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Events Leading Up to the 2003 Invasion of Iraq

Colin Powell's February 5, 2003 Presentation to the UN Security Council

Project: Events Leading Up to the 2003 Invasion of Iraq
Open-Content project managed by Derek, KJF, mtuck

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The State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) sends Colin Powell a memo warning that the current draft (see January 30-February 4, 2003) of Powell’s UN speech contains 38 “weak” and “unsubstantiated” allegations. It says the allegation that Saddam has plans to conceal his WMDs is from mostly “questionable sources” and that the alleged decontamination vehicles—purported to be evidence of Iraqi WMD—are “water trucks that can have legitimate uses.” The memo emphatically warns that the section on the aluminum tubes is “WEAK” and contains “egregious errors.” It also disputes the speech’s claim that terrorists “could come through Baghdad and pick-up biological weapons.” As a result of the memo’s warnings, 28 of the 38 allegations identified by INR as weak are removed from the draft. Two days later, three more claims are removed when INR objects to seven more of the speech’s allegations. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 179]

Entity Tags: Colin Powell, Bureau of Intelligence and Research

Category Tags: Powell's Speech to UN

Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin and Robert Walpole, the agency’s national intelligence officer for nuclear weapons, share an early draft of a rebuttal to Iraq’s December 7 declaration (see December 7, 2002) with National Security Council staffers. The White House intends to use the report as the basis for Colin Powell’s upcoming speech before the UN Security Council. But the NSC staffers find it lacking in detail, and the White House tells McLaughlin and Walpole to keep working on it. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 175]

Entity Tags: Robert Walpole, John E. McLaughlin

Category Tags: Politicization of Intelligence, Powell's Speech to UN

CIA officials John McLaughlin and Robert Walpole send a revised version of a paper on Iraq’s alleged illicit weapons and terrorist ties to the White House. The paper, a rebuttal to Iraq’s December 7 declaration (see December 7, 2002) to the UN, is to serve as the basis for Powell’s February 5 speech (see February 5, 2003) before the UN Security Council. McLaughlin and Walpole say that it is the best they can do. But the White House is not impressed. Bush redelegates the task to Stephen Hadley and I. Lewis Libby, who go to the CIA to search for additional intelligence that they can add to the draft speech. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 175]

Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, George W. Bush, John E. McLaughlin, Stephen J. Hadley, Robert Walpole

Category Tags: Powell's Speech to UN

The National Security Council (NSC) staff, concerned about the validity of the Bush administration’s allegations concerning Iraq, requests new intelligence to support allegations that Saddam Hussein possesses nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons or programs. Robert Walpole, the national intelligence officer for strategic and nuclear programs, receives the request. He will later explain to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that the NSC was concerned the “the nuclear case was weak.” [Washington Post, 5/21/2005]

Entity Tags: Robert Walpole

Category Tags: Alleged WMDs, Powell's Speech to UN

Robert Walpole, the national intelligence officer for strategic and nuclear programs, sends Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley and other White House officials a memo saying Iraq attempted to obtain uranium from Africa. The memo, intended to help Colin Powell prepare for his presentation before the UN Security Council, provides no new evidence to support the allegation. Rather it cites the National Intelligence Estimate written last September (see October 1, 2002), even though the Africa-uranium allegation was personally disavowed by CIA Director George Tenet on October 6 (see October 6, 2002). [New York Times, 7/23/2003]

Entity Tags: Stephen J. Hadley, Robert Walpole

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: Politicization of Intelligence, Africa-Uranium Allegation, Powell's Speech to UN

Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, presents the latest draft of a paper that is meant to serve as a rebuttal to Iraq’s December 7 declaration (see February 5, 2003) to Condoleezza Rice, Stephen Hadley, Paul Wolfowitz, Karl Rove, Richard Armitage, Michael Gerson, and Karen Hughes. The paper, written with the help of John Hannah, is supposed to serve as the basis for the speech Secretary of State Colin Powell will deliver to the UN Security Council on February 5 (see February 5, 2003). In his presentation, Libby says that intercepts and human intelligence reports indicate that Saddam Hussein has been attempting to conceal items. He doesn’t know what items are being hidden by the Iraqis, but he says it must be weapons of mass destruction. He also claims that Iraq has extensive ties to al-Qaeda, and cites the alleged meeting between Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi Intelligence agent (see April 8, 2001) as one example. While Armitage is disappointed with Libby’s presentation, Wolfowitz and Rove seem impressed. Karen Hughes warns Libby not to stretch the facts. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 368; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 175]

Entity Tags: Stephen J. Hadley, Richard Armitage, Paul Wolfowitz, Michael Gerson, Condoleezza Rice, Karen Hughes, Karl C. Rove, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Powell's Speech to UN, Alleged Al-Qaeda Ties, Atta in Prague Connection, Alleged WMDs

The CIA’s Berlin station chief warns CIA headquarters that information on the alleged mobile biological units supplied by Iraqi defector “Curveball” should be used with extreme caution. The station chief explains that the German intelligence service does not consider Curveball a reliable source and that it has been unable to confirm the defector’s statements. “[T]o use information from another liaison service’s source whose information cannot be verified on such an important, key topic should take the most serious consideration,” the station chief writes. [The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction (aka 'Robb-Silberman Commission'), 3/31/2005; Washington Post, 5/21/2005] This information is forwarded by Tyler Drumheller to CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin. But WINPAC analysts assure McLaughlin that the reporting is solid enough to be in Powell’s upcoming speech to the UN. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 182-183; Washington Post, 6/25/2006; Unger, 2007, pp. 268-269]

Entity Tags: Tyler Drumheller, Central Intelligence Agency, ’Curveball’, Bundesnachrichtendienst, John E. McLaughlin

Category Tags: Alleged WMDs, Politicization of Intelligence, Biological Weapons Trailers, Curveball Fabrications, Powell's Speech to UN

US Secretary of State Colin Powell reluctantly accepts the task of making the administration’s case for war to the United Nations Security Council. He assigns his close friend and chief of staff Larry Wilkerson to go to the CIA and put together a team to craft a presentation. Though Powell has long harbored deep misgivings about the war, in public he has consistently and staunchly promoted the war, even when it came to repeating claims he knew to be false (see January 23, 2008). Powell also gives Wilkerson a 48-page report from the White House on Iraq’s alleged arsenal of banned weapons. The report is meant to serve as the basis for Powell’s upcoming speech to the UN (see February 5, 2003). Powell, skeptical of the report’s data, instructs Wilkerson to have it looked over by the CIA. The dossier was written primarily by two senior aides to Vice President Cheney, John Hannah and I. Lewis Libby (see January 25, 2003). [Bamford, 2004, pp. 368; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 281; Unger, 2007, pp. 275] The analysts at CIA will quickly determine that the documents are based on unreliable sources (see January 30-February 4, 2003). Speculation is already rampant throughout the State Department and among well-informed observers as to why Powell became such a reliable spokesman for the administration’s war plans. A State Department official will echo the opinion of others in saying that Powell is “completely aware of the machinations going on,” but wants to avoid any sort of public dispute among top White House officials—and Powell wants to keep relations with Vice President Dick Cheney on an even keel. Author Craig Unger will later note, “Regardless of what he really believed, Powell ultimately accommodated the White House to such an extent that he became the most articulate spokesman for the war effort” (see January 26, 2003). [Unger, 2007, pp. 275]

Entity Tags: Lawrence Wilkerson, US Department of State, Colin Powell, Craig Unger, Central Intelligence Agency

Category Tags: Politicization of Intelligence, Powell's Speech to UN

Tyler Drumheller, head of CIA spying in Europe, reviews a classified draft of the speech Secretary of State Colin Powell will be delivering to the UN Security Council on February 5. He is surprised to see the allegation that according to an unnamed “chemical engineer,” Iraq has mobile biological weapons factories. Drumheller recognizes the description of the source as that of Curveball, an Iraqi defector living in Germany who is suspected of being a fabricator. Only a few days before, CIA’s Berlin station chief warned CIA headquarters that Curveball’s statements could not be verified (see January 27, 2003). Drumheller takes his pen and crosses out the entire paragraph referring to Curveball, and then calls CIA Deputy Director John E. McLaughlin who meets with him immediately. McLaughlin, concerned, admits that Curveball is the CIA’s “only tangible source” for the story. “This is the heart of the case,” he says to the surprise of Drumheller. [Risen, 2006; Washington Post, 6/25/2006] Drumheller recalls, “And John said, ‘Oh my, I hope not. You know this is all we have,’ and I said, ‘This can’t be all we have.’ I said, ‘There must be another, there must be something else.’ And he said, ‘No, this is really the only tangible thing we have.’” [ABC News, 3/13/2007] According to Drumheller, McLaughlin says he will take care of the issue. McLaughlin later says he does not recall the meeting, but the final report of the Silberman-Robb commission cites e-mails and interviews with other CIA officials who back Drumheller’s account. [Risen, 2006; Washington Post, 6/25/2006] Despite the warning, the claim remains in Powell’s speech (see February 5, 2003).

