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Context of 'September 9-19, 2002: Scientists Who Disagree with Iraq Aluminum Tube Allegations Are Largely Ignored by Mainsteam US Media'

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Iraq begins developing “Zippe-type” centrifuges (see 1950s). The centrifuges use rotors made from maraging steel and carbon fiber, which are more advanced than aluminum and allow the rotor to spin at significantly higher speeds. But Iraq has problems building centrifuges—even with considerable assistance from German experts. [Albright, 10/9/2003]

Entity Tags: Iraq

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Following leads from the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) (see 2000), a team of CIA agents and Jordanian secret police confiscate a shipment of 3,000 7075-T6 aluminum tubes in Jordan. The tubes were purchased by a Jordanian front company, AT&C, on behalf of Iraq. [Washington Post, 8/10/2003; Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 10/27/2003] It is later learned that Iraq’s supply of rocket body casing tubes is depleted at about this time (see January 9, 2003) and that “[t]housands of warheads, motors and fins [are]… crated at the assembly lines [in Iraq], awaiting the arrival of tubes.” [Washington Post, 8/10/2003 Sources: Unnamed US intelligence, US administration, and/or UN inspectors]

Entity Tags: Jordan, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

CIA agent Joe Turner flies to Vienna and meets with IAEA scientists, arguing that the aluminum tubes ordered by Iraq had been intended for use in nuclear centrifuges. [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 10/27/2003; New York Times, 10/3/2004] But experts at the agency disagree with his conclusions and explain to him why they believe his analysis is wrong. “They pointed out errors in his calculations. They noted design discrepancies,” an unnamed senior US official will later tell the New York Times. [New York Times, 10/3/2004] David Albright, a physicist and former weapons inspector, who now heads the Institute for Science and International Security, similarly explains to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation: “The view in Vienna in the summer of 2001 was ‘Maybe this guy has a clever idea, but he really is just grabbing at almost straws to prove his case, and when he’s debunked in one model, he then shifts it and tries to make his information fit another centrifuge model.’ And yet whenever you confronted him with the facts or the weaknesses in argument, he always came back with the same answer—‘It’s only for centrifuges.’” When Turner returns to Washington, he tells his superiors at the CIA that the IAEA agrees with his theory. [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 10/27/2003] But scientists at the IAEA send a summary of their views on the tubes to the US government on July 27, saying that although the tubes could possibly be used in a gas centrifuge application, they were not directly suited for that purpose. [United Kingdom, 7/14/2004 pdf file; New York Times, 10/3/2004]

Entity Tags: Joe Turner, David Albright, Central Intelligence Agency, International Atomic Energy Agency

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

After CIA analyst Joe Turner’s presentation to UN atomic energy scientists (see Late July 2001), one of the scientists calls David Albright, a nuclear physicist who runs the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, and warns him that the “people across the river [i.e., the CIA] are trying to start a war. They are really beating the drum. They want to attack.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 37]

Entity Tags: David Albright, Institute for Science and International Security, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

A team of centrifuge physicists at the US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory and other similar institutions publish a detailed Technical Intelligence Note concerning the aluminum tubes that Iraq recently attempted to import from China (see July 2001). [Washington Post, 8/10/2003; Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 10/27/2003; New York Times, 10/3/2004] The team includes Dr. Jon A. Kreykes, head of Oak Ridge’s national security advanced technology group; Dr. Duane F. Starr, an expert on nuclear proliferation threats; and Dr. Edward Von Halle, a retired Oak Ridge nuclear expert. They are advised by Dr. Houston G. Wood III, a retired Oak Ridge physicist considered to be “among the most eminent living experts” on centrifuges, and Dr. Gernot Zippe, one of the German scientists who developed an early uranium centrifuge in the 1950s (see 1950s). The 8-page report, titled “Iraq’s Gas Centrifuge Program: Is Reconstitution Underway?” provides a detailed explanation of why the team believes the 7075-T6 aluminum tubes sought by Iraq were not intended for use in a gas centrifuge. [US Congress, 7/7/2004; New York Times, 10/3/2004]
bullet The tubes sought by Iraq are very different from tubes Iraq used previously in its centrifuge prototypes before the first Gulf War. The intercepted aluminum tubes are significantly longer and narrower. [Washington Post, 8/10/2003; New York Times, 10/3/2004]
bullet Aluminum has not been used in gas centrifuges since the 1950s (see After the 1950s). Furthermore, Iraq is known to have had the blueprints for a more efficient centrifuge, which used maraging steel and carbon fiber, not aluminum (see (Late 1980s)). [Washington Post, 8/10/2003] Aluminum “provides performance roughly half that of” maraging steel and carbon fiber composites. Constructing rotors from 7075-T6 aluminum would require the Iraqis to make twice as many rotors, as well as twice as many other centrifuge components, such as end caps, bearings, and outer casings. [US Congress, 7/7/2004] “Aluminum would represent a huge step backwards,” according to Wood. [New York Times, 10/3/2004]
bullet There are no known centrifuge machines “deployed in a production environment” that use tubes with such a small diameter. [New York Times, 10/3/2004] Using tubes of this diameter, would have created “various design and operational problems that veteran engineers of Iraq’s prior program should readily understand.” [US Congress, 7/7/2004]
bullet The report says that the “various tolerances specified in contract documents… are looser than the expected precision call-outs for an aluminum rotor tube by factors of two to five.” [US Congress, 7/7/2004]
bullet The tubes’ walls, measuring 3.3 millimeters, are three times too thick for “favorable use” in a “Zippe-type” centrifuge, which requires tubes with a thickness of no more than 1.1 millimeter. [Washington Post, 8/10/2003; New York Times, 10/3/2004]
bullet The tubes are anodized, which is “not consistent” with a uranium centrifuge because the anodized coating can react with uranium gas. [US Congress, 7/7/2004; New York Times, 10/3/2004] Houston G. Wood later tells the Washington Post in mid-2003 that “it would have been extremely difficult to make these tubes into centrifuges,” adding that such a theory stretched “the imagination to come up with a way.” [Washington Post, 8/10/2003] The scientists conclude that using the tubes in centrifuges “is credible but unlikely, and a rocket production is the much more likely end use for these tubes.” [New York Times, 10/3/2004] They also note that the Iraqis previously declared to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that since at least 1989, Iraq’s Nasser State Establishment had used large numbers of high strength aluminum tubes to manufacture 81-mm rockets. “The tubes were declared to be made of 7075-T6 aluminum with an 81 mm outer diameter, 74.4 mm inner diameter, and 900 mm length—the same specifications of the tubes Iraq was trying to acquire in 2001,” a later Senate Intelligence report will say summarizing the nuclear scientists’ report. The scientists also say that IAEA inspectors had seen these tubes stored in various locations at the Nasser site. [US Congress, 7/7/2004]

