 4/19/2004; Isikoff 7/19/2004) Powell says that the US has three other intelligence sources besides Curveball for the mobile bioweapons labs. Powell will be infuriated to learn that none of those three sources ever corroborated Curveball’s story, and sometimes their information contradicted each other. One of the three had failed a polygraph test and was determined to have lied to his debriefers. Another had already been declared a fabricator by US intelligence community, and had been proven to have mined his information off the Internet. (Drogin and Karlin 11/27/2007) In November 2007, Curveball is identified as Rafid Ahmed Alwan. Serious questions about Curveball’s veracity had already been raised by the time of Powell’s UN presentation. He will later be completely discredited (see November 4, 2007).
Further Problems with Mobile Lab Claims - In addition to the inspectors’ assessments and the dubious nature of the sources Powell cited, there are numerous other problems with the mobile factories claim. Raymond Zilinskas, a microbiologist and former UN weapons inspector, argues that significant amounts of pathogens such as anthrax, could not be produced in the short span of time suggested in Powell’s speech. “You normally would require 36 to 48 hours just to do the fermentation…. The short processing time seems suspicious to me.” He also says: “The only reason you would have mobile labs is to avoid inspectors, because everything about them is difficult. We know it is possible to build them—the United States developed mobile production plants, including one designed for an airplane—but it’s a big hassle. That’s why this strikes me as a bit far-fetched.” (Warrick 2/6/2003) After Powell’s speech, Blix will say in his March 7 report to the UN that his inspectors found no evidence of mobile weapons labs (see March 7, 2003). (CNN 3/7/2003; Agence France-Presse 3/7/2003; King et al. 3/7/2003) Reporter Bob Drogin, author of Curveball: Spies, Lies and the Con Man Who Caused a War, says in 2007, “[B]y the time Colin Powell goes to the UN to make the case for war, he shows the world artists’ conjectures based on analysts’ interpretations and extrapolations of Arabic-to-German-to-English translations of summary debriefing reports of interviews with a manic-depressive defector whom the Americans had never met. [CIA director George] Tenet told Powell that Curveball’s information was ironclad and unassailable. It was a travesty.” (Holland 10/22/2007)
'Four Tons' of VX Toxin - Powell also claims that Iraq has “four tons” of VX nerve toxin. “A single drop of VX on the skin will kill in minutes,” he says. “Four tons.” Hanley later notes, “He didn’t point out that most of that had already been destroyed. And, on point after point he failed to point out that these facilities about which he was raising such alarm were under repeated inspections good, expert people with very good equipment, and who were leaving behind cameras and other monitoring equipment to keep us a continuing eye on it.” (Moyers 4/25/2007)
Iraq is Developing Unmanned Drones Capable of Delivering Weapons of Mass Destruction - Powell asserts that Iraq has flight-tested an unmanned drone capable of flying up to 310 miles and is working on a liquid-fueled ballistic missile with a range of 745 miles. He plays a video of an Iraqi F-1 Mirage jet dispersing “simulated anthrax.” (Powell 2/5/2003; Chivers 2/5/2003; Graham 2/6/2003) But the Associated Press will later report that the video was made prior to the 1991 Gulf War. Apparently, three of the four spray tanks shown in the film had been destroyed during the 1991 military intervention. (Hanley 8/9/2003)
Imported Aluminum Tubes were Meant for Centrifuge - Powell argues that the aluminum tubes which Iraq had attempted to import in July 2001 (see July 2001) were meant to be used in a nuclear weapons program and not for artillery rockets as experts from the US Energy Department, the INR, and the IAEA have been arguing (see February 3, 2003) (see January 11, 2003) (see August 17, 2001) (see January 27, 2003). To support the administration’s case, he cites unusually precise specifications and high tolerances for heat and stress. “It strikes me as quite odd that these tubes are manufactured to a tolerance that far exceeds US requirements for comparable rockets,” he says. “Maybe Iraqis just manufacture their conventional weapons to a higher standard than we do, but I don’t think so.” Powell also suggests that because the tubes were “anodized,” it was unlikely that they had been designed for conventional use. (Powell 2/5/2003; Warrick 2/5/2003; Warrick 3/8/2003) Powell does not mention that numerous US nuclear scientists have dismissed this claim (see August 17, 2001) (see September 23, 2002) (see December 2002). (Albright 10/9/2003) Powell also fails to say that Iraq has rockets identical to the Italian Medusa 81 mm rockets, which are of the same dimensions and made of the same alloy as the 3,000 tubes that were intercepted in July 2001 (see After January 22, 2003). (Gellman and Pincus 8/10/2003) This had been reported just two weeks earlier by the Washington Post. (Richburg 1/24/2003) Moreover, just two days before, Powell was explicitly warned by the US State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research not to cite the aluminum tubes as evidence that Iraq is pursuing nuclear weapons (see February 3, 2003). (Wetzel 7/29/2003)
Iraq Attempted to Acquire Magnets for Use in a Gas Centrifuge Program - Powell says: “We… have intelligence from multiple sources that Iraq is attempting to acquire magnets and high-speed balancing machines. Both items can be used in a gas centrifuge program to enrich uranium. In 1999 and 2000, Iraqi officials negotiated with firms in Romania, India, Russia and Slovenia for the purchase of a magnet production plant. Iraq wanted the plant to produce magnets weighing 20 to 30 grams. That’s the same weight as the magnets used in Iraq’s gas centrifuge program before the Gulf War.” (Powell 2/5/2003; Gordon 2/6/2003) Investigation by the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] will demonstrate that the magnets have a dual use. IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei said a little more than a week before, on January 27, in his report to the Security Council: “Iraq presented detailed information on a project to construct a facility to produce magnets for the Iraqi missile program, as well as for industrial applications, and that Iraq had prepared a solicitation of offers, but that the project had been delayed due to ‘financial credit arrangements.’ Preliminary investigations indicate that the specifications contained in the offer solicitation are consistent with those required for the declared intended uses. However, the IAEA will continue to investigate the matter….” (see January 27, 2003) (Annan 1/27/2003 pdf file) On March 7, ElBaradei will provide an additional update: “The IAEA has verified that previously acquired magnets have been used for missile guidance systems, industrial machinery, electricity meters and field telephones. Through visits to research and production sites, reviews of engineering drawings and analyses of sample magnets, IAEA experts familiar with the use of such magnets in centrifuge enrichment have verified that none of the magnets that Iraq has declared could be used directly for a centrifuge magnetic bearing.” (see March 7, 2003) (CNN 3/7/2003)
Iraq Attempted to Purchase Machines to Balance Centrifuge Rotors - Powell states: “Intercepted communications from mid-2000 through last summer show that Iraq front companies sought to buy machines that can be used to balance gas centrifuge rotors. One of these companies also had been involved in a failed effort in 2001 to smuggle aluminum tubes into Iraq.” (Powell 2/5/2003; Gordon 2/6/2003)
Powell Cites Documents Removed from Home of Iraqi Scientist Faleh Hassan - Powell cites the documents that had been found on January 16, 2003 by inspectors with the help of US intelligence at the Baghdad home of Faleh Hassan, a nuclear scientist. Powell asserts that the papers are a “dramatic confirmation” that Saddam Hussein is concealing evidence and not cooperating with the inspections. The 3,000 documents contained information relating to the laser enrichment of uranium (see January 16, 2003). (Coughlin 1/18/2003; Jahn 1/18/2003; BBC 1/19/2003; Powell 2/5/2003) A little more than a week later, in the inspectors’ February 14 update to the UN Security Council (see February 14, 2003), ElBaradei will say, “While the documents have provided some additional details about Iraq’s laser enrichment development efforts, they refer to activities or sites already known to the IAEA and appear to be the personal files of the scientist in whose home they were found. Nothing contained in the documents alters the conclusions previously drawn by the IAEA concerning the extent of Iraq’s laser enrichment program.” (Steele 2/15/2003; BBC 2/17/2003; Hanley 8/9/2003)
Iraq is Hiding Missiles in the Desert - Powell says that according to unidentified sources, the Iraqis have hidden rocket launchers and warheads containing biological weapons in the western desert. He further contends that these caches of weapons are hidden in palm groves and moved to different locations on a weekly basis. (Powell 2/5/2003) It will later be suggested that this claim was “lifted whole from an Iraqi general’s written account of hiding missiles in the 1991 war.” (Hanley 8/9/2003)
Iraq Has Scud Missiles - Powell also says that according to unnamed “intelligence sources,” Iraq has a few dozen Scud-type missiles. (Hanley 8/9/2003)
Iraq Has Weapons of Mass Destruction - Secretary of State Colin Powell states unequivocally: “We… have satellite photos that indicate that banned materials have recently been moved from a number of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction facilities. There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more.” Elsewhere in his speech he says: “We know that Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his weapons of mass destruction, is determined to make more.” (Powell 2/5/2003; CNN 2/5/2003)
Governments, Media Reaction Mixed - Powell’s speech will fail to convince many skeptical governments, nor will it impress many in the European media. But it will have a tremendous impact in the US media (see February 5, 2003 and After).

In a radio address to the US nation, President Bush reiterates the two main reasons for military action against Iraq, named the certain existence of WMD and al-Qaeda training camps in Iraq. He says, “We have sources that tell us that Saddam Hussein recently authorized Iraqi field commanders to use chemical weapons—the very weapons the dictator tells us he does not have.… We also know that Iraq is harboring a terrorist network headed by a senior al-Qaeda terrorist planner. This network runs a poison and explosive training camp in northeast Iraq, and many of its leaders are known to be in Baghdad.” (President Bush 8/2/2003)

British Foreign Minister Robin Cook is personally given an intelligence briefing by John Scarlett, head of the British joint intelligence committee. Cook later says in his diary that Scarlett’s summary was “shorn of the political slant with which No. 10 encumbers any intelligence assessment.” After the meeting with Scarlett, Cook concludes that “Saddam probably does not have weapons of mass destruction in the sense of weapons that could be used against large-scale civilian targets.” (Cracknell 10/5/2003; MacAskill and Norton-Taylor 10/6/2003; Cook 8/2/2004)

After the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports that the Niger documents (see March 2000) are not authentic (see March 7, 2003), the US and British governments stand behind their claim that Iraq had sought uranium from an African country. The two countries maintain that they have additional evidence—from multiple sources—but do not elaborate. Pressed by journalists and inspectors to reveal their evidence, the two governments refuse. The IAEA tells Reuters that when it asked the US and Britain whether or not they have additional evidence that Iraq had tried to procure uranium, the answer was “no.” (Charbonneau 3/26/2003)
'Information Blackout' - Additionally, an informed UN official tells the Washington Post that the US and Britain were repeatedly asked for more information. Neither government, the official explains, “ever indicated that they had any information on any other country.” (Priest and DeYoung 3/22/2003) An unnamed Western diplomat tells the Independent: “Despite requests, the British Government has provided no such evidence. Senior officials at the agency think it is involved in an information black-out.” (Independent 7/17/2003)
British Stick With Story Even after US Backs Away - The British will hold to their story even after top US officials admit (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003) that Bush should not have included the claim in his State of the Union speech.(see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) (Sanger 7/8/2003; Whitaker and Lashmar 7/20/2003)
Additional Evidence Initially Believed to be French Intel Reports - The London Times will later suggest that Britain’s additional evidence consisted of reports provided by the French in 1999 alleging that Iraqi diplomat Wissam al-Zahawie’s visit to Niger (see February 1999) was aimed at securing a deal to purchase uranium. (Smith 11/6/2005) As one British foreign official explains to the Independent: “Niger has two main exports—uranium and chickens. The Iraqi delegation did not go to Niger for chickens.” But Al-Zahawie disputes this. “My only mission was to meet the president of Niger and invite him to visit Iraq,” he tells the Independent. “The invitation and the situation in Iraq resulting from the genocidal UN sanctions were all we talked about. I had no other instructions, and certainly none concerning the purchase of uranium…. I have been cleared by everyone else, including the US and the United Nations. I am surprised to hear there are still question marks over me in Britain. I am willing to cooperate with anyone who wants to see me and find out more.” (Whitaker 8/10/2003; Hersh 10/27/2003)
Actual Evidence Provided by Italian Reports Based on Forged Documents - Later reporting will reveal that the main source for Britain’s Africa-uranium allegation was in fact an Italian intelligence report (see Mid-October 2001) that traced back to the forged Niger documents. (Bonini and d'Avanzo 10/24/2005; Bonini and d'Avanzo 10/25/2005) “I understand that it concerned the same group of documents and the same transaction,” an unnamed Western diplomat close to the International Atomic Energy Agency later tells the Daily Mail. (Agence France-Presse 7/15/2003)

The CIA intelligence report on former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s trip to Niger to find the reality of the allegation that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from that country (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) is disseminated within the government. In addition, some time around this date Vice President Dick Cheney asks his CIA briefer “for an update on the Niger uranium issue,” according to subsequent reports by the Senate Intelligence Committee. CIA officials ensure that the agency’s Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control bureau (WINPAC) receives a copy of the Wilson report. (Wilson 2007, pp. 189)

