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Profile: White House Iraq Group

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White House Iraq Group was a participant or observer in the following events:

White House chief of staff Andrew Card forms the White House Iraq Group, or WHIG, which aims to “educate the public” about the alleged threat from Iraq. WHIG is formed concurrently with the Office of Special Plans (see September 2002). A senior official involved with the group will later describe it as “an internal working group, like many formed for priority issues, to make sure each part of the White House was fulfilling its responsibilities.” [Washington Post, 8/10/2003] According to White House deputy press secretary Scott McClellan, the WHIG is “set up in the summer of 2002 to coordinate the marketing of the [Iraq] war,” and will continue “as a strategic communications group after the invasion had toppled Saddam [Hussein]‘s regime.” McClellan, who will become a full-fledged member of the WHIG after rising to the position of senior press secretary, will write: “Some critics have suggested that sinister plans were discussed at the WHIG meetings to deliberately mislead the public. Not so. There were plenty of discussions about how to set the agenda and influence the narrative, but there was no conspiracy to intentionally deceive. Instead, there were straightforward discussions of communications strategies and messaging grounded in the familiar tactics of the permanent campaign.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 142] Author Craig Unger will sum up the WHIG’s purpose up more bluntly: “to sell the war.” Members of the group include White House political advisers Karl Rove, Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin, James R. Wilkinson, and Nicholas E. Calio, and policy advisers led by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, her deputy Stephen Hadley, and Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby. They meet weekly in the White House Situation Room. A “strategic communications” task force under the WHIG is charged with planning speeches and writing position papers. [Washington Post, 8/10/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 241]
Marketing Fear, Idea of Invasion as Reasonable - After Labor Day 2002—and after suitable test marketing—the group launches a full-fledged media marketing campaign. The images and storyline are simple and visceral: imminent biological or chemical attack, threats of nuclear holocaust, Saddam Hussein as a psychopathic dictator who can only be stopped by American military force. A key element of the narrative is forged documents “proving” Iraq sought uranium from Niger (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, October 15, 2001, October 18, 2001, November 20, 2001, February 5, 2002, March 1, 2002, Late April or Early May 2002-June 2002, and Late June 2002). One of the main objectives is to swing the dialogue ever farther to the right, creating the assumption in the public mind that war with Iraq is a thoughtful, moderate, well-reasoned position, and delegitimizing any opposition. To that end, Cheney stakes out the “moderate” position, with statements like “many of us are convinced that Saddam will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon” (see August 26, 2002), and neoconservatives such as Michael Ledeen pushing the extremes ever rightward with calls to invade not only Iraq, but Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia (see September 20, 2001, August 6, 2002, and September 4, 2002). The real push is delayed until the second week of September. As Card reminds the group, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August” (see September 6, 2002). The first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is a perfect opportunity to launch the new campaign (see September 8, 2002). [Unger, 2007, pp. 250-251] Wilkinson, the group’s communications director, is tasked with preparing one of the group’s first public releases, a white paper that will describe the “grave and gathering danger” of Iraq’s “reconstituted” nuclear weapons program. Wilkinson will claim that Iraq “sought uranium oxide, an essential ingredient in the enrichment process, from Africa.” [CounterPunch, 11/9/2005]
'Push[ing] the Envelope' - According to an intelligence source interviewed by the New York Daily News in October 2005, the group, on “a number of occasions,” will attempt “to push the envelope on things.… The [CIA] would say, ‘We just don’t have the intelligence to substantiate that.’” [New York Daily News, 10/19/2005] In 2003, three unnamed officials will tell a Washington Post reporter that the group “wanted gripping images and stories not available in the hedged and austere language of intelligence,” what author and reporter Charlie Savage will call “a stark display of the political benefits that come with the power to control information.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 357] In 2008, McClellan will write of “the heightened rhetoric on Iraq, including unequivocal statements that made things sound more certain than was known.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 137]
Using Friendly Media Outlets - An important part of the WHIG strategy is to feed their messages to friendly journalists, such as New York Times reporter Judith Miller. James Bamford, in his book A Pretext for War, will write: “First OSP [Office of Special Plans] supplies false or exaggerated intelligence; then members of the WHIG leak it to friendly reporters, complete with prepackaged vivid imagery; finally, when the story breaks, senior officials point to it as proof and parrot the unnamed quotes they or their colleagues previously supplied.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 325]

Entity Tags: Stephen J. Hadley, Scott McClellan, Saddam Hussein, Nicholas E. Calio, White House Iraq Group, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Condoleezza Rice, Mary Matalin, Andrew Card, Craig Unger, James Bamford, Charlie Savage, Karen Hughes, James R. Wilkinson, Karl C. Rove

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

At a meeting of the White House Iraq Group, speechwriter Michael Gerson suggests that Bush argue in his next speech that the US should not wait until there is conclusive evidence that Iraq has acquired a nuclear weapon because the first sign of a “smoking gun” may be a “mushroom cloud.” Gerson’s suggestion is met with enthusiastic approval. The soundbite is so well liked that the phrase is leaked to the New York Times before the speech, appearing in an article on September 8 (see September 8, 2002). [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 35] Gerson, a devout evangelical Christian, was trained by former Nixon aide Charles Colson, whom Colson’s former colleague John Dean describes as “Nixon’s hatchet man and political schemer.” [Dean, 2004, pp. 62]