Entity Tags: Edward Von Halle, Duane F. Starr, Jon A. Kreykes, Gernot Zippe, Houston G. Wood III, Joe Turner, George J. Tenet

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Energy Department analysts publish a classified report disputing the theory that the 7075-T6 aluminum tubes sought by Iraq were intended to be used as rotors in a “Zippe-type” gas centrifuge. The report emphasizes that Zippe centrifuges are not suited for the production of nuclear bombs but rather had been designed for use in laboratory experiment. The Energy Department’s experts also say that Iraq would need up to 16,000 of such centrifuges working in concert to produce enough enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb, which they note would be a challenge for even the most advanced centrifuge plants. [New York Times, 10/3/2004]

Entity Tags: US Department of Energy

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

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]

Entity Tags: Michael Gerson, White House Iraq Group

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

Jonathan Landay, a reporter for Knight Ridder Newspapers, watches Vice President Cheney’s speech on August 26, 2002, in which Cheney argues that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction and must be confronted soon (see August 26, 2002). Landay is particularly interested in Cheney’s comment, “Many of us are convinced that Saddam Hussein will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon.” Landay will later recall, “I looked at that and I said, ‘What is he talking about?’ Because, to develop a nuclear weapon you need specific infrastructure and in particular the way the Iraqi’s were trying to produce a nuclear weapon was through enrichment of uranium. Now, you need tens of thousands of machines called centrifuges to produce highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon. You’ve gotta house those in a fairly big place, and you’ve gotta provide a huge amount of power to this facility. Could [Saddam Hussein] really have done it with all of these eyes on his country?… So, when Cheney said that, I got on the phone to people, and one person said to me - somebody who watched proliferation as their job - said, ‘The Vice President is lying.’” [PBS, 4/25/2007] Around the same time, John Walcott, chief of Knight Ridder’s Washington bureau, begins hearing from other sources in the military, intelligence community, and foreign service who question the Bush administration’s claims. Most of them are career officials, not political appointees. Walcott will later comment, “These people were better informed about the details of the intelligence than the people higher up in the food chain, and they were deeply troubled by what they regarded as the administration’s deliberate misrepresentation of intelligence, ranging from overstating the case to outright fabrication.” Walcott assigns Landay and Landay’s frequent reporting partner Warren Strobel to talk with these sources. [New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004] On September 6, a story by Landay is published, entitled, “Lack of Hard Evidence of Iraqi Weapons Worries Top US Officials.” It quotes anonymous senior US officials who say that “they have detected no alarming increase in the threat that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein poses to American security and Middle East stability.” While it is well known that Iraq is “aggressively trying to rebuild” its weapons programs, “there is no new intelligence that indicates the Iraqis have made significant advances” in doing so. [Knight Ridder, 9/6/2002] But while Knight Ridder publishes 32 newspapers in the US, it has no outlets in New York or Washington, and so it has little impact on the power elite. Additionally, its story is drowned out by a false claim in the New York Times two days later that Iraq is trying to use aluminum tubes to build a nuclear weapon (see September 8, 2002). [PBS, 4/25/2007]