A day after former ambassador Joseph Wilson appears on CNN questioning the validity of the administration’s claims about the Iraq-Niger uranium purchase (see March 8, 2003), Vice President Dick Cheney and Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley begin a campaign to discredit him. The information comes from senior sources within the State Department, the CIA, and the National Security Council (NSC), all with direct knowledge of the campaign, and from Wilson himself. The sources will say that they and other officials are directed to unearth or “invent” embarrassing information on Wilson that could be used against him in public. Aides in the Office of the Vice President and others, including the sources, prepare a “workup” on Wilson, including memos and classified material on him for Cheney and the NSC. Officials meet regularly in Cheney’s office to discuss the progress of the campaign with Cheney, Hadley, and other officials.
Visit to CIA Headquarters - According to an official in the CIA’s Counterproliferation Division (CPD), Cheney and Hadley visit the CIA the day after Wilson’s interview on CNN. Cheney’s original target for discrediting was not Wilson, but David Albright, the former UN weapons inspector who has also challenged the credibility of the Iraq-Niger claims and the rationale for invading Iraq (see March 8, 2003). Cheney asked several CIA officials to find “dirt” on Albright for use in discrediting him in the media. At the outset, the CIA official will say: “Vice President Cheney was more concerned with Mr. Albright. The international community had been saying that inspectors should have more time, that the US should not set a deadline. The vice president felt Mr. Albright’s remarks would fuel the debate.” The CIA will eventually send a “binder” to Cheney’s office containing information about Albright; it is not clear to what, if any, use that information is put.
Cheney 'Enraged' - But Wilson’s appearance on CNN and his public ridicule of the Iraq-Niger uranium claim enraged Cheney, who saw Wilson’s comments as a personal attack against him. Hadley also took an interest in Wilson’s remarks because he personally allowed the Iraq-Niger claim to remain in Bush’s State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) even after being informed that the documents the claim was based upon were forgeries. Both Cheney and Hadley view Wilson as a possible impediment to the public’s acceptance of the impending Iraq invasion. Cheney chairs a meeting in his office the day after Wilson’s appearance on CNN, attended by, among others, Hadley, White House political guru Karl Rove, Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Cheney’s deputy national security adviser John Hannah, and several officials from the CIA and State Department, including the officials who will later discuss the matter with the press. “The way I remember it,” says the CIA official, “is that the vice president was obsessed with Wilson. He called him an ‘_sshole,’ a son-of-a-b_tch. He took his comments very personally. He wanted us to do everything in our power to destroy his reputation and he wanted to be kept up to date about the progress.” Hadley says he will write an editorial about the Iraqi threat that should offset Wilson’s remarks; the State Department will redistribute a February 16, 2003 editorial by Hadley that appeared in the Chicago Tribune to newspaper editors around the country. Cheney will appear on NBC’s Meet the Press to refute the challenges to the Iraq-Niger claims (see March 16, 2003). (Leopold 2/9/2006) In 2004, Wilson will write: “I learned that a meeting right around the time of this particular CNN appearance (see March 8, 2003) led to the decision to produce a ‘workup’ on me for the Office of the Vice President. It was not made clear to me whether Dick Cheney himself attended this meeting, although I was told that senior members of his staff and quite possibly other senior Republicans, including former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, were present and that Gingrich actively participated in a strategy session, the objective of which was to figure out how to discredit me.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 326-327)
False Allegations of 'Womanizing,' Drug Use - Within days, officials in the CIA, NSC, and State Department pass on information to Cheney and Libby that purportedly shows Wilson is a “womanizer” who had occassionally used drugs in his youth; the sources later say that the allegations are entirely false. The sources will say that they are unsure the material was ever used to discredit Wilson, since after the war began on March 19, the media lost interest in Wilson’s warnings. (Leopold 2/9/2006) Wilson later writes that the meeting about him does “not include discussion of how the president and his senior staff might address the indisputable, if inconvenient, fact that the allegation I had made was true. In other words, from the very beginning, the strategy of the White House was to confront the issue as a ‘Wilson’ problem rather than as an issue of the lie that was in the State of the Union address.… The immediate effect of the workup, I am told by a member of the press, citing White House sources, was a long harangue against the two of us within the White House walls. Over a period of several months, Libby evidently seized opportunities to rail openly against me as an ‘assh_le playboy’ who went on a boondoggle ‘arranged by his CIA wife’—and was a Democratic Gore supporter to boot.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 441-442)
New Interest in Wilson - Cheney’s interest in Wilson will be renewed in May 2003 (see May 2003), when Wilson informs New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof that he was the special envoy who had gone to Niger in February 2002 to investigate the uranium claims (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002).

Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, writes a letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller. Rockefeller asks for an FBI investigation of the forged Iraq-Niger documents (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003), because “the fabrication of these documents may be part of a larger deception campaign aimed at manipulating public opinion and foreign policy regarding Iraq.” An FBI inquiry, Rockefeller writes, “should, at a minimum, help to allay any concerns” that the Bush administration itself created the documents to build support for the war. Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) refuses to sign the letter (Priest and DeYoung 3/22/2003; Unger 2007, pp. 292) , saying he believes it would be inappropriate for the FBI to launch such an inquiry. Secretary of State Colin Powell denies any role by the US government in creating the documents. (Associated Press 3/14/2003) The FBI will not respond to Rockefeller’s request. (Future of Freedom Foundation 9/2003)

Walter Pincus.Walter Pincus. [Source: Publicity photo]By mid-March 2003, Washington Post journalist Walter Pincus is skeptical of Colin Powell’s speech to the UN (see February 5, 2003) and develops material for an article questioning Powell’s evidence. However, his editors are not interested.
Page A17 - But thanks to pressure from his colleague Bob Woodward, the Post runs his story on March 16, but only on page A17. The article reads, “US intelligence agencies have been unable to give Congress or the Pentagon specific information about the amounts of banned weapons or where they are hidden….” It notes that senior US officials “repeatedly have failed to mention the considerable amount of documented weapons destruction that took place in Iraq between 1991 and 1998.” (Massing 2/26/2004) Washington Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. will later say, “In retrospect, that probably should have been on Page 1 instead of A17, even though it wasn’t a definitive story and had to rely on unnamed sources. It was a very prescient story.” (Kurtz 8/12/2004)
Follow-up - Two days later, the Post publishes another critical story by Pincus, this one co-written with Dana Milbank. It reads, “As the Bush administration prepares to attack Iraq this week, it is doing so on the basis of a number of allegations against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein that have been challenged—and in some cases disproved—by the United Nations, European governments and even US intelligence reports.” However, this story only appears on page A13. (Massing 2/26/2004)
Third Story Held Until After Start of War - Around the same time, Post journalists Dana Priest and Karen DeYoung turn in a story that says CIA officials “communicated significant doubts to the administration” about evidence tying Iraq to attempted uranium purchases for nuclear weapons. But the story is held until March 22, three days after the Iraq war begins. (Kurtz 8/12/2004)
Post's Editors Did Not Want to "Make a Difference" - Pincus will later comment, “The front pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times are very important in shaping what other people think. They’re like writing a memo to the White House.” But the Post’s editors “went through a whole phase in which they didn’t put things on the front page that would make a difference.” (Massing 2/26/2004) Downie will later say, “Not enough of those stories were put on the front page. That was a mistake on my part.” (Kurtz 8/12/2004)

A building in Baghdad is bombed during the US invasion of Iraq.A building in Baghdad is bombed during the US invasion of Iraq. [Source: Reuters]The US begins its official invasion of Iraq (see (7:40 a.m.) March 19, 2003). While most observers expect a traditional air assault, the US planners instead launch what they call a “Shock and Awe” combination of air and ground assaults designed to avoid direct confrontations with Iraqi military forces and instead destroy Iraqi military command structures. (Chilcote, King, and Starr 3/20/2003; Long 3/20/2003; Unger 2007, pp. 302) The initial invasion force consists of 250,000 US forces augmented by 45,000 British troops and small contingents from Poland, Australia, and Denmark, elements of the so-called “coalition of the willing.” (Schifferes 3/18/2003; Unger 2007, pp. 302)

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer says during his daily press briefing, “Well, there is no question that we have evidence and information that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, biological and chemical particularly. This was the reason that the president felt so strongly that we needed to take military action to disarm Saddam Hussein, since he would not do it himself.” (White House 3/21/2003)

Victoria Clarke, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, says during a televised briefing at the Pentagon that the administration knows about “a number of sites” where Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. Clarke refuses to provide any estimate of how many sites the US knows of. (Allen and Milbank 3/23/2003, pp. A27)

The New York Times reveals that CIA analysts acknowledge being pressured to shape their intelligence reports on Iraq to conform to Bush administration policies. In particular, they were pressured to find or create evidence that Iraq had links to al-Qaeda. (Risen 3/23/2003) In 2004, Times editor Daniel Okrent will admit that the story was “completed several days before the invasion (see March 19, 2003) and unaccountably held for a week,” not appearing until three days after the war began, when it “was interred on Page B10.” (Okrent 5/30/2004; Rich 2006, pp. 192) For months, some CIA analysts have privately expressed concerns over the forcible shaping of their reports to colleagues and Congressional officials, but until now have not revealed those concerns to reporters. “A lot of analysts have been upset about the way the Iraq-al-Qaeda case has been handled,” a senior intelligence official says. The revelation that the claims of Iraq’s attempt to buy uranium from Niger were false (see March 7, 2003) sparked some analysts to come forward. One government official says, “The forgery heightened people’s feelings that they were being embarrassed by the way Iraqi intelligence has been handled.” The intelligence official says: “As we have become an integral component informing the debate for policy makers, we have been asked a lot of questions. I’m sure it does come across as a pressured environment for analysts. I think there is a sense of being overworked, a sense among analysts that they have already answered the same questions. But if you talk to analysts, they understand why people are asking, and why policy makers aren’t accepting a report at face value.” Other analysts have discussed leaving the agency over their frustration with the way intelligence is being manipulated by the Bush administration. Another government official says, “Several people have told me how distraught they have been about what has been going on.” A CIA official says no analysts have resigned in protest over the management of Iraqi intelligence. (Risen 3/23/2003)

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says on CBS’s “Face the Nation”: “We have seen intelligence over many months that they have chemical and biological weapons, and that they have dispersed them and that they’re weaponized and that, in one case at least, the command and control arrangements have been established.” (Ridgeway 6/18/2003)

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld tells George Stephanopolous of ABC News: “We know where they [the chemical and biological weapons] are. They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.” (ABC 4/30/2003; Cirincione 7/17/2003)

According to multiple sources, the Defense Department’s head of intelligence, Stephen Cambone, dispatches a quasi-military team to Iraq in the weeks after the invasion. Cambone’s “off-the-books” team, consisting of four or five men, operates under the auspices of Defense Department official Douglas Feith and the Office of Special Plans (OSP—see September 2002). The team is tasked to secure the following, in order of priority: downed Navy pilot Scott Speicher, Iraq’s WMD stockpiles, and Saddam Hussein. The sources, who speak to reporter Larisa Alexandrovna in 2006 on the condition of anonymity, include three US intelligence sources and a person with close ties to the United Nations Security Council. Speicher, classified as “killed in action” (KIA) after being shot down in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm, was touted by Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmed Chalabi (see 1992-1996, November 6-8, 2001, December 20, 2001, and February 2002) as alive and held as a prisoner of war as part of Chalabi’s push for the US invasion of Iraq. Chalabi also told Bush administration officials of enormous stockpiles of chemical and biological WMD throughout Iraq (see Summer 2002, Fall 2002, and Early 2003). Cambone’s team operates outside the auspices of other officially sanctioned groups such as Task Force 20 and other units operating in Iraq before the invasion itself, though the team may be comprised of TF20 personnel. The team is not tasked with actually finding and destroying any WMD stockpiles so much as it is ordered to find such a stockpile and thereby solve what the UN Security Council source calls the administration’s “political WMD” problem. “They come in the summer of 2003, bringing in Iraqis, interviewing them,” the UN source later says. “Then they start talking about WMD and they say to [these Iraqi intelligence officers] that ‘Our president is in trouble. He went to war saying there are WMD and there are no WMD. What can we do? Can you help us?’” (Alexandrovna 1/5/2006)

The National Intelligence Council issues a Sense of the Community Memorandum (SOCM) expressing doubt that Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from Niger. “We judge it highly unlikely that Niamey has sold uranium yellowcake to Baghdad in recent years. The IC agrees with the IAEA assessment that key documents purported showing a recent Iraq-Niger sales accord are a fabrication. We judge that other reports from 2002—one alleging warehousing of yellowcake for shipment to Iraq, a second alleging a 1999 visit by an Iraqi delegation to Niamey—do not constitute credible evidence of a recent or impending sale.” The SOCM report notes also that “the current government of Niger [redacted in source] probably would report such an approach by the Iraqis, especially because a sale would violate UN resolution 687.” (US Congress 7/7/2004, pp. 71)

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer says, “… make no mistake—as I said earlier—we have high confidence that [the Iraqis] have weapons of mass destruction. That is what this war was about and it is about. And we have high confidence it will be found.” (White House 4/10/2003)

New York Times reporter Judith Miller speaks about her reporting on PBS.New York Times reporter Judith Miller speaks about her reporting on PBS. [Source: PBS]New York Times reporter Judith Miller, embedded with the Army’s 101st Airborne Division south of Baghdad, writes that Iraq destroyed large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons in the days before the March 2003 invasion.
Single Unidentified 'Scientist' as Source - Miller’s source is identified as an Iraqi scientist who claims to have worked in Iraq’s chemical weapons program for over a decade; this scientist is said to have told an American military team hunting for unconventional weapons in Iraq, the Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha, or MET Alpha (see April-May 2003), of the stockpiles. According to MET Alpha, the scientist has taken the team to a supply of material he buried in his backyard—“precursors for a toxic agent”—as evidence of Iraq’s illicit weapons programs. The scientist also claims that Iraq sent unconventional weapons and technology to Syria, and has been cooperating with al-Qaeda. In the last years of the Hussein regime, Miller reports the scientist as claiming, Iraq “focused its efforts… on research and development projects that are virtually impervious to detection by international inspectors, and even American forces on the ground combing through Iraq’s giant weapons plants.” MET Alpha refuses to identify the scientist, saying to do so would imperil his safety, and does not take Miller to see the scientist’s buried supply of materials. According to Miller, the team describes the scientist’s assertions and his cache of materials as “the most important discovery to date in the hunt for illegal weapons.” Moreover, Miller writes that the discovery “supports the Bush administration’s charges that Iraq continued to develop those weapons and lied to the United Nations about it. Finding and destroying illegal weapons was a major justification for the war.”
Military Controlled, Vetted Report - Miller admits to not interviewing the scientist, not being permitted to write about the scientist for three days, and having her report vetted by military officials before submitting it for publication. She says that portions of her report detailing the chemicals located by the MET Alpha team were deleted, again for fear that such reporting might place the scientist in jeopardy. Neither Pentagon officials in Washington nor CENTCOM officials in Qatar will verify that the scientist is actually working with American forces. Miller’s only contact with the scientist is viewing him “from a distance at the sites where he said that material from the arms program was buried,” where he wore a baseball cap and pointed at spots in the sand where he claimed chemical weapons materials were buried.
'Incalculable Value' - Miller quotes the commander of the 101st Airborne, Major General David Petraeus, as calling the potential of MET Alpha’s work “enormous.” Petraeus adds: “What they’ve discovered could prove to be of incalculable value. Though much work must still be done to validate the information MET Alpha has uncovered, if it proves out it will clearly be one of the major discoveries of this operation, and it may be the major discovery.” (Miller 4/21/2003) The day after her report is published, Miller will tell a PBS interviewer: “I think they found something more than a smoking gun.… What they’ve found is… a silver bullet in the form of a person, an Iraqi individual, a scientist, as we’ve called him, who really worked on the programs, who knows them firsthand, and who has led MET Alpha people to some pretty startling conclusions.” Asked if the report will confirm “the insistence coming from the US government that after the war, various Iraqi tongues would loosen, and there might be people who would be willing to help,” Miller responds: “Yes, it clearly does.… That’s what the Bush administration has finally done. They have changed the political environment, and they’ve enabled people like the scientists that MET Alpha has found to come forth.” (Layton 8/2003; Palermo 1/30/2007)
Report Almost Entirely Wrong - Miller’s reporting will be proven to be almost entirely wrong. Neither Miller nor MET Alpha will ever produce any tangible evidence of the scientist’s claims, including the so-called “evidence” he claims he buried in his backyard. And, Miller will later admit, the “scientist” was actually a former Iraqi military intelligence officer with no connection to Iraq’s WMD programs (see July 25, 2003). (Slate 7/25/2003) Other reporters, such as the Washington Post’s Barton Gellman and the Associated Press’s Dafna Linzer, report that teams such as MET Alpha have found nothing of use. Linzer will soon report that nothing the Iraqi scientist claims can be verified. And Miller will admit that much of the information she has published in the Times has come from Iraqi National Congress head Ahmed Chalabi (see May 1, 2003), a known fabricator (see 1992-1996, (1994), November 6-8, 2001, Summer 2002, Early 2003, and July 9, 2004). Miller will continue to insist that her reporting is accurate. (Layton 8/2003)

