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Shortly after George W. Bush is inaugurated into office, Greg Thielmann, an analyst for the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), is appointed to serve as the intelligence liaison to John Bolton, the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. However, Thielmann’s intelligence briefings do not support Bolton’s assumptions about Iraq, and Thielmann will eventually be barred from attending the relevant meetings (see After October 7, 2002). (Hersh 10/27/2003)
Italy’s military intelligence service (SISMI) provides Jeff Castelli, the CIA station chief in Rome, with papers documenting an alleged uranium deal between Iraq and Niger. Castelli, who is not permitted to duplicate the papers, writes a summary of them and sends the report to Langley. (Hersh 10/27/2003; Landay 11/4/2005; Bonini and D'Avanzo 11/11/2005)
The allegations - The report includes four allegations:
The report states that Iraq first communicated its interest in purchasing uranium from Niger at least as early as 1999. (US Congress 7/7/2004) As blogger ERiposte will conclude through his analysis at TheLeftCoaster.Org (ERiposte 10/31/2005) , none of the documents that are later provided to the US as the basis for this allegation include actual proof of uranium negotiations in 1999. Two of the source documents for this allegation do mention a 1999 visit by Wissam Al-Zahawi to Niger; however, no evidence has ever surfaced suggesting that there were any discussions about uranium during that visit (see February 1999). The first document (possibly authentic) is a letter, dated February 1, 1999, from the Niger embassy in Rome to Adamou Chekou, the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Niger, announcing Zahawie’s trip. It does not mention uranium. (Note that the SISMI report does not mention Al-Zahawi’s trip, it only states that uranium negotiations between the two countries began by at least 1999.) The second document is a letter dated July 30, 1999 from the Niger Ministry of Foreign Affairs to his ambassador in Rome requesting that he contact Zahawie, concerning an agreement signed June 28, 2000 to sell uranium to Iraq. The letter is an obvious forgery because it refers to an event that it describes as taking place 11 months later. (Unknown n.d.; La Repubblica (Rome) 7/16/2003)
The SISMI report states that in “late 2000,” the State Court of Niger approved an agreement with Iraq whereby Niger would sell Iraq a large quantity of uranium. This allegation appears to be based on a forged document titled “Annex 1,” which was possibly an annex to the alleged uranium agreement. It is evident that this document was forged because it says that the state court “met in the chamber of the council in the palace… on Wednesday, July 7, 2000.” But July 7, 2000 was, in fact, a Friday, not a Wednesday. One of SISMI’s reports to the US, possibly this one, actually reproduces this error. (Unknown n.d.; La Repubblica (Rome) 7/16/2003; ERiposte 10/31/2005)
According to the report, Nigerien President Mamadou Tandja approved the agreement and communicated this decision to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The source for this is apparently a forged letter from the president of Niger to Saddam Hussein, in which the president refers to his authority under the country’s obsolete 1966 constitution. At the time the letter was presumed to have been written, the constitution in effect would have been that of December 26, 1992, which was subsequently revised by national referendum on May 12, 1996 and again by referendum on July 18, 1999. (Unknown n.d.; Charbonneau 3/26/2003; La Repubblica (Rome) 7/16/2003; US Department of State 9/2005)
The report also alleges that in October 2000, Nigerien Minister of Foreign Affairs Nassirou Sabo informed one of his ambassadors in Europe that Niger had agreed to provide several tons of uranium to Iraq. (Unknown n.d.; La Repubblica (Rome) 7/16/2003) This is seemingly based on a forged letter that accompanied the alleged uranium sales agreement. The letter, dated October 10, 2000, is stamped as being received in Rome on September 28, 2000—nearly two weeks before the letter was presumably written. Furthermore, there is a problem with the signature. Unlike what is reported in the SISMI papers provided to the CIA, the actual letter is signed by Allele Elhadj Habibou, who left office in 1989. This indicates that someone must have corrected this information, replacing the name of Allele Elhadj Habibou with that of Nassirou Sabo (the minister in October 2000), before the letter was included in this report. (ERiposte 10/31/2005)
Distribution within US Intelligence Community - After receiving the report from its Rome station, the CIA distributes it to other US intelligence agencies. According to a later Senate investigation, the “CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and Department of Energy (DOE) analysts considered the reporting to be ‘possible’ while the Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) regarded the report as ‘highly suspect,’ primarily because INR analysts did not believe that Niger would be likely to engage in such a transaction and did not believe Niger would be able to transfer uranium to Iraq because a French consortium maintained control of the Nigerien uranium industry.” (US Congress 7/7/2004) Sources later interviewed by New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh portray US intelligence analysts’ assessment of the report in slightly harsher terms, saying that they “dismissed [it] as amateurish and unsubstantiated.” (Hersh 10/27/2003) “I can fully believe that SISMI would put out a piece of intelligence like that,” a CIA consultant later tells Hersh, “but why anybody would put credibility in it is beyond me.” (Hersh 5/17/2004, pp. 227) Langley asks for further clarification from Rome and receives a response three days later (see October 18, 2001). (Bonini and D'Avanzo 11/11/2005)
Repeated Dissemination - The documents and reports based on the documents are sent to the CIA at least three separate times. They are also sent to the White House, the US embassy in Rome, British and French intelligence, and Italian journalist Elisabetta Burba of the news magazine Panorama. Each recipient in turn shares the documents, or their contents, with others, creating what author Craig Unger later calls “an echo chamber that gives the illusion that several independent sources had corroborated an Iraq-Niger uranium deal.” (Unger 2007, pp. 237)
The State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) says in a report, according to INR official Greg Thielmann, that “there is no persuasive evidence that the Iraqi nuclear program is being reconstituted.” (Hersh 10/27/2003 Sources: Greg Thielmann)
Greg Thielmann, director for strategic proliferation and military affairs at the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), reviews Iraq’s alleged WMD programs for Secretary of State Colin Powell. Thielmann’s review concludes that Italian reports of a possible uranium deal between Iraq and Niger (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, October 15, 2001, October 18, 2001, November 20, 2001, February 5, 2002, Late April or Early May 2002-June 2002, and Late June 2002) are completely false. Thielmann will later recall: “A whole lot of things told us that the report was bogus. This wasn’t highly contested. There weren’t strong advocates on the other side. It was done, shot down” (see March 1, 2002). (Unger 2007, pp. 229)
The State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) sends Colin Powell a memo warning that the current draft (see January 30-February 4, 2003) of Powell’s UN speech contains 38 “weak” and “unsubstantiated” allegations. It says the allegation that Saddam has plans to conceal his WMDs is from mostly “questionable sources” and that the alleged decontamination vehicles—purported to be evidence of Iraqi WMD—are “water trucks that can have legitimate uses.” The memo emphatically warns that the section on the aluminum tubes is “WEAK” and contains “egregious errors.” It also disputes the speech’s claim that terrorists “could come through Baghdad and pick-up biological weapons.” As a result of the memo’s warnings, 28 of the 38 allegations identified by INR as weak are removed from the draft. Two days later, three more claims are removed when INR objects to seven more of the speech’s allegations. (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 179)
The CIA Directorate of Operations issues a second intelligence report from SISMI, Italy’s military intelligence service, on Iraq’s alleged agreement with Niger to purchase 500 tons of uranium annually. This report provides details that were not included in Italy’s October 15 report (see October 15, 2001), including a “verbatim text” of the accord. (It is not clear what the source is for the “verbatim text”. (ERiposte 3/6/2006) ) According to the report, the purported agreement was signed by Iraqi and Niger officials during meetings held July 5-6, 2000. (US Congress 7/7/2004; Landay 11/4/2005) The SISMI report also draws attention to a 1999 trip to Niger made by Wissam al-Zahawie (see February 1999), Iraq’s former ambassador to the Vatican, and alleges that its mission was to discuss the future purchase of uranium. This is the first report from SISMI that names al-Zahawie and refers directly to his 1999 trip. (SISMI’s previous report had only stated that negotiations had begun by at least 1999.) This report, as well as the previous report, is based on the forged Niger documents. (Hersh 10/27/2003; US Congress 7/7/2004; ERiposte 11/3/2005) Analysts at the CIA and the DIA are more impressed with the detail and substance of this second report, but analysts at the Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) remain skeptical of the report’s allegations noting that it was unlikely that Niger would sell uranium to Iraq because the Nigeriens would have considered the risk of being caught too great. An INR analyst asks the CIA if the source of the report would submit to a polygraph. A CIA analyst who also asks about the source is told by the DO that the source is “very credible.” (US Congress 7/7/2004)
The CIA’s Directorate of Operations (DO) Counterproliferation Division (CPD) holds a meeting with former ambassador Joseph Wilson, intelligence analysts from both the CIA and State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), and several individuals from the DO’s Africa and CPD divisions. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss the merits of sending Wilson to Niger. Wilson is introduced by his wife Valerie Plame Wilson, who heads CPD’s Joint Task Force on Iraq (JTFI). (US Congress 7/7/2004, pp. 59; Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 94-95)
Wife Does Not Participate in Meeting - In her 2007 book Fair Game, Plame Wilson will write that she brings her husband into the briefing room, introduces him to the “10 or so participants,” and “[a]fter a minute or so, I went back to my desk to attend to what seemed like a hundred other operational crises. When the meeting broke, Joe poked his head in my office to say that the group had asked him to consider going to Niger to discuss the report.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 111)
Wilson's Qualifications - Wilson will later describe himself as “the insider increasing [the CIA analysts’] store of information, supplying that perspective missing from their raw data. I had served as a junior diplomatic officer in Niger in the mid-1970s, a period that happened to coincide with the growth in the uranium business there. We had followed this issue closely from the American Embassy in Niamey, Niger’s capital, just as my staff and I had when I was ambassador to Gabon, another uranium-producing country, from 1992 to 1995. When I worked on the National Security Council in the Clinton administration two years later, among my areas of responsibility was the African uranium industry. Rarely did conversations with Africans from uranium-producing countries fail to touch on the subject. Niger, where I had traveled frequently over the years, was always of particular interest.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 8)
Details Shared with Wilson - In the meeting, Wilson learns of a report that purports to document a memorandum of sale from Niger to Iraq, and that the report had aroused the interest of Vice President Dick Cheney (see (February 13, 2002)). Cheney’s office has tasked the CIA to determine the truth or falsity of the report. The report is lacking in key details. Wilson’s knowledge of the region, particularly of the government and private interests involved in mining and distributing uranium, will be particularly helpful. Wilson later writes, “The Nigeriens were the same people I had dealt with during and after my time at the National Security Council, people I knew well.” The former minister of mines, the man responsible for oversight of the industry at the time of the alleged sales, is a friend of his.
