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Profile: George J. Tenet
Positions that George J. Tenet has held:
- CIA Director during the Clinton and administrations
February 6, 2002
“Our major near-term concern is the possibility that Saddam might gain access to fissile material,… [and] with substantial foreign assistance, [Iraq] could flight-test a longer-range ballistic missile within the next five years.”
[Chicago Tribune, 2/7/2002]
March 19, 2002
Testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee, CIA Director George Tenet says, “There is no doubt that there have been (Iraqi) contacts and linkages to the al-Qaeda organization. As to where we are on September 11, the jury is still out. As I said carefully in my statement it would be a mistake to dismiss the possibility of state sponsorship whether Iranian or Iraqi and we’ll see where the evidence takes us…. There is nothing new in the last several months that changes our analysis in any way…. There’s no doubt there have been contacts or linkages to the al-Qaeda organization…. I want you to think about al-Qaeda as a front company that mixes and matches its capabilities.… The distinction between Sunni and Shia that have traditionally divided terrorists groups are not distinctions we should make any more, because there are common interests against the United States and its allies in this region, and they will seek capabilities wherever they can get it…. Their ties may be limited by divergent ideologies, but the two sides mutual antipathies toward the United States and the Saudi royal family suggests that tactical cooperation between them is possible.”
[PBS, 3/19/2002; Agence France-Presse, 3/20/2002]
George J. Tenet was a participant or observer in the following events:
The CIA’s associate deputy director for intelligence (ADDI) receives draft seven of President Bush’s upcoming speech in Cincinnati and sees that the speechwriters have failed to remove the passage on Iraq’s alleged attempt to purchase uranium from Niger, as the CIA had advised the day before (see October 5, 2002). The revised passage reads in part, “the regime has been caught attempting to purchase a substantial amount of uranium oxide from sources in Africa.” The ADDI contacts Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet and tells him that the “president should not be a fact witness on this issue” because the agency’s analysts consider the reporting “weak” and say it is based solely on one source. Tenet then personally calls White House officials, including Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, with the CIA’s concerns. The allegation is finally removed from the speech. Later in the day, to press its point even further, the CIA faxes another memo, summarizing its position on the Africa-uranium claim. The memo states: “[M]ore on why we recommend removing the sentence about procuring uranium oxide from Africa: Three points (1) The evidence is weak. One of the two mines cited by the source as the location of the uranium oxide is flooded. The other mine cited by the source is under the control of the French authorities. (2) The procurement is not particularly significant to Iraq’s nuclear ambitions because the Iraqis already have a large stock of uranium oxide in their inventory. And (3) we have shared points one and two with Congress, telling them that the Africa story is overblown and telling them this is one of the two issues where we differed with the British.” [Washington Post, 7/13/2003; Washington Post, 7/23/2003; US Congress, 7/7/2004; Unger, 2007, pp. 261-262] The memo’s recipients include National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and her deputy, Hadley. [Washington Post, 7/23/2003] Bush will not use the reference in his speech—although he does repeat the “smoking gun/mushroom cloud” trope (see September 4, 2002)—but the administration’s neoconservatives, such as Hadley, are not through with the issue. They will continue trying to insert the language into other speeches (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). Larry Wilkerson, the chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell, will later say: “That was their favorite technique. Stick that baby in there 47 times and on the 47th time it would stay. I’m serious. It was interesting to watch them do this. At every level of the decision-making process you had to have your axe out, ready to chop their fingers off. Sooner or later you would miss one and it would get in there.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 261-262]
In response to a letter from Senator Bob Graham of the Senate Intelligence Committee (see October 4, 2002), the CIA agrees to declassify three passages from the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002) that said Saddam Hussein is unlikely to use chemical or biological weapons unless he is attacked. The CIA also agrees to release a portion of the October 2 exchange between Graham and Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin, in which McLaughlin stated that the probability that Saddam would initiate and attack was low (see October 2, 2002). Finally, in response to Graham’s request for additional information on alleged links between Iraq and al-Qaeda, the CIA says its “understanding of the relationship… is evolving and is based on sources of varying reliability. Some of the information… received comes from detainees, including some of high rank.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 10/7/2002; CBC News, 11/1/2002]
CIA Director George Tenet sends a letter to Senator Bob Graham (D-FL), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. In the letter, Tenet acknowledges declassifying some “material available to further the Senate’s forthcoming open debate on a joint resolution concerning Iraq” (see October 7, 2002). Tenet says that the declassified information supports the following contentions:
“Our understanding of the relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda is evolving and is based on sources of varying reliability. Some of the information we have received comes from detainees, including some of high rank.”
“We have solid reporting of senior level contacts between Iraq and al-Qaeda going back a decade.”
“Credible information indicates that Iraq and al-Qaeda have discussed safe haven and reciprocal nonaggression.”
“Since Operation Enduring Freedom (see October 7, 2001), we have solid evidence of the presence in Iraq of al-Qaeda members, including some that have been in Baghdad.”
“We have credible reporting that al-Qaeda leaders sought contacts in Iraq who could help them acquire WMD capabilities. The reporting also stated that Iraq has provided training to al-Qaeda members in the areas of poisons and gases and making conventional bombs.”
“Iraq’s increasing support to extremist Palestinians coupled with growing indications of a relationship with al-Qaeda, suggest that Baghdad’s links to terrorists will increase, even absent US military action.” [Senate Intelligence Committee, 10/7/2002; New York Times, 10/9/2002]
In 2007, former CIA analyst Valerie Plame Wilson will write that in the weeks and months preceding the invasion of Iraq, “Congress, just like the general public, was being bombarded with dreadful scenarios of what would happen if the perceived imminent threat from Iraq was not stopped in its tracks.” Plame Wilson will note that little strong evidence exists in CIA analyses to support Tenet’s contentions. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 121]
A CIA officer who served with Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, before 9/11 is interviewed by CIA Director George Tenet about a failure to pass on information to the FBI about one of the 9/11 hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar. Although information about Almihdhar’s US visa was not passed to the FBI, the officer, Michael Anne Casey, drafted a cable falsely stating that it had been passed (see Around 7:00 p.m. January 5, 2000). According to Tenet’s testimony to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry (see October 17, 2002), Casey “believes she never would have written this cable unless she believes this had happened.” Tenet will be impressed with Casey, calling her a “terrific officer” at an open hearing of the inquiry. [New York Times, 10/17/2002] However, it was Casey herself who blocked the cable, on the orders of her boss, Tom Wilshire (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000). In addition, the day after she sent the cable falsely stating the information had been passed, she again insisted that the information not be provided to the FBI (see January 6, 2000). Casey will later repeat the same lie to the Justice Department’s inspector general (see February 2004).
In sworn testimony to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, CIA Director George Tenet repeatedly claims that a March 2000 cable sent to CIA headquarters reporting that hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi had entered the US was not read by anybody. He says, “I know that nobody read that cable,” “Nobody read that cable in the March timeframe,” and “[N]obody read that information only cable.” [New York Times, 10/17/2002] Former Counterterrorist Center Director Cofer Black will also claim that the cable was not read. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 51 ] However, a later investigation by the CIA Office of Inspector General will find that numerous CIA officers had actually read the cable shortly after it was sent (see March 6, 2000 and After). Nevertheless, the 9/11 Commission will later assert that, “No-one outside the Counterterrorist Center was told any of this” (about Alhazmi’s arrival in the US) and neglect to mention that Tenet had previously misstated the CIA’s knowledge of the hijackers. Neither will the 9/11 Commission investigate the cause of the CIA’s apparent inaction. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 181]
President Bush meets with his cabinet-level advisers to review progress with counterterrorism efforts. According to author James Risen, one participant in the meeting will later recall that “several senior officials, including [CIA Director] Tenet, [National Security Adviser] Rice, and [Deputy Defense Secretary] Wolfowitz, voiced concerns about the ability of al-Qaeda-style terrorists to recruit and gain support on a widespread basis in the Islamic world. Did the United States have a strategy to counter the growth potential of Islamic extremism? ‘The president dismissed them, saying that victory in Iraq would take care of that. After he said that, people just kind of sat down,’ the participant recalled.” [Risen, 2006, pp. 169-170]
CIA Director Tenet says in a speech, “The Saudis are [providing] increasingly important support to our counterterrorism efforts, from making arrests to sharing debriefing results.” [Washington Post, 12/26/2002] Several terrorist suspects have been sent to Saudi Arabia for interrogation as part of a special rendition program. But US officials often “remain closely involved” with the questioning (see 1993).
The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry concludes its seven-month investigation of the performance of government agencies before the 9/11 attacks. A report hundreds of pages long has been written, but only nine pages of findings and 15 pages of recommendations are released at this time, and these have blacked out sections. [Los Angeles Times, 12/12/2002] After months of wrangling over what has to be classified, the final report will be released in July 2003 (see July 24, 2003). In the findings released at the present time, the inquiry accuses the Bush administration of refusing to declassify information about possible Saudi Arabian financial links to US-based Islamic militants, criticizes the FBI for not adapting into a domestic intelligence bureau after the 9/11 attacks, and says the CIA lacked an effective system for holding its officials accountable for their actions. Asked if 9/11 could have been prevented, Senator Bob Graham (D-FL), the committee chairman, gives “a conditional yes.” Graham says the Bush administration has given Americans an “incomplete and distorted picture” of the foreign assistance the hijackers may have received. [ABC News, 12/10/2002] Graham further says, “There are many more findings to be disclosed” that Americans would find “more than interesting,” and he and others express frustration that information that should be released is being kept classified by the Bush administration. [St. Petersburg Times, 12/12/2002] Many of these findings will remain classified after the inquiry’s final report is released. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), the vice chairman, singles out six people as having “failed in significant ways to ensure that this country was as prepared as it could have been”: CIA Director George Tenet; Tenet’s predecessor, John Deutch; former FBI Director Louis Freeh; NSA Director Michael Hayden; Hayden’s predecessor, Lieutenant General Kenneth Minihan; and former Deputy Director Barbara McNamara. [US Congress, 12/11/2002; Washington Post, 12/12/2002] Shelby says that Tenet should resign. “There have been more failures on his watch as far as massive intelligence failures than any CIA director in history. Yet he’s still there. It’s inexplicable to me.” [Reuters, 12/10/2002; PBS, 12/11/2002] But the Los Angeles Times criticizes the inquiry’s plan of action, stating, “A list of 19 recommendations consists largely of recycled proposals and tepid calls for further study of thorny issues members themselves could not resolve.” [Los Angeles Times, 12/12/2002]
Entity Tags: John Deutch, George J. Tenet, Michael Hayden, Louis J. Freeh, Richard Shelby, Saudi Arabia, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, Kenneth Minihan, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Barbara McNamara
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Dr. August Hanning. [Source: Der Spiegel]CIA Director George Tenet makes an urgent request to the chief of German intelligence, Dr. August Hanning. Tenet is scheduled to meet with President Bush in three days to discuss the case for invading Iraq. Tenet wants to cement his case by allowing the Iraqi defector known as “Curveball” to appear on television and tell his story; failing that, Tenet wants the Germans to allow an American expert to debrief Curveball (later revealed as a fabricator named Rafid Ahmed Alwan—see November 4, 2007) and then himself appear on television with his findings. Two days later, Hanning rejects Tenet’s requests. Hanning calls Curveball’s information “plausible and believable,” but adds that “attempts to verify the information have been unsuccessful.” Therefore, all of Curveball’s reports “must be considered unconfirmed.” However, Hanning would allow Curveball’s information to be used, if Tenet still desired to use that unconfirmed information, if the source is protected. In November 2007, Tenet denies ever seeing Hanning’s letter. The CIA’s former European division chief, Tyler Drumheller, believes Tenet is lying. “He needs to talk to his special assistants if he didn’t see it. And the fact is, he had very good special assistants. I’m sure they showed it to him. And I’m sure it was just, it wasn’t what they wanted to see,” Drumheller says. [CBS News, 11/4/2007]
A White House meeting in March 2003. From left to right: Cheney, Tenet, and Bush. [Source: Eric Draper / White House]CIA Director George Tenet and his deputy John McLaughlin meet in the White House with President George Bush and Bush’s top advisers for a “dress rehearsal” ahead of a public presentation that will accuse Iraq of having weapons of mass destruction. Bush is disappointed with Tenet and McLauglin’s presentation, which is based on communications intercepts, satellite photos, diagrams, and other intelligence. “Nice try,” one official will later recall Bush saying. “I don’t think this quite—it’s not something that Joe Public would understand or would gain a lot of confidence from.” Bush reportedly says to Tenet. “I’ve been told all this intelligence about having WMD, and this is the best we’ve got?” According to a White House leak to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, Tenet responds, “It’s a slam dunk case,” Bush then reportedly asks, “George, how confident are you?” To which the intelligence head responds, “Don’t worry, it’s a slam dunk.” [Washington Post, 4/17/2004; PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006 Sources: Carl W. Ford, Jr.] But this account is later disputed by Tenet. According to Tenet, he told the president that he could provide more intelligence to strengthen the public case. It would be easy—“a slam dunk.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 359-367; CBS News, 4/29/2007]
Senior CIA analyst Paul Pillar produces a high-level report on the potential challenges US forces will experience in post-Hussein Iraq. Pillar’s paper argues that imposing democracy on Iraq will not be easy. He warns that the country may fracture along ethnic and religious lines and explode into violence. He also says that the US will not be able to finance reconstruction with Iraq’s oil revenue. The report is sent to the office of CIA Director George Tenet and forwarded to the White House and Pentagon. An administration official tells him that his paper is “too negative.” “You guys just don’t see the possibilities,” Pillar later recalls the official saying. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 198]
CIA manager Jami Miscik. [Source: Black Collegian]Jami Miscik, head of the CIA’s Directorate of Intelligence, storms into CIA Director George Tenet’s office, complaining about having to attend more meetings with Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley to rebut the Iraq-al-Qaeda connection yet again. She tells Tenet, “I’m not going back there again, George. If I have to go back to hear their crap and rewrite this g_ddamn report… I’m resigning, right now.” Tenet calls Hadley and shouts into the phone, “She is not coming over. We are not rewriting this f_cking report one more time. It’s f_cking over. Do you hear me! And don’t you ever f_cking treat my people this way again. Ever!” This is according to Ron Suskind in his book, The One Percent Doctrine. Suskind will conclude, “And that’s why, three weeks later, in making the case for war in his State of the Union address, George W. Bush was not able to say what he’d long hoped to say at such a moment: that there was a pre-9/11 connection between al-Qaeda and Saddam.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 190-191]
Robert G. Joseph, director for nonproliferation at the National Security Council. [Source: CBC]Embarrassed and angered by CIA Director George Tenet’s refusal to support the use of the Iraq-Niger uranium claim in President Bush’s upcoming State of the Union speech (see October 5, 2002, October 6, 2002, January 27, 2003, and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), the White House decides to go behind Tenet’s back to get CIA approval for publicly citing the claim in the speech. Robert Joseph, director for nonproliferation at the National Security Council (NSC), telephones Alan Foley, director of the CIA’s Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control Center (WINPAC), and mentions plans to include the Africa-uranium claim in Bush’s upcoming State of the Union address. When Foley warns that the allegation has little evidence to support it, Joseph instead suggests including a statement about the British learning that Iraq was seeking uranium in Africa, leaving out the bit about Niger and the exact quantity of uranium that was allegedly sought. [Washington Post, 7/17/2003; New York Times, 7/17/2003; Time, 7/21/2003; Washington Post, 7/27/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 273-274] Foley apparently has no qualms about putting his bureau’s stamp of approval on the claim, having already told his staff, “If the president wants to go to war, our job is to find the intelligence to allow him to do so.” Foley rationalizes that if Bush attributes the claim to British intelligence, he can make it without having to worry whether it is actually true. The fact that the CIA has repeatedly labeled the British reports as untrustworthy does not stop Foley from vetting the claim. [Unger, 2007, pp. 273-274] Joseph will claim he does not recall the discussion, and White House communications director Dan Bartlett will call Foley’s version of events a “conspiracy theory.” [Washington Post, 7/27/2003]
At a National Security Council meeting, CIA Director George Tenet is given a hard copy of President Bush’s State of the Union address, to be given the next evening (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), containing a direct assertion that Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from Niger for nuclear weapons (see October 6, 2002). The story of what happens next is murky. Tenet apparently does not read the speech, but sends a copy, via an assistant, to his Deputy Director of Intelligence, Jami Miscik (see January 10, 2003). But, the Senate Intelligence Committee will later report, no one in Miscik’s office recalls ever receiving the speech or if anyone was ever assigned to review it. Some find this story unbelievable: a State of the Union speech calling for war going unread and misplaced is hard to countenance. “It is inconceivable to me that George Tenet didn’t read that speech,” former CIA officer Milt Bearden will later say. “At that point, he was effectively no longer DCI [director of the CIA]. He was part of that [Bush-Cheney] cabal, and no longer able to carry an honest message.” A former intelligence officer close to Tenet will dispute Bearden’s characterization, and insist that Tenet knew nothing of the Niger uranium allegations included in the speech. “Had he been aware,” the official will state, “he would have vigorously tried to have it removed.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 269]
A secret CIA report on possible links between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi government is finished and sent to top US officials. The report, entitled “Iraqi Support of Terrorism,” was substantially finished by December 2002, but was delayed while other US officials put pressure on the CIA to withdraw or revise the report, because it did not find as much evidence of a Hussein-al-Qaeda link as they would have liked. In a 2007 book, former CIA Director George Tenet will describe in detail what was in the report. “Our analysts believed that there was a solid basis for identifying three areas of concern with regard to Iraq and al-Qaeda: safe haven, contacts, and training. But they could not translate this data into a relationship where these two entities had ever moved beyond seeking ways to take advantage of each other.… Ansar al-Islam, a radical Kurdish Islamic group [based in northern Iraq areas out of Iraqi government control], was closely allied to al-Qaeda.… We believed that up to two hundred al-Qaeda fighters began to relocate [to Ansar al-Islam] camps after the Afghan campaign began in the fall of 2001.” He says that one of their camps near the town of Khurmal linked to militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi “engaged in production and training in the use of low-level poisons such as cyanide.” He says that nearly 100 operatives in Western Europe connected to this camp were arrested, but, “What was even more worrisome was that by the spring and summer of 2002, more than a dozen al-Qaeda-affiliated extremists converged on Baghdad, with apparently no harassment on the part of the Iraqi government. They had found a comfortable and secure environment in which they moved people and supplies to support al-Zarqawi’s operations in northeastern Iraq.” He mentions Thirwat Salah Shehata and Yussef Dardiri, considered to be among Islamic Jihad’s best operational planners, as those in Baghdad at the time, and that “Credible information told us that Shehata was willing to strike US, Israeli, and Egyptian targets sometime in the future.” He concludes, “Do we know just how aware Iraqi authorities were of these terrorists’ presence either in Baghdad or northeastern Iraq? No, but from an intelligence point of view it would have been difficult to conclude that the Iraqi intelligence service was not aware of their activities. Certainly, we believe that at least one senior [Ansar al-Islam] operative maintained some sort of liaison relationship with the Iraqis. But operational direction and control? No.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 349-351] It is not clear from Tenet’s book just how much of the above description is of what the CIA believed at the time and how much is what Tenet still believed to be true in 2007. Some of Tenet’s claims from his book appear overblown, such as the danger of poison production in the Khurmal camp (see March 31, 2003).
A new CIA report in 2005 (ignored in Tenet’s book) will conclude that Hussein’s government “did not have a relationship, harbor, or even turn a blind eye toward al-Zarqawi and his associates” (see October 2005). [New York Times, 9/8/2006] In 2006, a bipartisan US Senate report on “Pre-war Intelligence on Iraq” will note that “detainees that originally reported on [links between Ansar al-Islam and Iraqi intelligence] have recanted, and another detainee, in September 2003, was deemed to have insufficient access and level of detail to substantiate his claims.” The report will conclude, “Postwar information reveals that Baghdad viewed Ansar al-Islam as a threat to the regime and that [Iraqi intelligence] attempted to collect intelligence on the group.” [US Senate and Intelligence Committee, 9/8/2006 ]
Colin Powell’s chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, meets with other administration officials and aides at the CIA’s Langley headquarters in a conference room down the hall from George Tenet’s office to review two White House reports on Iraq’s alleged illegal activities. The team includes George Tenet, John McLaughlin, William Tobey and Robert Joseph from the National Security Council, and John Hannah from Vice President Cheney’s office. (Tenet had intended to leave for a Middle East junket, but Powell stopped him from going, insisting on his input and participation.) The two dossiers are meant to serve as the basis for Powell’s upcoming speech at the UN (see February 5, 2003). One of the reports—a 48-page dossier that had been provided to Powell’s office a few days earlier (see January 29, 2003)—deals with Iraq’s supposed arsenal of weapons of mass destruction while the other, a slightly more recent report totaling some 45 pages, addresses the issue of Iraq’s history of human rights violations and its alleged ties to Islamic militant groups. Shortly after Wilkerson begins reviewing the 48-page report on Iraq’s alleged WMD, it becomes apparent that the material is not well sourced. [Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 230; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 177; Unger, 2007, pp. 276]
Dossiers Contain Large Amounts of White House Misinformation - Wilkerson has been given three dossiers: about 90 pages of material on Iraq’s WMD, on its sponsorship of terrorism, and on its violation of human rights. Wilkerson is not well informed about the variety of machinations surrounding the WMD issue, but it doesn’t take him long to realize there is a problem. The CIA has an array of analysts with decades of experience studying Iraq’s weapons programs, rigorous peer review procedures to prevent unreliable intelligence from making it into the final assessments, and a large budget devoted to Middle East intelligence. But the CIA had not produced Wilkerson’s dossiers. They had been prepared by Libby, Cheney’s chief of staff. Wilkerson is taken aback by such a breach of procedure, especially on such a critically important matter of state. Former NSC counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke later says, “It’s very strange for the Vice President’s senior adviser to be… saying to the Secretary of State, ‘This is what you should be saying.’” As Wilkerson goes through the material, he realizes, in Unger’s words, “just how aggressively Cheney and his men have stacked the deck.” Wilkerson first reads the 48-page WMD dossier, and is not impressed. “It was anything but an intelligence document,” he later says. “It was, as some people characterized it later, sort of a Chinese menu from which you could pick and choose.”
