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“The normal processing of establishing accurate intelligence was sidestepped.” [Reuters, 5/30/2003]
“I became dismayed when a knowledgeable government scientist told me that the administration could say anything it wanted about the tubes while government scientists who disagreed were expected to remain quiet.” [New Republic, 6/30/2003]
“I don’t know why there is not more debate. I have heard that a lot of people are expected to remain silent. [The Bush administration] has certainly scared people. I met one government scientist who said his phone was being monitored.” [Independent, 9/22/2002]
Former Iraqi nuclear scientist Khidir Hamza (see July 30, 2002), who fled Iraq in 1994 and now works at the Institute for Science and International Security, puts together a book proposal with his boss, David Albright, that intends to prove Saddam Hussein’s mission to build nuclear weapons had “fizzled.” The book proposal receives no interest, and Albright and Hamza do not write the book. (Lang 6/2004) Two years later, Hamda will co-author a book asserting that Iraq is aggressively pursuing nuclear weapons (see November 2000).
CIA agent Joe Turner flies to Vienna and meets with IAEA scientists, arguing that the aluminum tubes ordered by Iraq had been intended for use in nuclear centrifuges. (Jackson 10/27/2003; Barstow, Broad, and Gerth 10/3/2004) But experts at the agency disagree with his conclusions and explain to him why they believe his analysis is wrong. “They pointed out errors in his calculations. They noted design discrepancies,” an unnamed senior US official will later tell the New York Times. (Barstow, Broad, and Gerth 10/3/2004) David Albright, a physicist and former weapons inspector, who now heads the Institute for Science and International Security, similarly explains to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation: “The view in Vienna in the summer of 2001 was ‘Maybe this guy has a clever idea, but he really is just grabbing at almost straws to prove his case, and when he’s debunked in one model, he then shifts it and tries to make his information fit another centrifuge model.’ And yet whenever you confronted him with the facts or the weaknesses in argument, he always came back with the same answer—‘It’s only for centrifuges.’” When Turner returns to Washington, he tells his superiors at the CIA that the IAEA agrees with his theory. (Jackson 10/27/2003) But scientists at the IAEA send a summary of their views on the tubes to the US government on July 27, saying that although the tubes could possibly be used in a gas centrifuge application, they were not directly suited for that purpose. (United Kingdom 7/14/2004 ; Barstow, Broad, and Gerth 10/3/2004)
After CIA analyst Joe Turner’s presentation to UN atomic energy scientists (see Late July 2001), one of the scientists calls David Albright, a nuclear physicist who runs the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, and warns him that the “people across the river [i.e., the CIA] are trying to start a war. They are really beating the drum. They want to attack.” (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 37)
Khidir Hamza, “who played a leading role in Iraq’s nuclear weapon program before defecting in 1994,” tells the Senate Judiciary Committee that according to German intelligence, Iraq has “more than 10 tons of uranium and one ton of slightly enriched uranium… in its possession” which would be “enough to generate the needed bomb-grade uranium for three nuclear weapons by 2005.” He says that Iraq is “using corporations in India and other countries to import the needed equipment for its program and channel it through countries like Malaysia for shipment to Iraq.” He also claims that Iraq is “gearing up to extend the range of its missiles to easily reach Israel.” The testimony is widely reported in the media. (CNN 8/1/2002; Borger 8/1/2002; Harnden 8/1/2002) Hamza, however, is considered by many to be an unreliable source. David Albright, 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; Massing 2/26/2004) 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 at the time of his defection, as well as US and British intelligence, that Hamza was not a reliable source (see August 22, 1995). (Kamal 8/22/1995 ; Hersh 5/12/2003) The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will say in 2004 that before the US invasion of Iraq, it had warned journalists reporting on Iraq’s alleged nuclear weapons program that Hamza was not a credible source. “Hamza had no credibility at all. Journalists who called us and asked for an assessment of these people—we’d certainly tell them.” (Massing 2/26/2004 Sources: Unnamed IAEA staff member)