The Sunday Herald reports: “Senior officials in the Bush administration have admitted that they would be ‘amazed’ if weapons of mass destruction (WMD) were found in Iraq…. [One] senior US official added that America never expected to find a huge arsenal, arguing that the administration was more concerned about the ability of Saddam’s scientists—which he labeled the ‘nuclear mujahadeen’ —to develop WMDs when the crisis passed.” (Mackay 5/4/2003; Hinsliff 5/4/2003 Sources: Unnamed senior administration officials)

Nicholas Kristof.Nicholas Kristof. [Source: Women's Conference]New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, citing unnamed sources, breaks the story of former US diplomat Joseph Wilson’s February 2002 trip to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Kristof’s source for the story is Wilson, who he recently met at a political conference in Washington that was sponsored by the Senate Democratic Policy Committee (see Early May 2003). The following morning, they met for breakfast, and Wilson recounted the details of his trip. Kristof writes in part: “I’m told by a person involved in the Niger caper that more than a year ago the vice president’s office asked for an investigation of the uranium deal, so a former US ambassador to Africa was dispatched to Niger.… In February 2002, according to someone present at the meetings, that envoy reported to the CIA and State Department that the information was unequivocally wrong, and that the documents had been forged.” (Kristof 5/6/2003; Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 282) In response to the column, Patrick Lang, the former head of the DIA’s Middle Eastern affairs bureau, tells Kristof that the office of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld had pressured the US intelligence community before the war, asking analysts “to think it over again” when they filed reports skeptical of Iraq’s WMD programs. Lang also says that any intelligence warning “that Iraqis would not necessarily line up to cheer US troops, and that the Shi’ite clergy could be a problem,” was also unwelcome at the Defense Department. (Rich 2006, pp. 97) In 2007, author Craig Unger will write: “Now the secret was out with regard to the Niger documents. Not only had the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] determined that they were forgeries (see February 17, 2003), but it was clear that the administration knew the Niger deal was phony even before Bush cited them in the State of the Union address” (see March 8, 2002 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). (Unger 2007, pp. 309) Wilson expects a certain amount of criticism and opprobrium from the White House and its allies in the media over the column, but as his wife, senior CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson, will later write, “In retrospect, if anything, he underestimated the potential for those in the administration, and their allies, to change the subject from the lies in the president’s address to lies about us.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 108)

A poll conducted by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland among 1,256 people finds that a third of the American public believes US forces in Iraq have found weapons of mass destruction. The poll also finds that 22 percent of the respondents think that Iraq used chemical or biological weapons during the war. (Davies 6/14/2003)

A fact-finding mission sponsored by the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency arrives in Baghdad to determine whether two trailers found in Iraq (see April 19, 2003; May 9, 2003) are meant for the production of biological weapons. The mission, known as the “Jefferson Project,” is led by a team of eight Americans and one Briton, all experts in the field of biological weapons. Each has “at least a decade of experience in one of the essential technical skills needed for bioweapons production,” according to the Washington Post. Within four hours, according to one of the team members, it becomes “clear to everyone that these [are] not biological labs.” News of the team’s assessment causes a controversy in Washington, where a CIA analyst has already authored a white paper (see May 28, 2003) calling the trailers “the strongest evidence to date that Iraq was hiding a biological warfare program.” (Warwick 4/12/2006)

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; Miller and Broad 6/7/2003; Miller 6/21/2003; Jehl 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.” (Miller and Broad 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. (Jehl 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)

In an interview with a Polish TV station, President Bush says: “We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories (see April 19, 2003; May 9, 2003). You remember when Colin Powell stood up in front of the world, and he said, Iraq has got laboratories, mobile labs to build biological weapons. They’re illegal. They’re against the United Nations resolutions, and we’ve so far discovered two. And we’ll find more weapons as time goes on. But for those who say we haven’t found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they’re wrong, we found them.” (Allen 5/31/2003; US President 6/6/2003; Jehl 6/26/2003) No evidence ever emerges to support his claim.

In the upcoming issue of Vanity Fair, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz admits that the Bush administration chose the issue of Iraqi WMD as its primary justification for war, not because it was necessarily a legitimate concern, but because it was, in the words of reporter David Usbourne, “politically convenient.” Wolfowitz also acknowledges that another justification played a strong part in the decision to invade: the prospect of the US being able to withdraw all of its forces from Saudi Arabia (see August 7, 1990) once Saddam Hussein’s regime was overthrown. “Just lifting that burden from the Saudis is itself going to the door” towards making progress elsewhere in achieving Middle East peace, says Wolfowitz. The presence of US forces in Saudi Arabia has been one of the main grievances of al-Qaeda and other Islamist groups. The most controversial statement by Wolfowitz is his acknowledgement that, “For bureaucratic reasons we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on.” Usbourne writes, “The comments suggest that, even for the US administration, the logic that was presented for going to war may have been an empty shell.” He notes that finding a rationale for attacking Iraq that was “acceptable to everyone” may refer to Secretary of State Colin Powell, the most prominent Cabinet member to vocally, if privately, oppose the invasion. Powell relied on the WMD issue in his February presentation to the UN Security Council (see February 5, 2003), which many consider to be a key element in the administration’s effort to convince the American citizenry that the invasion was necessary and justified. (Usborne 5/30/2003)
Democrats: WMD Scare 'Hyped' by Administration - Many Congressional Democrats echo the sentiments of Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), who says of the administration’s push for war: “I do think that we hyped nuclear, we hyped al-Qaeda, we hyped the ability to disperse and use these weapons. I think that tends to be done by all presidents when they are trying to accomplish a goal that they want to get broad national support for.… I think a lot of the hype here is a serious, serious, serious mistake and it hurts our credibility.” (Sammon 5/30/2003)
British Official: Clear That Rationale for War Was False - Former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, who quit as leader of the House of Commons to protest the war, says he never believed Iraq had the WMD claimed by US and British government officials. “The war was sold on the basis of what was described as a pre-emptive strike, ‘Hit Saddam before he hits us,’” he says. “It is now quite clear that Saddam did not have anything with which to hit us in the first place.” Former Danish Foreign Minister Niels Helveg Petersen says he is shocked by Wolfowitz’s claim. “It leaves the world with one question: What should we believe?” he says. (Reid 5/30/2003)
Wolfowitz Claims Misquoting - After the initial reports of the interview and the resulting storm of controversy and recriminations, Wolfowitz and his defenders will claim that Vanity Fair reporter Sam Tanenhaus misquoted his words and took his statements out of context (see June 1-9, 2003).
Press Official: Selection of WMD as Primary Focus a 'Marketing Choice' - In 2008, current deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will write, “So the decision to downplay the democratic vision as a motive for war was basically a marketing choice.” Reflecting on this choice, he will add: “Every president wants to achieve greatness but few do. As I have heard [President] Bush say, only a wartime president is likely to achieve greatness, in part because the epochal upheavals of war provide the opportunity for transformative change of the kind Bush hoped to achieve. In Iraq, Bush saw his opportunity to create a legacy of greatness. Intoxicated by the influence and power of America, Bush believed that a successful transformation of Iraq could be the linchpin for realizing his dream of a free Middle East. But there was a problem here, which has become obvious to me only in retrospect—a disconnect between the president’s most heartfelt objective in going to war and the publicly stated rationale for that war. Bush and his advisers knew that the American people would almost certainly not support a war launched primarily for the ambitious purpose of transforming the Middle East.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 131-133)

Shortly after Nicholas Kristof’s New York Times op-ed appears, citing an anonymous source as accusing the Bush administration of ignoring evidence debunking the White House’s claim of Iraqi WMD (see May 6, 2003), Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus contacts Vice President Dick Cheney’s communications director, Cathie Martin, for comment on the controversy. Martin alerts Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, that Pincus is “sniffing around” for information. As White House deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will later write: “The vice president and Libby were quietly stepping up their efforts to counter the allegations of the anonymous envoy to Niger (see June 2003), and Pincus’s story was one opportunity for them to do just that. [Cheney] dictated talking points to Libby, who used them in responding to Pincus.” Pincus subsequently writes a June 12, 2003 story that hinges on Cheney’s assertion that the CIA had never shared its doubts about the existence of Iraqi WMD with the White House. The article helps spin the controversy, fueling speculation that the CIA, not the White House, is responsible for the “erroneous intelligence” on Iraq’s WMD. Pincus does quote a “senior CIA analyst” who says that in the run-up to war, “information not consistent with the administration agenda was discarded and information that was [consistent] was not seriously scrutinized.” The White House does not like either of these versions of events—either it used faulty intelligence to craft its argument for war, or it deliberately lied to the American people to send troops into Iraq. (Novak 7/31/2005; McClellan 2008, pp. 166-167)

Speaking on CNBC’s Capital Report, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice says the trailers recently discovered in Iraq (see April 19, 2003; May 9, 2003) were designed to produce biological weapons. “But let’s remember what we’ve already found. Secretary Powell on February 5 (see February 5, 2003) talked about a mobile, biological weapons capability. That has now been found and this is a weapons laboratory trailers capable of making a lot of agent that—dry agent, dry biological agent that can kill a lot of people. So we are finding these pieces that were described… We know that these trailers look exactly like what was described to us by multiple sources as the capabilities for building or for making biological agents. We know that we have from multiple sources who told us that then and sources who have confirmed it now. Now the Iraqis were not stupid about this. They were able to conceal a lot. They’ve been able to scrub things down. But I think when the whole picture comes out, we will see that this was an active program.” (CNBC 6/3/2003; US House Committee on Government Reform 3/16/2004)

Appearing on ABC’s This Week, Condoleezza Rice defends the Bush administration’s prewar intelligence. For example, she tells host George Stephanopoulos, “Already, we’ve discovered… trailers… that look remarkably similar to what Colin Powell described in his February 5 speech (see February 5, 2003).” (Rice 6/8/2003; Sample 6/9/2003) Asked why the Africa-uranium claim was included in Bush’s 2003 State of the Union Address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) even though it had been debunked by the CIA several months earlier (see October 6, 2002), Rice claims the administration had “other sources” which supported the claim that Hussein was determined to obtain uranium from somewhere in Africa. “At the time that the State of the Union address was prepared, there were also other sources that said that they were, the Iraqis were seeking yellow cake, uranium oxide from Africa.” (Rice 6/8/2003; US House Committee on Government Reform 3/16/2004) When Stephanopoulos notes that there were several people in the US government who doubted the Africa-uranium claim, Rice responds, “The intelligence community did not know at that time or at levels that got to us that this, that there was serious questions about this report.” (Rice 6/8/2003; Milbank and Allen 7/26/2003; US House Committee on Government Reform 3/16/2004)

According to notes taken by Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, President Bush expresses an interest in his January State of the Union Address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) and the subsequent article by the New York Times’s Nicholas Kristof questioning the Iraq-Niger uranium claim made in that address (see May 6, 2003). Libby later testifies that he is unsure how he came to know of Bush’s interest in the article, and will deny ever discussing it with either Bush or Cheney. Libby will claim that the subject is something he may have wanted to bring to Cheney’s attention, and may have learned from a White House staffer. (US Department of Justice 3/5/2004 pdf file)

The Senate Intelligence Committee, under the aegis of chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS), issues a report on the US intelligence community’s prewar intelligence assessments of Iraq. Contained within the report is a section on the Iraq-Niger uranium claims (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003), a section that author Craig Unger will call “extraordinary.” The report concludes in part, “At the time the president delivered the State of the Union address (see September 11, 2002, Late September 2002, and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), no one in the IC [intelligence community] had asked anyone in the White House to remove the sentence from the speech” (see October 5, 2002 and October 6, 2002). It also finds, “CIA Iraq nuclear analysts told committee staff that at the time of the State of the Union, they still believed that Iraq was probably seeking uranium from Africa” (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). (US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence 6/11/2003 pdf file; Unger 2007, pp. 312)

Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus publishes an article noting that President Bush’s claim of an active Iraqi nuclear weapons program, and his allegation that Iraq tried to buy enriched uranium (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), was called into question by what Pincus calls “a CIA-directed mission to the central African nation in early 2002.” The story has caused some consternation in the Office of the Vice President, which became suspicious of Pincus’s questioning of White House officials about the matter (see Early June 2003 and June 3, 2003). The “senior administration officials” Pincus quotes, likely either Vice President Cheney’s communications director Cathie Martin or Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby (see March 5, 2004), told Pincus that the CIA never told the White House the details of its investigation, and Pincus uses that in his story. Pincus quotes a “senior intelligence official” as saying that the CIA’s failure to inform the White House of its doubts regarding the Iraq-Niger claim was “extremely sloppy” handling of a key piece of evidence against Iraq. The official continued: “It is only one fact and not the reason we went to war. There was a lot more.” The failure, said a CIA analyst, “is indicative of larger problems” involving the handling of intelligence about Iraq’s alleged chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons programs and its links to al-Qaeda, which the administration cited as justification for war. “Information not consistent with the administration agenda was discarded and information that was [consistent] was not seriously scrutinized,” the analyst said. Pincus notes that a “retired US ambassador” went to Niger in February 2002 to investigate the uranium claims; Pincus is referring to the trip by former ambassador Joseph Wilson (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), though he writes that his sources—current and former government officials—“spoke on condition of anonymity and on condition that the name of the former ambassador not be disclosed.” Pincus’s sources told him that the CIA did not inform the White House of the details of Wilson’s trip (see March 5, 2002 and March 8, 2002). One of Pincus’s sources, a “senior intelligence official,” said of Wilson’s trip: “This gent made a visit to the region and chatted up his friends. He relayed back to us that they said it was not true and that he believed them.” Pincus does note that the International Atomic Energy Agency reached the same conclusion as Wilson—that the Iraq-Niger uranium claims were false (see March 7, 2003). Pincus also reports that Cheney’s staff did not know about the mission until well after its conclusion, when a New York Times article alluded to it (see May 6, 2003). (Pincus 6/12/2003 pdf file) This claim is false (see March 5, 2002 and March 9, 2003 and After), though Pincus does not know it. Pincus’s article will later be used as a basis for questioning Libby in the Plame Wilson leak investigation. Libby will claim not to remember if he was one of Pincus’s sources, though he will testify that he did not divulge Plame Wilson’s CIA status to the reporter (see March 5, 2004).

