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Most Israeli lawmakers and politicians distance themselves from the Jewish extremists calling for the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin over the Oslo peace accords (see September 13, 1993). However, Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu actively curries their favor (see July 1-2, 1994). On the floor of the Knesset, he often attacks Rabin (see September 21, 1993) for giving away “parts of our homeland.” After one particularly fiery speech, thousands of right-wing protesters gather in Jerusalem’s Zion Square, where they put of posters of Rabin wearing a Nazi SS uniform, display banners calling Rabin “Arafat’s Dog,” and chant, “Death to Rabin! Nazis! Judenrat!”—a particularly odious epithet referring to the “Jewish councils” that were forced by the Nazis to expedite the transfer of Jews to concentration camps. Housing Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer is horrified by the frenzy of the mob, and tells Netanyahu, who is orchestrating the demonstration, “You’d better restrain your people. Otherwise it will end in murder. They tried to kill me just now.… Your people are mad. If someone is murdered, the blood will be on your hands.… The settlers have gone crazy, and someone will be murdered here, if not today, then in another week or another month!” Netanyahu ignores the warning, and, basking in the chants of “Bibi! Bibi! Bibi!,” takes the podium, where he is optimistically introduced as the next prime minister of Israel. [Unger, 2007, pp. 139-140]
The CIA—concerned about Chalabi’s contacts with Iran and convinced that he is not capable of delivering on his promises—severs its ties with him and the Iraqi National Congress. [ABC, 2/7/1998; New Yorker, 6/7/2004; Christian Science Monitor, 6/15/2004] Former CIA base chief Robert Baer recalls in 2006 that “[t]he quality” of the INC’s intelligence “was very bad. There was a feeling that Chalabi was prepping defectors. We had no systematic way to vet the information, but it was obvious most of it was cooked.” [Mother Jones, 4/2006]
Rolf Ekeus. [Source: United Nations]US intelligence services use United Nations arms controls teams to spy on the Iraqi military, without the knowledge of the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) that oversees the teams. US intelligence infiltrates agents and espionage equipment into the UN inspection teams. Clinton administration officials have previously admitted inserting eavesdropping equipment into Iraq with the inspectors, but said that they did so in cooperation with UNSCOM to penetrate Iraqi concealment of its illegal weapons. However, US intelligence agents rig UNSCOM equipment and office space, without UNSCOM permission or knowledge, to intercept Iraqi military communications. Most of these communications have nothing to do with UNSCOM’s special weapons mandate. US government officials admit that they considered the risk that discovery of their infiltrations would discredit the UNSCOM teams, but they dismissed the risk as being quite low, and the intelligence gathered on the Iraqi military as critically needed.
US Installs Surveillance Equipment During Upgrade - The surveillance begins in March 1996, when UNSCOM upgrades a widespread video surveillance system to transmit signals from the camera to the inspectors’ offices in Baghdad, and terminates no later than December 1998, when the Iraqis ask all UNSCOM inspectors to leave the country. While the new system gives UNSCOM inspectors views of distant facilities in “near real time,” unknown to UNSCOM officials, the US signals and sensor technicians who install and maintain the system have covert transmission systems built into the UNSCOM transmitters that capture the Iraqi communications. The designer of the new system is a military intelligence operative and engineer; two of the technicians who install the system are CIA agents.
UNSCOM Says Surveillance Destroyed Its Ability to Function inside Iraq - UNSCOM officials now claim that the covert surveillance undertaken by the US has helped to destroy the agency’s ability to function inside Iraq, and have given credibility to Iraqi claims—previously dismissed—that the US was using UNSCOM to spy on their military facilities. (UNSCOM is aware of another, simultaneous surveillance operation called “Shake the Tree,” that used commercial scanners to intercept Iraqi radio transmissions; US officials now say that they chose to pursue the surreptitious eavesdropping because they wanted to preserve their “independence of access” to Iraqi military communications, according to a US official. “We did not want to rely on a multinational body that might or might not continue to operate as it was operating.” The US government decides not to inform either Rolf Ekeus, the Swedish diplomat who is UNSCOM’s executive chairman, or his Australian successor, Richard Butler, about the second eavesdropping operation. However, the CIA does inform the American deputy to both men, Charles Duelfer, to ensure that UNSCOM staff members do not interfere with the operation.
'Played for Suckers' - Ekeus will later say that while he has difficulty believing the US could have built covert antennas into the video relay system without the Iraqis’ knowledge, if the US did so, “We have always stood against that.” Though Butler refuses to comment publicly on the issue, a source reports that privately he is angered by the operation. “If all this stuff turns out to be true, then Rolf Ekeus and I have been played for suckers, haven’t we?” he is reported as saying. “I’ve spent a lifetime of helping build and defend the nonproliferation regimes. Piggybacking in this manner [by US intelligence] can only serve the interests of those who reject meaningful efforts at arms control.” In May 1997, British officials in the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) ask their counterparts, the American National Security Agency (NSA), if such an operation exists, and the NSA does not respond. A US official will explain: “We don’t tell the British everything, even if they are our closest intelligence ally. They don’t tell us everything they’re doing either.” [Washington Post, 3/2/1999]
Richard Perle. [Source: Public domain]The Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, an Israeli think tank, publishes a paper titled “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm.” [Washington Times, 10/7/2002; Chicago Sun-Times, 3/6/2003] The paper, whose lead author is neoconservative Richard Perle, is meant to advise the new, right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Other authors include:
influential neoconservative academic and former Bush adviser Richard Perle, primarily responsible for the content of the paper;
Meyrav Wurmser, the future director of the neoconservative Hudson Institute’s Center for Middle East Policy;
her husband David Wurmser, the future chief adviser for Middle East policy for future vice-president Dick Cheney;
neoconservative Douglas Feith, who will be the prime architect of the Iraq war;
and a number of lesser-known neoconservatives, including James Colbert, Charles Fairbanks, Jr., Jeffrey T. Bergner, Jonathan Torop, and Robert Loewenberg.
Rebuilding Zionism by Abandoning Past Policies - It advocates making a complete break with past policies by adopting a strategy “based on an entirely new intellectual foundation, one that restores strategic initiative and provides the nation the room to engage every possible energy on rebuilding Zionism.…” [Guardian, 9/3/2002]
Aggressive, Militant Israeli Policy towards Arab Neighbors - Much along the lines of an earlier paper by Israeli Oded Yinon (see February 1982), the document urges the Israelis to aggressively seek the downfall of their Arab neighbors—especially Syria and Iraq—by exploiting the inherent tensions within and among the Arab States. The first step is to be the removal of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. A war with Iraq will destabilize the entire Middle East, allowing governments in Syria, Iran, Lebanon, and other countries to be replaced. “Israel will not only contain its foes; it will transcend them,” the paper says. [Perle, 7/8/1996; Guardian, 9/3/2002; Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 3/19/2003] Iraq is first on the list of nations to be transformed. Saddam Hussein must be overthrown, the authors say. But Iraq has long served as a counterweight to the Shi’ite theocracy of Iran; with the two at loggerheads, neither could pose as serious a threat to Israel as it could if not opposed by the other. To counter this, Perle and his co-authors propose restoring the Hashemites (an ancient Arab dynasty; King Faisal I of Iraq was a Hashemite) to power. Instead of the largely Shi’ite Iraqis aligning themselves with their fellow Shi’a in Iran after Hussein’s overthrow, the Hashemite government would align itself with the pro-Western Jordan, long a Hashemite regime. Unfortunately, the authors propose no plan to actually make such an extraordinary regime succession happen, nor do they seem concerned with some Iraqi Shi’ites’ alignment with Islamist terrorists or with many Shi’ites’ close ties to Iran. [Unger, 2007, pp. 145-148]
Abandoning Oslo Accords, Militant Palestinian Policy - Other suggestions for Israel include abandoning the Oslo Accords, developing a foreign policy based on a traditional balance of power strategy, reserving its right to invade the West Bank and Gaza Strip as part of a strategy of “self-defense,” abandoning any notion of “land for peace,” reestablishing a policy of preemptive strikes, forging closer ties to the US while taking steps towards self-reliance, and seeking an alternative to Yasser Arafat as leader of the PLO. [Perle, 7/8/1996]
'Seeds of a New Vision' - All these questions need not be answered right away, according to co-author Meyrav Wurmser. The document is “the beginning of thought,” she says, “… the seeds of a new vision.”
Similar to American Christian Right's Vision - According to author Craig Unger, the ideology of “ACB” is, in essence, a secularized version of the theology of the American Christian Right. Christian Zionists insist that Jews were ordained by God to reclaim the Biblican land of Judea and Samaria in the West Bank; the paper asserts that claim as well. The paper echoes Christian fundamentalists by demanding “the unconditional acceptance of Arabs of our rights, especially in their territorial dimension.” Perle and his fellow neoconservatives want to push the boundaries even further: the Bible can be interpreted to countenance Jewish dominion over all or parts of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and even Saudi Arabia. Thusly, the authors claim that Israel and the US, by waging war against Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, would reshape the “strategic environment” in the Middle East and greatly expand Israel’s influence in the region.