Entity Tags: John Walcott, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Jonathan Landay, Warren Strobel, Knight Ridder Newspapers

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

Judith Miller.Judith Miller. [Source: Washington Post]Judith Miller and Michael Gordon of the New York Times report in a front page story that Iraq is trying to obtain materials to build a nuclear weapon. Citing unnamed senior administration officials, they break the story of the aluminum tubes that were confiscated in Jordan in July 2001 (see July 2001) and write that both “American intelligence experts” and top officials believe the tubes were meant to be used as centrifuge rotors in a nuclear enrichment program. “In the last 14 months, Iraq has sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes, which American officials believe were intended as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium,” reports the newspaper. “The diameter, thickness and other technical specifications of the aluminum tubes had persuaded American intelligence experts that they were meant for Iraq’s nuclear program….” Officials cited in the article warn that the US must not wait for more evidence before taking action to disarm Iraq because the first sign of a “smoking gun” may be a mushroom cloud. [New York Times, 9/8/2002] (The “smoking gun/mushroom cloud” analogy was conceived by presidential speech writer Michael Gerson a few days earlier; see September 4, 2002 for details.) What Gordon and Miller’s sources did not tell them, and what they neglected to find out on their own, was that the country’s top nuclear experts do not believe the tubes are suitable for rotors (see, e.g., July 2001-March 2003, August 17, 2001, and Late 2001). For example, Houston G. Wood III, a retired Oak Ridge physicist, filed a report with the US government more than a year before (see August 17, 2001) concluding that the tubes were not meant for centrifuges. When he reads the New York Times story, he is shocked. In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation more than a year later, he will recount his initial reaction: “My first thought was, ‘This must be some new tubes,’ you know. And then… and then when I realized that these were the tubes that I had been looking at a year before, I was just… I was… I was just shocked. I couldn’t believe that, you know, here we were, saying that these tubes were, you know, the same tubes that I’d come to the conclusion a year before were not valid for centrifuges, and here they’re saying they are. So, er… that was a real surprise.” [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 10/27/2003] In subsequent stories about the tubes, the Times will note that there is a debate, however these reports will appear in the back pages of the newspaper (see, e.g., September 13, 2002). [New York Times, 5/26/2004]

Entity Tags: Michael Gordon, Judith Miller, Houston G. Wood III

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

David Albright, a physicist who helped investigate Iraq’s nuclear weapons program following the 1991 Persian Gulf War as a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s inspection team, is disturbed to read Judith Miller’s story in the New York Times claiming that Iraq is trying to purchase aluminum tubes as part of an attempt to build centrifuges for a nuclear weapon (see September 8, 2002). After the aluminum tubes had been intercepted in the summer of 2001, Albright had been asked by an official to find out some information about them (see Late July 2001), and he had discovered that many experts doubted they were suitable for use in centrifuges. He had frequently worked with Miller in the past, and he contacts her and alerts her about the doubts of many officials, particularly those in the Department of Energy, regarding the Bush administration’s claims about the tubes.
Follow-up Article - Miller and Michael Gordon do write a follow-up article in the Times on September 13, 2002. But while the article does eventually note that “there have been debates among intelligence experts about Iraq’s intentions in trying to buy such tubes,” it states that “other, more senior, officials insisted last night that this was a minority view among intelligence experts and that the CIA had wide support, particularly among the government’s top technical experts and nuclear scientists. ‘This is a footnote, not a split,’ a senior administration official said.”
Insufficient - Albright is upset. He will later claim that he asked Miller “to alert people that there’s a debate, that there are competent people who disagreed with what the CIA was saying. I thought for sure she’d quote me or some people in the government who didn’t agree. It just wasn’t there.” He adds that the Times “made a decision to ice out the critics and insult them on top of it.” Albright goes to Joby Warrick of the Washington Post instead in hopes the Post will publish a better story. Warrick’s story comes out on September 19 and reveals the debate within the government about the tubes. It also notes reports that the Bush administration “is trying to quiet dissent among its own analysts over how to interpret the evidence.” But the story appears on page A18 and gets little notice compared to Miller’s front-page stories. [New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004] Still frustrated, Albright publishes his own report several days later challenging the aluminum tubes story (see September 23, 2002).

