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Context of 'October 2, 2002: Closed-Door Congressional Testimony by Top CIA Officials Undercut Conclusions Made in NIE'

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Photo of aluminum tubes intercepted by Western intelligence.Photo of aluminum tubes intercepted by Western intelligence. [Source: CIA]The final, published report from British intelligence about Iraq’s WMD programs is released. Prepared by Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) chairman John Scarlett and known as the “Scarlett dossier,” it contains much the same vagaries of language that the previous draft versions contained (see September 10-11, 2002 and September 16, 2002).
Contradictory Claims about African Uranium - Chapter 3 tells the reader “what we know” about Iraqi WMD, including the statement that “Uranium has been sought from Africa.” Unfortunately, the first and second drafts’ language clearly indicated that British intelligence does not “know” anything about the uranium deal, but merely believes the claim to be true. Author Dennis Hans writes in 2003, “Properly interpreted, the list is evidence not of Iraq’s capabilities, actions, and intentions, but of a JIC policy of saying ‘we know’ when the JIC doesn’t know, so as to lend undeserved credibility to the claims.” The language of the final draft contradicts the claim of established fact; later in Chapter 3, the “compelling evidence” of earlier drafts has been downgraded to merely stating, “But there is intelligence that Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” And in the executive summary, Scarlett writes, “As a result of the intelligence we judge” that, among other things, Iraq has “sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa, despite having no active civil nuclear power programme that could require it.” The language is similar to that of the first draft, but a statement saying “we judge” is not the same as a statement saying “we know.” Hans concludes, “In any event, the published dossier, carefully reviewed by the best and brightest of the British intelligence and the Blair administration’s communications staff, presents three different interpretations: a ‘judgment’ in the executive summary, a statement of fact in Chapter 3, and a vague ‘there is intelligence’ claim in Chapter 3. Take your pick.” Prime Minister Tony Blair uses the dossier to flatly assert that “we now know the following”: that Iraq indeed tried to purchase uranium from Africa, “though we do not know whether he has been successful” (see September 24, 2002). [Common Dreams (.org), 8/26/2003; Hutton Inquiry, 1/28/2004] Later reporting will reveal that the main source for the dossier’s Africa-uranium allegation was in fact an Italian intelligence report (see Mid-October 2001) that was based on the same set of forged documents that formed the basis of the US allegations. [La Repubblica (Rome), 10/24/2005; La Repubblica (Rome), 10/25/2005]
'No Definitive Intelligence' on Aluminum Tube Allegations - In the section discussing Iraq’s alleged nuclear weapons program, the dossier says there “is no definitive intelligence evidence” that the shipment of aluminum tubes intercepted by the CIA was intended for use in an Iraqi nuclear program. This assessment of the tubes contradicts the majority view at the CIA. [United Kingdom, 9/24/2002]
'Echo Chamber,' 'Disinformation Campaign' - Former CIA official Milt Bearden will later say, “When you are playing a disinformation campaign, you’re like a conductor who can single out one note in the symphony and say, ‘Let the Brits have that.’” Author Craig Unger will note that by the time the “Scarlett dossier” is released, between the various US and British claims and the array of reports in the media, it seems as if the claims of Iraq trying to buy Nigerien uranium are coming from multiple sources, “when in fact there [is] merely an echo chamger of corroboration.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 259]
Claim that Iraq Can Launch WMD within 45 Minutes - Perhaps the most infamous portion of the dossier is the claim that Iraq can launch weapons of mass destruction against chosen targets within 45 minutes of the order being given. That particular claim was not in the drafts of the dossier, and was apparently inserted by Blair administration officials seeking to bolster the case for war with Iraq. The Blair government will later deny that assertion. [Associated Press, 2/18/2008] After it is revealed early the following year that the US had relied on intelligence based on forged documents, the British will insist that they have additional evidence to support their claims (see March 7, 2003-July 7, 2003). [Sunday Times (London), 11/6/2005]

Entity Tags: UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Milt Bearden, Joint Intelligence Committee, John Scarlett, Dennis Hans, Craig Unger, SISMI, Central Intelligence Agency, Tony Blair

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

The CIA delivers the classified version of its 90-page National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq (see October 1, 2002) to Congress at 8 p.m. It is available for viewing by congresspersons under tight security—including armed guards—in the offices of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees. Only House and Senate intelligence committee members can read the material, if they come without staff members. [Washington Post, 6/22/2003; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 281; Unger, 2007, pp. 265] Despite an upcoming vote on whether or not to authorize a military attack on Iraq (see October 11, 2002), no more than a half-dozen or so members actually come to review the NIE. Peter Zimmerman, the scientific adviser to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and one of the first to look at the document, is stunned to see how severely the dissenting opinions of the Energy Department and the State Department undercut the conclusions that were so boldly stated in the NIE’s “Key Judgments” section. He later recalls: “Boy, there’s nothing in there. If anybody takes the time to actually read this, they can’t believe there actually are major WMD programs.” One of the lawmakers who does read the document is Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) (see October 4, 2002). Like Zimmerman, he is disturbed by the document’s “many nuances and outright dissents.” But he is unable to say anything about them in public because the NIE is classified. Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) says in a 2005 interview: “In fact, there were only six people in the Senate who did [read the NIE], and I was one of them. I’m sure Pat [Roberts (R-KS)] was another.” Roberts is the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and Rockefeller is the vice chairman. [Fox News, 11/14/2005; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 133-134, 137] Rockefeller will later explain that such a visit is difficult for busy congresspersons. Besides, he will say, “it’s extremely dense reading.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 264]