Cherry-Picked Intel - Wilkerson will continue, “When we had a question, which was virtually every line, John Hannah from the vice president’s office would consult a huge clipboard he had.” Hannah, a former official of the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy, had coauthored the dossier with Libby. He had also worked closely with Libby in the White House Iraq Group (see August 2002). Hannah cites the source of each questionable datum Wilkerson asks about, and Wilkerson and his team set about tracking down the original sources of each item. They spend hours poring over satellite photos, intercepts of Iraqi military communications, and various foreign intelligence reports. Wilkerson and his team find that in almost every instance, the original sources do not support the conclusions drawn in the dossier. “Once we read the entirety of those documents,” he will recall, “we’d find that the context was not quite what the cherry-picked item imparted.” Wilkerson believes that much of the dossier’s intelligence comes from Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress (see 1992-1996), a belief given credence by the fact that Hannah had served as the chief liaison between the INC and Cheney’s office. As Wilkerson will later recall, “It was clear the thing was put together by cherry-picking everything from the New York Times to the DIA.” Reporters Michael Isikoff and David Corn will later write that “a Defense Intelligence Agency report was not being used properly, a CIA report was not being cited in a fair way, a referenced New York Times article was quoting a DIA report out of context,” and will confirm that much of the material had come from the Iraqi National Congress. [US News and World Report, 6/9/2003; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 177; Unger, 2007, pp. 276-278]
Incomprehensible 'Genealogy' - According to Wilkerson, Feith’s office had strung together an incomprehensible “genealogy.” “It was like the Bible,” Wilkerson later recalls. “It was the Old Testament. It was ‘Joe met Bob met Frank met Bill met Ted met Jane in Khartoum and therefore we assume that Bob knew Ralph.’ It was incredible.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 180-181]
Link to Office of Special Plans? - Powell’s staff is also “convinced that much of it had been funneled directly to Cheney by a tiny separate intelligence unit set up by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld” (see Summer 2002 and September 2002), Vanity Fair magazine later reports. [Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 230]
Cheney's Aides Attempt to Reinsert Deleted Material - Soon Wilkerson’s team faces the same difficulties with the dossier on Iraq’s connections to Islamist terrorism that it faced with the White House-prepared dossier on Iraq’s WMD (see January 30-February 4, 2003). Tenet has tried manfully to give the administration what it so desperately wants—proof of Iraq’s connections to the 9/11 attacks. The CIA’s unit on Osama bin Laden had gone through 75,000 pages of documents and found no evidence of any such connections. Vice President Cheney and his staffers have always insisted that such a connection does indeed exist. Their strongest claim to that effect is the supposed meeting between 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence agent in April 2000 (see September 14, 2001). This claim has long been discredited (see September 18, 2001), but Cheney’s people keep attempting to bring it back into play (see February 1, 2003-February 4, 2003). [US News and World Report, 6/9/2003; Bamford, 2004, pp. 370-1; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 230; Unger, 2007, pp. 276-278]
Information about Australian Software Erroneous - One item in the White House’s original draft alleged that Iraq had obtained software from an Australian company that would provide Iraqis with sensitive information about US topography. The argument was that Iraqis, using that knowledge, could one day attack the US
with biological or chemical weapons deployed from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). But when Powell’s intelligence team investigated the issue, it became “clear that the information was not ironclad” (see October 1, 2002). [US News and World Report, 6/9/2003]
'Idiocy' - “We were so appalled at what had arrived from the White House,” one official later says. [Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 230] As another senior official (likely Wilkerson) will later recall, “We went through that for about six hours—item by item, page by page and about halfway through the day I realized this is idiocy, we cannot possibly do this, because it was all bullsh_t—it was unsourced, a lot of it was just out of the newspapers, it was—and I look back in retrospect—it was a [Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas] Feith product, it was a Scooter Libby product, it was a Vice President’s office product. It was a product of collusion between that group. And it had no way of standing up, anywhere, I mean it was nuts.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 368-9]
Starting from Scratch - After several hours, Wilkerson and Tenet are both so fed up that they decide to scrap the WMD dossier entirely. “Let’s go back to the NIE,” Tenet suggests, referring to the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002). Wilkerson is not aware of how badly the NIE had been, in author Craig Unger’s words, “tampered with,” but Powell should have known, as his own intelligence bureau in the State Department had disputed key elements of the NIE. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 368-9; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 230; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 177-178; Unger, 2007, pp. 276-278]
Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Office of the Vice President, National Security Council, Richard A. Clarke, White House Iraq Group, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Robert G. Joseph, William H. Tobey, Lawrence Wilkerson, John Hannah, Michael Isikoff, Iraqi National Congress, Colin Powell, Central Intelligence Agency, Ahmed Chalabi, Craig Unger, David Corn, Donald Rumsfeld, John E. McLaughlin, George J. Tenet, Douglas Feith
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
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.” [US News and World Report, 6/9/2003; Bamford, 2004, pp. 370-1; Vanity Fair, 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]
Entity Tags: John E. McLaughlin, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Central Intelligence Agency, Carl W. Ford, Jr., Bush administration (43), George J. Tenet, Barry Lowenkron, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, William H. Tobey, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of State, Lynne Davidson, United Nations, Robert G. Joseph, Craig Unger, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, National Security Council, Stephen J. Hadley, Lawrence Wilkerson, John Hannah, Lawrence Gershwin
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
Larry Wilkerson. [Source: CBS News]Secretary of State Colin Powell, preparing for his critically important presentation to the United Nations that will assert the reality of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction (see February 5, 2003), sends his chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, to the CIA to prepare for the presentation. CIA Director George Tenet and his experts regale Wilkerson with the information about mobile bioweapons labs provided by the Iraqi defector Curveball (see November 1999). In 2007, Wilkerson will recall, “They presented it in a very dynamic, dramatic, ‘we know this is accurate,’ way.” Curveball’s assertion that he is a firsthand witness is very important, Wilkerson will say. “This was a man who had actually been in the belly of the beast. He had been in the lab. He had been there when an accident occurred. He’d seen people killed. And the implication was, strong implication, that they weren’t killed because of the accident in the explosion, they were killed because they were contaminated. Yes, the source was very credible. As it was presented by the CIA.” Wilkerson later says that both he and Powell accept the claims because they depend on the intelligence community for good information: “And you depend on the director of central intelligence to assimilate all the intelligence community’s input and give it to you.” Wilkerson feels the section on mobile bioweapons is the strongest part of the presentation, as does Powell. Others at the CIA are not so convinced of Curveball’s truthfulness (see September 2002, January 27, 2003, and December 2002). [CBS News, 11/4/2007]
9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow makes his first visit to the CIA, where he meets Mark Lowenthal, a CIA staffer responsible for liaising with 9/11 investigations, and Winston Wiley, the CIA’s assistant director for homeland security. Both men have met Zelikow before and Wiley dislikes him, later saying that Zelikow “reeks of arrogance,” and, “Here’s a guy who spent his career trying to insinuate himself into power so when something like this came his way, he could grab it.”
Recriminations at First Meeting - Although the visit is just supposed to be an initial meeting introducing the 9/11 Commission to the CIA, according to Lowenthal, Zelikow starts by saying, “If you had a national intelligence director, none of this would have ever happened.” According to Wiley, Zelikow says that 9/11 was the result of a “massive failure” at the CIA and happened because “you guys weren’t connected to the rest of the community.” Zelikow will later say that he has no recollection of making these remarks and did not have a firm opinion on a director of national intelligence at this time, but both Lowenthal and Wiley will recall both the remarks and being extremely surprised by Zelikow’s tone. Lowenthal thinks that Zelikow has already decided that the intelligence community needs to be restructured, with a national intelligence director appointed above the CIA director, and that Zelikow is “going to make this [the 9/11 investigation] all about the CIA.”
Tenet's Reaction - When Lowenthal warns CIA Director George Tenet about the interview, Tenet cannot believe what Lowenthal is telling him and thinks Lowenthal may have misheard Zelikow. According to journalist and author Philip Shenon, Tenet thinks the idea the CIA is most responsible for 9/11 is “crazy” and the idea of creating a national intelligence director “even nuttier.” Tenet is sure that the “incompetent, arrogant FBI” is most at fault for 9/11 and that if Zelikow gets out of hand, he can deal with the situation by talking to some of the 9/11 commissioners he knows. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 76-80]
On February 1, Secretary of State Colin Powell begins rehearsing for his February 5 presentation to the UN Security Council (see February 5, 2003). Powell is assisted by members of his staff, including his chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see January 30-February 4, 2003). [US News and World Report, 6/9/2003; Bamford, 2004, pp. 368-9; Gentlemen's Quarterly, 4/29/2004]
Discredited Items Keep Reappearing - One item that keeps reoccurring is the discredited claim that 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta met with Iraqi officials in Prague (see September 14, 2001 and September 18, 2001). Cheney’s people keep attempting to insert it into the presentation. It takes Powell’s personal intervention to have the claim removed from the presentation. “He was trying to get rid of everything that didn’t have a credible intelligence community-based source,” Wilkerson will later recall. But even after Powell’s decision, Cheney loyalist Stephen Hadley, the deputy national security adviser, tries to have it reinserted. “They were just relentless,” Wilkerson will recall. “You would take it out and they would stick it back in. That was their favorite bureaucratic technique—ruthless relentlessness.” An official (probably Wilkerson) later adds: “We cut it and somehow it got back in. And the secretary said, ‘I thought I cut this?’ And Steve Hadley looked around and said, ‘My fault, Mr. Secretary, I put it back in.’ ‘Well, cut it, permanently!’ yelled Powell. It was all cartoon. The specious connection between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, much of which I subsequently found came probably from the INC and from their sources, defectors and so forth, [regarding the] training in Iraq for terrorists.… No question in my mind that some of the sources that we were using were probably Israeli intelligence. That was one thing that was rarely revealed to us—if it was a foreign source.” Powell becomes so angry at the machinations that he throws the dossier into the air and snaps: “This is bullsh_t. I’m not doing this.” But he continues working on the presentation. [US News and World Report, 6/9/2003; Bamford, 2004, pp. 370-1; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 230; Unger, 2007, pp. 278-279] The same official will add that every time Powell balks at using a particular item, he is “fought by the vice president’s office in the person of Scooter Libby, by the National Security Adviser [Condoleezza Rice] herself, by her deputy [Stephen Hadley], and sometimes by the intelligence people—George [Tenet] and [Deputy CIA Director] John [McLaughlin].” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 370]
Mobile Bioweapons Claim Survives Editing Process - One of the allegations Powell rehearses is the claim that Iraq has developed mobile biological weapons laboratories, a claim based on sources that US intelligence knows are of questionable reliability (see Late January, 2003 and February 4, 2003). Referring to one of the sources, an Iraqi major, Powell later tells the Los Angeles Times, “What really made me not pleased was they had put out a burn [fabricator] notice on this guy, and people who were even present at my briefings knew it.” Nor does anyone inform Powell that another source, an Iraqi defector known as Curveball, is also a suspected fabricator (see January 27, 2003). [Los Angeles Times, 11/20/2005] In fact, the CIA issued an official “burn notice” formally retracting more than 100 intelligence reports based on Curveball’s information. [ABC News, 3/13/2007]
Powell 'Angry, Disappointed' in Poor Sourcing of Claim - In March 2007, Powell will claim he is “angry and disappointed” that he was never told the CIA had doubts about the reliability of the source. “I spent four days at CIA headquarters, and they told me they had this nailed.” But former CIA chief of European operations Tyler Drumheller will later claim in a book that he tried and failed to keep the Curveball information out of the Powell speech (see February 4-5, 2003). “People died because of this,” he will say. “All off this one little guy who all he wanted to do was stay in Germany.” Drumheller will say he personally redacted all references to Curveball material in an advance draft of the Powell speech. “We said, ‘This is from Curveball. Don’t use this.’” But Powell later says neither he nor his chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, were ever told of any doubts about Curveball. “In fact, it was the exact opposite,” Wilkerson will assert. “Never from anyone did we even hear the word ‘Curveball,’ let alone any expression of doubt in what Secretary Powell was presenting with regard to the biological labs.” [ABC News, 3/13/2007]
Entity Tags: White House Iraq Group, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Lawrence Wilkerson, John E. McLaughlin, George J. Tenet, Condoleezza Rice, Richard Armitage, Colin Powell, Stephen J. Hadley
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda
CIA Director George Tenet and Deputy Director John McLaughlin assure Colin Powell that the statements he will be making in his February 5 speech (see February 5, 2003) to the UN are backed by solid intelligence. Powell is apparently concerned that the allegations about mobile biological weapons laboratories have little evidence behind them. “Powell and I were both suspicious because there were no pictures of the mobile labs,” Powell’s deputy, Larry Wilkerson, will later recall in an interview with the Washington Post. But the two CIA officials claim that evidence for the mobile units is based on multiple sources whose accounts have been independently corroborated. “This is it, Mr. Secretary. You can’t doubt this one,” Wilkerson remembers them saying. [Washington Post, 6/25/2006]
On the evening of Secretary of State Colin Powell’s presentation to the UN Security Council (see February 5, 2003), Powell’s chief of staff Larry Wilkerson (see January 30-February 4, 2003) conducts a dress rehearsal on the top floor of the US Mission to the United Nations. He rearranges the furniture to look like the seating arrangements in the UN Security Council. This is Wilkerson’s last change to get the presentation right and weed out everything that cannot be verified. One item that worries him is an intercept of a conversation between two members of Iraq’s elite Republican Guards. Wilkerson will later say, “They were very classy, rat-tat-tat-tat, hitting you fast, like all the TV crap Americans are used to these says, nine-second sound bites.” But Wilkerson is not sure they say what the CIA and the White House claim they say. “You have this guy at a chemical factory saying, ‘Get rid of it.’ Suppose he’s actually trying to get rid of [the WMD]… [But] all the intercepts could have been interpreted two or three or even more ways. Believe me, I looked at it fifty times.” Wilkerson is doubly worried about the claims that Iraq has mobile bioweapons labs (see February 3, 2003). In a dramatic sequence, Powell will present sketches of the mobile labs based on descriptions from an undisclosed source. Wilkerson is not sold: “Powell and I were both suspicious because these weren’t pictures of the mobile labs,” he will later recall. Wilkerson asks CIA Director George Tenet and Tenet’s deputy John McLaughlin about the sourcing, and both officials agree that the sourcing is “exceptionally strong” (see February 4, 2003). McLaughlin fails to tell Wilkerson about CIA official Tyler Drumheller’s concerns (see Late January, 2003). Wilkerson will recall, “I sat in the room, looking into George Tenet’s eyes, as did the secretary of state, and heard with all the firmness only George could give… I mean eyeball-to-eyeball contact between two of the most powerful men in the administration, Colin Powell and George Tenet, and George Tenet assuring Colin Powell that the information he was presenting to the UN was ironclad.” At the end of the rehearsal, Powell asks Tenet, “Do you stand by this?” “Absolutely, Mr. Secretary,” Tenet replies. “Good,” says Powell, “because you are going to be in camera beside me at the UN Security Council tomorrow.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 282-283]
Around midnight, CIA Director George Tenet calls CIA official Tyler Drumheller at home and asks for the phone number of Richard Dearlove, the British intelligence chief. Tenet wants to get Dearlove’s approval to use British intelligence in Secretary of State Colin Powell’s speech to the UN (see February 5, 2003). Drumheller takes the opportunity to remind Tenet that the source for the alleged mobile labs, Curveball, is not reliable. “Hey, boss, you’re not going to use that stuff in the speech… ? There are real problems with that,” Drumheller asks. Tenet, distracted and tired, tells him not to worry. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 184; Washington Post, 6/25/2006] Tenet will later deny having such a conversation with Drumheller, writing: “I remember no such midnight call or warning.… Drumheller had dozens of opportunities before and after the Powell speech to raise the alarm with me [about Curveball], yet he failed to do so.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 283]
CIA terrorism specialist Phil Mudd visits Colin Powell’s hotel suite at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City to review the terrorism section of the speech Powell will make to the UN the next morning. Mudd looks over the changes, including a deleted section on connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda. After Mudd reads the section, he says, “Looks fine.” After leaving the hotel, he will inform CIA Director George Tenet that Powell’s team had trimmed the section on Iraq’s alleged ties to militant Islamic groups. [Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 230; Unger, 2007, pp. 283-284]
CIA Director George Tenet calls Secretary of State Colin Powell’s hotel room at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City. Powell’s chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, picks up the phone. Tenet says that he is concerned that too much has been cut from Powell’s speech (see (11:00 p.m.) February 4, 2003) and tells Wilkerson that he wants to take one last look at the final draft. A copy of the speech is quickly sent to Tenet, who is staying at another hotel. [Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 230-231]
Colin Powell and George Tenet, at the UN presentation. [Source: CBS News]US Secretary of State Colin Powell presents the Bush administration’s case against Saddam to the UN Security Council, in advance of an expected vote on a second resolution that the US and Britain hope will provide the justification to use military force against Iraq. [US Department of State, 2/5/2003] At the insistence of Powell, CIA Director George Tenet is seated directly behind him to the right. “It was theater, a device to signal to the world that Powell was relying on the CIA to make his case that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction,” Vanity Fair magazine will later explain. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 371-2; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 232] In his speech before the Council, Powell makes the case that Iraq is in further material breach of past UN resolutions, specifically the most recent one, UN Resolution 1441 (see November 8, 2002). Sources cited in Powell’s presentation include defectors, informants, communication intercepts, procurement records, photographs, and detainees. [US Department of State, 2/5/2003] Most of the allegations made by Powell are later demonstrated to be false. “The defectors and other sources went unidentified,” the Associated Press will later report. “The audiotapes were uncorroborated, as were the photo interpretations. No other supporting documents were presented. Little was independently verifiable.” [Associated Press, 8/9/2003]
Iraq's December 7 Declaration Was Inaccurate - Powell contends that Iraq’s December 7 declaration was not complete. According to UN Resolution 1441 the document was supposed to be a “currently accurate, full and complete declaration of all aspects” of its programs to develop weapons of mass destruction. But Saddam has not done this, says Powell, who explains that Iraq has yet to provide sufficient evidence that it destroyed its previously declared stock of 8,500 liters of anthrax, as it claimed in the declaration. Furthermore, notes the secretary of state, UNSCOM inspectors had previously estimated that Iraq possessed the raw materials to produce as much as 25,000 liters of the virus. [New York Times, 2/5/2003; US Department of State, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 2/6/2003]
Iraq Has Ties to Al-Qaeda - Powell repeats earlier claims that Saddam Hussein’s government has ties to al-Qaeda. Powell focuses on the cases of the militant Islamic group Ansar-al-Islam and Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born Palestinian, who had received medical treatment in Baghdad during the summer of 2002 (see December 2001-Mid-2002). [US Department of State, 2/5/2003] However, just days before Powell’s speech, US and British intelligence officials—speaking on condition of anonymity—told the press that the administration’s allegations of Iraqi-al-Qaeda ties were based on information provided by Kurdish groups, who, as enemies of Ansar-al-Islam, should not be considered reliable. Furthermore, these sources unequivocally stated that intelligence analysts on both sides of the Atlantic remained unconvinced of the purported links between Iraq and al-Qaeda (see February 3-4, 2003). [Independent, 2/3/2003; Daily Telegraph, 2/4/2003] Powell also claims that Iraq provided “chemical or biological weapons training for two al-Qaeda associates beginning in December 2000.” The claim is based on a September 2002 CIA document which had warned that its sources were of “varying reliability” and that the claim was not substantiated (see September 2002). The report’s main source, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an al-Qaeda operative who offered the information to CIA interrogators while in custody, later recounts the claim (see February 14, 2004). [CNN, 9/26/2002; New York Times, 7/31/2004; Newsweek, 7/5/2005] Larry Wilkerson, Powell’s chief of staff, will later say that neither he nor Powell ever received “any dissent with respect to those lines… indeed the entire section that now we know came from [al-Libi].” [Newsweek, 11/10/2005] Senior US officials will admit to the New York Times and Washington Post after the presentation that the administration was not claiming that Saddam Hussein is “exercising operational control” of al-Qaeda. [New York Times, 2/6/2003; Washington Post, 2/7/2003]
Iraq Has Missiles Capable of Flying Up to 1,200 Kilometers - Describing a photo of the al-Rafah weapons site, Powell says: “As part of this effort, another little piece of evidence, Iraq has built an engine test stand that is larger than anything it has ever had. Notice the dramatic difference in size between the test stand on the left, the old one, and the new one on the right. Note the large exhaust vent. This is where the flame from the engine comes out. The exhaust vent on the right test stand is five times longer than the one on the left. The one of the left is used for short-range missiles. The one on the right is clearly intended for long-range missiles that can fly 1,200 kilometers. This photograph was taken in April of 2002. Since then, the test stand has been finished and a roof has been put over it so it will be harder for satellites to see what’s going on underneath the test stand.” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; New York Times, 2/5/2003] But according to the Associated Press, “… UN missile experts have reported inspecting al-Rafah at least five times since inspections resumed Nov. 27, have studied the specifications of the new test stand, regularly monitor tests at the installation, and thus far have reported no concerns.” [Associated Press, 2/7/2003] Similarly, Reuters quotes Ali Jassem, an Iraqi official, who explains that the large stand referred to in Powell’s speech is not yet in operation and that its larger size is due to the fact that it will be testing engines horizontally. [Reuters, 2/7/2003; Guardian, 2/15/2003] Several days later, Blix will report to the UN that “so far, the test stand has not been associated with a proscribed activity.” [Guardian, 2/15/2003]
Iraqis Attempted to Hide Evidence from Inspectors - Powell shows the UN Security Council satellite shots depicting what he claims are chemical weapons bunkers and convoys of Iraqi cargo trucks preparing to transport ballistic missile components from a weapons site just two days before the arrival of inspectors. “We saw this kind of housecleaning at close to 30 sites,” Powell explains. “We must ask ourselves: Why would Iraq suddenly move equipment of this nature before inspections if they were anxious to demonstrate what they had or did not have?” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003] But the photos are interpreted differently by others. An unnamed UN official and German UN Inspector Peter Franck both say the trucks in the photos are actually fire engines. [Mercury News (San Jose), 3/18/2003; Agence France-Presse, 6/6/2003]
'Literally Removed the Crust of the Earth' - Another series of photos—taken during the spring and summer of 2002—show that Iraqis have removed a layer of topsoil from the al-Musayyib chemical complex. This piece of evidence, combined with information provided by an unnamed source, leads Powell to draw the following conclusion: “The Iraqis literally removed the crust of the earth from large portions of this site in order to conceal chemical weapons evidence that would be there from years of chemical weapons activity.” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 2/6/2003] Showing another series of pictures—one taken on November 10 (before inspections) and one taken on December 22—Powell says that a guard station and decontamination truck were removed prior to the arrival of inspectors. Powell does not explain how he knows that the truck in the photograph was a decontamination truck. [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 2/6/2003; Washington Post, 2/6/2003] AP reporter Charles Hanley says that some of Powell’s claims that Iraq is hiding evidence are “ridiculous.” Powell says of a missile site, “This photograph was taken in April of 2002. Since then, the test stand has been finished and a roof has been put over it so it will be harder for satellites to see what’s going on underneath the test stand.” Hanley later says, “What he neglected to mention was that the inspectors were underneath, watching what was going on.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
Communication Intercepts Demonstrate Iraqi Attempts to Conceal Information from Inspectors - Powell plays recordings of three conversations intercepted by US intelligence—one on November 26, another on January 30, and a third, a “few weeks” before. The conversations suggest that the Iraqis were attempting to hide evidence from inspectors. [New York Times, 2/5/2003; US Department of State, 2/5/2003; London Times, 2/6/2003; Sydney Morning Herald, 2/7/2003] Senior administration officials concede to the Washington Post that it was not known “what military items were discussed in the intercepts.” [Washington Post, 2/13/2003] Some critics argue that the intercepts were presented out of context and open to interpretation. [Sydney Morning Herald, 2/7/2003; Sydney Morning Herald, 2/9/2003] Others note that the conversations were translated from Arabic by US translators and were not analyzed or verified by an independent specialist. [Newsday, 2/6/2003]
Biological Weapons Factories - Colin Powell says that US intelligence has “firsthand descriptions” that Iraq has 18 mobile biological weapons factories mounted on trucks and railroad cars. Information about the mobile weapons labs are based on the testimonies of four sources—a defected Iraqi chemical engineer who claims to have supervised one of these facilities, an Iraqi civil engineer (see December 20, 2001), a source in “a position to know,” and a defected Iraqi major (see February 11, 2002). Powell says that the mobile units are capable of producing enough dry biological agent in a single month to kill several thousand people. He shows computer-generated diagrams and pictures based on the sources’ descriptions of the facilities. Powell says that according to the chemical engineer, during the late 1990s, Iraq’s biological weapons scientists would often begin the production of pathogens on Thursday nights and complete the process on Fridays in order to evade UNSCOM inspectors whom Iraq believed would not conduct inspections on the Muslim holy day. [New York Times, 2/5/2003; US Department of State, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 2/6/2003; Reuters, 2/11/2003] Powell tells the delegates, “The source was an eyewitness, an Iraqi chemical engineer, who supervised one of these facilities. He actually was present during biological agent production runs. He was also at the site when an accident occurred in 1998. Twelve technicians died from exposure to biological agents.” He displays models of the mobile trucks drawn from the source’s statements. [CBS News, 11/4/2007] Responding to the allegation, Iraqi officials will concede that they do in fact have mobile labs, but insist that they are not used for the development of weapons. According to the Iraqis, the mobile labs are used for food analysis for disease outbreaks, mobile field hospitals, a military field bakery, food and medicine refrigeration trucks, a mobile military morgue and mobile ice making trucks. [Guardian, 2/5/2003; ABC News, 5/21/2003] Iraq’s explanation is consistent with earlier assessments of the UN weapons inspectors. Before Powell’s presentation, Hans Blix had dismissed suggestions that the Iraqis were using mobile biological weapons labs, reporting that inspections of two alleged mobile labs had turned up nothing. “Two food-testing trucks have been inspected and nothing has been found,” Blix said. And Ewen Buchanan, spokesman for the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, said, “The outline and characteristics of these trucks that we inspected were all consistent with the declared purposes.” [Guardian, 2/5/2003; ABC News, 5/21/2003]
'Curveball' Primary Source of Claims - Powell’s case is further damaged when it is later learned that one of the sources Powell cited, the Iraqi major, had been earlier judged unreliable by intelligence agents at the Defense Intelligence Agency (see February 11, 2002). In May 2002, the analysts had issued a “fabricator notice” on the informant, noting that he had been “coached by [the] Iraqi National Congress” (INC) (see May 2002). But the main source for the claim had been an Iraqi defector known as “Curveball,” who was initially believed to be the brother of a top aide to Ahmed Chalabi. The source claimed to be a chemical engineer who had helped design and build the mobile labs. His information was passed to Washington through Germany’s intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), which had been introduced to the source by the INC. In passing along the information, the BND noted that there were “various problems with the source.” And only one member of the US intelligence community had actually met with the person—an unnamed Pentagon analyst who determined the man was an alcoholic and of dubious reliability. Yet both the DIA and the CIA validated the information. [Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, 8/22/2003; Los Angeles Times, 3/28/2004; Knight Ridder, 4/4/2004; Newsweek, 4/19/2004; Newsweek, 7/19/2004] Powell says that the US has three other intelligence sources besides Curveball for the mobile bioweapons labs. Powell will be infuriated to learn that none of those three sources ever corroborated Curveball’s story, and sometimes their information contradicted each other. One of the three had failed a polygraph test and was determined to have lied to his debriefers. Another had already been declared a fabricator by US intelligence community, and had been proven to have mined his information off the Internet. [Buzzflash (.com), 11/27/2007] In November 2007, Curveball is identified as Rafid Ahmed Alwan. Serious questions about Curveball’s veracity had already been raised by the time of Powell’s UN presentation. He will later be completely discredited (see November 4, 2007).