Entity Tags: Judith Miller, David Albright, Joby Warrick, Michael Gordon

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

The New York Times publishes a second article reporting that the Bush administration believes a shipment of aluminum tubes destined for Iraq, intercepted in Jordan by US authorities in July (see July 2001), was intended for use in a gas centrifuge. Unlike the Times’ previous report, this article, appearing on page A13, mentions that there is a debate over the tubes between the Energy Department and CIA. It says that according to an unnamed official “[T]here have been debates among intelligence experts about Iraq’s intentions in trying to buy such tubes.” The article says that the official claims “the dominant view in the administration was that the tubes were intended for use in gas centrifuges to enrich uranium.” Another official interviewed by the newspaper claims that Energy’s alternative view “is a footnote, not a split.” One administration official is even quoted by the paper falsely asserting “that the best technical experts and nuclear scientists at laboratories like Oak Ridge supported the CIA assessment.” [New York Times, 9/13/2002; New York Times, 10/3/2004] After the article is published, the Energy Department releases a directive forbidding employees from discussing the issue with reporters. [New York Times, 10/3/2004]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), US Department of Energy, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Eleven days after the New York Times published a front-page article detailing Iraq’s supposed attempt to procure components for creating nuclear weapons (see August 2002 and September 8, 2002), the Washington Post’s Joby Warrick has a story published, “Evidence on Iraq Challenged; Experts Question if Tubes Were Meant for Weapons Program,” that disputes the Times’ article and questions whether the components—aluminum tubes—are indeed intended for nuclear use. Warrick cites “a report by independent experts” from the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) questioning the conclusion that the tubes must be for use in constructing nuclear weapons (see September 23, 2002). The ISIS report also notes that the Bush administration is trying to rein in dissent among its own analysts about how to interpret the evidence provided by the aluminum tubes. “By themselves, these attempted procurements are not evidence that Iraq is in possession of, or close to possessing, nuclear weapons,” the report says. “They do not provide evidence that Iraq has an operating centrifuge plant or when such a plant could be operational.” In recent days, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice has told television viewers that the tubes “are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs” (see September 8, 2002). But Warrick’s story is buried on page 18 of the Post and widely ignored. Author Craig Unger will later write: “No one paid attention. Once the conventional wisdom had been forged, mere facts did not suffice to change things.” [Washington Post, 9/19/2002; Unger, 2007, pp. 254]

Entity Tags: Institute for Science and International Security, Condoleezza Rice, Craig Unger, New York Times, Joby Warrick, Washington Post

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

David Albright, a physicist who helped investigate Iraq’s nuclear weapons program following the 1991 Persian Gulf War as a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s inspection team, concludes in a study that Iraq’s attempt to import aluminum tubes is not “evidence that Iraq is in possession of, or close to possessing, nuclear weapons” or that Iraq has an operating centrifuge plant. His assessment is based on several factors, including the fact that the tubes are made of an aluminum alloy that is ill-suited for welding. He notes that Iraq had used maraging steel and carbon fiber in its earlier attempts to make centrifuges (see (Late 1980s)). Albright also challenges the CIA’s contention the tubes’ anodized coating is an indication that they are meant to be used as rotors in a gas centrifuge. The nuclear physicist notes that the fact the tubes are anodized actually supports the theory that they were meant to be used in rockets, not a centrifuge. He cites another expert who said that an “anodized layer on the inside of the tube… can result in hampering the operation of the centrifuge.” [Albright, 10/9/2003 Sources: David Albright] Though Albright is critical of the charges being made by the Bush administration against Iraq, concerning nuclear weapons, he is no sympathizer of Saddam Hussein. He believes that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction and advocates a tough stance towards his regime. [New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004] His report is widely dispersed and is covered in detail by the Washington Post on September 19, 2002 (see September 19, 2002). Several other newspapers also cover Albright’s report. [Washington Post, 9/19/2002; Guardian, 10/9/2002; San Francisco Chronicle, 10/12/2002] It is later revealed that scientists at the Energy Department secretly worked with Albright on the report. [New York Times, 10/3/2004]

Entity Tags: David Albright, US Department of Energy

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

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. [US Department of State, 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; Vanity Fair, 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. [US Department of State, 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.” [Associated Press, 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. [New York Times, 2/5/2003; US Department of State, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 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). [US Department of State, 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). [Independent, 2/3/2003; Daily Telegraph, 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; New York Times, 7/31/2004; Newsweek, 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].” [Newsweek, 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. [New York Times, 2/6/2003; Washington Post, 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.” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; New York Times, 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.” [Associated Press, 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. [Reuters, 2/7/2003; Guardian, 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.” [Guardian, 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?” [US Department of State, 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. [Mercury News (San Jose), 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.” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 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. [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 2/6/2003; Washington Post, 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.” [PBS, 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. [New York Times, 2/5/2003; US Department of State, 2/5/2003; London Times, 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.” [Washington Post, 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. [Newsday, 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. [New York Times, 2/5/2003; US Department of State, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 2/6/2003; Reuters, 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. [Guardian, 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.” [Guardian, 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; Los Angeles Times, 3/28/2004; Knight Ridder, 4/4/2004; Newsweek, 4/19/2004; Newsweek, 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. [Buzzflash (.com), 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.” [Washington Post, 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; CNN, 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.” [Alternet, 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.” [PBS, 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.” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; New York Times, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 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. [Associated Press, 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. [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 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). [Washington Post, 8/10/2003] This had been reported just two weeks earlier by the Washington Post. [Washington Post, 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). [Financial Times, 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.” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; New York Times, 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.” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; New York Times, 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). [Daily Telegraph, 1/18/2003; Associated Press, 1/18/2003; BBC, 1/19/2003; US Department of State, 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.” [Guardian, 2/15/2003; BBC, 2/17/2003; Associated Press, 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. [US Department of State, 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.” [Associated Press, 8/9/2003]
Iraq Has Scud Missiles - Powell also says that according to unnamed “intelligence sources,” Iraq has a few dozen Scud-type missiles. [Associated Press, 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.” [US Department of State, 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).