Entity Tags: Tyler Drumheller, John E. McLaughlin

Category Tags: Biological Weapons Trailers, Curveball Fabrications, Powell's Speech to UN

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

Category Tags: Politicization of Intelligence, Drones, Chalabi and the INC, Powell's Speech to UN

Colin Powell’s chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, tasked with the duty of preparing Powell’s upcoming UN presentation (see January 29, 2003), meets with his hastily assembled team: Lynne Davidson, Powell’s chief speechwriter; Carl Ford, the head of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR); and Barry Lowenkron, principal deputy director of policy planning at State. They also consult with a UN staffer on the logistics of making such a presentation to the Security Council. Later that day, Wilkerson drives to the CIA building in Langley, where he meets with CIA Director George Tenet and Tenet’s deputy, John McLaughlin. Wilkerson examines information provided for Powell’s speech by the White House, and quickly determines that it is unreliable to the point of uselessness (see January 30-February 4, 2003). He decides that his team will assemble its own information. [Unger, 2007, pp. 276]
INR Analysts Not Invited to Presentation Planning Sessions - Over the next few days, Wilkerson and his team works almost around the clock putting together Powell’s upcoming presentation. In addition to Wilkerson’s staff, McLaughlin and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice are frequent participants. Others who take part include Rice’s deputy, Stephen Hadley; National Security Council officer Robert Joseph, who had ensured mention of the Iraq-Niger claim in President Bush’s recent State of the Union address (see January 26 or 27, 2003); another NSC official, Will Tobey; two of Vice President Cheney’s senior aides, John Hannah and Lewis “Scooter” Libby; and Lawrence Gershwin, one of the CIA’s top advisers on technical intelligence. Aside from Ford, there are no representatives from the State Department’s own intelligence analysts of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR). They had refused to give in to White House pressure to “cook” the intelligence on Iraq (see November 14, 2001, January 31, 2002, March 1, 2002, and December 23, 2002). Their absence, author Craig Unger will later write, is “another striking indication that Powell had capitulated and was trying to avoid a showdown with the White House.… [T]he hard-nosed analysts at INR, who had not bowed to White House pressure, would be a political liability for Powell.” [US News and World Report, 6/9/2003; Bamford, 2004, pp. 370-1; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 230; Unger, 2007, pp. 276-278]
Inspirational Film - Early in the process, Wilkerson and his colleagues watch an archived film of then-UN ambassador Adlai Stevenson’s historic 1962 speech before the UN Security Council. Stevenson’s ringing denunciation of the Soviet Union, and his dramatic use of irrefutable evidence that showed Soviet missiles in Cuba, inspires the team to seek what Wilkerson calls “a similar confluence of evidence and rhetoric.” They want Powell to have his own “Stevenson moment” before the UN. [Unger, 2007, pp. 276-278]
Roadblocks - Throughout the process, Wilkerson’s team is deviled by the insistence of White House representatives, most notably those from Cheney’s office, on the insertion of information and claims that Wilkerson and his team know are unreliable (see January 30-February 4, 2003). [Unger, 2007, pp. 275]

The State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), reduced to fact-checking the drafts of Secretary of State Colin Powell’s upcoming UN speech (see January 30-February 4, 2003 and February 5, 2003), flags 38 of the charges in the draft as “unsubstantiated” or “weak.” Twenty-eight of them are removed from the draft. [Unger, 2007, pp. 278]

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Colin Powell

Category Tags: Politicization of Intelligence, The Decision to Invade, Powell's Speech to UN

As the date for the UN presentation by Secretary of State Colin Powell approaches (see February 5, 2003), Vice President Dick Cheney gives Powell one reason why Powell is the choice to make the presentation: “Your poll numbers are in the seventies. You can afford to lose a few points.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 280]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Colin Powell

Category Tags: Politicization of Intelligence, The Decision to Invade, Powell's Speech to UN

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, Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Politicization of Intelligence, Atta in Prague Connection, Powell's Speech to UN

The State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) finds seven more items (see January 31, 2003) in the latest draft of Secretary of State Colin Powell’s upcoming presentation to the UN Security Council (see February 5, 2003) that it terms as unreliable or unverifiable. Three are removed, four stay. [Unger, 2007, pp. 281]

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Colin Powell

Category Tags: Politicization of Intelligence, The Decision to Invade, Powell's Speech to UN

In a memo to Secretary of State Colin Powell, the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) warns him against making certain claims in his presentation to the UN Security Council about the aluminum tubes Iraq attempted to import in July 2001 (see July 2001). The CIA had been arguing that the tubes were made to meet specifications that far exceeded that for comparable rockets used by the US. But INR’s memo explains that the claim is untrue. “In fact, the most comparable US system is a tactical rocket—the US Mark 66 air-launched 70-millimeter rocket—that uses the same, high-grade (7075-T6) aluminum, and that has specifications with similar tolerances.” Powell will nonetheless include the tubes allegation in his speech to the UN (see February 5, 2003). [Financial Times, 7/29/2003; New York Times, 10/3/2004]

Entity Tags: Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Colin Powell

Category Tags: Aluminum Tubes Allegation, Powell's Speech to UN

Secretary of State Colin Powell says that his upcoming presentation to the UN will include “no smoking gun.” Rather it will be “a straightforward and compelling demonstration that Saddam is concealing evidence of weapons of mass destruction, while preserving the weapons,” he says. [Daily Telegraph, 2/4/2003]

Entity Tags: Colin Powell

Category Tags: Alleged WMDs, Legal Justification, Powell's Speech to UN

The Independent reports on February 3 that according to security sources in London, Colin Powell will attempt to link Iraq to al-Qaeda in his February 5 presentation to the UN. But the sources say that intelligence analysts in both Washington and London do not believe such links exist. [Independent, 2/3/2003 Sources: Unnamed British intelligence sources] This is followed by a report the next day in the London Telegraph, reporting that the Bush administration’s insistence of a link between al-Zarqawi, Ansar al-Islam, and Saddam Hussein “has infuriated many within the United States intelligence community.” The report cites one unnamed US intelligence source who says, “The intelligence is practically non-existent,” and explains that the claim is largely based on information provided by Kurdish groups, which are enemies of Ansar al-Islam. “It is impossible to support the bald conclusions being made by the White House and the Pentagon given the poor quantity and quality of the intelligence available. There is uproar within the intelligence community on all of these points, but the Bush White House has quashed dissent.” [Daily Telegraph, 2/4/2003 Sources: Unnamed US and British intelligence sources] The Telegraph predicts that “if Mr. Powell tries to prove the link between Iraq and al-Qaeda, the whole thing could fall apart,” explaining that the veto-wielding Security Council members, “France, Russia, and China… all have powerful intelligence services and their own material on al-Qaeda and they will know better than to accept the flimsy evidence of a spurious link with Baghdad.” [Daily Telegraph, 2/4/2003]

Entity Tags: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Colin Powell, Saddam Hussein

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Alleged Al-Qaeda Ties, Legal Justification, Al Zarqawi Allegation, Powell's Speech to UN