Influence in Upcoming Bush Administration - Perle will later become chairman of President Bush’s influential Defense Policy Board and will be instrumental is moving Bush’s US policy toward war with Iraq after the 9/11 attacks, as will Feith and the Wurmsers. [Unger, 2007, pp. 145-148]
Entity Tags: Richard Perle, Robert Loewenberg, Meyrav Wurmser, Jonathan Torop, Richard V. Allen, James Colbert, Charles Fairbanks, Jr., Benjamin Netanyahu, David Wurmser, Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, Jeffrey T. Bergner, Douglas Feith
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US International Relations, Neoconservative Influence
Newly elected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (see May 29, 1996) flies to Washington, DC, to visit one of his strongest political supporters, neoconservative Richard Perle. Perle is the chief author of a new strategy proposal called “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Security in the Region” (see July 8, 1996). In essence, Perle’s policy proposal is an update of fellow neoconservative Paul Wolfowitz’s Defense Planning Guide (see February 18, 1992), which had so horrified Clinton and Bush officials. But Netanyahu is clearly pleased with the proposal. After meeting with Perle, Netanyahu addresses the US Congress. Quoting extensively from the proposal, he tells the lawmakers that the US must join Israel in overseeing the “democratization” of the Middle East. War might be a necessity to achieve this goal, he warns. While the “Clean Break” authors are primarily concerned with Iraq and Syria, Netanyahu takes a longer view. “The most dangerous of these regions is Iran,” he says. [Unger, 2007, pp. 145-148]
After Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the United States (see July 8-10, 1996), US neoconservatives mount an orchestrated push for war against Iraq and an overall reshaping of the Middle East (see July 8, 1996). At first, the offensive takes place in the pages of US newspapers and magazines. William Kristol and Robert Kagan write articles for the magazines Foreign Policy and the Weekly Standard; syndicated columnists Charles Krauthammer and A. M. Rosenthal use their columns to push the idea; Zalmay Khalilzad and Paul Wolfowitz pen op-eds for the Washington Post; “Clean Break” co-author David Wurmser writes op-eds for the Wall Street Journal and publishes a book, Tyranny’s Ally, in which he proposes that the US use its military to literally redraw the map of the Middle East (see Late Summer 1996). Neoconservatives are transforming Christian evangelicals’ argument that Americans are God’s “chosen people” into secular terms, and argue in their op-eds and articles that it is, in author Craig Unger’s words, the US’s “moral duty to project that greatness throughout the world—using American military power, if necessary.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 148-149]
Cover of ‘Tyranny’s Ally’. [Source: Amazon (.com)]Neoconservative David Wurmser, the co-author of “A Clean Break,” the recently prepared plan to redraw the Middle East (see July 8, 1996), writes a book, Tyranny’s Ally, in which he advocates that the US use military force to literally redraw the map of the Middle East. In his book, Wurmser says that Iran’s Shi’ites will be negated by Iraq’s Shi’ites, whom for some unexplained reason can be expected “to present a challenge to Iran’s influence and revolution.” Wurmser writes that by overthrowing Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, the US will destabilize the role of the mullahs in Iran as well. “Any serious display of American determination,” Wurmser writes, will cause “our regional enemies to wilt.” Overthrowing Hussein “will send terrifying shock waves into Tehran… and will promote pro-American coalitions in the region, unravel hostile coalitions.” We even asserts that “the Iraqi Shi’ites… if liberated from [Hussein’s tyranny], can be expected to present a challenge to Iran’s influence and revolution.” In 2007, author Craig Unger writes sarcastically, “Democracy would spread throughout the region! Israel would be secure and the US would have allies in the oil-rich states of Iran and Iraq! But, again, the text contained no facts to back up Wurmser’s assumptions.” Wurmser acknowledges those “who guided my understanding” as Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi, “Clean Break” co-author Richard Perle, and Perle’s close colleague Douglas Feith, among others, leading Unger to observe, “In other words, the neocon echo chamber had begun to rely on itself to reinforce their own myths.” [Unger, 2007; Unger, 2007]
An Inmarsat Compact M satellite phone, the type used by bin Laden. [Source: Inmarsat]During this period, Osama bin Laden uses a satellite phone to direct al-Qaeda’s operations. The phone—a Compact M satellite phone, about the size of a laptop computer—was purchased by a student in Virginia named Ziyad Khaleel for $7,500 using the credit card of a British man named Saad al-Fagih. After purchasing the phone, Khaleel sent it to Khalid al-Fawwaz, al-Qaeda’s unofficial press secretary in London (see Early 1994-September 23, 1998). Al-Fawwaz then shipped it to bin Laden in Afghanistan. [CNN, 4/16/2001] It appears US intelligence actually tracks the purchase as it occurs (see November 1996-Late December 1999), probably because an older model satellite phone bin Laden has is already being monitored (see Early 1990s). Bin Laden’s phone (873682505331) is believed to be used by other top al-Qaeda leaders as well, including Ayman al-Zawahiri and Mohammad Atef. Al-Fawwaz also buys satellite phones for other top al-Qaeda leaders around the same time. Though the calls made on these phones are encrypted, the NSA is able to intercept and decrypt them. As one US official will put it in early 2001, “codes were broken.” [United Press International, 2/13/2001; Newsweek, 2/18/2002] The Los Angeles Times will report that the monitoring of these phones “produced tens of thousands of pages of transcripts over two years.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/14/2001] Bin Laden’s satellite phone replaces an older model he used in Sudan that apparently was also monitored by the NSA (see Early 1990s). Billing records for his new phone are eventually released to the media in early 2002. Newsweek will note, “A country-by-country analysis of the bills provided US authorities with a virtual road map to important al-Qaeda cells around the world.” [Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002] The countries called are:
Britain (238 or 260). Twenty-seven different phone numbers are called in Britain. Accounts differ on the exact number of calls. Khalid al-Fawwaz, who helps publish statements by bin Laden, receives 143 of the calls, including the very first one bin Laden makes with this phone. Apparently most of the remaining calls are made to pay phones near him or to his associates. He also frequently calls Ibrahim Eidarous, who works with al-Fawwaz and lives near him. [CNN, 4/16/2001; Newsweek, 2/18/2002; Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002; O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 111]
Yemen (221). Dozens of calls go to an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, which is run by the father-in-law of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar (see Late August 1998). [Newsweek, 2/18/2002; Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002; Bamford, 2008, pp. 8]
Sudan (131). Bin Laden lived in Sudan until 1996 (see May 18, 1996), and some important al-Qaeda operatives remained there after he left (see February 5, 1998). [Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002]
Iran (106). Newsweek will later report: “US officials had little explanation for the calls to Iran. A Bush administration official said that US intelligence has believed for years that hard-line anti-American factions inside Iran helped bin Laden’s organization operate an ‘underground railroad’ smuggling Islamic militants to al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan.” [Newsweek, 2/18/2002; Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002]
Azerbaijan (67). An important al-Qaeda operative appears to be based in Baku, Azerbaijan. [Washington Post, 5/2/2001] This is most likely Ahmad Salama Mabruk, who is very close to al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri and is said to be the head of the al-Qaeda cell there. He kidnapped by the CIA in Baku in late August 1998 (see Late August 1998).
Kenya (at least 56). In the embassy bombings trial, prosecutors introduce evidence showing 16 calls are made on this phone to some of the embassy bombers in Kenya (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), apparently all before a raid in August 1997 (see August 21, 1997). The defense introduces evidence showing at least 40 more calls are made after that time (see Late 1996-August 1998). [CNN, 4/16/2001]
Saudi Arabia (57).
A ship in the Indian Ocean (13).
The US (6).
Senegal (2). [Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002]
Egypt (unknown). Newsweek reports that calls are made to Egypt but doesn’t say how many. [Newsweek, 2/18/2002]
Iraq (0). Press reports note that the records indicate zero calls were made to Iraq. [Newsweek, 2/18/2002; Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002] 1,100 total calls are made on this phone. Adding up the above numbers means that the destination of over 100 calls is still unaccounted for. [Newsweek, 2/18/2002] The use of this phone stops two months after the August 1998 embassy bombings in Africa. However, it appears bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders continue to use other satellite phones occasionally after this time. Shortly after 9/11, James Bamford, an expert authority on the agency, says “About a year or so ago the NSA lost all track of him.… He may still use [satellite phones] occasionally to talk about something mundane, but he discovered that the transmitters can be used for honing.” [CNN, 9/21/2001] According to a different account, bin Laden will attempt to use a different phone communication method, but US intelligence will soon discover it and continue monitoring his calls (see Late 1998 and After).
According to Middle East expert Judith Kipper, around this time, Ahmed Chalabi makes “a deliberate decision to turn to the right,” having realized that conservatives are more likely than liberals to support his plan to use force to topple Saddam Hussein’s government. Chalabi’s aide, Francis Brooke, later explains to the New Yorker: “We thought very carefully about this, and realized there were only a couple of hundred people” in Washington capable of influencing US policy toward Iraq. He also attends social functions with Richard Perle, whom he met in 1985 (see 1985) and who is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and Dick Cheney, the CEO of Halliburton. According to Brooke, “from the beginning, Cheney was in philosophical agreement with this plan. Cheney has said, ‘Very seldom in life do you get a chance to fix something that went wrong.’” Paul Wolfowitz is said to be enamored with Chalabi. According to an American friend of Chalabi, “Chalabi really charmed him. He told me they are both intellectuals. Paul is a bit of a dreamer.” [New Yorker, 6/7/2004] He also becomes friends with L. Marc Zell and Douglas Feith of the Washington-Tel Aviv law, Feith and Zell. [Salon, 5/5/2004] Chalabi tells his neoconservatives friends that if he replaces Saddam Hussein as Iraq’s leader, he would establish normal diplomatic and trade ties with Israel, eschew pan-Arab nationalism, and allow the construction of a pipeline from Mosul to the Israeli port of Haifa, Zell later tells Salon magazine. Having a pro-Israeli regime in Iraq would “take off the board” one of the only remaining major Arab threats to Israeli security, a senior administration official says in 2003. It would do this “without the need for an accommodation with either the Palestinians or the existing Arab states,” notes Salon. [Knight Ridder, 7/12/2003; Salon, 5/5/2004] But Chalabi has a different story for his Arab friends. He tells his friend, Moh’d Asad, the managing director of the Amman, Jordan-based International Investment Arabian Group, “that he just need[s] the Jews in order to get what he want[s] from Washington, and that he [will] turn on them after that.” [Salon, 5/5/2004] Chalabi also says that the Iraqis would welcome a US liberation force with open arms. [Christian Science Monitor, 6/15/2004]
Hans Blix. [Source: Dean Calma / IAEA]Hans Blix, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, writes in a letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan that there is no evidence that Iraq has an active nuclear weapons program. Blix says that the agency now has a “technically coherent picture of Iraq’s clandestine nuclear program,” despite some missing evidence and gaps in knowledge. He states with certainty the following: [Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, 10/6/1997]
“There are no indications to suggest that Iraq was successful in its attempt to produce nuclear weapons. Iraq’s explanation of its progress towards the finalization of a workable design for its nuclear weapons is considered to be consistent with the resources and time scale indicated by the available program documentation. However, no documentation or other evidence is available to show the actual status of the weapon design when the program was interrupted.” [Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, 10/6/1997]
“Iraq was at, or close to, the threshold of success in such areas as the production of HEU [high-enriched uranium] through the EMIS [electromagnetic isotope separation] process, the production and pilot cascading of single-cylinder sub-critical gas centrifuge machines, and the fabrication of the explosive package for a nuclear weapon.” [Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, 10/6/1997]