David Albright, a respected nuclear physicist who had investigated Iraq’s nuclear weapons program after the first Gulf War, frequently appears as a commentator on television in the autumn of 2002. In 2004, he will say, “I felt a lot of pressure” from journalists “to stick to the subject, which was Iraq’s bad behavior.… I always felt the administration was setting the agenda for what stories should be covered, and the news media bought into that, rather than take a critical look at the administration’s underlying reasons for war.” On one occasion, Albright appears on an unnamed cable news show and says that he feels UN weapons inspections in Iraq should continue and that the impasse over Iraq is not simply France’s fault. During a commercial break, the host “got really mad and chastised me.” Albright concludes: “The administration created a set of truths, then put up a wall to keep people within it. On the other side of the wall were people saying they didn’t agree. The media were not aggressive enough in challenging this.” (Massing 2/26/2004)
David Albright, a physicist who helped investigate Iraq’s nuclear weapons program following the 1991 Persian Gulf War as a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s inspection team, is disturbed to read Judith Miller’s story in the New York Times claiming that Iraq is trying to purchase aluminum tubes as part of an attempt to build centrifuges for a nuclear weapon (see September 8, 2002). After the aluminum tubes had been intercepted in the summer of 2001, Albright had been asked by an official to find out some information about them (see Late July 2001), and he had discovered that many experts doubted they were suitable for use in centrifuges. He had frequently worked with Miller in the past, and he contacts her and alerts her about the doubts of many officials, particularly those in the Department of Energy, regarding the Bush administration’s claims about the tubes.
Follow-up Article - Miller and Michael Gordon do write a follow-up article in the Times on September 13, 2002. But while the article does eventually note that “there have been debates among intelligence experts about Iraq’s intentions in trying to buy such tubes,” it states that “other, more senior, officials insisted last night that this was a minority view among intelligence experts and that the CIA had wide support, particularly among the government’s top technical experts and nuclear scientists. ‘This is a footnote, not a split,’ a senior administration official said.”
Insufficient - Albright is upset. He will later claim that he asked Miller “to alert people that there’s a debate, that there are competent people who disagreed with what the CIA was saying. I thought for sure she’d quote me or some people in the government who didn’t agree. It just wasn’t there.” He adds that the Times “made a decision to ice out the critics and insult them on top of it.” Albright goes to Joby Warrick of the Washington Post instead in hopes the Post will publish a better story. Warrick’s story comes out on September 19 and reveals the debate within the government about the tubes. It also notes reports that the Bush administration “is trying to quiet dissent among its own analysts over how to interpret the evidence.” But the story appears on page A18 and gets little notice compared to Miller’s front-page stories. (Massing 2/26/2004) Still frustrated, Albright publishes his own report several days later challenging the aluminum tubes story (see September 23, 2002).
The New York Times publishes an article by Judith Miller entitled, “Verification Is Difficult at Best, Say the Experts, and Maybe Impossible.” Miller quotes a number of officials and former inspectors who claim that UN inspectors would face nearly insurmountable obstacles if they return to Iraq. But the sources chosen seem to be selected to agree with Miller’s position. For instance, she quotes David Kay at length, and he says “their task is damn near a mission impossible.” She describes Kay as “a former inspector who led the initial nuclear inspections in Iraq in the early 1990s,” but in fact Kay only spent five weeks as an inspector, in 1991. She also quotes Iraqi defector Khidir Hamza, who she says “led part of Iraq’s nuclear bomb program until he defected in 1994.” Hamza claims that Iraq is getting close to developing a nuclear bomb, and the Iraqi government “now excelled” in hiding its nuclear weapons program. But in fact Hamza resigned from Iraq’s nuclear program in 1990 and had no firsthand knowledge of it after that. Hamza moved to the US and worked for David Albright’s Institute for Science and International Security, but by 1999 Albright could no longer stand Hamza’s exaggerated claims and fired him. Hamza then published a book that contained “many ridiculous claims,” according to Albright (see November 2000), who will also say that Hamza’s claims are “often inaccurate.… He sculpts his message to get the message across.… [He] wants regime change [in Iraq] and what interferes with that is just ignored.” Of Miller, Albright will later claim: “She should have known about this. This is her area.” One International Atomic Energy Agency staff member will later say: “Hamza had no credibility at all.… Journalists who called us and asked for an assessment of these people—we’d certainly tell them.” (Miller 8/18/2002; Massing 2/26/2004; Unger 2007, pp. 252)