Further Problems with Mobile Lab Claims - In addition to the inspectors’ assessments and the dubious nature of the sources Powell cited, there are numerous other problems with the mobile factories claim. Raymond Zilinskas, a microbiologist and former UN weapons inspector, argues that significant amounts of pathogens such as anthrax, could not be produced in the short span of time suggested in Powell’s speech. “You normally would require 36 to 48 hours just to do the fermentation…. The short processing time seems suspicious to me.” He also says: “The only reason you would have mobile labs is to avoid inspectors, because everything about them is difficult. We know it is possible to build them—the United States developed mobile production plants, including one designed for an airplane—but it’s a big hassle. That’s why this strikes me as a bit far-fetched.” [Washington Post, 2/6/2003] After Powell’s speech, Blix will say in his March 7 report to the UN that his inspectors found no evidence of mobile weapons labs (see March 7, 2003). [CNN, 3/7/2003; Agence France-Presse, 3/7/2003; CNN, 3/7/2003] Reporter Bob Drogin, author of Curveball: Spies, Lies and the Con Man Who Caused a War, says in 2007, “[B]y the time Colin Powell goes to the UN to make the case for war, he shows the world artists’ conjectures based on analysts’ interpretations and extrapolations of Arabic-to-German-to-English translations of summary debriefing reports of interviews with a manic-depressive defector whom the Americans had never met. [CIA director George] Tenet told Powell that Curveball’s information was ironclad and unassailable. It was a travesty.” [Alternet, 10/22/2007]
'Four Tons' of VX Toxin - Powell also claims that Iraq has “four tons” of VX nerve toxin. “A single drop of VX on the skin will kill in minutes,” he says. “Four tons.” Hanley later notes, “He didn’t point out that most of that had already been destroyed. And, on point after point he failed to point out that these facilities about which he was raising such alarm were under repeated inspections good, expert people with very good equipment, and who were leaving behind cameras and other monitoring equipment to keep us a continuing eye on it.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
Iraq is Developing Unmanned Drones Capable of Delivering Weapons of Mass Destruction - Powell asserts that Iraq has flight-tested an unmanned drone capable of flying up to 310 miles and is working on a liquid-fueled ballistic missile with a range of 745 miles. He plays a video of an Iraqi F-1 Mirage jet dispersing “simulated anthrax.” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; New York Times, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 2/6/2003] But the Associated Press will later report that the video was made prior to the 1991 Gulf War. Apparently, three of the four spray tanks shown in the film had been destroyed during the 1991 military intervention. [Associated Press, 8/9/2003]
Imported Aluminum Tubes were Meant for Centrifuge - Powell argues that the aluminum tubes which Iraq had attempted to import in July 2001 (see July 2001) were meant to be used in a nuclear weapons program and not for artillery rockets as experts from the US Energy Department, the INR, and the IAEA have been arguing (see February 3, 2003)
(see January 11, 2003)
(see August 17, 2001)
(see January 27, 2003). To support the administration’s case, he cites unusually precise specifications and high tolerances for heat and stress. “It strikes me as quite odd that these tubes are manufactured to a tolerance that far exceeds US requirements for comparable rockets,” he says. “Maybe Iraqis just manufacture their conventional weapons to a higher standard than we do, but I don’t think so.” Powell also suggests that because the tubes were “anodized,” it was unlikely that they had been designed for conventional use. [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 3/8/2003] Powell does not mention that numerous US nuclear scientists have dismissed this claim (see August 17, 2001)
(see September 23, 2002)
(see December 2002). [Albright, 10/9/2003] Powell also fails to say that Iraq has rockets identical to the Italian Medusa 81 mm rockets, which are of the same dimensions and made of the same alloy as the 3,000 tubes that were intercepted in July 2001 (see After January 22, 2003). [Washington Post, 8/10/2003] This had been reported just two weeks earlier by the Washington Post. [Washington Post, 1/24/2003] Moreover, just two days before, Powell was explicitly warned by the US State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research not to cite the aluminum tubes as evidence that Iraq is pursuing nuclear weapons (see February 3, 2003). [Financial Times, 7/29/2003]
Iraq Attempted to Acquire Magnets for Use in a Gas Centrifuge Program - Powell says: “We… have intelligence from multiple sources that Iraq is attempting to acquire magnets and high-speed balancing machines. Both items can be used in a gas centrifuge program to enrich uranium. In 1999 and 2000, Iraqi officials negotiated with firms in Romania, India, Russia and Slovenia for the purchase of a magnet production plant. Iraq wanted the plant to produce magnets weighing 20 to 30 grams. That’s the same weight as the magnets used in Iraq’s gas centrifuge program before the Gulf War.” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; New York Times, 2/6/2003] Investigation by the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] will demonstrate that the magnets have a dual use. IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei said a little more than a week before, on January 27, in his report to the Security Council: “Iraq presented detailed information on a project to construct a facility to produce magnets for the Iraqi missile program, as well as for industrial applications, and that Iraq had prepared a solicitation of offers, but that the project had been delayed due to ‘financial credit arrangements.’ Preliminary investigations indicate that the specifications contained in the offer solicitation are consistent with those required for the declared intended uses. However, the IAEA will continue to investigate the matter….”
(see January 27, 2003) [Annan, 1/27/2003 ] On March 7, ElBaradei will provide an additional update: “The IAEA has verified that previously acquired magnets have been used for missile guidance systems, industrial machinery, electricity meters and field telephones. Through visits to research and production sites, reviews of engineering drawings and analyses of sample magnets, IAEA experts familiar with the use of such magnets in centrifuge enrichment have verified that none of the magnets that Iraq has declared could be used directly for a centrifuge magnetic bearing.”
(see March 7, 2003) [CNN, 3/7/2003]
Iraq Attempted to Purchase Machines to Balance Centrifuge Rotors - Powell states: “Intercepted communications from mid-2000 through last summer show that Iraq front companies sought to buy machines that can be used to balance gas centrifuge rotors. One of these companies also had been involved in a failed effort in 2001 to smuggle aluminum tubes into Iraq.” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; New York Times, 2/6/2003]
Powell Cites Documents Removed from Home of Iraqi Scientist Faleh Hassan - Powell cites the documents that had been found on January 16, 2003 by inspectors with the help of US intelligence at the Baghdad home of Faleh Hassan, a nuclear scientist. Powell asserts that the papers are a “dramatic confirmation” that Saddam Hussein is concealing evidence and not cooperating with the inspections. The 3,000 documents contained information relating to the laser enrichment of uranium (see January 16, 2003). [Daily Telegraph, 1/18/2003; Associated Press, 1/18/2003; BBC, 1/19/2003; US Department of State, 2/5/2003] A little more than a week later, in the inspectors’ February 14 update to the UN Security Council (see February 14, 2003), ElBaradei will say, “While the documents have provided some additional details about Iraq’s laser enrichment development efforts, they refer to activities or sites already known to the IAEA and appear to be the personal files of the scientist in whose home they were found. Nothing contained in the documents alters the conclusions previously drawn by the IAEA concerning the extent of Iraq’s laser enrichment program.” [Guardian, 2/15/2003; BBC, 2/17/2003; Associated Press, 8/9/2003]
Iraq is Hiding Missiles in the Desert - Powell says that according to unidentified sources, the Iraqis have hidden rocket launchers and warheads containing biological weapons in the western desert. He further contends that these caches of weapons are hidden in palm groves and moved to different locations on a weekly basis. [US Department of State, 2/5/2003] It will later be suggested that this claim was “lifted whole from an Iraqi general’s written account of hiding missiles in the 1991 war.” [Associated Press, 8/9/2003]
Iraq Has Scud Missiles - Powell also says that according to unnamed “intelligence sources,” Iraq has a few dozen Scud-type missiles. [Associated Press, 8/9/2003]
Iraq Has Weapons of Mass Destruction - Secretary of State Colin Powell states unequivocally: “We… have satellite photos that indicate that banned materials have recently been moved from a number of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction facilities. There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more.” Elsewhere in his speech he says: “We know that Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his weapons of mass destruction, is determined to make more.” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; CNN, 2/5/2003]
Governments, Media Reaction Mixed - Powell’s speech will fail to convince many skeptical governments, nor will it impress many in the European media. But it will have a tremendous impact in the US media (see February 5, 2003 and After).
Entity Tags: Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Bush administration (43), Bundesnachrichtendienst, Bob Drogin, Central Intelligence Agency, Ansar al-Islam, ’Curveball’, Al-Qaeda, Charles Hanley, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Ahmed Chalabi, Ali Jassem, Colin Powell, Ewen Buchanan, Faleh Hassan, Saddam Hussein, United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, United Nations Special Commission, Raymond Zilinskas, Peter Franck, United Nations Security Council, Lawrence Wilkerson, Hans Blix, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, Iraqi National Congress, Mohamed ElBaradei, George J. Tenet
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
The government raises the threat level to orange. The announcement is made by Attorney General John Ashcroft, Homeland Security Secretary Ridge, and FBI Director Mueller. CIA Director George Tenet calls the threat “the most specific we have seen” since 9/11 and says al-Qaeda may use a “radiological dispersal device, as well as poisons and chemicals.” Ashcroft states that “this decision for an increased threat condition designation is based on specific intelligence received and analyzed by the full intelligence community. This information has been corroborated by multiple intelligence sources.” [CNN, 2/7/2003] Ashcroft further claims that they have “evidence that terrorists would attack American hotels and apartment buildings.” [ABC News, 2/13/2007] A detailed plan is described to authorities by a captured terror suspect. This source cited a plot involving a Virginia- or Detroit-based al-Qaeda cell that had developed a method of carrying dirty bombs encased in shoes, suitcases, or laptops through airport scanners. The informant specifies government buildings and Christian or clerical centers as possible targets. [ABC News, 2/13/2007] Three days later, Fire Administrator David Paulison advises Americans to stock up on plastic sheeting and duct tape to protect themselves against radiological or biological attack. This causes a brief buying panic. [MSNBC, 6/4/2007] Batteries of Stinger anti-aircraft missiles are set up around Washington and the capital’s skies are patrolled by F-16 fighter jets and helicopters. [BBC, 2/14/2003] The threat is debunked on February 13, when the main source is finally given an FBI polygraph and fails it. Two senior law enforcement officials in Washington and New York state that a key piece of information leading to the terror alerts was fabricated. The claim made by a captured al-Qaeda member regarding a “dirty bomb” threat to Washington, New York, or Florida had proven to be a product of his imagination. Vincent Cannistraro, former head of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, says the intelligence turned out “to be fabricated and therefore the reason for a lot of the alarm, particularly in Washington this week, has been dissipated after they found out that this information was not true.” But threat levels remain stuck on orange for two more weeks. [ABC News, 2/13/2007] Bush administration officials do admit that the captured terror suspect lied, but add that this suspect was not the only source taken into consideration. Ridge says that there is “no need to start sealing the doors and windows.” Bush says that the warning, although based on evidence fabricated by an alleged terrorist, is a “stark reminder of the era that we’re in, that we’re at war and the war goes on.” [BBC, 2/14/2003] The alert followed less than forty-eight hours after Colin Powell’s famous speech to the United Nations in which he falsely accused Saddam Hussein of harboring al-Qaeda and training terrorists in the use of chemical weapons (see February 5, 2003). [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 ] Anti-war demonstrations also continue to take place world-wide. [MSNBC, 6/4/2007]
CIA Director George Tenet briefs National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice on the forthcoming rendition of al-Qaeda figure Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr from Italy to Egypt (see Noon February 17, 2003). According to a senior CIA officer who GQ magazine will say is “directly involved,” Rice approves the mission, but worries how she will tell President Bush. [GQ, 3/2007 ]
CIA Director George Tenet publicly states that “the numbers of societies and peoples excluded from the benefits of an expanding global economy, where the daily lot is hunger, disease, and displacement… produce large populations of disaffected youth who are prime recruits for our extremist foes.” However, in October 2004, the Washington Post will report that President Bush and most of his influential advisers do not see these factors, or US foreign policy, as the primary cause of terrorism. “Bush’s explanation, in private and public, is that terrorists hate America for its freedom.” Former CIA officer Marc Sageman will comment that the Bush administration’s analysis is “nonsense, complete nonsense. They obviously haven’t looked at any surveys.” He says that international polls show that large majorities in much of the world “view us as a hypocritical huge beast throwing our weight around in the Middle East.” Bush also believes that eliminating the top thirty or so al-Qaeda leaders can effectively destroy the group, while most analysts believe al-Qaeda is more of an ideology that will survive without its top leaders, and that root causes need to be addressed to make the ideology less appealing for potential new recruits. Wayne Downing, Bush’s counterterrorism “tsar” in late 2001 and 2002, will say: “This is not a war. What we’re faced with is an Islamic insurgency that is spreading throughout the world, not just the Islamic world.” Because it is “a political struggle, the military is not the key factor. The military has to be coordinated with the other elements of national power.” [Washington Post, 10/22/2004]
Democratic Senators on the Senate Armed Services Committee accuse CIA Director George Tenet of sabotaging the weapons inspections by refusing to supply the inspectors with the intelligence they need to do their work. [Independent, 2/14/2003] Senator Carl Levin tells the Washington Post that according to declassified letters he has obtained from the CIA, dated Jan. 24 and Jan. 28, the agency has not provided inspectors with information about a “large number of sites of significant value.” Furthermore, the senator charges, the letters contradict on-the-record statements made by Tenet who on February 11 claimed that the US had provided inspectors with all the information it had concerning “high value and moderate value sites.” Commenting on this, he says, “When they’ve taken the position that inspections are useless, they are bound to fail,” adding, “We have undermined the inspectors since the beginning.” [Washington Post, 2/13/2003; Independent, 2/14/2003] Tenet will later acknowledge to Senator Levin—after the US invasion of Iraq—that his comments were not entirely accurate. [New York Times, 2/21/2004]
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed shortly after arrest. (Note: this picture is from a video presentation on prisoners the Pakistani government gave to BBC filmmakers. It has been adjusted to remove some blue tinge.) [Source: BBC's "The New Al-Qaeda."]9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) is apparently captured by US and Pakistani forces with the help of an informant. One week after KSM’s capture, said to take place on February 29 or March 1, 2003 (see February 29 or March 1, 2003), the Los Angeles Times will report, “Pakistani officials have… hinted that [KSM] was betrayed by someone inside the organization who wanted to collect a $25-million reward for his capture.” One Pakistani official says, “I am not going to tell you how we captured him, but Khalid knows who did him in.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/8/2003] In 2008, the New York Times will provide additional details. According to an intelligence officer, the informant slips into a bathroom in the house where KSM is staying, and writes a text message to his government contacts: “I am with KSM.” The capture team then waits a few hours before raiding the house, to blur the connection to the informant. Little more is known about the informant or what other information he provides. He apparently is later personally thanked by CIA Director George Tenet and then resettled with the $25 million reward money in the US. [New York Times, 6/22/2008]
In February 2003, some radical militants are arrested in Bahrain. A joint US-Saudi raid of an apartment in Saudi Arabia owned by one of them reveals the designs for a bomb called a mubtakkar. This bomb is made of two widely available chemicals, sodium cyanide and hydrogen, which combine to create hydrogen cyanide. When turned to gas, it is lethal, and counterterrorism experts are highly alarmed at this technical breakthrough. CIA Director Tenet briefs President Bush about the mubtakkar bomb in early March. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 193-197; Time, 6/17/2006] Journalist Ron Suskind calls it a “nightmare delivery system—portable, easy to construct, deadly.” The CIA has a highly placed al-Qaeda informant codenamed Ali, and in late March they contact him to learn more about the bomb. He tells his CIA handlers that Yusef al-Ayeri, a Saudi in charge of al-Qaeda operations in the Arabian peninsula, visited al-Qaeda number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in January 2003. He told al-Zawahiri of an already advanced plot in the US. Operatives loosely linked to al-Qaeda had traveled to the US in the fall of 2002 and thoroughly cased locations in New York City. They would place the mubtakkar bomb in subway cars and remotely activate them. The group was ready to implement an attack in about 45 days. According to Suskind, several thousand people could be killed. But Ali learned that al-Zawahiri called off the attacks, though Ali does not know the reason why. The group did cancel the attack, and US intelligence never learns who exactly they were. President Bush and others puzzle why the attack was canceled and speculate that al-Qaeda put it aside in favor of an even bigger attack. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 216-220; Time, 6/17/2006] Suskind’s account will cause alarm when revealed in 2006. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) will say that authorities took the plot seriously but were never able to confirm its existence. Other officials will debate the effectiveness of the bomb and how many deaths it could have caused. [CNN, 6/18/2006] University of Maryland professor Milton Leitenberg later says of the bomb, “What you would get, in all probability, is a big bang, a big splash, but very little gas.” He also says that concentrations of key chemicals present in household materials are so low “you would get next to nothing” by using them, and one would have to get them from a chemical supplier or steal them from a laboratory. One counterterrorism official points out, “If this is such an amazing weapon, and the design for it is out there, why has no one ever used it?” [United Press International, 6/27/2006] An article by the private intelligence service Stratfor is also skeptical and suggests that al-Zawahiri called off the attack because it wouldn’t have been as deadly as if conventional bombs were used instead. [Stratfor, 6/21/2006] CIA Deputy Counter Terrorism Center Director Hank Crumpton will also later suggest that a team was recruited to stage the attack but apparently never was sent to the US. [Newsweek, 8/28/2007]
Representative Curt Weldon. [Source: H. Rumph Jr / Associated Press]Congressman Curt Weldon (R-PA) becomes embroiled in a plot by Iranian arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar to contrive a secret uranium exchange between Iran and Iraq. According to Ghorbanifar’s story (see January 11, 2006), just before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, a team of Iranian intelligence agents infiltrated Iraq and stole enriched uranium for use in Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The story is later proven to be false, and based on a desire for money and to embroil Iran and Iraq in a spurious WMD plot. After first being contacted by a mysterious Iranian source through a friend and a colleage on March 7, Weldon repeatedly flies to Paris to meet with the source he later calls “Ali,” who is later shown to be Fereidoun Mahdavi, a former minister in the Shah’s Iran who now works as a secretary for Ghorbanifar. Mahdavi has already tried, and failed, to interest several Western intelligence agencies in the stolen uranium tale. He finds Weldon to be far more credulous than the intelligence agencies. According to an intelligence source interviewed in 2006, “Ali provided information that indicated Iranian intelligence had sent a team to Baghdad to extract highly enriched uranium from a stockpile hidden by Saddam Hussein.” Ali tells Weldon that an Iranian intelligence team infiltrated Iraq and stole the uranium for Iran’s nuclear weapons program. According to the story, “the team successfully extracted the stockpile but on the way back to Iran contracted radiation poisoning.” Weldon immediately informs CIA Director George Tenet. Weldon will later write in his book Countdown to Terror: “Tenet appeared interested, even enthusiastic about evaluating Ali and establishing a working relationship with him. He agreed to send his top spy, Stephen Kappes, the deputy director of operations, along with me to Paris for another debriefing of Ali.… On the day of our scheduled second meeting with Ali in Paris, Kappes bowed out, claiming that ‘other commitments’ compelled him to cancel. Later, the CIA claimed to have met with Ali independently. But I discovered this to be untrue.… Incredibly, I learned that the CIA had apparently asked French intelligence to silence Ali.” Weldon is wrong; the CIA’s Paris station chief, Bill Murray, investigates the claims and finds Ghorbanifar (whom either he or the agency mistakenly believes to be “Ali”) to be what the agency calls a “fabricator.” Murray goes so far as to take either Ghorbanifar or Mahdavi to Iraq to have them retrace the route of the Iranian intelligence mission. “Ali” is unable to do so, and Murray learns that the entire story was concocted in hopes of a large payoff: “Soon it became apparent that Ali and his sources were fabricators and were trying to extract large sums of money,” one intelligence source will say. (Murray will later deny going to Iraq with either Ghorbanifar or Mahdavi, but will call “the source” “not credible.… The sensational charges that the source made could not be substantiated.” Weldon, not to be denied, takes his story to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who pressures the CIA to investigate further. One former CIA officer later says, “CIA reluctantly, after pressure from Rumsfeld, followed up by detaching one of their weapons experts from the team that was hunting WMD in Iraq.” Again, this effort proves that Ghorbanifar’s story is completely false. In 2006, reporter Larisa Alexandrovna will call Weldon an “innocent bystander taken in by an internationally known con man and the lure of spook-like activities than an inside player with an agenda or material participant in these events. The Ali composite seems to have used Weldon as a conduit by which to provide the CIA with information.” One intelligence official will observe, “If you were going to launder intel to make up a war, you could easily send some fool on an errand.” [Raw Story, 1/11/2006] Weldon will meet again with Mahdavi, and will write about a lurid Iranian terror plot, the “12th Imam” scheme, based on his tales (see June 8, 2005 and Mid-July 2005). He will claim that the CIA has “routinely” ignored “credible” information about these and other plots.
The United Nations launches an investigation into the electronic and physical surveillance of a number of its Security Council delegates by the National Security Agency (see January 31, 2003). The NSA operation, revealed the week before, was apparently leaked to Britain’s Observer by Katharine Gun, who works at Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and has been arrested on suspicion of breaking Britain’s Official Secrets Act (see February 2003). The NSA also solicited the assistance of an intelligence agency of an unnamed “friendly foreign government”; it is believed to be Britain. The leak is touted as “more timely and potentially more important than the Pentagon Papers” by celebrated whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. The leak of the NSA surveillance program has caused deep embarrassment for the Bush administration, which is working to recruit supporters for a second UN resolution authorizing military force against Iraq (see February 24, 2003). The authorization for the NSA operation is believed to have come from National Security Adviser Rice, but US intelligence experts say that such a decision would have had to involve Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, CIA Director George Tenet, and NSA Director Michael Hayden. President Bush, by necessity, would have been informed of the proposed operation at one of his daily intelligence briefings. While such surveillance of foreign diplomats at the UN is legal under the US’s Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), it violates the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. According to international law expert Dr. John Quigley, the Vienna Convention stipulates: “The receiving state shall permit and protect free communication on the part of the mission for all official purposes…. The official correspondence of the mission shall be inviolable.” [Observer, 3/9/2003]
Entity Tags: United Nations Security Council, United Nations, National Security Agency, Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, Michael Hayden, John Quigley, Condoleezza Rice, Katherine Gun, Donald Rumsfeld, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, George W. Bush, Government Communications Headquarters, George J. Tenet, Daniel Ellsberg
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
After the US Department of Defense publishes several reports linking al-Qaeda to Iraq, CIA Director George Tenet orders CIA researchers and analysts—who have maintained that there are no such links—to go through all the agency’s records on Iraq and al-Qaeda and search for evidence of the alleged relationship. CIA researcher Michael Scheuer leads the effort, which combs through about 19,000 documents going back nine or 10 years. Scheuer will later say, “there was no connection between [al-Qaeda] and Saddam. There were indications that al-Qaeda people had transited Iraq, probably with the Iraqis turning a blind eye to it. There were some hints that there was a contact between the head of the intelligence service of the Iraqis with bin Laden when he was in the Sudan, but nothing you could put together and say, ‘Here is a relationship that is similar to the relationship between Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah,’ which was what Doug Feith’s organization was claiming. There was simply nothing to support that.” [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 11/24/2004; PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006; PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006 Sources: Michael Scheuer]
US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld sends a classified paper to Secretary of State Colin Powell, Vice President Dick Cheney, and CIA Director George Tenet. In the paper, Rumsfeld says that the US should not hand over control of Iraq to the Iraqis too quickly. There should first be a guarantee that any new Iraqi government will be “friendly” to the US, he says. [Gordon and Trainor, 3/14/2006, pp. 479]
A Kurdish soldier allied with US forces stands on the site where the Sargat training camp used to be. He holds a piece of a US cruise missile that hit the camp. [Source: Scott Peterson / Getty Images]US Special Forces working with local Kurdish forces overrun the small border region of Iraq controlled by the militant group Ansar al-Islam. This is where Secretary of State Colin Powell alleged militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had a ‘poison factory’ near the town of Khurmal where chemical weapons of mass destruction capable of killing thousands were made. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers says, “We think that’s probably where the ricin that was found in London probably came; at least the operatives and maybe some of the formulas came from this site.” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld comments, “We’re not certain what we’ll find but we should know more in the next three days - three or four days.” [New York Daily News, 3/31/2003] In a 2007 book, CIA Director George Tenet will claim, “Shortly after the invasion of Iraq, al-Zarqawi’s camp in Khurmal was bombed by the US military. We obtained reliable human intelligence reporting and forensic samples confirming that poisons and toxins had been produced at the camp.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 277-278] He will further claim that the camp “engaged in production and training in the use of low-level poisons such as cyanide. We had intelligence telling us that al-Zarqawi’s men had tested these poisons on animals and, in at least one case, on one of their own associates. They laughed about how well it worked.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 350] But Tenet’s claims seem wildly overblown compared to other subsequent news reports about what was found at the camp. In late April 2003, the Los Angeles Times will report that, “Documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times, along with interviews with US and Kurdish intelligence operatives, indicate [Ansar al-Islam] was partly funded and armed from abroad; was experimenting with chemicals, including toxic agents and a cyanide-based body lotion; and had international aspirations. But the documents, statements by imprisoned Ansar guerrillas, and visits to the group’s strongholds before and after the war produced no strong evidence of connections to Baghdad and indicated that Ansar was not a sophisticated terrorist organization. The group was a dedicated, but fledgling, al-Qaeda surrogate lacking the capability to muster a serious threat beyond its mountain borders.” A crude chemical laboratory is found in the village of Sargat, but no evidence of any sophisticated equipment is found. “Tests have revealed the presence of hydrogen cyanide and potassium cyanide, poisons normally used to kill rodents and other pests. The group, according to Kurdish officials, had been experimenting on animals with a cyanide-laced cream. Several jars of peach body lotion lay at the site beside chemicals and a few empty wooden birdcages.” While a lot of documentation is found showing intention to create chemical weapons, the actual capability appears to have been quite low. [Los Angeles Times, 4/27/2003] As the Christian Science Monitor will later conclude, the “‘poison factory’ proved primitive; nothing but substances commonly used to kill rodents were found there.” [Christian Science Monitor, 10/16/2003] Journalist Jason Burke will also later comment, “As one of the first journalists to enter the [al-Qaeda] research facilities at the Darunta camp in eastern Afghanistan in 2001, I was struck by how crude they were. The Ansar al-Islam terrorist group’s alleged chemical weapons factory in northern Iraq, which I inspected the day after its capture in 2003, was even more rudimentary.” [Foreign Policy, 5/2004]
An unnamed intelligence source tells reporter Thomas Ricks of the Washington Post, Defense Secretary Donald “Rumsfeld is in a death fight with [CIA Director George Tenet] to get control” of intelligence programs. Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone has reportedly created a single office overseeing the organization, planning, and execution of military intelligence missions. Cambone also oversees assets, including one program called “Gray Fox.” This is said to be a secret intelligence organization that specializes in large-scale “deep penetration” missions overseas. It is said to specialize in tapping communications and laying the groundwork for overt military operations. The Post reports that Rumsfeld appears to be winning the turf battle. [Washington Post, 4/20/2003, pp. A01]
In 2007, CIA Director George Tenet will write in a book, “Once US forces reached Baghdad (see April 9, 2003), they discovered—stacked where they could easily find them—purported Iraqi intelligence service documents that showed much tighter links between Saddam [Hussein] and [Abu Musab] al-Zarqawi, and Saddam and al-Qaeda.” CIA analysts work with the Secret Service to check the paper and ink, plus to verify the details mentioned in the documents. But “time and again” the documents turn out to be forgeries. “It was obvious that someone was trying to mislead us. But these raw, unevaluated documents that painted a more nefarious picture of Iraq and al-Qaeda continued to show up in the hands of senior [Bush] administration officials without having gone through normal intelligence channels.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 356] For instance, one forged document found in December 2003 and reported on by the press will purport that 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta went to Iraq to be trained by Iraqi intelligence agents (see December 14, 2003). Tenet will not speculate who is behind the forgeries.