“There are no indications to suggest that Iraq had produced more that a few grams of weapon-usable nuclear material (HEU or separated plutonium) through its indigenous processes, all of which has been removed from Iraq.” [Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, 10/6/1997]
“There are no indications that Iraq otherwise acquired weapon-usable nuclear material.” [Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, 10/6/1997]
“All of the safeguarded research reactor fuel, including the HEU fuel that Iraq had planned to divert to its ‘crash program,’ was verified and fully accounted for by the IAEA and removed from Iraq.” [Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, 10/6/1997]
“There are no indications that there remains in Iraq any physical capability for the production of amounts of weapon-usable nuclear material of any practical significance.” [Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, 10/6/1997]
David Wurmser, director of the Middle East program at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, writes an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal arguing that the US government should support Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress [INC] and work to foment “an Iraqi insurgency to depose the butcher of Baghdad.” Wurmser writes: “Washington has no choice now but to abandon the coup option and resurrect the INC. An insurgency may be able to defeat Saddam’s weak and demoralized conventional army. But one thing is clear: There is no cost-free way to depose Saddam. He is more resolute, wily and brutal than we. His strength lies in his weapons of terror; that is why he is so attached to them…. Organizing an insurgency to liberate Iraq under the INC may provoke Saddam to use these weapons on the way down. Better that, though, than current policy, which will lead him to use them on his way back up.” [Wall Street Journal, 11/12/1997]
Daniel Benjamin. [Source: Publicity photo]The National Security Council (NSC) completes a review of Iraq and terrorism. In an interview with journalist Robert Dreyfuss four years later, Daniel Benjamin, then-director of counterterrorism at the NSC, summarizes the report’s conclusions: “[W]e went through every piece of intelligence we could find to see if there was a link [between] al-Qaeda and Iraq. We came to the conclusion that our intelligence agencies had it right: There was no noteworthy relationship between al-Qaeda and Iraq. I know that for a fact. No other issue has been as closely scrutinized as this one.” [American Prospect, 12/16/2002]
Experts report that Iraq has failed to adequately account for 500 mustard-gas shells, 25 “special warheads,” 150 aerial bombs, 2 Scud missiles [Christian Science Monitor, 8/29/2002] , 520 kilograms of yeast extract growth medium specifically for anthrax [NewsMax, 9/4/2002] , 15,000 122 mm artillery shells, 25,000 rockets and several hundred tons of chemicals for the nerve agent VX. [Cirincione, Wolfsthal, and Rajkumar, 6/2002; BBC, 9/11/2002]
25 Special Warheads - Iraq failed to account for 25 special warheads. Former UNSCOM inspector Scott Ritter will tell the Christian Science Monitor in mid-2002, “Even if he hid some warheads, they would have degenerated by now.” [Christian Science Monitor, 8/29/2002]
Scud Missiles - Iraq has accounted for or destroyed 817 of its 819 Scud missiles. [United Nations Special Commission, 1/29/1998] It is later suggested by experts, such as former UN inspector Scott Ritter and Charles Duelfer of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, that Iraq could possibly salvage and manufacture enough components to build up a store of between five and 25 missiles. [BBC, 9/11/2002] But as the San Francisco Chronicle later notes, citing unnamed weapons experts, “there is no evidence that these have been tested or that Iraq has any functional launchers.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 10/12/2002]
8,5000 liters of anthrax - Iraq maintains that these remaining stores of anthrax were unilaterally destroyed in the summer of 1991; however, they offer no evidence of this. [Scotsman, 2/24/2003] Scott Ritter, a former Marine intelligence officer and chief weapons inspector, will later say that evidence indicates that Iraq’s liquid bulk anthrax has not been produced by Iraq since 1991. Furthermore, he adds, the factory where Iraq had produced the pathogen was destroyed in 1996. He says that any anthrax produced before then is no longer a threat to anyone because after three years liquid bulk anthrax becomes “useless sludge.” [Reuters, 2/8/2002]
Several hundred tons of chemicals for the nerve agent VX - UNSCOM is unable to account for several hundred tons of chemicals for the nerve agent VX. Iraq maintains that these remaining stocks were unilaterally destroyed in the summer of 1991. [Scotsman, 2/24/2003] In March 2003, UNMOVIC, the successor to UNSCOM, will report that Iraq’s production method created nerve agent that lasted only six to eight weeks. [Independent, 6/1/2003] Critics believe that most of these stocks were destroyed during the First Gulf War. Scott Ritter, a former chief weapons inspector, speaking at the Suffolk Law School building in downtown Boston, will say on July of 2002: “The research and development factory is destroyed [a Gulf War bomb destroyed the production facility on January 23, 1991]. The product of that factory is destroyed. The weapons they loaded up have been destroyed. More importantly, the equipment procured from Europe that was going to be used for their large-scale VX nerve agent factory was identified by the special commission—still packed in its crates in 1997—and destroyed. Is there a VX nerve agent factory in Iraq today? Not on your life.” [Truthout (.org), 7/24/2002]
Radio Free Europe, headquartered in Prague, begins transmitting anti-Saddam programs into Iraq. Late in the year, Iraqi diplomat Jabir Salim defects and tells Czech officials that before leaving Iraq he had been given $150,000 in cash to finance a plot to blow up Radio Free Europe’s headquarters. This information is apparently passed on to Washington and US officials warn Tom Dine, program director of Radio Free Europe, about the plot. In response, Radio Free Europe begins 24-hour video surveillance of the building. [Independent, 10/25/2001; Newsweek, 4/28/2002; Washington Post, 5/1/2002; New York Times, 11/19/2003]
Former Iraqi nuclear scientist Khidir Hamza (see July 30, 2002), who fled Iraq in 1994 and now works at the Institute for Science and International Security, puts together a book proposal with his boss, David Albright, that intends to prove Saddam Hussein’s mission to build nuclear weapons had “fizzled.” The book proposal receives no interest, and Albright and Hamza do not write the book. [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004] Two years later, Hamda will co-author a book asserting that Iraq is aggressively pursuing nuclear weapons (see November 2000).
PNAC logo. [Source: Project for the New American Century]The Project for the New American Century (PNAC), an influential neoconservative think tank, publishes a letter to President Clinton urging war against Iraq and the removal of Saddam Hussein because he is a “hazard” to “a significant portion of the world’s supply of oil.” In a foretaste of what eventually happens, the letter calls for the US to go to war alone, attacks the United Nations, and says the US should not be “crippled by a misguided insistence on unanimity in the UN Security Council.” The letter is signed by many who will later lead the 2003 Iraq war. 10 of the 18 signatories later join the Bush Administration, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Assistant Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretaries of State Richard Armitage and Robert Zoellick, Undersecretaries of State John Bolton and Paula Dobriansky, presidential adviser for the Middle East Elliott Abrams, Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle, and George W. Bush’s special Iraq envoy Zalmay Khalilzad. Other signatories include William Bennett, Jeffrey Bergner, Francis Fukuyama, Robert Kagan, William Kristol, Peter Rodman, William Schneider, Vin Weber, and James Woolsey. [Project for the New American Century, 1/26/1998; Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 3/16/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 158] Clinton does heavily bomb Iraq in late 1998, but the bombing doesn’t last long and its long term effect is the break off of United Nations weapons inspections. [New York Times, 3/23/2003] The PNAC neoconservatives do not seriously expect Clinton to attack Iraq in any meaningful sense, author Craig Unger will observe in 2007. Instead, they are positioning themselves for the future. “This was a key moment,” one State Department official will recall. “The neocons were maneuvering to put this issue in play and box Clinton in. Now, they could draw a dichotomy. They could argue to their next candidate, ‘Clinton was weak. You must be strong.’” [Unger, 2007, pp. 158]
Entity Tags: Robert B. Zoellick, Vin Weber, William Kristol, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, William Schneider Jr., Richard Perle, William J. Bennett, Richard Armitage, Robert Kagan, Paula J. Dobriansky, Donald Rumsfeld, Craig Unger, Peter Rodman, Elliott Abrams, John R. Bolton, James Woolsey, Francis Fukuyama, Jeffrey T. Bergner, Paul Wolfowitz
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Neoconservative Influence
President Clinton accuses Iraq of trying to build “an arsenal of devastating destruction,” and says, “[S]ome day, some way, I guarantee you, he’ll use the arsenal.” [Roberts, 2008, pp. 121]
The Committee for Peace and Security in the Gulf (CPSG), a bipartisan group made up largely of foreign policy specialists, sends an “Open Letter to the President” calling for President Clinton to use the US military to help Iraqi opposition groups overthrow Saddam Hussein and replace him with a US-friendly government. US law forbids such an operation. The group is led by, among others, former Representative Stephen Solarz (D-NY) and prominent Bush adviser Richard Perle, a former assistant secretary of defense.
Largely Neoconservative in Makeup - Many of its co-signers will become the core of the Bush administration’s neoconservative-driven national security apparatus. These co-signers include Elliott Abrams, Richard Armitage, John Bolton, Stephen Bryen, Douglas Feith, Frank Gaffney, Fred Ikle, Robert Kagan, Zalmay Khalilzad, William Kristol, Michael Ledeen, Bernard Lewis, Peter Rodman, Donald Rumsfeld, Gary Schmitt, Max Singer, Casper Weinberger, Paul Wolfowitz, David Wurmser, and Dov Zakheim. [CNN, 2/20/1998; Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004] The CPSG is closely affiliated with both the neoconservative Project for the New American Century (PNAC—see June 3, 1997 and January 26, 1998) and the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI), both of which boast Perle as a powerful and influential member. Jim Lobe of the Project Against the Present Danger later learns that the CPSG is funded in large part by a sizable grant from the right-wing Bradley Foundation, a key funding source for both the PNAC and the AEI. According to Counterpunch’s Kurt Nimmo, the plan for overthrowing Iraq later adopted by the Bush administration, and currently advocated by the CPSG, will be echoed in the PNAC’s September 2000 document, “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” (see September 2000). [CounterPunch, 11/19/2002]
Advocates Supporting Iraq-Based Insurgency - The letter reads in part: “Despite his defeat in the Gulf War, continuing sanctions, and the determined effort of UN inspectors to root out and destroy his weapons of mass destruction, Saddam Hussein has been able to develop biological and chemical munitions.… This poses a danger to our friends, our allies, and to our nation.… In view of Saddam Hussein’s refusal to grant UN inspectors the right to conduct unfettered inspections of those sites where he is suspected of storing his still significant arsenal of chemical and biological munitions and his apparent determination never to relinquish his weapons of mass destruction, we call upon President Clinton to adopt and implement a plan of action designed to finally and fully resolve this utterly unacceptable threat to our most vital national interests.” The plan is almost identical to the “End Game” scenario proposed in 1993 (see November 1993) and carried out, without success, in 1995 (see March 1995). It is also virtually identical to the “Downing Plan,” released later in 1998 (see Late 1998). In 2004, then-Defense Intelligence Agency official Patrick Lang will observe, “The letter was remarkable in that it adopted some of the very formulations that would later be used by Vice President [Dick] Cheney and other current administration officials to justify the preventive war in Iraq that commenced on March 20, 2003” (see March 19, 2003). The CPSG advocates:
US support for Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC—see 1992-1996) as the provisional government to replace Hussein’s dictatorship;
Funding the INC with seized Iraqi assets, designating areas in the north and south as INC-controlled zones, and lifting sanctions in those areas;
Providing any ground assault by INC forces (see October 31, 1998) with a “systematic air campaign” by US forces;
Prepositioning US ground force equipment “so that, as a last resort, we have the capacity to protect and assist the anti-Saddam forces in the northern and southern parts of Iraq”;
Bringing Hussein before an international tribunal on war crimes charges.
