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Context of 'February 7, 2006: Fear of US Military Strikes Driving Iran’s Nuclear Ambitions, Experts Say'

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Congressional conservatives receive a second “alternative assessment” of the nuclear threat facing the US that is far more to their liking than previous assessments (see December 23, 1996). A second “Team B” panel (see November 1976), the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States, led by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and made up of neoconservatives such as Paul Wolfowitz and Stephen Cambone, finds that, contrary to earlier findings, the US faces a growing threat from rogue nations such as Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, who can, the panel finds, inflict “major destruction on the US within about five years of a decision.” This threat is “broader, more mature, and evolving more rapidly” than previously believed. The Rumsfeld report also implies that either Iran or North Korea, or perhaps both, have already made the decision to strike the US with nuclear weapons. Although Pakistan has recently tested nuclear weapons (see May 28, 1998), it is not on the list. Unfortunately for the integrity and believability of the report, its methodology is flawed in the same manner as the previous “Team B” reports (see November 1976); according to author J. Peter Scoblic, the report “assume[s] the worst about potential US enemies without actual evidence to support those assumptions.” Defense analyst John Pike is also displeased with the methodology of the report. Pike will later write: “Rather than basing policy on intelligence estimates of what will probably happen politically and economically and what the bad guys really want, it’s basing policy on that which is not physically impossible. This is really an extraordinary epistemological conceit, which is applied to no other realm of national policy, and if manifest in a single human being would be diagnosed as paranoia.” [Guardian, 10/13/2007; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 172-173] Iran, Iraq, and North Korea will be dubbed the “Axis of Evil” by George W. Bush in his 2002 State of the Union speech (see January 29, 2002).

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, J. Peter Scoblic, Paul Wolfowitz, Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States, Stephen A. Cambone, John Pike

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

According to the trade publication PR Week, the ad hoc government public relations organization dubbed “The Rumsfeld Group” (see Late May 2001) is quite successful at sending what the publication calls “messaging advice” to the Pentagon.
Marketing a Link between Iraq, Islamist Radicals - The group tells Pentagon PR chief Victoria Clarke and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that to get the American public’s support for the war on terror, and particularly the invasion of Iraq, they need to fix in the public mind a link between terror and nation-states, not just fluid and ad hoc groups such as al-Qaeda. Reporter Jeffrey St. Clair will write, “In other words, there needed to be a fixed target for the military campaigns, some distant place to drop cruise missiles and cluster bombs.” The Rumsfeld Group comes up with the idea of labeling Iraq and certain other nations “rogue states,” an idea already extant in Rumsfeld’s mind, and the genesis of the so-called “axis of evil” (see January 29, 2002 and After January 29, 2002).
Veterans of the Gulf War - The government allocates tens of millions of dollars, most of which is handed out to private public relations and media firms hired to spread the Bush administration’s message that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein must be taken out before he can use his arsenal of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons on US targets. Many of the PR and media executives are old friends of senior Bush officials, and many had worked on selling the 1991 Gulf War to the public (see October 10, 1990).
Media Complicity Ensures Success - St. Clair will later note that while the PR efforts are, largely, failures with US allies, they are far more successful with the American population (see August 13, 2003). He will write: “A population traumatized by terror threats and shattered economy became easy prey for the saturation bombing of the Bush message that Iraq was a terrorist state linked to al-Qaeda that was only minutes away from launching attacks on America with weapons of mass destruction. Americans were the victims of an elaborate con job, pelted with a daily barrage of threat inflation, distortions, deceptions, and lies. Not about tactics or strategy or war plans. But about justifications for war. The lies were aimed not at confusing Saddam’s regime, but the American people.” St. Clair places as much blame on the “gullible [and] complicit press corps,” so easily managed by Clarke (see February 2003). “During the Vietnam war, TV images of maimed GIs and napalmed villages suburbanized opposition to the war and helped hasten the US withdrawal,” St. Clair writes. “The Bush gang meant to turn the Vietnam phenomenon on its head by using TV as a force to propel the US into a war that no one really wanted. What the Pentagon sought was a new kind of living room war, where instead of photos of mangled soldiers and dead Iraqi kids, they could control the images Americans viewed and to a large extent the content of the stories. By embedding reporters inside selected divisions, Clarke believed the Pentagon could count on the reporters to build relationships with the troops and to feel dependent on them for their own safety. It worked, naturally.” St. Clair notes the instance of one reporter on national television calling the US Army “our protectors,” and NBC’s David Bloom’s on-air admission that he is willing to do “anything and everything they can ask of us.” [CounterPunch, 8/13/2003]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Jeffrey St. Clair, US Department of Defense, Victoria (“Torie”) Clarke, “The Rumsfeld Group”, Bush administration (43), David Bloom

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Richard Perle, head of the Defense Policy Board and foreign policy adviser to Bush, is asked about new challenges now that the Cold War is over. He cites three: “We’re concerned about Saddam Hussein, We’re concerned about the North Koreans, about some future Iranian government that may have the weapon they’re now trying so hard to acquire…” [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 8/6/2001] Note that these three nations are the same three named in Bush’s famous January 2002 “axis of evil” speech (see January 29, 2002). [US President, 2/4/2002]

Entity Tags: Richard Perle, North Korea, Iran, Saddam Hussein

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

On September 15, 2001, President Bush says of bin Laden: “If he thinks he can hide and run from the United States and our allies, he will be sorely mistaken.” [Los Angeles Times, 9/16/2001] Two days later, he says, “I want justice. And there’s an old poster out West, I recall, that says, ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive.’” [ABC News, 9/17/2001] On December 28, 2001, even as the US was declaring victory in Afghanistan, Bush says, “Our objective is more than bin Laden.” [Associated Press, 8/21/2002] Bush’s January 2002 State of the Union speech describes Iraq as part of an “axis of evil” and fails to mention bin Laden at all. On March 8, 2002, Bush still vows: “We’re going to find him.” [Washington Post, 10/1/2002] Yet, only a few days later on March 13, Bush says, “He’s a person who’s now been marginalized.… I just don’t spend that much time on him.… I truly am not that concerned about him.” Instead, Bush is “deeply concerned about Iraq.” [US President, 3/18/2002] The rhetoric shift is complete when Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard Myers states on April 6, “The goal has never been to get bin Laden.” [Evans, Novak, Hunt & Shields, 4/6/2002] In October 2002, the Washington Post notes that since March 2002, Bush has avoided mentioning bin Laden’s name, even when asked about him directly. Bush sometimes uses questions about bin Laden to talk about Saddam Hussein instead. In late 2001, nearly two-thirds of Americans say the war on terrorism could not be called a success without bin Laden’s death or capture. That number falls to 44 percent in a March 2002 poll, and the question has since been dropped. [Washington Post, 10/1/2002] Charles Heyman, editor of Jane’s World Armies, later points out: “There appears to be a real disconnect” between the US military’s conquest of Afghanistan and “the earlier rhetoric of President Bush, which had focused on getting bin Laden.” [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Richard B. Myers, Saddam Hussein, George W. Bush