Paul Bremer, head of the Office of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, issues Order 2 formally dissolving the Iraqi Army and other vestiges of the old Ba’athist state. [CNN, 5/23/2003; Coalition Provisional Authority, 5/23/2003] The order, drafted by Douglas Feith’s office in the Pentagon and approved by the White House, triggers mass protests among the estimated 300,000 to 500,000 former Iraqi soldiers who are left without a job and who are given only a small, one-time, $20 emergency payment. [New York Times, 5/24/2003; Agence France Presse, 5/26/2003; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 225] Together with the de-Ba’athification program, the disbanding of the Iraqi Army leads to some 500,000 people losing their source of income. [Los Angeles Times, 6/5/2003]
Criticism - The action will be highly criticized as a major blunder of the war. The decision was made by Walter Slocombe, a security adviser to Bremer, who proclaims that “We don’t pay armies we defeated.” A colonel on Jay Garner’s staff (see January 2003) will later say: “My Iraqi friends tell me that this decision was what really spurred the nationalists to join the infant insurgency. We had advertised ourselves as liberators and turned on these people without so much as a second thought.” [Atlantic Monthly, 12/2005]
Garner's Reaction - Garner himself will later speak on the subject, telling a Vanity Fair reporter: “My plan was to not disband the Iraqi Army but to keep the majority of it and use them. And the reason for that is we needed them, because, number one, there were never enough people there for security. [A US military commander told him the US Army was guarding a lot of places it had not planned to guard.] So we said, OK, we’ll bring the Army back. Our plan was to bring back about 250,000 of them. And I briefed [Defense Secretary] Rumsfeld. He agreed. [Deputy Defense Secretary] Wolfowitz agreed. [National Security Adviser] Condoleezza Rice agreed. [CIA Director] George [Tenet] agreed. Briefed the president on it. He agreed. Everybody agreed. So when that decision [to disband] was made, I was stunned.”
Iraqi Colonel's Reaction - US and UN weapons inspector Charles Duelfer will later say of the decision: “One Iraqi colonel told me, ‘You know, our planning before the war was that we assumed that you guys couldn’t take casualties, and that was obviously wrong.’ I looked at him and said, ‘What makes you think that was wrong?’ He goes, ‘Well, if you didn’t want to take casualties, you would have never made that decision about the Army.’” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
Entity Tags: Jay Garner, George W. Bush, Scott Wallace, Paul Wolfowitz, Walter Slocombe, George J. Tenet, Douglas Feith, L. Paul Bremer, Condoleezza Rice, Charles Duelfer, Bush administration (43), Donald Rumsfeld
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation
CIA officials ask for reauthorization of the controversial harsh interrogation methods (see April 2002 and After and August 1, 2002) that had been withdrawn (see December 2003-June 2004) after the revelation of abuse and torture at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison (see November 5, 2003). The CIA has captured a new al-Qaeda suspect in Asia, and top agency officials ask the National Security Council Principals Committee—Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, CIA Director George Tenet, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Attorney General John Ashcroft—for permission to use extreme methods of interrogation against the new detainee. Rice, who chairs the Principals Committee, says: “This is your baby. Go do it.” [ABC News, 4/9/2008] The name of the new suspect captured in Asia is not mentioned, but Hambali is captured in Thailand in August 2003 (see August 12, 2003), and he is the only prominent al-Qaeda figure arrested that summer. He is considered one of al-Qaeda’s most important leaders. There are some reports that he is one of only about four prisoners directly waterboarded by the US (see Shortly After August 12, 2003).
Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, George J. Tenet, John Ashcroft, Hambali, National Security Council, Donald Rumsfeld
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline
Lewis Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, provides classified information to author and reporter Bob Woodward for use in his upcoming book Plan of Attack, which will document the Bush administration’s push for war with Iraq. According to his own later testimony (see March 24, 2004), Libby is authorized to disclose this information to Woodward by President Bush. The information is from the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, which documented the purported WMD belonging to Iraq (see October 1, 2002). In 2006, other former senior officials in the Bush administration will add that Bush told others to cooperate with Woodward as well. One official will say: “There were people on the seventh floor [of the CIA] who were told by [CIA Director George] Tenet to cooperate because the president wanted it done. There were calls to people to by [White House communications director] Dan Bartlett that the president wanted it done, if you were not cooperating. And sometimes the president himself told people that they should cooperate.” It is unclear whether any other White House official provides Woodward with classified information. [National Journal, 4/6/2006] It is unclear whether Libby discloses this information to Woodward during two June 2003 meetings he has with the reporter (see June 23, 2003 and June 27, 2003), or at another, unreported meeting.
The White House sends a classified memo to the CIA. The contents of the memo remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Washington Post will later learn that the memo approves the use of “harsh tactics” by CIA interrogators in questioning suspected terrorists. The memo was requested by CIA Director George Tenet, who asked for legal cover for the torture and harsh interrogation methods employed by CIA interrogators. A lawyer in the CIA’s general counsel office, John Radsan, later says, “The question was whether we had enough ‘top cover.’” A senior intelligence official will later add: “The CIA believed then, and now, that the program was useful and helped save lives. But in the agency’s view, it was like this: ‘We don’t want to continue unless you tell us in writing that it’s not only legal but is the policy of the administration.’” A Bush administration official will later blame the CIA for pressuring the administration to approve harsh interrogations, saying: “The CIA had the White House boxed in. They were saying, ‘It’s the only way to get the information we needed, and—by the way—we think there’s another attack coming up.’ It left the principals in an extremely difficult position and put the decision-making on a very fast track.” But a CIA official will dispute that characterization. “The suggestion that someone from CIA came in and browbeat everybody is ridiculous,” the official will state. “The CIA understood that [the interrogation program] was controversial and would be widely criticized if it became public. But given the tenor of the times and the belief that more attacks were coming, they felt they had to do what they could to stop the attack.” [Washington Post, 10/15/2008; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ]
Vice President Dick Cheney, having already asked the CIA for information about former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s 2002 fact-finding mission to Niger (see 4:30 p.m. June 10, 2003), makes personal inquiries about the trip to both CIA Director George Tenet and CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin. According to evidence revealed during the trial of Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby (see January 16-23, 2007), both Tenet and McLaughlin tell Cheney that Wilson’s wife, CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson, played a role in assigning her husband to make the trip to Niger. This may be the first time that Cheney learns of Plame Wilson’s CIA status, though he will also learn the information from his press aide, Cathie Martin (see 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003). [Murray Waas, 12/23/2008]
Lewis “Scooter” Libby, chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, phones senior CIA official Robert Grenier to ask about a recent trip to Niger by former ambassador Joseph Wilson (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Libby has just left a meeting with Cheney and Cheney’s press secretary, Cathie Martin. According to later testimony by Grenier (see January 24, 2007), Libby is “anxious” to learn about the trip, and obviously annoyed by Wilson’s claims that he was sent to Niger at the behest of Cheney. Grenier, the official in charge of the CIA’s actions as relating to Iraq, promises to look into the matter, but before he can speak again to Libby, the chief of staff pulls him out of a meeting with CIA Director George Tenet to ask him about Wilson. [Office of the Vice President, 6/11/2003 ; New York Times, 2/4/2007; MSNBC, 2/21/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 6/6/2007]
Libby Discusses Feasibility of Leaking Wilson Info - Grenier will later testify that he had never been pulled out of a meeting with Tenet before. Libby had already asked about Wilson, who was, according to Libby, “going around town and speaking to people in the press” about a mission he’d been sent on by the agency to investigate claims that Iraq had sought to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Libby tells Grenier to check out Wilson’s story, and find out if Wilson’s claim that his mission was prompted by the Office of the Vice President is true (see (February 13, 2002)). “He sounded a little bit aggrieved,” Grenier will later testify. “There was a slightly accusatory tone in his voice.” This tone suggests to Grenier that Libby “would need this information sooner than later, so he could potentially get out in front of this story.” Later that day, Grenier receives a call from the CIA’s counterproliferation division—Valerie Plame Wilson’s bureau—confirming that Wilson had been sent to Niger by the agency (see Shortly after February 13, 2002). Grenier calls Libby back and relays that information. The State Department and Pentagon were also interested in the results of Wilson’s investigation, Grenier tells Libby. Grenier also tells Libby that Wilson’s wife works in the same CIA unit as the one that sent Wilson to Niger. The information about Wilson and his wife seems to please Libby, Grenier will later recall. Libby speculates as to the feasibility of leaking that information to the press. Grenier contacts CIA public affairs official Bill Harlow and tells Libby, “We can work something out.” Libby then tells Grenier that Martin will coordinate the effort with Harlow and the CIA public affairs office (see 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003). [Marcy Wheeler, 1/24/2007; ABC News, 1/24/2007; Mother Jones, 1/25/2007]
Grenier Wonders if He Revealed Identity of Agency Official - After hanging up, Grenier will later testify, he feels somewhat guilty, “as if I had said too much.” In particular, he worries that he may have “revealed the identity of an agency officer.” He will testify that such information is something “we normally guard pretty closely. In the CIA our habit is that if we don’t need to say something, we generally don’t.” But, he later says he told himself, “look—this is a senior government official, he probably has every security clearance known to man.” [Marcy Wheeler, 1/24/2007; Mother Jones, 1/25/2007]
Portion of Libby’s notes indicating the approximated date of June 12, 2003. [Source: Office of the Vice President / The Next Hurrah]Vice President Cheney informs his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, that Valerie Plame Wilson is a senior official for the CIA’s counterproliferation division. Cheney tells Libby that he has learned that information from CIA Director George Tenet (see June 11 or 12, 2003). Cheney’s conversation with Libby is made public over two years later, when Libby is indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice in regards to the investigation of White House officials leaking Plame Wilson’s identity to the press (see October 28, 2005). According to the indictment: “On or about June 12, 2003, Libby was advised by the vice president of the United States that [former ambassador Joseph] Wilson’s wife worked at the Central Intelligence Agency in the counterproliferation division. Libby understood that the vice president had learned this information from the CIA.” Cheney was within the law to inform Libby of Plame Wilson’s CIA employment, as he could with any government official with the proper security clearance. [Office of the Vice President, 6/12/2003 ; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 216; New York Times, 2006; National Journal, 2/2/2006; MSNBC, 2/21/2007] Libby has also learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from Marc Grossman of the State Department (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003).
Date of Conversation Unclear - The exact date of the Cheney-Libby conversation is somewhat unclear. Libby’s note on the conversation is dated June 12, but Libby later admits that he wrote the date and the description of the conversation—“telephone VP re ‘Uranium in Iraq’—Kristof NYT article”—after the fact, and then changed the date at an even later time. [Office of the Vice President, 6/12/2003 ; Marcy Wheeler, 2/3/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 6/6/2007] Libby will later testify that the date of the conversation might have been before June 12. [US Department of Justice, 3/5/2004 ] He will also testify that Cheney tells him about Plame Wilson “in an off sort of, curiosity sort of, fashion,” according to other court documents later made public. [National Journal, 2/6/2006] Libby will soon inform a reporter of Plame Wilson’s CIA status (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). He is aware of Plame Wilson’s covert status (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 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.” [New York Times, 6/13/2003]
Entity Tags: New York Times, Bush administration (43), Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Condoleezza Rice, Nicholas Kristof, George J. Tenet, Greg Thielmann, George W. Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Melvin A. Goodman
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
An internal CIA memorandum addressed to CIA Director George Tenet states that the agency no longer believes allegations that Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from Niger. The highly classified memo, titled “In Response to Your Questions for Our Current Assessment and Additional Details on Iraq’s Alleged Pursuits of Uranium from Abroad,” reads in part, “[S]ince learning that the Iraq-Niger uranium deal was based on false documents earlier this spring we no longer believe that there is sufficient other reporting to conclude that Iraq pursued uranium from abroad.” Tenet asked for the assessment in part because of repeated inquiries from Vice President Dick Cheney and his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, regarding the Iraq-Niger matter and the mission by Joseph Wilson to determine the likelihood of such a purchase (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and May 29, 2003). However, neither Cheney nor Libby asked for the review. In addition, Tenet wanted the assessment because of the media attention being paid to Wilson’s trip to Niger, and his worry that Congress or the press might raise additional questions about the matter. Soon afterwards, Cheney and Libby are briefed on the memo, but both continue to question the veracity and loyalty of Wilson, and continue to insist that Iraq did, indeed, attempt to purchase Nigerien uranium. Libby is adamant that the CIA is trying to “whitewash” the “truth” behind the Iraq-Niger uranium allegations, and insists that the CIA’s WINPAC (Center for Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control) is primarily responsible for the CIA’s “whitewashing.” He mistakenly believes that Valerie Plame Wilson, Wilson’s wife, works in WINPAC, and has already informed a reporter of his belief (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003). Cheney and others in the Office of the Vice President also apparently believe that Plame Wilson works for WINPAC, though they have already been informed that she is a senior official for the CIA’s counterproliferation division (see (June 12, 2003)) and a covert agent (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003). [The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction (aka 'Robb-Silberman Commission'), 3/31/2005; National Journal, 2/2/2006]
Entity Tags: Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George J. Tenet, Joseph C. Wilson, Valerie Plame Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Central Intelligence Agency, Counterproliferation Division
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
After the publication of Joseph Wilson’s op-ed debunking the administration’s claims of an Iraq-Niger uranium connection (see July 6, 2003), White House officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, White House communications director Dan Bartlett, and Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby discuss methods of discrediting Wilson. The four work with CIA Director George Tenet to declassify records that might help them prove their contention that they accurately portrayed intelligence about the Iraq-Niger claim, and put Wilson in a poor light. During Libby’s perjury trial (see January 16-23, 2007), a senior White House official involved in the process will testify: “We were trying to figure out what happened and get the story out. There was nothing nefarious as to what occurred.” In a 2007 interview, that same official will confirm what will be said in federal grand jury testimony and public court filings: that Cheney and Libby often acted without the knowledge or approval of other senior White House staff when it came to their efforts to discredit Wilson, including leaking classified information to the press. [National Journal, 1/12/2007]
The White House, after much discussion and argument among senior advisers (see July 6-7, 2003), issues a vaguely worded admission that President Bush and his top officials erred in claiming that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). A senior, unnamed White House official says that Bush should not have made the claim (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) by saying: “Knowing all that we know now, the reference to Iraq’s attempt to acquire uranium from Africa should not have been included in the State of the Union speech.… There is other reporting to suggest that Iraq tried to obtain uranium from Africa. However, the information is not detailed or specific enough for us to be certain that attempts were in fact made.” The statement is authorized by the White House. [BBC, 7/8/2003; McClellan, 2008, pp. 168-170]
Dashed Hope that Admission Might Defuse Controversy - White House deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will later write: “Although two other African countries were mentioned in the [Iraq] NIE (National Intelligence Estimate—see October 1, 2002) as possible sources of uranium for Iraq, the only detailed or specific intelligence about Iraqi attempts to acquire uranium from Africa was related to Niger, and this was clearly the primary basis for the president’s 16 words” in the State of the Union speech. Senior White House officials, with Bush’s authorization, elaborate on the concession. One official says, “We couldn’t prove it, and it might in fact be wrong.” McClellan will write: “It was the public acknowledgement that the president should have not made the uranium allegation in his State of the Union address and that the information in which it had been based was incomplete or inaccurate. At the White House, everyone hoped the acknowledgement would put the 16-words controversy to rest. The reality was the opposite.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 168-170]
Critics: Bush 'Knowingly Misled' US Citizenry, Calls for Firings - Critics of the White House are quick to jump on the claim. “This may be the first time in recent history that a president knowingly misled the American people during the State of Union address,” says Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe. “Either President Bush knowingly used false information in his State of the Union address or senior administration officials allowed the use of that information. This was not a mistake. It was no oversight and it was no error.” Tom Daschle (D-SD), the Senate Majority Leader, calls the admission another reason for Congress to fully investigate the use and misuse of prewar intelligence. Retired Colonel David Hunt, a Fox News analyst, says: “This is an absolute failure. This is an overstatement and it’s embarrassing and it’s very poor business for the war on terrorism, really bad news.” Hunt calls for firings over the admission: “I think there are some people that need to be fired—starting with the [CIA Director George] Tenet. This is bad. When they’re blaming him publicly, and that’s unheard of… it can’t be glossed over. The bureaucracy has got to knock this off. It can’t happen anymore.” [Fox News, 7/9/2003]
Calls for Congressional Investigation - Congressional Democrats demand, but never get, a Congressional inquiry; Senator Carl Levin questions how such a “bogus” claim could have become a key part of the case for war, and Ted Kennedy suggests the claim is a “deliberate deception.” McClellan will observe: “Whether legitimate expressions of concern or grandstanding for political gain, their efforts to raise more suspicion about the White House for political gain, their efforts to raise more suspicion about the White House were a natural part of the ongoing partisan warfare that President Bush had promised to end. Now, the way the president had chosen to sell the war to the American people and his reluctance to discuss openly and directly how that case had been made were ensuring his promise would not be kept.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 168-170]
Blair Administration 'Furious' at Admission - In Great Britain, officials in the government of Tony Blair are “privately furious with the White House,” according to McClellan. Blair’s officials insist on standing by the claim, thus causing an embarrasing disparity between the White House and Downing Street. [McClellan, 2008, pp. 168-170]
Admission Retracted Days Later - Within days, the White House will retract the admission (see July 11, 2003).
According to later testimony by Vice President Dick Cheney’s communications director, Cathie Martin, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley brings up a July 8 appearance by NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell on CNBC (see July 8, 2003) during a meeting. In the meeting, Hadley complains that someone in the White House is trying to pin an inordinate amount of blame for prewar intelligence failures on the CIA, and CIA Director George Tenet is unhappy about it. Martin feels as if Hadley thinks she might be leaking information to the press about blaming the CIA. After the meeting, White House officials decide, according to Martin’s later testimony, to “keep communicators uninvolved” with information emanating from Tenet. Martin tells Cheney and Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby that she did not give information to Mitchell. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/25/2007] Within days, President Bush will directly blame Tenet and the CIA for not catching the Iraq-Niger forgeries (see July 11, 2003). Tenet will take the blame for using the forgeries as the basis for Bush’s claim that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003).
While President Bush is in Uganda, a reporter asks him, “Why—can you explain how an erroneous piece of intelligence on the Iraq-Niger connection got into your State of the Union speech? Are you upset about it? And should somebody be held accountable, sir?” Bush replies, “I gave a speech to the nation that was cleared by the intelligence services…” National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice responds more specifically a short time later, “I can tell you, if the CIA, the director of central intelligence, had said ‘take this out of the speech,’ it would have been gone, without question,” Instead, after some changes sought by the CIA were made, “the agency cleared the speech and cleared it in its entirety.” Later in the day, CIA Director George Tenet accepts blame for allowing the allegations into the January 2003 speech (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), saying the information “did not rise to the level of certainty which should be required for presidential speeches and the CIA should have ensured that it was removed” (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). [Washington Post, 7/12/2003] Reporter Steve Coll will later comment, “I don’t know what George Tenet felt as he saw that unfold, but I can imagine that he was dismayed and increasingly resentful that he was being singled out for blame. At the same time, he’s such an operator and such a student of Washington that surely, he understood what was happening, that he was being asked, in effect, to fall on his shield so that the president could be reelected.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006]
The CIA’s Deputy Director, John McLaughlin, sends a draft of a written statement by Director George Tenet about the Niger uranium affair to the White House. Tenet’s statement will acknowledge that he is responsible for the false claims by President Bush and other administration officials that Iraq had attempted to purchase enriched uranium from Niger (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). McLaighlin sends the draft to Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, but it is marked “Unacceptable” by Vice President Dick Cheney. The draft of Tenet’s statement will be entered into evidence in the 2007 trial of Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby (see January 16-23, 2007). [Central Intelligence Agency, 7/11/2003; National Public Radio, 3/7/2007] It is unclear why Cheney rejects the draft.
White House political adviser Karl Rove, leading the White House’s damage control operation to recoup the losses from Joseph Wilson’s recent op-ed about the fraudulent Iraq-Niger documents (see July 6, 2003), speaks to Time reporter Matthew Cooper. Rove has already discussed Wilson with columnist Robert Novak (see July 8, 2003).
Cooper Digging for White House Smear Details - According to Cooper’s notes, an e-mail from Cooper to his bureau chief, Michael Duffy, and Cooper’s later testimony (see July 13, 2005), Cooper is interested in the White House’s apparent smear attempts against Wilson (see March 9, 2003 and After and May 2003). “I’m writing about Wilson,” Cooper says, and Rove interjects, “Don’t get too far out on Wilson.” Rove insists that their conversation be on “deep background,” wherein Cooper cannot quote him directly, nor can he disclose his identity. Rove tells Cooper that neither CIA Director George Tenet nor Vice President Dick Cheney sent Wilson to Niger, and that, Cooper will later write, “material was going to be declassified in the coming days that would cast doubt on Wilson’s mission and his findings.”
Outing Plame Wilson - Rove says that it is Wilson’s wife Valerie Plame Wilson “who apparently works at the agency [CIA] on wmd issues who authorized the trip… not only [sic] the genesis of the trip is flawed an[d] suspect but so is the report. [Rove] implied strongly there’s still plenty to implicate iraqi interest in acquiring uranium fro[m] Niger.” Rove does not identify Plame Wilson, only calling her “Wilson’s wife,” but Cooper has no trouble learning her name. Rove ends the call with a cryptic teaser, saying, “I’ve already said too much.” Cooper will recall these words two years later when he testifies to the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak (see January 2004). [Cooper, 7/11/2003 ; New York Times, 7/16/2005; Time, 7/17/2005; Unger, 2007, pp. 311-312] Later, Cooper will write: “I have a distinct memory of Rove ending the call by saying, ‘I’ve already said too much.’ This could have meant he was worried about being indiscreet, or it could have meant he was late for a meeting or something else. I don’t know, but that sign-off has been in my memory for two years.” [Time, 7/17/2005] Cooper will later testify that Rove never told him about Plame Wilson’s covert status. [National Journal, 10/7/2005]
Call Not Logged - Rove asks his personal assistant, Susan Cooper, to ensure that Cooper’s call does not appear on the White House telephone logs. [CounterPunch, 12/9/2005]
Cooper E-mails Editor - After hanging up, Cooper sends an e-mail to his editors at Time about the conversation (see 11:07 a.m. July 11, 2003).