Carrying out these actions, Solarz says, would completely eliminate the threat of weapons of mass destruction that he claims Iraq owns. [Abrams et al., 2/19/1998; CNN, 2/20/1998; Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]
Entity Tags: Richard Burt, Richard Armitage, Richard Perle, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Paula J. Dobriansky, Peter Rosenblatt, Project for the New American Century, Richard V. Allen, Peter Rodman, Robert A. Pastor, Saddam Hussein, Robert Kagan, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, William Kristol, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, William B. Clark, Sven F. Kraemer, Stephen Solarz, Roger Robinson, Paul Wolfowitz, Stephen Bryen, Robert C. McFarlane, Michael Ledeen, Patrick Lang, Fred C. Ikle, Dov S. Zakheim, Elliott Abrams, Frank Carlucci, Douglas Feith, Frank Gaffney, Donald Rumsfeld, Committee for Peace and Security in the Gulf, American Enterprise Institute, Ahmed Chalabi, Max Singer, David Wurmser, Bernard Lewis, Caspar Weinberger, Gary Schmitt, Kurt Nimmo, Leon Wienseltier, Martin Peretz, Joshua Muravchik, Frederick L. Lewis, John R. Bolton, Jeffrey T. Bergner, Helmut Sonnenfeldt, Jarvis Lynch, Jeffrey Gedmin, Jim Lobe, Iraqi National Congress
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Neoconservative Influence
In 2006, a bipartisan Senate report will conclude that al-Qaeda leader Mahfouz Walad Al-Walid (a.k.a. Abu Hafs the Mauritanian) travels to Iraq this year in an attempt to meet with Saddam Hussein. This is according to debriefings and documentation found after the 2003 Iraq war. But Hussein refuses to meet him and directs that he should leave Iraq because he could cause a problem for the country. Different documents suggest Al-Walid travels in March or June, or makes two trips. He will make a similar attempt to meet with Hussein in 2002, and will be similarly rebuffed (see 2002). The Senate report will conclude that, despite many alleged meetings, these two attempted meetings by Al-Walid and an actual meeting between bin Laden and an Iraqi agent in 1995 (see Early 1995) were the only attempted contacts between the Iraqi government and al-Qaeda before the Iraq war. [US Senate and Intelligence Committee, 9/8/2006, pp. 73-75 ]
The Project for a New American Century (PNAC) publishes a letter addressed to Congressman Newt Gingrich and Senator Trent Lott. The letter argues that the Clinton administration has capitulated to Saddam Hussein and calls on the two legislators to lead Congress to “establish and maintain a strong US military presence in the region, and be prepared to use that force to protect [US] vital interests in the Gulf—and, if necessary, to help removed Saddam from power.” [Century, 5/29/1998]
Weapons inspectors with the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) report finding evidence that Iraq put VX nerve toxin into missile warheads before the 1991 Gulf War. Iraq has denied being able to make a weapon using VX payloads. The evidence comes from a classified US Army laboratory analysis of warhead fragments recovered by UNSCOM inspectors from a destruction pit at Taji, Iraq, in March 1998. Swabs from the warheads analyzed for the UN at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland showed “significant amounts” of degraded “VX disulfide… and stabilizer” in the samples, according to the UN. The laboratory results seem to confirm suspicions raised by Iraqi defectors and other sources, which indicated that Iraq, contrary to its claims, had indeed succeeded in stabilizing and weaponizing VX nerve gas. VX is an intensely lethal compound; using such nerve toxin in a missile attack would potentially inflict large casualties on the targeted population. The discovery also lends credence to suspicions that Iraq has intentionally misled inspectors about its weapons of mass destruction. Iraq has refused to admit that it ever created weaponized VX or that it deployed the nerve toxin in missile warheads. [Washington Post, 6/23/1998; TruthDig, 3/17/2008]
Leaked by INC - The Aberdeen report is leaked to the Washington Post through officials at the Iraqi National Congress (INC), which the Post will describe as “the principal Iraqi exile opposition group.” Diplomatic sources later confirm the findings, and US government officials will not dispute the conclusion.
Used to Criticize Clinton Administration - The report gives fresh ammunition to conservative Republicans seeking to target the Clinton administration for what they see as its failure to strongly support UNSCOM weapons inspections and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) will write in response to the report, “The latest example of a failed policy toward Iraq will not be swept under the rug.” Lott will write that he and other Republicans may use the issue to derail the Senate confirmations of US ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke and Energy Secretary Bill Richardson.
Republican Official: Iraqis 'Lied from the Start' - INC president Ahmed Chalabi will call the report “a smoking gun,” and add: “It shows that Saddam is still lying, and that this whole arrangement based on his turning his weapons of terror over to the United Nations is not workable. He has stabilized VX, which means he can store it for a long time and bring it out for use when he wants.” A Republican Senate official adds: “This report means that they have VX out there now, and can use it. They have lied from from the start.” [Washington Post, 6/23/1998]
Press Leak Alters UNSCOM Reaction - UNSCOM chief Richard Butler’s plans to announce a “major breakthrough” in diplomatic negotiations with Iraq are scuttled when the Post reports on the VX lab test results. The story focuses not just on the fact that traces of VX were found in Iraqi warheads, but on the harsh criticisms leveled by Lott and other Republicans. The Post writes: “The new indications of Iraqi deception also are likely to reverberate in US politics, where conservative Republicans are increasingly critical of what they see as a failure by the Clinton administration to support strongly either aggressive UNSCOM inspections for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction or efforts to overthrow Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.” [TruthDig, 3/17/2008]
Report Disproven - Further research will disprove the Aberdeen test results, and conclude that Iraq had not, in fact, packed warheads with VX nerve toxin (see July 1998).
UNSCOM weapons inspector Richard Butler states, “If Iraqi disarmament were a five-lap race, we would be three quarters of the way around the fifth and final lap.” [Boston Globe, 3/22/1999]
David Wurmser says that having a region in northern Iraq controlled by the Iraqi National Congress would provide the missing piece to complete an anti-Syria, anti-Iran block. “If Ahmed [Chalabi] extends a no-fly, no-drive in northern Iraq, it puts scuds out of the range of Israel and provides the geographic beachhead between Turkey, Jordan and Israel,” Wurmser says. “This should anchor the Middle East pro-Western coalition.” [Forward, 7/31/2003]
UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter attempts to leak a confidential United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) report on Iraq’s production of VX nerve agent to the American press (see June 10, 1998). The attempt spirals into an effort by Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress (INC—see 1992-1996) to recruit Ritter’s help in crafting a plan for Chalabi’s INC, with American assistance, to overthrow Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and place Chalabi in control. Ritter becomes aware of a report from a US military laboratory that proves in 1991 Iraq had manufactured VX nerve agent and deployed it in missile warheads. The Iraqis have admitted to attempting to produce the deadly toxin, but have long insisted that they were never successful in producing weaponized VX. Although there is no reason to believe that Iraq retains active VX from its former chemical weapons program, UNSCOM officials are furious about having been lied to for years by the Iraqis. UNSCOM chief Richard Butler, involved in delicate negotiations with the Iraqi government on developing a “road map” for addressing numerous outstanding issues between Iraq and the UN, decides to keep the report under wraps. UNSCOM officials are even more outraged at Butler’s decision; many believe that Butler is acquiescing to Clinton administration officials who want to avoid a confrontation with Iraq and the UN. When Ritter offers to leak the document in Washington in such a way that would not be traced to the UNSCOM officials who have seen the report, they quickly slip him a copy of the report, and Ritter prepares to fly to Washington.
First Meeting with Chalabi - Ritter is already scheduled to meet with CIA officials about other intelligence support programs. He calls Randy Scheunemann, the national security adviser for Senator Trent Lott (R-MS), the Senate Majority Leader, and sets up a meeting to, as Ritter will later write, “discuss some new developments” regarding the Iraqis. Scheunemann agrees, and asks if Ritter would be willing to meet with Chalabi at Chalabi’s Georgetown townhouse. Ritter is nonplussed at the request, but decides that since he had already discussed Iraqi weapons of mass destruction with Chalabi in a meeting authorized by Butler (see January 27, 1998), this Georgetown meeting could be construed as a legitimate followup. Ritter agrees. Upon arriving at Washington’s National Airport, he is met by Chalabi’s driver, who takes him to Georgetown. Chalabi presents Ritter with what Ritter will later recall as “an ambitious program, including briefings to senators and their staffs.” The meeting lasts well into the night, and Ritter agrees to stay overnight in a guest room.
Leaking the Report - The next day, Ritter meets with the CIA and then with Scheunemann. Ritter gives Scheunemann the UNSCOM report and explains its significance. “If it could find its way into the press in a way that removed any UNSCOM fingerprints, this would be ideal,” he tells Scheunemann. “That way the data remains uncompromised, and yet politically Butler and the White House can’t ignore it.” Scheunemann says with a smile, “I think we can manage that.”
'The Chalabi Factor' - Scheunemann then takes Ritter to meet Lott, who seems more interested in Ritter’s interactions with Chalabi than in the report. “I hope you take some time to talk with him, and some other interesting people I think you will be meeting with” Lott tells Ritter. “Exchange ideas. See if you can help him in any way. We’re all on the same side here, and we have to start finding ways to break down some barriers others have constructed between us.” Ritter returns to Chalabi’s home, where he meets with Francis Brooke, Chalabi’s principal American adviser, and Max Singer, a conservative foreign policy expert who specializes in what Ritter will term “political warfare.” Scheunemann has asked Singer to write a paper called “The Chalabi Factor” that touts Chalabi as the man to lead a revolution that would result in the ouster of Hussein. Chalabi asked Singer to share the paper with Ritter. Singer has sketched out a scenario that envisions Chalabi and INC fighters capturing the southern oil fields around Basra, giving the INC a political and military foothold inside Iraq, and then rallying disenchanted Shi’ites and Kurds into supporting his insurgency. Ritter later recalls: “I was somewhat taken aback by the content of the Singer paper. I was on dangerous political ground here, a UN weapons inspector charged with the disarmament of Iraq, suddenly dabbling in the world of regime change. Far from advising me on issues of intelligence regarding Iraqi WMD, Ahmed Chalabi had turned the tables and had me advising him on how to overthrow Saddam Hussein.” The three are soon joined by Chalabi and Stephen Rademaker, the lawyer for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and, as Ritter later describes him, an unabashed member of the far right and a Chalabi supporter. The conversation does not center on arms control, as Ritter had originally planned to discuss, but regime change. The others are uninterested in Ritter’s suggestion that pressure be brought to bear on the Hussein regime over the VX discovery. “[W]e all know Saddam is cheating, and that his days are numbered,” Rademaker says. “What we don’t have is a plan on what we are going to do once Saddam is out of office. Mr. Chalabi represents our best hopes in that regard, which is why we’re delighted that you and he are meeting like this.”