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

In May 2002, Time magazine will report, “By the end of 2001, [US] diplomats were discussing how to enlist the support of Arab allies, the military was sharpening its troop estimates, and the communications team was plotting how to sell an attack to the American public. The whole purpose of putting Iraq into Bush’s State of the Union address, as part of the ‘axis of evil,’ was to begin the debate about a possible invasion (see January 29, 2002).” [Time, 5/5/2002]

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

President Bush’s State of the Union speech describes an “axis of evil” consisting of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. Osama bin Laden is not mentioned in the speech. [US President, 2/4/2002] Bush says: “States like these and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic.” Bush goes on to suggest for the first time that the US might be prepared to launch pre-emptive wars by saying, “The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.” [Vanity Fair, 5/2004] When Bush advisor Richard Perle was asked one month before 9/11 about new challenges the US faced, he replied by naming these exact three countries (see August 6, 2001). Michael Gerson, head of the White House speechwriting team at the time, will later claim that, as Newsweek will later put it, “Bush was already making plans to topple Saddam Hussein, but he wasn’t ready to say so.” Iran and North Korea are inserted into the speech in order to avoid focusing solely on Iraq. The speech is followed by a new public focus on Iraq and a downplaying of bin Laden (see September 15, 2001-April 6, 2002). Prior to the speech, the Iranian government had been very helpful in the US fight against the Taliban, since the Taliban and Iran were enemies. [Newsweek, 2/12/2007] At the time, al-Qaeda operatives had been streaming into Iran from Afghanistan following the defeat of the Taliban. Iran has been turning over hundreds of suspects to US allies and providing US intelligence with the names, photographs, and fingerprints of those it is holding. [Washington Post, 2/10/2007] Newsweek will later say that it is “beyond doubt” the Iranian government was “critical… to stabilizing [Afghanistan] after the fall of Kabul.” But all this cooperation comes to an end after the speech. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Hossein Adeli will later say that “Those [inside the Iranian government] who were in favor of a rapprochement with the United States were marginalized. The speech somehow exonerated those who had always doubted America’s intentions.” [Newsweek, 2/12/2007] In August 2003, reporter Jeffrey St. Clair will write that “the Axis of Evil [is not] an ‘axis’ at all, since two of the states, Iran and Iraq, hate… each other, and neither [have] anything at all to do with the third, North Korea.” [CounterPunch, 8/13/2003]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Mohammad Hossein Adeli, Jeffrey St. Clair, Michael Gerson

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US International Relations

When asked why he included Iran in the “axis of evil” (see January 29, 2002), President Bush answers: “It is very important for the American president at this point in history to speak very clearly about the evils the world faces.… I believe the United States is the beacon for freedom in the world. And I believe we have a responsibility to promote freedom that is as solemn as the responsibility is to protecting the American people, because the two go hand in hand.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 247]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Uzi Arad.Uzi Arad. [Source: Jerusalem Post]Israeli officials tell Bush officials shortly after the president’s “axis of evil” speech (see January 29, 2002) that of the three countries on the list—Iran, Iraq, and North Korea—Iraq is a distant third as far as posing any threat to its neighbors. But Bush officials have a plan. According to former Mossad director of intelligence Uzi Arad, who served as Benjamin Netanyahu’s foreign policy advisor, those officials respond, “Let’s do first things first. Once we do Iraq, we’ll have a military presence in Iraq, which would enable us to handle the Iranians from closer quarters, would give us more leverage.” (Netanyahu, in the years following his term as Israel’s prime minister, will become an outspoken advocate for military strikes against Iran—see November 17, 2006). [Vanity Fair, 3/2007]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Benjamin Netanyahu, Bush administration (43), Israel Institute for Intelligence and Special Tasks (Mossad), Uzi Arad

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Flynt Leverett.Flynt Leverett. [Source: Publicity photo]In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Iran is supportive of US efforts to defeat the Taliban, since the Taliban and Iran have opposed each other. In 2006, Flynt Leverett, the senior director for Middle East affairs on the National Security Council in 2002 and 2003, will recall this cooperation between Iran and the US in a heavily censored New York Times editorial. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a notorious Afghan warlord with close ties to bin Laden (see 1984), had been living in Iran since the Taliban came to power in the 1990s. Leverett claims that in December 2001 Iran agrees to prevent Hekmatyar from returning to Afghanistan to help lead resistance to US-allied forces there, as long as the Bush administration does not criticize Iran for harboring terrorists. “But, in his January 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush did just that in labeling Iran part of the ‘axis of evil’ (see January 29, 2002). Unsurprisingly, Mr. Hekmatyar managed to leave Iran in short order after the speech.” [New York Times, 12/22/2006] Hekmatyar apparently returns to Afghanistan around February 2002. He will go on to become one of the main leaders of the armed resistance to the US-supported Afghan government. Iranian cooperation with the US over Afghanistan will continue in a more limited manner, with Iran deporting hundreds of suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives who had fled Afghanistan, while apparently keeping others. But the US will end this cooperation in 2003. [BBC, 2/14/2002; USA Today, 5/21/2003; New York Times, 12/22/2006]

Entity Tags: Iran, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Bush administration (43), Flynt Leverett

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Secretary of State Colin Powell gives testimony before a Senate committee, following President Bush’s State of the Union address labeling Iran, Iraq, and North Korea as the “axis of evil” (see January 29, 2002). Powell promises that there is no plan start a war with Iran or North Korea, but “with respect to Iraq it has long been, for several years now, a policy of the United States government that regime change would be in the best interests of the region, the best interests of the Iraqi people. And we are looking into a variety of options that would bring that about.” Afterwards, unnamed senior administration officials tell the New York Times, “There [is] a consensus within the [Bush] administration that [Saddam Hussein] must be overthrown and that plans to do so are being drawn up. But there is no agreement as to how precisely that should be done or how long the United States should be prepared to wait for action.” [Vanity Fair, 5/2004]