On the evening of Secretary of State Colin Powell’s presentation to the UN Security Council (see February 5, 2003), Powell’s chief of staff Larry Wilkerson (see January 30-February 4, 2003) conducts a dress rehearsal on the top floor of the US Mission to the United Nations. He rearranges the furniture to look like the seating arrangements in the UN Security Council. This is Wilkerson’s last change to get the presentation right and weed out everything that cannot be verified. One item that worries him is an intercept of a conversation between two members of Iraq’s elite Republican Guards. Wilkerson will later say, “They were very classy, rat-tat-tat-tat, hitting you fast, like all the TV crap Americans are used to these says, nine-second sound bites.” But Wilkerson is not sure they say what the CIA and the White House claim they say. “You have this guy at a chemical factory saying, ‘Get rid of it.’ Suppose he’s actually trying to get rid of [the WMD]… [But] all the intercepts could have been interpreted two or three or even more ways. Believe me, I looked at it fifty times.” Wilkerson is doubly worried about the claims that Iraq has mobile bioweapons labs (see February 3, 2003). In a dramatic sequence, Powell will present sketches of the mobile labs based on descriptions from an undisclosed source. Wilkerson is not sold: “Powell and I were both suspicious because these weren’t pictures of the mobile labs,” he will later recall. Wilkerson asks CIA Director George Tenet and Tenet’s deputy John McLaughlin about the sourcing, and both officials agree that the sourcing is “exceptionally strong” (see February 4, 2003). McLaughlin fails to tell Wilkerson about CIA official Tyler Drumheller’s concerns (see Late January, 2003). Wilkerson will recall, “I sat in the room, looking into George Tenet’s eyes, as did the secretary of state, and heard with all the firmness only George could give… I mean eyeball-to-eyeball contact between two of the most powerful men in the administration, Colin Powell and George Tenet, and George Tenet assuring Colin Powell that the information he was presenting to the UN was ironclad.” At the end of the rehearsal, Powell asks Tenet, “Do you stand by this?” “Absolutely, Mr. Secretary,” Tenet replies. “Good,” says Powell, “because you are going to be in camera beside me at the UN Security Council tomorrow.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 282-283]

Entity Tags: United Nations Security Council, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Colin Powell, George J. Tenet, John E. McLaughlin, United Nations, Tyler Drumheller, Lawrence Wilkerson

Category Tags: Politicization of Intelligence, The Decision to Invade, Biological Weapons Trailers, Powell's Speech to UN

Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE) calls Colin Powell and tells him he is hopeful that his upcoming presentation to the UN Security Council will improve the prospect of getting a second UN resolution. Another resolution might force Saddam to capitulate, Biden suggests, or at the very least give an invasion legitimacy. Biden also advises Powell, “Don’t speak to anything you don’t know about.” Powell responds, “Someday when we’re both out of office, we’ll have a cup of coffee and I’ll tell you why.” Biden later says he believe Powell’s comment meant that he wasn’t confident in the information he was going to present. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 185]

Entity Tags: United Nations Security Council, Colin Powell, Joseph Biden

Category Tags: Powell's Speech to UN

Les, the CIA doctor who met Curveball (see May 2000), warns the deputy chief of the CIA’s Joint Task Force in an email that one of the allegations Powell is planning to make in his February 5 presentation to the UN is based on intelligence from a single informant of dubious reliability. The doctor—who is the only member of US intelligence to have met the source—says it isn’t even certain if the informant, known as “Curveball,” is “who he said he was.” He adds, “These issues, in my opinion, warrant further inquiry before we use the information as the backbone of one of four major findings of the existence of a continuing Iraqi BW program!” The CIA official quickly responds: “Let’s keep in mind the fact that this war’s going to happen regardless of what Curveball said or didn’t say,” he wrote. “The Powers That Be probably aren’t terribly interested in whether Curveball knows what he’s talking about.” [US Congress, 7/7/2004, pp. 58; Newsweek, 7/19/2004; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 183]

Entity Tags: Les

Category Tags: Politicization of Intelligence, The Decision to Invade, Powell's Speech to UN, Curveball Fabrications

Around midnight, CIA Director George Tenet calls CIA official Tyler Drumheller at home and asks for the phone number of Richard Dearlove, the British intelligence chief. Tenet wants to get Dearlove’s approval to use British intelligence in Secretary of State Colin Powell’s speech to the UN (see February 5, 2003). Drumheller takes the opportunity to remind Tenet that the source for the alleged mobile labs, Curveball, is not reliable. “Hey, boss, you’re not going to use that stuff in the speech… ? There are real problems with that,” Drumheller asks. Tenet, distracted and tired, tells him not to worry. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 184; Washington Post, 6/25/2006] Tenet will later deny having such a conversation with Drumheller, writing: “I remember no such midnight call or warning.… Drumheller had dozens of opportunities before and after the Powell speech to raise the alarm with me [about Curveball], yet he failed to do so.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 283]

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, Richard Dearlove, Tyler Drumheller

Category Tags: Biological Weapons Trailers, Curveball Fabrications, Powell's Speech to UN

CIA terrorism specialist Phil Mudd visits Colin Powell’s hotel suite at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City to review the terrorism section of the speech Powell will make to the UN the next morning. Mudd looks over the changes, including a deleted section on connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda. After Mudd reads the section, he says, “Looks fine.” After leaving the hotel, he will inform CIA Director George Tenet that Powell’s team had trimmed the section on Iraq’s alleged ties to militant Islamic groups. [Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 230; Unger, 2007, pp. 283-284]

Entity Tags: Phil Mudd, George J. Tenet

Category Tags: Politicization of Intelligence, Powell's Speech to UN

Senior CIA official and WMD specialist Valerie Plame Wilson watches Secretary of State Colin Powell’s address to the United Nations (see February 5, 2003). In her memoir Fair Game (partially redacted by the CIA), she will later write: “I assumed Powell’s presentation would be, in a sense, a Kabuki-like performance, in which the secretary of state’s sterling reputation would persuade the world of the righteousness of a decision the administration had already made. Still, I had enormous respect for [Powell]—I had heard him speak in the Agency’s bubble-shaped auditorium and had been quite impressed with his eloquence and natural charisma.” Plame Wilson and several other analysts watch Powell’s presentation on a television in their CIA office complex. Plame Wilson calls Powell’s presentation a “bravura performance… but I knew key parts of it were wrong.” She finds “shocking” his claims about Iraq’s mobile bioweapons labs. She knows that information comes from an Iraqi defector code-named “Curveball,” who has already been discredited by CIA analysts. Plame Wilson will recall: “When the program ended and we all drifted back to our desks, I was deeply upset, my head was spinning. I was experiencing what I can only call cognitive dissonance: ‘a psychological phenomenon which refers to the discomfort felt at a discrepancy between what you already know or believe, and new information or interpretation.’ I had been tracking Iraqi WMD efforts carefully for some time [REDACTED] and the facts I knew simply did not match up with what Powell had just presented.” Powell had presented as direct and verified fact a body of arguments that had been seriously questioned and heavily caveated by CIA and other intelligence agencies’ analysts. His presentation was, Plame Wilson will observe, “at a minimum much too optimistic and almost glib. It seemed he had only used the most sensational and tantalizing bits as evidence, without any of those appropriate caveats or cautions.” Plame Wilson will later write that for the rest of the day, she attempts to come to grips with Powell’s presentation. She realizes that others above her have access to information of which she is unaware. “The idea that my government, which I had served loyally for years, might be exaggerating a case for war was impossible to comprehend. Nothing made sense.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 128-130]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, ’Curveball’, Valerie Plame Wilson, Colin Powell

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: Politicization of Intelligence, The Decision to Invade, Biological Weapons Trailers, Curveball Fabrications, Powell's Speech to UN

The case officer at the German intelligence agency BND who supervises the Iraqi defector “Curveball” (see September 2002 and January 27, 2003) is aghast at Secretary of State Colin Powell’s UN presentation (see February 5, 2003), particularly Powell’s reliance on data supplied by Curveball as if it were verified fact. “Mein Gott!” he will later exclaim. “We had always told them it was not proven.… It was not hard intelligence.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 287]

Entity Tags: Colin Powell, ’Curveball’, Bundesnachrichtendienst

Category Tags: Politicization of Intelligence, The Decision to Invade, Biological Weapons Trailers, Curveball Fabrications, Powell's Speech to UN

