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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….” [Independent, 11/3/2003; New York Times, 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; Washington Post, 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; Washington Post, 7/19/2003; Knight Ridder, 2/10/2004; Knight Ridder, 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; Washington Post, 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; New York Times, 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. [Washington Post, 7/19/2003; USA Today, 7/31/2003; Washington Post, 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.” [Washington Post, 7/19/2003; USA Today, 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.” [Associated Press, 8/24/2003; Washington Post, 9/26/2003; Knight Ridder, 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?” [Associated Press, 8/24/2003; Washington Post, 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. [Washington Post, 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. [Associated Press, 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. [Washington Post, 7/19/2003; New York Times, 7/19/2003; Washington Post, 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.’” [Washington Post, 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.” [PBS Frontline, 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]

Entity Tags: Bob Boyd, Condoleezza Rice, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Paul R. Pillar, US Congress, Jeffrey Bedell, Stuart Cohen, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

After the publication of a news analysis that quotes former ambassador Joseph Wilson as saying the White House knew the Iraq-Niger claims were “flat-out lie[s],” Lewis Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, and Eric Edelman, a national security adviser to Cheney, discuss the article over the telephone. Edelman asks if the details of Wilson’s trip to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) can be disclosed to the public, but Libby says that “complications at the CIA” prevent that from happening. Edelman says he knows the subject should not be discussed in detail over an unsecured line. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/28/2005 pdf file; CounterPunch, 11/9/2005; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 5/5/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Eric Edelman, Joseph C. Wilson, Bush administration (43), Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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. [Washington Post, 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.” [Washington Post, 4/9/2006]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Joseph C. Wilson, Bob Woodward

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

New York Times reporter David Sanger interviews Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, about Secretary of State Colin Powell’s UN presentation in February (see February 5, 2003). As he and Cheney have planned (see August 2002, June 27, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 14 or 15, 2003, and July 18, 2003), Libby discloses classified information from the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate to Sanger (see October 1, 2002). [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 3/5/2004 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 2/2007 pdf file; Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007]

Entity Tags: David Sanger, Colin Powell, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Vice President Dick Cheney either authorizes or gives the green light to his chief of staff Lewis Libby to leak classified information to New York Times reporter Judith Miller (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003). Libby understands that the authorization for the leak comes directly from President Bush (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004). [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 5/5/2006 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 2/2007 pdf file; Marcy Wheeler, 2/18/2007]

Entity Tags: Judith Miller, George W. Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

The same day that Vice President Dick Cheney tells his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, to disclose classified information from a CIA report to discredit war critic Joseph Wilson (see July 12, 2003), Libby and Cheney, along with Cheney’s press spokesperson Cathie Martin, fly to and from Norfolk, Virginia. During the flight, the three discuss how they can rebut Wilson’s criticisms of the administration’s war effort and discredit him. They consider passing information to reporters such as Time correspondent Matthew Cooper (see 12:45 p.m. July 11, 2003) and the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler (see July 12, 2003). [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/28/2005 pdf file; Washington Post, 10/30/2005; National Journal, 6/14/2006] Cheney tells Libby to leak classified information from the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraqi WMD to reporters (see July 12, 2003). Cheney also tells him to steer reporters towards a recent statement by CIA Director George Tenet that asserts Wilson had been sent to Niger by CIA counterproliferation officers “on their own initiative” (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). [Raw Story, 10/1/2005; New York Times, 10/1/2005; National Journal, 6/14/2006] He also tells Libby to alert reporters to the morning’s attack on Wilson by White House press secretary Ari Fleischer (see 3:20 a.m. July 12, 2003). [Washington Post, 10/30/2005] And Cheney tells Libby to ask the CIA to back his assertion that the Office of the Vice President knew nothing of the Wilson mission and “didn’t get the report back,” referring to the CIA’s report on Wilson’s debriefing (see March 5, 2002). [Murray Waas, 12/23/2008] According to the FBI’s investigation, Cheney and Libby discuss whether to tell reporters that Wilson’s wife works for the CIA. [Washington Post, 2/21/2007] Libby will “out” Plame Wilson to Cooper later this afternoon (see 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003) as well as to New York Times reporter Judith Miller (see Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). Cheney may have given Libby direct orders to leak Plame Wilson’s identity to the press, according to classified transcripts of Libby’s later testimony to FBI investigators. According to Libby’s notes of the conversation, Cheney says that the CIA has told him that Wilson was sent to Niger “at our behest,” referring to the agency (see Shortly after February 13, 2002). Libby’s notes also state that Cheney told him Wilson’s “wife works in that division.” Plame Wilson is a senior official for the CIA’s Joint Task Force on Iraq (see April 2001 and After), a bureau within the agency’s counterproliferation division. [Murray Waas, 12/23/2008]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, George J. Tenet, Joseph C. Wilson, Ari Fleischer, Judith Miller, Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Matthew Cooper, Glenn Kessler, Office of the Vice President, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Vice President Dick Cheney and his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, discuss leaking portions of the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (see October 1, 2002) to the Wall Street Journal. Either Cheney and Libby together, or Libby alone, convinces Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz to make the leak. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 5/12/2006 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 2/2007 pdf file] The Journal will write an article based on the leaked information two or three days later (see July 17, 2003).

