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The US Department of Energy launches the Solar Energy Research Institute (SERI)‘s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), a facility dedicated to harnessing power from the sun. (US Department of Energy 2002 )
The US Department of Energy (DOE), working with an industry consortium, puts into operation “Solar One,” a ten-megawatt central-receiver demonstration project in California. The project proves the feasibility of power-tower systems, a solar-thermal power generating system. The system runs until 1988, dispatching electricity 96 percent of the time. (US Department of Energy 2002 )
President Ronald Reagan signs Executive Order 12656, assigning a wide range of emergency responsibilities to a number of executive departments. The order calls for establishing emergency procedures that go far beyond the nation’s standard disaster relief plans. It offers a rare glimpse of the government’s plans for maintaining “continuity of government” in times of extreme national emergency. The order declares the national security of the country to be “dependent upon our ability to assure continuity of government, at every level, in any national security emergency situation,” which is defined as “any occurrence, including natural disaster, military attack, technological emergency, or other emergency, that seriously degrades or seriously threatens the national security of the United States.” The order instructs department leaders to establish various protocols for crisis situations, including rules for delegating authorities to emergency officials, establishing emergency operating facilities, protecting and allocating the nation’s essential resources, and managing terrorist attacks and civil disturbances. The plans are to be coordinated and managed by the National Security Council and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The presidential order suggests certain laws may have to be altered or expanded to carry out the plans. Although it encourages federal agencies to base the emergency protocols on “existing authorities, organizations, resources, and systems,” it also calls on government leaders to identify “areas where additional legal authorities may be needed to assist management and, consistent with applicable executive orders, take appropriate measures toward acquiring those authorities.” According to the executive order, the plans “will be designed and developed to provide maximum flexibility to the president.” Executive Order 12656 gives specific instructions to numerous federal departments:
The Department of Justice is ordered to coordinate emergency “domestic law enforcement activities” and plan for situations “beyond the capabilities of state and local agencies.” The Justice Department is to establish plans for responding to “civil disturbances” and “terrorism incidents” within the US that “may result in a national security emergency or that occur during such an emergency.” The attorney general is to establish emergency “plans and procedures for the custody and protection of prisoners and the use of Federal penal and correctional institutions and resources.” The Department of Justice is also instructed to develop “national security emergency plans for regulation of immigration, regulation of nationals of enemy countries, and plans to implement laws for the control of persons entering or leaving the United States.” The attorney general is additionally instructed to assist the “heads of federal departments and agencies, state and local governments, and the private sector in the development of plans to physically protect essential resources and facilities.”
The Department of Defense, acting through the Army, is to develop “overall plans for the management, control, and allocation of all usable waters from all sources within the jurisdiction of the United States.” The secretary of defense is to arrange, “through agreements with the heads of other federal departments and agencies, for the transfer of certain federal resources to the jurisdiction and/or operational control of the Department of Defense in national security emergencies.” The secretary of defense is also instructed to work with industry, government, and the private sector, to ensure “reliable capabilities for the rapid increase of defense production.”
The Department of Commerce is ordered to develop “control systems for priorities, allocation, production, and distribution of materials and other resources that will be available to support both national defense and essential civilian programs.” The secretary of commerce is instructed to cooperate with the secretary of defense to “perform industry analyses to assess capabilities of the commercial industrial base to support the national defense, and develop policy alternatives to improve the international competitiveness of specific domestic industries and their abilities to meet defense program needs.” The Commerce Department is also instructed to develop plans to “regulate and control exports and imports in national security emergencies.”
The Department of Agriculture is ordered to create plans to “provide for the continuation of agricultural production, food processing, storage, and distribution through the wholesale level in national security emergencies, and to provide for the domestic distribution of seed, feed, fertilizer, and farm equipment to agricultural producers.” The secretary of agriculture is also instructed to “assist the secretary of defense in formulating and carrying out plans for stockpiling strategic and critical agricultural materials.”
The Department of Labor is ordered to develop plans to “ensure effective use of civilian workforce resources during national security emergencies.” The Labor Department is to support “planning by the secretary of defense and the private sector for the provision of human resources to critical defense industries.” The Selective Service System is ordered to develop plans to “provide by induction, as authorized by law, personnel that would be required by the armed forces during national security emergencies.” The agency is also vaguely instructed to establish plans for “implementing an alternative service program.”
The Transportation Department is to create emergency plans to manage and control “civil transportation resources and systems, including privately owned automobiles, urban mass transit, intermodal transportation systems, the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, and the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation.” The Transportation Department is also to establish plans for a “smooth transition” of the Coast Guard to the Navy during a national security emergency. The Transportation Department is additionally instructed to establish plans for “emergency management and control of the National Airspace System, including provision of war risk insurance and for transfer of the Federal Aviation Administration, in the event of war, to the Department of Defense.”
The Department of the Treasury is ordered to develop plans to “maintain stable economic conditions and a market economy during national security emergencies.” The Treasury Department is to provide for the “preservation of, and facilitate emergency operations of, public and private financial institution systems, and provide for their restoration during or after national security emergencies.”
The Department of Energy is to identify “energy facilities essential to the mobilization, deployment, and sustainment of resources to support the national security and national welfare, and develop energy supply and demand strategies to ensure continued provision of minimum essential services in national security emergencies.”
The Department of Health and Human Services is instructed to develop programs to “reduce or eliminate adverse health and mental health effects produced by hazardous agents (biological, chemical, or radiological), and, in coordination with appropriate federal agencies, develop programs to minimize property and environmental damage associated with national security emergencies.” The health secretary is also to assist state and local governments in the “provision of emergency human services, including lodging, feeding, clothing, registration and inquiry, social services, family reunification, and mortuary services and interment.” (US President 11/18/1988)
After Presidential Decision Directive 39 (PDD-39), issued in June 1995 (see June 21, 1995), requires key federal agencies to maintain well-exercised counterterrorist capabilities, the number of counterterrorism exercises being conducted increases significantly. According to a 1999 report by the General Accounting Office, whereas 32 counterterrorist exercises are held between June 1995 and June 1996, from June 1997 to June 1998, 116 such exercises are conducted. Some of the exercises held between June 1995 and June 1998 are “tabletop exercises,” where participants work through a scenario around a table or in a classroom and discuss how their agency might react; others are “field exercises,” where an agency’s leadership and operational units practice their skills in a realistic field setting. Four exercises during this period are “no-notice” exercises, where participants have no advance notice of the exercise. These four exercises are conducted by either the Department of Defense (DoD) or the Department of Energy. DoD leads 97 of the exercises—almost half of the total—held between June 1995 and June 1998. The Secret Service leads 46, the FBI 24, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) leads 16. Most of the exercises are conducted in the US and are based around the scenario of a domestic terrorist attack. Although intelligence agencies have determined that conventional explosives and firearms continue to be the weapons of choice for terrorists, the majority of exercises are based around scenarios involving weapons of mass destruction (WMD)—chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons or agents. More than two-thirds of the exercises have WMD scenarios, with the most common WMD being chemical agents, such as sarin. The other exercises have more traditional and more likely scenarios involving conventional weapons and explosives. (United States General Accounting Office 6/25/1999 ; Warrick and Stephens 10/2/2001 )
The US Department of Energy, in conjuction with a consortium of industry representatives, launches its “Solar Two,” an upgrade of its Solar One solar power project in Daggett, California (see 1982). The facility is in operation through 1999. It demonstrates how solar energy can be stored efficiently and economically to be used during times when the sun is not shining. (US Department of Energy 2002 )
A Morrison, Colorado family installs a 12-kilowatt solar electrical system for its home, the largest residential installation in the US to be registered with the Department of Energy’s “Million Solar Roofs” program. The system provides most of the electricity for the 6,000-square foot home. (US Department of Energy 2002 )
Jack N. Gerard of the National Mining Association (NMA) meets with Andrew Lundquist, the executive director of the Cheney energy task force (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001), and other staff members. Gerard wants the Bush administration to give the Energy Department the responsibility for promoting technology that would ease global warming, and more importantly, to keep the issue away from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which could issue regulations on greenhouse gas emissions. Gerard and the NMA want voluntary, not mandatory, regulations. The task force adopts the NMA’s request in its policy. The names of the various officials, executives, lobbyists, and representatives who meet with the task force will not be released until 2007 (see July 18, 2007). (Abramowitz and Mufson 7/18/2007)
James Ford, an official with the American Petroleum Institute (API), sends Energy Department official Joseph T. Kelliher copies of the API’s position papers. In that packet is what the Cheney energy task force (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001) will describe as a “suggested executive order to ensure that energy implications are considered and acted on in rulemakings and executive actions.” In May 2001, President Bush will issue that selfsame executive order (see May 11, 2001). (Abramowitz and Mufson 7/18/2007)
The CIA writes at least 15 reports (only seven of which have been identified; see, e.g., June 20, 2001, June 30, 2001, September 2004-September 2006, November 24, 2001, December 15, 2001, June 14, 2001, April 10, 2001) about Iraq’s interest in purchasing 7075-T6 aluminum tubes. Several of the assessments are distributed only to high-level policy makers, including President Bush, and are not sent to other intelligence agencies for peer review. According to a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence investigation, all the assessments rely on the same evidence and they all fail to note that the opinions of leading centrifuge experts at the Energy Department conflict with the CIA’s view. (US Congress 7/7/2004, pp. 59; Barstow, Broad, and Gerth 10/3/2004)
US officials in the Department of Energy (DOE) respond to an intelligence report released the previous day (see April 10, 2001) which contended that the aluminum tubes sought by Iraq (see July 2001) are destined for use as centrifuge rotors in a uranium enrichment program. The Energy Department argues that the tubes are too narrow, too heavy, and too long to be used in a gas centrifuge. Furthermore, “the tubes’ specifications suggest a centrifuge design quite different from any Iraq is known to have.” The officials also note that there is no evidence that Iraq is seeking to acquire other materials that would be needed to construct a centrifuge. And if the Iraqis intend to use the tubes for uranium enrichment, the officials ask, why are they making no effort to conceal their interest in acquiring the tubes? “[T]he manner in which the procurement is being handled (multiple procurement agents, quotes obtained from multiple suppliers in diverse locations, and price haggling) seems to better match our expectations for a conventional Iraqi military buy than a major purchase for a clandestine weapons-of-mass destruction program,” the report notes. (US Congress 7/7/2004; Barstow, Broad, and Gerth 10/3/2004) The DOE therefore concludes that “while the gas centrifuge application cannot be ruled out, we assess that the procurement activity more likely supports a different application, such as conventional ordnance production.” The agency considers it more plausible that the tubes are meant to serve as rocket casings. Notwithstanding, the DOE concedes that it has “not identified an Iraq-specific, military, or other noncentrifuge application that precisely matches the tube specifications.” (US Congress 7/7/2004) The DOE will identify a possible specific conventional military application for the tubes the following month (see May 9, 2001).