Alan Foley, director of the CIA’s Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control Center (WINPAC), tells a former colleague that the allegations being made by Powell in his speech (see February 5, 2003) to the UN Security Council are not backed by evidence. The former colleague tells reporter James Risen, “I talked to Foley on the day of Powell’s UN speech, and he said, we just don’t have it. It’s not very good.” [Risen, 2006, pp. 183-184]

Entity Tags: Alan Foley

Category Tags: Alleged WMDs, Alleged WMDs, Powell's Speech to UN

At 2:30 a.m., Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, gets a call from one of CIA Director George Tenet’s aides (see 2:30 a.m. February 5, 2003). Vice President Dick Cheney’s staff is insisting that the widely discredited claim (see October 21, 2002) that Mohamed Atta had met in Prague with an Iraqi intelligence officer in April 2001 (see April 8, 2001) be reinstated into Powell’s forthcoming speech to the UN Security Council. The pressure continues throughout the night. Just before 9 a.m., when Powell begins his speech, Wilkerson’s phone rings again and again. Caller ID shows it is Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, presumably to try one more time to argue for the inclusion of the material. Wilkerson refuses to take the call. “Scooter,” one State Department aide will later explain to reporter Craig Unger, “wasn’t happy.” [Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 232; Unger, 2007, pp. 283-284]

Entity Tags: Lawrence Wilkerson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Colin Powell

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Alleged Al-Qaeda Ties, Politicization of Intelligence, Atta in Prague Connection, Powell's Speech to UN

Colin Powell’s speech to the UN Security Council (see February 5, 2003) has a far more powerful effect on the American populace than it does among others. [Unger, 2007, pp. 286-288]
Did Not Convince Skeptical Governments - The presentation does little to change minds on the Security Council. France, Russia, and China remain opposed to the idea of a new resolution that would pave the way for the US to invade Iraq. These countries say that Powell’s speech demonstrates that inspections are working and must be allowed to continue. “Immediately after Powell spoke, the foreign ministers of France, Russia and China—all of which hold veto power—rejected the need for imminent military action and instead said the solution was more inspections,” reports the Washington Post. But governments who have been supportive of the United States’ stance remain firmly behind Washington. [Washington Post, 2/6/2003; Washington Post, 2/7/2003]
European Press Skeptical - The European press’s response to Powell’s evidence is also mixed. The Times of London, a relatively conservative daily newspaper, describes Powell’s presentation as a “few smudgy satellite photographs, a teaspoon of talcum powder, some Lego-style drawings of sinister trucks and trains, a picture of an American U2 spy plane, several mugshots of Arabic men, and a script that required a suspension of mistrust by the world’s doves.” [London Times, 2/6/2003]
American Media Strongly Positive - The US media’s reaction to Powell’s presentation is immediate and overwhelmingly positive. Over 100 press outlets compare his speech to Adlai Stevenson’s 1962 denunciation of the USSR during the Cuban Missile Crisis (see January 30-February 4, 2003). One poll shows that 90 percent of Americans now believe Iraq has an active WMD program that poses a dire threat to the nation. Another shows 67 percent of Americans believe that the US is justified in going to war with Iraq because of that nation’s illicit WMD. The San Francisco Chronicle calls the speech “impressive in its breadth and eloquence.” The Denver Post compares Powell to “Marshal Dillon facing down a gunslinger in Dodge City,” and adds that he showed the world “not just one ‘smoking gun’ but a battery of them.” Perhaps the most telling reaction is among the media’s liberals. The Washington Post’s Mary McGrory says Powell won her over. Richard Cohen, a moderate Post colleague, writes that Powell’s evidence is “absolutely bone-chilling in its detail… [and] had to prove to anyone that Iraq not only hadn’t accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them. Only a fool, or possibly a Frenchman, could conclude otherwise.” And the New York Times writes three separate stories praising Powell as “powerful,” “sober,” “factual,” and “nearly encyclopedic.” Columnist William Safire says Powell’s presentation has “half a dozen smoking guns” and makes an “irrefutable and undeniable” case. Safire’s colleague at the Times, Michael Gordon, concludes, “It will be difficult for skeptics to argue that Washington’s case against Iraq is based on groundless suspicions and not intelligence information.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 286-288] In the days after the speech, the Washington Post opinion pages are filled with praises for Powell and the presentation. [New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004] One Post editorial proclaims that after the presentation, it is “hard to imagine how anyone could doubt that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction.” [Washington Post, 2/6/2004]
Powell 'Trusted' - Former ambassador Joseph Wilson will write in 2004: “[I]t was Powell’s credibility that finally put public opinion over the top. Over and over again, I was told, ‘Colin Powell wouldn’t lie to us.‘… Powell’s support for invading Iraq with a pseudo-coalition was essential, and he deserves at least as much of the responsibility for the subsequent situation that we find ourselves in as anybody else in the administration, because, more than anybody else, it was his credibility and standing among the American people that tipped the scales.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 317-318] In 2007, CBS anchor Dan Rather gives a simple reason why Powell’s presentation is so strongly accepted by so many. “Colin Powell was trusted. Is trusted, I’d put it—in a sense. He, unlike many of the people who made the decisions to go to war, Colin Powell has seen war. He knows what a green jungle hell Vietnam was. He knows what the battlefield looks like. And when Colin Powell says to you, ‘I, Colin Powell, am putting my personal stamp on this information. It’s my name, my face, and I’m putting it out there,’ that did make a difference.… I was impressed. And who wouldn’t be?” [PBS, 4/25/2007]

Entity Tags: United Nations Security Council, San Francisco Chronicle, Richard Cohen, New York Times, William Safire, Mary McGrory, Colin Powell, Michael Gordon, Denver Post, Dan Rather, London Times, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence, The Decision to Invade, Powell's Speech to UN

CIA Director George Tenet calls Secretary of State Colin Powell’s hotel room at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City. Powell’s chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, picks up the phone. Tenet says that he is concerned that too much has been cut from Powell’s speech (see (11:00 p.m.) February 4, 2003) and tells Wilkerson that he wants to take one last look at the final draft. A copy of the speech is quickly sent to Tenet, who is staying at another hotel. [Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 230-231]

Entity Tags: Colin Powell, Lawrence Wilkerson, George J. Tenet

Category Tags: Politicization of Intelligence, Powell's Speech to UN

Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, sits behind Powell during the UN presentation (see February 5, 2003). As Powell begins, Wilkerson eyes the Iraqi delegation. “I knew they didn’t know squat, Saddam Hussein wouldn’t have told those guys anything,” Wilkerson will later recall. “But I’m sitting there watching them. Are they going to say, ‘Oh, God, they’ve got us!’?” Wilkerson and his team have thrown out the entire Cheney-provided dossier on WMD (see January 29, 2003 and January 30-February 4, 2003). They have thrown out three-quarters of the dossier on Iraq’s connections with Islamist terrorism. What’s left will give Powell about 80 minutes of material. The audio and video displays Powell uses to show his evidence and reinforce his speech are slick and dramatic, with fast cuts and professional editing shown on big-screen monitors. Wilkerson feels that what is left is relatively strong, but worries that there is not all that much there. “Because we had cut it so severely,” he will later recall, “I felt that the presentation was fairly solid. But my biggest concern was the efficacy of the presentation. We had thrown out so much crap—rightfully so. But now the presentation wasn’t very effective.… I felt like I’d failed.” But, author Craig Unger will note, Wilkerson is forgetting the tremendous presence, charisma, and stature of Colin Powell. For Powell to come before the UN and lend his gravitas and moral authority to the Bush administration’s case for war gives that case tremendous credence it had heretofore lacked (see Early February, 2003). Reflecting on this, Wilkerson will say: “There’s no question in my mind that Vice President Cheney knew that. That’s why he had Powell do it.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 284-285]

Entity Tags: Colin Powell, Bush administration (43), US Department of State, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Lawrence Wilkerson, Craig Unger

Category Tags: Politicization of Intelligence, The Decision to Invade, Powell's Speech to UN