David Albright, a physicist who helped investigate Iraq’s nuclear weapons program following the 1991 Persian Gulf War as a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s inspection team, concludes in a study that Iraq’s attempt to import aluminum tubes is not “evidence that Iraq is in possession of, or close to possessing, nuclear weapons” or that Iraq has an operating centrifuge plant. His assessment is based on several factors, including the fact that the tubes are made of an aluminum alloy that is ill-suited for welding. He notes that Iraq had used maraging steel and carbon fiber in its earlier attempts to make centrifuges (see (Late 1980s)). Albright also challenges the CIA’s contention the tubes’ anodized coating is an indication that they are meant to be used as rotors in a gas centrifuge. The nuclear physicist notes that the fact the tubes are anodized actually supports the theory that they were meant to be used in rockets, not a centrifuge. He cites another expert who said that an “anodized layer on the inside of the tube… can result in hampering the operation of the centrifuge.” (Albright 10/9/2003 Sources: David Albright) Though Albright is critical of the charges being made by the Bush administration against Iraq, concerning nuclear weapons, he is no sympathizer of Saddam Hussein. He believes that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction and advocates a tough stance towards his regime. (Massing 2/26/2004) His report is widely dispersed and is covered in detail by the Washington Post on September 19, 2002 (see September 19, 2002). Several other newspapers also cover Albright’s report. (Warrick 9/19/2002; Borger 10/9/2002; Collier 10/12/2002) It is later revealed that scientists at the Energy Department secretly worked with Albright on the report. (Barstow, Broad, and Gerth 10/3/2004)
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).
While many in the Bush administration continue to insist that the claims of Iraq attempting to buy uranium from Niger are valid (see March 7, 2003-July 7, 2003), even in the face of a thorough debunking by the International Atomic Energy Agency (see March 7, 2003), some officials are quietly admitting that the administration was duped. “We fell for it,” says one unnamed State Department official who reviewed the documents. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Colin Powell says that the administration has “new information” suggesting that Iraq continues to try to get nuclear weapons components such as the suspicious aluminum tubes (see October 6, 2002). David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security retorts, “Despite being presented with the falseness of this claim, the administration persists in making misleading arguments about the significance of the tubes.” (Warrick 3/8/2003) Former ambassador Joseph Wilson will note that the administration “had chosen to ignore three reports that had been in their files for nearly a year: mine (see March 4-5, 2002) as well as two others—one submitted by the American ambassador to Niger, Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick (see November 20, 2001) and the other by four-star Marine Corps General Carlton Fulford (see February 24, 2002), who had also traveled there. Instead, the administration chose to give credence to forgeries so crude that even Panorama, the Italian weekly magazine that first received them, had declined to publish (see October 9, 2002). The administration had ample evidence that there was nothing to the uranium charge but went ahead and placed the inflammatory claim in the State of the Union address anyway.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 2-3)
A day after former ambassador Joseph Wilson appears on CNN questioning the validity of the administration’s claims about the Iraq-Niger uranium purchase (see March 8, 2003), Vice President Dick Cheney and Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley begin a campaign to discredit him. The information comes from senior sources within the State Department, the CIA, and the National Security Council (NSC), all with direct knowledge of the campaign, and from Wilson himself. The sources will say that they and other officials are directed to unearth or “invent” embarrassing information on Wilson that could be used against him in public. Aides in the Office of the Vice President and others, including the sources, prepare a “workup” on Wilson, including memos and classified material on him for Cheney and the NSC. Officials meet regularly in Cheney’s office to discuss the progress of the campaign with Cheney, Hadley, and other officials.
Visit to CIA Headquarters - According to an official in the CIA’s Counterproliferation Division (CPD), Cheney and Hadley visit the CIA the day after Wilson’s interview on CNN. Cheney’s original target for discrediting was not Wilson, but David Albright, the former UN weapons inspector who has also challenged the credibility of the Iraq-Niger claims and the rationale for invading Iraq (see March 8, 2003). Cheney asked several CIA officials to find “dirt” on Albright for use in discrediting him in the media. At the outset, the CIA official will say: “Vice President Cheney was more concerned with Mr. Albright. The international community had been saying that inspectors should have more time, that the US should not set a deadline. The vice president felt Mr. Albright’s remarks would fuel the debate.” The CIA will eventually send a “binder” to Cheney’s office containing information about Albright; it is not clear to what, if any, use that information is put.