Entity Tags: Michael Gerson, White House Iraq Group

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

White House officials, in interviews with the New York Times, describe the administration’s strategy to convince the public, Congress, and US allies of the need to confront Iraq. They say the centerpiece of the strategy will be Bush’s September 11 speech at Ellis Island in New York Harbor, which they have been planning since at least June. (The speech will not actually make a case for confronting Iraq. Bush will first make his case to the nation in his October 7 speech (see February 20, 2001).) Explaining why the White House did not launch this effort in August when the administration’s plans came under intense criticism from a number of different quarters, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card tells the New York Times, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.” Card is the founding member of the White House Iraq Group (see August 2002 and June 9, 2008), which was formed to “educate the public” on the alleged threat from Iraq. The officials also tell the Times that one of the administration’s goals is for Congress to pass a resolution approving the use of force in Iraq within the next four to five weeks. “In the end it will be difficult for someone to vote against it,” one administration official tells the Times. [New York Times, 9/7/2002] In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write: “The proposed hurry-up vote on the eve of the first election since 9/11 presented a win-win scenario for the White House: If Democrats voice caution or skepticism about the proposed war resolution (see October 11, 2002), then the GOP could portray them as weak on terrorism ahead of the election, and if Democrats supported the bill, then the Bush-Cheney administration would fortify its powers by eliminating even the suggestion that it might later need to ask for permission to launch any war against Iraq” (see August 2002). By mid-September, Republican Congressional candidates will make Iraq a central issue of their campaigns, proclaiming unwavering support for Bush and attacking their Democratic opponents. In New Mexico, Republican House candidate Mike Pence will say of his opponent, John Arthur Smith, who is still considering whether or not to support the invasion, “While Smith ‘reflects’ on the situation, the possibility of a mushroom cloud hovering over a US city (see September 4, 2002) remains.” In Minnesota, Republican Senate candidate Norm Coleman will attack Democratic incumbent Paul Wellstone for refusing to “stand with the president.” Similar tactics will be used in campaigns around the country. As a result, almost every Democrat facing re-election joins Republicans in supporting the war authorization. Savage will write, “Thus, even though the Founders wanted Congress to make the final decision about when the United States should go to war, lawmakers abdicated their responsibility and delegated their power to the president.” [USA Today, 10/13/2002; Savage, 2007, pp. 156-157]

Entity Tags: Norm Coleman, Mike Pence, Andrew Card, White House Iraq Group, Bush administration (43), John Arthur Smith, Charlie Savage, Paul Wellstone

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

Condoleezza Rice appears on CNN to discuss the alleged threat posed to the US by Saddam Hussein. She insists that Iraq is intent on developing a nuclear weapon. “We do know that he is actively pursuing a nuclear weapon. We do know that there have been shipments going into Iran, for instance—into Iraq, for instance, of aluminum tubes that really are only suited to—high-quality aluminum tools that are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs. We know that he has the infrastructure, nuclear scientists to make a nuclear weapon. And we know that when the inspectors assessed this after the Gulf War, he was far, far closer to a crude nuclear device than anybody thought, maybe six months from a crude nuclear device. The problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don’t what the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” [CNN, 9/8/2002; CNN, 9/8/2002; New York Times, 7/20/2003; US House Committee on Government Reform, 3/16/2004] In his 2006 book The One Percent Doctrine, author Ron Suskind writes, “The statement sent off shock waves. Rice was criticized for fear-mongering, for suggesting that there was evidence that Hussein might have such a weapon. Arguments about proof, though, were missing the point—Rice’s roundabout argument was that the United States should act whether or not it found a “smoking gun.” She was showing an edge of the actual US policy: the severing of fact-based analysis from forceful response; acting on any inkling was now appropriate—to be safe, to be sure, to get an opponent before he can develop capability, so others know to not even start down that path.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 170]

Entity Tags: White House Iraq Group, Ron Suskind, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