Vice President Cheney meets with Enron CEO Kenneth Lay as part of Cheney’s secretive energy task force (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001). Though Cheney may not know it, Enron is on the verge of collapse, with liabilities far outweighing assets and heavily doctored earnings statements. Enron’s only income generation comes from the unregulated energy markets in California and other Western states (see January 23, 2001). Enron traders are gouging the California markets at an unprecedented pace; as authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein later write, Enron is “taking power plants off-line to create shortages, booking transmission lines for current that never move[s], and shuttling electricity back and forth across state lines to circumvent price controls,” among a plethora of other illegal market manipulations.
Ignoring California's Energy Crisis - Unable to make a profit between buying Enron’s energy at staggering prices and then selling it at regulated rates, one of California’s two largest utility companies has filed for bankruptcy and the other has accepted a government bailout. California is in a calamitous energy crisis. Governor Gray Davis is pleading for rate caps that would help both utility companies and consumers. But price caps are the last thing Lay wants. Once in Cheney’s office, Lay gives Cheney a three-page memo outlining Enron’s recommendations for the administration’s national energy policy Cheney’s group is developing. Prominently featured in the memo is the following recommendation: “The administration should reject any attempt to deregulate wholesale power markets by adopting price caps.” Almost every recommendation in the Lay memo will find its way into the energy task force’s final report. Cheney may not know that Enron is in such dire financial straits, but he does know that energy prices in California have gone from $30 to $300 per megawatthour, with periodic jumps to as high as $1,500. He also knows that Enron’s profits in California, along with other power producers, have gone up 400% to 600%.
Price Caps in Spite of Lay, Cheney - Lay does not get his way; the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will override Cheney’s arguments and impose price caps on energy traders working in California. The state’s energy prices are brought under control, Enron’s trading schemes—luridly given such sobriquets as “Death Star,” “Fat Boy,” and “Get Shorty”—are brought to an end, and Enron collapses six months later (see December 2, 2001). Cheney will have a measure of revenge by forcing one of Lay’s adversaries on FERC, Curtis Hebert, out of his position (see August 14, 2001).
Avoiding Scrutiny and Oversight - This meeting and others are cleverly designed to avoid legal government oversight. According to the Federal Advisory Committees Act (FACA), the energy task force should be subject to public accountability because private parties—in this case, oil and gas industry executives and lobbyists—are helping shape government policy. Cheney’s legal counsel, David Addington, devises a simple scheme to avoid oversight. When a group of corporate lobbyists come together to create policy, a government official is present. Suddenly, FACA does not apply, and the task force need not provide any information whatsoever to the public. Dubose and Bernstein will later write: “It was bold as [artist] Rene Magritte’s near-photographic representation of a pipe over the inscription ceci n’est pas une pipe—‘this is not a pipe.’ Fifteen oil industry lobbyists meet in the Executive Office Building and one midlevel bureaucrat from the Department of Energy steps into the room—and voila, ceci n’est pas une foule de lobbyists. Because one government employee sat in with every group of lobbyists, a committee of outside advisers was not a committee of outside advisers.” Between Addington’s bureaucratic end-around and Cheney’s chairmanship of the working group giving the entire business the cloak of executive privilege, little information gets out of the group. “The whole thing was designed so that the presence of a government employee at a meeting could keep the Congress out,” a Congressional staff lawyer later says. It also keeps the press at bay. (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 3-4, 10)
The Energy Department reports that the 7075-T6 aluminum tubes being sought by Iraq from China (see July 2001) have the same specifications as tubes previously used by Iraq to produce conventional rocket motor casings. The report also notes that Iraq had 160,000 tubes on hand in 1989 and only 66,737 in 1996 (see 1996). The findings are published in the department’s classified Daily Intelligence Highlight, which is posted on an intranet network accessible by members of the intelligence community and the White House. (US Congress 7/7/2004; Barstow, Broad, and Gerth 10/3/2004)
In meetings and telephone calls, CIA officials inform administration officials that experts at the Department of Energy do not believe that the aluminum tubes sought by Iraq are intended for use in a gas centrifuge. According to one senior administration official, who is briefed by the CIA at least six times on the tubes, by late 2001, he is aware that there are differing views on the tubes. “To the best of my knowledge, he never hid anything from me,” the official later recalls, referring to his counterpart at WINPAC. (Barstow, Broad, and Gerth 10/3/2004)
Department of Energy safety specialist Chris Steele reads a memo that alerts him to the existence of a secret nuclear waste dump at the Los Alamos nuclear facility. The waste is being stored in an unsecured, unprotected steel building on site, and has been on site for five years. A shocked Steele immediately shuts down the nuclear dump, forcing it to be relocated to protected areas. Steele notes that the existence of such a waste dump is a violation of the law and a serious threat to the health and safety of workers, the public, and the environment. Steele recalls that a wildfire burned part of the Los Alamos facility in May 2000; only the fact that the fire did not jump the road across from the waste dump saved it from going up in radioactive flames. (Carter 2004, pp. 17-18; Hertsgaard 2/15/2004)
The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) publishes an internal background paper explaining the debate within the US intelligence community over Iraq’s intended use for the aluminum tubes it attempted to import from China (see July 2001). The paper describes the assessments of both the CIA and the Department of Energy, the latter of which does not believe the tubes are suitable for use as rotors in a gas centrifuge (see August 17, 2001). The DIA says its “analysts found the CIA WINPAC presentation to be very compelling.” (US Congress 7/7/2004)
The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) issues a report on “Iraq’s Reemerging Nuclear Weapon Program,” noting that “[a]lternative uses” for the aluminum tubes ordered by Iraq are “possible,” but that such alternatives are “less likely because the specifications [of the tubes] are consistent with late 1980s Iraqi gas centrifuge rotor designs.” (The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction (aka 'Robb-Silberman Commission') 3/31/2005)
Members of the Department of Energy’s Nuclear Emergency Search Team (NEST) are away from America when it comes under terrorist attack, taking part in a training exercise in Europe called Jackal Cave. (Richelson 2009, pp. 178; Jeffrey T. Richelson 1/23/2009) Jackal Cave, which is run by the US military’s Joint Special Operations Command, involves participants tracking down a hypothetical force made up of terrorists and organized criminals who are trafficking in weapons of mass destruction, or “loose nukes” (see (8:46 a.m.-9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Naylor 2015, pp. ix-x) Over 500 personnel, 62 aircraft, and 420 tons of cargo are involved in the exercise. (Arkin 2005, pp. 404) Three components of NEST are taking part: the Lincoln Gold Augmentation Team, the Nuclear/Radiological Advisory Team, and the Joint Technical Operations Team. The NEST personnel are in Europe by September 10, if not before then, for the exercise. (Richelson 2009, pp. 178) It is unclear where exactly in Europe they go, but some Special Operations personnel are in Hungary, Croatia, and Bosnia for the exercise, so the NEST personnel may be in one or more of these countries too. (Naylor 2015, pp. x)
Exercise Participants Are Flown Back to the US - Jackal Cave is promptly canceled in response to the attacks in the United States on September 11. (BBC News 9/13/2001; Naylor 2015, pp. xiii) NEST and Department of Energy personnel who are in Europe for the exercise are then taken home by military airlift. They are all back in America by September 15. (Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education 2001 ; Richelson 2009, pp. 178)
Nuclear Search Team Is Put on Standby - Shortly after the attacks occur on September 11, NEST members (presumably those who are not involved in the exercise) are informed that they could potentially be called out for duty and told to be on standby. One NEST member will later say he received the instruction to be on standby sometime between around 10:00 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. on September 11. This alert is ordered as a precaution and is not in response to any specific nuclear threat, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. On September 12, NEST flies its specially equipped plane to New York to search for industrial radioactive sources and hot spots under the rubble of the World Trade Center. (Davidson 9/16/2001; ABC News 10/11/2005; Richelson 2009, pp. 179-180)
Exercise Is the Team's First Overseas Deployment Since 1998 - NEST, which is based in Las Vegas, Nevada, is “an elite band of scientists, engineers, computer experts, and technicians that would respond to terrorists armed with stolen or homemade nuclear weapons or radioactive materials,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The team has about 1,000 members who would, if necessary, be responsible for finding and disabling nuclear devices. (Davidson 9/16/2001; Associated Press 12/18/2001; Dumas 2010, pp. 46) Its involvement in Jackal Cave is its first participation in an overseas exercise since 1998. (Richelson 2009, pp. 178; Jeffrey T. Richelson 1/23/2009)
A team of specialists from UC Davis, known as the Detection and Evaluation of Long-range Transport of Aerosols (DELTA) Group, conducts air sampling from the roof of 201 Varick St., located one mile north-northeast of the WTC site, at the request of the Department of Energy. Regional meteorology will suggest that the monitoring equipment’s location at Varick Street probably receives material from the World Trade Center site about half the time. The group’s analysts use seven different techniques to analyze the data including synchrotron-induced X-ray fluorescence, scanning transmission ion microscopy and proton elastic scattering analysis, and soft beta mass measurements and scanning electron microscopy (SEM). DELTA will examine the samples for dozens of substances including carbon-based compounds from burning wood, plastic and carpets; glass shards; and asbestos. DELTA will release summary reports in December (see Early November 2001) and February (see February 11, 2002). (JOM 12/1/2001; Wright 2/15/2002; Hogue 2/18/2002)
Italy’s military intelligence service (SISMI) provides Jeff Castelli, the CIA station chief in Rome, with papers documenting an alleged uranium deal between Iraq and Niger. Castelli, who is not permitted to duplicate the papers, writes a summary of them and sends the report to Langley. (Hersh 10/27/2003; Landay 11/4/2005; Bonini and D'Avanzo 11/11/2005)
The allegations - The report includes four allegations:
The report states that Iraq first communicated its interest in purchasing uranium from Niger at least as early as 1999. (US Congress 7/7/2004) As blogger ERiposte will conclude through his analysis at TheLeftCoaster.Org (ERiposte 10/31/2005) , none of the documents that are later provided to the US as the basis for this allegation include actual proof of uranium negotiations in 1999. Two of the source documents for this allegation do mention a 1999 visit by Wissam Al-Zahawi to Niger; however, no evidence has ever surfaced suggesting that there were any discussions about uranium during that visit (see February 1999). The first document (possibly authentic) is a letter, dated February 1, 1999, from the Niger embassy in Rome to Adamou Chekou, the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Niger, announcing Zahawie’s trip. It does not mention uranium. (Note that the SISMI report does not mention Al-Zahawi’s trip, it only states that uranium negotiations between the two countries began by at least 1999.) The second document is a letter dated July 30, 1999 from the Niger Ministry of Foreign Affairs to his ambassador in Rome requesting that he contact Zahawie, concerning an agreement signed June 28, 2000 to sell uranium to Iraq. The letter is an obvious forgery because it refers to an event that it describes as taking place 11 months later. (Unknown n.d.; La Repubblica (Rome) 7/16/2003)