Entity Tags: Colin Powell

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Saad bin Laden.Saad bin Laden. [Source: NBC]In the spring on 2002, as the Taliban is collapsing in Afghanistan, many al-Qaeda operatives flee into neighboring Iran. About 20 to 25 operatives composing much of al-Qaeda’s management council are said to wind up in the custody of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Prior to this point, the Iranian government has been turning over most al-Qaeda captives to other countries, but after President Bush’s “Axis of Evil” speech criticizing Iran (see January 29, 2002), Iran decides to keep this group. [Washington Post, 7/9/2004] Iran does not officially admit to holding them, and their status is unclear, but they all seem to be living in a village near the Caspian Sea. One senior US intelligence official says, “They are under virtual house arrest,” and not able to do much. Those said to be in Iranian custody include:
bullet Saif al-Adel, one of al-Qaeda’s top military commanders.
bullet Suliman abu Ghaith, al-Qaeda spokesman.
bullet Saad and Hamza bin Laden, two of Osama bin Laden’s young sons.
bullet Abu Dahak, who served as al-Qaeda’s liaison to the rebels in Chechnya.
bullet Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, a financial expert.
bullet Two unnamed top aides to Ayman al-Zawahiri. [MSNBC, 6/24/205]
bullet Thirwat Salah Shehata, a member of Islamic Jihad’s ruling council, who is probably one of the al-Zawahiri aides mentioned above. [MSNBC, 5/2005]
bullet Mustafa Hamza, head of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, an Egyptian militant group, and an al-Qaeda leader as well (see June 26, 1995). In late 2004, he will be extradited from Iran to stand trial in Egypt. [Reuters, 1/9/2005]
At first, these operatives appear to be capable of communicating with operatives outside of Iran. Saad bin Laden is said to play a major role planning the attack of a synagogue in Tunisia in April 2002 (see April 11, 2002). But the Saudi government will suspect that some of the operatives in Iran are involved in a 2003 attack in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (see May 12, 2003), and they will successfully press Iran to tighten the house arrest of the operatives in Iran. Iran will propose an exchange of these prisoners around the time of the Riyadh bombing, but the US will reject the offer (see Mid-May 2003). Since that time, these leaders apparently remain in a state of limbo. CIA Director Porter Goss will say in 2005, “I think [the] understanding that there is a group of leadership of al-Qaeda under some type of detention—I don’t know exactly what type, necessarily—in Iran is probably accurate.” [MSNBC, 6/24/205] Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, will later ask, “The question is, what does house arrest mean in the Iranian context?” He suggests that Iran could release the group or loosen their restrictions depending on how relations evolve between the US and Iran. “They’re a guarantee against bad behavior.” [Washington Post, 9/9/2007] In 2006, it will be reported that Saad bin Laden has been freed. [Reuters, 8/2/2006] Also in 2006, al-Yazid will emerge as a leader of al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan and may never have been in Iran. [Washington Post, 9/9/2007] In 2007, the still teenaged Hamza bin Laden will reportedly appear in Afghanistan. [Associated Press, 9/11/2007] In 2008, it will be reported that the US still knows little about the al-Qaeda figures detained in Iran, but US officials say they believe Iran has largely kept them under control since 2003, limiting their ability to travel and communicate. One US official will say, “It’s been a status quo that leaves these people, some of whom are quite important, essentially on ice.” [ABC News, 5/29/2008]

Entity Tags: Thirwat Salah Shehata, Saad bin Laden, Saif al-Adel, Mustafa Hamza, Porter J. Goss, Hamza bin Laden, Michael Scheuer, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, Suliman abu Ghaith, Abu Dahak

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Complete 911 Timeline

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

Mohamed ElBaradei, the president of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), meets with President Bush in the Oval Office to discuss the news of Iran’s restarted nuclear program (see August 2002 and December 12, 2002). ElBaradei tells Bush that the Iranians want to meet with an American delegation to discuss the program, obviously with the intent of negotiating a cessation in return for American concessions. ElBaradei offers to help set up the talks, and even keep them low-profile. But Bush is uninterested. His goal, as he later tells British Prime Minister Tony Blair, is to “free Iran.” Author J. Peter Scoblic will later write that any negotiations that might succeed in shutting down Iran’s nuclear program would also serve to strengthen and legitimize Iran’s government; it is, therefore, worth the risk of a nuclear Iran to continue working towards “regime change” in that nation. This also helps explain why, several months later, Bush officials refused to consider Iran’s offer of the so-called “grand bargain” (see May 4, 2003). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 247]

Entity Tags: Tony Blair, George W. Bush, International Atomic Energy Agency, J. Peter Scoblic, Mohamed ElBaradei

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

North Korea announces that it is withdrawing from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (see December 12, 1985). Since its attempts to reopen diplomatic talks with the US were rejected (see October 27, 2002 and November 2002), it has announced its restarting of its nuclear energy program (see December 12, 2002) and expelled international inspectors (see December 31, 2002). Around this same time, it begins removing some 8,000 spent fuel rods from storage, a direct indication that it intends to restart its nuclear weapons program. This is a burgeoning crisis for the world, as North Korea is, in many experts’ view, the definition of a “rogue nation,” but the Bush administration refuses to recognize it as a crisis. In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write, “President Bush, focused on Iraq, refused to label it as such.” North Korea has enough nuclear material to make six to eight nuclear weapons; some experts believe it already has one or two. With the inspectors gone, the world has no way to know what North Korea is doing with its spent fuel rods, or where they are being stored—removing the possibility that the US could destroy them with a targeted air strike. Bush’s response to the North Korean crisis is contradictory. While labeling it a member of the “axis of evil” (see January 29, 2002), and sometimes acting belligerently towards that nation (see March 2003-May 2003), he also insists that the US will not use military force to restrain North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. Diplomacy is the answer to the crisis, Bush says, but his administration refuses to talk to the North Koreans (see November 2002) until later in the month (see Mid-January 2003). [BBC, 12/2007; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 239-240, 242]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), J. Peter Scoblic, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Two weeks after the White House flatly rejected a comprehensive diplomatic offer from Iran (see May 4, 2003), Secretary of State Colin Powell approaches State Department official Hillary Mann, who wrote the original memo recommending that the Iranian proffer be considered. Powell tells Mann: “It was a very good memo. I couldn’t sell it at the White House.” [Esquire, 10/18/2007]