Handling the Ba'athists - Ritter tells the others that the Shi’ites and Kurds cannot be treated as “homogeneous movement[s],” but as loose, fractious amalgamations of disparate elements. He then asks: “The key to me is what is missing here: any discussion of the Ba’ath Party or the Sunni tribes. The Ba’ath Party is the only vehicle that exists in Iraq today that unites Sunnis, Shi’a and Kurds alike. It makes modern Iraq function. How do you plan on dealing with the Ba’ath Party in a post-Saddam environment? And what is your plan for winning over the Sunni tribes? How will you bring the tribes that represent the foundation of Saddam’s political support into the fold with your Kurdish and Shi’a supporters?” As Ritter later writes: “Steve Rademaker and Francis Brooke stared blankly. Chalabi was grinning ear to ear. ‘We have a plan. First, we will do away completely with the Baath Party. Those minor members who were forced to join out of survival, of course, they will be allowed to retain their jobs. But anyone who profited from Baathist rule will be punished. As for the Sunni tribes, we are already in contact with their representatives. We feel that the best way to negotiate with them, however, is to make them realize that there is no future with Saddam. Once they realize that, they will come over to our side.’ Chalabi’s ‘plan’ struck me as simplistic at best, and entirely unrealistic.”
The Downing Plan - In answer to Ritter’s questions about defeating the Iraqi military—the large Iraqi Army, the well-trained Republican Guard and other security forces—Chalabi shows Ritter a document, “The Military Plan.” Chalabi says: “This was written for me by Gen. Wayne Downing. I believe you know him from Operation Desert Storm.” Downing had been a Special Forces commander during the 1991 Gulf War; Ritter had worked with Downing’s unit in preventing Iraqi missile launches at Israel (see January 17, 1991). Downing has crafted a plan (see Late 1998) that calls for the US to train and arm several thousand INC fighters who would operate out of bases in western Iraq, out of Hussein’s control. They would fight from light vehicles armed with anti-tank missile launchers, and would rely on support from local tribes in the area, particularly the al-Duleimi in and around Ramadi and Anbar. Ritter is dubious, knowing that the al-Duleimi have provided many of Hussein’s best soldiers. Chalabi is unworried about their support, and tells Ritter, “My people have already had discussions with the tribal leaders of the al-Duleimi, who are ready to join us once we get situated on the ground.” Ritter then objects to Downing’s inclusion of US military advisers and US warplanes, both directly supporting and perhaps even fighting alongside the INC troops. “We don’t operate like that,” Ritter objects. “If we have forces on the ground, then we’ll need to have a base, with a base support element, and base security, and a quick-reaction force in case some of our boys get in trouble. The US presence would have to be much greater than what you’re saying here.” Chalabi merely smiles. “That may be so,” he says, “but we don’t have to highlight it at this time.” Ritter later observes: “The ‘Downing Plan’ was a nice bit of trickery, plotting what was ostensibly an Iraqi opposition military force with minor US military involvement, but masking what was in reality a much larger US military effort with a minor role played by Chalabi’s INC ‘army.’” Ritter is now thoroughly alarmed.
'My Friend Ahmed' - The small group is joined by Danielle Pletka, Rademaker’s wife and a staunchly conservative staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and former CIA director James Woolsey. Over dinner, the group moves from discussing the military plans for overthrowing Hussein to a broader discussion of Chalabi’s political future. Woolsey, a vocal supporter of Chalabi, has no patience with the CIA’s objections to earlier actions by Chalabi and the INC (see January 1996). “This [criticism] is all bunk,” Woolsey says. “Chalabi is an Iraqi patriot and visionary who intimidates many lesser thinkers in Langley. My friend Ahmed is a risk taker who understands the reality of Iraq, unlike the desk-bound analysts and risk-averse operators at the CIA. Chalabi scares these people, so they have created false accusations in order to denigrate him and ultimately destroy him.” Pletka agrees: “We cannot allow this to happen. Ahmed Chalabi has many friends in Congress, and it is our goal to make sure Ahmed Chalabi gets the support he needs to not only survive as a viable opposition figure to Saddam Hussein but more importantly to prevail in Iraq.” Ritter is increasingly uncomfortable with what he will later call “a political strategy session.” It is clear, Ritter will write, “that Chalabi was being groomed for another run at power” (see March 1995).
Recruitment - According to Ritter, Chalabi suggests that Ritter would be very helpful to his organization, and Chalabi could be helpful to Ritter in return. “I have many friends here in Washington,” Chalabi says over breakfast. “With what you know about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, you can be of invaluable assistance to our cause. The VX story is but the tip of the iceberg.” Ritter will describe himself as “taken aback,” since he never told Chalabi about the VX lab report. Ritter replies: “Well, I am just a simple weapons inspector. In any event, it wouldn’t go over well back at the UN to have an UNSCOM inspector plotting regime change down in Washington, DC.” Then, locking eyes with Chalabi, Ritter says: “This is why you must be very discreet about the VX lab report. It simply won’t do for you to have your fingerprints on this information.” Chalabi smilingly replies: “I understand completely. As for your status as a weapons inspector, you must understand that those days are nearly gone. The inspection process has run its course. You need to think about what you are going to be doing in the future. I would like you to work for me.” Ritter objects, noting that an American citizen can’t be involved in plots to overthrow heads of foreign nations. Chalabi corrects Ritter: “You wouldn’t be working for me, but for the US Senate. My friends would create an advisory position for you, and you would in turn advise me. It wouldn’t pay much upfront. But don’t worry. One day I will be the president of Iraq, and will be in control of Iraq’s oil. When that day comes, I will not forget those who helped me in my time of need. Let’s just say that my friends will be given certain oil concessions that will make them very wealthy.”
Meeting with the Senator - Chalabi’s butler drives Ritter to meet with Pletka at the Capitol Building; the two go to the office of Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), who is fully aware of the VX lab report. Brownback is angry that the Clinton administration is reluctant to fully assist the UNSCOM inspectors. “This will not stand,” he tells Ritter. “Believe me when I say you and your colleagues have friends here in the US Senate who will make sure America honors its commitments and obligations, especially when it comes to disarming a cruel tyrant such as Saddam Hussein.” Afterwards, Ritter and Pletka are joined by Rademaker in the Senate cafeteria, who says he has the ear of several influential Congressmen. “We’ve got their attention,” Rademaker says, “and I think you’ll find that serious pressure will be brought on the Clinton administration to better support your work.” Pletka and Ritter then meet Lott and Scheunemann again; Scheunemann once again asks Ritter for his future collaboration. Lott reassures Ritter that there would be no legal or ethical conflicts: “Well, maybe we can find a way to bring you down here working for us. That might be the most useful thing to do.” Leaving the Senate building, Ritter muses that “Chalabi’s schemes seemed to have some substance behind them.”
Long-Term Ramifications - Butler will drastically revise his report to the UN Security Council, and the news of a “major breakthrough” in disarmament work with the Iraqis is shelved. The Clinton administration will issue statesments publicly supporting the UNSCOM inspectors, undercutting behind-the-scenes attempts by National Security Adviser Sandy Berger and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to have the US pull back from blanket support of the inspections. Conservative Republicans will rally around the cause of Iraqi duplicity; Scheunemann will use the VX report to drum up support for the Iraqi Liberation Act, which will pass several months after Ritter’s dinner with Chalabi (see October 31, 1998). And Chalabi and the INC will become the leading candidates for replacing Hussein. Reflecting on Chalabi’s prominence in the Post report, Ritter will write, “After watching the Republicans build up Chalabi, I should have known that they could not have passed up this opportunity to interject his name into the limelight.”
Iraqis Truthful about VX - Later evidence and inspection findings show that the Iraqi scientists had been truthful: they had never succeeded in stabilizing VX, and had never filled any warheads with the nerve toxin. The lab results are later shown to be severely flawed. Ritter will write, “In the end, I was wrong to have pushed so hard to have the lab results made public.” [New Yorker, 6/7/2004; TruthDig, 3/17/2008]
Entity Tags: Washington Post, Stephen Rademaker, Wayne Downing, United Nations Special Commission, Sandy Berger, Trent Lott, Samuel Brownback, Scott Ritter, Richard Butler, Ahmed Chalabi, Central Intelligence Agency, Clinton administration, Danielle Pletka, Francis Brooke, James Woolsey, Randy Scheunemann, Iraqi National Congress, Max Singer, Madeleine Albright, Saddam Hussein
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
Congressional conservatives receive a second “alternative assessment” of the nuclear threat facing the US that is far more to their liking than previous assessments (see December 23, 1996). A second “Team B” panel (see November 1976), the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States, led by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and made up of neoconservatives such as Paul Wolfowitz and Stephen Cambone, finds that, contrary to earlier findings, the US faces a growing threat from rogue nations such as Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, who can, the panel finds, inflict “major destruction on the US within about five years of a decision.” This threat is “broader, more mature, and evolving more rapidly” than previously believed. The Rumsfeld report also implies that either Iran or North Korea, or perhaps both, have already made the decision to strike the US with nuclear weapons. Although Pakistan has recently tested nuclear weapons (see May 28, 1998), it is not on the list. Unfortunately for the integrity and believability of the report, its methodology is flawed in the same manner as the previous “Team B” reports (see November 1976); according to author J. Peter Scoblic, the report “assume[s] the worst about potential US enemies without actual evidence to support those assumptions.” Defense analyst John Pike is also displeased with the methodology of the report. Pike will later write: “Rather than basing policy on intelligence estimates of what will probably happen politically and economically and what the bad guys really want, it’s basing policy on that which is not physically impossible. This is really an extraordinary epistemological conceit, which is applied to no other realm of national policy, and if manifest in a single human being would be diagnosed as paranoia.” [Guardian, 10/13/2007; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 172-173] Iran, Iraq, and North Korea will be dubbed the “Axis of Evil” by George W. Bush in his 2002 State of the Union speech (see January 29, 2002).