Entity Tags: Paul Wolfowitz, Wall Street Journal, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

The Bush administration releases a heavily redacted version of the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE—see October 1, 2002). Most of the report is whited out, and most of what remains is selected from the key judgments section; those remnants tend to support the Bush administration’s position that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and therefore posed a threat to the Middle East and perhaps to the US. The redacted version is released days after Vice President Dick Cheney authorized his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, to leak selected portions of the NIE to reporters (see 7:35 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 10, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 12, 2003, and July 12, 2003). [National Foreign Intelligence Board, 10/2002 pdf file; National Foreign Intelligence Board, 7/18/2003; National Security Archive, 7/9/2004]
Overall Findings - According to the redacted release, the NIE found “that Iraq has continued its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs in defiance of UN resolutions and restrictions. Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons as well as missiles with ranges in excess of UN restrictions; if left unchecked, it probably will have a nuclear weapon during this decade.… We judge that we are seeing only a portion of Iraq’s WMD efforts, owing to Baghdad’s vigorous denial and deception efforts. Revelations after the Gulf War starkly demonstrate the extensive efforts undertaken by Iraq to deny information. We lack specific information on many key aspects of Iraq’s WMD programs. Since inspections ended in 1998, Iraq has maintained its chemical weapons effort, energized its missile program, and invested more heavily in biological weapons; in the view of most agencies, Baghdad is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program.”
Financing through Oil Sales - The NIE maintained that Iraq used illicit oil sales “to finance WMD programs,” that it “has largely rebuilt missile and biological weapons facilities damaged during Operation Desert Fox, and has expanded its chemical and biological infrastructure under the cover of civilian production.”
Seeking Weapons-Grade Uranium for Nuclear Weapons Program - As for nuclear weapons, “[a]lthough we assess that Saddam [Hussein] does not yet have nuclear weapons or sufficient material to make any, he remains intent on acquiring them.… How quickly Iraq will obtain its first nuclear weapon depends on when it acquires sufficient weapons-grade fissile material. If Baghdad acquires sufficient fissile material from abroad it could make a nuclear weapon within several months to a year. Without such material from abroad, Iraq probably would not be able to make a weapon until 2007 to 2009, owing to inexperience in building and operating centrifuge facilities to produce highly enriched uranium and challenges in procuring the necessary equipment and expertise.” The NIE judgments cited the long-discredited claims that Iraq purchased aluminum tubes as part of its nuclear weapons program (see Late September 2002 and March 7, 2003). In toto, the NIE claimed the existence of “compelling evidence that Saddam is reconstituting a uranium enrichment effort for Baghdad’s nuclear weapons program.”
Large, Covert Chemical Weapons Program - It found that Iraq produced between 100 and 500 metric tons “of mustard, sarin, GF (cyclosarin), and VX,” all deadly chemical agents, and had succeeded in hiding much of its production facilities “within Iraq’s legitimate chemical industry.” And Iraq was capable of filling “a limited number of covertly stored Scud” missiles, “possibly a few with extended ranges,” with chemical weapons.
Significant Biological Weapons Program - The redacted report claimed, “We judge that all key aspects—R&D, production, and weaponization—of Iraq’s offensive BW [biological weapons] program are active and that most elements are larger and more advanced than they were before the Gulf War.” Iraq had “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. Chances are even that smallpox is part of Iraq’s offensive BW program. Baghdad probably has developed genetically engineered BW agents. Baghdad has established a large-scale, redundant, and concealed BW agent production capability. Baghdad has mobile facilities for producing bacterial and toxin BW agents; these facilities can evade detection and are highly survivable.”