Conversation with Deputy National Security Adviser - After the conversation with Cooper, Rove sends an e-mail to Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, saying he “didn’t take the bait” when Cooper suggested that Wilson’s criticisms had been damaging to the administration (see After 11:07 a.m. July 11, 2003).
White House Getting Message Across - Author Craig Unger later notes that while the conversation is on background, the White House is getting across its message that something about Wilson’s trip is questionable, and it has something to do with his wife. Unger writes, “And a White House press corps that relied heavily on access to high level administration officials was listening intently and was holding its fire.” [Cooper, 7/11/2003 ; New York Times, 7/16/2005; Time, 7/17/2005; National Journal, 10/7/2005; Unger, 2007, pp. 311-312] Rove later testifies that his references to “Niger,” “damaging,” and Bush being “hurt” all referred to the potential political fallout from Wilson’s allegations. As for the statement that “If I were him I wouldn’t get that far out in front of this,” Rove will say he merely wanted to urge Cooper to use caution in relying on Wilson as a potential source. [National Journal, 10/7/2005]
Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Stephen J. Hadley, Joseph C. Wilson, Matthew Cooper, Bush administration (43), Michael Duffy, Central Intelligence Agency, George J. Tenet, Craig Unger, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Karl C. Rove
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who recently wrote an op-ed for the New York Times revealing his failure to find any validity in the claims of a uranium deal between Iraq and Niger during a fact-finding trip to Africa (see July 6, 2003 and February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), is pleased at CIA Director George Tenet’s admission that the Iraq-Niger uranium claim “should never have been included in the text written for the president” (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). According to his wife, senior CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson, “Joe felt his work was done; he had made his point.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 140] Wilson himself will recall believing: “I honestly thought that my exposure in the matter would quickly fade, as the administration would now have to concentrate on the serious question of competence among the members of the president’s staff. I told any interested friends and all inquisitive journalists that as my charges had been satisfactorily answered, I’d have nothing more to say. I honored obligations for interviews that I had previously accepted, but I denied any others in order to allow the waters I’d roiled to still. I thought that surely the focus of the debate would shift away from me. How naive and mistaken I was on that score!” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 335]
Referring to President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), CIA Director George Tenet says in a written statement: “I am responsible for the approval process in my agency.… These 16 words should never have been included in the text written for the president.” Tenet denies that the White House is responsible for the mistake, putting the blame squarely on himself and his agency. His statement comes hours after Bush blamed the CIA for the words making it into the speech (see July 11, 2003). [CNN, 7/11/2003; Central Intelligence Agency, 7/11/2003; New York Times, 7/12/2003]
CIA Chose to Send Wilson to Niger - Tenet also confirms that it was the CIA’s choice to send former ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), apparently in an effort to rebut claims that Vice President Dick Cheney ordered the mission. Tenet states: “There was fragmentary intelligence gathered in late 2001 and early 2002 on the allegations of Saddam’s efforts to obtain additional raw uranium from Africa, beyond the 550 metric tons already in Iraq. In an effort to inquire about certain reports involving Niger, CIA’s counterproliferation experts, on their own initiative, asked an individual with ties to the region [Wilson] to make a visit to see what he could learn.” Tenet says that Wilson found no evidence to believe that Iraq had attempted to purchase Nigerien uranium, though this did not settle the issue for either the CIA or the White House. [Central Intelligence Agency, 7/11/2003]
Coordinated with White House - Tenet’s admission was coordinated by White House advisers for what reporter Murray Waas will call “maximum effect.” Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, White House political strategist Karl Rove, and Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby had reviewed drafts of Tenet’s statement days in advance; Hadley and Rove had suggested changes in the draft. [National Journal, 3/30/2006] Cheney rejected an earlier draft, marking it “unacceptable” (see July 11, 2003).
White House Joins in Blaming CIA - National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice also blames the CIA. Peppered with questions from reporters about the claim, she continues the White House attempt to pin the blame for the faulty intelligence on the CIA: “We have a higher standard for what we put in presidential speeches” than other governments or other agencies. “We don’t make the president his own fact witness. That’s why we send them out for clearance.” Had the CIA expressed doubts about the Niger claim before the State of the Union? she is asked (see January 26 or 27, 2003, March 8, 2003, March 23, 2003, April 5, 2003, Early June 2003, June 9, 2003, and June 17, 2003). “The CIA cleared the speech in its entirety,” she replies. “If the CIA, the director of central intelligence, had said, ‘Take this out of the speech,’ (see January 27, 2003) it would have been gone without question. If there were doubts about the underlying intelligence, those doubts were not communicated to the president, to the vice president or to me.… What we’ve said subsequently is, knowing what we know now, that some of the Niger documents were apparently forged, we wouldn’t have put this in the president’s speech—but that’s knowing what we know now.” Another senior White House official, defending the president and his advisers, tells ABC News: “We were very careful with what the president said. We vetted the information at the highest levels.” But another intelligence official, also interviewed by ABC, contradicts this statement. [CNN, 7/11/2003; White House, 7/11/2003; Washington Post, 7/12/2003; New York Times, 7/12/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 99; McClellan, 2008, pp. 171-172] Tenet’s mea culpa is apparently enough for Bush; press secretary Ari Fleischer says, “The president has moved on.” [White House, 7/11/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 99] White House press secretary Scott McClellan will later claim that at this point Rice is unaware that her National Security Council is far more responsible for the inclusion than the CIA. He will write that the news media reports “not unfairly” that Rice is blaming the CIA for the inclusion. [McClellan, 2008, pp. 171-172]
News Reports Reveal Warnings Not to Use Claim - Following Tenet’s statement, a barrage of news reports citing unnamed CIA officials reveal that the White House had in fact been explicitly warned not to include the Africa-uranium claim. These reports indicate that at the time Bush delivered his State of the Union address, it had been widely understood in US intelligence circles that the claim had little evidence supporting it. [Boston Globe, 3/16/2003; New York Times, 3/23/2003; Associated Press, 6/12/2003; Knight Ridder, 6/12/2003; Associated Press, 6/12/2003; Knight Ridder, 6/13/2003; ABC News, 6/16/2003; Newsday, 7/12/2003; Washington Post, 7/20/2003] For example, CBS News reports, “CIA officials warned members of the president’s National Security Council staff the intelligence was not good enough to make the flat statement Iraq tried to buy uranium from Africa.” And a Washington Post article cites an unnamed intelligence source who says, “We consulted about the paper [September 2002 British dossier] and recommended against using that material.” [CBS News, 7/10/2003; CNN, 7/10/2003; Washington Post, 7/11/2003]
Claim 'Technically True' since British, Not US, Actually Made It - White House officials respond that the dossier issued by the British government contained the unequivocal assertion, “Iraq has… sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa” and that the officials had argued that as long as the statement was attributed to the British intelligence, it would be technically true. Similarly, ABC News reports: “A CIA official has an idea about how the Niger information got into the president’s speech. He said he is not sure the sentence was ever cleared by the agency, but said he heard speechwriters wanted it included, so they attributed it to the British.” The same version of events is told to the New York Times by a senior administration official, who claims, “The decision to mention uranium came from White House speechwriters, not from senior White House officials.” [ABC News, 6/12/2003; CBS News, 7/10/2003; New York Times, 7/14/2003; New York Times, 7/19/2003]
Decision Influenced by Office of Special Plans - But according to a CIA intelligence official and four members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who are investigating the issue, the decision to include the Africa-uranium claim was influenced by the people associated with the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans (see September 2002). [Information Clearing House, 7/16/2003]
Reactions - Rice says that the White House will not declassify the October 2002 NIE on Iraq (see October 1, 2002) to allow the public to judge for itself whether the administration exaggerated the Iraq-Niger claim; McClellan will write that Rice is currently “unaware of the fact that President Bush had already agreed to ‘selective declassification’ of parts of the NIE so that Vice President Cheney, or his top aide Scooter Libby, could use them to make the administration’s case with selected reporters” (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003). [McClellan, 2008, pp. 171-172] Two days later, Rice will join Bush in placing the blame for using the Iraq-Niger claim solely on the CIA (see July 13, 2003). McClellan will later write, “The squabbling would leave the self-protective CIA lying in wait to exact revenge against the White House.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 172]
Former Ambassador Considers Matter Settled - Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who recently wrote an op-ed for the New York Times revealing his failure to find any validity in the claims during his fact-finding trip to Niger (see July 6, 2003 and February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), is pleased at Tenet’s admission. According to his wife, CIA analyst Valerie Plame Wilson, “Joe felt his work was done; he had made his point.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 140]
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, George J. Tenet, Central Intelligence Agency, Joseph C. Wilson, Condoleezza Rice, Ari Fleischer, Bush administration (43), Karl C. Rove, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Murray Waas, Valerie Plame Wilson, ABC News, Stephen J. Hadley, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Scott McClellan, CBS News, Office of Special Plans
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
The same day that Vice President Dick Cheney tells his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, to disclose classified information from a CIA report to discredit war critic Joseph Wilson (see July 12, 2003), Libby and Cheney, along with Cheney’s press spokesperson Cathie Martin, fly to and from Norfolk, Virginia. During the flight, the three discuss how they can rebut Wilson’s criticisms of the administration’s war effort and discredit him. They consider passing information to reporters such as Time correspondent Matthew Cooper (see 12:45 p.m. July 11, 2003) and the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler (see July 12, 2003). [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/28/2005 ; Washington Post, 10/30/2005; National Journal, 6/14/2006] Cheney tells Libby to leak classified information from the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraqi WMD to reporters (see July 12, 2003). Cheney also tells him to steer reporters towards a recent statement by CIA Director George Tenet that asserts Wilson had been sent to Niger by CIA counterproliferation officers “on their own initiative” (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). [Raw Story, 10/1/2005; New York Times, 10/1/2005; National Journal, 6/14/2006] He also tells Libby to alert reporters to the morning’s attack on Wilson by White House press secretary Ari Fleischer (see 3:20 a.m. July 12, 2003). [Washington Post, 10/30/2005] And Cheney tells Libby to ask the CIA to back his assertion that the Office of the Vice President knew nothing of the Wilson mission and “didn’t get the report back,” referring to the CIA’s report on Wilson’s debriefing (see March 5, 2002). [Murray Waas, 12/23/2008] According to the FBI’s investigation, Cheney and Libby discuss whether to tell reporters that Wilson’s wife works for the CIA. [Washington Post, 2/21/2007] Libby will “out” Plame Wilson to Cooper later this afternoon (see 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003) as well as to New York Times reporter Judith Miller (see Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). Cheney may have given Libby direct orders to leak Plame Wilson’s identity to the press, according to classified transcripts of Libby’s later testimony to FBI investigators. According to Libby’s notes of the conversation, Cheney says that the CIA has told him that Wilson was sent to Niger “at our behest,” referring to the agency (see Shortly after February 13, 2002). Libby’s notes also state that Cheney told him Wilson’s “wife works in that division.” Plame Wilson is a senior official for the CIA’s Joint Task Force on Iraq (see April 2001 and After), a bureau within the agency’s counterproliferation division. [Murray Waas, 12/23/2008]
Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, George J. Tenet, Joseph C. Wilson, Ari Fleischer, Judith Miller, Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Matthew Cooper, Glenn Kessler, Office of the Vice President, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
The White House continues to back away from its admission of error concerning President Bush’s claim that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see July 8, 2003 and July 11, 2003). Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice appear on the Sunday morning talk shows to assert that the “16 words” in Bush’s January speech (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) were “technically correct” because British intelligence, not American intelligence, was the original source of the claim as worded by Bush. The British still stand by the claim, though they refuse to provide evidence. In the interviews, Rice tries to call the claim a “mistake” and simultaneously vouch for its “accuracy.” [Washington Post, 7/26/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 100] “I believe that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” she says. In particular, Fox News host Tony Snow gives Rice multiple opportunities to state that Iraq had a nuclear weapons program, and that the Iraq-Niger uranium claim is probably true. She says that the related claim of the Iraqis buying aluminum tubes for nuclear centrifuges is also supported by the CIA, even though Snow acknowledges that the tubes theory has been “knocked down.” [Fox News, 7/13/2003]
Invoking the British, Blaming Tenet - On CBS’s Face the Nation, Rice again blames CIA Director George Tenet for the error (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003), saying: “My only point is that, in retrospect, knowing that some of the documents underneath may have been—were, indeed, forgeries, and knowing that apparently there were concerns swirling around about this, had we known that at the time, we would not have put it in.… And had there been even a peep that the agency did not want that sentence in or that George Tenet did not want that sentence in, that the director of central intelligence did not want it in, it would have been gone.” [CBS News, 7/13/2003] On Fox News, Rice says: “[T]he statement that [Bush] made was indeed accurate. The British government did say that. Not only was the statement accurate, there were statements of this kind in the National Intelligence Estimate. And the British themselves stand by that statement to this very day, saying that they had sources other than sources that have now been called into question to back up that claim. We have no reason not to believe them.… We have every reason to believe that the British services are quite reliable.” [Fox News, 7/13/2003] On CNN, Rice calls the issue “enormously overblown.… This 16 words has been taken out of context. It’s been blown out of proportion.” She emphasizes that Bush’s claim came “from a whole host of sources.… The British, by the way, still stand by their report to this very day in its accuracy, because they tell us that they had sources that were not compromised in any way by later, in March or April, later reports that there were some forgeries.” She adds: “We’re talking about a sentence, a data point, not the president’s case about reconstitution of weapons of mass destruction, or of nuclear weapons in Iraq.… We’re talking about a single sentence, the consequence of which was not to send America to war. The consequence of which was to state in the State of the Union something that, while accurate, did not meet the standard that we use for the president.” [CNN, 7/13/2003]
Denies Involvement in Wilson Mission - Rice also denies that anyone at the White House had any involvement in sending former ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger to investigate the uranium claims (see July 6, 2003). CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer says of the Wilson mission, “Supposedly, it came at the request of the vice president.” Rice replies: “No, this is simply not true, and this is something that’s been perpetuated that we simply have to straighten out. The vice president did not ask that Joe Wilson go to Niger. The vice president did not know. I don’t think he knew who Joe Wilson was, and he certainly didn’t know that he was going. The first that I heard of Joe Wilson mission was when I was doing a Sunday talk show and heard about it (see June 8, 2003 and June 8, 2003)… [T]he Wilson trip was not sent by anyone at a high level. It wasn’t briefed to anyone at high level. And it appears to have been inconclusive in what it found.” Rice is following the White House strategy of denying Vice President Dick Cheney’s involvement in the Wilson mission (see July 6, 2003, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, and July 8, 2003). [CNN, 7/13/2003]
Entity Tags: Wolf Blitzer, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Tony Snow, Saddam Hussein, George W. Bush, Joseph C. Wilson, Donald Rumsfeld, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), George J. Tenet, Condoleezza Rice
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Robert Novak. [Source: MediaBistro (.com)]Conservative columnist Robert Novak, after being told by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and White House political guru Karl Rove that Valerie Plame Wilson is a CIA officer (see July 8, 2003), writes a syndicated op-ed column that publicly names her as a CIA officer. The column is an attempt to defend the administration from charges that it deliberately cited forged documents as “evidence” that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003). It is also an attempt to discredit Joseph Wilson, Plame Wilson’s husband, who had gone to Niger at the behest of the CIA to find out whether the Iraq-Niger story was true (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). Novak characterizes Wilson’s findings—that an Iraqi deal for Nigerien uranium was highly unlikely—as “less than definitive,” and writes that neither CIA Director George Tenet nor President Bush were aware of Wilson’s report before the president’s 2003 State of the Union address where he stated that Iraq had indeed tried to purchase uranium from Niger (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). Novak writes: “Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials [Armitage and Rove, though Novak does not name them] told me that Wilson’s wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report. The CIA says its counterproliferation officials selected Wilson and asked his wife to contact him. ‘I will not answer any question about my wife,’ Wilson told me.” Wilson’s July 6 op-ed challenging the administration’s claims (see July 6, 2003) “ignite[d] the firestorm,” Novak writes. [Town Hall (.com), 7/14/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 312-313] Novak also uses the intelligence term “agency operative,” identifying her as a covert agent and indicating that he is aware of her covert status. Later, though, Novak will claim that he came up with the identifying phrase independently, and did not know of her covert status. [American Prospect, 7/19/2005]
Asked Not to Print Plame Wilson's Name - Novak will later acknowledge being asked by a CIA official not to print Plame Wilson’s name “for security reasons.” Intelligence officials will say they thought Novak understood there were larger reasons than Plame Wilson’s personal security not to publish her name. Novak will say that he did not consider the request strong enough to follow (see September 27, 2003 and October 1, 2003). [Washington Post, 9/28/2003] He will later reveal the CIA official as being agency spokesman Bill Harlow, who asked him not to reveal Plame’s identity because while “she probably never again will be given a foreign assignment… exposure of her agency identity might cause ‘difficulties’ if she travels abroad.” In 2008, current White House press secretary Scott McClellan will write: “This struck Novak as an inadequate reason to withhold relevant information from the public. Novak defended his actions by asserting that Harlow had not suggested that Plame or anybody else would be endangered, and that he learned Plame’s name (though not her undercover identity) from her husband’s entry in the well-known reference book Who’s Who in America.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 173-174] McClellan will note, “Whether war, smear job, or PR offensive gone haywire, the CIA took the leak of Plame’s name very seriously.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 174]
Plame Wilson Stricken - According to Wilson’s book The Politics of Truth, his wife’s first reaction is disbelief at Novak’s casual destruction of her CIA career. “Twenty years of loyal service down the drain, and for what?” she asks. She then makes a checklist to begin assessing and controlling the damage done to her work. She is even more appalled after totalling up the damage. Not only are the lives of herself and her family now endangered, but so are those of the people with whom she has worked for 20 years (see July 14, 2003). [New York Times, 5/12/2004] In 2005, Joseph Wilson will tell a reporter: “[Y]ou can assume that even if 150 people read the Novak article when it appeared, 148 of them would have been the heads of intelligence sections at embassies here in Washington and by noon that day they would have faxing her name or telexing her name back to their home offices and running checks on her: whether she had ever been in the country, who she may have been in contact with, etc.” [Raw Story, 7/13/2005]
Intimidation of Other Whistle-Blowers? - In 2007, author Craig Unger will write: “The implication from the administration was that the CIA’s selection of Wilson was somehow twisted because his wife was at the CIA. But, more importantly, the administration had put out a message to any and all potential whistle-blowers: if you dare speak out, we will strike back. To that end, the cover of Valerie Plame Wilson, a CIA operative specializing in WMD, had been blown by a White House that was supposedly orchestrating a worldwide war against terror.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 312-313]
Outing about Iraq, Not Niger, Author Says - In 2006, author and media critic Frank Rich will write: “The leak case was about Iraq, not Niger. The political stakes were high only because the scandal was about the unmasking of an ill-conceived war, not the unmasking of a CIA operative who posed for Vanity Fair. The real victims were the American people, not the Wilsons. The real culprits—the big enchilada, in John Ehrlichman’s Nixon White House lingo—were not the leakers but those who provoked a war in Iraq for their own motives and in so doing diverted finite resources, human and otherwise, from the fight against those who did attack America on 9/11, and had since regrouped to deadly effect.… Without Iraq, there never would have been a smear campaign against an obscure diplomat or the bungled cover-up [that followed]. While the Bush White House’s dirty tricks, like [former President] Nixon’s, were prompted in part by a ruthless desire to crush the political competition at any cost, this administration had upped the ante by playing dirty tricks with war.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 184]
Elevating Profile of Controversy - In 2008, McClellan will write, “By revealing Plame’s status, Novak inadvertently elevated the Niger controversy into a full-blown scandal.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 173]
Entity Tags: Scott McClellan, Robert Novak, Valerie Plame Wilson, Richard Armitage, George J. Tenet, Joseph C. Wilson, Bill Harlow, Bush administration (43), Karl C. Rove, Central Intelligence Agency, Frank Rich, George W. Bush, Craig Unger
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
An organization called Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) writes an open letter to President Bush entitled “Intelligence Unglued,” where they warn that unless Bush takes immediate action, the US intelligence community “will fall apart—with grave consequences for the nation.” They say that it is clear his National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, and not CIA Director George Tenet, was responsible for the now-infamous “sixteen words” in his January State of the Union address (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). “But the disingenuousness persists,” they write. “Surely Dr. Rice cannot persist in her insistence that she learned only on June 8, 2003, about former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s mission to Niger in February 2002, when he determined that the Iraq-Niger report was a con-job” (see July 6, 2003). “Rice’s denials are reminiscent of her claim in spring 2002 that there was no reporting suggesting that terrorists were planning to hijack planes and slam them into buildings (see May 16, 2002). In September, the joint Congressional committee on 9/11 came up with a dozen such reports” (see December 24, 1994 and January 6, 1995). It is not only Rice’s credibility that has suffered, they write, but Secretary of State Colin Powell’s as well, “as continued non-discoveries of weapons in Iraq heap doubt on his confident assertions to the UN” (see February 5, 2003). Ultimately, they write, it is Bush’s credibility at stake much more than that of his advisers and cabinet members. They lay the blame for the “disingenuousness” from the various members of the administration at the feet of Vice President Dick Cheney: it was Cheney’s office who sent Wilson to Niger (see (February 13, 2002)), it was Cheney who told the Veterans of Foreign Wars that Saddam Hussein was about to produce a nuclear weapon (see August 26, 2002), all with intelligence he and his staff knew to be either unreliable or outright forgeries—a “deep insult to the integrity of the intelligence process,” they write—it was Cheney and his staff who pressured CIA analysts to produce “cherry-picked” intelligence supporting their desire for war, it was Cheney and his staff who “cooked” the prewar National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002). Bad enough that false intelligence was used to help craft Bush’s State of the Union address, they write, but that “pales in significance in comparison with how it was used to deceive Congress into voting on October 11 to authorize you to make war on Iraq” (see October 10, 2002). VIPS recommends three things for Bush to implement:
Bring an immediate end to White House attempts to exculpate Cheney from what they write is his obvious guilt and ask for his resignation: “His role has been so transparent that such attempts will only erode further your own credibility. Equally pernicious, from our perspective, is the likelihood that intelligence analysts will conclude that the way to success is to acquiesce in the cooking of their judgments, since those above them will not be held accountable. We strongly recommend that you ask for Cheney’s immediate resignation.”
Appoint General Brent Scowcroft, the chair of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, to head “an independent investigation into the use/abuse of intelligence on Iraq.”
Bring UN inspectors back into Iraq. “This would go a long way toward refurbishing your credibility. Equally important, it would help sort out the lessons learned for the intelligence community and be an invaluable help to an investigation of the kind we have suggested you direct Gen. Scowcroft to lead.” [Salon, 7/16/2003]
The Wall Street Journal prints an editorial based on, in its words, “[w]hat the National Intelligence Estimate [NIE—see October 1, 2002] said about Iraq’s hunt for uranium.” The Journal does not mention that the editorial is based on leaked information from the Office of the Vice President via the Defense Department (see July 14 or 15, 2003); in fact, it denies receiving the information from the White House entirely. (It is possible that the Journal editors were not aware that the leaked information originally came from Vice President Dick Cheney’s office.) The Journal says “[w]e’re reliably told” that the NIE largely supports the Iraq-Niger uranium claims recently repudiated by the Bush administration (see July 8, 2003 and July 11, 2003). According to the material leaked to the Journal, the NIE indicates that before the March 2003 invasion, Iraq was close to producing nuclear weapons, and the regime of Saddam Hussein was actively seeking yellowcake uranium, such as that produced by Niger, to shorten the time it would take to bring actual nuclear devices online. The Journal concludes that the Iraq-Niger claims were “supposedly discredited,” but are actually viable, and President Bush was “entirely accurate” in making the Iraq-Niger uranium claim in the January 2003 State of the Union address (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). In contrast, CIA Director George Tenet’s recent admission that the claim was a “mistake” was, the Journal says, “more tortured than warranted by the assertions in the NIE.” [Wall Street Journal, 7/17/2003] The day after the editorial is published, the White House releases a heavily redacted version of the NIE to the public (see July 18, 2003).
Time magazine, in an article by Matthew Cooper and two other reporters, asks the question, “Has the Bush administration declared war on a former ambassador who conducted a fact-finding mission to probe possible Iraqi interest in African uranium?” Its answer: “Perhaps.” The ambassador is Joseph Wilson, who flew to Africa in February 2002 to find the truth behind the charges that Iraq had secretly attempted to purchase uranium from Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Wilson found no evidence to back up those claims (see March 4-5, 2002), and recently wrote a New York Times op-ed blasting the administration’s use of those claims to justify invading Iraq (see July 6, 2003).