The SISMI report states that in “late 2000,” the State Court of Niger approved an agreement with Iraq whereby Niger would sell Iraq a large quantity of uranium. This allegation appears to be based on a forged document titled “Annex 1,” which was possibly an annex to the alleged uranium agreement. It is evident that this document was forged because it says that the state court “met in the chamber of the council in the palace… on Wednesday, July 7, 2000.” But July 7, 2000 was, in fact, a Friday, not a Wednesday. One of SISMI’s reports to the US, possibly this one, actually reproduces this error. (Unknown n.d.; La Repubblica (Rome) 7/16/2003; ERiposte 10/31/2005)
According to the report, Nigerien President Mamadou Tandja approved the agreement and communicated this decision to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The source for this is apparently a forged letter from the president of Niger to Saddam Hussein, in which the president refers to his authority under the country’s obsolete 1966 constitution. At the time the letter was presumed to have been written, the constitution in effect would have been that of December 26, 1992, which was subsequently revised by national referendum on May 12, 1996 and again by referendum on July 18, 1999. (Unknown n.d.; Charbonneau 3/26/2003; La Repubblica (Rome) 7/16/2003; US Department of State 9/2005)
The report also alleges that in October 2000, Nigerien Minister of Foreign Affairs Nassirou Sabo informed one of his ambassadors in Europe that Niger had agreed to provide several tons of uranium to Iraq. (Unknown n.d.; La Repubblica (Rome) 7/16/2003) This is seemingly based on a forged letter that accompanied the alleged uranium sales agreement. The letter, dated October 10, 2000, is stamped as being received in Rome on September 28, 2000—nearly two weeks before the letter was presumably written. Furthermore, there is a problem with the signature. Unlike what is reported in the SISMI papers provided to the CIA, the actual letter is signed by Allele Elhadj Habibou, who left office in 1989. This indicates that someone must have corrected this information, replacing the name of Allele Elhadj Habibou with that of Nassirou Sabo (the minister in October 2000), before the letter was included in this report. (ERiposte 10/31/2005)
Distribution within US Intelligence Community - After receiving the report from its Rome station, the CIA distributes it to other US intelligence agencies. According to a later Senate investigation, the “CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and Department of Energy (DOE) analysts considered the reporting to be ‘possible’ while the Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) regarded the report as ‘highly suspect,’ primarily because INR analysts did not believe that Niger would be likely to engage in such a transaction and did not believe Niger would be able to transfer uranium to Iraq because a French consortium maintained control of the Nigerien uranium industry.” (US Congress 7/7/2004) Sources later interviewed by New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh portray US intelligence analysts’ assessment of the report in slightly harsher terms, saying that they “dismissed [it] as amateurish and unsubstantiated.” (Hersh 10/27/2003) “I can fully believe that SISMI would put out a piece of intelligence like that,” a CIA consultant later tells Hersh, “but why anybody would put credibility in it is beyond me.” (Hersh 5/17/2004, pp. 227) Langley asks for further clarification from Rome and receives a response three days later (see October 18, 2001). (Bonini and D'Avanzo 11/11/2005)
Repeated Dissemination - The documents and reports based on the documents are sent to the CIA at least three separate times. They are also sent to the White House, the US embassy in Rome, British and French intelligence, and Italian journalist Elisabetta Burba of the news magazine Panorama. Each recipient in turn shares the documents, or their contents, with others, creating what author Craig Unger later calls “an echo chamber that gives the illusion that several independent sources had corroborated an Iraq-Niger uranium deal.” (Unger 2007, pp. 237)
A team of specialists from UC Davis, the Detection and Evaluation of Long-range Transport of Aerosols (DELTA) Group, sends the results from their first samples (see October 2, 2001-Mid-December, 2001) to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Advanced Light-Source Lab. Since October 2, the group has been conducting air sampling from the roof of 201 Varick St., located one mile north-northeast of the WTC site, at the request of the Department of Energy. According to the team, data indicates that the WTC plume “in many ways [resembles] those seen from municipal waste incinerators and high temperatures processes in coal-fired power plants.” A summary report of the data concludes: “The size fractions above 1 micrometer contained finely powdered concrete gypsum, and glass, with soot-like coatings and anthropogenic metals, but little asbestos. Composition in the very fine size range (0.26 > Dp > 0.09) was dominated by sulfuric acid and organic matter, but, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and their derivatives, and glasslike silicone containing aerosols.” (JOM 12/1/2001; Wright 2/15/2002; Hogue 2/18/2002)
Energy Department analysts publish a classified report disputing the theory that the 7075-T6 aluminum tubes sought by Iraq were intended to be used as rotors in a “Zippe-type” gas centrifuge. The report emphasizes that Zippe centrifuges are not suited for the production of nuclear bombs but rather had been designed for use in laboratory experiment. The Energy Department’s experts also say that Iraq would need up to 16,000 of such centrifuges working in concert to produce enough enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb, which they note would be a challenge for even the most advanced centrifuge plants. (Barstow, Broad, and Gerth 10/3/2004)
Energy Department Secretary Spencer Abraham asks for almost $380 million for added security at US nuclear facilities (see February 15, 2004). The Bush administration approves less than 10 percent of that figure, $26.4 million. Items that are not funded include: secure barriers and fences; funds to secure computer programs vulnerable to hackers; equipment to detect explosives hidden in packages and vehicles entering a nuclear site; and the reduction in the number of sites that store bomb-grade plutonium and uranium. (Carter 2004, pp. 18)
Vice President Richard Cheney and other senior administration officials receive two CIA reports that cite the aluminum tubes sought by Iraq as evidence that “Iraq… may be trying to reconstitute its gas centrifuge program.” Neither report mentions the fact that leading centrifuge experts at the Energy Department strongly disagree with the CIA’s theory. (Barstow, Broad, and Gerth 10/3/2004)
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice learns that Department of Energy scientists disagree (see August 17, 2001) with the CIA’s assessment (see July 2001-2003) that a shipment of aluminum tubes intercepted on their way to Iraq (see July 2001) were to be used in a uranium enrichment program. She is informed that they believe “the tubes were probably intended for small artillery rockets.” (Barstow, Broad, and Gerth 10/3/2004)
Department of Energy (DOE) safety specialist Chris Steele, who shut down a hazardous, unsecured nuclear waste dump at the Los Alamos nuclear facility a year earlier (see July 18, 2001), is demoted from his position as the DOE’s chief safety official at Los Alamos after he overrules what he calls inept preparations against terrorist attacks. In October 2002, Steele receives a safety analysis report for a radioactive waste treatment facility at Los Alamos. The report estimates the chances of a “rogue” airliner crashing into the facility as being a million to one, even considering the events of September 11, 2001. It predicts that such a crash, deliberate or not, would cause hundreds of thousands of gallons of nuclear waste to catch fire. However, the report said, the roof sprinkler system would put out the flames. Steele points out that the sprinkler system would be destroyed in the crash: “That must be a magical sprinkler system, since it’s apparently able to rise up from the rubble, turn itself on and put out the flames. We should buy one of those for every nuclear plant in the country.” After Steele rejects the report, he is stripped of his security clearance and fired. He is accused of committing “serious security violations” by the National Nuclear Security Administration. (Carter 2004, pp. 17-18; Hertsgaard 2/15/2004)
The New York Times publishes a second article reporting that the Bush administration believes a shipment of aluminum tubes destined for Iraq, intercepted in Jordan by US authorities in July (see July 2001), was intended for use in a gas centrifuge. Unlike the Times’ previous report, this article, appearing on page A13, mentions that there is a debate over the tubes between the Energy Department and CIA. It says that according to an unnamed official “[T]here have been debates among intelligence experts about Iraq’s intentions in trying to buy such tubes.” The article says that the official claims “the dominant view in the administration was that the tubes were intended for use in gas centrifuges to enrich uranium.” Another official interviewed by the newspaper claims that Energy’s alternative view “is a footnote, not a split.” One administration official is even quoted by the paper falsely asserting “that the best technical experts and nuclear scientists at laboratories like Oak Ridge supported the CIA assessment.” (Miller and Gordon 9/13/2002; Barstow, Broad, and Gerth 10/3/2004) After the article is published, the Energy Department releases a directive forbidding employees from discussing the issue with reporters. (Barstow, Broad, and Gerth 10/3/2004)
David Albright, a physicist who helped investigate Iraq’s nuclear weapons program following the 1991 Persian Gulf War as a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s inspection team, concludes in a study that Iraq’s attempt to import aluminum tubes is not “evidence that Iraq is in possession of, or close to possessing, nuclear weapons” or that Iraq has an operating centrifuge plant. His assessment is based on several factors, including the fact that the tubes are made of an aluminum alloy that is ill-suited for welding. He notes that Iraq had used maraging steel and carbon fiber in its earlier attempts to make centrifuges (see (Late 1980s)). Albright also challenges the CIA’s contention the tubes’ anodized coating is an indication that they are meant to be used as rotors in a gas centrifuge. The nuclear physicist notes that the fact the tubes are anodized actually supports the theory that they were meant to be used in rockets, not a centrifuge. He cites another expert who said that an “anodized layer on the inside of the tube… can result in hampering the operation of the centrifuge.” (Albright 10/9/2003 Sources: David Albright) Though Albright is critical of the charges being made by the Bush administration against Iraq, concerning nuclear weapons, he is no sympathizer of Saddam Hussein. He believes that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction and advocates a tough stance towards his regime. (Massing 2/26/2004) His report is widely dispersed and is covered in detail by the Washington Post on September 19, 2002 (see September 19, 2002). Several other newspapers also cover Albright’s report. (Warrick 9/19/2002; Borger 10/9/2002; Collier 10/12/2002) It is later revealed that scientists at the Energy Department secretly worked with Albright on the report. (Barstow, Broad, and Gerth 10/3/2004)
President Bush receives a one-page, highly classified “President’s Summary” of the US intelligence community’s new National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002). The summary discusses the high-strength aluminum tubes that many administration and Pentagon officials believe are being used to help Iraq construct a nuclear weapon. Both the Energy Department (DOE) and the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) believe the tubes are “intended for conventional weapons,” contradicting the view of other intelligence agencies, including the CIA and DIA. The public will not be told of Bush’s personal knowledge of the DOE and INR dissents until March 2006. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and other senior officials will try to explain the administration’s stance on Iraq’s nuclear program by asserting that neither Bush, Vice President Cheney, nor Rice ever saw the dissents. For months, Bush, Cheney, Rice, Secretary of State Colin Powell (see February 5, 2003), and others will cite the tubes as indisputable proof of an Iraqi nuclear program. US inspectors will discover, after the fall of the Iraqi regime, that the nuclear program had been dormant for over ten years, and the aluminum tubes used only for artillery shells.