Cheney 'Enraged' - But Wilson’s appearance on CNN and his public ridicule of the Iraq-Niger uranium claim enraged Cheney, who saw Wilson’s comments as a personal attack against him. Hadley also took an interest in Wilson’s remarks because he personally allowed the Iraq-Niger claim to remain in Bush’s State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) even after being informed that the documents the claim was based upon were forgeries. Both Cheney and Hadley view Wilson as a possible impediment to the public’s acceptance of the impending Iraq invasion. Cheney chairs a meeting in his office the day after Wilson’s appearance on CNN, attended by, among others, Hadley, White House political guru Karl Rove, Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Cheney’s deputy national security adviser John Hannah, and several officials from the CIA and State Department, including the officials who will later discuss the matter with the press. “The way I remember it,” says the CIA official, “is that the vice president was obsessed with Wilson. He called him an ‘_sshole,’ a son-of-a-b_tch. He took his comments very personally. He wanted us to do everything in our power to destroy his reputation and he wanted to be kept up to date about the progress.” Hadley says he will write an editorial about the Iraqi threat that should offset Wilson’s remarks; the State Department will redistribute a February 16, 2003 editorial by Hadley that appeared in the Chicago Tribune to newspaper editors around the country. Cheney will appear on NBC’s Meet the Press to refute the challenges to the Iraq-Niger claims (see March 16, 2003). (Leopold 2/9/2006) In 2004, Wilson will write: “I learned that a meeting right around the time of this particular CNN appearance (see March 8, 2003) led to the decision to produce a ‘workup’ on me for the Office of the Vice President. It was not made clear to me whether Dick Cheney himself attended this meeting, although I was told that senior members of his staff and quite possibly other senior Republicans, including former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, were present and that Gingrich actively participated in a strategy session, the objective of which was to figure out how to discredit me.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 326-327)
False Allegations of 'Womanizing,' Drug Use - Within days, officials in the CIA, NSC, and State Department pass on information to Cheney and Libby that purportedly shows Wilson is a “womanizer” who had occassionally used drugs in his youth; the sources later say that the allegations are entirely false. The sources will say that they are unsure the material was ever used to discredit Wilson, since after the war began on March 19, the media lost interest in Wilson’s warnings. (Leopold 2/9/2006) Wilson later writes that the meeting about him does “not include discussion of how the president and his senior staff might address the indisputable, if inconvenient, fact that the allegation I had made was true. In other words, from the very beginning, the strategy of the White House was to confront the issue as a ‘Wilson’ problem rather than as an issue of the lie that was in the State of the Union address.… The immediate effect of the workup, I am told by a member of the press, citing White House sources, was a long harangue against the two of us within the White House walls. Over a period of several months, Libby evidently seized opportunities to rail openly against me as an ‘assh_le playboy’ who went on a boondoggle ‘arranged by his CIA wife’—and was a Democratic Gore supporter to boot.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 441-442)
New Interest in Wilson - Cheney’s interest in Wilson will be renewed in May 2003 (see May 2003), when Wilson informs New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof that he was the special envoy who had gone to Niger in February 2002 to investigate the uranium claims (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002).