White House Says Wilson's Report Bolstered Claims - Cooper reports that since Wilson’s op-ed was published, “administration officials have taken public and private whacks at Wilson, charging that his 2002 report, made at the behest of US intelligence, was faulty and that his mission was a scheme cooked up by mid-level operatives.” CIA Director George Tenet and White House press secretary Ari Fleischer have both criticized Wilson and disputed his conclusion, even stating that his findings in Niger actually strengthened the administration’s claims of an Iraq-Niger connection, saying that he reported a meeting with a former Nigerien government official who discussed being approached by an Iraqi official in June 1999 who wanted to expand commercial relations between the two countries. According to government officials, Wilson interpreted that overture as an attempt to discuss uranium sales. Fleischer said: “This is in Wilson’s report back to the CIA. Wilson’s own report, the very man who was on television saying Niger denies it… reports himself that officials in Niger said that Iraq was seeking to contact officials in Niger about sales” (see February 1999). Wilson disputes the characterization, saying that he never interpreted the discussion in the way the White House claims he did: “That then translates into an Iraqi effort to import a significant quantity of uranium as the president alleged? These guys really need to get serious.”
Wilson and the Forged Documents - Tenet has blasted Wilson for never discussing the forged Iraq-Niger documents (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001); for his part, Wilson said that he did not discuss the documents because he never saw them. And Fleischer says that Wilson erred in taking Nigerien officials at their word: “He spent eight days in Niger and he concluded that Niger denied the allegation. Well, typically nations don’t admit to going around nuclear nonproliferation.”
Claims that Wilson Sent at Behest of Wife - Other unnamed White House officials have insinuated that Wilson was sent to Niger at the behest of his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson (see February 13, 2002, February 13, 2002, Shortly after February 13, 2002, February 20, 2002, and February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), whom Cooper identifies as “a CIA official who monitors the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction” (see (June 12, 2003)). Cooper learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from White House political adviser Karl Rove (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), though he does not cite Rove as his source in his article. Cooper writes, “These officials have suggested that she was involved in her husband’s being dispatched [to] Niger” (see February 19, 2002). Wilson, according to Cooper, angrily disputes the contention that his wife sent him to Niger, saying: “That is bullsh_t. That is absolutely not the case. I met with between six and eight analysts and operators from CIA and elsewhere [before the February 2002 trip]. None of the people in that meeting did I know, and they took the decision to send me. This is a smear job.”
Wilson Sent Due to Cheney's Pressure? - A source whom Cooper identifies as “close to the matter” confirms that Wilson was sent to Niger after Vice President Dick Cheney pressured the CIA to find out about the Iraq-Niger allegations (see Shortly after February 12, 2002), though both Tenet and Cheney’s office deny doing so (see (February 13, 2002)). Cooper quotes Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, as saying: “The vice president heard about the possibility of Iraq trying to acquire uranium from Niger in February 2002. As part of his regular intelligence briefing, the vice president asked a question about the implication of the report. During the course of a year, the vice president asked many such questions and the agency responded within a day or two saying that they had reporting suggesting the possibility of such a transaction. But the agency noted that the reporting lacked detail. The agency pointed out that Iraq already had 500 tons of uranium, portions of which came from Niger, according to the International Atomic Energy Administration (IAEA—see 1979-1982). The vice president was unaware of the trip by Ambassador Wilson and didn’t know about it until this year when it became public in the last month or so.” Other administration officials, including National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, claim they, too, heard nothing of Wilson’s report until recently. [Time, 7/17/2003]
Cooper to Testify about Sources - Cooper will eventually testify about his contacts with Rove and Libby during the investigation of the Plame Wilson identity leak (see May 21, 2004, August 24, 2004, July 6, 2005, and July 13, 2005).
Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Joseph C. Wilson, George J. Tenet, Bush administration (43), Ari Fleischer, Karl C. Rove, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Matthew Cooper, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Time magazine
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
White House chief of staff Andrew Card (see (July 11, 2003)) holds a late-night meeting of what press secretary Scott McClellan will call “select senior advisers”—Card, McClellan, communications director Dan Bartlett, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Rice’s deputy Stephen Hadley, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, and Gonzales’s subordinate Harriet Miers. One topic of discussion is the recent report that the White House had scrubbed a claim of an Iraq-Niger uranium buy from a speech by President Bush in October 2002 (see October 5, 2002 and October 6, 2002), months before Bush’s State of the Union address where he did make such a claim (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). The media reports that Hadley was warned to delete the claim by CIA Director George Tenet. Hadley confirms receiving the warning, and tells the assemblage that, three months later, he had forgotten Tenet’s warning. “Signing off on these facts is my responsibility,” he says. “And in this case, I blew it. I think the only solution is for me to resign.” Hadley is distressed that Tenet had, in McClellan’s words, “been made to look like the scapegoat, since he believed it was nobody’s fault but his own.” McClellan will call Hadley’s offer to resign “selfless .. [his attempt to] clear the name of someone he felt had taken an unfair degree of blame, and to accept his own responsibility for an honest mistake whose consequences were now playing out before a worldwide audience.” The others quickly reject Hadley’s proffered resignation, and decide, as McClellan will recall, “that an approach of openness, forthrightness, and honesty was now essential.” Bartlett and Hadley are delegated to “inform the world as to what had happened and why,” and Hadley will admit to having forgotten his conversation with Tenet” (see October 6, 2002). [McClellan, 2008, pp. 177-178]
Representative Porter Goss and Senator Bob Graham co-chair the Congressional Inquiry. [Source: Ken Lambert/ Associated Press]The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry’s final report comes out. [US Congress, 7/24/2003 ; US Congress, 7/24/2003] Officially, the report was written by the 37 members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, but in practice, co-chairmen Bob Graham (D-FL) and Porter Goss (R-FL) exercised “near total control over the panel, forbidding the inquiry’s staff to speak to other lawmakers.” [St. Petersburg Times, 9/29/2002] Both Republican and Democrats in the panel complained how the two co-chairmen withheld information and controlled the process. [Palm Beach Post, 9/21/2002] The report was finished in December 2002 and some findings were released then, but the next seven months were spent in negotiation with the Bush administration over what material had to remain censored. The Inquiry had a very limited mandate, focusing just on the handling of intelligence before 9/11. It also completely ignores or censors out all mentions of intelligence from foreign governments. Thomas Kean, the chairman of 9/11 Commission says the Inquiry’s mandate covered only “one-seventh or one-eighth” of what his newer investigation will hopefully cover. [Washington Post, 7/27/2003] The report blames virtually every government agency for failures:
Newsweek’s main conclusion is: “The investigation turned up no damning single piece of evidence that would have led agents directly to the impending attacks. Still, the report makes it chillingly clear that law-enforcement and intelligence agencies might very well have uncovered the plot had it not been for blown signals, sheer bungling—and a general failure to understand the nature of the threat.” [Newsweek, 7/28/2003]
According to the New York Times, the report also concludes, “the FBI and CIA had known for years that al-Qaeda sought to strike inside the United States, but focused their attention on the possibility of attacks overseas.” [New York Times, 7/26/2003]
CIA Director George Tenet was “either unwilling or unable to marshal the full range of Intelligence Community resources necessary to combat the growing threat.” [Washington Post, 7/25/2003]
US military leaders were “reluctant to use… assets to conduct offensive counterterrorism efforts in Afghanistan” or to “support or participate in CIA operations directed against al-Qaeda.” [Washington Post, 7/25/2003]
“There was no coordinated… strategy to track terrorist funding and close down their financial support networks” and the Treasury Department even showed “reluctance” to do so. [Washington Post, 7/25/2003]
According to the Washington Post, the NSA took “an overly cautious approach to collecting intelligence in the United States and offered ‘insufficient collaboration’ with the FBI’s efforts.” [Washington Post, 7/25/2003] Many sections remain censored, especially an entire chapter detailing possible Saudi support for the 9/11 attackers. The Bush administration insisted on censoring even information that was already in the public domain. [Newsweek, 5/25/2003] The Inquiry attempted to determine “to what extent the president received threat-specific warnings” but received very little information. There was a focus on learning what was in Bush’s briefing on August 6, 2001 (see August 6, 2001), but the White House refused to release this information, citing “executive privilege.” [Washington Post, 7/25/2003; Newsday, 8/7/2003]
Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, 9/11 Commission, Saudi Arabia, National Security Agency, Porter J. Goss, Federal Bureau of Investigation, George J. Tenet, Thomas Kean, US Department of the Treasury
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry’s final report concludes that at least six 9/11 hijackers received “substantial assistance” from associates in the US, though it’s “not known to what extent any of these contacts in the United States were aware of the plot.” These hijackers came into contact with at least 14 people who were investigated by the FBI before 9/11, and four of those investigations were active while the hijackers were present. But in June 2002, FBI Director Mueller testified: “While here, the hijackers effectively operated without suspicion, triggering nothing that would have alerted law enforcement and doing nothing that exposed them to domestic coverage. As far as we know, they contacted no known terrorist sympathizers in the United States” (see June 18, 2002). CIA Director Tenet made similar comments at the same time, and another FBI official stated, “[T]here were no contacts with anybody we were looking at inside the United States.” These comments are untrue, because one FBI document from November 2001 uncovered by the Inquiry concludes that the six lead hijackers “maintained a web of contacts both in the United States and abroad. These associates, ranging in degrees of closeness, include friends and associates from universities and flight schools, former roommates, people they knew through mosques and religious activities, and employment contacts. Other contacts provided legal, logistical, or financial assistance, facilitated US entry and flight school enrollment, or were known from [al-Qaeda]-related activities or training.” [US Congress, 7/24/2003 ] The declassified sections of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry’s final report show the hijackers have contact with:
Mamoun Darkazanli, investigated several times starting in 1993 (see 1993; Late 1998); the CIA makes repeated efforts to turn him into an informer (see December 1999).
Mohammed Haydar Zammar, investigated by Germany since at least 1997 (see 1996), the Germans periodically inform the CIA what they learn.
Osama Basnan, US intelligence is informed of his connections to Islamic militants several times in early 1990s but fails to investigate (see April 1998).
Omar al-Bayoumi, investigated in San Diego from 1998-1999 (see September 1998-July 1999).
Anwar al-Awlaki, investigated in San Diego from 1999-2000 (see June 1999-March 2000).
Osama “Sam” Mustafa, owner of a San Diego gas station, and investigated beginning in 1991 (see Autumn 2000).
Ed Salamah, manager of the same gas station, and an uncooperative witness in 2000 (see Autumn 2000).
An unnamed friend of Hani Hanjour, whom the FBI tries to investigate in 2001.
An unnamed associate of Marwan Alshehhi, investigated beginning in 1999.
Hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, who had contact with Basnan, al-Bayoumi, al-Awlaki, Mustafa, and Salamah, “maintained a number of other contacts in the local Islamic community during their time in San Diego, some of whom were also known to the FBI through counterterrorist inquiries and investigations,” but details of these individuals and possible others are still classified. [US Congress, 7/24/2003 ] None of the above people have been arrested or even publicly charged with any crime associated with terrorism, although Zammar is in prison in Syria.
Entity Tags: Robert S. Mueller III, Osama Basnan, Osama (“Sam”) Mustafa, Nawaf Alhazmi, Omar al-Bayoumi, Mamoun Darkazanli, Mohammed Haydar Zammar, Ed Salamah, Central Intelligence Agency, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Anwar al-Awlaki, George J. Tenet, Khalid Almihdhar, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
In a briefing to the president and other top officials, Kay says that he has found no evidence of weapons of mass destruction, and says the disputed trailers (see April 19, 2003 and May 9, 2003) were probably not mobile biological factories, as the CIA and White House had claimed (see May 28, 2003 and May 29, 2003). Present at the briefing are Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, George Tenet, Condoleezza Rice, Andrew Card, and other White House aides. Kay’s briefing provokes little response from his audience. Describing the president’s reaction, Kay later says: “I’m not sure I’ve spoken to anyone at that level who seemed less inquisitive. He was interested but not pressing any questions. .. I cannot stress too much that the president was the one in the room who was the least unhappy and the least disappointed about the lack of WMDs. I came out of the Oval Office uncertain as to how to read the president. Here was an individual who was oblivious to the problems created by the failure to find WMDs. Or was this an individual who was completely at peace with himself on the decision to go to war, who didn’t question that, and who was totally focused on the here and now of what was to come?” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 310]
Condoleezza Rice being interviewed by Gwen Ifill. [Source: PBS]After CIA Director George Tenet admits that President Bush should never have made the claim that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from Niger (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003), and Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley admits the White House also erred in allowing the claim (see July 22, 2003), Hadley’s boss, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, grudgingly admits to her own responsibility in allowing the claim to be made. She tells PBS reporter Gwen Ifill: “What we learned later, and I did not know at the time, and certainly did not know until just before Steve Hadley went out to say what he said last week, was that the director [Tenet] had also sent over to the White House a set of clearance comments that explained why he wanted this out of the speech (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). I either didn’t see the memo, or I don’t remember seeing the memo.” When Ifill asks if she feels any “personal failure or responsibility” over allowing the false claim, Rice responds: “Well, I certainly feel personal responsibility for this entire episode. The president of the United States has every right to believe that what he is saying in his speeches is of [sic] the highest confidence of his staff.” On the same day, Rice continues to insist that Iraq had a nuclear weapons program (see July 30, 2003, July 30, 2003, and July 31, 2003). [Wilson, 2004, pp. 352-353]
Joseph Wilson, the former US ambassador to Gabon who has played a key part in discrediting the Bush administration’s attempts to claim that Iraq tried to purchase weapons-grade uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003)), discusses the issue with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. Wilson affirms that he has always believed Iraq had chemical and biological WMD, but not enough to warrant invading it, and adds that he “disagreed with… the other agendas that were in play that led us to invade, conquer, and now occupy Iraq.” He notes that he accepts the assertions that neither Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, nor CIA Director George Tenet were aware of his 2002 mission to Niger at the time he made the trip (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), but adds that he believes Cheney and his staffers, particularly his chief of staff Lewis Libby, “asked essentially that… the agency follow up on the report. So it was a question that went to the CIA briefer from the Office of the Vice President (see (February 13, 2002)). The CIA, at the operational level, made a determination that the best way to answer this serious question was to send somebody out there who knew something about both the uranium business and those Niger officials that were in office at the time these reported documents were executed.” Wilson refuses to comment on his wife Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003), particularly her CIA status, but does say that the attacks on both himself and his wife were “clearly designed to keep others from stepping forward. If you recall, there were any number of analysts who were quoted anonymously as saying that the vice president had seemed to pressure them in his many trips out to the CIA (see 2002-Early 2003). I don’t know if that’s true or not, but you can be sure that a GS-14 or 15 with a couple of kids in college, when he sees the allegations that came from senior administration officials about my family are in the public domain, you can be sure that he’s going to be worried about what might happen if he were to step forward.” The people who leaked the information about his wife, Wilson continues, “are libel or vulnerable to investigation under a 1982 law dealing with the identification of American agents.” He is referring to the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (see July 16, 2003). [CNN, 8/3/2003]
Representatives Porter Goss (R-FL) and Jane Harman (D-CA) of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence send a letter to CIA Director George Tenet, criticizing his agency for providing poor intelligence on Iraq during the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq. They were prompted to write the letter after spending “four months combing through 19 volumes of classified material” and discovering how poorly the evidence supported the White House’s assertions about Iraq. Bush administration officials downplay the charges. In the letter, they say the CIA provided intelligence based on “circumstantial,” “fragmentary,” and ambiguous evidence. “Thus far, it appears that these judgments were based on too many uncertainties,” they note in their letter. [Washington Post, 9/28/2003; Reuters, 9/29/2003]
Outdated, 'Piecemeal' Intelligence Used - They also accuse the CIA of using intelligence that was outdated, including assessments dating back to 1998 when the UN was forced to leave Iraq ahead of US bombing. Evidence that was recent often consisted of “piecemeal” intelligence. “Intelligence assessments that Iraq continued to pursue chemical and biological weapons… were long-standing judgments,” which “remained constant and static over the past ten years,” they complain in the letter. [Washington Post, 9/28/2003; Reuters, 9/29/2003]
'Absence of Proof' - Another criticism they have is that the intelligence agency sometimes drew conclusions based on faulty logic. “The absence of proof that chemical and biological weapons and their related development programs had been destroyed was considered proof that they continued to exist,” they say. [Washington Post, 9/28/2003; Reuters, 9/29/2003]
Dubious Sources - Lastly, they complain that the CIA uncritically accepted claims from dubious sources. In the agency’s assessments, it failed to clarify which reports “were from sources that were credible and which were from sources that would otherwise be dismissed in the absence of any other corroborating intelligence.” [Washington Post, 9/28/2003]
No 'Definitive' Intelligence - Significantly, the authors assert, “We have not found any information in the assessments that are still classified that was any more definitive.” [Washington Post, 9/28/2003]
White House Ignores Criticism - The White House dismisses the criticisms.
The Justice Department authorizes the FBI to open a criminal investigation into leaks of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert identity by sources within the Bush administration (see July 14, 2003, July 30, 2003, and September 16, 2003). [MSNBC, 2/21/2007; Washington Post, 7/3/2007] The investigation is headed by the Justice Department’s counterespionage chief, John Dion. [Vanity Fair, 1/2004]
Questions of Impartiality - Dion is a veteran career prosecutor who has headed the counterespionage section since 2002. He will rely on a team of a half-dozen investigators, many of whom have extensive experience in investigating leaks. However, some administration critics are skeptical of Dion’s ability to run an impartial investigation: he will report to the Justice Department’s Robert McCallum, who is an old friend and Yale classmate of President Bush. Both Bush and McCallum were members of the secret Skull & Bones Society at Yale. Others believe the investigation will be non-partisan. “I believe that the career lawyers in Justice—the people who preceded [Attorney General] John Ashcroft and who will be there after he leaves—will do a nonpolitical investigation, an honest investigation,” says legal ethics specialist Stephen Gillers. “Ashcroft’s sole job is to stay out of it.” [Associated Press, 10/2/2003; Los Angeles Times, 10/2/2003]
CIA Director Filed Request - The request for an investigation (see September 16, 2003) was filed by CIA Director George Tenet; a CIA official says Tenet “doesn’t like leaks.” White House press secretary Scott McClellan says he knows of no leaks about Wilson’s wife: “That is not the way this White House operates, and no one would be authorized to do such a thing. I don’t have any information beyond an anonymous source in a media report to suggest there is anything to this. If someone has information of this nature, then he or she should report it to the Department of Justice.” McClellan calls Joseph Wilson’s charges that deputy White House chief of staff Karl Rove leaked his wife’s name (see August 21, 2003) “a ridiculous suggestion” that is “simply not true.” A White House official says that two administration sources (later revealed to be Rove and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage—see June 13, 2003, July 8, 2003, and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003) leaked Plame Wilson’s name to six separate journalists (see Before July 14, 2003). The White House is notoriously intolerant of leaks, and pursues real and supposed leakers with vigor. Wilson says that if the White House did indeed leak his wife’s name, then the leak was part of what he calls “a deliberate attempt on the part of the White House to intimidate others and make them think twice about coming forward.” [Washington Post, 9/28/2003]
White House, Democrats Respond - National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice says that the White House is willing to have the Justice Department investigate the charges. “I know nothing of any such White House effort to reveal any of this, and it certainly would not be the way that the president would expect his White House to operate,” she tells Fox News. “My understanding is that in matters like this, a question like this is referred to the Justice Department for appropriate action and that’s what is going to be done.” However, some Democrats want more. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says the Justice Department should appoint a special counsel to investigate the charges, since the department has an inherent conflict of interest: “I don’t see how it would be possible for the Justice Department to investigate whether a top administration official broke the law and endangered the life of this agent (see July 21, 2003). Even if the department were to do a thorough and comprehensive investigation, the appearance of a conflict could well mar its conclusions.… Leaking the name of a CIA agent is tantamount to putting a gun to that agent’s head. It compromises her safety and the safety of her loved ones, not to mention those in her network of intelligence assets. On top of that, it poses a serious threat to the national security of this nation.” Representative Richard Gephardt (D-MO) says the White House should find out who is responsible for the leak, and Congress should investigate the matter as well. [Washington Post, 9/28/2003; Fox News, 9/29/2003]
FBI Will Acknowledge Investigation - The FBI officially acknowledges the investigation on September 30 (see September 30, 2003), and informs the White House of the investigation. [New York Times, 2006]
Entity Tags: Richard Gephardt, Karl C. Rove, Richard Armitage, Stephen Gillers, US Department of Justice, Joseph C. Wilson, Valerie Plame Wilson, Scott McClellan, John Dion, Robert McCallum, George W. Bush, Charles Schumer, Condoleezza Rice, Bush administration (43), George J. Tenet, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John Ashcroft
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales asks the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) to provide an opinion on protected persons in Iraq and more specifically on the status of the detained Hiwa Abdul Rahman Rashul, an Iraqi prisoner being held in Afghanistan. In a one-page memo, Jack L. Goldsmith, head of the OLC, rules that Rashul is a “protected person” with rights under the Fourth Geneva Convention and therefore has to be returned to Iraq. Goldsmith also decides that non-Iraqis, who came to Iraq after the invasion, do not qualify for protection under the Geneva Conventions. [Washington Post, 10/24/2004]
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) asks CIA Director George Tenet to conduct a damage assessment for the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak. [CounterPunch, 11/9/2005] According to anonymous intelligence officials, the CIA has already performed an “aggressive,” in-house assessment of the damage done by her exposure, and found the damage to have been “severe” (see Before September 16, 2003). It is unclear if Daschle knows about the CIA assessment.
Jim Marcinkowski (left) and Larry Johnson. [Source: CNN]Former CIA case officer Jim Marcinkowski, a former classmate of outed CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson (see Fall 1985), is outraged by the revelation of Plame Wilson’s CIA status and the allegations that the leak of her identity is not a crime (see July 14, 2003 and September 29, 2003). Another former classmate of Plame Wilson’s, former CIA agent Larry Johnson, says: “[W]hat I keep seeing in the newspaper is the spin and leak that this is no big deal. And that’s got to stop.… The problem with this is a lot of the damage that has occurred is not going to be seen. It can’t be photographed. We can’t bring the bodies out because in some cases it’s going to involve protecting sources and methods. And it’s important to keep this before the American people. This was a betrayal of national security.” Marcinkowski concurs: “This is an unprecedented act. This has never been done by the United States government before. The exposure of an undercover intelligence officer by the US government is unprecedented. It’s not the usual leak from Washington. The leak a week scenario is not at play here. This is a very, very serious event.” Plame Wilson was an NOC, or nonofficial cover officer (see Fall 1992 - 1996). “It was the most dangerous assignment you could take. It takes a special sort of person,” says Marcinkowski, who is now a prosecutor in Michigan. Former CIA official Kenneth Pollack agrees, describing an NOC’s identity as the “holiest of holies.” Many believe that the outrage among the rank and file of CIA agents and officials at Plame Wilson’s outing was so strong that CIA Director George Tenet had little choice but to recommend that the Justice Department investigate the leak (see September 16, 2003). Marcinkowski says: “In this particular case, it was so far over the line, I think myself and a lot of us were truly outraged that the government would do this.… I mean, we kept our mouths closed since 1985, when we joined.” Johnson, noting that both he and Marcinkowski are registered Republicans, says: “As a Republican, I think we need to be consistent on this. It doesn’t matter who did it, it didn’t matter which party was involved. This isn’t about partisan politics. This is about protecting national security and national security assets and in this case there has been a betrayal, not only of the CIA officers there, but really a betrayal of those of us who have kept the secrets over the years on this point.” [Guardian, 10/22/2003; CNN, 10/24/2003]
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, at the request of CIA Director George Tenet, orders military officials in Iraq to keep an unnamed high-value detainee being held at Camp Cropper off the records. The order is passed down to Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, then to Gen. John P. Abizaid, the commander of American forces in the Middle East, and finally to Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the ground commander in Iraq. “At each stage, lawyers reviewed the request and their bosses approved it,” the New York Times will report. “This prisoner and other ‘ghost detainees’ were hidden largely to prevent the International Committee of the Red Cross from monitoring their treatment, and to avoid disclosing their location to an enemy,” the newspaper will report, citing top officials. The prisoner—in custody since July 2003—is suspected of being a senior officer of Ansar al-Islam, an Islamic group with ties to al-Qaeda. Shortly after being captured by US forces, he was deemed an “enemy combatant” and thus denied protection under the Geneva conventions. Up until this point, the prisoner has only been interrogated once. As a result of being kept off the books, the prison system looses track of the detainee who will spend the next seven months in custody. “Once he was placed in military custody, people lost track of him,” a senior intelligence official will tell the New York Times. “The normal review processes that would keep track of him didn’t.” [New York Times, 6/17/2004; Reuters, 6/17/2004; Fox News, 6/17/2004]
After the 9/11 Commission becomes unhappy with the information it is getting from detainees in US custody who may know something about the 9/11 plot (see Summer 2003), it asks CIA Director George Tenet to let it either talk to the detainees itself, or at least view interrogations through a one-way mirror. [Kean and Hamilton, 2006, pp. 119-126]
Reasoning - Dieter Snell, the head of the Commission’s plot team and a former prosecutor, is extremely keen that the detainees, such as Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, be interviewed. According to author Philip Shenon, he is aware that “testimony from key witnesses like the al-Qaeda detainees would have value only if they were questioned in person, with investigators given the chance to test their credibility with follow-up questions. The face-to-face interrogations would be especially important in situations in which the al-Qaeda members were giving conflicting testimony.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 182]
Request Denied - However, Tenet denies the request because he does not want the Commission to know where the detainees are, and he claims questioning by a Commission staffer could apparently damage the “relationship” between interrogator and detainee and “upset the flow of questioning.” In addition, Tenet is worried that if the Commission has access to the detainees, Zacarias Moussaoui might also be able to compel them to testify in court, so he rejects compromise proposals.