Inquiry - The Bush administration will refuse to release the summary to Congressional investigators who wish to know the basis for the Bush administration’s assertions about Iraq’s nuclear weapons program. A senior official calls it the “one document which illustrates what the president knew and when he knew it.” It is likely that Bush never read the dissents in the report itself, as administration officials will confirm they do not believe Bush would have read the entire NIE, and it is likely that he never made it to the dissents, in a special text box positioned well away from the main text of the report. However, the one-page summary was written specifically for Bush, was handed to Bush by then-CIA director George Tenet, Bush read the summary in Tenet’s presence, and the two discussed the subject at length. Cheney was given virtually the same information as Bush concerning every aspect of the intelligence community’s findings on Iraq. Nevertheless, Bush and other officials (see July 11, 2003) will claim for months that they were unaware of the dissents. (Waas 3/2/2006)
In a televised speech, President Bush presents the administration’s case that Saddam Hussein’s regime is a threat to the security of the nation and insists that regime change would improve lifes for Iraqis. “Some worry that a change of leadership in Iraq could create instability and make the situation worse. The situation could hardly get worse, for world security and for the people of Iraq. The lives of Iraqi citizens would improve dramatically if Saddam Hussein were no longer in power, just as the lives of Afghanistan’s citizens improved after the Taliban.” The speech is widely criticized for including false and exaggerated statements.
Iraq has attempted to purchase equipment used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons - Bush claims that a shipment of 3,000 aluminum tubes to Iraq, which were intercepted in Jordan by US authorities in July of 2001 (see July 2001), had been destined for use in a uranium enrichment program. But by this time numerous experts and government scientists have already warned the administration against making this allegation. (US President 10/14/2002) Three weeks before Bush’s speech, The Washington Post ran a story on the aluminum tubes. The article summarized a study by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), disputing the administration’s claim that the tubes were to be used for gas centrifuges. The report was authored by the institute’s president and founder, David Albright, a respected nuclear physicist, who had investigated Iraq’s nuclear weapons program after the First Gulf War as a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s inspection team and who has spoken before Congress on numerous occasions. In his study, he concluded that Iraq’s attempts to import the tubes “are not evidence that Iraq is in possession of, or close to possessing, nuclear weapons” and “do not provide evidence that Iraq has an operating centrifuge plant or when such a plant could be operational.” (Warrick 9/19/2002; Borger 10/9/2002; Collier 10/12/2002; Albright 10/9/2003) Soon after the speech, Albright tells The Guardian newspaper that there is still no evidence to substantiate that interpretation. As one unnamed specialist at the US Department of Energy explains to the newspaper, “I would just say there is not much support for that [nuclear] theory around here.” (Borger 10/9/2002) The Washington Post article also reported that government experts on nuclear technology who disagreed with the White House view had told Albright that the administration expected them to remain silent. (Warrick 9/19/2002; Fisk 9/22/2002) Houston G. Wood III, a retired Oak Ridge physicist considered to be “among the most eminent living experts” on gas centrifuges reviewed the tube question in August 2001 (see 1950s) and concluded at that time that it was very unlikely that the tubes had been imported to be used for centrifuges in a uranium enrichment program. He later tells The Washington Post in mid-2003 that “it would have been extremely difficult to make these tubes into centrifuges,” adding that it stretched “the imagination to come up with a way.” He also says that other centrifuge experts whom he knew shared his assessment of the tubes. (Gellman and Pincus 8/10/2003) In addition to the several outside experts who criticized the tubes allegation, analysts within the US intelligence community also doubted the claim. Less than a week before Bush’s speech, the Energy Department and the State Department’s intelligence branch, the INR, had appended a statement to a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq disputing the theory (see October 1, 2002). (Central Intelligence Agency 10/1/2002 Sources: David Albright)
Saddam Hussein ordered his nuclear program to continue in 1998 - Bush says that US intelligence has information that Saddam Hussein ordered his nuclear program to continue after inspectors left in 1998. “Before being barred from Iraq in 1998, the International Atomic Energy Agency dismantled extensive nuclear weapons-related facilities, including three uranium enrichment sites,” Bush charges. “That same year, information from a high-ranking Iraqi nuclear engineer who had defected revealed that despite his public promises, Saddam Hussein had ordered his nuclear program to continue.” (Collier 10/12/2002; US President 10/14/2002) But Bush’s “high-ranking” source turns out to be Khidir Hamza, who is considered by many to be an unreliable source. Albright, who was president of the Institute for Science and International Security where Hamza worked as an analyst from 1997 to 1999, says that after Hamza defected, “he went off the edge [and] started saying irresponsible things.” (Collier 10/12/2002) And General Hussein Kamel, Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law who was in charge of the dictator’s former weapons program but who defected in 1995, told UNSCOM and IAEA inspectors, as well as US and British intelligence, that Khidir Hamza was “a professional liar.” Kamel explained, “He worked with us, but he was useless and always looking for promotions. He consulted with me but could not deliver anything…. He was even interrogated by a team before he left and was allowed to go.” (United Nations Special Commission 4/16/1998; Hersh 5/12/2003)
Iraq is developing drones that could deploy chemical and biological weapons - The President claims that Iraq is developing drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which “could be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons across broad areas.” He goes so far as to say, “We’re concerned that Iraq is exploring ways of using these UAVs for missions targeting the United States.” (Borger 10/9/2002; US President 10/14/2002) But this claim comes shortly after US intelligence agencies completed a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, in which Air Force intelligence had disputed the drone allegation (see October 1, 2002). Bush’s drone allegation is quickly derided by experts and other sources. The Guardian of London reports two days later that according to US military experts, “Iraq had been converting eastern European trainer jets, known as L-29s, into drones, but… that with a maximum range of a few hundred miles they were no threat to targets in the US.” (Borger 10/9/2002) And the San Francisco Chronicle will cite experts who say that “slow-moving unmanned aerial vehicles would likely be shot down as soon as they crossed Iraq’s borders” because “Iraqi airspace is closely monitored by US and British planes and radar systems.” The report will also note, “It’s also unclear how the vehicles would reach the US mainland—the nearest point is Maine, almost 5, 500 miles away—without being intercepted.” (Collier 10/12/2002) Anthony Cordesman, a security analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, will say he believes the drone allegation is unrealistic. In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, he says, “As a guesstimate, Iraq’s present holdings of delivery systems and chemical and biological weapons seem most likely to be so limited in technology and operational lethality that they do not constrain US freedom of action or do much to intimidate Iraq’s neighbors.” (Collier 10/12/2002) These criticisms of Bush’s claim are validated after the US invasion of Iraq. Two US government scientists involved in the post-invasion hunt for weapons of mass destruction will tell the Associated Press in August 2003 that they inspected the drones and concluded that they were never a threat to the US. “We just looked at the UAVs and said, ‘There’s nothing here. There’s no room to put anything in here,’” one of the scientists will say. “The US scientists, weapons experts who spoke on condition of anonymity, reached their conclusions after studying the small aircraft and interviewing Iraqi missile experts, system designers and Gen. Ibrahim Hussein Ismail, the Iraqi head of the military facility where the UAVs were designed,” the Associated Press will explain in its report. (Linzer and Lumpkin 8/24/2003)
Saddam Hussein could give terrorists weapons of mass destruction - Bush asserts, “Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists.” (US President 10/14/2002) But not only have numerous experts and inside sources disputed this theory (see July 2002-March 19, 2003), US intelligence’s National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq—completed just one week before—concluded that this is an unlikely scenario (see October 1, 2002). “Baghdad, for now, appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks with conventional or CBW against the United States,” the document clearly stated. “Should Saddam conclude that a US-led attack could no longer be deterred he probably would become much less constrained in adopting terrorist actions.” (Collier 10/12/2002)
Iraq rebuilding facilities associated with production of biological and chemical weapons - Bush claims that surveillance photos indicate that Iraq “is rebuilding facilities that it had used to produce chemical and biological weapons.” (US President 10/14/2002) On the following day, photos are published on the White House website showing that Iraq had repaired three sites damaged by US bombs—the Al Furat Manufacturing Facility, the Nassr Engineering Establishment Manufacturing Facility, and Fallujah II. (US President 10/14/2002) But no evidence is provided by the White House demonstrating that these sites have resumed activities related to the production of weapons of mass destruction. Iraqi authorities will give reporters a tour of the facilities on October 10 (see October 10, 2002).
Iraq has trained al-Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases - Bush alleges that Iraq has trained al-Qaeda operatives “in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases.” (US President 10/14/2002) The claim is based on a September 2002 CIA document which had warned that its sources were of “varying reliability” and that the claim had not yet been substantiated (see September 2002). The report’s main source, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an al-Qaeda operative who offered the information to CIA interrogators while in custody, later recants the claim (see February 14, 2004). A Defense Intelligence Agency report in February 2002 (see February 2002) had also expressed doubt in the claim, going so far as to suggest that al-Libi was “intentionally misleading [his] debriefers.” (CNN 9/26/2002; Jehl 7/31/2004; Isikoff 7/5/2005; Jehl 11/6/2005) And earlier in the month, US intelligence services had concluded in their National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq that this allegation could not be confirmed. (CNN 9/26/2002; Royce 10/10/2002; Collier 10/12/2002; Pincus 6/22/2003)
A very senior al-Qaeda leader received medical treatment in Baghdad - Bush claims: “Some al-Qaeda leaders who fled Afghanistan went to Iraq. These include one very senior al-Qaeda leader who received medical treatment in Baghdad this year, and who has been associated with planning for chemical and biological attacks.” The allegation refers to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born Palestinian who is the founder of al-Tawhid, an organization whose aim is to kill Jews and install an Islamic regime in Jordan. It was first leaked to the press by an anonymous US official several days before Bush’s speech (see October 2, 2002). The allegation is partly based on intercepted telephone calls in which al-Zarqawi was overheard calling friends or relatives (see December 2001-Mid-2002). But on the same day as Bush’s speech, Knight Ridder Newspapers reports that according to US intelligence officials, “The intercepts provide no evidence that the suspected terrorist was working with the Iraqi regime or that he was working on a terrorist operation while he was in Iraq.” (Strobel, Landay, and Walcott 10/7/2002; US President 10/14/2002) Al-Zarqawi will link with al-Qaeda, but only in 2004, after the start of the war in Iraq (see October 17, 2004).