Aerial photo of Iraqi chemical munitions facility.Aerial photo of Iraqi chemical munitions facility. [Source: CIA]Secretary of State Colin Powell appears on “Fox News Sunday,” and asserts that Iraq has chemical and biological weapons stocks and that Saddam Hussein is intent on building a nuclear weapon. He cites a recent article in the New York Times by Judith Miller and Michael Gordon (see September 8, 2002) as evidence of Hussein’s nuclear ambitions. “There’s no doubt that he has chemical weapon stocks. We destroyed some after the Gulf War with the inspection regime, but there’s no doubt in our mind that he still has chemical weapon stocks and he has the capacity to produce more chemical weapons. With respect to biological weapons, we are confident that he has some stocks of those weapons, and he’s probably continuing to try to develop more. And biological weapons are very dangerous because they can be produced just about in any kind of pharmaceutical facility. With respect to nuclear weapons, we are quite confident that he continues to try to pursue the technology that would allow him to develop a nuclear weapon. Whether he could do it in one, five, six or seven, eight years is something that people can debate about, but what nobody can debate about is the fact that he still has the incentive, he still intends to develop those kinds of weapons. And as we saw in reporting just this morning, he is still trying to acquire, for example, some of the specialized aluminum tubing one needs to develop centrifuges that would give you an enrichment capability. So there’s no question that he has these weapons, but even more importantly, he is striving to do even more, to get even more.” Tony Snow, the program’s host, asks Secretary of State Colin Powell to respond to comments by former UN Chief Weapons Inspector Scott Ritter in a speech he recently made to Iraq’s parliament, in which the former weapons inspector stated: “The rhetoric of fear that is disseminated by my government and others has not to date been backed up by hard facts that substantiate any allegations that Iraq is today in possession of weapons of mass destruction or has links to terror groups responsible for attacking the United States. Void of such facts, all we have is speculation.” Powell responds: “We have facts, not speculation. Scott is certainly entitled to his opinion but I’m afraid that I would not place the security of my nation and the security of our friends in the region on that kind of an assertion by somebody who’s not in the intelligence chain any longer… If Scott is right, then why are they keeping the inspectors out? If Scott is right, why don’t they say, ‘Anytime, any place, anywhere, bring ‘em in, everybody come in—we are clean?’ The reason is they are not clean. And we have to find out what they have and what we’re going to do about it. And that’s why it’s been the policy of this government to insist that Iraq be disarmed in accordance with the terms of the relevant UN resolutions.” [Fox News, 9/8/2002; Associated Press, 9/8/2002; NewsMax, 9/8/2002]

Entity Tags: Michael Gordon, Scott Ritter, New York Times, Colin Powell, White House Iraq Group, Tony Snow, Judith Miller, Fox News

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld appears on CBS’ Face the Nation and talks about Iraq. He tells host Bob Schieffer, “[President Bush] has decided to go to the Congress and to the United Nations later this week and make the case of what Iraq has done for 11 years. It has invaded its neighbors; it’s violated almost every single UN resolution that relates to Iraq. And against the agreement they had to disarm, they proceeded to develop weapons of mass destruction—chemical, biological and nuclear.” When asked if the government has “smoking gun” evidence that Iraq is developing nuclear weapons, Rumsfeld responds: “The smoking gun is an interesting phrase. It implies that what we’re doing here is law enforcement, that what we’re looking for is a case that we can take into a court of law and prove beyond a reasonable doubt. The problem with that is, the way one gains absolutely certainty as to whether a dictator like Saddam Hussein has a nuclear weapon is if he uses it, and that’s a little late. It’s not late if you’re interested in protecting rights of the defendant in a court of law, but it’s a quite different thing if one thinks about it.” Schieffer then asks whether or not the administration has information that has not yet been shared with the public. Rumsfeld says: “The problem we have, of course, is a real one. Intelligence, we spend billions of dollars gathering intelligence. And to do it, you have to have methods of doing it and sources from whom you get this information. And to the extent you take that intelligence and spread it out in the public record, what you do is you put people’s lives at risk, the sources of that information, because people can connect the dots there and say, well, who knew that, and then they go out and they stop people from helping us learn that type of information, or if it’s a source, a satellite or some other thing. To the extent that we reveal the information and show our capability, we then lose that capability because they find ways to deceive and deny us from gaining access to it. So there’s a very good reason for not taking all the information.” [CBS News, 9/8/2002]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, White House Iraq Group

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

Vice President Dick Cheney is interviewed on NBC’s Meet the Press to discuss the Bush administration’s position on Iraq and the alleged threat Iraq poses to the world. “[B]ased on intelligence that’s becoming available—some of it has been made public [referring to the recent New York Times story—see September 8, 2002 ]—… he has indeed stepped up his capacity to produce and deliver biological weapons,… he has reconstituted his nuclear program to develop a nuclear weapon,… there are efforts under way inside Iraq to significantly expand his capability.… [H]e now is trying, through his illicit procurement network, to acquire the equipment he needs to be able to enrich uranium to make the bombs.… There’s a story in The New York Times this morning… [I]t’s now public that, in fact, he has been seeking to acquire, and we have been able to intercept and prevent him from acquiring through this particular channel, the kinds of tubes that are necessary to build a centrifuge. And the centrifuge is required to take low-grade uranium and enhance it into highly enriched uranium, which is what you have to have in order to build a bomb. This is a technology he was working on back, say, before the Gulf War. And one of the reasons it’s of concern,… is… [that] we know about a particular shipment. We’ve intercepted that. We don’t know what else—what other avenues he may be taking out there, what he may have already acquired. We do know he’s had four years without any inspections at all in Iraq to develop that capability.… [W]e do know, with absolute certainty, that he [Saddam Hussein] is using his procurement system to acquire the equipment [aluminum tubes] he needs in order to enrich uranium to build a nuclear weapon.” Cheney says the US intends to work with the international community, but hints that the US is willing to confront Saddam without international support. “We are trying very hard not be unilateralist,” he says. “We are working to build support with the American people, with the Congress, as many have suggested we should. And we are also as many of us suggested we should, going to the United Nations, and the president will address this issue.… We would like to do it with the sanction of the international community. But the point in Iraq is this problem has to be dealt with one way or the other.” [Meet the Press, 9/8/2002; Washington File, 9/9/2002; Washington Post, 2/7/2003; Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 10/27/2003; New York Times, 10/3/2004] Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will later write of Cheney’s remarks: “Taken together [with Cheney’s recent speech to the VFW—see August 26, 2002], the vice president’s warnings made a compelling case for war. They were, however, entirely untrue. Yet they reframed the terms of the Iraq debate, leading the public to the conclusion that the question should not be ‘if’ but rather ‘when’ the nation goes to war in Iraq.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 176]