David Kay.David Kay. [Source: Publicity photo]David Kay, just recently appointed to head the Iraq Survey Group, is given access to all the CIA’s prewar intelligence on Iraq’s weapons programs. “Now I’ll get the good stuff,” he thinks to himself. But after reviewing the CIA’s reports he realizes that the agency’s evidence is not too solid. He is disappointed to see that the mobile biological weapons trailer allegation was based on just one source—and an iffy one at that, Curveball (see Late January, 2003)—and that the US intelligence community had sided with CIA WINPAC over the Energy Department’s nuclear scientists in the aluminum tubes debate (see October 1, 2002). As he continues reading the WMD material, a favorite song of his comes to mind—Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?” (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 233-234)

An internal CIA memorandum addressed to CIA Director George Tenet states that the agency no longer believes allegations that Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from Niger. The highly classified memo, titled “In Response to Your Questions for Our Current Assessment and Additional Details on Iraq’s Alleged Pursuits of Uranium from Abroad,” reads in part, “[S]ince learning that the Iraq-Niger uranium deal was based on false documents earlier this spring we no longer believe that there is sufficient other reporting to conclude that Iraq pursued uranium from abroad.” Tenet asked for the assessment in part because of repeated inquiries from Vice President Dick Cheney and his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, regarding the Iraq-Niger matter and the mission by Joseph Wilson to determine the likelihood of such a purchase (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and May 29, 2003). However, neither Cheney nor Libby asked for the review. In addition, Tenet wanted the assessment because of the media attention being paid to Wilson’s trip to Niger, and his worry that Congress or the press might raise additional questions about the matter. Soon afterwards, Cheney and Libby are briefed on the memo, but both continue to question the veracity and loyalty of Wilson, and continue to insist that Iraq did, indeed, attempt to purchase Nigerien uranium. Libby is adamant that the CIA is trying to “whitewash” the “truth” behind the Iraq-Niger uranium allegations, and insists that the CIA’s WINPAC (Center for Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control) is primarily responsible for the CIA’s “whitewashing.” He mistakenly believes that Valerie Plame Wilson, Wilson’s wife, works in WINPAC, and has already informed a reporter of his belief (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003). Cheney and others in the Office of the Vice President also apparently believe that Plame Wilson works for WINPAC, though they have already been informed that she is a senior official for the CIA’s counterproliferation division (see (June 12, 2003)) and a covert agent (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003). (The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction (aka 'Robb-Silberman Commission') 3/31/2005; Waas 2/2/2006)

Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward has a telephone conversation with Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby. Woodward informs Libby that he is sending an 18-page list of questions for his upcoming book, Plan of Attack, that he wants to ask Cheney. One question is about “yellowcake” uranium, obviously a reference to the claims that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from Niger (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003), and another is about the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002). Woodward will later testify that he does not discuss Valerie Plame Wilson, the covert CIA agent whom another government official had “outed” to him a few days before (see June 13, 2003). (Woodward 11/16/2005)

Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward meets with Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, pursuant to their telephone conversation four days prior (see June 23, 2003). Woodward’s interview is in regards to to his upcoming book Plan of Attack. Although Woodward questions Libby about the prewar National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002) and the Iraq-Niger uranium claims (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003), Woodward will later testify that the subject of “outed” CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson does not come up. He will say that he may have asked Libby about either Plame Wilson or her husband Joseph Wilson (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and July 6, 2003), but he has nothing in his notes about Libby discussing the subject. (Woodward 11/16/2005; Marcy Wheeler 2/12/2007) Woodward is aware of Plame Wilson’s identity as a CIA official (see June 13, 2003). According to later testimony from Woodward (see November 14, 2005), Libby discusses classified information from the October 2002 NIE (see October 1, 2002) that purports to show Iraq attempted to buy enriched uranium from Africa. According to Woodward’s notes, Libby describes the purported Iraqi efforts to buy uranium as “vigorous.” (Gellman and Linzer 4/9/2006)

Count Hans von Sponeck, the UN’s former co-coordinator in Iraq and former UN under-secretary general, during a trip to Iraq, visits two factories near Baghdad which US surveillance equipment has identified as possible biological and chemical weapons production sites. The first plant he visits is the Al-Dora plant, which at one time had produced vaccines for foot-and-mouth disease, but which was destroyed by the UNSCOM weapons inspectors. Hans von Sponeck, who is not an expert in biological or chemical weapons, says of the Al-Dora plant: “‘There is nothing. It is in the same destroyed status. It is a totally locked up institution where there is not one sign of a resumed activity.” Von Sponeck also visits the Al-Fallouja factory, where he witnesses the production of “pesticides, insecticides and material for hygienic purpose in households, on very minor scale,” reports CNN. “Most of the buildings are destroyed,” he tells the news network. (CNN Europe 7/13/2002)

Joseph Wilson, the former US ambassador to Gabon and a former diplomatic official in the US embassy in Iraq during the Gulf War (see September 20, 1990), writes an op-ed for the New York Times entitled “What I Didn’t Find in Africa.” Wilson went to Africa over a year ago (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and July 6, 2003) to investigate claims that the Iraqi government surreptitiously attempted to buy large amounts of uranium from Niger, purportedly for use in nuclear weapons. The claims have been extensively debunked (see February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). Wilson opens the op-ed by writing: “Did the Bush administration manipulate intelligence about Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs to justify an invasion of Iraq? Based on my experience with the administration in the months leading up to the war, I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq’s nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.” Wilson notes his extensive experience in Africa and the Middle East, and says candidly: “Those news stories about that unnamed former envoy who went to Niger? That’s me” (see May 6, 2003). He makes it very clear that he believes his findings had been “circulated to the appropriate officials within… [the] government.”
Journey to Niger - Wilson confirms that he went to Africa at the behest of the CIA, which was in turn responding to a directive from Vice President Cheney’s office. He confirms that the CIA paid his expenses during the week-long trip, and that, while overseas, “I made it abundantly clear to everyone I met that I was acting on behalf of the United States government.” About Nigerien uranium, Wilson writes: “For reasons that are understandable, the embassy staff has always kept a close eye on Niger’s uranium business. I was not surprised, then, when the ambassador [Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick] told me that she knew about the allegations of uranium sales to Iraq—and that she felt she had already debunked them in her reports to Washington” (see November 20, 2001). Wilson met with “dozens of people: current government officials, former government officials, people associated with the country’s uranium business. It did not take long to conclude that it was highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever taken place.” Wilson notes that Nigerien uranium is handled by two mines, Somair and Cominak, “which are run by French, Spanish, Japanese, German, and Nigerian interests. If the government wanted to remove uranium from a mine, it would have to notify the consortium, which in turn is strictly monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Moreover, because the two mines are closely regulated, quasi-governmental entities, selling uranium would require the approval of the minister of mines, the prime minister, and probably the president. In short, there’s simply too much oversight over too small an industry for a sale to have transpired.” Wilson told Owens-Kirkpatrick that he didn’t believe the story either, flew back to Washington, and shared his findings with CIA and State Department officials. “There was nothing secret or earth-shattering in my report,” he writes, “just as there was nothing secret about my trip.”
State of the Union Reference - Wilson believed that the entire issue was settled until September 2002, when the British government released an intelligence finding that asserted Iraq posed an immediate threat because it had attempted to purchase uranium from Africa (see September 24, 2002). Shortly thereafter, President Bush repeated the charges in his State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). Wilson was surprised by the charge, but put it aside after discussing the issue with a friend in the State Department (see January 29, 2003). Wilson now knows that Bush was indeed referring to the Niger claims, and wants to set the record straight.
Posing a Real Nuclear Threat? - Wilson is now concerned that the facts are being manipulated by the administration to paint Iraq as a looming nuclear threat, when in fact Iraq has no nuclear weapons program. “At a minimum,” he writes, “Congress, which authorized the use of military force at the president’s behest, should want to know if the assertions about Iraq were warranted.” He is quite sure that Iraq has some form of chemical and biological weapons, and in light of his own personal experience with “Mr. Hussein and his thugs in the run-up to the Persian Gulf war of 1991, I was only too aware of the dangers he posed.” But, he asks, are “these dangers the same ones the administration told us about? We have to find out. America’s foreign policy depends on the sanctity of its information.… The act of war is the last option of a democracy, taken when there is a grave threat to our national security. More than 200 American soldiers have lost their lives in Iraq already. We have a duty to ensure that their sacrifice came for the right reasons.” (Wilson, 7/6/2003)
'Playing Congress and the Public for Fools' - Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write in 2004 that after Wilson’s editorial appears, he checks out the evidence behind the story himself. It only takes Dean a few hours of online research using source documents that Bush officials themselves had cited, from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Department of Energy, the CIA, and the United Nations. He will write: “I was amazed at the patently misleading use of the material Bush had presented to Congress. Did he believe no one would check? The falsification was not merely self-evident, it was feeble and disturbing. The president was playing Congress and the public for fools.” (Dean 2004, pp. 145-146)

The State Department sends a memo (see June 10, 2003) to Secretary of State Colin Powell as he is traveling with President Bush and other senior White House officials to Africa. Powell is seen during the flight walking around Air Force One with the memo in his hand. The memo concerns the trip by former ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger, where he learned that allegations of Iraq attempts to purchase Nigerien uranium were false (see February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003), and reveals his wife as a covert CIA agent. (Stevenson 7/16/2005; Rich 2006, pp. 180) The paragraph identifying Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA official is marked “S-NF,” signfying its information is classified “Secret, Noforn.” Noforn is a code word indicating that the information is not to be shared with foreign nationals. (Pincus and VandeHei 7/21/2005; Isikoff 8/1/2005) When Wilson’s op-ed debunking the uranium claim and lambasting the administration for using it as a justification for war appears in the New York Times (see July 6, 2003), Powell’s deputy, Richard Armitage, calls Carl Ford, the head of the State Department’s internal intelligence unit, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) at Ford’s home. Armitage asks Ford to send a copy of the Grossman memo to Powell, who is preparing to leave for Africa with Bush. Ford sends a copy of the memo to the White House for transmission to Powell. The memo relies on notes by an analyst who was involved in a February 19, 2002 meeting to discuss whether to send someone to Africa to investigate the uranium claims, and if so, who (see February 19, 2002). The notes do not identify either Wilson or his wife by name, and erroneously state that the meeting was “apparently convened by” the wife of a former ambassador “who had the idea to dispatch” her husband to Niger because of his contacts in the region. Wilson is a former ambassador to Gabon. Plame Wilson has said that she suggested her husband for the trip, introduced him at the meeting, and left after about three minutes (see February 13, 2002). The memo identifies Wilson’s wife as Valerie Wilson; when conservative columnist Robert Novak outs her as a CIA agent (see July 14, 2003), he identifies her by her maiden name, Valerie Plame. The memo will later become a matter of intense interest to investigators attempting to learn how Plame Wilson’s identity was leaked to the press (see (July 15, 2005)). (Stevenson 7/16/2005; Rich 2006, pp. 180)

The White House, after much discussion and argument among senior advisers (see July 6-7, 2003), issues a vaguely worded admission that President Bush and his top officials erred in claiming that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). A senior, unnamed White House official says that Bush should not have made the claim (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) by saying: “Knowing all that we know now, the reference to Iraq’s attempt to acquire uranium from Africa should not have been included in the State of the Union speech.… There is other reporting to suggest that Iraq tried to obtain uranium from Africa. However, the information is not detailed or specific enough for us to be certain that attempts were in fact made.” The statement is authorized by the White House. (BBC 7/8/2003; McClellan 2008, pp. 168-170)
Dashed Hope that Admission Might Defuse Controversy - White House deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will later write: “Although two other African countries were mentioned in the [Iraq] NIE (National Intelligence Estimate—see October 1, 2002) as possible sources of uranium for Iraq, the only detailed or specific intelligence about Iraqi attempts to acquire uranium from Africa was related to Niger, and this was clearly the primary basis for the president’s 16 words” in the State of the Union speech. Senior White House officials, with Bush’s authorization, elaborate on the concession. One official says, “We couldn’t prove it, and it might in fact be wrong.” McClellan will write: “It was the public acknowledgement that the president should have not made the uranium allegation in his State of the Union address and that the information in which it had been based was incomplete or inaccurate. At the White House, everyone hoped the acknowledgement would put the 16-words controversy to rest. The reality was the opposite.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 168-170)
Critics: Bush 'Knowingly Misled' US Citizenry, Calls for Firings - Critics of the White House are quick to jump on the claim. “This may be the first time in recent history that a president knowingly misled the American people during the State of Union address,” says Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe. “Either President Bush knowingly used false information in his State of the Union address or senior administration officials allowed the use of that information. This was not a mistake. It was no oversight and it was no error.” Tom Daschle (D-SD), the Senate Majority Leader, calls the admission another reason for Congress to fully investigate the use and misuse of prewar intelligence. Retired Colonel David Hunt, a Fox News analyst, says: “This is an absolute failure. This is an overstatement and it’s embarrassing and it’s very poor business for the war on terrorism, really bad news.” Hunt calls for firings over the admission: “I think there are some people that need to be fired—starting with the [CIA Director George] Tenet. This is bad. When they’re blaming him publicly, and that’s unheard of… it can’t be glossed over. The bureaucracy has got to knock this off. It can’t happen anymore.” (Fox News 7/9/2003)
Calls for Congressional Investigation - Congressional Democrats demand, but never get, a Congressional inquiry; Senator Carl Levin questions how such a “bogus” claim could have become a key part of the case for war, and Ted Kennedy suggests the claim is a “deliberate deception.” McClellan will observe: “Whether legitimate expressions of concern or grandstanding for political gain, their efforts to raise more suspicion about the White House for political gain, their efforts to raise more suspicion about the White House were a natural part of the ongoing partisan warfare that President Bush had promised to end. Now, the way the president had chosen to sell the war to the American people and his reluctance to discuss openly and directly how that case had been made were ensuring his promise would not be kept.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 168-170)
Blair Administration 'Furious' at Admission - In Great Britain, officials in the government of Tony Blair are “privately furious with the White House,” according to McClellan. Blair’s officials insist on standing by the claim, thus causing an embarrasing disparity between the White House and Downing Street. (McClellan 2008, pp. 168-170)
Admission Retracted Days Later - Within days, the White House will retract the admission (see July 11, 2003).