The US embassy in Rome faxes the Niger documents to the State Department’s Bureau of Nonproliferation, which then passes a copy of the documents to the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), the State Department’s intelligence bureau. (US Congress 7/7/2004, pp. 58) Simon Dodge, an INR nuclear analyst, receives a copy, and after a brief review of the documents immediately suspects that they are bogus. One particularly strange document that is included in the Niger papers describes a secret meeting that allegedly took place on June 14, 2002 at the home of the Iraqi ambassador in Rome. According to the document, the meeting was attended by military officials from Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, and Pakistan. The purpose of the meeting was to form a coalition of Islamic nations against the West. They would seek “Global Support,” which would include backing from the “Islamic patriots accused of belonging to criminal organizations.” Dodge finds the scenario depicted in the document “completely implausible.” He notices that the document bears the same official seal that is stamped on the Niger documents. He concludes that the documents are probably all fakes, and he sends an email to other analysts in the intelligence community explaining this conclusion. (US Congress 7/7/2004, pp. 58; Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 162; CBS News 4/23/2006) According to one unnamed CIA official, “Everybody knew at every step of the way that they were false—until they got to the Pentagon, where they were believed.” (Hersh 10/27/2003) Copies also go to nuclear experts at the DIA, the Department of Energy, and the NSA. Wayne White, the deputy director of the INR and the INR’s principal Iraq analyst, reviews the documents himself. Within 15 minutes he too begins doubting their authenticity (see Mid-October 2002). (Unger 2007, pp. 261)
The US Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts that in 2025, 51 percent of world oil production will come from OPEC. And two-thirds of OPEC’s production will be coming from the Persian Gulf. According to EIA, OPEC production now accounts for 38 percent of global oil production. (Gerth 12/26/2002)
Experts from a number of US national laboratories inform the US Department of Energy that Iraq is producing rockets identical to the Italian-made Medusa 81 rockets, which are made from aluminum tubes of the same dimensions and the same alloy as the tubes that were intercepted in Jordan in July 2001 (see July 2001). (Gellman and Pincus 8/10/2003 Sources: Unnamed US intelligence, US administration, and/or UN inspectors)
Senior officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reportedly brief Secretary of State Colin Powell personally about the agency’s investigation of the aluminum tubes that Iraq attempted to import in 2001 (see July 2001). Powell tells IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei and Jacques Baute, the head of the IAEA’s Iraq Nuclear Verification Office, that the tubes are giving him a headache. He reportedly appears “well aware that there [is] a controversy about the tubes.” (Albright 12/5/2003 )
Vice President Cheney, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, and dozens of senior White House officials receive a highly classified intelligence assessment, a Senior Executive Memorandum titled “Questions on Why Iraq Is Procuring Aluminum Tubes and What the IAEA Has Found to Date,” on the issue of the disputed use of the Iraqi aluminum tubes. The report concludes that the CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and National Security Agency all believe that the aluminum tubes were most likely intended for centrifuges. The memo says that only the intelligence units at the Departments of Energy and State, along with the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), disagree with that assessment and believe the tubes were purchased to be used in Iraq’s conventional rocket program, and includes discussion of the dissenting opinions. (The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction (aka 'Robb-Silberman Commission') 3/31/2005; Waas 3/2/2006)
CIA agent Joe T. travels to Vienna, Austria, where he attempts to convince IAEA nuclear scientists they were wrong to conclude that the aluminum tubes imported by Iraq, but intercepted in Jordan, were not meant to be used as rotors in a centrifuge program. The thrust of his argument is that the tubes’ dimensions are overly precise and that they are made of a special aluminum alloy that is “excessively strong.” (Gellman and Pincus 8/10/2003 Sources: Unnamed US intelligence, US administration, and/or UN inspectors) But the presentation is not convincing. “Everybody was embarrassed when he came and made this presentation, embarrassed and disgusted,” one participant later recalls to the New York Times. “We were going insane, thinking, ‘Where is he coming from?’” (Barstow, Broad, and Gerth 10/3/2004) A Department of Energy expert who later reviews Joe’s briefing says it was intellectually dishonest. He says that the DOE had provided corrections to Joe’s presentations before he went to Vienna and that Joe ignored all of them. In his presentation, Joe referred to a table comparing the characteristics of the aluminum tubes purchased by Iraq to the tubes that would be needed for Beams and older Zippe centrifuges. However he did not compare the tubes to those used for rocket casings. Such a comparison would have revealed a perfect match. The length, wall thickness, inner and out diameters, as well as the type of aluminum of the tubes imported by Iraq were exactly the same as the tubes Iraq purchased in the 1980s to construct rockets. However, there was not a single match among these characteristics between the tubes purchased by Iraq and the centrifuge tubes. Joe was reportedly aware of the values for the rocket, yet purposely omitted them from his table. (Albright 12/5/2003 )
The US Department of Energy announces that the United States has reconstituted its nuclear weapons program. It is again capable of producing nuclear weapons for the first time in 14 years and is manufacturing plutonium parts for the stockpile of nuclear weapons. It will also begin plans for a new factory that could produce components for hundreds of weapons a year. The factory would be ready for production by 2018. (Vartabedian 3/24/2003)
Joseph Wilson, the former US ambassador to Gabon and a former diplomatic official in the US embassy in Iraq during the Gulf War (see September 20, 1990), writes an op-ed for the New York Times entitled “What I Didn’t Find in Africa.” Wilson went to Africa over a year ago (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and July 6, 2003) to investigate claims that the Iraqi government surreptitiously attempted to buy large amounts of uranium from Niger, purportedly for use in nuclear weapons. The claims have been extensively debunked (see February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). Wilson opens the op-ed by writing: “Did the Bush administration manipulate intelligence about Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs to justify an invasion of Iraq? Based on my experience with the administration in the months leading up to the war, I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq’s nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.” Wilson notes his extensive experience in Africa and the Middle East, and says candidly: “Those news stories about that unnamed former envoy who went to Niger? That’s me” (see May 6, 2003). He makes it very clear that he believes his findings had been “circulated to the appropriate officials within… [the] government.”
Journey to Niger - Wilson confirms that he went to Africa at the behest of the CIA, which was in turn responding to a directive from Vice President Cheney’s office. He confirms that the CIA paid his expenses during the week-long trip, and that, while overseas, “I made it abundantly clear to everyone I met that I was acting on behalf of the United States government.” About Nigerien uranium, Wilson writes: “For reasons that are understandable, the embassy staff has always kept a close eye on Niger’s uranium business. I was not surprised, then, when the ambassador [Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick] told me that she knew about the allegations of uranium sales to Iraq—and that she felt she had already debunked them in her reports to Washington” (see November 20, 2001). Wilson met with “dozens of people: current government officials, former government officials, people associated with the country’s uranium business. It did not take long to conclude that it was highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever taken place.” Wilson notes that Nigerien uranium is handled by two mines, Somair and Cominak, “which are run by French, Spanish, Japanese, German, and Nigerian interests. If the government wanted to remove uranium from a mine, it would have to notify the consortium, which in turn is strictly monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Moreover, because the two mines are closely regulated, quasi-governmental entities, selling uranium would require the approval of the minister of mines, the prime minister, and probably the president. In short, there’s simply too much oversight over too small an industry for a sale to have transpired.” Wilson told Owens-Kirkpatrick that he didn’t believe the story either, flew back to Washington, and shared his findings with CIA and State Department officials. “There was nothing secret or earth-shattering in my report,” he writes, “just as there was nothing secret about my trip.”
State of the Union Reference - Wilson believed that the entire issue was settled until September 2002, when the British government released an intelligence finding that asserted Iraq posed an immediate threat because it had attempted to purchase uranium from Africa (see September 24, 2002). Shortly thereafter, President Bush repeated the charges in his State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). Wilson was surprised by the charge, but put it aside after discussing the issue with a friend in the State Department (see January 29, 2003). Wilson now knows that Bush was indeed referring to the Niger claims, and wants to set the record straight.
Posing a Real Nuclear Threat? - Wilson is now concerned that the facts are being manipulated by the administration to paint Iraq as a looming nuclear threat, when in fact Iraq has no nuclear weapons program. “At a minimum,” he writes, “Congress, which authorized the use of military force at the president’s behest, should want to know if the assertions about Iraq were warranted.” He is quite sure that Iraq has some form of chemical and biological weapons, and in light of his own personal experience with “Mr. Hussein and his thugs in the run-up to the Persian Gulf war of 1991, I was only too aware of the dangers he posed.” But, he asks, are “these dangers the same ones the administration told us about? We have to find out. America’s foreign policy depends on the sanctity of its information.… The act of war is the last option of a democracy, taken when there is a grave threat to our national security. More than 200 American soldiers have lost their lives in Iraq already. We have a duty to ensure that their sacrifice came for the right reasons.” (Wilson, 7/6/2003)
'Playing Congress and the Public for Fools' - Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write in 2004 that after Wilson’s editorial appears, he checks out the evidence behind the story himself. It only takes Dean a few hours of online research using source documents that Bush officials themselves had cited, from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Department of Energy, the CIA, and the United Nations. He will write: “I was amazed at the patently misleading use of the material Bush had presented to Congress. Did he believe no one would check? The falsification was not merely self-evident, it was feeble and disturbing. The president was playing Congress and the public for fools.” (Dean 2004, pp. 145-146)
When asked about the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002) and whether Bush knew of the dissenting views among US intelligence agencies regarding the now-infamous aluminum tubes supposedly being used by Iraq to produce nuclear weapons, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice says that in preparation for his February 2003 speech to the UN (see February 5, 2003), Secretary of State Colin Powell chose to “caveat,” or mention, the dissents. “The only thing that was there in the NIE was a kind of a standard INR footnote, which is kind of 59 pages away from the bulk of the NIE. That’s the only thing that’s there. And you have footnotes all the time in CIA—I mean, in NIEs. So if there was a concern about the underlying intelligence there, the president was unaware of that concern and as was I.… Now, if there were any doubts about the underlying intelligence to that NIE, those doubts were not communicated to the president, to the vice president, or to me.” Rice is incorrect. The President’s Summary from that NIE (see Early October 2002) specifically told Bush of the dissenting views, and the much lengthier NIE went into far more detail about the dissenting views. Rice, along with Vice President Cheney and other senior White House officials, received a memo months before giving them the same material, including the dissents (see January 10, 2003). (Cheney, as a matter of course, receives essentially the same intelligence information as Bush receives.) And the NIE itself contained the following caveat: “In [the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, or INR]‘s view, Iraq’s efforts to acquire aluminum tubes is central to the argument that Baghdad is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program, but INR is not persuaded that the tubes in question are intended for use as centrifuge rotors. INR accepts the judgment of technical experts at the US Department of Energy (DOE) who have concluded that the tubes Iraq seeks to acquire are poorly suited for use in gas centrifuges to be used for uranium enrichment and finds unpersuasive the arguments advanced by others to make the case that they are intended for that purpose. INR considers it far more likely that the tubes are intended for another purpose, most likely the production of artillery rockets.” This passage, among other sections of the NIE, will be declassified on July 18, one week from Rice’s denials.