Pushback - The Commission decides “to push the issue” and drafts a letter outlining why they should have direct access. Although the draft is seen by Tenet and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, it is never officially sent. At a White House meeting attended by Rumsfeld and commissioners Lee Hamilton and Fred Fielding, Tenet and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales repeat the arguments Tenet made previously, but Tenet says the Commission can submit written questions, and a CIA “project manager” will try to get them answered. After the administration “plead[s]” with the Commission not to use public pressure to get access to detainees, the Commission decides to drop the matter.
Relatives and Media Blamed - Hamilton and Commission Chairman Thomas Kean will later partially blame the victims’ relatives and media for this failure: “Interestingly, there was no pressure from some of the usual sources for us to push for access. For instance, the 9/11 families never pressed us to seek access to detainees, and the media was never engaged on this issue.” Kean and Hamilton will later say that the “project manager” arrangement works “to a degree.”
Report Includes Disclaimer - However, a disclaimer will be inserted into the 9/11 Commission Report in the first of two chapters that draw heavily on detainees’ alleged statements (see After January 2004). It will say that the Commission could not fully judge the credibility of detainee information, so, according to Kean and Hamilton, “it [is] left to the reader to consider the credibility of the source—we had no opportunity to do so.” [Kean and Hamilton, 2006, pp. 119-126]
Criticism from Staffer - Commission staffer Ernest May will later criticize the Commission’s “reluctance ever to challenge the CIA’s walling off al-Qaeda detainees.” May will also say: “We never had full confidence in the interrogation reports as historical sources. Often we found more reliable the testimony that had been given in open court by those prosecuted for the East African embassy bombings and other crimes.” [New Republic, 5/23/2005] CIA videotapes and transcripts of interrogations are not provided to the Commission (see Summer 2003-January 2004).
Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, Thomas Kean, Fred F. Fielding, Lee Hamilton, US Department of Defense, Ernest May, Dietrich Snell, 9/11 Commission, Alberto R. Gonzales, Central Intelligence Agency, Donald Rumsfeld
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
David Kay, head of the Iraq Survey Group, returns to Washington and informs CIA director George Tenet that Curveball lied about the mobile biological weapons laboratories and that he believes Iraq had no mobile labs or banned weapons. Shortly thereafter he is assigned to a windowless office without a working telephone. [Los Angeles Times, 11/20/2005]
In the wake of the report by US inspector David Kay that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction (see December 2003), Secretary of State Colin Powell’s mood becomes more and more glum (see February 5, 2003). His chief of staff, Lawrence Wilkerson, will later recall: “Well, [Powell] got a telephone call each time a pillar fell. It was either John [McLaughlin, deputy CIA director], calling Rich [Armitage, Powell’s deputy], and Rich telling him, or it was [CIA Director] George [Tenet] or John calling the secretary. And I remember this vividly because he would walk through my door, and his face would grow more morose each time, and he’d say, ‘Another pillar just fell.’ I said, ‘Which one this time?’ And, of course, the last one was the mobile biological labs (see Mid-March 2004). Finally, when that call came, the secretary came through the door and said, ‘The last pillar has just collapsed. The mobile biological labs don’t exist.’ Turned around and went back into his office.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
White House chief of staff Andrew Card calls 9/11 Commission Chairman Tom Kean and asks him not to demand the resignation of CIA Director George Tenet. Card says that he has heard the Commission will issue a statement tomorrow, but that President George Bush does not wish it. “You know, the president likes George,” he says, so such a call from the Commission would put Bush in an impossible position. Card asks that the Commission reconsider its apparent demand. However, Kean tells Card that he must have heard a false rumor, and that the Commission has no intention of calling for Tenet’s head in the middle of its inquiry. Card had actually heard the rumor from Tenet himself, although it is not known where Tenet learned it. At this point the Commission is considering recommending a long-mooted split of Tenet’s responsibilities. As director of central intelligence (DCI), Tenet runs the CIA and is also responsible for the intelligence community as a whole, although he does not have any real power over the other agencies supposedly under him. The split would mean that the CIA director would only run the CIA, and a director of national intelligence would be appointed above him, to coordinate the activities of all agencies in the intelligence community. It is possible that Tenet has misinterpreted talk of such a split as preparations for calling on him to resign. [Kean and Hamilton, 2006, pp. 144; Shenon, 2008, pp. 403]
Rep. Curt Weldon.
[Source: House of Representatives]Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA) is not yet familiar with Able Danger, though he will help bring information about the program to light in 2005. However, he is familiar with the closely related Land Information Warfare Activity (LIWA) program, having had dealings with it before 9/11. He says he is frustrated at the apparent lack of understanding about programs like LIWA based on the lines of questioning at public 9/11 Commission hearings in early 2004, so, “On at least four occasions, I personally tried to brief the 9/11 Commissioners on: NOAH [Weldon’s pre-9/11 suggestion to have a National Operations and Analysis Hub]; integrative data collaboration capabilities; my frustration with intelligence stovepipes; and al-Qaeda analysis. However, I was never able to achieve more than a five-minute telephone conversation with Commissioner Thomas Kean. On March 24, 2004, I also had my Chief of Staff personally hand deliver a document about LIWA, along [with] questions for George Tenet to the Commission, but neither was ever used.” [US Congress. Senate. Committee on Judiciary, 9/21/2005] He says: “The next week, they sent a staffer over to pick up some additional materials about the NIWA, about the concept, and about information I had briefed them on. They never followed up and invited me to come in and meet with them. So they can’t say that I didn’t try.” [Office of Congressman Curt Weldon, 9/17/2005]
CIA Director George Tenet spends a lot of time reading material about the CIA’s performance in the run-up to 9/11 before interviews with the 9/11 Commission. Author Philip Shenon will point out that Tenet sets aside so much time despite the deteriorating situation in Iraq and the problems this is causing.
'Cram Sessions' - “Tenet insisted on all-day, almost all-night cram sessions to prepare himself for the interview with the 9/11 Commission,” Shenon will write. CIA staffer Rudy Rousseau will say, “He spent an enormous amount of time mastering an enormous amount of material.” The cram sessions are held at the weekend and until late on week nights, and cover the work done by Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, as well as the failed plans to capture or kill Osama bin Laden.
CIA's Achilles' Heel - Shenon will also comment: “Tenet wanted specifically to master what had happened in Kuala Lumpur in 2000 with [9/11 hijackers] Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar and why the CIA had apparently failed for so long to alert anyone that the two hijackers had later entered the United States from Asia. Like almost everyone else at the agency, Tenet seemed to understand that the CIA’s failure to watch-list the pair after their arrival in California was the agency’s Achilles’ heel—one horrendous blunder that could sink the CIA.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 257]
Still Cannot Remember - Despite the cramming, Tenet apparently has problems remembering facts that could cast the CIA in a bad light (see January 22, 2004, April 14, 2004, and July 2, 2004).
The 9/11 Commission interviews CIA Director George Tenet, but, due to frequent evasive answers, the commission doubts that he is telling them the full truth. The commission, represented at the interview by Executive Director Philip Zelikow, Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste, and some staffers, takes the unusual step of putting Tenet under oath before questioning him, because, in the words of author Philip Shenon, “The CIA’s record was full of discrepancies about the facts of its operations against bin Laden before 9/11, and many of the discrepancies were Tenet’s.”
"I Don't Recall" - The commission immediately begins to doubt Tenet’s veracity, as he keeps saying, “I don’t remember,” “I don’t recall,” and “Let me go through the documents and get back to you with an answer.” This is despite the fact that Tenet spent a long time revising for his discussions with the commission beforehand (see Before January 22, 2004). Author Philip Shenon will summarize: “Tenet remembered certain details, especially when he was asked the sorts of questions he was eager to answer… But on many other questions, his memory was cloudy. The closer the questions came to the events of the spring and summer of 2001 and to the 9/11 attacks themselves, the worse his memory became.” In addition, the memory lapses concern not only details, but also “entire meetings and key documents.” Tenet even says he cannot recall what was discussed at his first meeting with President George Bush after his election in 2000, which the commission finds “suspicious.” Neither can he recall what he told Bush in the morning intelligence briefings in the months leading up to 9/11.
"We Just Didn't Believe Him" - Zelikow will later say that there was no one “a-ha moment” when they realize Tenet is not telling them the full truth, but his constant failure to remember key aspects disturbs them, and in the end, Zelikow will say, “we just didn’t believe him.” After the meeting, Zelikow, who seemed to have decided that the CIA had failed in the run up to 9/11 at the very start of the investigation (see Late January 2003), basically reports to the commissioners that Tenet perjured himself. The staff and most of the commissioners come to believe that, in Shenon’s words, Tenet is “at best, loose with the facts,” and at worst “flirting with a perjury charge.” Even Commission Chairman Tom Kean, “who found it difficult to say anything critical of anyone,” comes to believe that Tenet is a witness that will “fudge everything.”
CIA View - CIA staffers will later dispute this, saying that Tenet’s inability to remember some things was perfectly normal. CIA staffer Rudy Rousseau will say, “I’m surprised he remembered as much as he did.” Tenet’s chief of staff John Moseman will say, “Neither he [Tenet], nor we, held anything back… To suggest so now is not honorable.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 257-260]
David Kay quits his job as head of the Iraq Survey Group. [Los Angeles Times, 11/20/2005] He is being replaced by former senior UN weapons inspector Charles Duelfer, who recently said that the chances of Iraq being found to possess chemical or biological weapons is “close to nil.” Kay gives no reason for his resignation, but sources in Washington say he is resigning for both personal reasons and because of his disillusionment with the weapons search. Kay says he does not believe Iraq possesses any major stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons, and he does not believe it has had any such weapons since the 1991 Gulf War. “I don’t think they existed,” he says. “What everyone was talking about is stockpiles produced after the end of the last Gulf War and I don’t think there was a large-scale production program in the 90s. I think we have found probably 85 percent of what we’re going to find.” [BBC, 1/24/2004] He adds: “I think they gradually reduced stockpiles throughout the 1990s. Somewhere in the mid-1990s, the large chemical overhang of existing stockpiles was eliminated.” [New York Times, 1/25/2009] In 2005, Kay will say: “My view was that the best evidence that I had seen was Iraq indeed had weapons of mass destruction. It turns out we were all wrong, and that is most disturbing. If the intelligence community had said there were no weapons there, would the policymakers have decided for other reasons, regime change, human rights, whatever, to go to war? All you can say is we’ll never know, because in fact the system said, apparently, it’s a slam dunk, there are weapons there.” [CNN, 8/18/2005]
Misled by Internal Duplicity of Iraqi Scientists, Failure of Fundamental Intelligence Gathering and Analysis - Kay says that the CIA and other US intelligence agencies were misled by duplicitous Iraqi scientists, who, in the words of New York Times reporter James Risen, “had presented ambitious but fanciful weapons programs to [Saddam] Hussein and had then used the money for other purposes,” and by the agencies’ failure to realize that Iraq had essentially abandoned its WMD programs after the 1991 war; what remained of the Gulf War-era WMD stockpiles was destroyed by US and British air strikes in 1998 (see December 16-19, 1998). According to Kay, Iraqi scientists realized they could go directly to Hussein and present fantastic plans for weapons programs, and receive approval and large amounts of money. Whatever was left of an effective weapons capability was quickly turned into corrupt money-raising schemes by scientists skilled in the arts of lying and surviving in Hussein’s autocratic police state. “The whole thing shifted from directed programs to a corrupted process,” Kay says. “The regime was no longer in control; it was like a death spiral. Saddam was self-directing projects that were not vetted by anyone else. The scientists were able to fake programs.” Kay adds that in his view the errors committed by the intelligence agencies were so grave that he recommends those agencies revamp their intelligence collection and analysis efforts. Analysts have come to him, he says, “almost in tears, saying they felt so badly that we weren’t finding what they had thought we were going to find—I have had analysts apologizing for reaching the conclusions that they did.” The biggest problem US agencies had, Kay says, was their near-total lack of human intelligence sources in Iraq since the UN weapons inspectors were withdrawn in 1998. [New York Times, 1/25/2009]
'Rudimentary' Nuclear Weapons Program - Iraq did try to restart its moribund nuclear weapons program in 2000 and 2001, Kay says, but that plan never got beyond the earliest stages. He calls it “rudimentary at best,” and says it would have taken years to get underway. “There was a restart of the nuclear program,” he notes. “But the surprising thing is that if you compare it to what we now know about Iran and Libya, the Iraqi program was never as advanced.”
No Evidence of Attempt to Purchase Nigerien Uranium - Kay says that his team found no evidence that Iraq ever tried to obtain enriched uranium from Niger, as has frequently been alleged (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). “We found nothing on Niger,” he says. [New York Times, 1/25/2009]
Democrats: Proof that Administration 'Exaggerated ... Threat' - Senator John Rockefeller (D-WV), the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says of Kay’s resignation: “It increasingly appears that our intelligence was wrong about Iraq’s weapons, and the administration compounded that mistake by exaggerating the nuclear threat and Iraq’s ties to al-Qaeda. As a result, the United States is paying a very heavy price.” Rockefeller’s counterpart in the House of Representatives, Jane Harman (D-CA), says Kay’s comments indicate a massive intelligence failure and cannot be ignored. [BBC, 1/24/2004]
Asked to Delay Resignation until after State of Union Address - In 2005, Kay will reveal that he was asked by CIA Director George Tenet to hold off on his resignation. According to Kay, Tenet told him: “If you resign now, it will appear that we don’t know what we’re doing. That the wheels are coming off.” Kay will say, “I was asked to not go public with my resignation until after the president’s State of the Union address which—this is Washington and in general—I’ve been around long enough so I know in January you don’t try to get bad news out before the president gives his State of the Union address.” Kay does not say exactly when Tenet asked him to delay his resignation. [CNN, 8/18/2005]
Former CIA Director George Tenet privately testifies before the 9/11 Commission. He provides a detailed account of an urgent al-Qaeda warning he gave to the White House on July 10, 2001 (see July 10, 2001). According to three former senior intelligence officials, Tenet displays the slides from the PowerPoint presentation he gave the White House and even offers to testify about it in public. According to the three former officials, the hearing is attended by commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste, the commission’s executive director Philip Zelikow, and some staff members. When Tenet testifies before the 9/11 Commission in public later in the year, he will not mention this meeting. The 9/11 Commission will neglect to include Tenet’s warning to the White House in its July 2004 final report. [McClatchy Newspapers, 10/2/2006] Portions of a transcript of Tenet’s private testimony will be leaked to reporters in 2006. According to the transcript, Tenet’s testimony included a detailed summary of the briefing he had with CIA counterterrorism chief Cofer Black on July 10 (see July 10, 2001). The transcript also reveals that he told the commission that Black’s briefing had prompted him to request an urgent meeting with Rice about it. This closely matches the account in Woodward’s 2006 book that first widely publicized the July meeting (see September 29, 2006). [Washington Post, 10/3/2006] Shortly after Woodward’s book is published, the 9/11 Commission staff will deny knowing that the July meeting took place. Zelikow and Ben-Veniste, who attended Tenet’s testimony, will say they are unable to find any reference to it in their files. But after the transcript is leaked, Ben-Veniste will suddenly remember details of the testimony (see September 30-October 3, 2006) and will say that Tenet did not indicate that he left his meeting with Rice with the impression he had been ignored, as Tenet has alleged. [New York Times, 10/2/2006] Woodward’s book will describe why Black, who also privately testified before the 9/11 Commission, felt the commission did not mention the July meeting in their final report: “Though the investigators had access to all the paperwork about the meeting, Black felt there were things the commissions wanted to know about and things they didn’t want to know about. It was what happened in investigations. There were questions they wanted to ask, and questions they didn’t want to ask.” [Woodward, 2006, pp. 78]
The US learns that Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a former al-Qaeda camp commander, was allegedly tortured in Egypt, where he was rendered by the CIA (see January 2002 and After). Although CIA Director George Tenet will describe al-Libi’s handling by the Egyptians as “further debriefing,” after being returned to US custody, al-Libi tells CIA officers he was tortured and these claims are documented in a series of cables sent to CIA headquarters on February 4 and 5. These cables are the final proof, many believe, that the US is illegally “outsourcing” torture to other countries, against suspects who have not been convicted or even charged with a crime. After being tortured by his Egyptian captors (see November 11, 2001), al-Libi was returned to US custody on November 22, 2003. The February 5 cable reads, in part, that al-Libi was told by the Egyptians that “the next topic was al-Qaeda’s connections with Iraq…. This was a subject about which he said he knew nothing and had difficulty even coming up with a story.” The Egyptians didn’t like al-Libi’s response, and locked him in a 20 inch by 20 inch box for 17 hours—effectively burying him alive. The Egyptians released him and gave him one more change to “tell the truth.” When al-Libi did not give the proper response, he was knocked to the ground and beaten. The CIA debriefers send this information straight to Washington (see February 14, 2004), thus informing the CIA that not only was this key piece of evidence about the link between Iraq and al-Qaeda false, but it was obtained by extreme, US-sanctioned torture. Although stories and witness accounts about torture in such US-allied countries as Egypt, Syria, Morocco, and Uzbekistan have long been known, this is the first time such torture has been detailed in an official US government document. It will be almost a year before the Bush administration will confirm the CIA’s rendition program (see March 11, 2002), and even then it will begin a litany of reassurances that the US does not torture, nor does it hand over prisoners to countries that torture. The CIA cables will be declassified in September 2006, and roundly ignored by the mainstream media. And as of late 2007, al-Libi will still be a “ghost prisoner” whose whereabouts and circumstances are considered a US state secret. [ABC News, 11/6/2007]
CIA Director George Tenet tells Congress regarding an alleged meeting between hijacker Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi government agent in Prague, “We can’t prove that one way or another.” [New York Times, 7/9/2004]
In a public interview with the 9/11 Commission, CIA Director George Tenet falsely claims that he had no communication with President Bush during August 2001, a period when the CIA was aware of increasing signs al-Qaeda would attack the US. Tenet actually met Bush at least twice during this period (see August 17 and 31, 2001). The claim is made in a question and answer session with Commissioner Tim Roemer, who asks Tenet about it because of its links to the mid-August arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui and Tenet’s knowledge of this (see August 17 and 31, 2001, August 23, 2001, and September 1-8, 2001).
"I Don't Believe I Do" - When Roemer asks Tenet “when do you see him [Bush] in August?” Tenet replies, “I don’t believe I do.” Roemer asks again and Tenet, who spent days reading documents to be ready for his discussions with the 9/11 Commission (see Before January 22, 2004), says: “He’s in Texas, and I’m either here or on leave for some of that time. So I’m not there.” When asked about whether he spoke to Bush on the phone in August, he says, “we talked to him directly through the spring and early summer almost every day,” but he himself did not speak to Bush in August.
Bombshell - Roemer thinks the admission CIA Director Tenet did not talk to the president for a month during a period of increased threat is a “bombshell,” and is aware that others on the commission believe that Tenet has repeatedly lied to them (see January 22, 2004 and July 2, 2004). However, as Tenet denies there were any such meetings or conversations and Roemer does not know otherwise yet, he cannot pursue the topic and moves on to the question.
Furious - However, Tenet’s statement is quickly discovered to be untrue, and later that day the CIA’s press office calls round Washington informing reporters that Tenet “momentarily forgot” about the two briefings. Roemer is then “furious” with Tenet. He had wanted to withhold judgment on Tenet despite the criticism from the Commission’s staff, but now decides that he can “assume the worst about Tenet’s veracity—and the worst about what had happened in August between him and the president.”
'Hotter than Hades - Roemer is especially skeptical of Tenet’s claim he does not recall that he flew to Texas in the middle of August: “It’s probably 110 degrees down there, hotter than Hades… You make one trip down there the whole month and you can’t remember what motivates you to go down there to talk to the president?” Roemer’s suspicion that Tenet and Bush talked about domestic terrorism will later be supported by a section in a 2007 book by Tenet, which says, “a few weeks after the Aug. 6 PDB [entitled “Bin laden Determined to Strike in US”] was delivered, I followed it to Crawford to make sure the president stayed current on events.” In the book, Tenet will recall not only flying to Texas, but also being driven around the ranch by Bush and discussing the plants and animals on it with him. [Washington Post, 4/15/2004; Shenon, 2008, pp. 361-362]
CIA Director George Tenet orders a suspension of waterboarding and some other aggressive interrogation techniques. Intelligence officials will later claim that the Abu Ghraib scandal publicized in April 2004 (see April 28, 2004), is a major factor in the decision. Additionally, the CIA’s Inspector General finishes a secret report around the same time the Abu Ghraib scandal breaks, an it suggests that many aggressive techniques may violate an international treaty against torture that the US has signed (see May 7, 2004). NBC News will later claim that the biggest reason is the worry: “Could CIA officials, including both the interrogators and their superiors, ultimately be prosecuted?” [MSNBC, 9/13/2007] The CIA approved a list of about 10 aggressive techniques, including waterboarding, in March 2002 (see Mid-March 2002), and used them on many high-ranking al-Qaeda detainees until this time (see March 28, 2002-Mid-2004). But the CIA suspends their use until the Justice Department can conduct a legal review. One former senior CIA official will say in June 2004, “Everything’s on hold. The whole thing has been stopped until we sort out whether we are sure we’re on legal ground.” [Washington Post, 6/27/2004] In December 2004, the Justice Department will publicly issue a new and public memo allowing the use of some aggressive techniques (see December 30, 2004). Then, in February 2005, it will secretly issue another memo that goes further, and will even allow the CIA to use waterboarding again. The New York Times will later call it “an expansive endorsement of the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the Central Intelligence Agency” (see February 2005). The CIA presumably then resumes using most of these techniques but it does not resume waterboarding, as it had already stopped doing that in 2003 (see May 2002-2003).
CIA Director George Tenet is informed that the agency has wrongly rendered an innocent German named Khalid el-Masri to a black site in Afghanistan and has been holding him there for several months (see January 23 - March 2004). Tenet receives this information at a meeting with all the main participants in the case: a bin Laden unit manager named Alfreda Frances Bikowsky who pushed the rendition in the first place; Counterterrorist Center head Jose Rodriguez and Deputy Director for Operations James Pavitt, who have known of the case for some time but done nothing about it (see (April 2004)); and two European Division officers who have a plan to free el-Masri (see (April 2004)). After they all say their piece, Tenet is, according to author Jane Mayer, “stunned.” He says: “Are you telling me we’ve got an innocent guy stuck in prison in Afghanistan? Oh sh_t! Just tell me—please—we haven’t used ‘enhanced’ interrogation techniques on him, have we?” The group then discusses what to do, and one suggestion is to let him go with a large quantity of cash. According to two of Mayer’s sources, Pavitt chuckles, “At least the guy will earn more money in five months than he ever could have any other way!” [Mayer, 2008, pp. 286] No definitive decision about what to do is taken, and Tenet goes to see National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see (May 2004)).