Delivery Systems - According to the judgments, Iraq possessed several dozen “Scud-variant” short-range ballistic missiles, and is developing other methods of delivering chemical and biological payloads, including unmanned aerial vehicles “probably intended to deliver biological warfare agent.” It claimed, “Baghdad’s UAVs could threaten Iraq’s neighbors, US forces in the Persian Gulf, and if brought close to, or into, the United States, the US homeland.” Iraq had attempted to procure commercially available software, including a topographic database, that would allow it to target specific areas within the US, the report said.
Not Conducting Terrorist Attacks - The report found that Iraq was not conducting “terrorist attacks with conventional or” chemical or biological weapons against the US for fear it would trigger American reprisals. However, the report claimed that Iraq “probably would attempt clandestine attacks against the US homeland if Baghdad feared an attack that threatened the survival of the regime were imminent or unavoidable, or possibly for revenge. Such attacks—more likely with biological than chemical agents—probably would be carried out by Special Forces or intelligence operatives.” More likely were covert attacks by Iraqi intelligence agents against “US and allied interests in the Middle East in the event the United States takes action against Iraq. The US probably would be the primary means by which Iraq would attempt to conduct any CBW attacks on the US homeland, although we have no specific intelligence information that Saddam’s regime has directed attacks against US territory.” In such a case, Iraq might have allied itself with al-Qaeda to conduct more widespread attacks against American targets within the US itself and/or overseas.
Dissent in a Box - In a small boxed area at the bottom of the redacted report is a summary of some of the dissents filed by the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR). Called “State/INR Alternative View of Iraq’s Nuclear Program,” the dissents actually reiterate much of the conclusions in the main body of the report, but with the INR backing away from claiming Iraq’s “integrated and comprehensive approach to acquire nuclear weapons.” Neither is the INR sure of the findings about the aluminum tubes. [National Foreign Intelligence Board, 10/2002 pdf file; National Foreign Intelligence Board, 7/18/2003]
White House Briefing - An unnamed “senior administration official” briefs the Washington press corps on the redacted NIE release, walking the reporters through the contents of the report and reiterating Bush administration claims of the imminent danger posed by the Hussein regime, the Iraqi efforts to dodge UN oversight, and the support for the entire NIE throughout the US intelligence community. The official then quotes extensively from the October 2002 speech by President Bush in Cincinnati, where he made a number of specious and belligerent assertions about Iraq (see October 7, 2002). At the end of the briefing, the official concludes that everything Bush has told the public has been sourced from many different intelligence analyses and findings, and every claim Bush and his officials has made has been based in fact. The official blames “changes in style and tone” for the confusion and groundless claims made by Bush and other officials in earlier settings, particularly Bush’s January 2003 State of the Union address (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). “And as we’ve said all along, that information that we know today is different from information we knew then,” he says.
Questions - The official takes questions from the assembled reporters. The first question of substance concerns the CIA’s warnings to remove the Iraq-Niger claims from the Cincinnati speech (see October 5, 2002 and October 6, 2002) before they were included in the State of the Union address. The official explains that the speechwriters merely chose to be less specific in the Cincinnati speech than in the State of the Union address, because at that time the CIA only had “a single source” on which to base the Iraq-Niger assertion. The official denies that the claim was ever “flawed” or erroneous (see July 8, 2003), merely that it lacked adequate sourcing. He also denies that anyone in the White House knew that the Niger documents “proving” the uranium claim were forged until after the address (see March 8, 2003). The official repeatedly notes that the dubious and fallacious claims were “signed off” by the CIA, and by implication the fault of the CIA and not the White House. The official, responding to a question about the fact-finding trip to Niger by Joseph Wilson (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) and his later repudiation of the Iraq-Niger uranium claims (see July 6, 2003), reiterates that no one at the White House knew of Wilson’s findings (see March 5, 2002 and March 8, 2002), and the report actually bolstered the intelligence community’s suspicions that Iraq was attempting to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger. [White House, 7/18/2003]

Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Bush administration (43), Joseph C. Wilson, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

March 24, 2004: Libby Lies to Grand Jury Again

Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the former chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, testifies under oath a second time (see March 5, 2004) before the grand jury investigating the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity (see December 30, 2003 and January 2004). According to his later indictment (see October 28, 2005), Libby commits perjury during his testimony. [United States District Court for the District of Columbia, 3/24/2004 pdf file; MSNBC, 2/21/2007; Washington Post, 7/3/2007] There is a certain amount of overlap in the subjects discussed in the two interviews.
Claims to Have Learned Identity from Reporter - Libby tells the jury that he learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from NBC reporter Tim Russert (see July 10 or 11, 2003). According to prosecutors’ later filings, Libby says: “Russert asked Libby if Libby was aware that Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA. Libby responded to Russert that he did not know that, and Russert replied that all the reporters knew it.” Russert will deny that he ever said anything of the kind to Libby (see February 7-8, 2007). [United States District Court for the District of Columbia, 3/24/2004 pdf file; Vanity Fair, 4/2006] Libby testifies about a conversation he had with Cheney in the fall of 2003, when he complained that the White House was not making public statements exonerating him of responsibility for the leak (see Late September or Early October, 2003). Asked by prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald if he had told Cheney about speaking to reporters regarding Plame Wilson, Libby responds: “I think I did. Let me bring you back to that period. I think I did in that there was a conversation I had with the vice president when all this started coming out and it was this issue as to, you now, who spoke to [columnist Robert] Novak (see July 14, 2003). I told the vice—you know, there was—the president said anybody who knows anything should come forward or something like that.… I went to the vice president and said, you know, ‘I was not the person who talked to Novak.’ And he [said] something like, ‘I know that.’ And I said, you know, ‘I learned this from Tim Russert.’ And he sort of tilted his head to the side a little bit and then I may have in that conversation said, ‘I talked to other—I talked to people about it on the weekend.’” Libby is most likely referring to his conversations with reporters Matthew Cooper (see 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003) and Judith Miller (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003 and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). Fitzgerald asks of the conversation with Cheney, “What did you understand from his gesture or reaction in tilting his head?” Libby replies: “That the Tim Russert part caught his attention. You know, that he—he reacted as if he didn’t know about the Tim Russert thing or he was rehearing it, or reconsidering it, or something like that.… New, new sort of information. Not something he had been thinking about.” Fitzgerald asks: “And did he at any time tell you, ‘Well, you didn’t learn it from Tim Russert, you learned it from me? Back in June you and I talked about the wife working at the CIA?’” Libby responds, “No.” Cheney confirmed Plame Wilson’s CIA status to Libby in June 2003 (see (June 12, 2003)). Fitzgerald asks, “Did he indicate any concern that you had done anything wrong by telling reporters what you had learned?” and Libby again responds, “No.” Libby tells Fitzgerald that he isn’t sure if he mentioned the Cooper and Miller leaks to Cheney. “I did tell him, of course, that we had spoken to the people who he had told us to speak to on the weekend. I think at some point I told him that.” [United States District Court for the District of Columbia, 3/24/2004 pdf file; National Journal, 2/19/2007]
Fails to Disclose Leak to Reporter - In neither appearance before the grand jury does Libby disclose that he discussed Plame Wilson’s identity with New York Times reporter Judith Miller (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). Instead, he testifies that he told Miller that he knew Plame Wilson had had some involvement in sending her husband to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), but did not reveal her as a CIA agent because he was not aware of her CIA status. Libby is lying (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003 and August 6, 2005). Libby also failed to disclose the conversations he had with Miller when he was twice interviewed by FBI agents working on the leak, in October and November 2003. Fitzgerald will not learn of Libby’s failure to disclose the conversations until late 2005, after Miller’s testimony before the court (see October 7, 2005). [United States District Court for the District of Columbia, 3/24/2004 pdf file; National Journal, 10/11/2005; National Journal, 10/18/2005]