Colin Powell and George Tenet, at the UN presentation.Colin Powell and George Tenet, at the UN presentation. [Source: CBS News]US Secretary of State Colin Powell presents the Bush administration’s case against Saddam to the UN Security Council, in advance of an expected vote on a second resolution that the US and Britain hope will provide the justification to use military force against Iraq. [US Department of State, 2/5/2003] At the insistence of Powell, CIA Director George Tenet is seated directly behind him to the right. “It was theater, a device to signal to the world that Powell was relying on the CIA to make his case that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction,” Vanity Fair magazine will later explain. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 371-2; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 232] In his speech before the Council, Powell makes the case that Iraq is in further material breach of past UN resolutions, specifically the most recent one, UN Resolution 1441 (see November 8, 2002). Sources cited in Powell’s presentation include defectors, informants, communication intercepts, procurement records, photographs, and detainees. [US Department of State, 2/5/2003] Most of the allegations made by Powell are later demonstrated to be false. “The defectors and other sources went unidentified,” the Associated Press will later report. “The audiotapes were uncorroborated, as were the photo interpretations. No other supporting documents were presented. Little was independently verifiable.” [Associated Press, 8/9/2003]
Iraq's December 7 Declaration Was Inaccurate - Powell contends that Iraq’s December 7 declaration was not complete. According to UN Resolution 1441 the document was supposed to be a “currently accurate, full and complete declaration of all aspects” of its programs to develop weapons of mass destruction. But Saddam has not done this, says Powell, who explains that Iraq has yet to provide sufficient evidence that it destroyed its previously declared stock of 8,500 liters of anthrax, as it claimed in the declaration. Furthermore, notes the secretary of state, UNSCOM inspectors had previously estimated that Iraq possessed the raw materials to produce as much as 25,000 liters of the virus. [New York Times, 2/5/2003; US Department of State, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 2/6/2003]
Iraq Has Ties to Al-Qaeda - Powell repeats earlier claims that Saddam Hussein’s government has ties to al-Qaeda. Powell focuses on the cases of the militant Islamic group Ansar-al-Islam and Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born Palestinian, who had received medical treatment in Baghdad during the summer of 2002 (see December 2001-Mid-2002). [US Department of State, 2/5/2003] However, just days before Powell’s speech, US and British intelligence officials—speaking on condition of anonymity—told the press that the administration’s allegations of Iraqi-al-Qaeda ties were based on information provided by Kurdish groups, who, as enemies of Ansar-al-Islam, should not be considered reliable. Furthermore, these sources unequivocally stated that intelligence analysts on both sides of the Atlantic remained unconvinced of the purported links between Iraq and al-Qaeda (see February 3-4, 2003). [Independent, 2/3/2003; Daily Telegraph, 2/4/2003] Powell also claims that Iraq provided “chemical or biological weapons training for two al-Qaeda associates beginning in December 2000.” The claim is based on a September 2002 CIA document which had warned that its sources were of “varying reliability” and that the claim was not substantiated (see September 2002). The report’s main source, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an al-Qaeda operative who offered the information to CIA interrogators while in custody, later recounts the claim (see February 14, 2004). [CNN, 9/26/2002; New York Times, 7/31/2004; Newsweek, 7/5/2005] Larry Wilkerson, Powell’s chief of staff, will later say that neither he nor Powell ever received “any dissent with respect to those lines… indeed the entire section that now we know came from [al-Libi].” [Newsweek, 11/10/2005] Senior US officials will admit to the New York Times and Washington Post after the presentation that the administration was not claiming that Saddam Hussein is “exercising operational control” of al-Qaeda. [New York Times, 2/6/2003; Washington Post, 2/7/2003]
Iraq Has Missiles Capable of Flying Up to 1,200 Kilometers - Describing a photo of the al-Rafah weapons site, Powell says: “As part of this effort, another little piece of evidence, Iraq has built an engine test stand that is larger than anything it has ever had. Notice the dramatic difference in size between the test stand on the left, the old one, and the new one on the right. Note the large exhaust vent. This is where the flame from the engine comes out. The exhaust vent on the right test stand is five times longer than the one on the left. The one of the left is used for short-range missiles. The one on the right is clearly intended for long-range missiles that can fly 1,200 kilometers. This photograph was taken in April of 2002. Since then, the test stand has been finished and a roof has been put over it so it will be harder for satellites to see what’s going on underneath the test stand.” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; New York Times, 2/5/2003] But according to the Associated Press, “… UN missile experts have reported inspecting al-Rafah at least five times since inspections resumed Nov. 27, have studied the specifications of the new test stand, regularly monitor tests at the installation, and thus far have reported no concerns.” [Associated Press, 2/7/2003] Similarly, Reuters quotes Ali Jassem, an Iraqi official, who explains that the large stand referred to in Powell’s speech is not yet in operation and that its larger size is due to the fact that it will be testing engines horizontally. [Reuters, 2/7/2003; Guardian, 2/15/2003] Several days later, Blix will report to the UN that “so far, the test stand has not been associated with a proscribed activity.” [Guardian, 2/15/2003]
Iraqis Attempted to Hide Evidence from Inspectors - Powell shows the UN Security Council satellite shots depicting what he claims are chemical weapons bunkers and convoys of Iraqi cargo trucks preparing to transport ballistic missile components from a weapons site just two days before the arrival of inspectors. “We saw this kind of housecleaning at close to 30 sites,” Powell explains. “We must ask ourselves: Why would Iraq suddenly move equipment of this nature before inspections if they were anxious to demonstrate what they had or did not have?” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003] But the photos are interpreted differently by others. An unnamed UN official and German UN Inspector Peter Franck both say the trucks in the photos are actually fire engines. [Mercury News (San Jose), 3/18/2003; Agence France-Presse, 6/6/2003]
'Literally Removed the Crust of the Earth' - Another series of photos—taken during the spring and summer of 2002—show that Iraqis have removed a layer of topsoil from the al-Musayyib chemical complex. This piece of evidence, combined with information provided by an unnamed source, leads Powell to draw the following conclusion: “The Iraqis literally removed the crust of the earth from large portions of this site in order to conceal chemical weapons evidence that would be there from years of chemical weapons activity.” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 2/6/2003] Showing another series of pictures—one taken on November 10 (before inspections) and one taken on December 22—Powell says that a guard station and decontamination truck were removed prior to the arrival of inspectors. Powell does not explain how he knows that the truck in the photograph was a decontamination truck. [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 2/6/2003; Washington Post, 2/6/2003] AP reporter Charles Hanley says that some of Powell’s claims that Iraq is hiding evidence are “ridiculous.” Powell says of a missile site, “This photograph was taken in April of 2002. Since then, the test stand has been finished and a roof has been put over it so it will be harder for satellites to see what’s going on underneath the test stand.” Hanley later says, “What he neglected to mention was that the inspectors were underneath, watching what was going on.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
Communication Intercepts Demonstrate Iraqi Attempts to Conceal Information from Inspectors - Powell plays recordings of three conversations intercepted by US intelligence—one on November 26, another on January 30, and a third, a “few weeks” before. The conversations suggest that the Iraqis were attempting to hide evidence from inspectors. [New York Times, 2/5/2003; US Department of State, 2/5/2003; London Times, 2/6/2003; Sydney Morning Herald, 2/7/2003] Senior administration officials concede to the Washington Post that it was not known “what military items were discussed in the intercepts.” [Washington Post, 2/13/2003] Some critics argue that the intercepts were presented out of context and open to interpretation. [Sydney Morning Herald, 2/7/2003; Sydney Morning Herald, 2/9/2003] Others note that the conversations were translated from Arabic by US translators and were not analyzed or verified by an independent specialist. [Newsday, 2/6/2003]
Biological Weapons Factories - Colin Powell says that US intelligence has “firsthand descriptions” that Iraq has 18 mobile biological weapons factories mounted on trucks and railroad cars. Information about the mobile weapons labs are based on the testimonies of four sources—a defected Iraqi chemical engineer who claims to have supervised one of these facilities, an Iraqi civil engineer (see December 20, 2001), a source in “a position to know,” and a defected Iraqi major (see February 11, 2002). Powell says that the mobile units are capable of producing enough dry biological agent in a single month to kill several thousand people. He shows computer-generated diagrams and pictures based on the sources’ descriptions of the facilities. Powell says that according to the chemical engineer, during the late 1990s, Iraq’s biological weapons scientists would often begin the production of pathogens on Thursday nights and complete the process on Fridays in order to evade UNSCOM inspectors whom Iraq believed would not conduct inspections on the Muslim holy day. [New York Times, 2/5/2003; US Department of State, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 2/6/2003; Reuters, 2/11/2003] Powell tells the delegates, “The source was an eyewitness, an Iraqi chemical engineer, who supervised one of these facilities. He actually was present during biological agent production runs. He was also at the site when an accident occurred in 1998. Twelve technicians died from exposure to biological agents.” He displays models of the mobile trucks drawn from the source’s statements. [CBS News, 11/4/2007] Responding to the allegation, Iraqi officials will concede that they do in fact have mobile labs, but insist that they are not used for the development of weapons. According to the Iraqis, the mobile labs are used for food analysis for disease outbreaks, mobile field hospitals, a military field bakery, food and medicine refrigeration trucks, a mobile military morgue and mobile ice making trucks. [Guardian, 2/5/2003; ABC News, 5/21/2003] Iraq’s explanation is consistent with earlier assessments of the UN weapons inspectors. Before Powell’s presentation, Hans Blix had dismissed suggestions that the Iraqis were using mobile biological weapons labs, reporting that inspections of two alleged mobile labs had turned up nothing. “Two food-testing trucks have been inspected and nothing has been found,” Blix said. And Ewen Buchanan, spokesman for the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, said, “The outline and characteristics of these trucks that we inspected were all consistent with the declared purposes.” [Guardian, 2/5/2003; ABC News, 5/21/2003]