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Bush administration (43), Hillary Mann, Colin Powell

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Sadegh Kharrazi.Sadegh Kharrazi. [Source: University of Cambridge]In the wake of the US-led conquest of Iraq, the government of Iran worries that they will be targeted for US invasion next. Sadegh Kharrazi, Iran’s ambassador to France and the nephew of Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, drafts a bold proposal to negotiate with the US on all the outstanding conflicts between them. [American Prospect, 5/21/2006] Diplomats refer to the proposal as “the grand bargain.” The US sends neoconservative Zalmay Khalilzad, a senior National Security Council official, to talk with Iran’s UN ambassador, Javad Zarif. [Vanity Fair, 3/2007] The proposal was reviewed and approved by Iran’s top leaders Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Mohammad Khatami, and Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi. Tim Guldimann, the Swiss ambassador to Iran, is used as an intermediary since the US and Iran do not have formal diplomatic relations. [Washington Post, 2/14/2007]
bullet According to the language of the proposal, it offers “decisive action against any terrorists (above all, al-Qaeda) in Iranian territory” and “full cooperation and exchange of all relevant information.” In return, Iran wants “pursuit of anti-Iranian terrorists, above all [the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK)],” a dissident Iranian group which the US officially lists as a terrorist organization.
bullet Iran also offers to accept much tighter controls by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in exchange for “full access to peaceful nuclear technology.” It proposes “full transparency for security [assurance] that there are no Iranian endeavors to develop or possess WMD” and “full cooperation with IAEA based on Iranian adoption of all relevant instruments (93+2 and all further IAEA protocols).” That is a references to IAEA protocols that would guarantee the IAEA access to any declared or undeclared facility on short notice.
bullet The proposal also offers a dramatic change in Iranian policy towards Israel. Iran would accept an Arab league declaration approving a land-for-peace principle and a comprehensive peace with Israel in return for Israel’s withdrawal to 1967 lines, a softening of Iran’s usual policy.
bullet The proposal further offers to stop any Iranian support of Palestinian opposition groups such as Hamas and proposes to convert Hezbollah into “a mere political organization within Lebanon.” It further offers “coordination of Iranian influence for activity supporting political stabilization and the establishment of democratic institutions and a nonreligious government” in Iraq.
bullet In return, Iran wants a democratic government in Iran, which would mean its Shiite allies would come to power since the Shiites make up a majority of the Iraqi population. The proposal wants the US to remove Iran from its “axis of evil” and list of terrorism sponsors. [American Prospect, 5/21/2006]
US Rejects Offer - The US flatly rejects the idea. “We’re not interested in any grand bargain,” says Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton. [Vanity Fair, 3/2007] The American Prospect will later comment that “Iran’s historic proposal for a broad diplomatic agreement should have prompted high-level discussions over the details of an American response.” State Department counterterrorism expert Flynt Leverett will later call it a “respectable effort” to start negotiations with the US. But within days, the US rejects the proposal without even holding an interagency meeting to discuss its possible merits. Guldimann, the Swiss intermediary, is reprimanded for having passed the proposal to the US. [American Prospect, 5/21/2006] Larry Wilkerson, Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff, will later say that it was a significant proposal for beginning “meaningful talks” between the US and Iran but that it “was a non-starter so long as [Dick] Cheney was Vice President and the principal influence on Bush.” [Newsweek, 2/8/2007] He will also say that the State Department supported the offer, “[b]ut as soon as it got to the Vice President’s office, the old mantra of ‘We don’t talk to evil‘… reasserted itself” and Cheney’s office turned the offer down. [BBC, 1/18/2007] Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage will later claim that, “We couldn’t determine what was the Iranians’ and what was the Swiss ambassador’s,” and says that he though the Iranians “were trying to put too much on the table.” National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will say of the proposal, “Perhaps somebody saw something of the like” but “I just don’t remember ever seeing any such thing.” [Newsweek, 2/8/2007] Colin Powell will later say that President Bush simply didn’t want to negotiate with an Iranian government that he believed should not be in power. “My position… was that we ought to find ways to restart talks with Iran… But there was a reluctance on the part of the president to do that.” He also says, “You can’t negotiate when you tell the other side, ‘Give us what a negotiation would produce before the negotiations start.’” [Newsweek, 2/12/2007] Days later, Iran will propose a more limited exchange of al-Qaeda prisoners for MEK prisoners, but the US will reject that too (see Mid-May 2003). Author Craig Unger will later write, “The grand bargain was dead. Flush with a false sense of victory, Bush, Cheney, and [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld felt no need to negotiate with the enormous oil-rich country that shared a border with the country America had just invaded.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 308-309]
Proposal Echoed Four Years Later - In 2007, the BBC will note, “Observers say the Iranian offer as outlined nearly four years ago corresponds pretty closely to what Washington is demanding from Tehran now.” [BBC, 1/18/2007]

Entity Tags: Kamal Kharrazi, Lawrence Wilkerson, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, People’s Mujahedin of Iran, Richard Armitage, International Atomic Energy Agency, Hojjat ol-Eslam Seyyed Mohammad Khatami, Flynt Leverett, Hamas, Al-Qaeda, Colin Powell, Hezbollah, Condoleezza Rice, Seyyed Ali Khamenei, Donald Rumsfeld, Tim Guldimann, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Complete 911 Timeline