Entity Tags: Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Peter Zimmerman, Central Intelligence Agency, John D. Rockefeller, Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, Pat Roberts, Senate Intelligence Committee

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

In a congressional closed-door hearing, CIA Director George Tenet and his deputy John McLaughlin appear before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to discuss the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq that was released the day before (see October 1, 2002). When Tenet is asked whether the agency has any of its own spies on the ground in Iraq who can verify the NIE’s claims about Saddam Hussein’s alleged arsenal of illicit weapons, he replies that the agency does not. “I was stunned,” Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) later recalls. At some point during the hearing, Levin asks McLaughlin: “If [Hussein] didn’t feel threatened, did not feel threatened, is it likely that he would initiate an attack using a weapon of mass destruction?” McLaughlin responds that under those circumstances “the likelihood… would be low.” But the probability of Hussein using such weapons would increase, McLaughlin says, if the US initiates an attack. [Central Intelligence Agency, 10/7/2002; CBC News, 11/1/2002; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 138, 141] Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) asks McLaughlin whether he has read the British white paper (see September 24, 2002) on Iraq and whether he disagrees with any of its conclusions. McLaughlin says, “The one thing where I think they stretched a little bit beyond where we would stretch is on the points about Iraq seeking uranium from various African locations. We’ve looked at those reports and we don’t think they are very credible…” [US Congress, 7/7/2004, pp. 59] Graham and Levin ask the CIA to release a declassified version of the NIE so the public will be aware of the dissenting opinions in the document and so members of Congress can have something to refer to during their debates on the Iraq war resolution. [Central Intelligence Agency, 10/7/2002; CBC News, 11/1/2002; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 138, 141] The CIA will comply with the request and release a declassified version of the document two days later (see October 4, 2002).

Entity Tags: Jon Kyl, Carl Levin, George J. Tenet, John E. McLaughlin, Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

The CIA releases a 25-page declassified version of its October 1 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002) and posts it on the agency’s website for public viewing. [Washington Post, 6/22/2003; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 281] The document, titled “Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs,” presents a very different assessment of the threat posed by Iraq than the original document. Printed on slick glossy magazine-style paper, and full of colorful maps, graphs, tables, and photos, the document contains few of the caveats and nuances that are in the classified version. Nor does it include the dissenting opinions of the Energy Department’s in-house intelligence agency, the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, or the Air Force’s National Air and Space Intelligence Center. [Central Intelligence Agency, 10/4/2002 pdf file; Washington Post, 2/7/2003; Knight Ridder, 2/10/2004] Paul Pillar, the principal author of the paper, will later admit, “In retrospect, we shouldn’t have done that white paper at all.” Instead of intelligence analysis, the “paper was policy advocacy,” he admits. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 138-139]

Entity Tags: Paul R. Pillar, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

When Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) reads the CIA’s white paper on Iraq, a document written for public consumption that was supposed to have been an accurate summary of the agency’s recently released NIE (see October 1, 2002), he begins “to question whether the White House [is] telling the truth—or even [has] an interest in knowing the truth,” he later says. The document includes none of the dissenting opinions or caveats that were in the NIE, and therefore makes the CIA’s evidence against Saddam Hussein appear much stronger than it actually is. When Graham calls CIA Director George Tenet to ask what happened, Tenet becomes defensive and accuses the senator of questioning his professionalism and patriotism. Graham then sends the CIA a letter requesting that the agency declassify the dissenting opinions as well as the passages that contained more nuanced and cautionary language. He also requests that the agency declassify his October 2 exchange (see October 2, 2002) with Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin concerning the NIE. In that exchange, McLaughlin had conceded that the likelihood of Saddam Hussein launching an attack with weapons of mass destruction were “low.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 140-141]

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

In response to a letter from Senator Bob Graham of the Senate Intelligence Committee (see October 4, 2002), the CIA agrees to declassify three passages from the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002) that said Saddam Hussein is unlikely to use chemical or biological weapons unless he is attacked. The CIA also agrees to release a portion of the October 2 exchange between Graham and Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin, in which McLaughlin stated that the probability that Saddam would initiate and attack was low (see October 2, 2002). Finally, in response to Graham’s request for additional information on alleged links between Iraq and al-Qaeda, the CIA says its “understanding of the relationship… is evolving and is based on sources of varying reliability. Some of the information… received comes from detainees, including some of high rank.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 10/7/2002; CBC News, 11/1/2002]

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham

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

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