Entity Tags: Jake Bernstein, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, White House Iraq Group, Lou Dubose

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

The White House Iraq Group (WHIG—see August 2002) launches its Iraq marketing campaign with a blitz of the Sunday morning talk shows. Vice President Dick Cheney appears on NBC (see September 8, 2002 and September 8, 2002), Secretary of State Colin Powell on Fox (see September 8, 2002), Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on CBS (see September 8, 2002), and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice on CNN (see September 8, 2002). Rice is the first to use the characterization, “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud” (see September 4, 2002), but President Bush and his senior officials repeat the phrase over and over in the following days. Author Craig Unger will note “Cheney’s most Machiavellian flourish” in having all four officials cite “evidence” of Iraq’s nuclear program, suspicious aluminum tubes, and attribute the information to the New York Times. Cheney and the others are referring to a story by the Times’ Judith Miller and Michael Gordon (see September 8, 2002) that Iraq had tried “to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes” that American experts believe could be used in centrifuges to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons. The story is attributed to “unnamed administration sources;” Miller and Gordon do not inform their readers that the story comes from Cheney’s office. In essence, Cheney planted disinformation in the New York Times, then cited the Times article to prove his contention. Gordon will later insist that he and Miller had to pry that story out of the administration, but Unger will note that it is hard to equate Gordon’s contention with four of the administration’s highest officials going on television simultaneously to spread the story and cite the Times article. Furthermore, because of the scheduling practices on the four networks, it appears that the four officials’ simultaneous appearances were arranged in advance. As the Times is the flagship newspaper of the US press, over 500 other newspapers and broadcast outlets pick up on the Times story and the officials’ appearances, giving the story tremendous visibility throughout the world. [Unger, 2007, pp. 252-254]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, CNN, CBS News, Craig Unger, Judith Miller, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, NBC News, New York Times, Michael Gordon, White House Iraq Group, Fox News

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

The White House publishes a 26-page government white paper titled, “A Decade of Deception and Defiance,” which seeks to demonstrate that Saddam Hussein represents a serious and imminent threat to the United States. The report, written by White House Iraq Group member James Wilkinson, relies primarily on public sources, including reports that have been published by human rights groups and the State Department, as well as various newspaper articles, including two by the New York Times. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 48] Section 5 of the report deals with “Saddam Hussein’s support for international terrorism,” though it makes no attempt to tie Hussein’s government to al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden. It lists six points linking Saddam Hussein to terrorist activities, some dating as far back as the ‘70s. One of the points criticizes Iraq for its ties to the Mujahadeen-e Khalq Organization (MKO), an obscure militant Iranian dissident group whose main office is in Baghdad. The report says: “Iraq shelters terrorist groups including the Mujahedin-e-Khalq Organization (MKO), which has used terrorist violence against Iran and in the 1970s was responsible for killing several US military personnel and US civilians.” The paper notes that the US State Department classified MKO as a “foreign terrorist organization” in 1997, “accusing the Baghdad-based group of a long series of bombings, guerilla cross-border raids and targeted assassinations of Iranian leaders.” [Newsweek, 9/26/2002 Sources: Richard Durbin] The administration is quickly ridiculed for making the claim when, two weeks later, Newsweek reports that MKO’s front organization, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, has a small office in the National Press Building in Washington, DC. It is also reported that only two years beforehand this very group had been supported by then-Senator John Ashcroft and more than 200 other members of Congress. On several issues the senator and his colleagues had expressed solidarity with MKO at the behest of their Iranian-American constituencies. [Newsweek, 9/26/2002] Another allegation included in the paper states that Iraqi defector Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, a civil engineer, “had visited twenty secret facilities for chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons.” According to the White House dossier, Haideri “supported his claims with stacks of Iraqi government contracts, complete with technical specifications.” Ten months earlier, the CIA had debriefed Haideri in Bangkok and concluded from the results of a polygraph that Haideri account was a complete fabrication (see December 17, 2001). [Executive Office of the President, 9/12/2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: White House Iraq Group, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, Osama bin Laden, US Congress, John Ashcroft, James R. Wilkinson, Saddam Hussein