Saif al-Adel.Saif al-Adel. [Source: FBI]Around May 4, 2003, Iran attempted to start negotiations in an attempt to resolve all outstanding issues between Iran and the US. The US completely rejected the offer within days. Iran immediately comes back with a more limited proposal, offering to hand over a group of al-Qaeda leaders being held in Iran in return for the US to hand over leaders of the Mujahedeen of Iran (MEK). The US had already officially listed MEK as a terrorist group. [American Prospect, 5/21/2006] Iran is believed to be holding a number of top al-Qaeda leaders, including military commander Saif al-Adel and Osama bin Laden’s son Saad bin Laden (see Spring 2002). The US had captured about 4,000 members of MEK in Iraq the month before, in bases where they had been staging attacks against Iran. Iran pledges to grant amnesty to most of the MEK prisoners, try only 65 leaders, forgo the death penalty on them, and allow the Red Cross to supervise the transfer. [Washington Post, 7/9/2004] Iran proposes to start with an exchange of information, offering to share the list of names of al-Qaeda operatives they are detaining in return for the US to share the list of names of MEK operatives US forces has captured in Iraq. This exchange of names is discussed at a White House meeting. Hardliners in favor of regime change in Iran argue that MEK is different than al-Qaeda. President Bush is said to respond, “But we say there is no such thing as a good terrorist.” [American Prospect, 5/21/2006] And he initially seems in favor of a prisoner exchange, saying about the MEK, “Why not? They’re terrorists.” [Washington Post, 7/9/2004] But Bush does not immediately approve the exchange of names, although he does approve the disarming of MEK who have surrendered to US troops and he allows the State Department to continue secret negotiations on the issue of exchanging names and prisoners in Switzerland. But on May 12, 2003, a bombing in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia kills a number of US citizens (see May 12, 2003). Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, Vice President Cheney, and other neoconservatives argue that the bombing was planned by al-Qaeda leaders being held in Iran. [American Prospect, 5/21/2006] The Washington Post will report in 2007 that, “US intelligence officials said there are suspicions, but no proof, that one of [the al-Qaeda leaders in Iran] may have been involved from afar in planning” the Riyadh bombing. Some of Bush’s top advisers argue in favor of trading the prisoners, suggesting that directly interrogating the al-Qaeda leaders could result in important new intelligence leads. But Cheney and Rumsfeld argue that any deal would legitimize Iran’s government. Bush ultimately offers to accept information about the al-Qaeda leaders without offering anything in return. Not surprisingly, Iran refuses. [Washington Post, 2/10/2007] A planned meeting between US and Iranian officials on May 21 is canceled and negotiations come to a halt. The American Prospect will later comment, “In a masterstroke, Rumsfeld and Cheney had shut down the only diplomatic avenue available for communicating with Iran and convinced Bush that Iran was on the same side as al-Qaeda.” [American Prospect, 5/21/2006] Flynt Leverett, a State Department official dealing with Middle East policy, will later say, “Why we didn’t cut this deal is beyond me.” [Washington Post, 7/9/2004] One anonymous senior US official will later say, “One reason nothing came of it was because we knew that there were parts of the US government who didn’t want to give them the MEK because they had other plans for them… like overthrowing the Iranian government.” [MSNBC, 6/24/205]

Entity Tags: US Department of State, People’s Mujahedin of Iran, Flynt Leverett, George W. Bush, Al-Qaeda, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Complete 911 Timeline

Instead of considering Iran’s sweeping proposal to open diplomatic negotiations with the United States (see May 4, 2003), the Bush administration begins working on efforts to destabilize the Iranian government (see November 12, 2002, May 6, 2003, and May 19, 2003). Former National Security Council official Flynt Leverett says he believes the White House’s course is a dangerous one: “What it means is we will end up with an Iran that has nuclear weapons and no dialogue with the United States.” [Esquire, 10/18/2007]

Entity Tags: Flynt Leverett, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

A Wall Street Journal op-ed claims that President Bush never claimed the Iraqis posed an “imminent threat” with their putative WMD programs, and that former ambassador Joseph Wilson is unfairly “moving the goalposts” by saying that the threat posed by Iraq’s WMD never passed what they call the “imminent threat test.” As far back as September 2001, after the attacks on New York and Washington, the Bush administration began claiming that Iraq posed a serious threat to the US (see September 11, 2001-March 17, 2003, Shortly After September 11, 2001, September 14, 2001, August 2002, and September 6, 2002). Bush had apparently characterized Iraq as an “imminent threat” even before becoming president (see May 17, 2000). Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has used the term “imminent threat” (see September 18, 2002), as have other members of the administration, such as press secretary Ari Fleischer, communications chief Dan Bartlett, and Defense Policy Board chief Richard Perle. Vice President Dick Cheney had publicly threatened Iraq with military action as far back as December 2001 (see December 11, 2001). Bush had included Iraq as one of the now-infamous “Axis of Evil” in early 2002 (see January 29, 2002). And Bush, Cheney, and top White House officials had characterized Iraq and Saddam Hussein as a threat since March 2002 (see March 24, 2002, August 15, 2002, August 20, 2002, August 26, 2002, Fall and Winter 2002, September 7, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 12, 2002, September 13, 2002, September 18, 2002, September 19, 2002, September 24, 2002, September 26, 2002, October 1, 2002, October 1, 2002, October 3, 2002, October 7, 2002, October 7, 2002, January 10, 2003, and March 6, 2003). Wilson will later observe, “While the Journal may have been technically correct that the president had not uttered those exact words, he [and his top officials] walked right up to the phrase.” He will note that Bush’s “staff and administration allies, of course, had been less concerned about splitting hairs as they promoted the invasion.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 367-368]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Ari Fleischer, Dan Bartlett, Richard Perle, Wall Street Journal, Joseph C. Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

An Iranian man appears in Turkey with a laptop computer and the phone number of a German intelligence officer. He calls the number, and 24 hours later, CIA analysts are poring over thousands of documents containing information and sketches. The CIA concludes that Iran is trying to retrofit its longest-range missile, the Shahab III, to carry a nuclear payload. The retrofit project is designated Project 1-11, the documents say, and analysts believe that the laptop information confirms their belief that Iran has a viable and active nuclear weapons program. Though the information on the laptop is from 2003 and earlier, it leads to the issuance of a National Intelligence Estimate (see August 2, 2005) that declares “with high confidence” Iran is working on a nuclear bomb, and will give ammunition to the Bush administration’s attempts to pressure Russia, China, and the US’s European allies to sanction Iran if it does not give up its uranium enrichment program. [Washington Post, 12/8/2007]
Origin of Laptop - The laptop was stolen by the Iranian citizen from an Iranian engineer, who some intelligence sources say may now be dead. The laptop contains designs by a firm called Kimeya Madon for a small facility to produce uranium gas, a substance that could be enriched for fuel or nuclear weapons. The laptop also contains drawings relating to the retrofitting of the Shahab III. The laptop’s information, so extensive that some say it may have been designed by an entire team of engineers, will be given unsubstantiated confirmation from an imprisoned Pakistani arms dealer, who will say that Iran took delivery of several advanced centrifuges that would greatly increase its nuclear knowledge. Although the documents are not verified, US intelligence considers them authentic.
Possible Forgeries - However, analysts admit it is possible that the documents are forgeries, perhaps from internal opponents of the Iranian government, or perhaps from the government itself in an attempt to convince Western intelligence agencies that its nuclear weapons program is still in an embryonic stage. The US denies that the documents were provided through the auspices of any Iranian dissident groups such as the Mujahedeen-e Khalq. [New York Times, 11/13/2005; Washington Post, 2/8/2006] The identity of the Iranian “walk-in” may be revealed four years later (see February 2007). By November 2004, administration officials begin to admit that they cannot confirm the reliability of the laptop’s documents (see November 2004 and November 17-18, 2004).