The Library Lounge of the St. Regis Hotel, where Libby and Miller discussed the Wilsons.The Library Lounge of the St. Regis Hotel, where Libby and Miller discussed the Wilsons. [Source: Starwood Hotels]Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, meets with New York Times reporter Judith Miller for breakfast at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, DC. Libby has already learned that Joseph Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is an undercover CIA agent (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003 and (June 12, 2003)).
Again Reveals Plame Wilson's CIA Identity - During their two-hour meeting, Libby again tells Miller, who will testify to this conversation over two years hence (see September 30, 2005), that Wilson’s wife is a CIA agent (see June 23, 2003), and this time tells Miller that she works with WINPAC, the CIA’s Weapons Intelligence, Non-Proliferation, and Arms Control bureau that deals with foreign countries’ WMD programs.
Claims that Iraq Tried to Obtain African Uranium - Libby calls Wilson’s Times op-ed (see July 14, 2003) inaccurate, and spends a considerable amount of time and energy both blasting Wilson and insisting that credible evidence of an Iraq-Niger uranium connection indeed exists. He also says that few in the CIA were ever aware of Wilson’s 2002 trip to Niger to verify the uranium claims (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Miller will write: “Although I was interested primarily in my area of expertise—chemical and biological weapons—my notes show that Mr. Libby consistently steered our conversation back to the administration’s nuclear claims. His main theme echoed that of other senior officials: that contrary to Mr. Wilson’s criticism, the administration had had ample reason to be concerned about Iraq’s nuclear capabilities based on the regime’s history of weapons development, its use of unconventional weapons, and fresh intelligence reports.” Libby gives Miller selected information from the classified National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (NIE—see October 1, 2002) that he says backs up the administration’s claims about Iraqi WMD and the Iraq-Niger uranium claim. That information will later be proven to be false: Cheney has instructed Libby to tell Miller that the uranium claim was part of the NIE’s “key judgments,” indicating that there was consensus on the claim’s validity. That is untrue. The claim is not part of the NIE’s key judgments, but is contained deeper in the document, surrounded by caveats such as the claims “cannot [be] confirm[ed]” and the evidence supporting the claim is “inconclusive.” Libby does not inform Miller about these caveats. (Miller 10/16/2005; Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 216-217; Rich 2006, pp. 183-184; Gellman and Linzer 4/9/2006) In subsequent grand jury testimony (see March 24, 2004), Libby will admit to giving Miller a bulleted copy of the talking points from the NIE he wanted her to emphasize. He will tell prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald that he had it typed by his assistant Jenny Mayfield. “It was less than what I had been authorized to share with her,” he will say, and describes it as about a third of a page in length. This document will either not be submitted into evidence in Libby’s trial (see January 16-23, 2007) or not be made publicly available. (Marcy Wheeler 2/22/2007)
Libby Identified as 'Former Hill Staffer' and Not White House Official - Miller agrees to refer to Libby as a “former Hill staffer” instead of a “senior administration official” in any story she will write from this interview. Though technically accurate, that characterization, if it had been used, would misdirect people into believing the information came from someone with current or former connections to Congress, and not from the White House. Miller will not write a story from this interview. In later testimony before a grand jury, Libby will falsely claim that he learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA identity “from reporters.” The reverse is actually true. (Miller 10/16/2005; Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 216-217; Rich 2006, pp. 183-184) Libby is also apparently aware of Wilson’s 1999 trip to Niger to find out whether Pakistani scientist A. Q. Khan had tried to procure Nigerien uranium (see Late February 1999), as Libby’s notes include the notation “Khan + Wilson?” Cheney’s chief lawyer, David Addington, has also asked Libby about Wilson’s 1999 trip. (Wilson 2007, pp. 361-362) Libby has authorization from Cheney to leak classified information to Miller, and understands that the authorization comes directly from President Bush (see 7:35 a.m. July 8, 2003). It is unclear whether Libby has authorization from Cheney or Bush to divulge Plame Wilson’s CIA identity.
Miller Learned Plame Wilson Identity from Libby - Miller will later testify that she did not learn Plame Wilson’s identity specifically from Libby, but that testimony will be undermined by the words “Valerie Flame” (an apparent misspelling) written in her notes of this meeting. She will also testify that she pushed, without success, for her editors to approve an article about Plame Wilson’s identity. (van Natta, Liptak, and Levy 10/16/2005)

President Bush, asked about the White House’s admission that he should not have claimed during his State of the Union address that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see Mid-January 2003, 9:01 pm January 28, 2003, and July 8, 2003), does not admit his own error, but instead justifies the US’s invasion of Iraq based on somewhat different rationales than he has used before. Bush, speaking to reporters in Pretoria, South Africa, reminds his questioners that Saddam Hussein had attempted to acquire nuclear weapons technology before the 1991 Gulf War (see November 1986, 1989, and January 16, 1991 and After), saying: “In 1991, I will remind you, we underestimated how close he was to having a nuclear weapon. Imagine a world in which this tyrant had a nuclear weapon.… [A]fter the world had demanded he disarm, we decided to disarm him. And I’m convinced the world is a much more peaceful and secure place as a result of the actions.” (Fox News 7/9/2003) Bush’s rhetoric contains a subtle but important shift: he now refers to Iraq as having pursued a nuclear weapons “program” rather than having actual weapons themselves. (Rich 2006, pp. 99)

While President Bush is in Uganda, a reporter asks him, “Why—can you explain how an erroneous piece of intelligence on the Iraq-Niger connection got into your State of the Union speech? Are you upset about it? And should somebody be held accountable, sir?” Bush replies, “I gave a speech to the nation that was cleared by the intelligence services…” National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice responds more specifically a short time later, “I can tell you, if the CIA, the director of central intelligence, had said ‘take this out of the speech,’ it would have been gone, without question,” Instead, after some changes sought by the CIA were made, “the agency cleared the speech and cleared it in its entirety.” Later in the day, CIA Director George Tenet accepts blame for allowing the allegations into the January 2003 speech (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), saying the information “did not rise to the level of certainty which should be required for presidential speeches and the CIA should have ensured that it was removed” (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). (Pincus and Milbank 7/12/2003) Reporter Steve Coll will later comment, “I don’t know what George Tenet felt as he saw that unfold, but I can imagine that he was dismayed and increasingly resentful that he was being singled out for blame. At the same time, he’s such an operator and such a student of Washington that surely, he understood what was happening, that he was being asked, in effect, to fall on his shield so that the president could be reelected.” (Kirk 6/20/2006)

White House political strategist Karl Rove, upon concluding a phone conversation with Time reporter Matthew Cooper in which Rove divulged the CIA status of Valerie Plame Wilson (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), e-mails Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley about the conversation. “Matt Cooper called to give me a heads-up that he’s got a welfare reform story coming,” Rove writes. “When he finished his brief heads-up he immediately launched into Niger. Isn’t this damaging? Hasn’t the president been hurt? I didn’t take the bait, but I said if I were him I wouldn’t get Time far out in front on this.” According to the Associated Press, this is the first indication that an intelligence official knew Rove talked to Cooper before Cooper’s Time article about Plame Wilson and the White House effort to discredit her husband, war critic Joseph Wilson (see July 17, 2003). Rove will testify about the e-mail to the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson leak in 2004 (see October 15, 2004 and October 14, 2005), telling the jury that he never intended to leak Plame Wilson’s identity, but rather wanted to warn Cooper about some of the allegations Wilson was making about the White House’s use of intelligence to bolster its case for war with Iraq. Rove is aware that conservative columnist Robert Novak, whom he has already spoken to about Plame Wilson (see July 8, 2003 and July 8 or 9, 2003), is planning an article on the Wilsons (see July 14, 2003). He also knows that CIA Director George Tenet is planning to take responsibility for the false Iraq-Niger uranium claims made by President Bush and other White House officials (see July 11, 2003 and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). (Solomon 7/15/2005; VandeHei and Leonnig 12/3/2005) In 2005, investigative reporter Jason Leopold will note that Rove’s version of the conversation as he recounts it to Hadley is substantially different from the material Cooper records in his notes. Most notably, Rove fails to tell Hadley about his outing of a CIA official. Leopold will write, “It is unclear whether Rove was misleading Hadley about his conversation with Cooper, perhaps, because White House officials told its staff not to engage reporters in any questions posed about Wilson’s Niger claims.” (Leopold 12/9/2005)

Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who recently wrote an op-ed for the New York Times revealing his failure to find any validity in the claims of a uranium deal between Iraq and Niger during a fact-finding trip to Africa (see July 6, 2003 and February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), is pleased at CIA Director George Tenet’s admission that the Iraq-Niger uranium claim “should never have been included in the text written for the president” (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). According to his wife, senior CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson, “Joe felt his work was done; he had made his point.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 140) Wilson himself will recall believing: “I honestly thought that my exposure in the matter would quickly fade, as the administration would now have to concentrate on the serious question of competence among the members of the president’s staff. I told any interested friends and all inquisitive journalists that as my charges had been satisfactorily answered, I’d have nothing more to say. I honored obligations for interviews that I had previously accepted, but I denied any others in order to allow the waters I’d roiled to still. I thought that surely the focus of the debate would shift away from me. How naive and mistaken I was on that score!” (Wilson 2004, pp. 335)