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

Colin Powell’s chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, meets with other administration officials and aides at the CIA’s Langley headquarters in a conference room down the hall from George Tenet’s office to review two White House reports on Iraq’s alleged illegal activities. The team includes George Tenet, John McLaughlin, William Tobey and Robert Joseph from the National Security Council, and John Hannah from Vice President Cheney’s office. (Tenet had intended to leave for a Middle East junket, but Powell stopped him from going, insisting on his input and participation.) The two dossiers are meant to serve as the basis for Powell’s upcoming speech at the UN (see February 5, 2003). One of the reports—a 48-page dossier that had been provided to Powell’s office a few days earlier (see January 29, 2003)—deals with Iraq’s supposed arsenal of weapons of mass destruction while the other, a slightly more recent report totaling some 45 pages, addresses the issue of Iraq’s history of human rights violations and its alleged ties to Islamic militant groups. Shortly after Wilkerson begins reviewing the 48-page report on Iraq’s alleged WMD, it becomes apparent that the material is not well sourced. [Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 230; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 177; Unger, 2007, pp. 276]
Dossiers Contain Large Amounts of White House Misinformation - Wilkerson has been given three dossiers: about 90 pages of material on Iraq’s WMD, on its sponsorship of terrorism, and on its violation of human rights. Wilkerson is not well informed about the variety of machinations surrounding the WMD issue, but it doesn’t take him long to realize there is a problem. The CIA has an array of analysts with decades of experience studying Iraq’s weapons programs, rigorous peer review procedures to prevent unreliable intelligence from making it into the final assessments, and a large budget devoted to Middle East intelligence. But the CIA had not produced Wilkerson’s dossiers. They had been prepared by Libby, Cheney’s chief of staff. Wilkerson is taken aback by such a breach of procedure, especially on such a critically important matter of state. Former NSC counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke later says, “It’s very strange for the Vice President’s senior adviser to be… saying to the Secretary of State, ‘This is what you should be saying.’” As Wilkerson goes through the material, he realizes, in Unger’s words, “just how aggressively Cheney and his men have stacked the deck.” Wilkerson first reads the 48-page WMD dossier, and is not impressed. “It was anything but an intelligence document,” he later says. “It was, as some people characterized it later, sort of a Chinese menu from which you could pick and choose.”
Cherry-Picked Intel - Wilkerson will continue, “When we had a question, which was virtually every line, John Hannah from the vice president’s office would consult a huge clipboard he had.” Hannah, a former official of the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy, had coauthored the dossier with Libby. He had also worked closely with Libby in the White House Iraq Group (see August 2002). Hannah cites the source of each questionable datum Wilkerson asks about, and Wilkerson and his team set about tracking down the original sources of each item. They spend hours poring over satellite photos, intercepts of Iraqi military communications, and various foreign intelligence reports. Wilkerson and his team find that in almost every instance, the original sources do not support the conclusions drawn in the dossier. “Once we read the entirety of those documents,” he will recall, “we’d find that the context was not quite what the cherry-picked item imparted.” Wilkerson believes that much of the dossier’s intelligence comes from Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress (see 1992-1996), a belief given credence by the fact that Hannah had served as the chief liaison between the INC and Cheney’s office. As Wilkerson will later recall, “It was clear the thing was put together by cherry-picking everything from the New York Times to the DIA.” Reporters Michael Isikoff and David Corn will later write that “a Defense Intelligence Agency report was not being used properly, a CIA report was not being cited in a fair way, a referenced New York Times article was quoting a DIA report out of context,” and will confirm that much of the material had come from the Iraqi National Congress. [US News and World Report, 6/9/2003; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 177; Unger, 2007, pp. 276-278]
Incomprehensible 'Genealogy' - According to Wilkerson, Feith’s office had strung together an incomprehensible “genealogy.” “It was like the Bible,” Wilkerson later recalls. “It was the Old Testament. It was ‘Joe met Bob met Frank met Bill met Ted met Jane in Khartoum and therefore we assume that Bob knew Ralph.’ It was incredible.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 180-181]
Link to Office of Special Plans? - Powell’s staff is also “convinced that much of it had been funneled directly to Cheney by a tiny separate intelligence unit set up by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld” (see Summer 2002 and September 2002), Vanity Fair magazine later reports. [Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 230]
Cheney's Aides Attempt to Reinsert Deleted Material - Soon Wilkerson’s team faces the same difficulties with the dossier on Iraq’s connections to Islamist terrorism that it faced with the White House-prepared dossier on Iraq’s WMD (see January 30-February 4, 2003). Tenet has tried manfully to give the administration what it so desperately wants—proof of Iraq’s connections to the 9/11 attacks. The CIA’s unit on Osama bin Laden had gone through 75,000 pages of documents and found no evidence of any such connections. Vice President Cheney and his staffers have always insisted that such a connection does indeed exist. Their strongest claim to that effect is the supposed meeting between 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence agent in April 2000 (see September 14, 2001). This claim has long been discredited (see September 18, 2001), but Cheney’s people keep attempting to bring it back into play (see February 1, 2003-February 4, 2003). [US News and World Report, 6/9/2003; Bamford, 2004, pp. 370-1; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 230; Unger, 2007, pp. 276-278]
Information about Australian Software Erroneous - One item in the White House’s original draft alleged that Iraq had obtained software from an Australian company that would provide Iraqis with sensitive information about US topography. The argument was that Iraqis, using that knowledge, could one day attack the US with biological or chemical weapons deployed from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). But when Powell’s intelligence team investigated the issue, it became “clear that the information was not ironclad” (see October 1, 2002). [US News and World Report, 6/9/2003]
'Idiocy' - “We were so appalled at what had arrived from the White House,” one official later says. [Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 230] As another senior official (likely Wilkerson) will later recall, “We went through that for about six hours—item by item, page by page and about halfway through the day I realized this is idiocy, we cannot possibly do this, because it was all bullsh_t—it was unsourced, a lot of it was just out of the newspapers, it was—and I look back in retrospect—it was a [Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas] Feith product, it was a Scooter Libby product, it was a Vice President’s office product. It was a product of collusion between that group. And it had no way of standing up, anywhere, I mean it was nuts.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 368-9]
Starting from Scratch - After several hours, Wilkerson and Tenet are both so fed up that they decide to scrap the WMD dossier entirely. “Let’s go back to the NIE,” Tenet suggests, referring to the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002). Wilkerson is not aware of how badly the NIE had been, in author Craig Unger’s words, “tampered with,” but Powell should have known, as his own intelligence bureau in the State Department had disputed key elements of the NIE. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 368-9; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 230; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 177-178; Unger, 2007, pp. 276-278]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Office of the Vice President, National Security Council, Richard A. Clarke, White House Iraq Group, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Robert G. Joseph, William H. Tobey, Lawrence Wilkerson, John Hannah, Michael Isikoff, Iraqi National Congress, Colin Powell, Central Intelligence Agency, Ahmed Chalabi, Craig Unger, David Corn, Donald Rumsfeld, John E. McLaughlin, George J. Tenet, Douglas Feith