Entity Tags: People’s Mujahedin of Iran, Kimeya Madon, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Former director of Israeli intelligence Uzi Arad says that many Israelis were keenly disappointed in the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq and not Iran. Arad says: “If you look at President Bush’s ‘axis of evil’ (see January 29, 2002), all of us said North Korea and Iran are more urgent. Iraq was already semi-controlled because there were [UN-imposed economic] sanctions. It was outlawed. Sometimes the answer [from the Bush neoconservatives] was ‘Let’s do first things first. Once we do Iraq, we’ll have a military presence in Iraq, which would enable us to handle the Iranians from closer quarters, would give us more leverage.’” Arad’s words are almost verbatim echoes from three years before (see Late January 2002). [Unger, 2007, pp. 307-308]

Entity Tags: Uzi Arad, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

The US intelligence community releases a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran, the first of its kind since 2001. Its central conclusion is that Iran is about ten years away from manufacturing enough highly enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon. That doubles the previous estimate of five years. (The “five years away” estimate has been a staple of US assertions about Iran’s nuclear program since 1995.) Even then, the report states, it is unclear whether Iran would have the technology capable of using the uranium in a functional nuclear device. The NIE gives little support for recent statements by Bush administration officials that assert Iran is working hard to develop and deploy a nuclear weapon, and that such deployment could happen much sooner than ten or even five years. President Bush has said repeatedly that while he wants to resolve the crisis with Iran diplomatically, “all options are on the table,” meaning a potential military strike is being considered. The NIE says that Iran is conducting clandestine work as part of its nuclear program, but there is no way to know if that work is on nuclear weapons development. Iran is, the report states, acquiring technologies that could be diverted to bomb-making. It is uncertain whether Iran’s ruling mullahs have decided whether to build a nuclear arsenal, the NIE says, but, according to a senior intelligence official, “it is the judgment of the intelligence community that, left to its own devices, Iran is determined to build nuclear weapons.” The White House has refrained from attributing its assertions about Iran’s nuclear program to US intelligence, as it did with Iraq before the March 2003 invasion. Instead, it has pointed to Iranian efforts to conceal its activities, and questioned why, since Iran has tremendous oil and natural gas reserves, it would need a nuclear energy program. The administration is riven with infighting and competing viewpoints on Iran’s nuclear program, and this NIE does little to resolve those differences. The NIE also says that the US intelligence community still knows far too little about Iran’s nuclear program. The intelligence community gathers most of its information from communication intercepts, satellite imagery, and reports from the UN inspectors who have been investigating Iran’s nuclear program since 2003. Those inspectors have found facilities for uranium conversion and enrichment, results of plutonium tests, and equipment bought illicitly from Pakistan, all of which raised serious concerns but could be explained by an energy program. Inspectors have found no evidence that Iran possesses a nuclear warhead design or is conducting a nuclear weapons program. Deputy Director of National Intelligence Michael Hayden says that since the October 2002 NIE, which wrongly concluded Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program (see October 1, 2002), the rules governing the creation of NIEs have been revamped to mandate “a higher tolerance for ambiguity,” even if NIEs would be less conclusive in the process. [Washington Post, 8/2/2005] In 2007, a new NIE will conclude that Iran actually stopped work on a nuclear weapon in 2003 (see December 3, 2007).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, Michael Hayden

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Author and media critic Frank Rich publishes a book entitled The Greatest Story Ever Sold about the Bush administration’s PR efforts. One of his conclusions is that, despite the administration’s foreign policy efforts, “all three components of the ‘axis of evil’ [Iraq, Iran, and North Korea] (see January 29, 2002) are more dangerous than they were when that phrase was coined in 2002.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 210]

Entity Tags: Frank Rich

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Two former CIA officials directly involved in producing intelligence estimates on Iran’s nuclear program (see August 2, 2005) say that the Bush administration’s policy of threatening to use military force against Iran is a driving force behind that nation’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. Iran is fearful of such an attack, the two officials say, and therefore wants nuclear weapons as a way to divert such a threat. Paul Pillar, who managed the writing of all NIEs on Iran from 2000 through 2005 as the national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia, says, “Iranian perceptions of threat, especially from the United States and Israel, were not the only factor, but were in our judgment part of what drove whatever effort they were making to build nuclear weapons.” Had the US tried to reassure Iran on its security fears, Pillar says, that would have had a significant effect on Iranian policies. Iran has made several diplomatic overtures to the US since 2003 (see May 4, 2003), Pillar says, that have not been reciprocated by the Bush administration. While Iran wishes to be the “dominant regional superpower” in the Middle East, the NIEs state, it is not pursuing that aspiration by means that would jeopardize the possibility of thawed relations with the US. According to Ellen Laipson, who managed several NIEs on Iran as national intelligence officer for the Near East from 1990 through 1993, and closely followed others as vice-chair of the National Intelligence Council from 1997 to 2002, says the Iranian fear of a US attack has long been “a standard element” in NIEs on Iran. Laipson is “virtually certain the estimates linked Iran’s threat perceptions to its nuclear program.” The 1991 Gulf War heightened fears of US attacks on Iran, Laipson says, and the recent belligerence of the Bush administration have again agitated Iran’s rulers. Iran’s 2002 listing as one of seven countries that might be targeted by US nuclear weapons, and President Bush’s 2002 naming of Iran as a member of the so-called “axis of evil” (see January 29, 2002), further heightened Iranian fears of a US strike. In return, Iran has tried to counterbalance that threat with the threat of its own nuclear weapons as well as attempts to shore up relations with the US. Non-proliferation expert Joseph Cirincione says that US attempts to ease Iran’s fears would go a long way to convincing Iran to give up its nuclear program. “No nation has ever been coerced into giving up a nuclear program,” Cirincione says, “but many have been convinced to do so by the disappearance of the threat.” He cites the examples of three former Soviet republics, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, and Libya as nations who gave up their nuclear ambitions after fundamental international or internal changes eliminated the security threats that were driving their nuclear weapons programs. [Inter Press Service, 2/10/2006]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Ellen Laipson, Paul R. Pillar, Joseph Cirincione, National Intelligence Council