Jamal Mustafa Sultan Tikriti, photographed at Chalabi’s ANC headquarters on April 21, 2003.Jamal Mustafa Sultan Tikriti, photographed at Chalabi’s ANC headquarters on April 21, 2003. [Source: Reuters / Corbis]New York Times reporter Judith Miller is embedded with Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha (MET Alpha), a US Army unit charged with trying to find weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq. Miller had written a number of front-page Times stories before the war, strongly suggesting Iraq was pursuing WMD programs; all those stories will later be proven incorrect (see November 6-8, 2001, September 8, 2002, April 20, 2003, September 18, 2002, and July 25, 2003). Miller plays what the press will later call a “highly unusual role” with the unit. One US official will later claim that she turns the unit into a “rogue operation.” [Washington Post, 6/25/2003]
Accepting Military Restrictions - Miller accepted an unusual set of restrictions from the military in order to embed with MET Alpha. Most embedded journalists agreed not to report on forthcoming military tactics and to conceal sensitive information about troop movements and positions. Miller, on the other hand, agreed to allow the military to censor her work, and agreed not to publish items until they were approved by military officials. MET Alpha public affairs officer Eugene Pomeroy, who works closely with her, will later recall the agreement, saying that Miller helped negotiate the terms, and will recall the agreement being so sensitive that Defense Secretary Donal Rumsfeld signed off on it. According to the agreement, Pomeroy will recall: “Any articles going out had to be, well, censored. The mission contained some highly classified elements and people, what we dubbed the ‘Secret Squirrels,’ and their ‘sources and methods’ had to be protected and a war was about to start.” Miller’s copy is censored by a colonel, presumably MET Alpha commander Colonel Richard McPhee, who, according to Pomeroy, often reads her work in his sleeping bag, clutching a small flashlight between his teeth. Sometimes, while traveling with the unit, Miller wears a military uniform. [New York Magazine, 5/21/2005]
Threats and Connections - Miller, who has the reputation of being a “diva,” is friends with powerful neoconservatives such as Rumsfeld, his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, Pentagon adviser Richard Perle, and other figures in the Pentagon and the Bush administration. One military officer will later claim Miller sometimes “intimidated” Army soldiers by mentioning her relationship to Rumsfeld or Feith, saying, “Essentially, she threatened them,” to get the unit to do her bidding. Another officer says Miller “was always issuing threats of either going to the New York Times or to the secretary of defense. There was nothing veiled about that threat.” This officer adds that MET Alpha “was allowed to bend the rules.” [Washington Post, 6/25/2003; New York Magazine, 5/21/2005] In 2005, reporter Franklin Foer will write: “While Miller might not have intended to march in lockstep with these hawks, she was caught up in an almost irresistible cycle. Because she kept printing the neocon party line, the neocons kept coming to her with huge stories and great quotes, constantly expanding her access.” [New York Magazine, 5/21/2005]
Miller Influences Where the Unit Will Go - On April 21, MET Alpha is ordered to withdraw to the southern Iraqi town of Talil, but Miller objects in a handwritten note to two public affairs officers. Her note says: “I see no reason for me to waste time (or MET Alpha, for that matter) in Talil.… Request permission to stay on here with colleagues at the Palestine Hotel till MET Alpha returns or order to return is rescinded. I intend to write about this decision in the [New York] Times to send a successful team back home just as progress on WMD is being made.” Miller challenges the plan to go to Talil, and takes her concerns to Major General David Petraeus, commander of the 101st Airborne. Petraeus does not have direct authority over McPhee, the commander of the 75th Exploitation Task Force, which contains the MET Alpha unit. But McPhee rescinds the withdrawal order after Petraeus advises him to do so. [Washington Post, 6/25/2003; New York Magazine, 5/21/2005]
Redirecting the Unit's Mission - Miller is also friends with Iraqi National Congress (INC) leader Ahmed Chalabi, who gave her leads for many later-debunked stories. More than half a dozen military officers will later claim that Miller acts as a go-between between Chalabi and the unit. On one occasion in April she takes some unit leaders to Chalabi’s headquarters, where the unit takes custody of Jamal Mustafa Sultan Tikriti, Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law, number 40 on the US’s most wanted list. She also sits in on his debriefing. None of the members of the unit have any experience in interrogation. Several US military officials will say they are upset that completely untrained officers led the debriefing of Tikriti. One Chalabi aide will explain why they turned Tikriti over to the MET Alpha unit instead of using the ANC’s usual contacts with the US miliary, saying, “We told Judy because we thought it was a good story.” When Miller later writes a story about Tikriti’s capture, she will claim that the handover was pure coincidence, as leaders of the unit “happened to be meeting” with Chalabi to “discuss nonproliferation issues.” One official will later complain that the unit became the “Judith Miller team” when she effectively redirected it from finding WMDs to holding and interrogating high-ranking prisoners. A military officer will later say: “This was totally out of their lane, getting involved with human intelligence.… [Miller] came in with a plan. She was leading them.… She ended up almost hijacking the mission.” A senior staff officer of the 75th Exploitation Task Force will similarly complain, “It’s impossible to exaggerate the impact she had on the mission of this unit, and not for the better.” [Washington Post, 6/25/2003]
Guarding Her Access - Pomeroy and another witness will recall Miller jealously guarding her access from other reporters. In one instance, when Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman travels with the unit for a day, Miller orders the unit’s troops not to speak to him. According to Pomeroy, “She told people that she had clearance to be there and Bart didn’t.” [New York Magazine, 5/21/2005]
Miller Has Unit Investigate Dubious Tips from Chalabi - In other cases, the unit apparently follows leads given to Miller by Chalabi or his aides. For instance, it discovers Iraqi intelligence documents and maps related to Israel, and Miller writes a story about this. Chalabi aide Zaab Sethna will later say: “We thought this was a great story for the New York Times.… That came from us.” While embedded with the unit, Miller writes stories for the Times strongly suggesting the unit has discovered WMDs. For instance, one of her headlines is “US Analysts Link Iraq Labs to Germ Arms,” and another is “US Experts Find Radioactive Material in Iraq.” But like her pre-war stories about WMDs in Iraq, these stories also will be completely discredited. It is unclear how long Miller hijacks the MET Alpha unit for, but the Washington Post will publish an expose about these connections in late June 2003. [Washington Post, 6/25/2003] In late 2003, Miller will say that her reliance on Chalabi’s information is “exaggerated.” [New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004] In 2005, Foer will call Miller one of “Chalabi’s credulous allies” along with a number of Bush administration officials. The Times will not acknowledge the breadth of Chalabi’s influence on the reports it published by Miller until May 2005, but will refuse to connect Chalabi and Miller. Foer will note that although Miller had more access to MET Alpha than any other reporter, “she was the only major reporter on the WMD beat to miss the story so completely.” [New York Magazine, 5/21/2005]
A Mouthpiece for the Administration? - In 2004, Miller tells columnist and media expert Michael Massing that as an investigative reporter in the intelligence area, “my job isn’t to assess the government’s information and be an independent intelligence analyst myself. My job is to tell readers of the New York Times what the government thought about Iraq’s arsenal.” Massing will write, “Many journalists would disagree with this; instead, they would consider offering an independent evaluation of official claims one of their chief responsibilities.” [New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004]
Admission of Error - In late 2005, Miller will admit that her reporting on Iraqi WMD issues was almost “entirely wrong” (see October 16, 2005).