Referring to President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), CIA Director George Tenet says in a written statement: “I am responsible for the approval process in my agency.… These 16 words should never have been included in the text written for the president.” Tenet denies that the White House is responsible for the mistake, putting the blame squarely on himself and his agency. His statement comes hours after Bush blamed the CIA for the words making it into the speech (see July 11, 2003). (CNN 7/11/2003; Central Intelligence Agency 7/11/2003; Sanger and Risen 7/12/2003)
CIA Chose to Send Wilson to Niger - Tenet also confirms that it was the CIA’s choice to send former ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), apparently in an effort to rebut claims that Vice President Dick Cheney ordered the mission. Tenet states: “There was fragmentary intelligence gathered in late 2001 and early 2002 on the allegations of Saddam’s efforts to obtain additional raw uranium from Africa, beyond the 550 metric tons already in Iraq. In an effort to inquire about certain reports involving Niger, CIA’s counterproliferation experts, on their own initiative, asked an individual with ties to the region [Wilson] to make a visit to see what he could learn.” Tenet says that Wilson found no evidence to believe that Iraq had attempted to purchase Nigerien uranium, though this did not settle the issue for either the CIA or the White House. (Central Intelligence Agency 7/11/2003)
Coordinated with White House - Tenet’s admission was coordinated by White House advisers for what reporter Murray Waas will call “maximum effect.” Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, White House political strategist Karl Rove, and Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby had reviewed drafts of Tenet’s statement days in advance; Hadley and Rove had suggested changes in the draft. (Waas 3/30/2006) Cheney rejected an earlier draft, marking it “unacceptable” (see July 11, 2003).
White House Joins in Blaming CIA - National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice also blames the CIA. Peppered with questions from reporters about the claim, she continues the White House attempt to pin the blame for the faulty intelligence on the CIA: “We have a higher standard for what we put in presidential speeches” than other governments or other agencies. “We don’t make the president his own fact witness. That’s why we send them out for clearance.” Had the CIA expressed doubts about the Niger claim before the State of the Union? she is asked (see January 26 or 27, 2003, March 8, 2003, March 23, 2003, April 5, 2003, Early June 2003, June 9, 2003, and June 17, 2003). “The CIA cleared the speech in its entirety,” she replies. “If the CIA, the director of central intelligence, had said, ‘Take this out of the speech,’ (see January 27, 2003) it would have been gone without question. If there were doubts about the underlying intelligence, those doubts were not communicated to the president, to the vice president or to me.… What we’ve said subsequently is, knowing what we know now, that some of the Niger documents were apparently forged, we wouldn’t have put this in the president’s speech—but that’s knowing what we know now.” Another senior White House official, defending the president and his advisers, tells ABC News: “We were very careful with what the president said. We vetted the information at the highest levels.” But another intelligence official, also interviewed by ABC, contradicts this statement. (CNN 7/11/2003; White House 7/11/2003; Pincus and Milbank 7/12/2003; Sanger and Risen 7/12/2003; Rich 2006, pp. 99; McClellan 2008, pp. 171-172) Tenet’s mea culpa is apparently enough for Bush; press secretary Ari Fleischer says, “The president has moved on.” (White House 7/11/2003; Rich 2006, pp. 99) White House press secretary Scott McClellan will later claim that at this point Rice is unaware that her National Security Council is far more responsible for the inclusion than the CIA. He will write that the news media reports “not unfairly” that Rice is blaming the CIA for the inclusion. (McClellan 2008, pp. 171-172)
News Reports Reveal Warnings Not to Use Claim - Following Tenet’s statement, a barrage of news reports citing unnamed CIA officials reveal that the White House had in fact been explicitly warned not to include the Africa-uranium claim. These reports indicate that at the time Bush delivered his State of the Union address, it had been widely understood in US intelligence circles that the claim had little evidence supporting it. (Donnelly and Neuffer 3/16/2003; Risen 3/23/2003; Singh 6/12/2003; Landay 6/12/2003; Singh 6/12/2003; Landay 6/13/2003; ABC News 6/16/2003; Newsday 7/12/2003; Priest 7/20/2003) For example, CBS News reports, “CIA officials warned members of the president’s National Security Council staff the intelligence was not good enough to make the flat statement Iraq tried to buy uranium from Africa.” And a Washington Post article cites an unnamed intelligence source who says, “We consulted about the paper [September 2002 British dossier] and recommended against using that material.” (Martin 7/10/2003; CNN 7/10/2003; Pincus 7/11/2003)
Claim 'Technically True' since British, Not US, Actually Made It - White House officials respond that the dossier issued by the British government contained the unequivocal assertion, “Iraq has… sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa” and that the officials had argued that as long as the statement was attributed to the British intelligence, it would be technically true. Similarly, ABC News reports: “A CIA official has an idea about how the Niger information got into the president’s speech. He said he is not sure the sentence was ever cleared by the agency, but said he heard speechwriters wanted it included, so they attributed it to the British.” The same version of events is told to the New York Times by a senior administration official, who claims, “The decision to mention uranium came from White House speechwriters, not from senior White House officials.” (ABC News 6/12/2003; Martin 7/10/2003; Kristof 7/14/2003; Stevenson 7/19/2003)
Decision Influenced by Office of Special Plans - But according to a CIA intelligence official and four members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who are investigating the issue, the decision to include the Africa-uranium claim was influenced by the people associated with the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans (see September 2002). (Leopold 7/16/2003)
Reactions - Rice says that the White House will not declassify the October 2002 NIE on Iraq (see October 1, 2002) to allow the public to judge for itself whether the administration exaggerated the Iraq-Niger claim; McClellan will write that Rice is currently “unaware of the fact that President Bush had already agreed to ‘selective declassification’ of parts of the NIE so that Vice President Cheney, or his top aide Scooter Libby, could use them to make the administration’s case with selected reporters” (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003). (McClellan 2008, pp. 171-172) Two days later, Rice will join Bush in placing the blame for using the Iraq-Niger claim solely on the CIA (see July 13, 2003). McClellan will later write, “The squabbling would leave the self-protective CIA lying in wait to exact revenge against the White House.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 172)
Former Ambassador Considers Matter Settled - Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who recently wrote an op-ed for the New York Times revealing his failure to find any validity in the claims during his fact-finding trip to Niger (see July 6, 2003 and February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), is pleased at Tenet’s admission. According to his wife, CIA analyst Valerie Plame Wilson, “Joe felt his work was done; he had made his point.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 140)

Vice President Dick Cheney authorizes his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, to leak to the press selected portions of a highly classified CIA report: the debriefing of former ambassador Joseph Wilson upon his return from Niger (see March 4-5, 2002 and March 5, 2002). This will become public in 2006, when material from Libby’s grand jury testimony in the Plame Wilson leak investigation is made known (see March 5, 2004, March 24, 2004 and October 28, 2005). Cheney intends to undermine the credibility of Wilson (see June 2003), a prominent war critic, by using the report to contradict his statements that the Bush administration was manipulating intelligence to bolster its claims that Iraq was in possession of WMD (see July 6, 2003), especially his claims that Iraq had not, as the administration has repeatedly claimed (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), tried to buy uranium from Niger. The CIA debriefing report does not mention Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, a covert CIA agent, nor does it say that Plame Wilson arranged for her husband to go to Niger, as Cheney, Libby, and others will claim. (Waas 6/14/2006; Waas 1/12/2007) After Libby is indicted for perjury (see October 28, 2005), criminal defense lawyer Jeralyn Merritt will write on the progressive blog TalkLeft, “It sure sounds to me like the mechanics of the plan to leak the information about Wilson was cemented, if not formed, on Air Force Two, as a follow up to Ari Fleischer’s press gaggle attack on Wilson from Africa (see 3:20 a.m. July 12, 2003), and that the plan was to call reporters and leak the information about Wilson and his wife as gossip coming from other reporters, while shielding themselves by claiming to the reporters that they couldn’t be certain the information was true.” (Jeralyn Merritt 10/31/2005)
Leaking Plame Wilson's Identity - Hours after Cheney instructs Libby to disclose information from the CIA report, Libby informs reporters Judith Miller (see Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003) and Matthew Cooper (see 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003) that Plame Wilson is a CIA agent and she was responsible for selecting her husband for the Niger mission (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, and October 17, 2003).
Denials - Both Libby and Cheney (see May 8, 2004) will testify that Cheney did not encourage or authorize Libby to reveal Plame Wilson’s CIA status. Reporter Murray Waas will write, “But the disclosure that Cheney instructed Libby to leak portions of a classified CIA report on Joseph Wilson adds to a growing body of information showing that at the time Plame [Wilson] was outed as a covert CIA officer the vice president was deeply involved in the White House effort to undermine her husband” (see July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, July 7-8, 2003, and July 8, 2003 and After). The same day, Cheney, Libby, and Cheney’s press spokesperson Cathie Martin discuss ways to rebut and discredit Wilson (see July 12, 2003). President Bush has already authorized Libby to disclose information from a classified intelligence estimate on Iraq in part to discredit Wilson (see March 24, 2004). (Waas 6/14/2006; Waas 1/12/2007) Senior White House officials, including Deputy National Security Director Stephen Hadley and White House communications director Dan Bartlett, who have both worked with Cheney and Libby to formally declassify information in the effort to discredit Wilson (see July 6-10, 2003), will testify that they knew nothing of Cheney’s attempts to declassify the Wilson briefing. (Waas 1/12/2007)

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, in Nigeria with President Bush and his entourage, hosts an early-morning press gaggle in which he discusses war critic Joseph Wilson and the Iraq-Niger uranium claims. (The gaggle takes place at 8:20 a.m. local time; Eastern Daylight Savings Time in the US is five hours behind.) In light of recent admissions that the claims of Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Niger were false (see July 11, 2003 and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003), Fleischer tries to steer the press’s attention onto Wilson, saying that he “also said that in June 1999 a businessman approached him and insisted that the former official, Wilson, meet an Iraqi delegation to discuss expanding commercial relations between Iraq and Niger. The former official interpreted the overture as an attempt to discuss uranium sales. This is in Wilson’s report back to the CIA. Wilson’s own report, the very man who was on television saying Niger denies it, who never said anything about forged documents, reports himself that officials in Niger said that Iraq was seeking to contact officials in Niger about sales.” Fleischer is referring in part to a 1999 trip by Wilson to Niger to investigate earlier claims of Iraqi interest in Nigerien uranium (see Fall 1999). (White House 7/12/2003) In the CIA debriefing for his 2002 trip to Niger to investigate the uranium claims (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and March 4-5, 2002), Wilson did not say that Iraqi officials were attempting to engage Nigerien officials in negotiations to buy uranium; in neither of his missions to Niger did any Nigeriens ask him to meet with Iraqi officials to discuss commercial ventures of any kind. Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald will later subpoena the transcript of Fleischer’s press gaggle for his investigation into the Plame Wilson identity leak (see January 22, 2004). (Marcy Wheeler 11/1/2005)

New York Times reporter Judith Miller again speaks to Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, in regards to the Iraqi WMD controversy and the recent op-ed by former ambassador Joseph Wilson (see July 6, 2003). In Miller’s notes, she writes the words “Victoria Wilson.” Libby has twice informed Miller that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is a CIA agent (see June 23, 2003 and 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003).
Miller Unsure of Details of Disclosure - In testimony about the interview two years later (see September 30, 2005), Miller will say that “before this [telephone] call, I might have called others about Mr. Wilson’s wife. In my notebook I had written the words ‘Victoria Wilson’ with a box around it, another apparent reference to Ms. Plame, who is also known as Valerie Wilson. I [testified] that I was not sure whether Mr. Libby had used this name or whether I just made a mistake in writing it on my own. Another possibility, I said, is that I gave Mr. Libby the wrong name on purpose to see whether he would correct me and confirm her identity.” In her testimony, Miller will say that at the time, she believed she had heard Wilson’s wife only referred to by her maiden name of Plame. When asked whether Libby gave her the name of Wilson, Miller will decline to speculate.
Criticizing Plame Wilson's Husband - During their conversation, Libby quickly turns the subject to criticism of Wilson, saying he is not sure if Wilson actually spoke to anyone who had knowledge of Iraq’s attempts to negotiate trade agreements with Niger. After Miller agrees to attribute the conversation to “an administration official,” and not Libby himself, Libby explains that the reference to the Iraqi attempt to buy uranium from Niger in President Bush’s State of the Union address—the so-called “sixteen words” (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003)—was the product of what Miller will call “a simple miscommunication between the White House and the CIA.”
'Newsworthy' Disclosure - Miller will later testify that at the time, she felt it “newsworthy” that Wilson’s wife was a CIA agent, and recommended to her editors that the Times pursue the angle. She will write: “I felt that since the Times had run Mr. Wilson’s original essay, it had an obligation to explore any allegation that undercut his credibility. At the same time, I added, I also believed that the newspaper needed to pursue the possibility that the White House was unfairly attacking a critic of the administration.” (US District Court for the District of Columbia 8/27/2004 pdf file; Gerstein 10/4/2005; Miller 10/16/2005; van Natta, Liptak, and Levy 10/16/2005; US District Court for the District of Columbia 10/28/2005 pdf file)

The White House continues to back away from its admission of error concerning President Bush’s claim that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see July 8, 2003 and July 11, 2003). Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice appear on the Sunday morning talk shows to assert that the “16 words” in Bush’s January speech (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) were “technically correct” because British intelligence, not American intelligence, was the original source of the claim as worded by Bush. The British still stand by the claim, though they refuse to provide evidence. In the interviews, Rice tries to call the claim a “mistake” and simultaneously vouch for its “accuracy.” (Milbank and Allen 7/26/2003; Rich 2006, pp. 100) “I believe that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” she says. In particular, Fox News host Tony Snow gives Rice multiple opportunities to state that Iraq had a nuclear weapons program, and that the Iraq-Niger uranium claim is probably true. She says that the related claim of the Iraqis buying aluminum tubes for nuclear centrifuges is also supported by the CIA, even though Snow acknowledges that the tubes theory has been “knocked down.” (Fox News 7/13/2003)
Invoking the British, Blaming Tenet - On CBS’s Face the Nation, Rice again blames CIA Director George Tenet for the error (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003), saying: “My only point is that, in retrospect, knowing that some of the documents underneath may have been—were, indeed, forgeries, and knowing that apparently there were concerns swirling around about this, had we known that at the time, we would not have put it in.… And had there been even a peep that the agency did not want that sentence in or that George Tenet did not want that sentence in, that the director of central intelligence did not want it in, it would have been gone.” (Rice 7/13/2003) On Fox News, Rice says: “[T]he statement that [Bush] made was indeed accurate. The British government did say that. Not only was the statement accurate, there were statements of this kind in the National Intelligence Estimate. And the British themselves stand by that statement to this very day, saying that they had sources other than sources that have now been called into question to back up that claim. We have no reason not to believe them.… We have every reason to believe that the British services are quite reliable.” (Fox News 7/13/2003) On CNN, Rice calls the issue “enormously overblown.… This 16 words has been taken out of context. It’s been blown out of proportion.” She emphasizes that Bush’s claim came “from a whole host of sources.… The British, by the way, still stand by their report to this very day in its accuracy, because they tell us that they had sources that were not compromised in any way by later, in March or April, later reports that there were some forgeries.” She adds: “We’re talking about a sentence, a data point, not the president’s case about reconstitution of weapons of mass destruction, or of nuclear weapons in Iraq.… We’re talking about a single sentence, the consequence of which was not to send America to war. The consequence of which was to state in the State of the Union something that, while accurate, did not meet the standard that we use for the president.” (CNN 7/13/2003)
Denies Involvement in Wilson Mission - Rice also denies that anyone at the White House had any involvement in sending former ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger to investigate the uranium claims (see July 6, 2003). CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer says of the Wilson mission, “Supposedly, it came at the request of the vice president.” Rice replies: “No, this is simply not true, and this is something that’s been perpetuated that we simply have to straighten out. The vice president did not ask that Joe Wilson go to Niger. The vice president did not know. I don’t think he knew who Joe Wilson was, and he certainly didn’t know that he was going. The first that I heard of Joe Wilson mission was when I was doing a Sunday talk show and heard about it (see June 8, 2003 and June 8, 2003)… [T]he Wilson trip was not sent by anyone at a high level. It wasn’t briefed to anyone at high level. And it appears to have been inconclusive in what it found.” Rice is following the White House strategy of denying Vice President Dick Cheney’s involvement in the Wilson mission (see July 6, 2003, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, and July 8, 2003). (CNN 7/13/2003)