Skepticism among Participants about Report - Wilson will later describe himself as “skeptical, as prudent consumers of intelligence always are about raw information.” He will note that much of this kind of intelligence is classified as “rumint,” or rumors passing as fact, and is usually “no more reliable than Bigfoot sightings. Rumint is a necessary and unfortunate reality in a world where many people will tell you what they think you want to hear, as opposed to simple facts.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 14-15) Notes taken by INR analyst Douglas Rohn, as well as e-mails from other participants, indicate that INR expresses skepticism that the alleged uranium contract could have taken place. Rohn, who served as deputy chief of mission in Niger during the ‘90s, writes that it would have been very difficult to conceal such a large shipment of yellowcake because “the French appear to have control of the uranium mining, milling and transport process, and would seem to have little interest in selling uranium to the Iraqis.” INR also says that the embassy in Niger has good contacts and is thus in a position to get to the truth on the matter, and therefore believes the proposed trip to Niger would be redundant. Others attending the meeting argue that the trip would probably not resolve the matter because the Nigeriens would be unlikely to admit to a uranium sales agreement with Iraq. An e-mail from a WINPAC analyst to CPD following the meeting notes, “[I]t appears that the results from this source will be suspect at best, and not believable under most scenarios.” CPD nonetheless concludes that sending Wilson would be worth a try. (US Congress 7/7/2004, pp. 59; Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 94-95)
Open and Public Visit - Wilson is willing, but points out that he is not a spy, but a former diplomat with no experience with clandestine work. He will be recognized in Niger. Therefore, there can be no expectation of any covert or clandestine actions on his part; everything he does will be open and above board. He also insists on obtaining the approval of both the State Department and the US Ambassador to Niger, Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, before entering the country. He expects no payment for his visit, but will accept reimbursement for expenses. The others in the meeting agree. The rest of the two-hour meeting is spent considering and plotting out various scenarios, based on who he might see and what he might learn during his visit. (Wilson 2004, pp. 16-17) “I went through what I knew about… uranium,” Wilson later recalls. “I went through what I knew about the personalities.… People chimed in, and I answered them as best I could. It was a kind of free-for-all, and at the end they sort of asked, ‘Well, would you be able to clear your schedule and go out there if we wanted?’ and I said, ‘Sure.’” (Ward 1/2004)
While former ambassador Joseph Wilson is still in Africa learning about the supposed Iraq-Niger uranium deal (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), Douglas Rohn, an analyst for the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), writes an intelligence assessment, titled “Niger: Sale of Uranium to Iraq Is Unlikely,” that disputes recent Italian intelligence reports (see October 15, 2001 and February 5, 2002) suggesting that Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from Niger. The assessment reiterates INR’s view that France controls the uranium industry and “would take action to block a sale of the kind alleged in a CIA report of questionable credibility from a foreign government service.” It adds that though “some officials may have conspired for individual gain to arrange a uranium sale,” Nigerien President Mamadou Tandja’s government would have been unlikely to risk relations with the US and other key aid donors. And it cites the logistical difficulties of a secret transaction requiring “25 hard-to-conceal 10-ton trailers” that would have had to travel 1,000 miles and cross one international border before reaching the sea. “A whole lot of things told us that the report was bogus,” Greg Thielmann, a high-ranking INR official, will later explain to Time magazine. “This wasn’t highly contested. There weren’t strong advocates on the other side. It was done, shot down.” The assessment, drafted in response to interest from the vice president’s office (see (February 13, 2002)), is sent to the White House Situation Room and Secretary of State Colin Powell. (Carney and Duffy 7/21/2003; US Congress 7/7/2004, pp. 59; Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 96-97; Unger 2007, pp. 241)
The Office of Africa Analysis in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) argues in a memo that the alleged uranium deal between Iraq and Niger is “unlikely” for a number of reasons. It notes that France—which jointly owns the country’s only two uranium mines and is dependent on them for forty percent of its uranium—“unequivocally controls the overall operation” and would not permit such a transaction to take place. “There are managers and engineers at every point in the mining, milling, and transportation process,” the memo says. Even if Niger did manage to obtain 500 tons of uranium from the mines, transporting it to Iraq (in two phases, as specified in the orginal forged documents) would have required “25 hard-to-conceal 10-ton tractor-trailers” journeying 1,000 miles to the sea and crossing at least one international border. “Moving such a quantity secretly over such a distance would be very difficult,” the memo notes. Furthermore, Niger officials would have deemed such an arrangement too risky because they “understand the value of good relations with the US and other aid donors.” “A payoff from Iraq of $50 million or even $100 million would not make up for what would be lost if the donor community turned off the taps to Niger.” (US Department of State 3/4/2002 ) The memo is distributed at senior levels by the office of Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and by the Defense Intelligence Agency. (Lichtblau 1/18/2006) (Note the similarity between this memo and the one INR released three days earlier (see March 1, 2002). It is not clear how they are related or if indeed they are actually the same)
Vice President Cheney, widely acknowledged as a master bureaucrat, uses a variety of bureaucratic strategies to craft his own foreign policy strategies, including the promotion the Office of Special Plans (OSP—see September 2002), simultaneously undercutting and marginalizing the CIA. Many senior intelligence officials have no idea that the OSP even exists. “I didn’t know about its existence,” Greg Thielmann, the director of the State Department’s in-house intelligence agency, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), will say.
Strategic Placement of Personal, Ideological Allies - Another Cheney strategy is personal placement. He moves his special adviser, neoconservative William Luti, into the OSP. Another influential neoconservative, Abram Shulsky, soon joins Luti there. A longtime associate of both Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Stephen Cambone, becomes a special assistant to Rumsfeld (see Early 2001). Cheney now has his allies at the highest levels of the Pentagon. In Cheney’s office, chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby serves as his liaison with the Pentagon. His chief counsel, David Addington, oversees Cheney’s aggressive and obsessively secretive legal staff. In the National Security Council (NSC), Stephen Hadley, Condoleezza Rice’s deputy, keeps a close eye on Rice in case she shows signs of falling back in with her old mentor, Brent Scowcroft (see August 1998). John Bolton and David Wurmser keep tabs on Colin Powell at the State Department. Cheney has John Yoo (see (After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001) at the Justice Department. Not only does Cheney have highly placed loyalists in the State, Defense, and Justice Department, and in the NSC, he has vital allies in the Republican leadership in Congress.
Managing the Oval Office - Cheney handles the Oval Office himself. A Pentagon official who works closely with Cheney will later observe that President Bush handles the executive branch much as he handled the Texas Rangers baseball team: ignoring much of the daily functions, leaving most policy decisions to others and serving as a “corporate master of ceremonies, attending to the morale of the management team and focusing on narrow issues… that interested him.” Cheney becomes, in author Craig Unger’s words, “the sole framer of key issues for Bush,” the single conduit through which information reaches the president. Cheney, the Pentagon official will later say, “rendered the policy planning, development and implementation functions of the interagency system essentially irrelevant. He has, in matters he has deemed important, governed. As a matter of protocol, good manners, and constitutional deference, he has obtained the requisite ‘check-mark’ of the president, often during one-on-one meetings after a Potemkin ‘interagency process’ had run its often inconclusive course.” (Unger 2007, pp. 249-250)
Representatives from the Central Intelligence Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, National Imagery and Mapping Agency, the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research and the Energy Department’s intelligence agency meet to discuss the draft of the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, which will be published the following month (see October 1, 2002). Representing the DOE’s intelligence service is Thomas Ryder, who is temporarily filling in as the office’s acting director. Significantly, Ryder is a “human resources guy” with no intelligence background. “Ryder is not an intelligence guy by any stretch of the imagination,” a DOE source will later explain to World Net Daily. “He [has]… no intel background whatsoever. He [works] on all the personnel stuff—paperwork for promotions, hiring contractors, stuff like that.” At the meeting, Ryder is supposed to represent the position of the DOE’s scientists and intelligence officers, who believe that Iraq has not reconstituted its nuclear weapons program. Scientists in the Energy Department as well as officers in the department’s intelligence office want to join the INR in its dissenting vote. One official will later explain to World Net Daily, “Senior folks in the office wanted to join INR on the footnote, and even wanted to write it with them, so the footnote would have read, ‘Energy and INR.’” (Sperry 8/12/2003; Barstow, Broad, and Gerth 10/3/2004 Sources: Unnamed US official) Instead Ryder will side with the other intelligence agencies who claim that Iraq has reconstituted its nuclear weapons program. An official later tells World Net Daily that when Ryder and his staff were arguing over Iraq’s alleged program during a pre-brief, Ryder told them to “shut up and sit down.” (Sperry 8/12/2003 Sources: Unnamed US official) When the voting takes place, Ryder does not sign his department onto the State Department’s dissenting opinion. As a result, the final vote is a near unanimous 5-1. “Time comes for the Iraq NIE, and instead of being hard-charging and proactive and pulling everybody together, he just didn’t know what to do,” one source later says. “He wasn’t a strong advocate. He just didn’t have the background. He didn’t have the gravitas.” The Department of Energy’s position on the issue is considered very important. “Energy’s vote on the nuclear allegation was critical, because the department is viewed as the final arbiter of technical disputes regarding nuclear-proliferation issues,” World Net Daily will note. (Sperry 8/12/2003; Sperry 8/12/2003 Sources: Unnamed US official) While serving in the temporary DOE position, Ryder, who is said to be close to Secretary Spencer Abraham, receives bonuses totaling $20,500. Energy insiders will say they cannot remember a previous instance where an intelligence chief had been provided with such a large bonus. “That’s a hell of a lot of money for an intelligence director who had no experience or background in intelligence, and who’d only been running the office for nine months,” one official says. “Something’s fishy.” (Sperry 8/12/2003)
President Bush receives a one-page, highly classified “President’s Summary” of the US intelligence community’s new National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002). The summary discusses the high-strength aluminum tubes that many administration and Pentagon officials believe are being used to help Iraq construct a nuclear weapon. Both the Energy Department (DOE) and the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) believe the tubes are “intended for conventional weapons,” contradicting the view of other intelligence agencies, including the CIA and DIA. The public will not be told of Bush’s personal knowledge of the DOE and INR dissents until March 2006. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and other senior officials will try to explain the administration’s stance on Iraq’s nuclear program by asserting that neither Bush, Vice President Cheney, nor Rice ever saw the dissents. For months, Bush, Cheney, Rice, Secretary of State Colin Powell (see February 5, 2003), and others will cite the tubes as indisputable proof of an Iraqi nuclear program. US inspectors will discover, after the fall of the Iraqi regime, that the nuclear program had been dormant for over ten years, and the aluminum tubes used only for artillery shells.
Inquiry - The Bush administration will refuse to release the summary to Congressional investigators who wish to know the basis for the Bush administration’s assertions about Iraq’s nuclear weapons program. A senior official calls it the “one document which illustrates what the president knew and when he knew it.” It is likely that Bush never read the dissents in the report itself, as administration officials will confirm they do not believe Bush would have read the entire NIE, and it is likely that he never made it to the dissents, in a special text box positioned well away from the main text of the report. However, the one-page summary was written specifically for Bush, was handed to Bush by then-CIA director George Tenet, Bush read the summary in Tenet’s presence, and the two discussed the subject at length. Cheney was given virtually the same information as Bush concerning every aspect of the intelligence community’s findings on Iraq. Nevertheless, Bush and other officials (see July 11, 2003) will claim for months that they were unaware of the dissents. (Waas 3/2/2006)
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….” (Gumbel 11/3/2003; Barstow, Broad, and Gerth 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; Pincus 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; Milbank 7/19/2003; Landay 2/10/2004; Landay 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; Milbank 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; Barstow, Broad, and Gerth 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. (Milbank 7/19/2003; Nichols and Diamond 7/31/2003; Gellman 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.” (Milbank 7/19/2003; Nichols and Diamond 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.” (Linzer and Lumpkin 8/24/2003; Graham 9/26/2003; Landay 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?” (Linzer and Lumpkin 8/24/2003; Graham 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. (Graham 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. (Linzer and Lumpkin 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. (Milbank 7/19/2003; Stevenson 7/19/2003; Milbank and Allen 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.’” (Milbank and Allen 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.” (Pillar 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)
In a televised speech, President Bush presents the administration’s case that Saddam Hussein’s regime is a threat to the security of the nation and insists that regime change would improve lifes for Iraqis. “Some worry that a change of leadership in Iraq could create instability and make the situation worse. The situation could hardly get worse, for world security and for the people of Iraq. The lives of Iraqi citizens would improve dramatically if Saddam Hussein were no longer in power, just as the lives of Afghanistan’s citizens improved after the Taliban.” The speech is widely criticized for including false and exaggerated statements.