A Pattern of Deception - There are numerous examples of Bush and Cheney citing the “imminent threat” of Saddam Hussein against the US and the Middle East. Some of those include: Cheney’s assertion that Hussein “now has weapons of mass destruction [and] is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us” (see August 26, 2002); Bush’s assertion to the UN that Iraq has WMDs and is likely to share them with terrorists (see September 12, 2002); a farrago of assertions from Bush that includes assertions about Iraq’s fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles ready to disperse chemical and biological weapons, perhaps over the US, its consorting with al-Qaeda, and more (see October 7, 2002); a State of the Union address loaded with false, misleading, and incorrect allegations (see October 7, 2002); and a speech on the eve of the Iraq invasion that asserted “[t]he danger is clear” that Iraq will “kill thousands or hundreds of thousands of innocent” Americans (see March 17, 2003). (White House 7/11/2003; US House Committee on Government Reform 3/16/2004; Waas 3/2/2006)
The US Supreme Court agrees to hear Vice President Cheney’s appeal of a lower court ruling that found he must reveal documents pertaining to his 2001 energy task force (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see January 29, 2001 and May 16, 2001). Cheney lost the case, filed by the conservative government watchdog group Judicial Watch and the environmentalist organization the Sierra Club, in two lower courts, and has ramrodded the case into the Supreme Court with unusual alacrity—filing the Supreme Court appeal even before the appeals court had finished the case. Cheney’s lawyers from the Justice Department will argue that because of the Constitutional provision of separation of powers, the executive branch can and should keep all such information secret if it so chooses. Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club insist that because energy executives and lobbyists were involved in the task force policy deliberations, federal law mandates that lists of participants and details of the meetings should be made public. Over a year ago, District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled that the White House should either turn over the documents or provide a detailed list of the documents it was withholding, and explain why. The White House has done neither, and instead appealed the decision. The US Court of Appeals refused to overturn Sullivan’s decision and ruled that Cheney had no legal standing to refuse the judicial order. Cheney disagreed, and appealed to the Supreme Court. The Court will hear arguments in the spring of 2004 (see April 27, 2004). Thousands of documents concerning the task force from the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and other federal agencies have already been turned over (see July 17, 2003), but no White House documents have been released. The Sierra Club has accused the Bush administration of trying to delay release of the information until after the November 2004 presidential elections. (Cornwell 12/15/2003)
The United States Department of Energy spends $6.5 billion on nuclear weapons research and production, 50 percent more than it did during the Cold War. (Vartabedian 3/24/2003; Natural Resources Defense Council 4/13/2004)
The Department of Energy (DOE) says it will not request $350 million that the agency is supposed to use for the disposal of more than 85 million gallons of “high-level” radioactive waste unless Congress and state governments agree to downgrade the classification for some of the waste to “low-level” so that it can be disposed of using a less costly method that it estimates will save $29 billion. The DOE claims that some of the waste has a low enough level of radioactivity that the waste can simply be covered with concrete and left in place. But in July 2003, a federal judge in Idaho ruled that the Energy Department’s plan was illegal and that the agency was bound to the nuclear waste law, which states that liquid nuclear fuel reprocessing waste is “high-level” and needs to be buried in a permanent geological storage facility. The waste, left over from Cold War armament projects, includes 53 million gallons at the DOE’s Hanford site near Richland, Washington; 34 million gallons at its Savannah River site near Aiken, South Carolina; and 900,000 gallons at its INEEL facility in Idaho. Additionally, there are 600,000 gallons of waste from a short-lived civilian reprocessing program near West Valley, New York. (Associated Press 2/26/2004; Hebert 4/8/2004; Wald 5/30/2004) A lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council, Geoffrey Fettus, warns that the Energy Department’s plan would in effect create “nuclear cesspools” at the weapons plants and the Savannah River plant would become the most polluted nuclear site on the planet. (Wald 5/30/2004)
Rich Levernier, a specialist with the Department of Energy (DOE) for 22 years, spent over six years before the 9/11 attacks running nuclear war games for the US government. In a Vanity Fair article, Levernier reveals what he shows to be critical weaknesses in security for US nuclear plants. Levernier’s special focus was the Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory and nine other major nuclear facilities. The Los Alamos facility is the US’s main storage plant for processing plutonium and obsolete (but still effective) nuclear weapons. Levernier’s main concern was terrorist attacks. Levernier’s procedure was to, once a year, stage a mock terrorist attack using US military commandos to assault Los Alamos and the other nuclear weapons facilities, with both sides using harmless laser weapons to simulate live fire. Levernier’s squads were ordered to penetrate a given weapons facility, capture its plutonium or highly enriched uranium, and escape. The facilities’ security forces were tasked to repel the mock attacks.
Multiple Failures - Levernier is going public with the results of his staged attacks, and the results are, in the words of Vanity Fair reporter Mark Hertsgaard, “alarming.” Some facilities failed every single test. Los Alamos fell victim to the mock attacks over 50 percent of the time, with Levernier’s commandos getting in and out with the goods without firing a shot—they never encountered a guard. And this came when security forces were told months in advance exactly what day the assaults would take place. Levernier calls the nuclear facilities’ security nothing more than “smoke and mirrors.… On paper, it looks good, but in reality, it’s not. There are lots of shiny gates and guards and razor wire out front. But go around back and there are gaping holes in the fence, the sensors don’t work, and it just ain’t as impressive as it appears.” The Los Alamos facility houses 2.7 metric tons of plutonium and 3.2 metric tons of highly enriched uranium; experts say that a crude nuclear device could be created using just 11 pounds of plutonium or 45 pounds of highly enriched uranium. Arjun Makhijani, the head of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, says the most dangerous problem exposed by Levernier is the possibility of terrorists stealing plutonium from Los Alamos. It would be a relatively simple matter to construct a so-called “dirty bomb” that could devastate an American city. Even a terrorist attack that set off a “plutonium fire” could result in hundreds of cancer deaths and leave hundreds of square miles uninhabitable.
Involuntary Whistleblower - Levernier is not comfortable about being a whistleblower, and until now has never spoken to the press or Congress about his experiences. He finds himself coming forward now because, after spending six years trying unsuccessfully to persuade his bosses at the DOE to address the problems, they refused to even acknowledge that a problem existed. Shortly before he spoke to Hertsgaard, he was fired for a minor infraction and stripped of his security clearance, two years before he was due to retire with a full pension. He has filed a lawsuit against the DOE, charging that he was illegally gagged and improperly fired. He is speaking out, he says, in the hopes of helping prevent a catastrophic terrorist attack against the US that is entirely preventable. Levonier asserts that the Bush administration is doing little more than talking tough about nuclear security (see February 15, 2004). (Carter 2004, pp. 17-18; Hertsgaard 2/15/2004)
Rich Levernier, a specialist with the Department of Energy (DOE) for 22 years who spent over six years before the 9/11 attacks running nuclear war games for the US government, says that the Bush administration has done little more than talk about securing the nation’s nuclear facilities from terrorist attacks. If Levernier and his team of experts (see February 15, 2004) are correct in their assessments, the administration is actually doing virtually nothing to protect the US’s nuclear weapons facilities, which certainly top any terrorist’s wish list of targets. Instead of addressing the enormous security problems at these facilities, it is persecuting whistleblowers like Levernier. Indeed, the administration denies a danger even exists. “Any implication that there is a 50 percent failure rate on security tests at our nuclear weapons sites is not true,” says Anson Franklin, a spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a DOE agency that oversees the US’s nuclear weapons complex. “Our facilities are not vulnerable.”
Too Strict Grading? - James Ford, who is retired, was Levernier’s direct DOE supervisor in the late 1990s. He says that while Levernier was a talented and committed employee, the results he claims from his mock terror attacks are skewed because of what Ford calls Levernier’s too-strict approach to grading the performance of the nuclear facilities’ security personnel. Ford says that Levernier liked to focus on one particular area, the Technical Area-18 facility, at the Los Alamos nuclear facility in New Mexico, though the site is essentially indefensible, located at the bottom of a canyon and surrounded on three sides by steep, wooded ridges that afforded potential attackers excellent cover and the advantage of high ground.
Complaints of 'Strict Grading' Baseless, Squad Commander Says - “My guys were licking their chops when they saw that terrain,” says Ronald Timms, who commanded mock terrorist squads under Levernier’s supervision. Timms, now the head of RETA Security, which participated in many DOE war games and designed the National Park Service’s security plans for Mount Rushmore, says Ford’s complaint is groundless: “To say it’s unfair to go after the weak link is so perverse, it’s ridiculous. Of course the bad guys are going to go after the weakest link. That’s why [DOE] isn’t supposed to have weak links at those facilities.” In one such attack Timms recalls, Levernier’s forces added insult to injury by hauling away the stolen weapons-grade nuclear material in a Home Depot garden cart. The then-Secretary of Energy, Bill Richardson, ordered the weapons-grade material at TA-18 to be removed to the Nevada Test Site by 2003. That has not happened yet, and is not expected to happen until 2006 at the earliest.
Rules of Engagement - The failure rates are even harder to understand considering the fact that the rules of engagement are heavily slanted in favor of the defense. A real terrorist attack would certainly be a surprise, but the dates of the war games were announced months in advance, within an eight-hour window. Attackers were not allowed to use grenades, body armor, or helicopters. They were not allowed to use publicly available radio jamming devices. “DOE wouldn’t let me use that stuff, because it doesn’t have a defense against it,” Levernier says. His teams were required, for safety reasons, to obey 25 MPH speed limits. Perhaps the biggest flaw in the DOE’s war games, Levernier says, is that they don’t allow for suicide bombers. The games required Levernier’s teams to steal weapons-grade nuclear material and escape. It is likely, though, that attackers would enter the facility, secure the materials, and detonate their own explosives. DOE did not order nuclear facilities to prepare for such attacks until May 2003, and the policy change does not take effect until 2009. Levernier notes that three of the nation’s nuclear weapons facilities did relatively well against mock attacks: the Argonne National Laboratory-West in Idaho, the Pantex plant in Texas, and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.
Bureaucratic, Political Resistance - So why, asks Vanity Fair journalist Mark Hertsgaard, doesn’t the Bush administration insist on similar vigilance throughout the entire nuclear complex? They “just don’t think [a catastrophic attack] will happen,” Levernier replies. “And nobody wants to say we can’t protect these nuclear weapons, because the political fallout would be so great that there would be no chance to keep the system running.” The DOE bureaucracy is more interested in the appearance of proper oversight than the reality, says Tom Devine, the lawyer who represents both Levernier and other whistleblowers. “Partly that’s about saving face. To admit that a whistleblower’s charges are right would reflect poorly on the bureaucracy’s competence. And fixing the problems that whistleblowers identify would often mean diverting funds that bureaucrats would rather use for other purposes, like empire building. But the main reason bureaucrats have no tolerance for dissent is that taking whistleblowers’ charges seriously would require them to stand up to the regulated industry, and that’s not in most bureaucrats’ nature, whether the industry is the nuclear weapons complex or the airlines.”