Beginning on May 1, American nuclear physicist David Albright attempts to contact US defense officials to inform them that Mahdi Obeidi—the Iraqi nuclear scientist who once headed Iraq’s gas centrifuge program for uranium enrichment—has valuable information that he wants to share with the United States. But according to Albright, his inquiries are initially “rebuffed.” Finally, on May 7, he finds someone at the CIA who is interested. A little more than three weeks later, US authorities will investigate this lead (see June 2, 2003). (CNN 6/26/2003; Hirsh 8/8/2003; Gellman 10/26/2003)
The House Intelligence Committee, led by Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), releases a 29-page report entitled “Recognizing Iran as a Strategic Threat: An Intelligence Challenge for the United States” that blasts the CIA and other US intelligence agencies for lacking “the ability to acquire essential information necessary to make judgments” on Iran’s nuclear program, its intentions, or its ties to terrorism. (House Intelligence Committee 8/23/2006)
Democrats Excluded From Report - The report is generated strictly by the Republicans on the committee; input from Democratic members was quite limited. The author of the report is ex-CIA officer Frederick Fleitz, a former special assistant to Undersecretary of Defense John Bolton and a hardliner on Iran. Not surprisingly, Fleitz’s report fully supports the Bush administration’s position that Iran is moving aggressively to acquire nuclear weapons, and thusly poses an significant threat to the US. It also claims that the US intelligence community has not tried to collect or collate evidence to prove Fleitz’s assertion that Iran, a majority-Shi’ite nation, has close and sinister ties to al-Qaeda, a Sunni organization, as well as some responsibility for the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. Fleitz and his researchers used nothing more than publicly available documents for his report, and did not interview any intelligence officials. Hoesktra, who publicly releases the report before it is approved by the full committee, says his purpose is to avoid the intelligence “mistakes” that led the US to conclude that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. It is widely believed that Hoekstra’s decision to release the report is part of a larger effort by the Bush administration to pressure Iran to suspend its nuclear program, a push supported by few US allies. Democrats on the committee have little confidence that the report is complete and accurate; ranking subcommittee member Rush Holt (D-NJ) says the report is not “prepared and reviewed in a way that we can rely on.” (Linzer 8/24/2006)
Cherrypicking - The report will never be voted on or discussed by the entire committee, in essence short-circuiting Democrats from the review and approval process. Ranking member Jane Harman (D-CA) says the report “took a number of analytical shortcuts that present the Iran threat as more dire—and the Intelligence Community’s assessments as more certain—than they are.” It is not long before the report is thoroughly debunked. Further analysis shows the report to be riddled with errors; additionally, it fails to include key information, mostly from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that disproves the report’s claims about Iran’s nuclear program. When the report is officially presented in September 2006, IAEA officials and others will term the report “outrageous and dishonest,” and provide evidence refuting its major claims (see September 14, 2006). Gary Sick, an Iran expert and a former National Security Council under Jimmy Carter, notes that the report’s claim that Iran has “the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East” entirely ignores the far larger arsenals possessed by Israel and Saudi Arabia. “If you are going to take on the entire US intelligence community, it is a very good idea to at least get your basic facts straight,” Sick says. “It is a sloppy attempt to lay the ground for another ‘slam-dunk’ judgement and a potential rush to war. It deserves to be recognized for what it is.” David Albright agrees: “This is like prewar Iraq all over again.” Albright, a former UN weapons inspector and president of the Institute for Science and International Security, says, “You have an Iranian nuclear threat that is spun up, using bad information that’s cherry-picked and a report that trashes the [IAEA] inspectors.” Weeks after the November 2006 elections, the CIA will report that it can find no evidence supporting Fleitz’s contention that Iran has a secret nuclear weapons program. (Lobe 8/25/2006; Linzer 9/14/2006; Unger 3/2007)
An Attempt to Undermine Rice and Diplomatic Outreach? - Many committee Democrats believe that the report is an attempt by hardline Republicans to undermine Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has agreed to talk with the Iranians under certain conditions. Bolton, Fleitz, and others oppose any diplomacy or discussion with Iran. Bolton is now the US ambassador to the UN; he and Fleitz worked diligently during President Bush’s first term to undermine the efforts of Rice’s predecessor, Colin Powell, to engage Iran, North Korea, and Syria in diplomatic talks. Many Washington neoconservatives have denounced the Bush administration’s tentative move towards diplomatic talks with Iran as nothing more than “appeasement.” (Perhaps in the same vein, Fleitz is now working on a similar report on North Korea’s weapons program; a draft leaked to the Washington Post contains allegations about the North Korean program that also cannot be substantiated.) (Lobe 8/25/2006; Linzer 9/14/2006)