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Iran is unlikely to be able to develop a nuclear weapon before 2015, says the head of Germany’s intelligence service. Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) head Ernst Uhrlau tells a security conference, “It is difficult to give an exact estimate of the time,” but “[a]ccording to the current rate of enrichment, the Islamic Republic will not have sufficient amounts of highly enriched uranium with which to build atomic weapons before 2010. For a nuclear bomb we are looking at around 2015.” Uhrlau’s estimate echoes the findings of a recent US intelligence report on Iran’s nuclear weapons program (see August 2, 2005). Iran has long insisted that its nuclear program is strictly for the production of electricity. [Reuters, 10/24/2006]

Entity Tags: Ernst Uhrlau, Bundesnachrichtendienst

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

The US intelligence community begins plumbing the data they have compiled on Iran’s nuclear weapons program in an attempt to shore up the Bush administration’s premature conclusion that Iran is on the verge of producing a nuclear weapon. Instead, their conclusions are that Iran shut down its nuclear weapons program in 2003. In the process, White House aides begin a program of “deep dives,” or special briefings for President Bush to meet with not only his advisers but the actual analysts who study Iranian intelligence data, in an attempt to allow Bush to “get his hands dirty” with real intelligence and not just pre-digested summaries. Bush is dismayed at the lack of solid intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program and asks for more. When the intelligence community does provide more, it finds more and more evidence that Iran had shut down its nuclear weapons program years before. Those conclusions will be released in a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) a year later (see December 3, 2007).
Troubling Conclusions, White House Spin - Bush and his top officials don’t like the findings; if true, the reports disprove the entirety of the administration’s push to define Iran as an imminent threat to the Middle East. White House officials are initially skeptical, believing that the intelligence community might be a victim of Iranian disinformation. The intelligence agencies create a special “red team” of analysts to thoroughly test and, if possible, discredit the information. They are unable to do so. “They tried to figure out what exactly it would take to perpetrate that kind of deception, how many people would be involved, how they would go about doing it, when it would have been set up and so forth,” says one intelligence official. Analysts “scrubbed and rescrubbed” more than 1,000 pieces of evidence but conclude Iran’s program really had been shut down. Faced with that conclusion, the White House decides to focus on the findings that confirm their suspicions—that Iran did have a secret weapons program that could be restarted again. No one in the White House suggests that Bush tone down his rhetoric or change his policies towards Iran. Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell decides to keep the new findings secret, the same position adopted by Vice President Cheney (see October 2006 and November 10, 2007). Only the Israelis are told of the new findings; Congress, the US’s European allies, and the UN’s monitoring agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are told nothing. McConnell will reluctantly change his mind out of a fear of leaks and possible charges of a coverup. That decision may come back to haunt the administration, particularly with the ill-will it will create among the US’s allies. Former State Department nonproliferation official Robert Einhorn says, “The administration is going to pay a price for not allowing allies in on it at an earlier date. The French had carried the administration’s water on this issue and really went out on a limb to get the European Union to adopt tough sanctions. And now the rug has been pulled out from under them.”
New NIE Draft Sparks Controversy - An NIE the year before (see August 2, 2005) had led the US to conclude that Iran was actively working on a nuclear weapons program. Congressional Democrats, not entirely convinced by the NIE’s conclusions and increasingly resistant to Bush’s push for confrontation with Iran, asks for a new NIE. Bush wants the new NIE to confirm his accusations and, in one official’s words, “get more information on Iran so we know what they’re up to.” The 2005 NIE had been based largely on information about Iran’s “Project 1-11,” a program that Iran is apparently pursuing to retrofit a ballistic missile to carry nuclear warheads (see Summer 2004). But no new information on Project 1-11 has been secured in three years, and the administration insists on new confirmations. “They just wouldn’t budge,” one agency official recalls. A new draft is completed in June, provoking heated discussions among agency and administration officials. CIA director Michael Hayden and NSA director Keith Alexander begin directing their agencies to closely monitor Iranians who were involved in their country’s nuclear program. Soon, communications intercepts from key Iranian officials indicate that the program had been mothballed in 2003. Some of the officials discuss their belief that the program may never be restarted.
Evolving NIE - As the draft NIE evolves, McConnell, with the assistance of his deputies Thomas Fingar and Donald Kerr, both national security veterans, lay down ground rules. One official later says that McConnell “quickly got the mantra down: ‘We must make a clear distinction between what we know and don’t know and what we judge to be the case.’” The internal debate over the NIE is sharp and often contentious. McConnell will finally inform Bush of the new conclusions—that Iran stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003—in August (see December 5, 2007 and December 3-4, 2007). In September, House and Senate intelligence committee members are informed as well. A September draft radically differs from the June version, based in large part on the communications intercepts and the exhaustive analysis on the data possessed by the CIA and NIE. The chief analysts are grilled by Hayden and his deputy Stephen Kappes, but the analyses stand up. Cheney, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, and other key officials will be given a preliminary briefing on the new NIE on November 15; Bush, finalizing a Middle East peace conference in which he will try to rally Middle Eastern countries against Iran, is not officially told of the new NIE until November 28. Bush immediately tells Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (see November 26-28, 2007), and Cheney appraises Israeli Foreign Minister Ehud Barak. Discussions about whether or not to keep the NIE secret lead to McConnell’s decision to make a declassified version public. A top intelligence official says, “We knew it would leak, so honesty required that we get this out ahead, to prevent it from appearing to be cherry picking.” [Washington Post, 12/8/2007]

