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Profile: Peter Zimmerman
Peter Zimmerman was a participant or observer in the following events:
In a classified session, George Tenet and other intelligence officials brief the Senate Intelligence Committee on the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq (see October 1, 2002). In his summary of the document, Tenet reportedly says that Iraq attempted to obtain uranium from Niger. Though he mentions that there are some doubts about the reliability of the evidence, he does not provide any details. [Washington Post, 6/12/2003 ; ABC News, 6/16/2003] Tenet also says that the aluminum tubes sought by Iraq (see July 2001) were intended for its nuclear program, that the country has a fleet of mobile biological weapons labs, and that Iraq has developed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that could be armed with chemical or biological weapons for an attack against the US mainland. At one point during the session, a committee staff member slips Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) a note suggesting that the senator ask Tenet what “technically collected” evidence does the CIA have that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction. Biden asks the question and Tenet replies, “None, Senator.” Everyone becomes silent. Biden, apparently annoyed by the answer, asks Tenet, “George, do you want me to clear the staff out of the room,” meaning that if the intelligence is so classified that it shouldn’t be shared with staffers he will ask them to leave. But Tenet says, “There’s no reason to.” When Tenet finishes his testimony, he leaves to attend his son’s basketball game. Other senators also leave. The next witnesses are Carl Ford, Jr., the State Department’s chief intelligence officer, and Rhys Williams, the chief intelligence officer in the Energy Department. Both men say they do not believe that the aluminum tubes sought by Iraq were intended for a nuclear program. But few senators are still in the room to hear these opinions. After the hearing, Peter Zimmerman, the committee’s scientific advisor, asks Robert Walpole the CIA’s national intelligence officer for nuclear weapons, to show him one of the tubes referred to by Tenet. Zimmerman looks at the sample Walpole brought and becomes immediately doubtful. He then grills Walpole on several technical details, who fails to provide any convincing answers. Zimmerman gets the impression that Walpole has little understanding of centrifuges. “I remember going home that night and practically putting my fist through the wall half a dozen times,” Zimmerman later recalls. “I was frustrated as I’ve ever been. I remember saying to my wife, ‘They’re going to war and there’s not a damn piece of evidence to substantiate it.’” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 117-119]
The CIA delivers the classified version of its 90-page National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq (see October 1, 2002) to Congress at 8 p.m. It is available for viewing by congresspersons under tight security—including armed guards—in the offices of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees. Only House and Senate intelligence committee members can read the material, if they come without staff members. [Washington Post, 6/22/2003; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 281; Unger, 2007, pp. 265] Despite an upcoming vote on whether or not to authorize a military attack on Iraq (see October 11, 2002), no more than a half-dozen or so members actually come to review the NIE. Peter Zimmerman, the scientific adviser to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and one of the first to look at the document, is stunned to see how severely the dissenting opinions of the Energy Department and the State Department undercut the conclusions that were so boldly stated in the NIE’s “Key Judgments” section. He later recalls: “Boy, there’s nothing in there. If anybody takes the time to actually read this, they can’t believe there actually are major WMD programs.” One of the lawmakers who does read the document is Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) (see October 4, 2002). Like Zimmerman, he is disturbed by the document’s “many nuances and outright dissents.” But he is unable to say anything about them in public because the NIE is classified. Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) says in a 2005 interview: “In fact, there were only six people in the Senate who did [read the NIE], and I was one of them. I’m sure Pat [Roberts (R-KS)] was another.” Roberts is the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and Rockefeller is the vice chairman. [Fox News, 11/14/2005; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 133-134, 137] Rockefeller will later explain that such a visit is difficult for busy congresspersons. Besides, he will say, “it’s extremely dense reading.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 264]
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