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Context of 'March 12, 2002: Top Bush Officials Receive Two CIA Reports That Cite Aluminum Tubes as Evidence that Iraq Reconstituting Nuclear Program'

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Vice President Richard Cheney and other senior administration officials receive two CIA reports that cite the aluminum tubes sought by Iraq as evidence that “Iraq… may be trying to reconstitute its gas centrifuge program.” Neither report mentions the fact that leading centrifuge experts at the Energy Department strongly disagree with the CIA’s theory. [New York Times, 10/3/2004]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Central Intelligence Agency, US Department of Energy

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

The White House Iraq Group (WHIG—see August 2002) launches its Iraq marketing campaign with a blitz of the Sunday morning talk shows. Vice President Dick Cheney appears on NBC (see September 8, 2002 and September 8, 2002), Secretary of State Colin Powell on Fox (see September 8, 2002), Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on CBS (see September 8, 2002), and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice on CNN (see September 8, 2002). Rice is the first to use the characterization, “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud” (see September 4, 2002), but President Bush and his senior officials repeat the phrase over and over in the following days. Author Craig Unger will note “Cheney’s most Machiavellian flourish” in having all four officials cite “evidence” of Iraq’s nuclear program, suspicious aluminum tubes, and attribute the information to the New York Times. Cheney and the others are referring to a story by the Times’ Judith Miller and Michael Gordon (see September 8, 2002) that Iraq had tried “to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes” that American experts believe could be used in centrifuges to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons. The story is attributed to “unnamed administration sources;” Miller and Gordon do not inform their readers that the story comes from Cheney’s office. In essence, Cheney planted disinformation in the New York Times, then cited the Times article to prove his contention. Gordon will later insist that he and Miller had to pry that story out of the administration, but Unger will note that it is hard to equate Gordon’s contention with four of the administration’s highest officials going on television simultaneously to spread the story and cite the Times article. Furthermore, because of the scheduling practices on the four networks, it appears that the four officials’ simultaneous appearances were arranged in advance. As the Times is the flagship newspaper of the US press, over 500 other newspapers and broadcast outlets pick up on the Times story and the officials’ appearances, giving the story tremendous visibility throughout the world. [Unger, 2007, pp. 252-254]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, CNN, CBS News, Craig Unger, Judith Miller, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, NBC News, New York Times, Michael Gordon, White House Iraq Group, Fox News

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

President Bush receives a one-page, highly classified “President’s Summary” of the US intelligence community’s new National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002). The summary discusses the high-strength aluminum tubes that many administration and Pentagon officials believe are being used to help Iraq construct a nuclear weapon. Both the Energy Department (DOE) and the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) believe the tubes are “intended for conventional weapons,” contradicting the view of other intelligence agencies, including the CIA and DIA. The public will not be told of Bush’s personal knowledge of the DOE and INR dissents until March 2006. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and other senior officials will try to explain the administration’s stance on Iraq’s nuclear program by asserting that neither Bush, Vice President Cheney, nor Rice ever saw the dissents. For months, Bush, Cheney, Rice, Secretary of State Colin Powell (see February 5, 2003), and others will cite the tubes as indisputable proof of an Iraqi nuclear program. US inspectors will discover, after the fall of the Iraqi regime, that the nuclear program had been dormant for over ten years, and the aluminum tubes used only for artillery shells.
Inquiry - The Bush administration will refuse to release the summary to Congressional investigators who wish to know the basis for the Bush administration’s assertions about Iraq’s nuclear weapons program. A senior official calls it the “one document which illustrates what the president knew and when he knew it.” It is likely that Bush never read the dissents in the report itself, as administration officials will confirm they do not believe Bush would have read the entire NIE, and it is likely that he never made it to the dissents, in a special text box positioned well away from the main text of the report. However, the one-page summary was written specifically for Bush, was handed to Bush by then-CIA director George Tenet, Bush read the summary in Tenet’s presence, and the two discussed the subject at length. Cheney was given virtually the same information as Bush concerning every aspect of the intelligence community’s findings on Iraq. Nevertheless, Bush and other officials (see July 11, 2003) will claim for months that they were unaware of the dissents. [National Journal, 3/2/2006]

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, Central Intelligence Agency, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Colin Powell, Defense Intelligence Agency, George W. Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of Energy, US Department of Defense, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Vice President Cheney, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, and dozens of senior White House officials receive a highly classified intelligence assessment, a Senior Executive Memorandum titled “Questions on Why Iraq Is Procuring Aluminum Tubes and What the IAEA Has Found to Date,” on the issue of the disputed use of the Iraqi aluminum tubes. The report concludes that the CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and National Security Agency all believe that the aluminum tubes were most likely intended for centrifuges. The memo says that only the intelligence units at the Departments of Energy and State, along with the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), disagree with that assessment and believe the tubes were purchased to be used in Iraq’s conventional rocket program, and includes discussion of the dissenting opinions. [The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction (aka 'Robb-Silberman Commission'), 3/31/2005; National Journal, 3/2/2006]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, US Department of Energy, Condoleezza Rice, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, International Atomic Energy Agency, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Defense Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

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