Entity Tags: Keith Alexander, Ehud Barak, Don Kerr, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Ehud Olmert, International Atomic Energy Agency, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Robert Einhorn, National Security Agency, Mike McConnell, Michael Hayden, Stephen Kappes, Thomas Fingar, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Ali Reza Asgari.Ali Reza Asgari. [Source: FARS / Reuters]Iran’s former Deputy Minister of Defense, General Ali Reza Asgari, defects during a visit to Turkey. [Inter Press Service, 12/17/2007] According to former CIA officer Vincent Cannistraro, Asgari is a longtime Western intelligence agent, and is immediately debriefed by Turkish and US intelligence officials. Asgari will be given a new identity; his current whereabouts are unknown to the public. [Guardian, 12/8/2007]
History and Connections - Asgari held the Defense Ministry position from 1997 through 2005, under the regime of reformist Iranian President Mohammed Khatami, and, according to US media reports, was providing the US with intelligence during that time period. [Inter Press Service, 12/17/2007] He is a former intelligence officer in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and is believed to have considerable knowledge about several IRGC-ordered terrorist attacks, including the October 1983 bombing of a US Marine barracks in Lebanon (see April 18-October 23, 1983) and the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia (see June 25, 1996). He has close ties to Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah, and presumably can tell US intelligence about Hezbollah’s military command structure, its overseas networks, and perhaps its cells inside the US. [Time, 3/22/2007]
Source for National Intelligence Estimate - Former CIA officer Philip Giraldi says that Asgari is a “key” source for the intelligence community’s National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran’s nuclear program, currently in development (see August 2, 2005). Asgari’s information helps the intelligence community determine that Iran had ceased work on its nuclear program in 2003. According to Giraldi, Asgari had been recruited by Turkish intelligence in 2003, and defected after learning that Iranian intelligence had become suspicious of him. Asgari defects with “bags of documents,” presumably including information about Iran’s nuclear program. Asgari will provide information crucial to the US’s ability to monitor sensitive communications among senior Iranian military officials (see July 2007), which helps corroborate the finding that Iran had indeed ceased research into nuclear weapons development. Former National Security Council official Gary Sick will say that Asgari’s knowledge of the Iranian military is critical in determining what is and is not important among the communications intercepts. “There are zillions of pieces of evidence, and what you look for is defined by what you know,” Sick will say. “What Asgari gave them was a new way of looking at the evidence.” It is highly likely that President Bush will be made aware of Asgari’s information soon after Asgari’s debriefing, though the White House will claim that Bush knew nothing of the new intelligence on Iran until August 2007 (see December 3-4, 2007). [Inter Press Service, 12/17/2007]

Entity Tags: Vincent Cannistraro, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, George W. Bush, Hezbollah, Ali-Reza Asgari, Central Intelligence Agency, Gary G. Sick, Hojjat ol-Eslam Seyyed Mohammad Khatami, Philip Giraldi

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

In an open letter to President Bush, Florida Congressman Robert Wexler and New York Congressman Gary Ackerman ask the president to give Congress immediate access to all information regarding a May 2003 dialog between Iran and the US in which Iran offered the US concessions (see May 4, 2003). Wexler and Ackerman acknowledge their skepticism of Iran’s intentions with regard to the offer, but ask the president to explain why the administration turned Iran down. Wexler and Ackerman, both of whom are members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, say the information is needed in order to create a more informed policy toward Iran. The two congressmen ask that the information be turned over to Congress by February 23, 2007. [Robert Wexler, 2/9/2007]

Entity Tags: Robert Wexler, George W. Bush, Iran, Gary Ackerman

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

The Iran NIE.The Iran NIE. [Source: Office of the Director of National Intelligence]The newly released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) for Iran’s nuclear weapons program concludes that Iran stopped working on nuclear weapons in 2003, and that the program remains on hold today. The Bush administration has repeatedly claimed that Iran is on the verge of acquiring nuclear arms, and has intimated that it is ready to attack that nation to prevent such an event from happening (see October 20, 2007). Interestingly, the administration has tried to have the NIE rewritten to more suit their view of Iran, an effort spearheaded by Vice President Dick Cheney (see October 2006). The findings of the NIE are expected to have a large impact on the negotiations between Iran and several Western countries, including the US, aimed at pressuring and cajoling Iran into giving up its nuclear energy program. The NIE, an assessment representing the consensus of the US’s 16 inteligence agencies, finds that while Iran’s ultimate ambitions towards becoming a nuclear-armed power remain unclear, Iran’s “decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic and military costs.… Some combination of threats of intensified international scrutiny and pressures, along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways might—if perceived by Iran’s leaders as credible—prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons program.” The NIE says that even if Iran were to restart development of its nuclear weapons program today, it would be at least two years at a minimum before it would have enough enriched uranium to produce a single bomb. The report says that Iran is more likely to develop a nuclear weapon by no earlier than 2013, “because of foreseeable technical and programmatic problems.” The report flatly contradicts the assessment made by a 2005 NIE that concluded Iran had an active nuclear weapons program and was determined to create them as quickly as possible. “We felt that we needed to scrub all the assessments and sources to make sure we weren’t misleading ourselves,” says one senior intelligence official. [New York Times, 12/3/2007; Director of National Intelligence, 12/3/2007 pdf file] There is no official word as to why the NIE has been publicly released by the White House when it so transparently contradicts the stance of the Bush administration, but Cheney implies the decision stems from a fear that it would be leaked anyway: “[T]here was a general belief that we all shared that it was important to put it out—that it was not likely to stay classified for long, anyway.” [Politico, 12/5/2007] The NIE is compiled from information gathered since 2004; one of the key intelligence findings is from intercepted phone calls between Iranian military commanders indicating that the nuclear program has been halted (see July 2007).

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

As part of the conservative backlash against the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran that concluded Iran had halted work on its nuclear weapons program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007 and December 3-6, 2007), some Senate Republicans intend to call for a Congressional commission to investigate the conclusions and the intelligence that went into it, with an eye to discrediting the NIE and its producers. John Ensign (R-NV) says he will propose a “bipartisan” commission to review the NIE, saying, “Iran is one of the greatest threats in the world today. Getting the intelligence right is absolutely critical, not only on Iran’s capability but its intent. So now there is a huge question raised, and instead of politicizing that report, let’s have a fresh set of eyes—objective, yes—look at it.… There are a lot of people out there who do question [the NIE]. There is a huge difference between the 2005 and 2007 estimates.” The 2005 NIE concluded, apparently erroneously, that Iran was an imminent threat for developing a nuclear weapon (see August 2, 2005). Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) adds, “If [the NIE is] inaccurate, it could result in very serious damage to legitimate American policy.” As late as July 2007, Sessions notes, intelligence officials testified before Congress that they believed Iran was hard at work developing a nuclear weapon. “We need to update our conclusions,” Sessions says, “but this is a substantial change.” The proposed commission would take its cue from a commission that examined a 1995 NIE on the ballistic missile threat faced by the US. [Washington Post, 12/7/2007]

Entity Tags: Jeff Sessions, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, John Ensign

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

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