Iraq has attempted to purchase equipment used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons - Bush claims that a shipment of 3,000 aluminum tubes to Iraq, which were intercepted in Jordan by US authorities in July of 2001 (see July 2001), had been destined for use in a uranium enrichment program. But by this time numerous experts and government scientists have already warned the administration against making this allegation. (US President 10/14/2002) Three weeks before Bush’s speech, The Washington Post ran a story on the aluminum tubes. The article summarized a study by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), disputing the administration’s claim that the tubes were to be used for gas centrifuges. The report was authored by the institute’s president and founder, David Albright, a respected nuclear physicist, who had investigated Iraq’s nuclear weapons program after the First Gulf War as a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s inspection team and who has spoken before Congress on numerous occasions. In his study, he concluded that Iraq’s attempts to import the tubes “are not evidence that Iraq is in possession of, or close to possessing, nuclear weapons” and “do not provide evidence that Iraq has an operating centrifuge plant or when such a plant could be operational.” (Warrick 9/19/2002; Borger 10/9/2002; Collier 10/12/2002; Albright 10/9/2003) Soon after the speech, Albright tells The Guardian newspaper that there is still no evidence to substantiate that interpretation. As one unnamed specialist at the US Department of Energy explains to the newspaper, “I would just say there is not much support for that [nuclear] theory around here.” (Borger 10/9/2002) The Washington Post article also reported that government experts on nuclear technology who disagreed with the White House view had told Albright that the administration expected them to remain silent. (Warrick 9/19/2002; Fisk 9/22/2002) Houston G. Wood III, a retired Oak Ridge physicist considered to be “among the most eminent living experts” on gas centrifuges reviewed the tube question in August 2001 (see 1950s) and concluded at that time that it was very unlikely that the tubes had been imported to be used for centrifuges in a uranium enrichment program. He later tells The Washington Post in mid-2003 that “it would have been extremely difficult to make these tubes into centrifuges,” adding that it stretched “the imagination to come up with a way.” He also says that other centrifuge experts whom he knew shared his assessment of the tubes. (Gellman and Pincus 8/10/2003) In addition to the several outside experts who criticized the tubes allegation, analysts within the US intelligence community also doubted the claim. Less than a week before Bush’s speech, the Energy Department and the State Department’s intelligence branch, the INR, had appended a statement to a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq disputing the theory (see October 1, 2002). (Central Intelligence Agency 10/1/2002 Sources: David Albright)
Saddam Hussein ordered his nuclear program to continue in 1998 - Bush says that US intelligence has information that Saddam Hussein ordered his nuclear program to continue after inspectors left in 1998. “Before being barred from Iraq in 1998, the International Atomic Energy Agency dismantled extensive nuclear weapons-related facilities, including three uranium enrichment sites,” Bush charges. “That same year, information from a high-ranking Iraqi nuclear engineer who had defected revealed that despite his public promises, Saddam Hussein had ordered his nuclear program to continue.” (Collier 10/12/2002; US President 10/14/2002) But Bush’s “high-ranking” source turns out to be Khidir Hamza, who is considered by many to be an unreliable source. Albright, who was president of the Institute for Science and International Security where Hamza worked as an analyst from 1997 to 1999, says that after Hamza defected, “he went off the edge [and] started saying irresponsible things.” (Collier 10/12/2002) And General Hussein Kamel, Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law who was in charge of the dictator’s former weapons program but who defected in 1995, told UNSCOM and IAEA inspectors, as well as US and British intelligence, that Khidir Hamza was “a professional liar.” Kamel explained, “He worked with us, but he was useless and always looking for promotions. He consulted with me but could not deliver anything…. He was even interrogated by a team before he left and was allowed to go.” (United Nations Special Commission 4/16/1998; Hersh 5/12/2003)
Iraq is developing drones that could deploy chemical and biological weapons - The President claims that Iraq is developing drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which “could be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons across broad areas.” He goes so far as to say, “We’re concerned that Iraq is exploring ways of using these UAVs for missions targeting the United States.” (Borger 10/9/2002; US President 10/14/2002) But this claim comes shortly after US intelligence agencies completed a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, in which Air Force intelligence had disputed the drone allegation (see October 1, 2002). Bush’s drone allegation is quickly derided by experts and other sources. The Guardian of London reports two days later that according to US military experts, “Iraq had been converting eastern European trainer jets, known as L-29s, into drones, but… that with a maximum range of a few hundred miles they were no threat to targets in the US.” (Borger 10/9/2002) And the San Francisco Chronicle will cite experts who say that “slow-moving unmanned aerial vehicles would likely be shot down as soon as they crossed Iraq’s borders” because “Iraqi airspace is closely monitored by US and British planes and radar systems.” The report will also note, “It’s also unclear how the vehicles would reach the US mainland—the nearest point is Maine, almost 5, 500 miles away—without being intercepted.” (Collier 10/12/2002) Anthony Cordesman, a security analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, will say he believes the drone allegation is unrealistic. In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, he says, “As a guesstimate, Iraq’s present holdings of delivery systems and chemical and biological weapons seem most likely to be so limited in technology and operational lethality that they do not constrain US freedom of action or do much to intimidate Iraq’s neighbors.” (Collier 10/12/2002) These criticisms of Bush’s claim are validated after the US invasion of Iraq. Two US government scientists involved in the post-invasion hunt for weapons of mass destruction will tell the Associated Press in August 2003 that they inspected the drones and concluded that they were never a threat to the US. “We just looked at the UAVs and said, ‘There’s nothing here. There’s no room to put anything in here,’” one of the scientists will say. “The US scientists, weapons experts who spoke on condition of anonymity, reached their conclusions after studying the small aircraft and interviewing Iraqi missile experts, system designers and Gen. Ibrahim Hussein Ismail, the Iraqi head of the military facility where the UAVs were designed,” the Associated Press will explain in its report. (Linzer and Lumpkin 8/24/2003)
Saddam Hussein could give terrorists weapons of mass destruction - Bush asserts, “Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists.” (US President 10/14/2002) But not only have numerous experts and inside sources disputed this theory (see July 2002-March 19, 2003), US intelligence’s National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq—completed just one week before—concluded that this is an unlikely scenario (see October 1, 2002). “Baghdad, for now, appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks with conventional or CBW against the United States,” the document clearly stated. “Should Saddam conclude that a US-led attack could no longer be deterred he probably would become much less constrained in adopting terrorist actions.” (Collier 10/12/2002)
Iraq rebuilding facilities associated with production of biological and chemical weapons - Bush claims that surveillance photos indicate that Iraq “is rebuilding facilities that it had used to produce chemical and biological weapons.” (US President 10/14/2002) On the following day, photos are published on the White House website showing that Iraq had repaired three sites damaged by US bombs—the Al Furat Manufacturing Facility, the Nassr Engineering Establishment Manufacturing Facility, and Fallujah II. (US President 10/14/2002) But no evidence is provided by the White House demonstrating that these sites have resumed activities related to the production of weapons of mass destruction. Iraqi authorities will give reporters a tour of the facilities on October 10 (see October 10, 2002).
Iraq has trained al-Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases - Bush alleges that Iraq has trained al-Qaeda operatives “in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases.” (US President 10/14/2002) The claim is based on a September 2002 CIA document which had warned that its sources were of “varying reliability” and that the claim had not yet been substantiated (see September 2002). The report’s main source, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an al-Qaeda operative who offered the information to CIA interrogators while in custody, later recants the claim (see February 14, 2004). A Defense Intelligence Agency report in February 2002 (see February 2002) had also expressed doubt in the claim, going so far as to suggest that al-Libi was “intentionally misleading [his] debriefers.” (CNN 9/26/2002; Jehl 7/31/2004; Isikoff 7/5/2005; Jehl 11/6/2005) And earlier in the month, US intelligence services had concluded in their National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq that this allegation could not be confirmed. (CNN 9/26/2002; Royce 10/10/2002; Collier 10/12/2002; Pincus 6/22/2003)
A very senior al-Qaeda leader received medical treatment in Baghdad - Bush claims: “Some al-Qaeda leaders who fled Afghanistan went to Iraq. These include one very senior al-Qaeda leader who received medical treatment in Baghdad this year, and who has been associated with planning for chemical and biological attacks.” The allegation refers to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born Palestinian who is the founder of al-Tawhid, an organization whose aim is to kill Jews and install an Islamic regime in Jordan. It was first leaked to the press by an anonymous US official several days before Bush’s speech (see October 2, 2002). The allegation is partly based on intercepted telephone calls in which al-Zarqawi was overheard calling friends or relatives (see December 2001-Mid-2002). But on the same day as Bush’s speech, Knight Ridder Newspapers reports that according to US intelligence officials, “The intercepts provide no evidence that the suspected terrorist was working with the Iraqi regime or that he was working on a terrorist operation while he was in Iraq.” (Strobel, Landay, and Walcott 10/7/2002; US President 10/14/2002) Al-Zarqawi will link with al-Qaeda, but only in 2004, after the start of the war in Iraq (see October 17, 2004).
Vice President Cheney’s man in the State Department, Undersecretary of State John Bolton, takes steps to ensure that only the “right” intelligence analysts will be allowed to attend meetings on Iraq, after the embarrassment of having the CIA refuse to allow President Bush to accuse Iraq of attempting to buy uranium from Niger (see October 5, 2002 and October 6, 2002). Bolton bars Greg Thielmann, the director of the State Department’s INR (its in-house intelligence bureau), from attending any more meetings on any related subject. Thielmann had questioned the forged Niger documents (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, February 5, 2002, and February 12, 2002). “Bolton seemed to be troubled because INR was not telling them what he wanted to hear,” Thielmann will later recall. “I was intercepted at the door of his office and told, ‘The undersecretary doesn’t need you to attend this meeting anymore. The undersecretary wants to keep this in the family.’” (Unger 2007, pp. 263)
The US embassy in Rome faxes the Niger documents to the State Department’s Bureau of Nonproliferation, which then passes a copy of the documents to the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), the State Department’s intelligence bureau. (US Congress 7/7/2004, pp. 58) Simon Dodge, an INR nuclear analyst, receives a copy, and after a brief review of the documents immediately suspects that they are bogus. One particularly strange document that is included in the Niger papers describes a secret meeting that allegedly took place on June 14, 2002 at the home of the Iraqi ambassador in Rome. According to the document, the meeting was attended by military officials from Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, and Pakistan. The purpose of the meeting was to form a coalition of Islamic nations against the West. They would seek “Global Support,” which would include backing from the “Islamic patriots accused of belonging to criminal organizations.” Dodge finds the scenario depicted in the document “completely implausible.” He notices that the document bears the same official seal that is stamped on the Niger documents. He concludes that the documents are probably all fakes, and he sends an email to other analysts in the intelligence community explaining this conclusion. (US Congress 7/7/2004, pp. 58; Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 162; CBS News 4/23/2006) According to one unnamed CIA official, “Everybody knew at every step of the way that they were false—until they got to the Pentagon, where they were believed.” (Hersh 10/27/2003) Copies also go to nuclear experts at the DIA, the Department of Energy, and the NSA. Wayne White, the deputy director of the INR and the INR’s principal Iraq analyst, reviews the documents himself. Within 15 minutes he too begins doubting their authenticity (see Mid-October 2002). (Unger 2007, pp. 261)
President Bush receives a highly classified “President’s Summary” from the intelligence community’s National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002), focusing on whether or not Saddam Hussein would launch an unprovoked attack on the US, either directly or in conjunction with terrorist groups. The consensus of all 16 intelligence agencies is that such an attack would be highly unlikely unless “ongoing military operations risked the imminent demise of his regime,” or if Hussein intends to “extract revenge” for such an assault. The State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) goes even farther, stating that Hussein is “unlikely to conduct clandestine attacks against the US homeland even if [his] regime’s demise is imminent” as the result of a US invasion. The same conclusion is circulated in Senior Executive Intelligence Briefs for senior White House officials, their senior staff members, and Congress’s intelligence oversight committees. Bush and his senior officials, specifically including Vice President Dick Cheney, have received at least four other reports since the spring of 2002 drawing the same conclusion, that Saddam Hussein is not a likely threat to the US.
'Imminent Threat' - However, Bush, Cheney, and other government officials have continued, and will continue, to assert that Hussein was ready and willing to use chemical or biological weapons against the US, either on his own or through a terrorist group such as al-Qaeda, unless stopped by force. The argument that Hussein is an “imminent threat” is a major rationale in the administration’s case for war.