Entity Tags: Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha, Richard McPhee, Michael Massing, Ahmed Chalabi, Jamal Mustafa Sultan Tikriti, Iraqi National Congress, David Petraeus, Donald Rumsfeld, Douglas Feith, Judith Miller, Franklin Foer

Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

The New York Times’s Judith Miller, an outlet for information planted in the media by the Bush administration in he run-up to the Iraq war (see December 20, 2001, August 2002, September 8, 2002, and September 18, 2002), now reports the number of suspected WMD sites in Iraq as 578—a figure far lower than the 1,400 she had reported during the first hours of the war (see March 19-20, 2003). Miller blames the US failure to find any WMD on Pentagon ineptitude: “chaos, disorganization, interagency feuds, disputes within and among various military units, and shortages of everything from gasoline to soap.” Deeper in the story, she writes, “To this day, whether Saddam Hussein possessed such weapons when the war began is unknown.” [New York Times, 7/20/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 101]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Judith Miller, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Slate reporter Jack Shafer lambasts New York Times reporter Judith Miller’s record of error as the Times’s primary chronicler of the claims for Iraqi WMD. Miller has just written an article backing away from her previous claims (see July 20, 2003), but blaming the failure to find WMD on everything from “chaos [and] disorganization” to “flawed intelligence[,] interagency feuds,” and the wrong choice of people to head the US searches. Shafer responds: “Judith Miller finds everybody associated with the failed search theoretically culpable except Judith Miller. This rings peculiar because Miller, more than any other reporter, showcased the WMD speculations and intelligence findings by the Bush administration and the Iraqi defector/dissidents. Our WMD expectations, such as they were, grew largely out of Miller’s stories.” He notes that Miller’s reports were largely based on assertions from sources affiliated with Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC), and writes, “If reporters who live by their sources were obliged to die by their sources… Miller would be stinking up her family tomb right now.” Shafer goes on to note that Miller’s words were always carefully selected to ensure that the sources, not Miller herself, painted a picture of Iraq teeming with WMD. “[I]f Miller got taken by her coveted sources, so did the reading public, and the Times owes its readers a review of Miller’s many credulous pieces,” Shafer writes. Since the Times has yet to provide such a review, Shafer says, he has done some of the initial work for it.
'The Renovator, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri' - Shafer begins with an Iraqi civil engineer, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, who, thanks to the INC (see December 17, 2001), provided Miller with the information required for stories describing the secret renovation of facilities to store and develop chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons (see December 20, 2001). Shafer notes that al-Haideri, who now lives in the US, has boasted of his willingness to return to Iraq once Saddam Hussein is out of power; he suggests that the Times send him back to Iraq “where he can lead them on a tour of the 20 sites and 20 installations” that he claims housed WMD.
'The Pseudonymous Ahmed al-Shemri' - In September 2002, Miller and her colleague Michael Gordon wrote that Iraq was continuing to develop, produce, and store chemical agents in secret mobile and fixed weapons laboratories, many underground, in defiance of UN weapons sanctions (see September 8, 2002). The allegations, made as part of a much broader story, were based on the allegations of Ahmed al-Shemri, the admitted pseudonym of an Iraqi who claimed to have been “involved” in chemical weapons production in Iraq before his defection in 2001. “All of Iraq is one large storage facility,” al-Shemri told Miller. He also told her of the existence of large, secret labs in Mosul, those labs’ production of 5 tons of liquid VX nerve agent, and their ability to produce far more if requested. And, he told her that Iraq had created a new solid form of VX that makes decontamination difficult. Russian and North Korean scientists were assisting the Iraqis, al-Shemri asserted, and told of stockpiles of “12,500 gallons of anthrax, 2,500 gallons of gas gangrene, 1,250 gallons of aflotoxin, and 2,000 gallons of botulinum throughout the country.” Shafer suggests that al-Shemri “drop his pseudonym to make his background more transparent and lead the Times to the Mosul lab.”
Making the Case for the White House - On September 13, 2002, Miller and Gordon printed a story titled “White House Lists Iraq Steps to Build Banned Weapons” (see September 13, 2002). The story related the White House’s claims of Iraq’s attempt to purchase aluminum tubes to be used in building nuclear missiles, its development of mobile biological laboratories, its attempt to buy poison gas precursors, and the secret development of chlorine gas at Fallujah and three other locations. Also, the article noted, Iraq was constructing missiles in violation of the 1991 cease-fire agreement, was conducting prohibited missile research, and was rebuilding a destroyed facility once used to build long-range missile engines. Shafer suggests that the Times send a delegation of reporters and experts to the sites noted in the article, saying, “Maybe the Times can find evidence that supports or discredits the administration’s claim.”