'Curveball' Primary Source of Claims - Powell’s case is further damaged when it is later learned that one of the sources Powell cited, the Iraqi major, had been earlier judged unreliable by intelligence agents at the Defense Intelligence Agency (see February 11, 2002). In May 2002, the analysts had issued a “fabricator notice” on the informant, noting that he had been “coached by [the] Iraqi National Congress” (INC) (see May 2002). But the main source for the claim had been an Iraqi defector known as “Curveball,” who was initially believed to be the brother of a top aide to Ahmed Chalabi. The source claimed to be a chemical engineer who had helped design and build the mobile labs. His information was passed to Washington through Germany’s intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), which had been introduced to the source by the INC. In passing along the information, the BND noted that there were “various problems with the source.” And only one member of the US intelligence community had actually met with the person—an unnamed Pentagon analyst who determined the man was an alcoholic and of dubious reliability. Yet both the DIA and the CIA validated the information. [Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, 8/22/2003; Los Angeles Times, 3/28/2004; Knight Ridder, 4/4/2004; Newsweek, 4/19/2004; Newsweek, 7/19/2004] Powell says that the US has three other intelligence sources besides Curveball for the mobile bioweapons labs. Powell will be infuriated to learn that none of those three sources ever corroborated Curveball’s story, and sometimes their information contradicted each other. One of the three had failed a polygraph test and was determined to have lied to his debriefers. Another had already been declared a fabricator by US intelligence community, and had been proven to have mined his information off the Internet. [Buzzflash (.com), 11/27/2007] In November 2007, Curveball is identified as Rafid Ahmed Alwan. Serious questions about Curveball’s veracity had already been raised by the time of Powell’s UN presentation. He will later be completely discredited (see November 4, 2007).
Further Problems with Mobile Lab Claims - In addition to the inspectors’ assessments and the dubious nature of the sources Powell cited, there are numerous other problems with the mobile factories claim. Raymond Zilinskas, a microbiologist and former UN weapons inspector, argues that significant amounts of pathogens such as anthrax, could not be produced in the short span of time suggested in Powell’s speech. “You normally would require 36 to 48 hours just to do the fermentation…. The short processing time seems suspicious to me.” He also says: “The only reason you would have mobile labs is to avoid inspectors, because everything about them is difficult. We know it is possible to build them—the United States developed mobile production plants, including one designed for an airplane—but it’s a big hassle. That’s why this strikes me as a bit far-fetched.” [Washington Post, 2/6/2003] After Powell’s speech, Blix will say in his March 7 report to the UN that his inspectors found no evidence of mobile weapons labs (see March 7, 2003). [CNN, 3/7/2003; Agence France-Presse, 3/7/2003; CNN, 3/7/2003] Reporter Bob Drogin, author of Curveball: Spies, Lies and the Con Man Who Caused a War, says in 2007, “[B]y the time Colin Powell goes to the UN to make the case for war, he shows the world artists’ conjectures based on analysts’ interpretations and extrapolations of Arabic-to-German-to-English translations of summary debriefing reports of interviews with a manic-depressive defector whom the Americans had never met. [CIA director George] Tenet told Powell that Curveball’s information was ironclad and unassailable. It was a travesty.” [Alternet, 10/22/2007]
'Four Tons' of VX Toxin - Powell also claims that Iraq has “four tons” of VX nerve toxin. “A single drop of VX on the skin will kill in minutes,” he says. “Four tons.” Hanley later notes, “He didn’t point out that most of that had already been destroyed. And, on point after point he failed to point out that these facilities about which he was raising such alarm were under repeated inspections good, expert people with very good equipment, and who were leaving behind cameras and other monitoring equipment to keep us a continuing eye on it.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
Iraq is Developing Unmanned Drones Capable of Delivering Weapons of Mass Destruction - Powell asserts that Iraq has flight-tested an unmanned drone capable of flying up to 310 miles and is working on a liquid-fueled ballistic missile with a range of 745 miles. He plays a video of an Iraqi F-1 Mirage jet dispersing “simulated anthrax.” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; New York Times, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 2/6/2003] But the Associated Press will later report that the video was made prior to the 1991 Gulf War. Apparently, three of the four spray tanks shown in the film had been destroyed during the 1991 military intervention. [Associated Press, 8/9/2003]
Imported Aluminum Tubes were Meant for Centrifuge - Powell argues that the aluminum tubes which Iraq had attempted to import in July 2001 (see July 2001) were meant to be used in a nuclear weapons program and not for artillery rockets as experts from the US Energy Department, the INR, and the IAEA have been arguing (see February 3, 2003) (see January 11, 2003) (see August 17, 2001) (see January 27, 2003). To support the administration’s case, he cites unusually precise specifications and high tolerances for heat and stress. “It strikes me as quite odd that these tubes are manufactured to a tolerance that far exceeds US requirements for comparable rockets,” he says. “Maybe Iraqis just manufacture their conventional weapons to a higher standard than we do, but I don’t think so.” Powell also suggests that because the tubes were “anodized,” it was unlikely that they had been designed for conventional use. [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 3/8/2003] Powell does not mention that numerous US nuclear scientists have dismissed this claim (see August 17, 2001) (see September 23, 2002) (see December 2002). [Albright, 10/9/2003] Powell also fails to say that Iraq has rockets identical to the Italian Medusa 81 mm rockets, which are of the same dimensions and made of the same alloy as the 3,000 tubes that were intercepted in July 2001 (see After January 22, 2003). [Washington Post, 8/10/2003] This had been reported just two weeks earlier by the Washington Post. [Washington Post, 1/24/2003] Moreover, just two days before, Powell was explicitly warned by the US State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research not to cite the aluminum tubes as evidence that Iraq is pursuing nuclear weapons (see February 3, 2003). [Financial Times, 7/29/2003]
Iraq Attempted to Acquire Magnets for Use in a Gas Centrifuge Program - Powell says: “We… have intelligence from multiple sources that Iraq is attempting to acquire magnets and high-speed balancing machines. Both items can be used in a gas centrifuge program to enrich uranium. In 1999 and 2000, Iraqi officials negotiated with firms in Romania, India, Russia and Slovenia for the purchase of a magnet production plant. Iraq wanted the plant to produce magnets weighing 20 to 30 grams. That’s the same weight as the magnets used in Iraq’s gas centrifuge program before the Gulf War.” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; New York Times, 2/6/2003] Investigation by the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] will demonstrate that the magnets have a dual use. IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei said a little more than a week before, on January 27, in his report to the Security Council: “Iraq presented detailed information on a project to construct a facility to produce magnets for the Iraqi missile program, as well as for industrial applications, and that Iraq had prepared a solicitation of offers, but that the project had been delayed due to ‘financial credit arrangements.’ Preliminary investigations indicate that the specifications contained in the offer solicitation are consistent with those required for the declared intended uses. However, the IAEA will continue to investigate the matter….” (see January 27, 2003) [Annan, 1/27/2003 pdf file] On March 7, ElBaradei will provide an additional update: “The IAEA has verified that previously acquired magnets have been used for missile guidance systems, industrial machinery, electricity meters and field telephones. Through visits to research and production sites, reviews of engineering drawings and analyses of sample magnets, IAEA experts familiar with the use of such magnets in centrifuge enrichment have verified that none of the magnets that Iraq has declared could be used directly for a centrifuge magnetic bearing.” (see March 7, 2003) [CNN, 3/7/2003]
Iraq Attempted to Purchase Machines to Balance Centrifuge Rotors - Powell states: “Intercepted communications from mid-2000 through last summer show that Iraq front companies sought to buy machines that can be used to balance gas centrifuge rotors. One of these companies also had been involved in a failed effort in 2001 to smuggle aluminum tubes into Iraq.” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; New York Times, 2/6/2003]
Powell Cites Documents Removed from Home of Iraqi Scientist Faleh Hassan - Powell cites the documents that had been found on January 16, 2003 by inspectors with the help of US intelligence at the Baghdad home of Faleh Hassan, a nuclear scientist. Powell asserts that the papers are a “dramatic confirmation” that Saddam Hussein is concealing evidence and not cooperating with the inspections. The 3,000 documents contained information relating to the laser enrichment of uranium (see January 16, 2003). [Daily Telegraph, 1/18/2003; Associated Press, 1/18/2003; BBC, 1/19/2003; US Department of State, 2/5/2003] A little more than a week later, in the inspectors’ February 14 update to the UN Security Council (see February 14, 2003), ElBaradei will say, “While the documents have provided some additional details about Iraq’s laser enrichment development efforts, they refer to activities or sites already known to the IAEA and appear to be the personal files of the scientist in whose home they were found. Nothing contained in the documents alters the conclusions previously drawn by the IAEA concerning the extent of Iraq’s laser enrichment program.” [Guardian, 2/15/2003; BBC, 2/17/2003; Associated Press, 8/9/2003]
Iraq is Hiding Missiles in the Desert - Powell says that according to unidentified sources, the Iraqis have hidden rocket launchers and warheads containing biological weapons in the western desert. He further contends that these caches of weapons are hidden in palm groves and moved to different locations on a weekly basis. [US Department of State, 2/5/2003] It will later be suggested that this claim was “lifted whole from an Iraqi general’s written account of hiding missiles in the 1991 war.” [Associated Press, 8/9/2003]
Iraq Has Scud Missiles - Powell also says that according to unnamed “intelligence sources,” Iraq has a few dozen Scud-type missiles. [Associated Press, 8/9/2003]
Iraq Has Weapons of Mass Destruction - Secretary of State Colin Powell states unequivocally: “We… have satellite photos that indicate that banned materials have recently been moved from a number of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction facilities. There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more.” Elsewhere in his speech he says: “We know that Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his weapons of mass destruction, is determined to make more.” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; CNN, 2/5/2003]
Governments, Media Reaction Mixed - Powell’s speech will fail to convince many skeptical governments, nor will it impress many in the European media. But it will have a tremendous impact in the US media (see February 5, 2003 and After).

Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, writing in his 2004 memoir The Politics of Truth, reflects on Secretary of State Colin Powell’s UN speech (see February 5, 2003), comparing his impressions of Powell’s presentation with those of former CIA official Patrick Lang, a specialist in the area of Middle East terrorism and WMD.
Powell's Speech Lacking in Specifics - He and Lang agree that Powell’s speech, for all of its convincing props and graphics, lacked specifics; Powell had relied on inference and hyperbole to make an unconvincing case for Iraqi WMD. “Artists’ renderings of trucks are not evidence,” Wilson will later write. “Satellite photos of buildings are not evidence. Cryptic recordings of conversations are not evidence.”
Proof that 1441 is Working - Wilson heard something that Lang did not—evidence “that UN Security Council Resolution 1441 (see November 8, 2002) was working.” Wilson will write: “After all, he and the president both made clear that the scientists responsible for doing the research and development of Iraq’s WMD had either been secreted in neighboring countries, or else threatened with death if they cooperated with the inspectors. In either case, they were clearly not able to work on their programs. Others involved in the programs, we were told, were busy cleaning up suspected sites. If they were spending all their time cleaning, then they were not filling artillery shells with prohibited chemicals. UN inspectors had recently returned to Iraq and were roaming through Saddam [Hussein]‘s factories and palaces at will, Powell told us. We were watching everything Saddam’s people did—flash to a satellite photo. We were listening to everything they said—cut to the audio recording of a conversation between two soldiers. The bottom line for people in the disarmament business is that disruption indicates a significant measure of success, and we were without doubt disrupting Saddam’s programs. Thus, I concluded from Powell’s speech that since 1441 was indeed working, there was no need to immediately undertake an extraordinarily high-risk, low-reward war.”
Powell Repudiated Own Military Doctrine - The speech convinces Wilson, reluctantly, that Powell is no longer “the one person standing in the way of the true believers and keeping them from completely taking over the government.” Instead, Wilson now believes that Powell is “simply the kinder, gentler face of an extremist administration.” Wilson will continue: “Powell utterly repudiated the carefully thought-out doctrine of force that has borne his own name since Desert Storm and failed the troops he had been privileged to lead for so many years. The Powell doctrine defined how and when to wield the blunt instrument of war; it laid out what conditions should be met prior to launching military action. It stated that military action should be used only as a last resort, and only if a clear risk to national security exists; that the force should be overwhelming and disproportionate to that of the adversary; that it should be used only if the general public stands in strong support of the campaign; and that an exit strategy has to have been devised.” None of these conditions will be met by the Bush administration before invading Iraq. Wilson concludes, “Essentially, Powell took his lofty 82 percent national approval rating (see Early February, 2003) and threw it behind the neoconservative juggernaut.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 315-317]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, Bush administration (43), Patrick Lang, Colin Powell