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

On February 1, Secretary of State Colin Powell begins rehearsing for his February 5 presentation to the UN Security Council (see February 5, 2003). Powell is assisted by members of his staff, including his chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see January 30-February 4, 2003). [US News and World Report, 6/9/2003; Bamford, 2004, pp. 368-9; Gentlemen's Quarterly, 4/29/2004]
Discredited Items Keep Reappearing - One item that keeps reoccurring is the discredited claim that 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta met with Iraqi officials in Prague (see September 14, 2001 and September 18, 2001). Cheney’s people keep attempting to insert it into the presentation. It takes Powell’s personal intervention to have the claim removed from the presentation. “He was trying to get rid of everything that didn’t have a credible intelligence community-based source,” Wilkerson will later recall. But even after Powell’s decision, Cheney loyalist Stephen Hadley, the deputy national security adviser, tries to have it reinserted. “They were just relentless,” Wilkerson will recall. “You would take it out and they would stick it back in. That was their favorite bureaucratic technique—ruthless relentlessness.” An official (probably Wilkerson) later adds: “We cut it and somehow it got back in. And the secretary said, ‘I thought I cut this?’ And Steve Hadley looked around and said, ‘My fault, Mr. Secretary, I put it back in.’ ‘Well, cut it, permanently!’ yelled Powell. It was all cartoon. The specious connection between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, much of which I subsequently found came probably from the INC and from their sources, defectors and so forth, [regarding the] training in Iraq for terrorists.… No question in my mind that some of the sources that we were using were probably Israeli intelligence. That was one thing that was rarely revealed to us—if it was a foreign source.” Powell becomes so angry at the machinations that he throws the dossier into the air and snaps: “This is bullsh_t. I’m not doing this.” But he continues working on the presentation. [US News and World Report, 6/9/2003; Bamford, 2004, pp. 370-1; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 230; Unger, 2007, pp. 278-279] The same official will add that every time Powell balks at using a particular item, he is “fought by the vice president’s office in the person of Scooter Libby, by the National Security Adviser [Condoleezza Rice] herself, by her deputy [Stephen Hadley], and sometimes by the intelligence people—George [Tenet] and [Deputy CIA Director] John [McLaughlin].” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 370]
Mobile Bioweapons Claim Survives Editing Process - One of the allegations Powell rehearses is the claim that Iraq has developed mobile biological weapons laboratories, a claim based on sources that US intelligence knows are of questionable reliability (see Late January, 2003 and February 4, 2003). Referring to one of the sources, an Iraqi major, Powell later tells the Los Angeles Times, “What really made me not pleased was they had put out a burn [fabricator] notice on this guy, and people who were even present at my briefings knew it.” Nor does anyone inform Powell that another source, an Iraqi defector known as Curveball, is also a suspected fabricator (see January 27, 2003). [Los Angeles Times, 11/20/2005] In fact, the CIA issued an official “burn notice” formally retracting more than 100 intelligence reports based on Curveball’s information. [ABC News, 3/13/2007]
Powell 'Angry, Disappointed' in Poor Sourcing of Claim - In March 2007, Powell will claim he is “angry and disappointed” that he was never told the CIA had doubts about the reliability of the source. “I spent four days at CIA headquarters, and they told me they had this nailed.” But former CIA chief of European operations Tyler Drumheller will later claim in a book that he tried and failed to keep the Curveball information out of the Powell speech (see February 4-5, 2003). “People died because of this,” he will say. “All off this one little guy who all he wanted to do was stay in Germany.” Drumheller will say he personally redacted all references to Curveball material in an advance draft of the Powell speech. “We said, ‘This is from Curveball. Don’t use this.’” But Powell later says neither he nor his chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, were ever told of any doubts about Curveball. “In fact, it was the exact opposite,” Wilkerson will assert. “Never from anyone did we even hear the word ‘Curveball,’ let alone any expression of doubt in what Secretary Powell was presenting with regard to the biological labs.” [ABC News, 3/13/2007]