Refusal to Release - The Bush administration will refuse to release the Presidential Summary to Congressional investigators who wish to know the basis for the Bush administration’s assertions about the alleged threat from Iraq. Bush and other senior officials will insist for months that they were never told of the intelligence community’s judgment that Hussein had no intention of launching an unprovoked attack on the US. By refusing to release the summary memo, the White House may be withholding the proof that Bush and his officials deliberately misled the public on the issue. (Waas 3/2/2006)
Vice President Cheney, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, and dozens of senior White House officials receive a highly classified intelligence assessment, a Senior Executive Memorandum titled “Questions on Why Iraq Is Procuring Aluminum Tubes and What the IAEA Has Found to Date,” on the issue of the disputed use of the Iraqi aluminum tubes. The report concludes that the CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and National Security Agency all believe that the aluminum tubes were most likely intended for centrifuges. The memo says that only the intelligence units at the Departments of Energy and State, along with the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), disagree with that assessment and believe the tubes were purchased to be used in Iraq’s conventional rocket program, and includes discussion of the dissenting opinions. (The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction (aka 'Robb-Silberman Commission') 3/31/2005; Waas 3/2/2006)
Colin Powell’s chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, tasked with the duty of preparing Powell’s upcoming UN presentation (see January 29, 2003), meets with his hastily assembled team: Lynne Davidson, Powell’s chief speechwriter; Carl Ford, the head of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR); and Barry Lowenkron, principal deputy director of policy planning at State. They also consult with a UN staffer on the logistics of making such a presentation to the Security Council. Later that day, Wilkerson drives to the CIA building in Langley, where he meets with CIA Director George Tenet and Tenet’s deputy, John McLaughlin. Wilkerson examines information provided for Powell’s speech by the White House, and quickly determines that it is unreliable to the point of uselessness (see January 30-February 4, 2003). He decides that his team will assemble its own information. (Unger 2007, pp. 276)
INR Analysts Not Invited to Presentation Planning Sessions - Over the next few days, Wilkerson and his team works almost around the clock putting together Powell’s upcoming presentation. In addition to Wilkerson’s staff, McLaughlin and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice are frequent participants. Others who take part include Rice’s deputy, Stephen Hadley; National Security Council officer Robert Joseph, who had ensured mention of the Iraq-Niger claim in President Bush’s recent State of the Union address (see January 26 or 27, 2003); another NSC official, Will Tobey; two of Vice President Cheney’s senior aides, John Hannah and Lewis “Scooter” Libby; and Lawrence Gershwin, one of the CIA’s top advisers on technical intelligence. Aside from Ford, there are no representatives from the State Department’s own intelligence analysts of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR). They had refused to give in to White House pressure to “cook” the intelligence on Iraq (see November 14, 2001, January 31, 2002, March 1, 2002, and December 23, 2002). Their absence, author Craig Unger will later write, is “another striking indication that Powell had capitulated and was trying to avoid a showdown with the White House.… [T]he hard-nosed analysts at INR, who had not bowed to White House pressure, would be a political liability for Powell.” (Auster, Mazzetti, and Pound 6/9/2003; Bamford 2004, pp. 370-1; Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 230; Unger 2007, pp. 276-278)
Inspirational Film - Early in the process, Wilkerson and his colleagues watch an archived film of then-UN ambassador Adlai Stevenson’s historic 1962 speech before the UN Security Council. Stevenson’s ringing denunciation of the Soviet Union, and his dramatic use of irrefutable evidence that showed Soviet missiles in Cuba, inspires the team to seek what Wilkerson calls “a similar confluence of evidence and rhetoric.” They want Powell to have his own “Stevenson moment” before the UN. (Unger 2007, pp. 276-278)
Roadblocks - Throughout the process, Wilkerson’s team is deviled by the insistence of White House representatives, most notably those from Cheney’s office, on the insertion of information and claims that Wilkerson and his team know are unreliable (see January 30-February 4, 2003). (Unger 2007, pp. 275)
The State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), reduced to fact-checking the drafts of Secretary of State Colin Powell’s upcoming UN speech (see January 30-February 4, 2003 and February 5, 2003), flags 38 of the charges in the draft as “unsubstantiated” or “weak.” Twenty-eight of them are removed from the draft. (Unger 2007, pp. 278)
The State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) finds seven more items (see January 31, 2003) in the latest draft of Secretary of State Colin Powell’s upcoming presentation to the UN Security Council (see February 5, 2003) that it terms as unreliable or unverifiable. Three are removed, four stay. (Unger 2007, pp. 281)
In a memo to Secretary of State Colin Powell, the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) warns him against making certain claims in his presentation to the UN Security Council about the aluminum tubes Iraq attempted to import in July 2001 (see July 2001). The CIA had been arguing that the tubes were made to meet specifications that far exceeded that for comparable rockets used by the US. But INR’s memo explains that the claim is untrue. “In fact, the most comparable US system is a tactical rocket—the US Mark 66 air-launched 70-millimeter rocket—that uses the same, high-grade (7075-T6) aluminum, and that has specifications with similar tolerances.” Powell will nonetheless include the tubes allegation in his speech to the UN (see February 5, 2003). (Wetzel 7/29/2003; Barstow, Broad, and Gerth 10/3/2004)
US Secretary of State Colin Powell presents the Bush administration’s case against Saddam to the UN Security Council, in advance of an expected vote on a second resolution that the US and Britain hope will provide the justification to use military force against Iraq. (Powell 2/5/2003) At the insistence of Powell, CIA Director George Tenet is seated directly behind him to the right. “It was theater, a device to signal to the world that Powell was relying on the CIA to make his case that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction,” Vanity Fair magazine will later explain. (Bamford 2004, pp. 371-2; Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 232) In his speech before the Council, Powell makes the case that Iraq is in further material breach of past UN resolutions, specifically the most recent one, UN Resolution 1441 (see November 8, 2002). Sources cited in Powell’s presentation include defectors, informants, communication intercepts, procurement records, photographs, and detainees. (Powell 2/5/2003) Most of the allegations made by Powell are later demonstrated to be false. “The defectors and other sources went unidentified,” the Associated Press will later report. “The audiotapes were uncorroborated, as were the photo interpretations. No other supporting documents were presented. Little was independently verifiable.” (Hanley 8/9/2003)
Iraq's December 7 Declaration Was Inaccurate - Powell contends that Iraq’s December 7 declaration was not complete. According to UN Resolution 1441 the document was supposed to be a “currently accurate, full and complete declaration of all aspects” of its programs to develop weapons of mass destruction. But Saddam has not done this, says Powell, who explains that Iraq has yet to provide sufficient evidence that it destroyed its previously declared stock of 8,500 liters of anthrax, as it claimed in the declaration. Furthermore, notes the secretary of state, UNSCOM inspectors had previously estimated that Iraq possessed the raw materials to produce as much as 25,000 liters of the virus. (Chivers 2/5/2003; Powell 2/5/2003; Warrick 2/6/2003)
Iraq Has Ties to Al-Qaeda - Powell repeats earlier claims that Saddam Hussein’s government has ties to al-Qaeda. Powell focuses on the cases of the militant Islamic group Ansar-al-Islam and Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born Palestinian, who had received medical treatment in Baghdad during the summer of 2002 (see December 2001-Mid-2002). (Powell 2/5/2003) However, just days before Powell’s speech, US and British intelligence officials—speaking on condition of anonymity—told the press that the administration’s allegations of Iraqi-al-Qaeda ties were based on information provided by Kurdish groups, who, as enemies of Ansar-al-Islam, should not be considered reliable. Furthermore, these sources unequivocally stated that intelligence analysts on both sides of the Atlantic remained unconvinced of the purported links between Iraq and al-Qaeda (see February 3-4, 2003). (Sengupta 2/3/2003; Smith and Rennie 2/4/2003) Powell also claims that Iraq provided “chemical or biological weapons training for two al-Qaeda associates beginning in December 2000.” The claim is based on a September 2002 CIA document which had warned that its sources were of “varying reliability” and that the claim was not substantiated (see September 2002). The report’s main source, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an al-Qaeda operative who offered the information to CIA interrogators while in custody, later recounts the claim (see February 14, 2004). (CNN 9/26/2002; Jehl 7/31/2004; Isikoff 7/5/2005) Larry Wilkerson, Powell’s chief of staff, will later say that neither he nor Powell ever received “any dissent with respect to those lines… indeed the entire section that now we know came from [al-Libi].” (Isikoff and Hosenball 11/10/2005) Senior US officials will admit to the New York Times and Washington Post after the presentation that the administration was not claiming that Saddam Hussein is “exercising operational control” of al-Qaeda. (Gordon 2/6/2003; Pincus 2/7/2003)
Iraq Has Missiles Capable of Flying Up to 1,200 Kilometers - Describing a photo of the al-Rafah weapons site, Powell says: “As part of this effort, another little piece of evidence, Iraq has built an engine test stand that is larger than anything it has ever had. Notice the dramatic difference in size between the test stand on the left, the old one, and the new one on the right. Note the large exhaust vent. This is where the flame from the engine comes out. The exhaust vent on the right test stand is five times longer than the one on the left. The one of the left is used for short-range missiles. The one on the right is clearly intended for long-range missiles that can fly 1,200 kilometers. This photograph was taken in April of 2002. Since then, the test stand has been finished and a roof has been put over it so it will be harder for satellites to see what’s going on underneath the test stand.” (Powell 2/5/2003; Chivers 2/5/2003) But according to the Associated Press, “… UN missile experts have reported inspecting al-Rafah at least five times since inspections resumed Nov. 27, have studied the specifications of the new test stand, regularly monitor tests at the installation, and thus far have reported no concerns.” (Hanley 2/7/2003) Similarly, Reuters quotes Ali Jassem, an Iraqi official, who explains that the large stand referred to in Powell’s speech is not yet in operation and that its larger size is due to the fact that it will be testing engines horizontally. (Ladki 2/7/2003; Steele 2/15/2003) Several days later, Blix will report to the UN that “so far, the test stand has not been associated with a proscribed activity.” (Steele 2/15/2003)
Iraqis Attempted to Hide Evidence from Inspectors - Powell shows the UN Security Council satellite shots depicting what he claims are chemical weapons bunkers and convoys of Iraqi cargo trucks preparing to transport ballistic missile components from a weapons site just two days before the arrival of inspectors. “We saw this kind of housecleaning at close to 30 sites,” Powell explains. “We must ask ourselves: Why would Iraq suddenly move equipment of this nature before inspections if they were anxious to demonstrate what they had or did not have?” (Powell 2/5/2003) But the photos are interpreted differently by others. An unnamed UN official and German UN Inspector Peter Franck both say the trucks in the photos are actually fire engines. (Stober 3/18/2003; Agence France-Presse 6/6/2003)
'Literally Removed the Crust of the Earth' - Another series of photos—taken during the spring and summer of 2002—show that Iraqis have removed a layer of topsoil from the al-Musayyib chemical complex. This piece of evidence, combined with information provided by an unnamed source, leads Powell to draw the following conclusion: “The Iraqis literally removed the crust of the earth from large portions of this site in order to conceal chemical weapons evidence that would be there from years of chemical weapons activity.” (Powell 2/5/2003; Warrick 2/6/2003) Showing another series of pictures—one taken on November 10 (before inspections) and one taken on December 22—Powell says that a guard station and decontamination truck were removed prior to the arrival of inspectors. Powell does not explain how he knows that the truck in the photograph was a decontamination truck. (Powell 2/5/2003; Warrick 2/6/2003; DeYoung and Pincus 2/6/2003) AP reporter Charles Hanley says that some of Powell’s claims that Iraq is hiding evidence are “ridiculous.” Powell says of a missile site, “This photograph was taken in April of 2002. Since then, the test stand has been finished and a roof has been put over it so it will be harder for satellites to see what’s going on underneath the test stand.” Hanley later says, “What he neglected to mention was that the inspectors were underneath, watching what was going on.” (Moyers 4/25/2007)