CIA Director George Tenet informs National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice that the agency has been holding an innocent German named Khalid el-Masri at a black site for several months (see January 23 - March 2004). Rice’s demeanor during the meeting will be described as “very flat, as always,” and after hearing the story she says slowly, “Okay.” Tenet then explains the plan to conduct a “reverse rendition,” releasing el-Masri with a large amount of cash, but with no explanation to anyone, including the German government. Rice disagrees with the plan. “Your plan won’t work. We have to tell the Germans. We can’t put the president in the position of telling a lie to our allies,” she says. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage is also consulted about the matter, and agrees with Rice’s assessment. [Mayer, 2008, pp. 286]
Citing personal reasons, CIA Director George Tenet announces he will be stepping down in the next month. President Bush praises Tenet’s service, but there is widespread agreement that significant intelligence failures occurred during his tenure, most strikingly 9/11 itself. Sources also suggest that Tenet, originally a Clinton appointee, has been made a convenient scapegoat for Bush administration intelligence failures in Iraq and elsewhere. [CNN, 6/4/2004; Independent, 6/4/2004] Tenet and the Bush administration are expecting harsh criticism from several reports expected to find serious failures in intelligence gathering and analysis related to the 9/11 attacks. Most damaging is an upcoming Senate Intelligence Committee report expected to single out the CIA for errors in its judgments before the Iraq war (see June-November 2004). Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) has warned the administration that the report will be so harsh that questions will be raised as to whether senior CIA officials should be held accountable. Tenet will be replaced by Deputy Director John McLaughlin until a replacement is named, and will eventually be replaced by Porter Goss (see September 24, 2004). A friend of Tenet’s, former Deputy Director Richard Kerr, says that Tenet “may have believed that he was hurting the president. He’s an honorable person, and he may have had that as a consideration.” Former Democratic senator David Boren, a close friend and mentor of Tenet’s, says Tenet is not leaving because of criticisms likely to be leveled at either him or the agency: “If criticism either actual or anticipated was a factor, he would have left a long time ago. It’s been months of his desiring to leave.” Bush has asked Tenet to remain in the job several times over the past few months. When Tenet told Bush of his intentions to leave on June 2, Bush asked him to stay through the end of the year. Tenet replied that summer is a natural break point and a good time for him to depart. All the camaraderie and mutual praise between the two men aside, many believe that Tenet is departing in part because he is seen as a possible political liability for Bush. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) says, “I don’t think there are any tears over there” in the White House over Tenet’s departure. Former Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) believes that Tenet was in some way pushed to leave. “This president has been enamored of George Tenet, and has been reluctant to hold him or anyone else accountable, and that failure was becoming a bigger and bigger liability,” he says. According to Graham, Bush announces Tenet’s resignation for his own political well-being, “under circumstances where he is at the crime scene as short as possible.” Apparently, senior White House officials such as Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell learn of Tenet’s resignation just a few moments before it is announced to the press. Two Congressmen who knew last night of the resignation were Goss (R-FL) and John Warner (R-VA), the chairmen of the House Intelligence and Senate Armed Services Committees, respectively. [New York Times, 6/4/2004]
Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Shelby, Pat Roberts, Richard Kerr, Porter J. Goss, John E. McLaughlin, George W. Bush, John W. Warner, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, David Boren, Colin Powell, George J. Tenet
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Iraq under US Occupation
The White House sends a classified memo to the CIA. The contents of the memo will remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Washington Post will later learn that it approves “harsh tactics” by CIA interrogators in questioning suspected terrorists. The memo was requested by CIA Director George Tenet, who asked for legal cover for the torture and harsh interrogation methods employed by CIA interrogators in the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib scandal. Tenet had already asked for, and received, a similar legal authorization a year earlier (see June 1, 2003). [Washington Post, 10/15/2008; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ]
In a statement to Congress on July 1, 2004, CIA Director George Tenet doubts that 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta met with an Iraqi agent in Prague in April 2001. He says, “Although we cannot rule it out, we are increasingly skeptical that such a meeting occurred.” He adds that Atta “would have been unlikely to undertake the substantial risk of contacting any Iraqi official” at such a date. [New York Times, 7/9/2004]
The 9/11 Commission arranges for a final interview of CIA Director George Tenet. The Commission’s staff thinks of the interview as a “final test of Tenet’s credibility,” because they believe that both he and other CIA managers have not been telling them the full truth (see Before January 14, 2004 and January 22, 2004). In particular they want to ask him about a memorandum of notification that enabled the CIA to kill Osama bin Laden, but was not acted on (see December 24, 1998).
What Memo? - When the Commission’s Executive Director Philip Zelikow says he wants to talk about the memo, Tenet, who spent a long time revising for his sessions with the Commission (see Before January 22, 2004), replies, “What are you referring to?” Zelikow explains about the memo, but Tenet says, “I’m not sure what we’re talking about.” He then says he remembers an early draft of the memo, which did not authorize the CIA to kill bin Laden. Zelikow explains that the draft Tenet is referring to is an early version of the memo, and that a later version, apparently requested by Tenet himself, allowed the CIA to kill bin Laden. Zelikow has not been able to bring the memo with him, because it is so highly classified, and Tenet still does not remember, saying, “Well, as I say, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Disbelief - Author Philip Shenon will write: “Zelikow and [Commission staffer Alexis] Albion looked at each other across the table in disbelief. It was the last straw with Tenet, the final bit of proof they needed to demonstrate that Tenet simply could not tell the truth to the Commission.” Zelikow will later say that he concluded Tenet’s memory lapses were not genuine, but that “George had decided not to share information on any topic unless we already had documentary proof, and then he would add as little as possible to the record.”
False Denial - However, Tenet will deny this was the case, and say he could not remember the authorization to kill bin Laden because he had been on holiday when it was signed and transmitted to Afghanistan. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 359-360] However, the 9/11 Commission will state that this memo was “given to Tenet.” In addition, the 9/11 Commission Report calls the message in which the instructions were communicated to the assets in Afghanistan that were to kill bin Laden “CIA cable, message from the DCI.” DCI stands for director of central intelligence, Tenet’s official job title. Therefore, Tenet very probably did know about it. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 132, 485]
On July 8, 2004, the New Republic predicts a “July surprise” from the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign involving the arrest of a high-value target in Pakistan by the end of the month. The magazine reports that in the spring of 2004, the administration increased pressure on Pakistan to kill or capture Osama bin Laden, his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, or Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, all believed to be hiding in Pakistan. Bush officials such as CIA Director George Tenet, Secretary of State Colin Powell and his assistant, Christina Rocca, State Department counterterrorism chief Cofer Black, and others all visited Pakistan in recent months to urge Pakistan to increase its efforts in the war on terrorism. The New Republic comments, “This public pressure would be appropriate, even laudable, had it not been accompanied by an unseemly private insistence that the Pakistanis deliver these high-value targets (HVTs) before Americans go to the polls in November.” Bush spokespeople deny that the administration exerted any such pressure. But according to one source in the Pakistani ISI, “The Pakistani government is really desperate and wants to flush out bin Laden and his associates after the latest pressures from the US administration to deliver before the [upcoming] US elections.” Another source in the Pakistani Interior Ministry says, “The Musharraf government has a history of rescuing the Bush administration. They now want Musharraf to bail them out when they are facing hard times in the coming elections.” And another ISI source says that the Pakistanis “have been told at every level that apprehension or killing of HVTs before [the] election is [an] absolute must.” The Pakistanis have even been given a target date, according to the second ISI source: “The last ten days of July deadline has been given repeatedly by visitors to Islamabad and during [ISI director Lieutenant General Ehsan ul-Haq’s] meetings in Washington.” The source says that a White House aide told ul-Haq last spring that “it would be best if the arrest or killing of [any] HVT were announced on twenty-six, twenty-seven, or twenty-eight July”—the first three days of the Democratic National Convention in Boston. One Pakistani general said recently, “If we don’t find these guys by the election, they are going to stick this whole nuclear mess [relating to A. Q. Khan] up our _sshole.” The Bush administration apparently is using a carrot-and-stick approach to make sure such an arrest takes place on schedule. The New Republic observes: “Pushing Musharraf to go after al-Qaeda in the tribal areas may be a good idea despite the risks. But, if that is the case, it was a good idea in 2002 and 2003. Why the switch now? Top Pakistanis think they know: This year, the president’s reelection is at stake.” [New Republic, 7/29/2004] Pakistan will announce the capture of al-Qaeda leader Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani on July 29, just hours before Democratic presidential John Kerry’s acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. The authors of the New Republic article will claim vindication for their prediction (see July 25-29, 2004).
Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Pervez Musharraf, Colin Powell, Christina Rocca, Cofer Black, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Abdul Qadeer Khan, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, Mullah Omar, John Kerry, George J. Tenet, George W. Bush, Ehsan ul-Haq
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 2004 Elections
Pat Roberts during a July 9, 2004 interview on PBS. [Source: PBS]The Senate Intelligence Committee releases the 511-page Senate Report on Iraqi WMD intelligence, formally titled the “Report of the Select Committee on Intelligence on the US Intelligence Community’s Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq.” [US Congress, 7/7/2004; CNN, 7/9/2004] All nine Republicans and eight Democrats signed off on the report without dissent, which, as reporter Murray Waas will write, is “a rarity for any such report in Washington, especially during an election year.” [National Journal, 10/27/2005]
Report Redacted by White House - About 20 percent of the report was redacted by the White House before its release, over the objections of both Republicans and Democrats on the committee. Some of the redactions include caveats and warnings about the reliability of key CIA informants, one code-named “Red River” and another code-named “Curveball” (see Mid- and Late 2001). The source called “Red River” failed polygraph tests given to him by CIA officers to assess his reliability, but portions of the report detailing these and other caveats were redacted at the behest of Bush administration officials. [New York Times, 7/12/2004; New York Times, 7/18/2004]
Widespread Failures of US Intelligence - The report identifies multiple, widespread failures by the US intelligence community in its gathering and analysis of intelligence about Iraq WMD, which led to gross misunderstandings and misrepresentations about Iraq’s WMD programs to the American public by government officials. Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS), who has previously attempted to shift blame for the intelligence misrepresentations away from the Bush administration and onto the CIA (see July 11, 2003 and After), says that intelligence used to support the invasion of Iraq was based on assessments that were “unreasonable and largely unsupported by the available intelligence.” He continues: “Before the war, the US intelligence community told the president as well as the Congress and the public that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and if left unchecked would probably have a nuclear weapon during this decade. Today we know these assessments were wrong.” Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the ranking Democrat on the 18-member panel that created the report, says “bad information” was used to bolster the case for war. “We in Congress would not have authorized that war with 75 votes if we knew what we know now,” he says (see October 10, 2002). “Leading up to September 11, our government didn’t connect the dots. In Iraq, we are even more culpable because the dots themselves never existed.” Numerous assertions in an October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE—see October 1, 2002) were “overstated” or “not supported by the raw intelligence reporting,” including:
Claims that Iraq was rebuilding its nuclear weapons program;
Claims that Iraq had large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons;
Claims that Iraq was developing an unmanned aerial vehicle that could be used to deliver chemical and/or biological weapons payloads onto distant targets;
The so-called “layering effect,” where “assessments were based on previous judgments, without considering the uncertainties of those judgments” (Roberts calls it an “assumption train”);
The failure to explain adequately the uncertainties in the October 2002 NIE to White House officials and Congressional lawmakers;
Reliance on claims by “Curveball,” noting that the use of those claims “demonstrated serious lapses in handling such an important source”;
Use of “overstated, misleading, or incorrect” information in helping then-Secretary of State Colin Powell present the administration’s case to the United Nations in February 2003 (see February 5, 2003); and
The failure of the CIA to share significant intelligence with other agencies. [CNN, 7/9/2004; Cybercast News Service, 7/9/2004; New York Times, 7/9/2004]
“One fact is now clear,” Roberts says. “Before the war, the US intelligence community told the president as well as the Congress and the public that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, and if left unchecked, would probably have a nuclear weapon during this decade. Well, today we know these assessments were wrong.” [Cybercast News Service, 7/9/2004; New York Times, 7/9/2004] Rockefeller says the intelligence community failed to “accurately or adequately explain the uncertainties behind the judgments in the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate to policymakers.” The community’s “intelligence failures” will haunt America’s national security “for generations to come,” he says. “Our credibility is diminished. Our standing in the world has never been lower,” he says. “We have fostered a deep hatred of Americans in the Muslim world, and that will grow. As a direct consequence, our nation is more vulnerable today than ever before.” [CNN, 7/9/2004; New York Times, 7/9/2004]
'Group Think' and 'Corporate Culture' - Roberts says the report finds that the “flawed” information used to send the nation to war was the result of “what we call a collective group think, which led analysts and collectors and managers to presume that Iraq had active and growing WMD programs.” He says this “group think caused the community to interpret ambiguous evidence, such as the procurement of dual-use technology, as conclusive evidence of the existence of WMD programs.” Roberts blames “group think” and a “broken corporate culture and poor management,” which “cannot be solved by simply adding funding and also personnel.” [CNN, 7/9/2004; New York Times, 7/9/2004]
Lack of Human Intelligence in Iraq - Perhaps the most troubling finding, Roberts says, is the intelligence community’s near-total lack of human intelligence in Iraq. “Most alarmingly, after 1998 and the exit of the UN inspectors, the CIA had no human intelligence sources inside Iraq who were collecting against the WMD target,” he says. [CNN, 7/9/2004; New York Times, 7/9/2004]
No Connection between Iraq, al-Qaeda - Rockefeller says that the administration’s claims of an alliance between Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda had no basis in fact: “[N]o evidence existed of Iraq’s complicity or assistance in al-Qaeda’s terrorist attacks, including 9/11.” The report says that intelligence claims of connections between Iraq and some terrorist activities were accurate, though the contacts between al-Qaeda and Iraq from the 1990s “did not add up to an established formal relationship.” [CNN, 7/9/2004; New York Times, 7/9/2004]
Divided Opinion on Pressure from Bush Administration - Republicans and Democrats on the committee differ as to whether they believe the CIA and other intelligence agencies groomed or distorted their findings as a result of political pressure from the White House. “The committee found no evidence that the intelligence community’s mischaracterization or exaggeration of intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction capabilities was the result of politics or pressure,” Roberts says. However, Rockefeller notes that the report fails to explain fully the pressures on the intelligence community “when the most senior officials in the Bush administration had already forcefully and repeatedly stated their conclusions publicly. It was clear to all of us in this room who were watching that—and to many others—that they had made up their mind that they were going to go to war.” The analysts were subjected to a “cascade of ominous statements,” Rockefeller says, that may have pushed them to slant their analyses in the direction the White House indicated it wanted. The report finds that Vice President Dick Cheney and others who repeatedly visited intelligence agencies (see 2002-Early 2003) pressured intelligence analysts or officials to present particular findings or change their views. However, the report notes repeated instances of analysts exaggerating what they knew, and leaving out, glossing over, or omitting dissenting views. According to the report, the intelligence community released a misleading public version of the October 2002 NIE (see October 4, 2002) that eliminated caveats and dissenting opinions, thus misrepresenting “their judgments to the public which did not have access to the classified National Intelligence Estimate containing the more carefully worded assessments.” [CNN, 7/9/2004; New York Times, 7/9/2004; Cybercast News Service, 7/9/2004] In an interview the evening after the report’s release, Rockefeller is asked if the report documents “a failure of a system or is this a failure of a bunch of individuals who just did their jobs poorly?” Rockefeller responds: “This is a failure of a system.… It is not fair to simply dump all of this on the Central Intelligence Agency. The Central Intelligence Agency does not make the decision, and [former Director] George Tenet does not make the decision to go to war. That decision is made at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.… So we went to war under false pretenses, and I think that is a very serious subject for Americans to think about for our future.” Asked “if the president had known then what he knows now, he would have still taken us to war?” Rockefeller answers: “I can’t answer that question. I just ask—the question I ask is, why isn’t he, and maybe he is, why isn’t he as angry about his decision, so to speak his vote on this, as I am about mine?” [PBS, 7/9/2004]
Supporting the Claim of Iraq's Attempt to Purchase Nigerien Uranium - The report states flatly that senior CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson made the decision to send her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, to Niger to investigate false claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from that nation (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). The CIA has demonstrated that Plame Wilson did not make that decision (see February 19, 2002). However, as well as claiming that Plame Wilson sent Wilson to Niger, it claims that Wilson’s report, far from disproving the assertion of an attempt by Iraq to purchase uranium, actually bolstered that assertion. The report states that the question of Iraq’s attempt to buy Nigerien uranium remains “open.” It also says Wilson lied to the Washington Post in June 2004 by claiming that the documents used to support the claim were forgeries (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). “Committee staff asked how the former ambassador could have come to the conclusion that the ‘dates were wrong and the names were wrong’ when he had never seen the CIA reports and had no knowledge of what names and dates were in the reports,” the report states. Wilson told committee members he may have been confused and may have “misspoken” to some reporters (see May 2, 2004). The committee did not examine the documents themselves. [Washington Post, 7/10/2009] The committee made similar claims a year before (see June 11, 2003 and July 11, 2003 and After). Progressive reporter and columnist Joshua Micah Marshall disputes the report’s claim that Wilson’s trip to Niger actually helped prove the assertion that Iraq tried to buy Nigerien uranium. The intelligence reports making the assertion are “fruits of the same poison tree” that produced so many other false and misleading claims, Marshall writes, and were based on the assumption that the forged documents were genuine. [Joshua Micah Marshall, 7/10/2004] In 2007, Plame Wilson will write, “What was missing from the [committee] report was just as telling as the distortions it contained. The ‘Additional Views’ section… had concluded” that she was responsible for sending Wilson to Niger. Yet that was contradicted by a senior CIA official over a year before. Plame Wilson will call the “Additional Views” section “a political smear if there ever was one,” crammed with “distortions and outright lies. Yet it continues to be cited today by Joe’s critics as proof of his lack of credibility.” The Wilsons learn months later that committee Democrats decided not to fight against the attacks on Wilson’s integrity; according to one of the senior Democratic senators on the panel, there was simply too much “incoming” from the Republicans for them to fight every issue. There were “far too many serious substantial disputes” that needed solving, and the Democrats chose to allow the attacks on Wilson to proceed without comment. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 187-190]
Portion of the Report Delayed - Roberts and other Republican majority committee members were successful in blocking Democrats’ attempts to complete the second portion of the report, which delineates the Bush administration’s use of the intelligence findings. That report will not be released until after the November 2004 presidential election. Rockefeller says he feels “genuine frustration… that virtually everything that has to do with the administration” has been “relegated to phase two” and will be discussed at another time. The second part of the committee’s investigation will focus on the “interaction or the pressure or the shaping of intelligence” by the Bush administration, Rockefeller says. “It was clear to all of us that the Bush administration had made up its mind to go to war,” he says, and he believes that such a “predetermination” influenced the intelligence community. Representative Jane Harman (D-CA), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, says she hopes a similar House investigation would address some of those issues. However, she notes, she has been stymied by House Republicans in even launching that investigation. “There has not been the cooperation that there apparently has been on the Senate side,” she says. She has just now managed to wangle a meeting with House Intelligence Committee chairman Porter Goss (R-FL), who is being touted as the next director of the CIA (see September 24, 2004). Harman says, “I would hope we could address [the issues] factually and on a bipartisan basis, but at the moment I don’t have a lot of confidence in it.” [CNN, 7/9/2004; Cybercast News Service, 7/9/2004] Roberts’s spokeswoman Sarah Little later says that the committee has not yet decided whether the second portion of the report will be fully classified, declassified, or even if it will hold hearings. [National Journal, 10/27/2005]
Cheney, Roberts Colluded in Interfering with Report - Over a year later, the media will find that Roberts allowed Cheney and members of his staff to interfere with the committee’s investigation and dramatically limit its scope (see October 27, 2005). Rockefeller will say that he made three separate requests for White House documents during the committee’s investigation, but never received the documents he asked for. “The fact is,” Rockefeller will say, “that throughout the Iraq investigation any line of questioning that brought us too close to the White House was thwarted.” Rockefeller’s spokesperson, Wendy Morigi, will say that Rockefeller will “sadly come to the conclusion that the Intelligence Committee is not capable of doing the job of investigating the fundamental question as to whether the administration has misused intelligence to go to war.” [National Journal, 10/30/2005] Plame Wilson will write: “In the coming months, many reliable sources told us that before the report was issued, there was considerable collusion between the vice president’s office and… Roberts on how to craft the report and its content. So much for checks and balances and the separation of powers.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 192]
Entity Tags: Joshua Micah Marshall, Pat Roberts, Murray Waas, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Valerie Plame Wilson, Porter J. Goss, Joseph C. Wilson, Senate Intelligence Committee, John D. Rockefeller, Central Intelligence Agency, House Intelligence Committee, ’Curveball’, Jane Harman, Bush administration (43), Al-Qaeda, Colin Powell, Wendy Morigi, Sarah Little, George J. Tenet
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
The press reports that according to a Justice Department investigation, Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), then the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, leaked highly classified information to Fox News reporter Carl Cameron regarding al-Qaeda communications in the hours before 9/11 (see June 19, 2002). After Vice President Dick Cheney threatened the then-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Bob Graham (D-FL—see June 20, 2002), Graham and then-House Intelligence Committee chairman Porter Goss (R-FL) pushed for a Justice Department investigation into the leak. Though the FBI and the US Attorney’s Office conducted a probe, and even empaneled a grand jury, the Justice Department decided not to prosecute anyone, and instead turned Shelby’s name over to the Senate Ethics Committee, which will decline to pursue charges against him. Shelby states that he did not leak any classified information to anyone, and says he has never been informed of any specific allegations. The FBI demanded that 17 senators turn over phone records, appointment calendars, and schedules. One Senate Intelligence Committee staffer told the FBI that Shelby had leaked the information to show the shortcomings of the intelligence community in general and CIA Director George Tenet in particular. Though two senior Justice Department officials, then-Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson and then-criminal division chief Michael Chertoff, refused to approve subpoenas for journalists, Cameron confirmed to FBI investigators that he was a recipient of Shelby’s leak. He also told investigators that he saw Shelby talking with CNN’s Dana Bash; after Shelby’s discussion with Bash, Cameron divulged the information Shelby had leaked to her, and CNN broadcast the story a half-hour after the conversations. Cameron told FBI agents he was irritated that Shelby had shared the same information with a competitor, and added that he delayed broadcasting the story because he wanted to ensure that he was not compromising intelligence sources and methods. Cameron was never subpoenaed and did not testify under oath. Bash refused to cooperate with the investigation. [Washington Post, 8/5/2004; National Journal, 2/15/2007]
Entity Tags: Larry D. Thompson, Dana Bash, Carl Cameron, CNN, Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, Federal Bureau of Investigation, George J. Tenet, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of Justice, Michael Chertoff, Porter J. Goss, Fox News, Richard Shelby, Senate Ethics Committee, Senate Intelligence Committee
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties
The New York Times reports on the recent issuance of a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq by the US intelligence community. It is the first NIE to be issued since before the invasion (see October 1, 2002). The report was leaked to the Times by unnamed government officials.
Civil War a Strong Possibility - The NIE’s findings are grim. Civil war is a strong possibility, the NIE finds. Even the best-case scenario is an Iraq whose political, economic, and national security stability is tenuous and fragile. One government official says of the report, “There’s a significant amount of pessimism.” This NIE was initiated by the National Intelligence Council under the aegis of then-CIA Director George Tenet, who has since resigned. Acting CIA Director John McLaughlin approved the final report. The NIE stands in contrast to recent pronouncements by White House officials, who have insisted that the situation in Iraq is improving daily.
Critics 'Pessimists and Hand-Wringers' - The day before the NIE was released, White House press secretary Scott McClellan called critics of the occupation “pessimists and hand-wringers” who are being “proven… wrong.” [New York Times, 9/16/2004]
White House Ignores NIE - The NIE was prepared in July 2004 and not circulated until August, indicating that the White House had little use for the document. “It was finished in July, and not circulated by the intelligence community until the end of August,” one senior administration official says. “That’s not exactly what you do with an urgent document.” [New York Times, 9/28/2004]
This NIE Closer to CIA's Own Assessments than Earlier Report - Senior CIA analyst Paul Pillar will later say that the agency’s own prewar assessments “foretold a long, difficult, and turbulent transition,” assessments more in line with the current NIE than with the 2002 estimate (see January 2003 and September 28, 2004). “It projected that a Marshall Plan-type effort would be required to restore the Iraqi economy, despite Iraq’s abundant oil resources. It forecast that in a deeply divided Iraqi society, with Sunnis resentful over the loss of their dominant position and Shi’ites seeking power commensurate with their majority status, there was a significant chance that the groups would engage in violent conflict unless an occupying power prevented it. And it anticipated that a foreign occupying force would itself be the target of resentment and attacks—including by guerrilla warfare—unless it established security and put Iraq on the road to prosperity in the few weeks or months after the fall of Saddam” Hussein. The NIE, and the White House’s blase response to it (see September 21-23, 2004), will deepen the tension and distrust between the White House and the CIA. [Roberts, 2008, pp. 153, 244]
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), based in New York, and the Republican Lawyers’ Association in Berlin, file a criminal complaint in Germany against Donald Rumsfeld, George Tenet, Stephen A. Cambone, Ricardo S. Sanchez, and Janis Karpinski, alleging responsibility for war crimes at Abu Ghraib. The German 2002 Code of Crimes Against International Law grants German courts universal jurisdiction in cases involving war crimes or crimes against humanity. The center is representing five Iraqis who claim they were victims of mistreatment that included beatings, sleep and food deprivation, electric shocks, and sexual abuse. [Deutsche Welle (Bonn), 11/30/2004] Though German law stipulates that prosecution can be dismissed in cases where neither the victim nor the perpetrator are German citizens or are outside Germany and cannot be expected to appear before court, [Deutsche Welle (Bonn), 11/30/2004] that fact that Sanchez is based at a US base in Germany makes it possible that the case will be heard. [Deutsche Welle (Bonn), 11/30/2004]
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