Robert Novak.Robert Novak. [Source: MediaBistro (.com)]Conservative columnist Robert Novak, after being told by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and White House political guru Karl Rove that Valerie Plame Wilson is a CIA officer (see July 8, 2003), writes a syndicated op-ed column that publicly names her as a CIA officer. The column is an attempt to defend the administration from charges that it deliberately cited forged documents as “evidence” that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003). It is also an attempt to discredit Joseph Wilson, Plame Wilson’s husband, who had gone to Niger at the behest of the CIA to find out whether the Iraq-Niger story was true (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). Novak characterizes Wilson’s findings—that an Iraqi deal for Nigerien uranium was highly unlikely—as “less than definitive,” and writes that neither CIA Director George Tenet nor President Bush were aware of Wilson’s report before the president’s 2003 State of the Union address where he stated that Iraq had indeed tried to purchase uranium from Niger (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). Novak writes: “Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials [Armitage and Rove, though Novak does not name them] told me that Wilson’s wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report. The CIA says its counterproliferation officials selected Wilson and asked his wife to contact him. ‘I will not answer any question about my wife,’ Wilson told me.” Wilson’s July 6 op-ed challenging the administration’s claims (see July 6, 2003) “ignite[d] the firestorm,” Novak writes. (Novak 7/14/2003; Unger 2007, pp. 312-313) Novak also uses the intelligence term “agency operative,” identifying her as a covert agent and indicating that he is aware of her covert status. Later, though, Novak will claim that he came up with the identifying phrase independently, and did not know of her covert status. (Waas 7/19/2005)
Asked Not to Print Plame Wilson's Name - Novak will later acknowledge being asked by a CIA official not to print Plame Wilson’s name “for security reasons.” Intelligence officials will say they thought Novak understood there were larger reasons than Plame Wilson’s personal security not to publish her name. Novak will say that he did not consider the request strong enough to follow (see September 27, 2003 and October 1, 2003). (Allen and Priest 9/28/2003) He will later reveal the CIA official as being agency spokesman Bill Harlow, who asked him not to reveal Plame’s identity because while “she probably never again will be given a foreign assignment… exposure of her agency identity might cause ‘difficulties’ if she travels abroad.” In 2008, current White House press secretary Scott McClellan will write: “This struck Novak as an inadequate reason to withhold relevant information from the public. Novak defended his actions by asserting that Harlow had not suggested that Plame or anybody else would be endangered, and that he learned Plame’s name (though not her undercover identity) from her husband’s entry in the well-known reference book Who’s Who in America.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 173-174) McClellan will note, “Whether war, smear job, or PR offensive gone haywire, the CIA took the leak of Plame’s name very seriously.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 174)
Plame Wilson Stricken - According to Wilson’s book The Politics of Truth, his wife’s first reaction is disbelief at Novak’s casual destruction of her CIA career. “Twenty years of loyal service down the drain, and for what?” she asks. She then makes a checklist to begin assessing and controlling the damage done to her work. She is even more appalled after totalling up the damage. Not only are the lives of herself and her family now endangered, but so are those of the people with whom she has worked for 20 years (see July 14, 2003). (Dean 5/12/2004) In 2005, Joseph Wilson will tell a reporter: “[Y]ou can assume that even if 150 people read the Novak article when it appeared, 148 of them would have been the heads of intelligence sections at embassies here in Washington and by noon that day they would have faxing her name or telexing her name back to their home offices and running checks on her: whether she had ever been in the country, who she may have been in contact with, etc.” (Alexandrovna 7/13/2005)
Intimidation of Other Whistle-Blowers? - In 2007, author Craig Unger will write: “The implication from the administration was that the CIA’s selection of Wilson was somehow twisted because his wife was at the CIA. But, more importantly, the administration had put out a message to any and all potential whistle-blowers: if you dare speak out, we will strike back. To that end, the cover of Valerie Plame Wilson, a CIA operative specializing in WMD, had been blown by a White House that was supposedly orchestrating a worldwide war against terror.” (Unger 2007, pp. 312-313)
Outing about Iraq, Not Niger, Author Says - In 2006, author and media critic Frank Rich will write: “The leak case was about Iraq, not Niger. The political stakes were high only because the scandal was about the unmasking of an ill-conceived war, not the unmasking of a CIA operative who posed for Vanity Fair. The real victims were the American people, not the Wilsons. The real culprits—the big enchilada, in John Ehrlichman’s Nixon White House lingo—were not the leakers but those who provoked a war in Iraq for their own motives and in so doing diverted finite resources, human and otherwise, from the fight against those who did attack America on 9/11, and had since regrouped to deadly effect.… Without Iraq, there never would have been a smear campaign against an obscure diplomat or the bungled cover-up [that followed]. While the Bush White House’s dirty tricks, like [former President] Nixon’s, were prompted in part by a ruthless desire to crush the political competition at any cost, this administration had upped the ante by playing dirty tricks with war.” (Rich 2006, pp. 184)
Elevating Profile of Controversy - In 2008, McClellan will write, “By revealing Plame’s status, Novak inadvertently elevated the Niger controversy into a full-blown scandal.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 173)

An organization called Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) writes an open letter to President Bush entitled “Intelligence Unglued,” where they warn that unless Bush takes immediate action, the US intelligence community “will fall apart—with grave consequences for the nation.” They say that it is clear his National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, and not CIA Director George Tenet, was responsible for the now-infamous “sixteen words” in his January State of the Union address (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). “But the disingenuousness persists,” they write. “Surely Dr. Rice cannot persist in her insistence that she learned only on June 8, 2003, about former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s mission to Niger in February 2002, when he determined that the Iraq-Niger report was a con-job” (see July 6, 2003). “Rice’s denials are reminiscent of her claim in spring 2002 that there was no reporting suggesting that terrorists were planning to hijack planes and slam them into buildings (see May 16, 2002). In September, the joint Congressional committee on 9/11 came up with a dozen such reports” (see December 24, 1994 and January 6, 1995). It is not only Rice’s credibility that has suffered, they write, but Secretary of State Colin Powell’s as well, “as continued non-discoveries of weapons in Iraq heap doubt on his confident assertions to the UN” (see February 5, 2003). Ultimately, they write, it is Bush’s credibility at stake much more than that of his advisers and cabinet members. They lay the blame for the “disingenuousness” from the various members of the administration at the feet of Vice President Dick Cheney: it was Cheney’s office who sent Wilson to Niger (see (February 13, 2002)), it was Cheney who told the Veterans of Foreign Wars that Saddam Hussein was about to produce a nuclear weapon (see August 26, 2002), all with intelligence he and his staff knew to be either unreliable or outright forgeries—a “deep insult to the integrity of the intelligence process,” they write—it was Cheney and his staff who pressured CIA analysts to produce “cherry-picked” intelligence supporting their desire for war, it was Cheney and his staff who “cooked” the prewar National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002). Bad enough that false intelligence was used to help craft Bush’s State of the Union address, they write, but that “pales in significance in comparison with how it was used to deceive Congress into voting on October 11 to authorize you to make war on Iraq” (see October 10, 2002). VIPS recommends three things for Bush to implement:
bullet Bring an immediate end to White House attempts to exculpate Cheney from what they write is his obvious guilt and ask for his resignation: “His role has been so transparent that such attempts will only erode further your own credibility. Equally pernicious, from our perspective, is the likelihood that intelligence analysts will conclude that the way to success is to acquiesce in the cooking of their judgments, since those above them will not be held accountable. We strongly recommend that you ask for Cheney’s immediate resignation.”
bullet Appoint General Brent Scowcroft, the chair of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, to head “an independent investigation into the use/abuse of intelligence on Iraq.”
bullet Bring UN inspectors back into Iraq. “This would go a long way toward refurbishing your credibility. Equally important, it would help sort out the lessons learned for the intelligence community and be an invaluable help to an investigation of the kind we have suggested you direct Gen. Scowcroft to lead.” (Salon 7/16/2003)

The Wall Street Journal prints an editorial based on, in its words, “[w]hat the National Intelligence Estimate [NIE—see October 1, 2002] said about Iraq’s hunt for uranium.” The Journal does not mention that the editorial is based on leaked information from the Office of the Vice President via the Defense Department (see July 14 or 15, 2003); in fact, it denies receiving the information from the White House entirely. (It is possible that the Journal editors were not aware that the leaked information originally came from Vice President Dick Cheney’s office.) The Journal says “[w]e’re reliably told” that the NIE largely supports the Iraq-Niger uranium claims recently repudiated by the Bush administration (see July 8, 2003 and July 11, 2003). According to the material leaked to the Journal, the NIE indicates that before the March 2003 invasion, Iraq was close to producing nuclear weapons, and the regime of Saddam Hussein was actively seeking yellowcake uranium, such as that produced by Niger, to shorten the time it would take to bring actual nuclear devices online. The Journal concludes that the Iraq-Niger claims were “supposedly discredited,” but are actually viable, and President Bush was “entirely accurate” in making the Iraq-Niger uranium claim in the January 2003 State of the Union address (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). In contrast, CIA Director George Tenet’s recent admission that the claim was a “mistake” was, the Journal says, “more tortured than warranted by the assertions in the NIE.” (Wall Street Journal 7/17/2003) The day after the editorial is published, the White House releases a heavily redacted version of the NIE to the public (see July 18, 2003).

One of the first media-based attacks on Joseph Wilson and his wife Valerie Plame Wilson after her outing as a CIA agent (see July 14, 2003) comes from former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, who writes a scathing op-ed for the Wall Street Journal. Weinberger accuses the opponents of the Iraq invasion of mounting a baseless smear campaign against the Bush administration by “using bits and pieces of non-evidence to contend that we did not have to replace the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein.” He asserts that President Bush was correct to say that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), using the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (see October 1, 2002) and a review by a British investigative commission (see September 24, 2002) as support for his argument. He insists that WMD will be found in Iraq. Weinberger then writes that “the CIA committed a major blunder [by asking] a very minor former ambassador named Joseph Wilson IV to go to Niger to investigate” (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Weinberger correctly characterizes Wilson as “an outspoken opponent” of the invasion, but then falsely asserts that “Mr. Wilson’s ‘investigation’ is a classic case of a man whose mind had been made up using any opportunity to refute the justifications for our ever going to war.” He asserts that Wilson spent eight days in Niger drinking tea and hobnobbing with ambassadors and foreign service types. Weinberger continues, “Because Mr. Wilson, by his own admission, never wrote a report, we only have his self-serving op-ed article in the New York Times to go by” (see July 6, 2003). He is apparently unaware that Wilson was thoroughly debriefed on his return from Niger (see March 4-5, 2002). He writes, “If we are to rely on this kind of sloppy tea-drinking ‘investigation’ from a CIA-chosen investigator—a retired ambassador with a less than stellar record—then I would say that the CIA deserves some of the criticism it normally receives.” Weinberger concludes that the US had a choice of “either… letting [Saddam Hussein] continue his ways, such as spraying poison on his own people, and breaking every promise he made to us and to the UN; or… removing him before he used nuclear weapons on his neighbors, or on us.” (Weinberger 7/18/2003)
Wilsons: Weinberger's Credibility Lacking because of Iran-Contra Connection - In 2007, Plame Wilson will write: “That’s rich, I thought. Weinberger had been indicted on charges stemming from the Iran-Contra affair (see December 25, 1992) and likely only avoided prison time because of a presidential pardon.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 146-147) Wilson himself will note that “Weinberger was not the most credible person to launch that particular counterattack, since, but for the grace of a pardon… he might have well had to do jail time for how poorly he had served his president, Ronald Reagan, in the Iran-Contra affair.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 338)
Attempt to Intimidate Others - Wilson will note in 2004 that Weinberger deliberately focused on a minor detail of his report—drinking mint tea with the various people he met during his trip—and used it to “suggest… that supposedly I’d been excessively casual and dilatory in my approach to the mission.” He will add: “It seemed that the motive for the attacks on me was to discourage anyone else from coming forward who had a critical story to tell.… In essence, the message was, ‘If you pull a “Wilson” on us, we will do worse to you.’ However offensive, there was a certain logic to it. If you have something to hide, one way to keep it secret is to threaten anyone who might expose it. But it was too late to silence me; I had already said all I had to say. Presumably, though, they thought they could still silence others by attacking me.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 338-339)

Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, whose wife Valerie Plame Wilson has recently been “outed” as a CIA agent by conservative columnist Robert Novak (see July 14, 2003), learns from NBC political reporter Andrea Mitchell that “senior White House sources” have told her that “the real story here is not the 16 words in the State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) but Wilson and his wife.” Mitchell does not reveal her sources. The next day, Wilson learns that White House political chief Karl Rove has declared his wife “fair game” (see July 21, 2003). (Wilson 2004, pp. 5)

White House chief of staff Andrew Card (see (July 11, 2003)) holds a late-night meeting of what press secretary Scott McClellan will call “select senior advisers”—Card, McClellan, communications director Dan Bartlett, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Rice’s deputy Stephen Hadley, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, and Gonzales’s subordinate Harriet Miers. One topic of discussion is the recent report that the White House had scrubbed a claim of an Iraq-Niger uranium buy from a speech by President Bush in October 2002 (see October 5, 2002 and October 6, 2002), months before Bush’s State of the Union address where he did make such a claim (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). The media reports that Hadley was warned to delete the claim by CIA Director George Tenet. Hadley confirms receiving the warning, and tells the assemblage that, three months later, he had forgotten Tenet’s warning. “Signing off on these facts is my responsibility,” he says. “And in this case, I blew it. I think the only solution is for me to resign.” Hadley is distressed that Tenet had, in McClellan’s words, “been made to look like the scapegoat, since he believed it was nobody’s fault but his own.” McClellan will call Hadley’s offer to resign “selfless .. [his attempt to] clear the name of someone he felt had taken an unfair degree of blame, and to accept his own responsibility for an honest mistake whose consequences were now playing out before a worldwide audience.” The others quickly reject Hadley’s proffered resignation, and decide, as McClellan will recall, “that an approach of openness, forthrightness, and honesty was now essential.” Bartlett and Hadley are delegated to “inform the world as to what had happened and why,” and Hadley will admit to having forgotten his conversation with Tenet” (see October 6, 2002). (McClellan 2008, pp. 177-178)