Stiff Resistance from Bush Administration - Devine acknowledges that both of his clients’ troubles began under the Clinton administration and continued under Bush, but, Devine says, the Bush administration is particularly unsympathetic to whistleblowers because it is ideologically disposed against government regulation in general. “I don’t think President Bush or other senior officials in this administration want another September 11th,” says Devine, “but their anti-government ideology gets in the way of fixing the problems Levenier and [others] are talking about. The security failures in the nuclear weapons complex and the civil aviation system are failures of government regulation. The Bush people don’t believe in government regulation in the first place, so they’re not inclined to expend the time and energy needed to take these problems seriously. And then they go around boasting that they’re winning the war on terrorism. The hypocrisy is pretty outrageous.” (Carter 2004, pp. 17-18; Hertsgaard 2/15/2004)
Greg Thielmann, a former director of the Strategic, Proliferation, and Military Affairs Office at the State Department’s intelligence bureau, compares the aluminum tubes allegations (see Between April 2001 and September 2002 and September 8, 2002) to the Iraq-Niger uranium allegations (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), and finds the aluminum tubes allegations an “even more egregrious case of policymakers’ contamination of the intelligence process than the” Iraq-Niger uranium allegations, in the words of former Defense Intelligence Agency official Patrick Lang. Lang goes on to quote Thielmann as saying: “What was done with the aluminum tubes was far worse than what was done with the uranium from Africa. Because the intelligence community had debated over a period of months, and involved key scientists and engineers in the national laboratories—and foreigners as well—in a long and detailed discussion. The way I would have characterized it, if you had asked me in July 2002, when I turned over the leadership of my office, there was a growing consensus in the intelligence community that this kind of aluminum was not suitable for the nuclear weapons program. So I was really quite shocked to see—I was just retired—the National Intelligence Estimate say that the majority of agencies came to the opposite interpretation, that it was going into the nuclear weapons program.” Anyone in the White House or the National Security Council should have, in Lang’s words, “seen through the subterfuge and drawn the proper conclusion.” Again, Lang quotes Thielmann: “If they had read the NIE [National Intelligence Estimate—see October 1, 2002] in October, it is transparent that there were different views in the intelligence community. They could have read, for example, that the Department of Energy and the State Department INR [intelligence bureau] believed that the aluminum tubes were not going into the nuclear weapons program and instead were going into conventional artillery rockets. And, if one assumes a modicum of intelligence understanding at the [National Security Council], they should know that the agency that is most able to judge on this would be the Department of Energy. They control all the laboratories that actually over the years have enriched uranium and built centrifuges.” (Lang 6/2004)
In an interview with Greg Palast, Robert Ebel, a former Department of Energy and and CIA oil analyst, acknowledges that the invasion of Iraq was driven by oil interests. “The thought was, ‘Why are you going into Iraq? It’s about oil isn’t it?’ And my response was, ‘No, It’s about getting rid of Saddam Hussein. The morning after, it’s about oil.’” (Palast 3/21/2005)
Congress passes a law that forbids the Department of Energy, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and their contractors from firing or otherwise punishing any employee who informs Congress about possible wrongdoing. President Bush issues a signing statement that says only he or his appointees will decide whether employees of either agency can give information to Congress. (Boston Globe 4/30/2006)
Rolf Mowatt-Larssen leaves the CIA and joins the Department of Energy, where he becomes director of the Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence. He will remain with the department until January 2009. (US Department of Energy 12/2/2008)
In response to a number of questions for the record (QFRs) submitted by senators Daniel Inouye (D-HI) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) regarding an April 26, 2006 testimony on projected and past effects of climate change, scientists at NOAA submit a document of draft responses to an NOAA legislative affairs specialist for review. The document is ultimately reviewed by individuals at the EPA, Energy Department, White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, who suggest a number of changes. For example, the OMB suggests keeping the sentence, “The full range and magnitude of the biological and biogeochemical effects of ocean acidification are still so uncertain that a reliable and quantitative estimate of the likely socio-economic effects is not yet possible,” but removing the sentence immediately following that: “However, healthy coral reef ecosystems are important to both the fisheries and tourism industries and negative impacts on these ecosystems could affect these industries.” According to the OMB, “[a]s written this seems to conflict with the factual first sentence of the paragraph, which adequately answers the question.” In another instance, the OMB recommends adding a sentence that attributes global warming to increasing water vapor, drawing from a quote taken out of context from an article written by scientists Thomas Karl and Kevin Trenberth. When NOAA scientist James Butler attempts to explain that the edit is not scientifically valid, the OMB insists on keeping the change. Finally, Karl himself enters the fray, recommending a change that the OMB accepts. The Government Accountability Project, which will obtain the draft document that shows the changes, comments, “These two examples show that, while federal climate scientists are occasionally able to correct distortions to scientific findings in congressional communication, political appointees can still introduce inaccurate information that goes unchecked.” (Union of Concern Scientists and Government Accountability Project 1/30/2007, pp. 37, 80 ; Maassarani 3/27/2007, pp. 44-46 )
Time reports on a brewing conflict between President Barack Obama and his Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, over the idea of replacing America’s aging nuclear arsenal. Gates, a holdover from the Bush administration, favors putting the $100 billion Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) Program into effect, because the nation’s nuclear weapons, many produced in the 1970s and 1980s, are becoming old and possibly unreliable. In a November 2008 speech, Gates called the RRW program “not about new capabilities but about safety, reliability, and security.” After Obama selected Gates to remain at the Pentagon, Gates told reporters that Congress must fund the RRW “for safety, for security, and for a more reliable deterrent.” Obama disagrees. After taking the oath of office on January 20, he declared on the new White House Web site’s policy section that his administration “will stop the development of new nuclear weapons.” Nuclear defense expert Michael O’Hanlon describes Obama and Gates “at loggerheads on this.” A Pentagon official asked about the issue says he doesn’t think Obama and Gates have discussed the matter as yet. Many experts such as O’Hanlon suggest retooling existing warheads to ensure their efficacy and functionality, but the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration, responsible for developing and maintaining the US nuclear arsenal, has said it cannot meet the goals set for RRW by modifying existing weapons. Congress has repeatedly refused to fund RRW. Gates has argued that by enhancing and retooling the nuclear arsenal, the US could afford to dramatically shrink its numbers. Time reporter Mark Thompson explains the logic of Gates’s argument: “After all, if you have only a 50 percent level of confidence that a nuclear weapon is going to perform as advertised, you’ll need twice as many.” Critics note that US policy tends to, in Thompson’s words, “embrace the notion that all nuclear weapons possessed by adversaries will work, while those possessed by the US won’t.” (Thompson 1/26/2009)
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) invests $90 billion in clean energy projects for the next 10 years via loan guarantees, tax incentives, and grants. $38 billion of this is government spending and $20 billion is tax incentives. Symbolically, President Obama signs the bill into law at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, where he takes a tour of the museum’s solar panel installation. He says he hopes the bill will inspire Americans to get involved in “green” energy the same way that President Kennedy’s goal to put a man on the moon inspired Americans in the 1960s. “I hope this investment will ignite our imagination once more in science, medicine, energy and make our economy stronger, our nation more secure, and our planet safer for our children,” Obama says before signing the bill. The bill includes:
A three-year extension to the tax credit for wind, which would have expired at the end of this year, and an extension until the end of 2013 for geothermal and biomass renewable-energy projects. The credit has been increased to 30 percent of the investment.
$4.5 billion in direct spending to modernize the electricity grid with smart-grid technologies.
$6.3 billion in state energy-efficient and clean-energy grants, and $4.5 billion to make federal buildings more energy efficient.
$6 billion in loan guarantees for renewable energy systems, biofuel projects, and electric-power transmission facilities.
$2 billion in loans to manufacture advanced batteries and components for applications such as plug-in electric cars.
$5 billion to weatherize homes of up to 1 million low-income people.
$3.4 billion appropriated to the Department of Energy for fossil energy research and development, such as storing carbon dioxide underground at coal power plants.
A tax credit of between $2,500 and $5,000 for purchase of plug-in electric vehicles, available for the first 200,000 placed into service.
Most companies in the green-tech field hail the new focus on energy efficiency and renewable energy in the bill, contrasting it with the Bush administration’s support for fossil fuel energy production and its disdain for clean energy programs. Investors and analysts say the new law is a step towards a comprehensive energy policy based on sustained commitment to renewable energy and efficiency. Michael Liebriech of New Energy Finance says: “For years, US policymakers’ support for clean energy has been uneven. No longer… the US will have a great chance to be the growth engine for our industry over the next several years.” The spending should have an almost-immediate impact, especially in areas such as smart grid technology and energy efficiency, says venture capitalist Dennis Costello. However, even this influx of government funding does not solve all the financial problems facing energy technology firms. The recession continues to grip the economy, he notes, damping demand and making financing of new projects difficult. “It’s kind of refreshing to see at least beginnings of a real energy policy, some sort of unified approach to our energy problems,” he says. “But it isn’t going to solve our energy problems. There are a lot of countervailing factors to give pause to being over-exuberant on the future of energy sector and clean tech.” (LaMonica 2/17/2009; Adam Johnston 7/2013)
Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute and the author of Power Hungry: The Myths of ‘Green’ Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future, writes an op-ed for the New York Times claiming that solar power production is too costly in part because of the “huge” amount of land it requires. “[W]hile energy sources like sunlight and wind are free and naturally replenished, converting them into large quantities of electricity requires vast amounts of natural resources—most notably, land,” he writes. “Even a cursory look at these costs exposes the deep contradictions in the renewable energy movement.” Bryce cites as one example the Ivanpah solar plant, which takes up about five and a half acres in the Mojave Desert and will generate about 370 megawatts of power when completed (see September 22, 2013). “The math is simple: to have 8,500 megawatts of solar capacity, California would need at least 23 projects the size of Ivanpah, covering about 129 square miles, an area more than five times as large as Manhattan,” he writes. “While there’s plenty of land in the Mojave, projects as big as Ivanpah raise environmental concerns. In April, the federal Bureau of Land Management ordered a halt to construction on part of the facility out of concern for the desert tortoise, which is protected under the Endangered Species Act” (see August 13, 2013). Wind power generation consumes even more land, he writes, citing the example of a wind farm in Texas that covers 154 square miles and generates over 781 megawatts of energy. Add to that the need for “long swaths of land for power lines,” and you have what one conservation group calls “energy sprawl,” the need for large amounts of land to generate power. He concludes: “All energy and power systems exact a toll. If we are to [keep power generation systems small] while also reducing the rate of growth of greenhouse gas emissions, we must exploit the low-carbon energy sources—natural gas and, yes, nuclear—that have smaller footprints.” (Bryce 8/6/2011)
'Gusher of Lies' - In 2010, the progressive news Web site Think Progress called Bryce’s book “a gusher of lies,” and recruited renewable energy expert Adam Siegel to debunk it. Siegel wrote: “Masquerading as an unbiased, fact-based look at America’s energy situation and viable paths forward into the future, Robert Bryce’s Power Hungry is a mixed collection of factual material, thought-provoking constructs, selective ‘truthiness,’ questionable (if not simply wrong) data crunching, and outright deceptions. This mix of material makes Bryce’s work dangerous reading for those without a serious grounding in energy (related) issues while that same mix calls into question this work’s value for anyone with that more serious background.” (Siegel 9/14/2010)