Entity Tags: White House Iraq Group, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Lawrence Wilkerson, John E. McLaughlin, George J. Tenet, Condoleezza Rice, Richard Armitage, Colin Powell, Stephen J. Hadley

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

According to the subsequent investigation by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, calls the State Department to ask about the results of former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s trip to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Libby is particularly interested in learning who the “unnamed ambassador” was, and who sent Wilson to Niger. [Raw Story, 11/2/2005; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 216] According to the New York Times, Libby asks an undersecretary of state, presumably Marc Grossman (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003), for the information. [New York Times, 2006] Grossman later testifies that Libby did indeed contact him for the information (see January 23-24, 2007). Grossman is allegedly involved in a nuclear smuggling ring (see (1997-2002) and Summer 2001), and knows Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is investigating the ring (see Summer-Autumn 2001).
Libby Contacts Bolton? - However, according to a 2005 report by the news Web site Raw Story, Libby asks Undersecretary of State John Bolton for the information regarding Wilson’s mission to Niger. Bolton refers the query to Grossman, who directs the State Department’s intelligence arm, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), to prepare a report concerning Wilson and his trip (see June 10, 2003). Within days, Grossman informs Libby of Wilson’s identity. The INR memo is written as part of a work-up order orchestrated by the White House Iraq Group (WHIG—see August 2002). [Raw Story, 11/2/2005; CounterPunch, 11/9/2005]
CIA Tells Bolton of Plame Wilson's Identity - Bolton also learns that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is a CIA official. He learns this from his chief of staff, Frederick Fleitz, who also serves as a senior CIA Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control official. Bolton tells his aide David Wurmser, who is working concurrently in Cheney’s office. Wurmser passes the information along to another Cheney aide, John Hannah. Around June 11, Fleitz will inform Libby of Plame Wilson’s status (see (June 11, 2003)).
Bolton's Connections to CIA - According to Raw Story, Bolton has “his own connections to agents at the CIA who share… his political philosophy on Iraq.” Greg Thielmann, a former director at the State Department who was assigned to Bolton and entrusted with providing him with intelligence information, will later say of Bolton, “He surrounded himself with a hand-chosen group of loyalists, and found a way to get CIA information directly.” [Raw Story, 11/2/2005]

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Valerie Plame Wilson, White House Iraq Group, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Marc Grossman, Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control, Joseph C. Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Central Intelligence Agency, Frederick Fleitz, David Wurmser, John Hannah, John R. Bolton, Greg Thielmann

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

The federal grand jury investigating the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert CIA identity subpoenas a large amount of White House records, including Air Force One telephone logs from the week before Plame Wilson’s public outing (see July 14, 2003); records created in July 2003 by the White House Iraq Group (WHIG—see August 2002), a White House public relations group tasked with crafting a public relations strategy to market the Iraq war to the public; a transcript of press secretary Ari Fleischer’s press briefing in Nigeria currently missing from the White House’s Web site (see 3:20 a.m. July 12, 2003); a list of guests at former President Gerald Ford’s July 16, 2003 birthday reception; and records of Bush administration officials’ contacts with approximately 25 journalists and news media outlets. The journalists include Robert Novak, the columnist who outed Plame Wilson, Newsday reporters Knut Royce and Timothy Phelps (see July 21, 2003), five Washington Post reporters including Mike Allen and Dana Priest (see September 28, 2003 and October 12, 2003), Time magazine’s Michael Duffy (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), NBC’s Andrea Mitchell (see July 8, 2003 and October 3, 2003), MSNBC’s Chris Matthews (see July 21, 2003), and reporters from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and the Associated Press. The subpoenas will be accompanied by a January 26 memo from White House counsel Alberto Gonzales that will set a January 29 deadline for production of the subpoenaed documents and records. Gonzales will write that White House staffers will turn over records of any “contacts, attempted contacts, or discussion of contacts, with any members of the media concerning [former ambassador Joseph] Wilson, his trip, or his wife, including but not limited to the following media and media personnel.” White House spokeswoman Erin Healy later says, “The president has always said we would fully comply with the investigation, and the White House counsel’s office has directed the staff to fully comply.” White House press secretary Scott McClellan will say: “It’s just a matter of getting it all together.… At this point, we’re still in the process of complying fully with those requests. We have provided the Department of Justice investigators with much of the information and we’re continuing to provide them with additional information and comply fully with the request for information.” [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 1/22/2004; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 1/22/2004; Newsday, 3/5/2004; Washington Post, 3/6/2004]