Communication Intercepts Demonstrate Iraqi Attempts to Conceal Information from Inspectors - Powell plays recordings of three conversations intercepted by US intelligence—one on November 26, another on January 30, and a third, a “few weeks” before. The conversations suggest that the Iraqis were attempting to hide evidence from inspectors. (Chivers 2/5/2003; Powell 2/5/2003; Reid 2/6/2003; Sydney Morning Herald 2/7/2003) Senior administration officials concede to the Washington Post that it was not known “what military items were discussed in the intercepts.” (Priest and Pincus 2/13/2003) Some critics argue that the intercepts were presented out of context and open to interpretation. (Sydney Morning Herald 2/7/2003; Sydney Morning Herald 2/9/2003) Others note that the conversations were translated from Arabic by US translators and were not analyzed or verified by an independent specialist. (Breslin 2/6/2003)
Biological Weapons Factories - Colin Powell says that US intelligence has “firsthand descriptions” that Iraq has 18 mobile biological weapons factories mounted on trucks and railroad cars. Information about the mobile weapons labs are based on the testimonies of four sources—a defected Iraqi chemical engineer who claims to have supervised one of these facilities, an Iraqi civil engineer (see December 20, 2001), a source in “a position to know,” and a defected Iraqi major (see February 11, 2002). Powell says that the mobile units are capable of producing enough dry biological agent in a single month to kill several thousand people. He shows computer-generated diagrams and pictures based on the sources’ descriptions of the facilities. Powell says that according to the chemical engineer, during the late 1990s, Iraq’s biological weapons scientists would often begin the production of pathogens on Thursday nights and complete the process on Fridays in order to evade UNSCOM inspectors whom Iraq believed would not conduct inspections on the Muslim holy day. (Chivers 2/5/2003; Powell 2/5/2003; Warrick 2/6/2003; Marshall 2/11/2003) Powell tells the delegates, “The source was an eyewitness, an Iraqi chemical engineer, who supervised one of these facilities. He actually was present during biological agent production runs. He was also at the site when an accident occurred in 1998. Twelve technicians died from exposure to biological agents.” He displays models of the mobile trucks drawn from the source’s statements. (CBS News 11/4/2007) Responding to the allegation, Iraqi officials will concede that they do in fact have mobile labs, but insist that they are not used for the development of weapons. According to the Iraqis, the mobile labs are used for food analysis for disease outbreaks, mobile field hospitals, a military field bakery, food and medicine refrigeration trucks, a mobile military morgue and mobile ice making trucks. (Plesch 2/5/2003; ABC News 5/21/2003) Iraq’s explanation is consistent with earlier assessments of the UN weapons inspectors. Before Powell’s presentation, Hans Blix had dismissed suggestions that the Iraqis were using mobile biological weapons labs, reporting that inspections of two alleged mobile labs had turned up nothing. “Two food-testing trucks have been inspected and nothing has been found,” Blix said. And Ewen Buchanan, spokesman for the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, said, “The outline and characteristics of these trucks that we inspected were all consistent with the declared purposes.” (Plesch 2/5/2003; ABC News 5/21/2003)
'Curveball' Primary Source of Claims - Powell’s case is further damaged when it is later learned that one of the sources Powell cited, the Iraqi major, had been earlier judged unreliable by intelligence agents at the Defense Intelligence Agency (see February 11, 2002). In May 2002, the analysts had issued a “fabricator notice” on the informant, noting that he had been “coached by [the] Iraqi National Congress” (INC) (see May 2002). But the main source for the claim had been an Iraqi defector known as “Curveball,” who was initially believed to be the brother of a top aide to Ahmed Chalabi. The source claimed to be a chemical engineer who had helped design and build the mobile labs. His information was passed to Washington through Germany’s intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), which had been introduced to the source by the INC. In passing along the information, the BND noted that there were “various problems with the source.” And only one member of the US intelligence community had actually met with the person—an unnamed Pentagon analyst who determined the man was an alcoholic and of dubious reliability. Yet both the DIA and the CIA validated the information. (Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity 8/22/2003; Drogin and Miller 3/28/2004; Landay and Brown 4/4/2004; Newsweek 4/19/2004; Isikoff 7/19/2004) Powell says that the US has three other intelligence sources besides Curveball for the mobile bioweapons labs. Powell will be infuriated to learn that none of those three sources ever corroborated Curveball’s story, and sometimes their information contradicted each other. One of the three had failed a polygraph test and was determined to have lied to his debriefers. Another had already been declared a fabricator by US intelligence community, and had been proven to have mined his information off the Internet. (Drogin and Karlin 11/27/2007) In November 2007, Curveball is identified as Rafid Ahmed Alwan. Serious questions about Curveball’s veracity had already been raised by the time of Powell’s UN presentation. He will later be completely discredited (see November 4, 2007).
Further Problems with Mobile Lab Claims - In addition to the inspectors’ assessments and the dubious nature of the sources Powell cited, there are numerous other problems with the mobile factories claim. Raymond Zilinskas, a microbiologist and former UN weapons inspector, argues that significant amounts of pathogens such as anthrax, could not be produced in the short span of time suggested in Powell’s speech. “You normally would require 36 to 48 hours just to do the fermentation…. The short processing time seems suspicious to me.” He also says: “The only reason you would have mobile labs is to avoid inspectors, because everything about them is difficult. We know it is possible to build them—the United States developed mobile production plants, including one designed for an airplane—but it’s a big hassle. That’s why this strikes me as a bit far-fetched.” (Warrick 2/6/2003) After Powell’s speech, Blix will say in his March 7 report to the UN that his inspectors found no evidence of mobile weapons labs (see March 7, 2003). (CNN 3/7/2003; Agence France-Presse 3/7/2003; King et al. 3/7/2003) Reporter Bob Drogin, author of Curveball: Spies, Lies and the Con Man Who Caused a War, says in 2007, “[B]y the time Colin Powell goes to the UN to make the case for war, he shows the world artists’ conjectures based on analysts’ interpretations and extrapolations of Arabic-to-German-to-English translations of summary debriefing reports of interviews with a manic-depressive defector whom the Americans had never met. [CIA director George] Tenet told Powell that Curveball’s information was ironclad and unassailable. It was a travesty.” (Holland 10/22/2007)
'Four Tons' of VX Toxin - Powell also claims that Iraq has “four tons” of VX nerve toxin. “A single drop of VX on the skin will kill in minutes,” he says. “Four tons.” Hanley later notes, “He didn’t point out that most of that had already been destroyed. And, on point after point he failed to point out that these facilities about which he was raising such alarm were under repeated inspections good, expert people with very good equipment, and who were leaving behind cameras and other monitoring equipment to keep us a continuing eye on it.” (Moyers 4/25/2007)
Iraq is Developing Unmanned Drones Capable of Delivering Weapons of Mass Destruction - Powell asserts that Iraq has flight-tested an unmanned drone capable of flying up to 310 miles and is working on a liquid-fueled ballistic missile with a range of 745 miles. He plays a video of an Iraqi F-1 Mirage jet dispersing “simulated anthrax.” (Powell 2/5/2003; Chivers 2/5/2003; Graham 2/6/2003) But the Associated Press will later report that the video was made prior to the 1991 Gulf War. Apparently, three of the four spray tanks shown in the film had been destroyed during the 1991 military intervention. (Hanley 8/9/2003)
Imported Aluminum Tubes were Meant for Centrifuge - Powell argues that the aluminum tubes which Iraq had attempted to import in July 2001 (see July 2001) were meant to be used in a nuclear weapons program and not for artillery rockets as experts from the US Energy Department, the INR, and the IAEA have been arguing (see February 3, 2003) (see January 11, 2003) (see August 17, 2001) (see January 27, 2003). To support the administration’s case, he cites unusually precise specifications and high tolerances for heat and stress. “It strikes me as quite odd that these tubes are manufactured to a tolerance that far exceeds US requirements for comparable rockets,” he says. “Maybe Iraqis just manufacture their conventional weapons to a higher standard than we do, but I don’t think so.” Powell also suggests that because the tubes were “anodized,” it was unlikely that they had been designed for conventional use. (Powell 2/5/2003; Warrick 2/5/2003; Warrick 3/8/2003) Powell does not mention that numerous US nuclear scientists have dismissed this claim (see August 17, 2001) (see September 23, 2002) (see December 2002). (Albright 10/9/2003) Powell also fails to say that Iraq has rockets identical to the Italian Medusa 81 mm rockets, which are of the same dimensions and made of the same alloy as the 3,000 tubes that were intercepted in July 2001 (see After January 22, 2003). (Gellman and Pincus 8/10/2003) This had been reported just two weeks earlier by the Washington Post. (Richburg 1/24/2003) Moreover, just two days before, Powell was explicitly warned by the US State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research not to cite the aluminum tubes as evidence that Iraq is pursuing nuclear weapons (see February 3, 2003). (Wetzel 7/29/2003)
Iraq Attempted to Acquire Magnets for Use in a Gas Centrifuge Program - Powell says: “We… have intelligence from multiple sources that Iraq is attempting to acquire magnets and high-speed balancing machines. Both items can be used in a gas centrifuge program to enrich uranium. In 1999 and 2000, Iraqi officials negotiated with firms in Romania, India, Russia and Slovenia for the purchase of a magnet production plant. Iraq wanted the plant to produce magnets weighing 20 to 30 grams. That’s the same weight as the magnets used in Iraq’s gas centrifuge program before the Gulf War.” (Powell 2/5/2003; Gordon 2/6/2003) Investigation by the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] will demonstrate that the magnets have a dual use. IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei said a little more than a week before, on January 27, in his report to the Security Council: “Iraq presented detailed information on a project to construct a facility to produce magnets for the Iraqi missile program, as well as for industrial applications, and that Iraq had prepared a solicitation of offers, but that the project had been delayed due to ‘financial credit arrangements.’ Preliminary investigations indicate that the specifications contained in the offer solicitation are consistent with those required for the declared intended uses. However, the IAEA will continue to investigate the matter….” (see January 27, 2003) (Annan 1/27/2003 ) On March 7, ElBaradei will provide an additional update: “The IAEA has verified that previously acquired magnets have been used for missile guidance systems, industrial machinery, electricity meters and field telephones. Through visits to research and production sites, reviews of engineering drawings and analyses of sample magnets, IAEA experts familiar with the use of such magnets in centrifuge enrichment have verified that none of the magnets that Iraq has declared could be used directly for a centrifuge magnetic bearing.” (see March 7, 2003) (CNN 3/7/2003)
Iraq Attempted to Purchase Machines to Balance Centrifuge Rotors - Powell states: “Intercepted communications from mid-2000 through last summer show that Iraq front companies sought to buy machines that can be used to balance gas centrifuge rotors. One of these companies also had been involved in a failed effort in 2001 to smuggle aluminum tubes into Iraq.” (Powell 2/5/2003; Gordon 2/6/2003)
Powell Cites Documents Removed from Home of Iraqi Scientist Faleh Hassan - Powell cites the documents that had been found on January 16, 2003 by inspectors with the help of US intelligence at the Baghdad home of Faleh Hassan, a nuclear scientist. Powell asserts that the papers are a “dramatic confirmation” that Saddam Hussein is concealing evidence and not cooperating with the inspections. The 3,000 documents contained information relating to the laser enrichment of uranium (see January 16, 2003). (Coughlin 1/18/2003; Jahn 1/18/2003; BBC 1/19/2003; Powell 2/5/2003) A little more than a week later, in the inspectors’ February 14 update to the UN Security Council (see February 14, 2003), ElBaradei will say, “While the documents have provided some additional details about Iraq’s laser enrichment development efforts, they refer to activities or sites already known to the IAEA and appear to be the personal files of the scientist in whose home they were found. Nothing contained in the documents alters the conclusions previously drawn by the IAEA concerning the extent of Iraq’s laser enrichment program.” (Steele 2/15/2003; BBC 2/17/2003; Hanley 8/9/2003)
Iraq is Hiding Missiles in the Desert - Powell says that according to unidentified sources, the Iraqis have hidden rocket launchers and warheads containing biological weapons in the western desert. He further contends that these caches of weapons are hidden in palm groves and moved to different locations on a weekly basis. (Powell 2/5/2003) It will later be suggested that this claim was “lifted whole from an Iraqi general’s written account of hiding missiles in the 1991 war.” (Hanley 8/9/2003)
Iraq Has Scud Missiles - Powell also says that according to unnamed “intelligence sources,” Iraq has a few dozen Scud-type missiles. (Hanley 8/9/2003)
Iraq Has Weapons of Mass Destruction - Secretary of State Colin Powell states unequivocally: “We… have satellite photos that indicate that banned materials have recently been moved from a number of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction facilities. There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more.” Elsewhere in his speech he says: “We know that Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his weapons of mass destruction, is determined to make more.” (Powell 2/5/2003; CNN 2/5/2003)
Governments, Media Reaction Mixed - Powell’s speech will fail to convince many skeptical governments, nor will it impress many in the European media. But it will have a tremendous impact in the US media (see February 5, 2003 and After).