As decided the night before (see July 21, 2003), Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and White House communications director Dan Bartlett hold a press conference in which Hadley admits to having forgotten about CIA Director George Tenet’s October warning that the Iraq-Niger claim was not solid. Hadley admits that President Bush should never have made the claim that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from Niger; he takes responsibility for its inclusion in the president’s State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). His admission and apology follow closely on the heels of Tenet’s acceptance of responsibility for the “error” (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). Hadley admits that he received two memos from the CIA and a phone call from Tenet in October 2002 that questioned the Iraq-Niger allegations and warned that they should not be made public. The allegations were excised from Bush’s speech in Cincinnati (see October 5, 2002 and October 6, 2002). Hadley says he should have made sure those same allegations were not in Bush’s State of the Union speech: they “should have been taken out of the State of the Union.… There were a number of people who could have raised a hand” to have the passage removed from the draft of Bush’s speech. “And no one raised a hand.… The high standards the president set were not met.” (In reality, author Craig Unger will later write, the White House was reluctant to go back to Tenet because the CIA had already twice rejected the claim. Instead, White House officials had obtained clearance to use the material from a more amenable CIA subordinate—see January 26 or 27, 2003.) Hadley says he has apologized to Bush for the “error.” Bartlett says, “The process failed.” He adds that Bush retains “full confidence in his national security adviser [Condoleezza Rice], his deputy national security adviser [Hadley], and the director of central intelligence [Tenet].” Hadley says he had forgotten about the October CIA memos until they were discovered a few days ago by White House speechwriter Michael Gerson. (Associated Press 7/22/2003; White House 7/22/2003; Sanger and Miller 7/23/2003; Alexandrovna and Leopold 11/16/2005; Unger 2007, pp. 273; Leopold 1/23/2007; McClellan 2008, pp. 178) White House press secretary Scott McClellan will later take some responsibility for the lapse, saying, “The fact is that given the October 5 and 6 memorandum [from Tenet], and my telephone conversation with the DCI Tenet at roughly the same time, I should have recalled at the time of the State of the Union speech that there was controversy associated with the uranium issue.” The press briefing, McClellan will write, “accomplish[es] our goal of putting the 16-word controversy behind us.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 178)

Hama Hamadou.Hama Hamadou. [Source: Sangonet (.com)]The prime minister of Niger, Hama Hamadou (whose name is sometimes spelled Amadou), denies that Iraq ever attempted to buy uranium from his country (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, and March 7, 2003), and challenges British Prime Minister Tony Blair to produce the evidence that he says proves the claim. Hamadou says Niger is an ally of Britain and the US, since it sent 500 troops to fight against Saddam Hussein in the 1991 Gulf War. “Is this how Britain and America treat their allies?” he asks. “If Britain has evidence to support its claim then it has only to produce it for everybody to see. Our conscience is clear. We are innocent.” The US has admitted that its claims that Iraq attempted to buy uranium from Niger was based on forged documents (see March 8, 2003 and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003), but Britain continues to insist that it has intelligence from “independent sources” that proves the claim. Britain has not shared this intelligence with anyone. Hamadou denies that Iraq and Niger ever entered into any negotiations over uranium. “Officials from the two countries have never met to discuss uranium,” he says, and continues: “We were the first African country to send soldiers to fight against Saddam after the invasion of Kuwait in 1991. Would we really send material to somebody whom we had fought against and who could could destroy half the world with a nuclear bomb? It is unthinkable.” Hamadou says no one from either Britain or the US has formally accused Niger of any involvement in any uranium deals with Iraq. “Everybody knows that the claims are untrue,” he says. “We have survived famine in Niger. We can survive this.” (Harrison 7/27/2003)

In a briefing to the president and other top officials, Kay says that he has found no evidence of weapons of mass destruction, and says the disputed trailers (see April 19, 2003 and May 9, 2003) were probably not mobile biological factories, as the CIA and White House had claimed (see May 28, 2003 and May 29, 2003). Present at the briefing are Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, George Tenet, Condoleezza Rice, Andrew Card, and other White House aides. Kay’s briefing provokes little response from his audience. Describing the president’s reaction, Kay later says: “I’m not sure I’ve spoken to anyone at that level who seemed less inquisitive. He was interested but not pressing any questions. .. I cannot stress too much that the president was the one in the room who was the least unhappy and the least disappointed about the lack of WMDs. I came out of the Oval Office uncertain as to how to read the president. Here was an individual who was oblivious to the problems created by the failure to find WMDs. Or was this an individual who was completely at peace with himself on the decision to go to war, who didn’t question that, and who was totally focused on the here and now of what was to come?” (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 310)

Condoleezza Rice being interviewed by Gwen Ifill.Condoleezza Rice being interviewed by Gwen Ifill. [Source: PBS]After CIA Director George Tenet admits that President Bush should never have made the claim that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from Niger (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003), and Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley admits the White House also erred in allowing the claim (see July 22, 2003), Hadley’s boss, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, grudgingly admits to her own responsibility in allowing the claim to be made. She tells PBS reporter Gwen Ifill: “What we learned later, and I did not know at the time, and certainly did not know until just before Steve Hadley went out to say what he said last week, was that the director [Tenet] had also sent over to the White House a set of clearance comments that explained why he wanted this out of the speech (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). I either didn’t see the memo, or I don’t remember seeing the memo.” When Ifill asks if she feels any “personal failure or responsibility” over allowing the false claim, Rice responds: “Well, I certainly feel personal responsibility for this entire episode. The president of the United States has every right to believe that what he is saying in his speeches is of [sic] the highest confidence of his staff.” On the same day, Rice continues to insist that Iraq had a nuclear weapons program (see July 30, 2003, July 30, 2003, and July 31, 2003). (Wilson 2004, pp. 352-353)

Defending the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice tells ZDF television that there was “very strong intelligence” that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction “Going into the war against Iraq, we had very strong intelligence. I’ve been in this business for 20 years. And some of the strongest intelligence cases that I’ve seen, key judgments by our intelligence community that Saddam Hussein… had biological and chemical weapons….” (Rice 7/31/2003)

Joseph Wilson, the former US ambassador to Gabon who has played a key part in discrediting the Bush administration’s attempts to claim that Iraq tried to purchase weapons-grade uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003)), is interviewed for the PBS Frontline episode, “Truth, Consequences, and War.” The interview will be broadcast in early October 2003.
Trip to Niger - Wilson confirms that the CIA sent him to Niger in February 2002 to find evidence either supporting or challenging claims that Iraq tried to purchase weapons-grade uranium from that nation (see Shortly after February 13, 2002 and February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Wilson notes that the CIA officials who sent him to Iraq “said that the Office of the Vice President had raised questions about this report, and they’d asked them to look into it” (see (February 13, 2002)), but he personally had no contact with anyone in that office.
Reactions to Claims of Iraq-Niger Uranium Deal - Wilson recalls being bemused by President Bush’s assertion that Iraq tried to purchase uranium from an African country, but accepted the possibility that he was not referring to Niger, but another African nation that also mines and sells uranium (see January 28-29, 2003). Wilson says the issue became a concern to him when the International Atomic Energy Agency concluded that the documents used for the Iraq-Niger claims were obvious forgeries (see March 7, 2003), and the State Department admitted to being gulled by them (see March 8, 2003). He says, “Now, when the State Department spokesman said that, I was moved to say on a news program that I thought that if the US government looked into its files, it would find that it had far more information on this particular subject than the State Department spokesman was letting on” (see March 8, 2003). Wilson calls the decision to allow Bush to make the claim in his State of the Union address (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) irresponsible. “You allow the president of the United States to use information that did not even pass the threshold for an Italian news magazine [Panorama—see October 9, 2002]? You allow him to use that information in the most important speech that he makes in his tenure?”
Correcting the Record - Wilson denies that his decision to write an op-ed for the New York Times exposing the falsehood of the White House claims (see July 6, 2003) was political. Instead, he says, it was “a response to what appeared to me to be a series of misstatements on the part of senior administration officials.” Wilson notes that the White House had many opportunities to set the record straight without his intervention, but chose not to. He made pleas to the White House through his friends at the State Department and friends of senior administration officials to be honest about the claims (see January 29, 2003 and March 8, 2003). Wilson reiterates his feelings that the Iraq invasion was outside the bounds of the various United Nations resolutions constraining Iraq’s behavior, and that Iraq could have been successfully contained by continuing UN efforts to disarm the Iraqi regime. There were no provable links between Iraq and Islamist terrorism, there was no provable imminent threat to the US or the Middle East from Iraq, and allegations that Iraq had committed genocide could have been addressed through the UN’s Genocide Convention.
Blowing His Wife's CIA Identity - Wilson concludes by addressing the leak of his wife Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity as a CIA official (see June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, 1:26 p.m. July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, and July 14, 2003), and notes that while he won’t confirm that his wife is a CIA official, to publicly expose such an official is a crime under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (see July 16, 2003). It was an attempt to intimidate others, Wilson says: “I think it was a signal to others, that should you decide to come forward, we will do this to your family as well. It was just very sloppy.” He adds that if his wife is indeed a CIA official, “if it’s a real violation, [it will] cause a lot of pain in our national security apparatus, because at a minimum—the assertions were that she was a CIA operative working in the weapons of mass destruction programs. So if those assertions are true, what this administration has done is they’ve taken a national security asset involved in a program to which they give high priority, off the table, and to protect whose career? What political objective is so important… that you take a national security asset off—not to shut me up, but to… [shut] others up. That would be the only conclusion I could come to. If you read the story in which this assertion was made, the assertion adds absolutely nothing to the story, nothing. It is not germane, it is not relevant.” The interviewer says, “All’s fair in love and war,” and Wilson responds: “When you’re an administration that comes to office on a platform of restoring dignity and honor to the White House, and you act in such a dishonorable and undignified way, then you really do descend to that ‘all’s fair in love and war’ status. I think in that case it’s important to point out how duplicitous some in the White House are.” (PBS Frontline 10/9/2003)

A previously unrevealed document shows that British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s claim that Iraq could strike a target with weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes of an order to deploy was based on hearsay information. The claim had already been shown to be the product of an unreliable Iraqi defector from Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (see Late May 2003), but an internal Foreign Service document released by the Hutton inquiry undercuts the original claim even further. British and US officials had stated that the 45-minute claim came from an Iraqi officer high in Saddam Hussein’s command structure; the document shows, however, that it came from an informant who passed it on to British intelligence agency MI6. The Guardian writes, “[T]he foundation for the government’s claim was… a single anonymous uncorroborated source quoting another single anonymous uncorroborated source.” Liberal Democrat Menzies Campbell says: “This is classic hearsay. It provides an even thinner justification to go to war. If this is true, neither the prime minister nor the government have been entirely forthcoming.” (Dodd, Watt, and Taylor 8/16/2003)

In a speech to the nation commemorating the second anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, President Bush promises that no more troops are needed in Iraq. The 130,000 currently deployed are enough to handle the mission, he says. Besides, “now some 60,000 Iraqi citizens under arms, defending the security of their own country, are now active, with more coming.” The Iraqi Governing Council, which he calls “25 leaders representing Iraq’s diverse people,” is almost ready to take over governance of their country (see September 8, 2003), Bush says. Viewership for the speech is half the number of people who watched Bush’s January State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), and polls indicate that support for the Iraqi occupation is sagging among Americans. (Rich 2006, pp. 102-103)

Vice President Dick Cheney appears on Meet the Press and tells host Tim Russert that Iraq’s support for al-Qaeda was “clearly official policy.” As evidence, he cites the alleged meeting between Mohamed Atta and Iraqi diplomat Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani (see April 8, 2001). Cheney also insists that the two trailers found in Baghdad (see April 19, 2003 and May 9, 2003) were mobile biological weapon factories, even though he was told by David Kay, the head of the Iraq Survey Group, that that was probably not the case (see July 29, 2003). (Cheney 9/14/2003; Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 313)

Robin Cook (see March 17-18, 2003) publishes portions of a diary he had kept when he was Tony Blair’s foreign minister. The published memoirs reveal—among other things—that Blair had intentionally misled the British population. (Cracknell 10/5/2003; MacAskill and Norton-Taylor 10/6/2003; Cook 8/2/2004) The diary reveals how before the war intelligence provided to Cook by British intelligence chief John Scarlett indicated that Saddam Hussein probably did not have weapons of mass destruction that could be used to attack the US or Britain. (Cracknell 10/5/2003; MacAskill and Norton-Taylor 10/6/2003; Cook 8/2/2004) Cook’s entries also show that before the war, Blair did not believe that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction that could be used to attack the US or Britain. (Cracknell 10/5/2003; MacAskill and Norton-Taylor 10/6/2003; Cook 8/2/2004) Additionally, the diary shows that Tony Blair ignored the “large number of ministers who spoke up against the war.” He says that the officials in the foreign ministry were consistently opposed to the invasion of Iraq. (Cracknell 10/5/2003; Cook 8/2/2004)

David Kay, head of the Iraq Survey Group, tells Congress that his investigation has found no evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Nor has he uncovered anything to support the theory that two trailers discovered in Iraq (see April 19, 2003; May 9, 2003) were mobile biological weapons factories. (US Congress 10/2/2003; Warwick 4/12/2006) After Kay’s testimony, White House officials call George Tenet and John McLaughlin and ask why Kay included such a blunt statement that the Iraq Survey Group had not found any weapons of mass destruction in the beginning of his report. Couldn’t he have buried that statement elsewhere in the report they ask. (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 329)

On NBC’s “Meet the Press”, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld denies that Americans were misinformed about Iraqi nuclear arms. Rumsfeld says that no one in the administration ever claimed Iraq had tried to obtain nuclear weapons. Moderator Tim Russert asks: “But, Mr. Secretary, you acknowledge that there was an argument made by the administration that Saddam Hussein possessed chemical and biological weapons, and could have been well on his way to reconstituting his nuclear program. There doesn’t appear to be significant amounts of evidence to document that presentation that was made by the administration.” Rumsfeld says that this administration as well as preceding administrations “all agreed” that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons, “and that they had programs relating to nuclear weapons that they were reconstituting—not that they had nuclear weapons—no one said that.” The administration made numerous claims of Iraq possessing “reconstituted” nuclear weapons, including claims made by the CIA (see January 30, 2002), Vice President Dick Cheney (see September 8, 2002), and the entire intelligence community (see October 1, 2002). Russert follows up by asking if it was possible “that the inspections in fact did work, that the enforcement of the no-fly zone did work, and that Saddam in fact no longer had a weapons of mass destruction capability?” Rumsfeld replies that it is possible Saddam Hussein “took his weapons, destroyed them, or moved them to some other country.” (US Department of Defense 11/2/2003)

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