Entity Tags: Chris Matthews, US Department of Justice, Bush administration (43), Valerie Plame Wilson, Wall Street Journal, White House Iraq Group, Ari Fleischer, Time magazine, Alberto R. Gonzales, Andrea Mitchell, Scott McClellan, Timothy Phelps, Newsday, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Erin Healy, Dana Priest, Knut Royce, Robert Novak, NBC News, Michael Duffy, Associated Press, New York Times, MSNBC, Mike Allen

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

David Wurmser, an aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, begins cooperating with the investigation into the exposure of Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA agent. This follows the news that another Cheney aide, John Hannah, is also cooperating (see Before October 17, 2005). The news that Wurmser is cooperating comes from sources close to the investigation. He is expected to provide special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald with evidence that the leak of Plame Wilson’s identity was part of a coordinated effort to discredit her husband, war critic Joseph Wilson (see June 2003, June 3, 2003, June 11, 2003, June 12, 2003, June 19 or 20, 2003, July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, July 11, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, July 18, 2003, October 1, 2003, April 5, 2006, and April 9, 2006). Wurmser is Cheney’s adviser on Middle East affairs, and formerly served as an assistant to then-Undersecretary of State John Bolton (see May 29, 2003). The sources say Wurmser is cooperating in order to negate potential criminal charges for his role in exposing Plame Wilson’s identity. Wurmser was a key member of the White House Iraq Group (WHIG—see August 2002), the propaganda group that operated primarily out of Cheney’s office. The sources say that in June 2003, Wurmser and Hannah were ordered by their superiors in Cheney’s office to leak Plame Wilson’s name and CIA identity in an attempt to discredit her husband, Joseph Wilson. In 2004, Wurmser was questioned by the FBI for his role in divulging classified national security information to Israel, an investigation that included Hannah and several prominent neoconservatives in the Defense Department. Wilson says: “John Hannah and David Wurmser, mid-level political appointees in the vice president’s office, have both been suggested as sources of the leak.… Mid-level officials, however, do not leak information without the authority from a higher level.” [Raw Story, 10/19/2005]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, David Wurmser, John Hannah, Joseph C. Wilson, White House Iraq Group, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

The recently released Senate Intelligence Committee report on misleading, exaggerated, and inaccurate presentations of the prewar Iraqi threat by the Bush administration (see June 5, 2008) leaves out some significant material. The report says that the panel did not review “less formal communications between intelligence agencies and other parts of the executive branch.” The committee made no attempt to obtain White House records or interview administration officials because, the report says, such steps were considered beyond the scope of the report. Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus notes that “[o]ne obvious target for such an expanded inquiry would have been the records of the White House Iraq Group (WHIG), a group set up in August 2002 by then-White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr.” WHIG (see August 2002) was composed of, among other senior White House officials, senior political adviser Karl Rove; the vice president’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby; communications strategists Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin, and James Wilkinson; legislative liaison Nicholas Calio; and a number of policy aides led by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and her deputy, Stephen Hadley.
WHIG Led Marketing of War - Scott McClellan, the former White House press secretary, recently wrote in his book What Happened that WHIG “had been set up in the summer of 2002 to coordinate the marketing of the war to the public.… The script had been finalized with great care over the summer [for a] “campaign to convince Americans that war with Iraq was inevitable and necessary.” On September 6, 2002, Card hinted as much to reporters when he said, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August” (see September 6, 2002). Two days later, the group scored its first hit with a front-page New York Times story about Iraq’s secret purchase of aluminum tubes that, the story said, could be used to produce nuclear weapons (see September 8, 2002). The information for that story came from “senior administration officials” now known to be members of WHIG. The story was the first to make the statement that “the first sign of a ‘smoking gun’ [proving the existence of an Iraqi nuclear weapons program] may be a mushroom cloud” (see September 4, 2002); that same morning, the same message was repeated three times by various senior administration officials on the Sunday talk shows (see September 8, 2002, September 8, 2002, and September 8, 2002). WHIG did not “deliberately mislead the public,” McClellan claimed in his book, but wrote that the “more fundamental problem was the way [Bush’s] advisers decided to pursue a political propaganda campaign to sell the war to the American people.… As the campaign accelerated,” caveats and qualifications were downplayed or dropped altogether. Contradictory intelligence was largely ignored or simply disregarded.”
Records Perusal Would 'Shed Light' - If indeed the White House “repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even nonexistent,” as committee chairman John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) has said, then an examination of WHIG’s records would, Pincus writes, “shed much light” on the question. [Washington Post, 6/9/2008]

Entity Tags: New York Times, Karen Hughes, John D. Rockefeller, James R. Wilkinson, Condoleezza Rice, Bush administration (43), Andrew Card, Karl C. Rove, Mary Matalin, Senate Intelligence Committee, Stephen J. Hadley, Walter Pincus, White House Iraq Group, Nicholas E. Calio, Scott McClellan, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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