Cover of ‘A World Transformed.’ [Source: Bookpage (.com)]Former president George H. W. Bush and his close colleague, former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, publish a book entitled A World Transformed. Recalling the 1991 Gulf War (see January 16, 1991 and After), Bush and Scowcroft defend their decision not to enter Baghdad and overthrow the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, calling it the proper and pragmatic thing to do. They do admit, however, that they were certain Hussein would shortly be overthrown by an internal revolution sparked by the crushing defeat of his military. [New York Times, 9/27/1998]
US Might Still Occupy Hostile Iraq Eight Years Later - “Trying to eliminate Saddam… would have incurred incalculable human and political costs,” they write. “We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq… there was no viable ‘exit strategy’ we could see, violating another of our principles. Furthermore, we had been consciously trying to set a pattern for handling aggression in the post-Cold War world. Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the United Nations’ mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression that we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 314-315]
Younger Bush Disagrees with Assessments - Bush’s son, Texas Governor George W. Bush, preparing for his own presidential run (see April-May 1999), explicitly disagrees with the book’s assessments of US actions during and after the 1991 Gulf War. According to Mickey Herskowitz, the writer working on Bush’s campaign biography, “He thought of himself as a superior, more modern politican than his father and [the elder Bush’s close adviser and friend] Jim Baker. He told me, ‘[My father] could have done anything [during the Gulf War]. He could have invaded Switzerland. If I had that political capital, I would have taken Iraq.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 169]
President Clinton signs the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 (ILA) into law. The act, which passed with overwhelming support from Democrats and Republicans in both the House and Senate, was written by Trent Lott (R-MS) and other Republicans with significant input from Ahmed Chalabi and his aide, Francis Brooke. [US Congress, 10/31/1998 ; Washington Post, 1/25/2002; New Yorker, 6/7/2004] (Former Defense Intelligence Agency official Patrick Lang will later write that one of the driving goals behind the ILA is to revive the failed 1995 coup plans against Saddam Hussein, called “End Game”—see November 1993.) [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004] The act makes it “the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime.” To that end, the act requires that the president designate one or more Iraqi opposition groups to receive up to $97 million in US military equipment and nonlethal training. The act authorizes another $43 million for humanitarian, broadcasting, and information-collection activities. To be eligible for US assistance, an organization must be “committed to democratic values, to respect for human rights, to peaceful relations with Iraq’s neighbors, to maintaining Iraq’s territorial integrity, and to fostering cooperation among democratic opponents of the Saddam Hussein regime.” [US Congress, 10/31/1998 ; Washington Post, 1/25/2002; New Yorker, 6/7/2004]
Chalabi Receives Millions from State Department - Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress receives $17.3 million from the State Department to carry out what it calls the “collection and dissemination of information” about Saddam Hussein’s atrocities to the public. It will continue to receive hundreds of thousands per month from the Defense Department as well. [Mother Jones, 4/2006] However, the Clinton administration itself has little use for Chalabi. One administration official will say, “He represents four or five guys in London who wear nice suits and have a fax machine.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 160]
Zinni Warns of Legislation Presaging Military Action - While few in Washington see the ILA as presaging military action against Iraq, one who does is Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni, the commander of CENTCOM. As the bill works its way through Congress, Zinni tells some of his senior staff members that the bill is far more serious than most believe. It is much more than a sop for the pro-war crowd, Zinni believes, but in reality a first step towards an invasion of Iraq. In 2004, former ambassador Joseph Wilson will write, “He was, of course, right, but few were listening.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 290]
A number of neoconservatives, led by retired General Wayne Downing (see 1990-1991) and retired CIA officer Duane “Dewey” Clarridge (see December 25, 1992), use the recently passed Iraqi Liberation Act (ILA—see October 31, 1998) to revive the failed “End Game” coup plans against Saddam Hussein (see November 1993 and March 1995). Both Downing and Clarridge are “military consultants” to Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress, who attempted to carry out the coup in 1995 with dismal results. Downing and Clarridge produce an updated version of the INC’s “End Game” scenario, calling it “The Downing Plan.” The Downing scenario varies very little from the original plan. Their plan stipulates that a “crack force” of 5,000 INC fighters, backed up by a detachment of US Special Forces soldiers, could bring down the Iraqi Army. Clarridge later tells reporters: “The idea from the beginning was to encourage defections of Iraqi units. You need to create a nucleus, something for people to defect to. If they could take Basra, it would be all over.” Former Defense Intelligence Agency official Patrick Lang will later write, “It is difficult to understand how a retired four-star Army general [Downing] could believe this to be true.” General Anthony Zinni, commander of CENTCOM, which has operational control of US combat forces in the Middle East, is provided with a copy of Chalabi’s military plan to overthrow Saddam Hussein. “It got me pretty angry,” he later recalls. He warns Congress that Chalabi’s plan is a “pie in the sky, a fairy tale,” and predicts that executing such a poorly envisioned assault would result in a “Bay of Goats.” Chalabi’s INC is nothing more than “some silk-suited, Rolex-wearing guys in London;” neither the INC nor any of the other 91 or so Iraqi opposition groups have anywhere near “the viability to overthrow Saddam.” He tells the New Yorker: “They were saying if you put a thousand troops on the ground Saddam’s regime will collapse, they won’t fight. I said, ‘I fly over them every day, and they shoot at us. We hit them, and they shoot at us again. No way a thousand forces would end it.’ The exile group was giving them inaccurate intelligence. Their scheme was ridiculous.” Zinni earns the enmity of the neoconservative developers of the plan for his stance. [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004; New Yorker, 6/7/2004]
Iraq announces that it no longer recognizes the UN-mandated “no-fly zones” in its northern and southern sectors, and begins acting more aggressively towards US and British aircraft enforcing those zones. In return, the US revises its rules of engagement so that pilots have broader discretion to respond to actual or threatened attacks. By August 1999, US aircraft have launched over 1,000 missiles at Iraqi targets. Iraqi locations are bombed on virtually a daily basis. [Roberts, 2008, pp. 122]
UNSCOM executive chairman Richard Butler orders the withdrawal of weapons inspectors from Iraq, accusing the Iraqis of not cooperating. His actions follow a phone conversation with Peter Burleigh, the American representative to the United Nations, basically warning Butler that the US intends to strike Iraq (see December 16-19, 1998). [New York Times, 12/18/1998] In his book, Saddam Defiant, Butler will recall: “I received a telephone call from US Ambassador Peter Burleigh inviting me for a private conversation at the US mission.… Burleigh informed me that on instructions from Washington it would be ‘prudent to take measures to ensure the safety and security of UNSCOM staff presently in Iraq.‘… I told him that I would act on this advice and remove my staff from Iraq.” Butler’s order to withdraw is made without the permission of the UN Security Council. [Butler, 2000, pp. 224] Years later, the American press and government will say that on this day Saddam Hussein “kicked out” inspectors. [Extra!, 10/2002]
Air Traffic Controllers on board the USS Enterprise guide strike aircraft on bombing runs into Iraq. Photo taken December 17, 1998. [Source: US Navy]The US and Britain launch a joint series of over 250 air strikes against Iraqi military targets, in a campaign dubbed “Operation Desert Fox.” The air strikes are designed to, in the mission statement released by the US Navy, “degrade Saddam Hussein’s ability to make and to use weapons of mass destruction,” to “diminish Saddam Hussein’s ability to wage war against his neighbors,” and to “demonstrate to Saddam Hussein the consequences of violating international obligations.” The air strikes are carried out by US Navy and Marine Corps aircraft from the USS Enterprise, from US and British military bases in the region. The strikes feature, among other weaponry, over 400 Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from naval vessels and US Air Force B-52s. Defense officials say that many of the strikes focus on destroying or damaging targets in southern Iraq, including surface-to-air missile sites, airfields, and command-and-control sites, all with the aim of giving US pilots a “safer corridor” to reach targets in the north. [American Forces Press Service, 12/18/1998; Barletta and Jorgensen, 5/1999; Roberts, 2008, pp. 121; US Department of Defense, 3/7/2008] Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz will later say that at least 62 Iraqis are killed in the strikes. No US or British casualties are reported. [BBC, 2002]
Failure to Comply with UN Inspections - President Bill Clinton explains that the military operation was in response to Iraq’s refusal to comply with UN weapons inspections (see December 16, 1998). “The international community gave Saddam one last chance to resume cooperation with the weapons inspectors,” Clinton says. “Saddam’s deception has defeated their effectiveness. Instead of the inspectors disarming Saddam, the Iraqi dictator has disarmed the inspectors.… Saddam has failed to seize the chance. So we had to act and act now.” Clinton continues, “Saddam Hussein must not be allowed to threaten his neighbors or the world with nuclear arms, poison gas, or biological weapons.” He has used them before, Clinton adds, and “left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will use these terrible weapons again.” [American Forces Press Service, 12/17/1998] US Secretary of Defense William Cohen says that the attacks “degraded Saddam Hussein’s ability to deliver chemical and biological weapons,” and defends the US’s right to act unilaterally against Iraq if it is in “our national interest.” British Prime Minister Tony Blair agrees with Clinton’s assessment. “He is a serial breaker of promises,” Blair says. [CNN, 12/16/1998]
Real Aim to Destabilize Hussein? - In January 1999, reporter William Arkin, a defense specialist, will write that he believes the strikes were designed to do far more than punish Iraq for not complying with UN inspections. The extremely specific target listings—down to specific buildings—and the nature of the targets chosen will lead Arkin to believe that Desert Fox was designed to cripple Iraq’s ability to wage war. Only 13 of the 100 or so sites were identified as chemical or biological weapons production or research facilities, Arkin will write. Additionally, Arkin will comment that the US-British strikes were not just to “degrade” Iraq’s military capabilities, but to destabilize the Hussein regime. [Washington Post, 1/17/1999]
Accusations of Political Distraction - Many of Clinton’s political opponents, including Republican lawmakers and conservative commentators and radio hosts, accuse Clinton, both during and after the strikes, of attempting to use a military operation to distract the nation from his admission of a sexual liaison with intern Monica Lewinsky. [BBC, 2002]
Destroys Remainder of Iraq's WMD Stockpiles - In 2004, US weapons inspector David Kay will say that Desert Fox and other 1998 air strikes destroyed the remaining stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons left over from the Gulf War (see January 23, 2004).
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright confirms that the Clinton administration now endorses “regime change” in Iraq, essentially supporting the ouster of Saddam Hussein (see October 31, 1998). Merely containing Hussein, adds National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, “is not sustainable over the long run.” [Roberts, 2008, pp. 121]
According to US intelligence sources, Farouk Hijazi, the Iraqi ambassador to Turkey, visits Afghanistan in late 1998 after US cruise missiles are fired on al-Qaeda training camps following the bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Hijazi, who is also a longtime intelligence officer, meets Osama bin Laden in Kandahar and extends an offer from Baghdad to provide refuge for him and Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Bin Laden reportedly rejects the offer because he doesn’t want his organization dominated by Saddam Hussein. After the 9/11 attacks, proponents of invading Iraq will claim the visit makes Hijazi a key link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. Hijazi will be captured by US troops in late April 2003 after the US/British invasion of Iraq begins. [Guardian, 2/16/1999; Associated Press, 9/27/2001; Knight Ridder, 10/7/2002; Associated Press, 4/25/2003; Associated Press, 7/13/2003] However, in 2006, a bipartisan Senate report will conclude that Hijazi did meet with bin Laden, but in 1995, not 1998 (see Early 1995).