Libby 'Authorized' to Disclose Classified Information by Bush, Cheney - Libby also tells the grand jury that he had been “authorized” by President Bush, Cheney, and other White House “superiors” in the summer of 2003 to disclose classified information to journalists to defend the Bush administration’s use of prewar intelligence in making the case to go to war with Iraq. According to Libby’s testimony, Cheney authorized him to release classified information, including details of the October 2, 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE—see October 1, 2002), to defend the administration’s use of prewar intelligence in making the case for war; Libby tells the jury that he had received “approval from the president through the vice president” to divulge material from the NIE. He testifies that one portion of the NIE he was authorized to divulge concerned Iraq’s purported efforts to develop nuclear weapons. Libby says that authorization from the president and vice president was “unique in his recollection.” According to court papers filed in regards to his indictment, Libby tells the jury “that he was specifically authorized in advance… to disclose the key judgments of the classified NIE to Miller” because Cheney believed it to be “very important” to do so. Libby adds “that he at first advised the vice president that he could not have this conversation with reporter Miller because of the classified nature of the NIE.” It was then, he says, that Cheney advised him that Bush authorized the disclosure. Cheney told Libby that he, and not Cheney’s press spokeswoman Cathie Martin, should leak the classified information to the press. At the time of the disclosure, Libby says, he knew that only himself, Bush, and Cheney knew that portions of the NIE had been declassified; other senior Cabinet-level officials were not informed of the decision. Libby adds that an administration lawyer, David Addington, told him that Bush, by authorizing the disclosure of classified information, had in effect declassified that information. Many legal experts will disagree with that assessment. Libby considers Addington an expert on national security law. [United States District Court for the District of Columbia, 3/24/2004 pdf file; National Journal, 2/6/2006; National Journal, 4/6/2006]
Libby's Testimony Met with Disbelief - The prosecutors interrogating Libby are incredulous and disbelieving of many of Libby’s claims. They do not believe his contention that he and Cheney never discussed Plame Wilson between July 6 and July 14—the dates of Wilson’s op-ed (see July 6, 2003) and Novak’s outing of Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003), respectively. (Libby did indeed discuss Plame Wilson with Cheney and other White House officials during that time period—see July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, July 7-8, 2003, 12:00 p.m. July 7, 2003, July 8, 2003, and July 10 or 11, 2003). They do not believe Libby’s claim that he had “forgotten” about knowing Plame Wilson was a CIA official as early as June 2003 (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003, 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003, and (June 12, 2003)). And they do not believe Libby’s claim that he had merely passed to Cheney a rumor he had heard from reporter Tim Russert about Plame Wilson’s CIA status (see July 10 or 11, 2003). [United States District Court for the District of Columbia, 3/24/2004 pdf file; National Journal, 1/12/2007]
Drastic Change in Behavior - Steven Aftergood, a senior analyst with the Federation of American Scientists and an expert on government secrecy and classification issues, says that in disclosing the classified information, Libby “presents himself in this instance and others as being very scrupulous in adhering to the rules. He is not someone carried on by the rush of events. If you take his account before the grand jury on face value, he is cautious and deliberative in his behavior. That is almost the exact opposite as to how he behaves when it comes to disclosing Plame [Wilson]‘s identity. All of a sudden he doesn’t play within the rules. He doesn’t seek authorization. If you believe his account, he almost acts capriciously. You have to ask yourself why his behavior changes so dramatically, if he is telling the truth that this was not authorized and that he did not talk to higher-ups.” [National Journal, 6/14/2006]

Entity Tags: Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, David S. Addington, George W. Bush, Valerie Plame Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Steven Aftergood, Matthew Cooper, Tim Russert, Judith Miller, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Patrick J. Fitzgerald

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Prosecutors tell a federal court that former White House official Lewis Libby may have disclosed information from a highly classified government report, the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002), to reporters (see June 19 or 20, 2003, June 27, 2003, July 2, 2003, 7:35 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, July 14 or 15, 2003) before the report was declassified by President Bush (see July 18, 2003). Libby’s lawyers have asked that the federal prosecutors, led by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, be barred from arguing at trial that Libby acted improperly or illegally by disclosing such information. Libby has claimed that he disclosed the information at the direction of his then-supervisor, Vice President Dick Cheney. According to Libby, Cheney told him that he had received permission to disclose the information from Bush (see March 24, 2004). Fitzgerald wishes to have the ability to question Libby’s assertions that all of his disclosures were authorized. [New York Sun, 11/17/2006]

Entity Tags: Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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