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: Politicization of Intelligence, The Decision to Invade, Powell's Speech to UN

Some time after Colin Powell’s presentation to the UN making the case for war with Iraq (see February 5, 2003), Powell’s chief of staff Larry Wilkerson, who headed the team that prepared the presentation (see January 29, 2003 and January 30-February 4, 2003), will criticize it in blunt terms: “My participation in that presentation at the UN constituted the lowest point in my professional life. I participated in a hoax on the American people, the international community, and the UN Security Council.” Greg Thielmann, who left the State Department’s intelligence bureau, the INR, in September 2002, will also observe: “Powell wanted to sell a rotten fish. He had decided there was no way to avoid war. His job was to go to war with as much legitimacy as we could scrape up.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 287-288]

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Colin Powell, Lawrence Wilkerson, Greg Thielmann

Category Tags: Politicization of Intelligence, The Decision to Invade, Powell's Speech to UN

In the upcoming issue of Vanity Fair, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz admits that the Bush administration chose the issue of Iraqi WMD as its primary justification for war, not because it was necessarily a legitimate concern, but because it was, in the words of reporter David Usbourne, “politically convenient.” Wolfowitz also acknowledges that another justification played a strong part in the decision to invade: the prospect of the US being able to withdraw all of its forces from Saudi Arabia (see August 7, 1990) once Saddam Hussein’s regime was overthrown. “Just lifting that burden from the Saudis is itself going to the door” towards making progress elsewhere in achieving Middle East peace, says Wolfowitz. The presence of US forces in Saudi Arabia has been one of the main grievances of al-Qaeda and other Islamist groups. The most controversial statement by Wolfowitz is his acknowledgement that, “For bureaucratic reasons we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on.” Usbourne writes, “The comments suggest that, even for the US administration, the logic that was presented for going to war may have been an empty shell.” He notes that finding a rationale for attacking Iraq that was “acceptable to everyone” may refer to Secretary of State Colin Powell, the most prominent Cabinet member to vocally, if privately, oppose the invasion. Powell relied on the WMD issue in his February presentation to the UN Security Council (see February 5, 2003), which many consider to be a key element in the administration’s effort to convince the American citizenry that the invasion was necessary and justified. [Independent, 5/30/2003]
Democrats: WMD Scare 'Hyped' by Administration - Many Congressional Democrats echo the sentiments of Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), who says of the administration’s push for war: “I do think that we hyped nuclear, we hyped al-Qaeda, we hyped the ability to disperse and use these weapons. I think that tends to be done by all presidents when they are trying to accomplish a goal that they want to get broad national support for.… I think a lot of the hype here is a serious, serious, serious mistake and it hurts our credibility.” [Washington Times, 5/30/2003]
British Official: Clear That Rationale for War Was False - Former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, who quit as leader of the House of Commons to protest the war, says he never believed Iraq had the WMD claimed by US and British government officials. “The war was sold on the basis of what was described as a pre-emptive strike, ‘Hit Saddam before he hits us,’” he says. “It is now quite clear that Saddam did not have anything with which to hit us in the first place.” Former Danish Foreign Minister Niels Helveg Petersen says he is shocked by Wolfowitz’s claim. “It leaves the world with one question: What should we believe?” he says. [Associated Press, 5/30/2003]
Wolfowitz Claims Misquoting - After the initial reports of the interview and the resulting storm of controversy and recriminations, Wolfowitz and his defenders will claim that Vanity Fair reporter Sam Tanenhaus misquoted his words and took his statements out of context (see June 1-9, 2003).
Press Official: Selection of WMD as Primary Focus a 'Marketing Choice' - In 2008, current deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will write, “So the decision to downplay the democratic vision as a motive for war was basically a marketing choice.” Reflecting on this choice, he will add: “Every president wants to achieve greatness but few do. As I have heard [President] Bush say, only a wartime president is likely to achieve greatness, in part because the epochal upheavals of war provide the opportunity for transformative change of the kind Bush hoped to achieve. In Iraq, Bush saw his opportunity to create a legacy of greatness. Intoxicated by the influence and power of America, Bush believed that a successful transformation of Iraq could be the linchpin for realizing his dream of a free Middle East. But there was a problem here, which has become obvious to me only in retrospect—a disconnect between the president’s most heartfelt objective in going to war and the publicly stated rationale for that war. Bush and his advisers knew that the American people would almost certainly not support a war launched primarily for the ambitious purpose of transforming the Middle East.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 131-133]

Entity Tags: Vanity Fair, Paul Wolfowitz, Robin Cook, Bush administration (43), Colin Powell, David Usbourne, Joseph Biden, Niels Helveg Petersen, Sam Tanenhaus, Scott McClellan

Category Tags: Alleged WMDs, Media Coverage, Motives, Politicization of Intelligence, Biological Weapons Trailers, Powell's Speech to UN

Larry Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to ex-Secretary of State Colin Powell, recalls helping Powell prepare for his February 2003 presentation to the United Nations that made the administration’s case for war with Iraq (see January 29, 2003 and January 30-February 4, 2003). The presentation was later proven to be filled with half-truths, fabrications, and outright lies, many of them provided by the Office of the Vice President, Wilkerson says. Powell made the decision to toss aside the three dossiers given to him and Wilkerson by Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, and instead go with the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, recently prepared by the CIA (NIE—see October 1, 2002). Wilkerson now believes that Libby’s dossiers were set-ups, red herrings designed to steer Powell to the NIE, which was better sourced but almost as badly flawed and misleading. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 182]

Entity Tags: Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Office of the Vice President

Category Tags: Alleged WMDs, Politicization of Intelligence, Powell's Speech to UN

Nick Davies, author of a new book, Flat Earth News, claims that since the 9/11 attacks, the US has engaged in a systematic attempt to manipulate world opinion on Iraq and Islamist terrorism by creating fake letters and other documents, and then releasing them with great fanfare to a credulous and complicit media.
Al-Zarqawi Letter - Davies cites as one example a 2004 letter purporting to be from al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi that became the basis of an alarming news report in the New York Times and was used by US generals to claim that al-Qaeda was preparing to launch a civil war in Iraq (see February 9, 2004). The letter is now acknowledged to have almost certainly been a fake, one of many doled out to the world’s news agencies by the US and its allies. Davies writes: “For the first time in human history, there is a concerted strategy to manipulate global perception. And the mass media are operating as its compliant assistants, failing both to resist it and to expose it.” Davies says the propaganda is being generated by US and allied intelligence agencies working without effective oversight. It functions within a structure of so-called “strategic communications,” originally designed by the US Defense Department and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to use what Davies calls “subtle and non-violent tactics to deal with Islamist terrorism,” but now being used for propaganda purposes. Davies notes that al-Zarqawi was never interested in working with the larger al-Qaeda network, but instead wanted to overthrow the Jordanian monarchy and replace it with an Islamist theocracy. After the 9/11 attacks, when US intelligence was scouring the region for information on al-Qaeda, Jordan supplied the US with al-Zarqawi’s name, both to please the Americans and to counter their enemy. Shortly thereafter, the US intelligence community began placing al-Zarqawi’s name in press releases and news reports. He became front-page material after being cited in Colin Powell’s UN presentation about Iraqi WMDs and that nation’s connections with al-Qaeda (see February 5, 2003). The propaganda effort had an unforeseen side effect, Davies says: it glamorized al-Zarqawi so much that Osama bin Laden eventually set aside his differences with him and made him the de facto leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Davies cites other examples of false propaganda besides the Zarqawi letter:
bullet Tales of bin Laden living in a lavish network of underground bases in Afghanistan, “complete with offices, dormitories, arms depots, electricity and ventilation systems”;
bullet Taliban leader Mullah Omar “suffering brain seizures and sitting in stationary cars turning the wheel and making a noise like an engine”;
bullet Iran’s ayatollahs “encouraging sex with animals and girls of only nine.”
Davies acknowledges that some of the stories were not concocted by US intelligence. An Iranian opposition group produced the story that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was jailing people for texting each other jokes about him. Iraqi exiles filled the American media “with a dirty stream of disinformation about Saddam Hussein.” But much of it did come from the US. Davies cites the Pentagon’s designation of “information operations” as its fifth “core competency,” along with land, air, sea, and special forces. Much of the Pentagon’s “information operations,” Davies says, is a “psyops” (psychological operations) campaign generating propaganda: it has officials in “brigade, division and corps in the US military… producing output for local media.” The psyops campaign is linked to the State Department’s campaign of “public diplomacy,” which Davies says includes funding radio stations and news Web sites. Britain’s Directorate of Targeting and Information Operations in the Ministry of Defense “works with specialists from 15 UK psyops, based at the Defense Intelligence and Security School at Chicksands in Bedfordshire.”
Some Fellow Journalists Skeptical - The Press Association’s Jonathan Grun criticizes Davies’s book for relying on anonymous sources, “something we strive to avoid.” Chris Blackhurst of the Evening Standard agrees. The editor of the New Statesman, John Kampfner, says that he agrees with Davies to a large extent, but he “uses too broad a brush.” [Independent, 2/11/2008] Kamal Ahmad, editor of the Observer, is quite harsh in his criticism of Davies, accusing the author of engaging in “scurrilous journalism,” making “wild claims” and having “a prejudiced agenda.” (Davies singles out Ahmad for criticism in his book, accusing Ahmad of being a “conduit for government announcements” from Downing Street, particularly the so-called “dodgy dossier” (see February 3, 2003).) [Independent, 2/11/2008] But journalist Francis Wheen says, “Davies is spot on.” [Independent, 2/11/2008]

Entity Tags: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Francis Wheen, Directorate of Targeting and Information Operations (British Ministry of Defense), Colin Powell, Chris Blackhurst, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, John Kampfner, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Al-Qaeda, Kamal Ahmad, US Department of Defense, Osama bin Laden, US Department of State, Saddam Hussein, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Mullah Omar, Nick Davies, Jonathan Grun

Timeline Tags: US Military, Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence, Propaganda, Al Zarqawi Allegation, Powell's Speech to UN

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