'Khidir Hamza, Nuclear Mastermind' - Miller has written extensively of the claims of former Iraqi nuclear bomb expert Khidir Hamza (see July 30, 2002), who defected in 1994. Perhaps her most influential story was printed on September 18, 2002 (see September 18, 2002), where she reported Hamza’s claims that Iraq was within two to three years of mass-producing centrifuges necessary to enrich uranium. Shafer suggests that Hamza “take the Times on an Iraqi atomic tour.”
Proclaiming the Defectors' Accuracy - In October 2002, Miller wrote that al-Haideri and Hamza complained that US intelligence was not taking them seriously. She quoted Chalabi and Pentagon adviser Richard Perle’s enthusiastic support for the two defectors’ claims, along with their vociferous attacks on the CIA, and wrote: “The INC has been without question the single most important source of intelligence about Saddam Hussein.… What the agency has learned in recent months has come largely through the INC’s efforts despite indifference of the CIA.” Shafer writes: “Either the INC was wrong or the CIA was wrong. If the INC was wrong, the Times should feed Perle’s words back to him with a fork and spoon.” Miller wrote another story quoting an administration defender of the defectors in January 2003, this time Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. Shafer says “[t]he Times should review the credibility of all the Iraqis who defected to Miller. Who are the defectors? What did they tell the United States? How much of it was true? How much was blarney?”
Atropine Auto-Injectors - In November 2002, Miller wrote that, according to White House officials, Iraq had ordered “large quantities” of atropine auto-injectors (see November 12, 2002). Atropine is an antidote to sarin and VX, two lethal nerve agents. Shafer says “[t]he Times should track the atropine order to the source, if possible, to see if the request was in preparation for a chemical weapons attack.”
Russian Smallpox Allegations - In December 2002, Miller wrote that a Russian scientist may have provided a virulent strain of smallpox to Iraqi scientists (see December 3, 2002). Shafer notes that it is clear Miller does not know who the source for the allegation was, and the Times should now reinvestigate the story.
Miller's Mobile Exploitation Team Scoop - Shafer writes that Miller’s “biggest scoop” was an April 20, 2003 article titled “Illicit Arms Kept Till Eve of War, an Iraqi Scientist Is Said to Assert” (see April 20, 2003 and April-May 2003). Miller reported on an Iraqi scientist in the custody of a US Mobile Exploitation Team (MET) in search of WMD. The scientist said that Iraq destroyed large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons just before the invasion, and he led the MET to buried precursor materials from which illegal weapons can be made. Moreover, the scientist alleged that Iraq sent its remaining stockpiles of WMD to Syria in the mid-1990s, where they remain hidden to this day. Iraq provided some of those weapons to al-Qaeda, and has focused heavily on researching new and more powerful weapons. Miller wasn’t allowed to name the precursor element the scientist had named, but wrote that it could be used to create a toxic agent banned under chemical weapons treaties. She was not allowed to speak to the scientist himself, nor could she reveal his name. And, she noted, she agreed to allow the military to review her story, and held off publishing it for three days. In return, the military allowed her to look at the scientist from a distance, as he pointed at spots in the desert where he said the precursor elements were buried. One day after the article appeared, Miller went on PBS, where she called her reporting the “silver bullet” in the WMD search. The next day, she published another article announcing a “paradigm shift” by investigators as a result of what they’d learned from the Iraqi scientist. But neither Miller nor any of the METs actually found anything concrete as a result of the scientist’s allegations. She later admitted that the “scientist” was actually a military intelligence officer, but continued to stand by his original allegations. Shafer suggests that Miller persuade the military to allow her to identify the so-called “precursor” substance, and explain the deceptive portrayal of a military intelligence officer as a scientist familiar with Iraqi WMD programs.
Impact and Consequences - Shafer says that the most important question about Miller is, “Has she grown too close to her sources to be trusted to get it right or to recant her findings when it’s proved that she got it wrong?” He continues: “Because the Times sets the news agenda for the press and the nation, Miller’s reporting had a great impact on the national debate over the wisdom of the Iraq invasion. If she was reliably wrong about Iraq’s WMD, she might have played a major role in encouraging the United States to attack a nation that posed it little threat. At the very least, Miller’s editors should review her dodgy reporting from the last 18 months, explain her astonishing credulity and lack of accountability, and parse the false from the fact in her WMD reporting. In fact, the Times’ incoming executive editor, Bill Keller, could do no better than to launch such an investigation.” [Slate, 7/25/2003]