The CIA publicly releases a 6-page white paper titled “Iraqi Mobile Biological Warfare Agent Production Plants” concluding that the two trailers discovered in northern Iraq (see April 19, 2003) (see May 9, 2003) were designed to produce biological weapons—directly contradicting the conclusion of a field report filed the previous day by biological weapons experts working in Iraq (see May 27, 2003). The report—the US government’s first formal assessment of the trailers—calls the discovery of the trailers the “strongest evidence to date that Iraq was hiding a biological warfare program.” It is based on a comparison of the trailers to descriptions that had been provided by Iraqi sources prior to the invasion. Though the report claims that there are no other plausible explanations for the trailers’ purpose, it does acknowledge that senior Iraqi officials at the al-Kindi research facility in Mosul, as well as a company that manufactured components for the trailers, say the trailers were built to make hydrogen for artillery weather balloons. The report calls this a “cover story.” (Central Intelligence Agency and Defense Intelligence Agency 5/28/2003; Miller and Broad 6/7/2003; Miller 6/21/2003; Jehl 6/26/2003) Though the report was authored by the CIA, there is a DIA logo printed on the paper to indicate that the DIA backs the report’s conclusions. But most DIA analysts do not. When the CIA was unable to convince DIA analysts to sign the paper, according to book Hubris, they contacted the one DIA analyst who did agree with their position, and got his approval to place the DIA logo on the white paper. “We were tricked,” one DIA analyst later explains. (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 228) It is later learned that the report was completed before the investigation had run its full course. A week after the report’s release, laboratories in the Middle East and the United States were still analyzing more than 100 samples that had been taken from the trailers. A senior analyst tells the New York Times that the white paper “was a rushed job and looks political.” (Miller and Broad 6/7/2003) It is also discovered that the two agencies did not consult with other intelligence offices. Normally such reports are not finalized until there is a consensus among the government’s numerous intelligence agencies. “The exclusion of the State Department’s intelligence bureau [INR] and other agencies seemed unusual, several government officials said, because of the high-profile subject,” the New York Times will later report. Moreover, the State Department’s intelligence agency was not even informed that the report was being prepared. (Jehl 6/26/2003) When INR analysts read the report, they go “ballistic.” INR intelligence chief Carl Ford Jr. will later say of the report’s authors, “It wasn’t just that it was wrong. They lied.” (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 228)
According to the subsequent investigation by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, calls the State Department to ask about the results of former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s trip to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Libby is particularly interested in learning who the “unnamed ambassador” was, and who sent Wilson to Niger. (Alexandrovna and Leopold 11/2/2005; Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 216) According to the New York Times, Libby asks an undersecretary of state, presumably Marc Grossman (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003), for the information. (New York Times 2006) Grossman later testifies that Libby did indeed contact him for the information (see January 23-24, 2007). Grossman is allegedly involved in a nuclear smuggling ring (see (1997-2002) and Summer 2001), and knows Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is investigating the ring (see Summer-Autumn 2001).
Libby Contacts Bolton? - However, according to a 2005 report by the news Web site Raw Story, Libby asks Undersecretary of State John Bolton for the information regarding Wilson’s mission to Niger. Bolton refers the query to Grossman, who directs the State Department’s intelligence arm, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), to prepare a report concerning Wilson and his trip (see June 10, 2003). Within days, Grossman informs Libby of Wilson’s identity. The INR memo is written as part of a work-up order orchestrated by the White House Iraq Group (WHIG—see August 2002). (Alexandrovna and Leopold 11/2/2005; Leupp 11/9/2005)
CIA Tells Bolton of Plame Wilson's Identity - Bolton also learns that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is a CIA official. He learns this from his chief of staff, Frederick Fleitz, who also serves as a senior CIA Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control official. Bolton tells his aide David Wurmser, who is working concurrently in Cheney’s office. Wurmser passes the information along to another Cheney aide, John Hannah. Around June 11, Fleitz will inform Libby of Plame Wilson’s status (see (June 11, 2003)).
Bolton's Connections to CIA - According to Raw Story, Bolton has “his own connections to agents at the CIA who share… his political philosophy on Iraq.” Greg Thielmann, a former director at the State Department who was assigned to Bolton and entrusted with providing him with intelligence information, will later say of Bolton, “He surrounded himself with a hand-chosen group of loyalists, and found a way to get CIA information directly.” (Alexandrovna and Leopold 11/2/2005)
Carl Ford Jr., head of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, authors a classified memo addressed to Colin Powell, informing him that current intelligence does not support the conclusion of the joint CIA-DIA May 28 white paper (see May 28, 2003) which concluded that the two trailers found in Iraq (see April 19, 2003 and May 9, 2003) were mobile biological weapon factories. The memo also says that the CIA and DIA were wrong in asserting that there were no other plausible uses for the trailer, suggesting that the two pieces of equipment may have been designed for refueling Iraqi missiles. (Jehl 6/26/2003; Fox News 6/26/2003; CBS News 6/27/2003)
Marc Grossman, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, prepares a memo about former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s trip to Niger to ascertain the truth or falsity of claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from that nation (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). The memo refers explicitly to Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, as a CIA official and identifies her as Wilson’s wife, using the name “Valerie Wilson.” The second paragraph of the memo is marked with an “S,” denoting that Wilson is a covert operative for the agency. (Stevenson 7/16/2005; Rich 2006, pp. 180)
Memo Based on Information from State Department's Intelligence Bureau - Grossman prepares his memo based on information he receives from Carl Ford of the State Department’s in-house intelligence agency, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR). Ford, in a paragraph marked SNF for “secret, not foreign,” cites “Valerie Wilson, a CIA WMD manager and the wife of Joe Wilson.” (US Department of State 6/10/2003 ; Pincus and VandeHei 7/21/2005)
INR: Wilson a 'Walk On' - The INR report calls Wilson a “walk on,” and goes on to note: “From what we can find in our records, Joe Wilson played only a walk-on part in the Niger/Iraq uranium story. In a February 19, 2002 meeting convened by Valerie Wilson (see February 19, 2002), [a] CIA WMD manager and the wife of Joe Wilson, he previewed his plans and rationale for going to Niger but said he would only go if the department thought his trip made sense.” (US Department of State 6/10/2003 ; Thomas and Ryan 1/24/2007)
Libby Originated Request for Information on Wilsons; Memo Contains Erroneous Material - The memo is prepared by Grossman at the request of the INR; the INR in turn responded to a request from Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the vice president’s chief of staff. The memo claims that Plame Wilson “apparently convened” the CIA meeting that resulted in her husband’s selection for the investigative journey to Niger, a claim that Plame Wilson will later note is erroneous. According to Plame Wilson, Doug Rohn, the INR official who joined the February 2002 CIA meeting about Wilson’s proposed trip (see February 13, 2002), was late to the meeting and was not sure about Plame Wilson’s role. She had already left the meeting by the time Rohn arrived. When Grossman wrote his memo in June 2003, Rohn had left Washington to become the consul general in Karachi, Pakistan. Another analyst, Neil Silver, actually writes the memo for Grossman using Rohn’s old notes. Silver states as a fact that Plame Wilson convened the meeting. Authors Michael Isikoff and David Corn will later write: “Inadvertently, Rohn’s uninformed impression was now portrayed as a hard-and-fast truth. It would soon become, in the hands of White House spinners, a political charge.” The rest of the memo is fairly accurate, Plame Wilson will observe, and notes that, as the INR memo says: “Joe Wilson played only a walk-on part in the Niger-Iraq uranium story.… [H]e previewed his plans and rationale for going to Niger, but said he would only go if the [State] Department thought that his trip made sense.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 261-262)
Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage asks officers in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) for more information regarding the Joseph Wilson mission to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and July 6, 2003). Armitage is sent a copy of the INR memo on Wilson (see June 10, 2003). (Leopold 11/24/2005; Corn 8/27/2006) The next day, Armitage tells Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is a CIA official who sent her husband on the Niger trip (see June 13, 2003).
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof contradicts National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice’s recent statement that no one in the White House ever suspected that the documents “proving” Iraq sought to buy uranium from Niger were forged (see May 6, 2003). Rice recently said, “Maybe someone knew down in the bowels of the agency, but no one in our circles knew that there were doubts and suspicions that this might be a forgery” (see June 8, 2003). Kristof also notes that the White House claims Vice President Cheney learned of its own role in using the forged documents as “evidence” of the Iraq-Niger claim from reading Kristof’s May 6 column in the Times. Using information from what he calls “two people directly involved and three others who were briefed on” the story, Kristof writes that the truth is quite different from what Rice and Cheney say. He writes, “while Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet may not have told [President] Bush that the Niger documents were forged, lower CIA officials did tell both the vice president’s office and National Security Council staff members. Moreover, I hear from another source that the CIA’s operations side and its counterterrorism center undertook their own investigations of the documents, poking around in Italy and Africa, and also concluded that they were false—a judgment that filtered to the top of the CIA” (see January 28-29, 2003 and March 23, 2003). Kristof also notes that “the State Department’s intelligence arm, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, independently came to the exact same conclusion about those documents, according to Greg Thielmann, a former official there. Mr. Thielmann said he was ‘quite confident’ that the conclusion had been passed up to the top of the State Department.” Kristof also quotes former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman, who says, “It was well known throughout the intelligence community that it was a forgery.” Kristof adds that Tenet and the US intelligence communities “were under intense pressure to come up with evidence against Iraq.” As a result, “[a]mbiguities were lost, and doubters were discouraged from speaking up.” A former military intelligence officer says: “It was a foregone conclusion that every photo of a trailer truck would be a ‘mobile bioweapons lab’ and every tanker truck would be ‘filled with weaponized anthrax.’ None of the analysts in military uniform had the option to debate the vice president, secretary of defense, and the secretary of state.” Kristof concludes: “I don’t believe that the president deliberately lied to the public in an attempt to scare Americans into supporting his war. But it does look as if ideologues in the administration deceived themselves about Iraq’s nuclear programs—and then deceived the American public as well.” (Kristof 6/13/2003)
The State Department sends a memo (see June 10, 2003) to Secretary of State Colin Powell as he is traveling with President Bush and other senior White House officials to Africa. Powell is seen during the flight walking around Air Force One with the memo in his hand. The memo concerns the trip by former ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger, where he learned that allegations of Iraq attempts to purchase Nigerien uranium were false (see February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003), and reveals his wife as a covert CIA agent. (Stevenson 7/16/2005; Rich 2006, pp. 180) The paragraph identifying Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA official is marked “S-NF,” signfying its information is classified “Secret, Noforn.” Noforn is a code word indicating that the information is not to be shared with foreign nationals. (Pincus and VandeHei 7/21/2005; Isikoff 8/1/2005) When Wilson’s op-ed debunking the uranium claim and lambasting the administration for using it as a justification for war appears in the New York Times (see July 6, 2003), Powell’s deputy, Richard Armitage, calls Carl Ford, the head of the State Department’s internal intelligence unit, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) at Ford’s home. Armitage asks Ford to send a copy of the Grossman memo to Powell, who is preparing to leave for Africa with Bush. Ford sends a copy of the memo to the White House for transmission to Powell. The memo relies on notes by an analyst who was involved in a February 19, 2002 meeting to discuss whether to send someone to Africa to investigate the uranium claims, and if so, who (see February 19, 2002). The notes do not identify either Wilson or his wife by name, and erroneously state that the meeting was “apparently convened by” the wife of a former ambassador “who had the idea to dispatch” her husband to Niger because of his contacts in the region. Wilson is a former ambassador to Gabon. Plame Wilson has said that she suggested her husband for the trip, introduced him at the meeting, and left after about three minutes (see February 13, 2002). The memo identifies Wilson’s wife as Valerie Wilson; when conservative columnist Robert Novak outs her as a CIA agent (see July 14, 2003), he identifies her by her maiden name, Valerie Plame. The memo will later become a matter of intense interest to investigators attempting to learn how Plame Wilson’s identity was leaked to the press (see (July 15, 2005)). (Stevenson 7/16/2005; Rich 2006, pp. 180)
When asked about the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002) and whether Bush knew of the dissenting views among US intelligence agencies regarding the now-infamous aluminum tubes supposedly being used by Iraq to produce nuclear weapons, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice says that in preparation for his February 2003 speech to the UN (see February 5, 2003), Secretary of State Colin Powell chose to “caveat,” or mention, the dissents. “The only thing that was there in the NIE was a kind of a standard INR footnote, which is kind of 59 pages away from the bulk of the NIE. That’s the only thing that’s there. And you have footnotes all the time in CIA—I mean, in NIEs. So if there was a concern about the underlying intelligence there, the president was unaware of that concern and as was I.… Now, if there were any doubts about the underlying intelligence to that NIE, those doubts were not communicated to the president, to the vice president, or to me.” Rice is incorrect. The President’s Summary from that NIE (see Early October 2002) specifically told Bush of the dissenting views, and the much lengthier NIE went into far more detail about the dissenting views. Rice, along with Vice President Cheney and other senior White House officials, received a memo months before giving them the same material, including the dissents (see January 10, 2003). (Cheney, as a matter of course, receives essentially the same intelligence information as Bush receives.) And the NIE itself contained the following caveat: “In [the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, or 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.” This passage, among other sections of the NIE, will be declassified on July 18, one week from Rice’s denials.