Counter-Claims - In 2003, the US Department of Energy concluded that most of the land needed for renewable energy sites could be supplied by abandoned industrial sites. Moreover, “with today’s commercial systems, the solar energy resource in a 100-by-100-mile area of Nevada could supply the United States with all of its electricity. If these systems were distributed to the 50 states, the land required from each state would be an area of about 17 by 17 miles. This area is available now from parking lots, rooftops, and vacant land. In fact, 90 percent of America’s current electricity needs could be supplied with solar electric systems built on the estimated 5 million acres of abandoned industrial sites in our nation’s cities.” The federal government is expanding its efforts to find “disturbed and abandoned lands that are suitable for renewable energy development.” Groups concerned with minimizing the impacts of energy development on wildlife prefer prioritizing these areas for development. The Energy Information Administration says: “Covering 4 percent of the world’s desert area with photovoltaics could supply the equivalent of all of the world’s electricity. The Gobi Desert alone could supply almost all of the world’s total electricity demand.” And a 2009 study found that “in most cases” solar arrays in areas with plenty of sunlight use “less land than the coal-fuel cycle coupled with surface mining.” (National Renewable Energy Laboratory 1/2003 ; US Energy Information Administration 12/19/2011; Defenders of Wildlife 1/14/2013 ; Theel 1/24/2013)
The Los Angeles Times publishes a long analysis of the environmental impact solar power projects are expected to have on the southwestern US desert (see August 13, 2013). Written by Julie Cart, the analysis focuses on the Ivanpah solar power project in the Mojave (see September 22, 2013), which is projected to expand to some 3,500 acres of public land when finished. The plant “will soon be a humming city with 24-hour lighting, a wastewater processing facility, and a gas-fired power plant. To make room, BrightSource [the firm building the plant] has mowed down a swath of desert plants, displaced dozens of animal species, and relocated scores of imperiled desert tortoises, a move that some experts say could kill up to a third of them.” Environmental attorney Johanna Wald, who was involved in the negotiations to build the plant, says: “I have spent my entire career thinking of myself as an advocate on behalf of public lands and acting for their protection. I am now helping facilitate an activity on public lands that will have very significant environmental impacts. We are doing it because of the threat of climate change. It’s not an accommodation; it’s a change I had to make to respond to climate.” Cart says that plants like the Ivanpah facility will result in “a wholesale remodeling of the American desert” in Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. “[H]undreds of square miles of wild land will be scraped clear,” Cart writes. “Several thousand miles of power transmission corridors will be created. The desert will be scarred well beyond a human life span, and no amount of mitigation will repair it, according to scores of federal and state environmental reviews.” Dennis Schramm, the former superintendent of the Mojave National Preserve, warns: “The scale of impacts that we are facing, collectively across the desert, is phenomenal. The reality of the Ivanpah project is that what it will look like on the ground is worse than any of the analyses predicted.” Cart writes that at the moment, solar energy is “three times more expensive than natural gas or coal” because of “capital costs and other market factors,” and ratepayers will pay “as much as 50 percent higher for renewable energy, according to an analysis from the consumer advocate branch of the [California] state Public Utilities Commission.” The impact on the environment will be dramatic in some places, with birds and other wildlife abandoning some areas entirely, and the possible “massive losses of pollinators because you have all these insects getting burned in the mirrors,” according to government biologist Larry LaPre. Desert tortoise expert Jeffrey Lovich says no one really knows the impact the plants will have on the desert. “This is an experiment on a grand scale,” he says. “Science is racing to catch up.” Most large environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) have chosen not to protest the development, instead agreeing to become part of the negotiation process and winning some environmental concessions from the developers. Wald, who works with the NRDC, says of the projects: “We didn’t make them perfect. We didn’t eliminate their environmental impact because you can’t eliminate the environmental impact. But we made them better.” (Cart 2/5/2012)
Refutation of Land Use Requirements - In 2003, the US Department of Energy concluded that most of the land needed for renewable energy sites could be supplied by abandoned industrial sites. Moreover, “with today’s commercial systems, the solar energy resource in a 100-by-100-mile area of Nevada could supply the United States with all of its electricity. If these systems were distributed to the 50 states, the land required from each state would be an area of about 17 by 17 miles. This area is available now from parking lots, rooftops, and vacant land. In fact, 90 percent of America’s current electricity needs could be supplied with solar electric systems built on the estimated 5 million acres of abandoned industrial sites in our nation’s cities.” The federal government is expanding its efforts to find “disturbed and abandoned lands that are suitable for renewable energy development.” Groups concerned with minimizing the impacts of energy development on wildlife prefer prioritizing these areas for development. The Energy Information Administration says: “Covering 4 percent of the world’s desert area with photovoltaics could supply the equivalent of all of the world’s electricity. The Gobi Desert alone could supply almost all of the world’s total electricity demand.” And a 2009 study found that “in most cases” solar arrays in areas with plenty of sunlight use “less land than the coal-fuel cycle coupled with surface mining.” (National Renewable Energy Laboratory 1/2003 ; US Energy Information Administration 12/19/2011; Defenders of Wildlife 1/14/2013 ; Theel 1/24/2013)
The conservative Investors Business Daily (IBD) publishes an op-ed criticizing the White House’s willingness to grant permits for solar energy producers to use public lands to build their solar plants. The editorial says, “Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar, who has apparently forgotten about the Obama administration’s many solar power scandals, announced the initiative in what he called a ‘proud moment,’” apparently a swipe at the administration over the Solyndra bankruptcy, and then makes the broad claim: “There were no solar projects on federal land when Barack Obama was elected four years ago. And for good reason: Solar is an inferior source of energy.” Fossil fuels are cheaper, more efficient, sun-dependent, and even cleaner, the editorial claims, writing: “Solar power needs a large—and ugly—footprint that creates its own environmental issues. Solar cells contain toxic materials and therefore create toxic waste.” The editorial concludes by lambasting the Obama administration for not opening public lands for oil and gas development. (Investors Business Daily 8/1/2012) In 2003, the US Department of Energy concluded that most of the land needed for renewable energy sites could be supplied by abandoned industrial sites. Moreover, “with today’s commercial systems, the solar energy resource in a 100-by-100-mile area of Nevada could supply the United States with all of its electricity. If these systems were distributed to the 50 states, the land required from each state would be an area of about 17 by 17 miles. This area is available now from parking lots, rooftops, and vacant land. In fact, 90 percent of America’s current electricity needs could be supplied with solar electric systems built on the estimated 5 million acres of abandoned industrial sites in our nation’s cities.” The federal government is expanding its efforts to find “disturbed and abandoned lands that are suitable for renewable energy development.… Groups concerned with minimizing the impacts of energy development on wildlife prefer prioritizing these areas for development.” The Energy Information Administration says: “Covering 4 percent of the world’s desert area with photovoltaics could supply the equivalent of all of the world’s electricity. The Gobi Desert alone could supply almost all of the world’s total electricity demand.” And a 2009 study found that “in most cases” solar arrays in areas with plenty of sunlight use “less land than the coal-fuel cycle coupled with surface mining.” (National Renewable Energy Laboratory 1/2003 ; US Energy Information Administration 12/19/2011; Defenders of Wildlife 1/14/2013 ; Theel 1/24/2013)
In an editorial claiming that the Obama administration is engaged in giving preferential land-use permits to solar energy producers over fossil fuel corporations, the Wall Street Journal claims, “The dirty secret of solar and wind power is that they are extremely land intensive, especially compared to coal mining, oil and gas drilling, or building a nuclear power plant.” (Wall Street Journal 8/13/2012) In 2003, the US Department of Energy concluded that most of the land needed for renewable energy sites could be supplied by abandoned industrial sites. Moreover, “with today’s commercial systems, the solar energy resource in a 100-by-100-mile area of Nevada could supply the United States with all of its electricity. If these systems were distributed to the 50 states, the land required from each state would be an area of about 17 by 17 miles. This area is available now from parking lots, rooftops, and vacant land. In fact, 90 percent of America’s current electricity needs could be supplied with solar electric systems built on the estimated 5 million acres of abandoned industrial sites in our nation’s cities.” The federal government is expanding its efforts to find “disturbed and abandoned lands that are suitable for renewable energy development.… Groups concerned with minimizing the impacts of energy development on wildlife prefer prioritizing these areas for development.” The Energy Information Administration says: “Covering 4 percent of the world’s desert area with photovoltaics could supply the equivalent of all of the world’s electricity. The Gobi Desert alone could supply almost all of the world’s total electricity demand.” And a 2009 study found that “in most cases” solar arrays in areas with plenty of sunlight use “less land than the coal-fuel cycle coupled with surface mining.” (National Renewable Energy Laboratory 1/2003 ; US Energy Information Administration 12/19/2011; Defenders of Wildlife 1/14/2013 ; Theel 1/24/2013)
As the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) begins phasing out coal and natural gas power plants, it is turning more and more to “solar parks” in the desert to the east to generate much-needed power. However, these solar parks are raising concerns among environmentalists and local residents. The Ivanpah Solar Complex in the Mojave Desert has taken steps to minimize the impact its existence will have on the fragile desert tortoise population. The Genesis Solar Energy Project in Riverside County, California, was recently forced to halt construction when Native American burial remains were found on the construction site. Donna Charpeid, a farmer in Desert Center, California, says of the Desert Sunlight Solar Farm being built near her home: “My heart aches every time I look out my window and see the construction over there. It’s just unbelievable, the destruction.” The Desert Sunlight plant is being built near Charpeid’s 10-acre plot near the Joshua Tree State Park. It is projected to provide enough power to run 160,000 average homes and decrease the amount of CO2 pumped into the atmosphere by 300,000 tons annually. Seventeen “Solar Energy Zones” have been proposed for California by the Bureau of Land Management and the US Department of Energy. Charpeid says of the zones: “This is a whole new form of gentrification. If all these projects come to fruition, people will simply not be able to live here. This is all seems like corporate welfare to me.” Critics worry that although water is not used by all solar-thermal plants for power generation, the water consumed by the plants—keeping dust down, rinsing panels, providing for the needs of workers—will deplete the water reserves in the area. In Desert Center, the residents’ water comes from deep underground reservoirs that are not generally replenished by groundwater; Charpeid says their water was found to be up to 30,000 years old. She also worries about the impact on the local weather: dust storms have increased over the last few years, she says, threatening her ability to farm jojoba. And animal habitats are being threatened. “I really wish [President] Obama would’ve given out that stimulus money to do rooftop solar instead,” she says, “like they’ve done in Germany.” LADWP board commissioner Jonathan Parfrey, the director of advocacy organization Climate Resolve, says: “I’ve been out in the desert; I know some of the people being impacted. I’m an enviro, I want to conserve that land. But it’s not just as easy as saying LA’s got to slap solar on rooftops. There has to be a balanced approach.” Parfrey says that solar plants need to be constructed in areas that are not rich in wildlife or used for recreational purposes, but adds that these solar desert plants must be built somewhere. Using solar arrays on rooftops of businesses and homes is expensive, he says, and sometimes interferes with distribution balancing and voltage problems as they co-exist with grid-produced electricity. He says: “In my view the transition to clean energy has to happen as inexpensively as possible. Otherwise people will rebel and they won’t even want to pay for it in the face of climate impacts. They will say, ‘That’s too bad about what’s happening to the environment, but I can’t afford to put food on my table because my electricity bills are too high.’” The LADWP is experimenting with inexpensive solar rooftop arrays, Palfrey says. “If I could have my moment like in The Graduate where [a character] says to Dustin Hoffman, ‘The future is in plastics,’ mine is how do we do distributed generation where we maintain the utility business model and we’re able to provide continual service for people. When we find the magic key to that I think it will be a revolution. I think it will really help affect the transition away from fossil-fuel energy sources.” (Phillips 8/13/2013)
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