Entity Tags: New York Times, Ahmed al-Shemri, Ahmed Chalabi, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, Bush administration (43), Paul Wolfowitz, Iraqi National Congress, Judith Miller, Jack Shafer, Michael Gordon, Khidir Hamza, Richard Perle

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

The recently released Senate Intelligence Committee report on misleading, exaggerated, and inaccurate presentations of the prewar Iraqi threat by the Bush administration (see June 5, 2008) leaves out some significant material. The report says that the panel did not review “less formal communications between intelligence agencies and other parts of the executive branch.” The committee made no attempt to obtain White House records or interview administration officials because, the report says, such steps were considered beyond the scope of the report. Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus notes that “[o]ne obvious target for such an expanded inquiry would have been the records of the White House Iraq Group (WHIG), a group set up in August 2002 by then-White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr.” WHIG (see August 2002) was composed of, among other senior White House officials, senior political adviser Karl Rove; the vice president’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby; communications strategists Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin, and James Wilkinson; legislative liaison Nicholas Calio; and a number of policy aides led by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and her deputy, Stephen Hadley.
WHIG Led Marketing of War - Scott McClellan, the former White House press secretary, recently wrote in his book What Happened that WHIG “had been set up in the summer of 2002 to coordinate the marketing of the war to the public.… The script had been finalized with great care over the summer [for a] “campaign to convince Americans that war with Iraq was inevitable and necessary.” On September 6, 2002, Card hinted as much to reporters when he said, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August” (see September 6, 2002). Two days later, the group scored its first hit with a front-page New York Times story about Iraq’s secret purchase of aluminum tubes that, the story said, could be used to produce nuclear weapons (see September 8, 2002). The information for that story came from “senior administration officials” now known to be members of WHIG. The story was the first to make the statement that “the first sign of a ‘smoking gun’ [proving the existence of an Iraqi nuclear weapons program] may be a mushroom cloud” (see September 4, 2002); that same morning, the same message was repeated three times by various senior administration officials on the Sunday talk shows (see September 8, 2002, September 8, 2002, and September 8, 2002). WHIG did not “deliberately mislead the public,” McClellan claimed in his book, but wrote that the “more fundamental problem was the way [Bush’s] advisers decided to pursue a political propaganda campaign to sell the war to the American people.… As the campaign accelerated,” caveats and qualifications were downplayed or dropped altogether. Contradictory intelligence was largely ignored or simply disregarded.”
Records Perusal Would 'Shed Light' - If indeed the White House “repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even nonexistent,” as committee chairman John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) has said, then an examination of WHIG’s records would, Pincus writes, “shed much light” on the question. [Washington Post, 6/9/2008]

Entity Tags: New York Times, Karen Hughes, John D. Rockefeller, James R. Wilkinson, Condoleezza Rice, Bush administration (43), Andrew Card, Karl C. Rove, Mary Matalin, Senate Intelligence Committee, Stephen J. Hadley, Walter Pincus, White House Iraq Group, Nicholas E. Calio, Scott McClellan, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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