A Pattern of Deception - There are numerous examples of Bush and Cheney citing the “imminent threat” of Saddam Hussein against the US and the Middle East. Some of those include: Cheney’s assertion that Hussein “now has weapons of mass destruction [and] is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us” (see August 26, 2002); Bush’s assertion to the UN that Iraq has WMDs and is likely to share them with terrorists (see September 12, 2002); a farrago of assertions from Bush that includes assertions about Iraq’s fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles ready to disperse chemical and biological weapons, perhaps over the US, its consorting with al-Qaeda, and more (see October 7, 2002); a State of the Union address loaded with false, misleading, and incorrect allegations (see October 7, 2002); and a speech on the eve of the Iraq invasion that asserted “[t]he danger is clear” that Iraq will “kill thousands or hundreds of thousands of innocent” Americans (see March 17, 2003). (White House 7/11/2003; US House Committee on Government Reform 3/16/2004; Waas 3/2/2006)
The Bush administration releases a heavily redacted version of the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE—see October 1, 2002). Most of the report is whited out, and most of what remains is selected from the key judgments section; those remnants tend to support the Bush administration’s position that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and therefore posed a threat to the Middle East and perhaps to the US. The redacted version is released days after Vice President Dick Cheney authorized his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, to leak selected portions of the NIE to reporters (see 7:35 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 10, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 12, 2003, and July 12, 2003). (National Foreign Intelligence Board 10/2002 ; National Foreign Intelligence Board 7/18/2003; National Security Archive 7/9/2004)
Overall Findings - According to the redacted release, the NIE found “that Iraq has continued its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs in defiance of UN resolutions and restrictions. Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons as well as missiles with ranges in excess of UN restrictions; if left unchecked, it probably will have a nuclear weapon during this decade.… We judge that we are seeing only a portion of Iraq’s WMD efforts, owing to Baghdad’s vigorous denial and deception efforts. Revelations after the Gulf War starkly demonstrate the extensive efforts undertaken by Iraq to deny information. We lack specific information on many key aspects of Iraq’s WMD programs. Since inspections ended in 1998, Iraq has maintained its chemical weapons effort, energized its missile program, and invested more heavily in biological weapons; in the view of most agencies, Baghdad is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program.”
Financing through Oil Sales - The NIE maintained that Iraq used illicit oil sales “to finance WMD programs,” that it “has largely rebuilt missile and biological weapons facilities damaged during Operation Desert Fox, and has expanded its chemical and biological infrastructure under the cover of civilian production.”
Seeking Weapons-Grade Uranium for Nuclear Weapons Program - As for nuclear weapons, “[a]lthough we assess that Saddam [Hussein] does not yet have nuclear weapons or sufficient material to make any, he remains intent on acquiring them.… How quickly Iraq will obtain its first nuclear weapon depends on when it acquires sufficient weapons-grade fissile material. If Baghdad acquires sufficient fissile material from abroad it could make a nuclear weapon within several months to a year. Without such material from abroad, Iraq probably would not be able to make a weapon until 2007 to 2009, owing to inexperience in building and operating centrifuge facilities to produce highly enriched uranium and challenges in procuring the necessary equipment and expertise.” The NIE judgments cited the long-discredited claims that Iraq purchased aluminum tubes as part of its nuclear weapons program (see Late September 2002 and March 7, 2003). In toto, the NIE claimed the existence of “compelling evidence that Saddam is reconstituting a uranium enrichment effort for Baghdad’s nuclear weapons program.”
Large, Covert Chemical Weapons Program - It found that Iraq produced between 100 and 500 metric tons “of mustard, sarin, GF (cyclosarin), and VX,” all deadly chemical agents, and had succeeded in hiding much of its production facilities “within Iraq’s legitimate chemical industry.” And Iraq was capable of filling “a limited number of covertly stored Scud” missiles, “possibly a few with extended ranges,” with chemical weapons.
Significant Biological Weapons Program - The redacted report claimed, “We judge that all key aspects—R&D, production, and weaponization—of Iraq’s offensive BW [biological weapons] program are active and that most elements are larger and more advanced than they were before the Gulf War.” Iraq had “some lethal and incapacitating BW agents and is capable of quickly producing and weaponizing a variety of such agents, including anthrax, for delivery by bombs, missiles, aerial sprayers, and covert operatives. Chances are even that smallpox is part of Iraq’s offensive BW program. Baghdad probably has developed genetically engineered BW agents. Baghdad has established a large-scale, redundant, and concealed BW agent production capability. Baghdad has mobile facilities for producing bacterial and toxin BW agents; these facilities can evade detection and are highly survivable.”
Delivery Systems - According to the judgments, Iraq possessed several dozen “Scud-variant” short-range ballistic missiles, and is developing other methods of delivering chemical and biological payloads, including unmanned aerial vehicles “probably intended to deliver biological warfare agent.” It claimed, “Baghdad’s UAVs could threaten Iraq’s neighbors, US forces in the Persian Gulf, and if brought close to, or into, the United States, the US homeland.” Iraq had attempted to procure commercially available software, including a topographic database, that would allow it to target specific areas within the US, the report said.
Not Conducting Terrorist Attacks - The report found that Iraq was not conducting “terrorist attacks with conventional or” chemical or biological weapons against the US for fear it would trigger American reprisals. However, the report claimed that Iraq “probably would attempt clandestine attacks against the US homeland if Baghdad feared an attack that threatened the survival of the regime were imminent or unavoidable, or possibly for revenge. Such attacks—more likely with biological than chemical agents—probably would be carried out by Special Forces or intelligence operatives.” More likely were covert attacks by Iraqi intelligence agents against “US and allied interests in the Middle East in the event the United States takes action against Iraq. The US probably would be the primary means by which Iraq would attempt to conduct any CBW attacks on the US homeland, although we have no specific intelligence information that Saddam’s regime has directed attacks against US territory.” In such a case, Iraq might have allied itself with al-Qaeda to conduct more widespread attacks against American targets within the US itself and/or overseas.
Dissent in a Box - In a small boxed area at the bottom of the redacted report is a summary of some of the dissents filed by the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR). Called “State/INR Alternative View of Iraq’s Nuclear Program,” the dissents actually reiterate much of the conclusions in the main body of the report, but with the INR backing away from claiming Iraq’s “integrated and comprehensive approach to acquire nuclear weapons.” Neither is the INR sure of the findings about the aluminum tubes. (National Foreign Intelligence Board 10/2002 ; National Foreign Intelligence Board 7/18/2003)
White House Briefing - An unnamed “senior administration official” briefs the Washington press corps on the redacted NIE release, walking the reporters through the contents of the report and reiterating Bush administration claims of the imminent danger posed by the Hussein regime, the Iraqi efforts to dodge UN oversight, and the support for the entire NIE throughout the US intelligence community. The official then quotes extensively from the October 2002 speech by President Bush in Cincinnati, where he made a number of specious and belligerent assertions about Iraq (see October 7, 2002). At the end of the briefing, the official concludes that everything Bush has told the public has been sourced from many different intelligence analyses and findings, and every claim Bush and his officials has made has been based in fact. The official blames “changes in style and tone” for the confusion and groundless claims made by Bush and other officials in earlier settings, particularly Bush’s January 2003 State of the Union address (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). “And as we’ve said all along, that information that we know today is different from information we knew then,” he says.
Questions - The official takes questions from the assembled reporters. The first question of substance concerns the CIA’s warnings to remove the Iraq-Niger claims from the Cincinnati speech (see October 5, 2002 and October 6, 2002) before they were included in the State of the Union address. The official explains that the speechwriters merely chose to be less specific in the Cincinnati speech than in the State of the Union address, because at that time the CIA only had “a single source” on which to base the Iraq-Niger assertion. The official denies that the claim was ever “flawed” or erroneous (see July 8, 2003), merely that it lacked adequate sourcing. He also denies that anyone in the White House knew that the Niger documents “proving” the uranium claim were forged until after the address (see March 8, 2003). The official repeatedly notes that the dubious and fallacious claims were “signed off” by the CIA, and by implication the fault of the CIA and not the White House. The official, responding to a question about the fact-finding trip to Niger by Joseph Wilson (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) and his later repudiation of the Iraq-Niger uranium claims (see July 6, 2003), reiterates that no one at the White House knew of Wilson’s findings (see March 5, 2002 and March 8, 2002), and the report actually bolstered the intelligence community’s suspicions that Iraq was attempting to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger. (White House 7/18/2003)
Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton changes the procedures for handling intelligence in the Pentagon so that his office will receive more classified documents. “I found that there was lots of stuff that I wasn’t getting and that the INR [State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research] analysts weren’t including,” Bolton later recalls in an interview with Seymour Hersh. “I didn’t want it filtered. I wanted to see everything—to be fully informed. If that puts someone’s nose out of joint, sorry about that.” (Hersh 10/27/2003 Sources: John R. Bolton)
Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the former chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, testifies under oath before the grand jury investigating the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity (see December 30, 2003 and January 2004). According to the indictment that will later be issued against Libby (see October 28, 2005), he commits perjury during his testimony. (US Department of Justice 3/5/2004 ; MSNBC 2/21/2007; Washington Post 7/3/2007) Libby is questioned by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who is aided by deputy special counsels Ron Roos, Peter Zeidenberg, and Kathleen Kedian. At the beginning of the questioning, Fitzgerald ensures that Libby understands the circumstances that constitute perjury.
Denies Being Source for Columnist - Fitzgerald asks Libby about his involvement as a source for columnist Robert Novak, who revealed Plame Wilson’s secret CIA status in a column (see July 14, 2003). Libby denies being a source for Novak.
Admits Learning about Plame Wilson's CIA Status from Cheney - He admits that Cheney told him that Joseph Wilson’s wife was a CIA officer: while discussing Wilson’s trip to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), Libby says of Cheney: “And in the course of describing this he also said to me in sort of an off-hand manner, as a curiosity, that his wife worked at the CIA, the person who—whoever this person was. There were no names at that stage so I didn’t know Ambassador Wilson’s name at that point, or the wife’s name.” Libby also admits that he knew Plame Wilson worked at the “functional office” of the CIA that handled the Iraq WMD issue.