'Unusually Slick' Hoax - Former CIA official Ray McGovern calls the report an “unusually slick” hoax that is nothing more than an attempt to frighten Congress and the American people into supporting the Bush administration’s more aggressive posture towards Iran. McGovern notes that in recent weeks Hoekstra told a Fox News audience that weapons of mass destruction were indeed found in Iraq—“We were right all the time!”—and observes that the entire report is a calculated public relations effort based on overzealous falsehoods and not on verifiable fact. The cover of the report depicts Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad giving a suspiciously Nazi-like salute, and the first page repeats Ahmadinejad’s assertion that Israel “must be wiped off the face of the map.” He also notes that Fleitz, whom he describes as Bolton’s “chief enforcer” when Bolton was at the State Department, once told State Department intelligence analysts Christian Westermann that it was “a political judgment as to how to interpret” data on Cuba’s biological weapons program (a program that only existed in Bolton’s imagination) and that the intelligence community “should do as we asked” in making its reports. McGovern concludes, “Hoekstra’s release of this paper is another sign pointing in the direction of a US attack on Iran. Tehran is now being blamed not only for inciting Hezbollah but also for sending improvised explosive devices [IEDs] into Iraq to kill or maim US forces. There is yet another, if more subtle, disquieting note about the paper. It bears the earmarks of a rushed job, with very little editorial scrubbing.… It seems to me possible that the Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal told Hoekstra to get the paper out sooner rather than later, as an aid to Americans in ‘recognizing Iran as a strategic threat.’” (McGovern 8/26/2007)
Replay of Flawed Iraqi Intelligence - Many observers agree with McGovern that the report is a replay of the dangerously flawed intelligence estimates that pushed Congress to approve military action against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Gary Sick goes even further back to draw a comparison between Hoekstra’s report and the mid-1970s effort by Ford aides Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld’s so-called “Team B” to provide an “alternative” intelligence assessment on the threat posed by the then-Soviet Union. The report “is really intended as a sort of Team B report of what at least one [Congressional] staffer believes the intelligence community should be reporting on Iran.” (Lobe 8/25/2006) Author and national security expert John Prados takes an even grimmer view: “The fact that this act has been perpetrated by a congressional committee whose job it is to oversee US intelligence is further evidence that intelligence oversight has become part of the problem, not the solution.” (Prados 8/25/2006)
The US is receiving false and misleading information about Iran’s nuclear capabilities from an Iranian dissident group labeled as a terrorist organization, says a former UN weapons inspector. The Mujahedeen-e Khalq, or MEK (see 1970s), is an exile group labeled by the US State Department as a terrorist organization, but embraced by many Washington neoconservatives, including a key group of White House officials operating inside Vice President Dick Cheney’s office and another working with Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. David Albright, a former UN weapons inspector for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), says, “We should be very suspicious about what our leaders or the exile groups say about Iran’s nuclear capacity. There’s a drumbeat of allegations, but there’s not a whole lot of solid information. It may be that Iran has not made the decision to build nuclear weapons. We have to be very careful not to overstate the intelligence.” Albright says the information from MEK is somewhat more believable than the extravagantly false information provided by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraq National Congress, which was used to bolster Bush administration allegations that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq posed a grave and imminent threat to world peace and US security (see (1994). In 2002, MEK provided critical information about Iran’s nuclear-enrichment complex at Natanz and a heavy-water production facility at Arak (see August 2002). It is unclear if Iran is pursuing a nuclear-weapons program; one UN official says of the information gleaned by the IAEA, “It’s a mixed bag.” Of MEK, he says, “The Mujahedeen Khalq appears to have some real sources inside Iran, but you can’t trust them all the time.” Iran has not been fully compliant with IAEA attempts to determine the nature and extent of its nuclear program. Nevertheless, some Congressional lawmakers say that, in light of the misinformation surrounding the claims of Iraq’s weapons programs, policy makers need to be doubly cautious about making claims and pursuing aggressive deterrence operations against Iran. Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, says, “In Iran, as well as North Korea, Syria, and so on, we need accurate, unbiased and timely intelligence. Iraq has shown that our intelligence products have a credibility problem and improvements are critically needed.” Iranian journalist Emadeddin Baghi, a columnist for the liberal Sharq newspaper who served two years in prison for criticizing the religious establishment, says that in Iran, skepticism runs deep. “Many Iranians instinctively disbelieve anything their own government says, but they also disbelieve the Americans, and what has happened in Iraq has strengthened that,” Baghi says. “Iranians see the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and they see the American accusations about nuclear weapons as just another pretext for other hidden aims.” (Collier 10/26/2006)
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