Libby 'Forgot' He Already Knew about Plame Wilson - Later in the interview, Fitzgerald asks again if it is “fair to say that [Cheney] had told you back in June, June 12 or before… that his wife worked in the functional office of counterproliferation of the CIA (see (June 12, 2003)). Correct?” Libby answers, “Yes, sir.” Fitzgerald then asks: “So when you say, that after we learned that his wife worked at the agency, that became a question. Isn’t it fair to say that you already knew it from June 12 or earlier?” Libby then answers: “I believe by, by this week I no longer remembered that. I had forgotten it. And I believe that because when it was told to me on July 10, a few days after this article, it seemed to me as if I was learning it for the first time. When I heard it, I did not think I knew it when I heard.” Libby is referring to his claim that he originally learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from NBC reporter Tim Russert (see July 10 or 11, 2003), a claim that Russert will strongly deny (see February 7-8, 2007). (US Department of Justice 3/5/2004 )
Claims Not to Have Discussed Plame Wilson until after Novak's Column Published - Fitzgerald asks Libby if he recalls the question of whether the possibility that Plame Wilson sent her “husband on a junket” (see July 7, 2003 or Shortly After), and whether he discussed it with Cheney. Libby replies: “I don’t recall the conversation until after the Novak piece. I don’t recall it during the week of July 6. I recall it after the Novak… after the Novak article appeared.” Fitzgerald, obviously unconvinced by Libby’s claim, asks, “And are you telling us under oath that from July 6 to July 14 you never discussed with Vice President Cheney whether Mr. Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA?” Libby responds: “No, no, I’m not saying that. On July 10 or 11 I learned, I thought anew, that the wife—that the reporters were telling us that the wife worked at the CIA. And I may have had a conversation with the vice president either late on the 11th or on the 12th in which I relayed that reporters were saying that.” Libby is lying by claiming he never discussed Plame Wilson with Cheney or other White House officials between July 6 and July 14 (see July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, July 7-8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 12:00 p.m. July 7, 2003, and July 10 or 11, 2003). (US Department of Justice 3/5/2004 ; Waas 1/12/2007)
Denies Learning of State Department Memo until Late September 2003 - Libby also denies learning of the State Department’s interest in the Wilson trip and in Wilson’s wife until after the investigation into Plame Wilson’s identity became public on September 28, 2003, “a couple days after that,” he says. “I don’t have any recollection of an INR [Bureau of Intelligence and Research, the State Department’s intelligence bureau] document prior to that date.” Libby is lying; he learned about the State Department’s inquiry into the Wilson trip, and Plame Wilson’s CIA status, much earlier (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003). He also denies asking the State Department’s Marc Grossman for information on Wilson’s Niger trip, which is most likely another lie (see May 29, 2003). And he claims not to remember if he learned from Grossman that Plame Wilson was a CIA official.
Denies Talking to CIA Official - Libby also claims not to remember discussing Plame Wilson with Robert Grenier, the CIA’s Iraq mission manager. “I don’t think I discussed Wilson’s wife’s employment with, with Mr. Grenier,” he testifies. “I think if I discussed something it was what they knew about the request about Mr., about Mr. Wilson. I don’t recall the content of the discussion.” Asked “if there was an urgency to the conversation” with Grenier, Libby replies, “I recall that I was reaching Mr. Grenier—I was trying to reach Mr. McLaughlin [John McLaughlin, then the CIA’s deputy director, who spoke to Cheney the day before about Plame Wilson—see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003) and couldn’t, and spoke instead to Mr. Grenier. And so if I did that instead of just waiting for Mr. McLaughlin, it was probably something that was urgent in the sense that my boss, the vice president, wanted, wanted to find something out. Not, not necessarily in the real world, but he wanted an answer and usually we try and get him the answer when we can.” Libby did indeed meet with Grenier, and quizzed him about Plame Wilson (see 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003).
Denies Leaking Name to Post Reporter - Libby claims not to be sure if he was a source for a June 2003 article by Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus (see June 12, 2003), but says he is sure he did not divulge Plame Wilson’s identity to him. “I have no recollection of having discussed it with Mr. Pincus and I don’t think I did,” Libby testifies. He acknowledges that his own notes, entered into evidence by Fitzgerald, show that he discussed the Pincus article with Cheney before it was published. Libby also denies revealing Plame Wilson’s identity to two New York Times reporters, David Sanger and James Risen.
Challenges Wilson's Characterization of Iraq-Niger Claims - Using language similar to that he and other members of Cheney’s staff have used in press conferences and to individual reporters, Libby says that Joseph Wilson’s questioning of the Iraq-Niger claims were ill-informed, and that Wilson was wrong to speculate that Cheney had deliberately ignored the evidence that those claims were false to insist that Iraq had an active nuclear weapons program and therefore constituted a danger to the US (see March 24, 2002, August 2002, March 16, 2003, and July 6-10, 2003). Libby says of Wilson’s op-ed in the New York Times (see July 6, 2003), “It’s a, it’s a bad article.” He admits to being angry over the article, then changes it to being “concerned because it didn’t seem to me an accurate portrayal of the facts.… Upset’s a fair word, I guess.” He admits to discussing the Wilson op-ed with Cheney shortly after its publication, though he is unsure of the exact date of that discussion (see July 6-10, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). Libby acknowledges that notations on a copy of the Wilson op-ed are in Cheney’s handwriting (see July 7, 2003 or Shortly After). (US Department of Justice 3/5/2004 )
Greg Thielmann, a former director of the Strategic, Proliferation, and Military Affairs Office at the State Department’s intelligence bureau, compares the aluminum tubes allegations (see Between April 2001 and September 2002 and September 8, 2002) to the Iraq-Niger uranium allegations (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), and finds the aluminum tubes allegations an “even more egregrious case of policymakers’ contamination of the intelligence process than the” Iraq-Niger uranium allegations, in the words of former Defense Intelligence Agency official Patrick Lang. Lang goes on to quote Thielmann as saying: “What was done with the aluminum tubes was far worse than what was done with the uranium from Africa. Because the intelligence community had debated over a period of months, and involved key scientists and engineers in the national laboratories—and foreigners as well—in a long and detailed discussion. The way I would have characterized it, if you had asked me in July 2002, when I turned over the leadership of my office, there was a growing consensus in the intelligence community that this kind of aluminum was not suitable for the nuclear weapons program. So I was really quite shocked to see—I was just retired—the National Intelligence Estimate say that the majority of agencies came to the opposite interpretation, that it was going into the nuclear weapons program.” Anyone in the White House or the National Security Council should have, in Lang’s words, “seen through the subterfuge and drawn the proper conclusion.” Again, Lang quotes Thielmann: “If they had read the NIE [National Intelligence Estimate—see October 1, 2002] in October, it is transparent that there were different views in the intelligence community. They could have read, for example, that the Department of Energy and the State Department INR [intelligence bureau] believed that the aluminum tubes were not going into the nuclear weapons program and instead were going into conventional artillery rockets. And, if one assumes a modicum of intelligence understanding at the [National Security Council], they should know that the agency that is most able to judge on this would be the Department of Energy. They control all the laboratories that actually over the years have enriched uranium and built centrifuges.” (Lang 6/2004)
Former CIA agent Larry Johnson, who trained with outed CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003), pens an angry rebuttal of former Justice Department official Victoria Toensing’s critique of the Plame Wilson identity leak investigation (see February 18, 2007). Johnson accuses Toensing of “plumbing new depths of delusion and crazed fantasies,” notes that her op-ed should have been titled “I Am Ignorant of Basic Facts,” and excoriates the Washington Post for printing it. Johnson directly refutes two of Toensing’s strongest rejoinders: Plame Wilson was not a covert agent and Joseph Wilson misled the public about his trip to Niger, his report on his findings, and his public discussions of his wife’s CIA status. (Johnson 2/18/2007) In 2007, Plame Wilson will add, “Toensing apparently hadn’t been following the trial very closely, or else she would have known that each of her ‘charges’ had been refuted in ample documentary and witness testimony.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 292)
Plame Wilson's Covert Status - Johnson writes: “Valerie Plame was undercover until the day she was identified in Robert Novak’s column. I entered on duty with Valerie in September of 1985. Every single member of our class—which was comprised of case officers, analysts, scientists, and admin folks—were undercover. I was an analyst and Valerie was a case officer. Case officers work in the Directorate of Operations and work overseas recruiting spies and running clandestine operations. Although Valerie started out working under ‘official cover’—i.e., she declared she worked for the US government but in something innocuous, like the State Department—she later became a NOC aka non official cover officer. A NOC has no declared relationship with the United States government. These simple facts apparently are too complicated for someone of Ms. Toensing’s limited intellectual abilities.” Johnson also notes that he and his fellow CIA veterans Jim Marcinkowski, Brent Cavan, and Mike Grimaldi, accompanied by another CIA veteran who declined to be identified, appeared on ABC News in 2003 and verified Plame Wilson’s covert status (see October 22-24, 2003). And the facts introduced into evidence in the Libby trial show that at least four White House officials—Lewis “Scooter” Libby (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003), Karl Rove (see July 8, 2003 and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), Ari Fleischer (see July 7, 2003), and Richard Armitage (see June 13, 2003 and July 8, 2003)—told journalists that Plame Wilson was a CIA agent. The result was not only Plame Wilson’s exposure as a former NOC agent but the exposure of her NOC cover company, Brewster Jennings (see October 3, 2003). Johnson writes, “That leak by the Bush administration ruined Valerie’s ability to continue working as a case officer and destroyed an international intelligence network.” (Johnson 2/18/2007) Plame Wilson will dismiss Toensing’s claim about her covert status as “dead wrong,” and ask a simple question: since Toensing is not a CIA employee herself, how does she know what Plame Wilson’s status was? (Wilson 2007, pp. 292)
Joseph Wilson - Johnson notes that Toensing alleges an array of impropriety on Joseph Wilson’s part. Johnson counters that Toensing suffers from an apparent “reading disability.” The facts are plain: Vice President Dick Cheney asked his CIA briefer for information on the Iraq-Niger uranium claim in early February 2002 (see 2002-Early 2003 and (February 13, 2002)), and the CIA asked Wilson to investigate the matter a week later (see Shortly after February 13, 2002). Johnson writes: “Joe was a natural choice for the job. He had headed up the Africa desk at the National Security Council, he had served as an ambassador in West Africa, and had saved American lives from Saddam [Hussein] during the first Gulf War (see August 6, 1990 and September 20, 1990). He was not chosen by his wife, Valerie Plame. She only wrote a memo, at the behest of her boss in the Counterproliferation Divison of the Directorate of Operations, identifying Joe’s qualifications (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, October 17, 2003, and July 20, 2005). And she was asked to inform her husband about the CIA’s interest in him going to Niger to help answer a request from Vice President Cheney, who wanted to know if there was any truth to reports that Iraq was seeking uranium in Niger.… Valerie was not in the room when the decision was made nor was she in an administrative position with the clout to send her husband on such a mission.” This set of facts was confirmed by a memo from the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR—see June 10, 2003) introduced during the trial. Johnson writes: “Too bad Ms. Toensing did not take time to read the CIA report produced from Mr. Wilson’s trip. He made it very clear in that report that Iraq had not purchased or negotiated the purchase of uranium.” (Johnson 2/18/2007)
Limitations of IIPA - Plame Wilson will write of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA), which Toensing helped negotiate in 1982, “If anything, her rantings pointed out the shortcomings of the bill she helped author—that is, the difficulty of prosecuting someone who had violated the law and passed along the covert identity of an operations officer to someone who did not have a security clearance.” Whether such an officer is currently overseas when their cover is blown is irrelevant, Plame Wilson will note; “[w]e use such things as alias passports, disguises, and other tradecraft secrets to do this. It’s called clandestine operations. Just as a general is still a general whether he or she is in the field or serving at the Pentagon, an operations officer by definition has responsibilities that don’t vanish depending on location.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 292)
Jury Tampering? - Johnson writes that Toensing’s op-ed is so obviously another attempt to defend Libby, Cheney, and other White House officials, and to smear prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s and the Wilsons’ credibility, that it can legitimately be considered an attempt at jury tampering—an attempt to influence the jury deciding Libby’s guilt or innocence. Johnson asks: “Just days before the Libby jury retires to consider a verdict, why was Toensing allowed to publish an article rife with lies and misstated facts? Why does the paper that played a key role in exposing the tyranny of Richard Nixon now allow this shallow woman to smear prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald?”
Public Service - According to Johnson, Fitzgerald has performed a public service in exposing the lies of Cheney, Libby, and others in the White House. “Cheney and Libby feared what the American people might do if they discovered they had been lied to about the case for war in Iraq. Now there is no doubt. They did lie and these lies have been exposed. Unfortunately, the Victoria Toensings of the world seem hell bent on perpetuating the lies and living in the delusional world that it is okay to out an undercover CIA officer during a time of war. While Toensing has the right to be wrong, we ought to ask why a paper with the reputation of the Washington Post is lowering its journalistic standards, ignoring ethics, and enabling the spread of lies. I think the owner of the Washington Post has some ‘splaining’ to do.” (Johnson 2/18/2007)
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