Mickey Herskowitz. [Source: Public domain]Presidential candidate George W. Bush tells prominent Texas author and Bush family friend Mickey Herskowitz, who is helping Bush write an autobiography, that as president he would invade Iraq if given the opportunity. “One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief,” Herskowitz remembers Bush saying. “My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of [Kuwait] and he wasted it. If I have a chance to invade Iraq, if I had that much capital, I’m not going to waste it. I’m going to get everything passed I want to get passed and I’m going to have a successful presidency.” Herskowitz later says he believes Bush’s comments were intended to distinguish himself from his father, rather than express a desire to invade Iraq. [Houston Chronicle, 10/31/2004]
Bob Drogin. [Source: CBS News]Reporter Bob Drogin, in his 2007 book Curveball: Spies, Lies and the Con Man Who Caused a War, notes that when the Iraqi defector known as “Curveball” appears in Germany (see November 1999), the US intelligence community knows very little about the state of affairs with Iraq’s secret weapons programs. Saddam Hussein had been fascinated with chemical and biological weapons for a long time, and had a history of using chemical weapons both against the Iranians and allegedly against his own citizens. UN inspectors found thousands of chemical munitions after the 1991 Gulf War; in 1996, UN engineers destroyed what many thought could have been a bioweapons factory. The inspectors were thrown out in 1998, and after that, reliable information about Iraq’s weapons programs was scanty at best. One top CIA official will tell Drogin that the US was “almost in Chapter 11 in terms of our human intelligence collection.” But most US officials believe that Hussein has something going on, they just don’t know exactly what. According to the 2007 reflections of Defense Intelligence Agency chief Vice Admiral Thomas Wilson, the “mind-set [is] we’re going to see the WMD. I don’t know anybody who [doesn’t] believe it [is] there.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/21/2007]
Iraqi diplomat and suspected intelligence officer Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani arrives in Prague to replace his predecessor, Jabir Salim, who had defected (see 1998). Fearing that Al-Ani had a similar mission to that of Salim, Czech intelligence closely monitors al-Ani’s activities. Sometime in 1999, al-Ani is reportedly videotaped loitering around and photographing the Radio Free Europe building. Al-Ani is sometimes seen with a thinner, taller man wearing a Shell Oil jacket who is never identified. The pictures are passed onto the Czech intelligence agency [BIS]. [Newsweek, 4/28/2002; Washington Post, 5/1/2002; New York Times, 11/19/2003]
In his book, Tyranny’s Ally: America’s Failure to Defeat Saddam Hussein, David Wurmser of the American Enterprise Institute urges the US to support an insurgency aimed at toppling the Bath’ist government of Saddam Hussein as part of a broader policy to defeat pan-Arabism in Iraq. In its place, the US should encourage the creation of a “loosely unified Iraqi confederal government, shaped around strong sectarian and provincial entities,” Wurmser argues. [Wurmser, 1999, pp. 136-137] What happens in Iraq is vitally important, Wurmser notes, because the country is of extreme strategic importance. “It is a key transportation route, and it is rich in both geographic endowments and human talent,” he explains. “Its location on pathways between Asia and Europe, Africa and Asia, and Europe and Africa makes it an ideal route for armies, pipelines, and trade from both the eastern Mediterranean and Asia Minor to the Persian Gulf. Iraq also has large, proven oil reserves, water, and other important resources. Its geographic centrality and abundance of natural advantages alone make the country a regionally important center.” [Wurmser, 1999, pp. 116-117]
A study by the US Institute of Peace finds that “the Iraq problem” has transformed from “a multilateral conflict between Iraq and the United Nations to a bilateral one between Iraq and the United States.” [Roberts, 2008, pp. 122]
Wissam al-Zahawie, Iraq’s ambassador to the Vatican, sets off on a trip to several African countries as part of an effort to convince African heads of state to visit Iraq. Saddam Hussein hopes that these visits will help break the embargo on flights to Iraq and undermine the UN sanctions regime. Zahawie’s first stop is Niger, where he meets with the country’s President Ibrahim Bare Mainassara for one hour. Mainassara promises that he will visit Baghdad the following April. (He is assasinated before he has an opportunity to do this.) [Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 7/13/2003; Independent, 8/10/2003; Time, 10/2/2003; New Yorker, 10/27/2003] In early 2002, the Italian military intelligence service, SISMI, will allege in a report (see February 5, 2002) sent to the US that the motive behind the visit is to discuss the future purchase of uranium oxide, also known as “yellowcake” (see October 15, 2001). [New Yorker, 10/27/2003] However, no one at this time suggests that the trip’s motives have anything to do with acquiring uranium. Zahawie’s trip is reported in the local newspaper as well as by a French news agency. The US and British governments are aware of the trip and show no concern about Niger, which is actively seeking economic assistance from the United States. [New Yorker, 10/27/2003] In 2003, al-Zawahie will tell British reporters: “My only mission was to meet the president of Niger and invite him to visit Iraq. The invitation and the situation in Iraq resulting from the genocidal UN sanctions were all we talked about. I had no other instructions, and certainly none concerning the purchase of uranium.” [Independent, 8/10/2003]
Photo of the cover of the Desert Crossing after-action briefing. [Source: National Security Archives]The US Central Command, or CENTCOM (see October 1, 1986), conducts a series of war games called “Desert Crossing” centered on the scenario of Saddam Hussein being ousted as Iraq’s dictator. CENTCOM commander General Anthony Zinni will later say of the scenario, “I thought we ought to look at political reconstruction, economic reconstruction, security reconstruction, humanitarian need, services, and infrastructure development.” The game concludes that unless measures are taken, “fragmentation and chaos” will ensue after his overthrow. The after-action report finds that regime change may cause instability throughout the Middle East by giving impetus to “rival forces bidding for power” which, in turn, could cause societal “fragmentation along religious and/or ethnic lines” and antagonize “aggressive neighbors.” Securing borders and civil order may not be enough to restabilize Iraq, the report speculates, if the new government is perceived as either weak, subservient to outside governments, or out of touch with other Middle Eastern governments. The report finds that an exit strategy would be complicated by differing ideas for how a post-Saddam Iraq should be. Any US-supported transitional government will find it difficult to restrain various factions from pursuing their own tribal and sectarian vendettas against one another, the report finds. The game is quickly forgotten; years later, when the Bush administration will begin planning for its invasion of Iraq, the retired Zinni will recommend that his successors “dust off Desert Crossing,” and they will respond: “What’s that? Never heard of it.” [John Prados, 11/4/2006; Roberts, 2008, pp. 125, 233]
Rocco Martino, an Italian information peddler and former SISMI agent, will later tell reporters that he provides French officials with documents suggesting that Iraq intends to expand its “trade” with Niger. He does not say from where he obtains these documents. The French assume the trade being discussed concerns uranium, Niger’s main export. At French intelligence’s request, according to Martino, he continues supplying them with documents. [Sunday Times (London), 8/1/2004; Financial Times, 8/2/2004] However Martino’s account is disputed by French intelligence official Alain Chouet who insists that France’s first contact with Martino takes place in June 2002 (see Late June 2002). [La Repubblica (Rome), 12/1/2005]
A businessman reportedly approaches Nigerien Prime Minister Ibrahim Mayaki and insists that he meet with an Iraqi delegation to discuss “expanding commercial relations” between Niger and Iraq. Mayaki reportedly interprets “expanding commercial relations” to mean that Iraq is interested in discussing uranium sales. According to Mayaki, he does meet the delegation but avoids discussion of trade issues because of UN sanctions on the country. They reportedly never discuss what the businessman had meant when he said Iraq was interested in “expanding commercial relations.” [US Congress, 7/7/2004] A US embassy official later tells former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who himself will visit Niger to determine the facts behind American concerns that Iraq is attempting to secure Nigerien uranium (see Fall 1999), that Mayaki is extremely wary of dealing with Iraq, and keeps the conversations on very general levels. The Iraqi may have wanted to discuss uranium, the embassy official later recalls, but nothing is ever said on the subject. Wilson later learns from the official that Mayaki speaks to the Iraqi information minister, Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf, disparagingly called “Baghdad Bob” by the Americans. At the time, Wilson is not aware of the Iraqi’s identity, so he does not include the name in his report to the CIA. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 27-28] Alan Foley, the director of the CIA’s Nonproliferation Center (see February 5, 2003), will later tell a reporter that an item in Wilson’s report (see March 4-5, 2002) leads him to believe that there may be some truth to the Iraq-Niger allegations. Writing about Foley’s assertion in 2004, Wilson says he believes that Foley is referring to the 1999 conversation between the embassy official and al-Sahhaf. Wilson will ask, “Could it be that we went to war over a conversation in which the word ‘uranium’ was not spoken at all?” The Nigerien official later tells Wilson that he wondered if al-Sahhaf might have intended to ask about a possible uranium deal in subsequent conversations. “Was that the smoking gun that could supposedly have become a mushroom cloud?” Wilson will ask. “And so is it possible that, because of that non-conversation, [thousands of] Americans have been killed, and [billions] of national treasure spent?” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 424]
Pat Robertson. [Source: Fox News]US televangelist Pat Robertson advocates the assassination of foreign leaders by the US. On his 700 Club broadcast, Robertson says: “I know it sounds somewhat Machiavellian and evil, to think that you could send a squad in to take out somebody like Osama bin Laden, or to take out the head of North Korea.… But isn’t it better to do something like that, to take out [Serbian leader Slobodan] Milosevic, to take out [Iraq’s] Saddam Hussein, rather than to spend billions of dollars on a war that harms innocent civilians and destroys the infrastructure of a country?” [Christianity Today, 8/2005; The Age, 8/25/2005]
Nick Berg. [Source: Associated Press]Nick Berg is an American who will become known for being beheaded on video in Iraq in 2004 (see March 24-May 11, 2004). It will later come out that he had a curious connection to Zacarias Moussaoui. In the autumn of 1999, Berg is a university student in Norman, Oklahoma, where Moussaoui will attend flight school in early 2001. According to Berg’s father, one day Nick Berg is riding a bus to his classes and he meets Moussaoui on the bus. Moussaoui asks him for his password so he can use Berg’s laptop to check the Internet. Berg gives him his password. FBI investigators later will discover Moussaoui’s use of this password, and will interview Berg about it in 2002. Berg will be cleared of any criminal connection with Moussaoui. Jayna Davis, a former NBC reporter known for her controversial investigation of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, calls the explanation as to why Moussaoui had Berg’s password “totally nonsensical.” She will note the low odds of anyone being able to log onto the Internet on a bus in 1999 and will say, “You’re sitting on a bus. It’s a five- to ten-minute ride. How in the world would a stranger sitting next to you say, ‘Hey, can I borrow your laptop computer because I want to log on to your e-mail?’” She also notes that the FBI insists Berg gave his password to an acquaintance of Moussaoui, while Berg’s family insists it was Moussaoui himself on the bus. [NewsMax, 5/18/2004; CBS News, 5/21/2004] The London Times will note that this acquaintance “is believed to have been Hussein al-Attas,” Moussaoui’s roommate when he will be arrested in Minnesota in August 2001. The Times will note that Berg’s “past links to an al-Qaeda terrorist have raised questions in some quarters as to whether he might even have been working for the intelligence services.” [London Times, 5/23/2004]
Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who has spent much of his political career representing the US in West Africa, visits Niger at the behest of the CIA to investigate what a Senate investigation (see July 9, 2004) will later call “uranium-related matters.” Wilson is chosen in part because his wife, covert CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson, suggested that since he was going to Niger on business in the near future, he “might be willing to use his contacts in the region” to obtain information. The CIA is interested in a meeting between Niger’s former prime minister, Ibrahim Mayaki, and a delegation from Iraq to discuss “expanding commercial relations” between the two nations. Wilson will later say that the subject of uranium never comes up in a meeting he has with Mayaki (see May 2, 2004). However, CIA analysts will interpret Wilson’s information to mean that Mayaki “interpreted ‘expanding commercial relations’ to mean that the [Iraqi] delegation wanted to discuss uranium yellowcake sales.” The CIA will believe that Wilson’s report bolsters its own suspicions that Iraq is attempting to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger. An intelligence officer will later report that Mayaki indicated that the Iraqis had expressed an interest in buying uranium from Niger. [FactCheck (.org), 7/26/2004; FactCheck (.org), 7/22/2005]
Iraqi defector “Curveball.” [Source: ABC News]“Curveball,” an Iraqi in his late 20s later identified as Rafid Ahmed Alwan (see November 4, 2007), travels to Germany on a tourist visa and applies for political asylum, telling German immigration officials that he embezzled money from the Iraqi government and fears prison or worse if he returns home. The Germans send him to Zirndorf, a refugee center near Nuremberg, where other Iraqi exiles seeking German visas are being held. There, he changes his story, telling German intelligence (BND) officers that he was a chemical engineer (see 1994) who had been promoted to direct a secret mobile biological weapons plant at Djerf al Nadaf, just outside of Baghdad. The plant masqueraded as a “seed purification plant,” he claims. Curveball tells the Germans that in Iraq, he designed laboratory equipment to convert trucks into biological weapons laboratories. He offers the names of six sites where Iraq might be hiding them, three of which, he says, are already in operation. He also says that a farm program to boost crop yields is a front for Hussein’s new biological weapons production program. He tells the Germans of a warehouse at the plant that housed trucks; the trucks had been equipped to create and transport biological weapons. His story dovetails with the long-held fears by Western intelligence agencies that Saddam Hussein was cooking up biological and chemical weapons; the Germans stash him away, nickname him “Curveball,” and interrogate him every few days for the next eighteen months (see January 2000-September 2001). Curveball refuses to meet with Americans; therefore, only summaries of his debriefings will be sent to Washington. CIA analysts will be mesmerized by Alwan’s information. Former senior CIA official Tyler Drumheller recalls in late 2007, “Curveball was the one piece of evidence where they could say, ‘Look at this. If they have this capability, where they can transport biological weapons, anthrax, all these horrible weapons, they can attack our troops with them. They can give them to terrorist groups.’” Most arresting is Curveball’s story that in 1998 he saw an accidental release of a biological weapon that killed 12 people. His story is almost entirely false. [Los Angeles Times, 11/20/2005; CBS News, 11/4/2007] Vincent Cannistraro, former head of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center, will tell the New Yorker in 2004 that the CIA believes that Aras Habib, the INC intelligence chief later accused of providing US intelligence to Iran, played a part in Curveball’s going to Germany. “The CIA is positive of it,” he says. [New Yorker, 6/7/2004]
Bob Drogin, author of the 2007 book Curveball: Spies, Lies and the Con Man Who Caused a War, will write that Curveball gives the Germans detailed diagrams of germ-making equipment, fermenters, mixing vats, controllers, and other items, which appear “plausible,” even though they can’t be reverse-engineered to “brew anthrax” or “build a bio-lab in a garage.” Instead, he will write, Curveball’s inconsistent information will be “interpreted, summarized, reformatted and analyzed at every stage,” but will never be verified. Drogin will call the entire affair “the dark side of intelligence,” and will write that, to the CIA’s top officials, the risk of going so far on uncorroborated evidence would take care of itself once US forces found the fabled Iraqi WMDs. Once the weapons were in hand, Drogin will write, they will figure “no one would remember a bogus defector.” As a CIA supervisor will later e-mail to a frustrated agency whistleblower, “Let’s keep in mind the fact that this war’s going to happen regardless of what Curveball said or didn’t say, and that the Powers That Be probably aren’t terribly interested in whether Curveball knows what he’s talking about.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/21/2007]
In his first Republican presidential candidate debate in New Hampshire, George W. Bush tells the audience that, if elected, he will overthrow Saddam Hussein. “No one envisioned him still standing” this long after the 1991 Gulf War, Bush says. “It’s time to finish the task. And if I found that in any way, shape, or form that he was developing weapons of mass destruction, I’d take them out. I’m surprised he’s still there. I think a lot of other people are as well.” In addition, he would not lift the US sanctions on Iraq or attempt to negotiate with Hussein. A few newspapers and Sunday talk shows pick up on Bush’s belligerence, and the ones who do are often quite critical. The Boston Globe’s David Nyhan writes in response, “It remains to be seen if that offhand declaration of war was just Texas talk, a sort of locker room braggadocio, or whether it was Bush’s first big clinker.” Bush backs off his statement the next day, blaming his Texas drawl for causing the so-called misunderstanding. “My intent was the weapons,” he says, not Hussein. Republican insiders know better (see Spring 2000). [Federal Document Clearing House, 12/2/1999; George Washington University, 12/2/1999; Boston Globe, 12/3/1999; Unger, 2007, pp. 174-175]
With the passing of UN Resolution 1284, the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) is created to assist in the disarming of Iraq. The new body replaces the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM). UNMOVIC is deliberately designed to prevent infiltration by spies of the UN Security Council member states, specifically the US and Britain. This had been a problem with its predecessor, UNSCOM. The UN diminishes the role of Americans in the new commission by abolishing the powerful office of deputy chairman, which had always been held by an American, and by appointing non-Americans to important positions. In the new inspections body, “The highest-ranking American in the agency now has a relatively lowly job, in charge of the training division.” A Chinese official holds the senior “activity evaluation” position and a Russian official is in charge of “liaising with foreign governments and companies.” Another reform is that the inspectors will use commercial satellite companies, instead of US spy satellites, to monitor Iraq’s activities. [London Times, 9/18/2002]
Former CIA director James Woolsey serves as a corporate officer for the Iraqi National Congress Support Foundation which manages the Iraqi National Congress’ US funding. Also during this time, Woolsey and his former law firm, Shea and Gardner, provide the INC and Iraqi exiles with pro bono work. [Knight Ridder, 7/16/2004]
Models of the biological weapons facility described by Curveball. [Source: CBS News]Two German intelligence (BND) case officers debrief Iraqi defector “Curveball” with help from a team of chemists, biologists, and other experts. Curveball claims to have knowledge of a clandestine Iraqi biological weapons program (see November 1999). He speaks to his BND debriefers in Arabic through a translator, and also in broken English and German. Curveball says that he worked for Iraq’s Military Industrial Commission after graduating first in his class from engineering school at Baghdad University in 1994. (He actually graduated last—see 1994.) A year later, he says, he was assigned to work for “Dr. Germ,” British-trained microbiologist Rihab Rashid Taha, to construct mobile biological weapons labs. But Curveball never says that he actually produced biological weapons or witnessed anyone else doing so and the BND is unable to verify his claims. Curveball’s statements are recorded in German, shared with a local Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) team, and sent to the US, where they are translated into English for analysis at the DIA’s directorate for human intelligence in Clarendon, Virginia, though CIA agents are not allowed to talk to Curveball themselves. “This was not substantial evidence,” one senior German intelligence official later recalls in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “We made clear we could not verify the things he said.” The reports are then sent to the CIA’s Weapons Intelligence, Non-Proliferation and Arms Control Center (WINPAC), whose experts analyze the data and share it with artists who use Curveball’s accounts to render sketches. The Clarendon office sends a total of 95 reports to WINPAC during this period. US spy satellites are directed to take pictures of sites named by Curveball as biological weapons facilities. According to a later investigation by the Los Angeles Times, “At the CIA, bio-warfare experts viewed [Curveball’s] reports as sophisticated and technically feasible. They also matched the analysts’ expectations.” [Los Angeles Times, 11/20/2005] The Germans also share some of Curveball’s allegations with the British. However, according to Robin Butler, head of the British inquiry into prewar intelligence, what the Germans provided was “incomplete.” For instance, German intelligence misled them to believe that the alleged mobile weapon labs were capable of producing weapons-grade bio-agents such as anthrax spores, when Curveball’s actual statements only suggested they had the capability to produce a liquid slurry that would not be suitable for bombs or warheads. [Los Angeles Times, 11/20/2005]
In 2007, reporter Bob Drogin, author of Curveball: Spies, Lies and the Con Man Who Caused a War, will write extensively of the tensions between the BND and the CIA that lead to the Germans’ reluctance to provide the CIA direct access to Curveball, and result in the CIA building a huge case for Iraqi bioweapons on Curveball’s unsubstantiated, unverified assertions. The Germans repeatedly state that Curveball speaks no English, and hates Americans; in fact, Curveball speaks better English than he does German, and likes Americans. The fault lies with both agencies, Drogin will write, saying the CIA routinely refuses to allow other agencies to meet with their sources, either. “The CIA won’t even let other US intelligence agencies interview a CIA source,” Drogin will note. “The fact is the US went to war after relying in part on information from a guy they had never met, so they’ve tried really hard to blame others.” [Alternet, 10/22/2007]
Iraqi informants cited in internal US intelligence reports dispute Curveball’s claims (see January 2000-September 2001) that Iraq has mobile biological weapons factories. Some of the informants suggest that Curveball is actually referring to trailers designed to produce hydrogen for artillery weather balloons. [Washington Post, 4/12/2006]
Ahmad Hikmat Shakir, an Iraqi who met 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, around the time of an al-Qaeda summit there, leaves the country (see January 5-8, 2000). The connection between Shakir and Almihdhar is unclear, as Shakir met Almihdhar while working as a greeter of Arab visitors at the airport, but then accompanied Almihdhar to the place he was staying and was videotaped with him there by the Malaysian authorities (see January 5, 2000). Shakir is said to have got the job at the airport with the help of an Iraqi intelligence officer, raising concerns of Iraqi involvement in 9/11. However, although Shakir is watchlisted before 9/11 (see August 23, 2001) and arrested and released twice afterwards (see September 17, 2001), his connection to Saddam Hussein’s regime is found to be not as strong as alleged (see Before June 21, 2004). [Knight Ridder, 6/12/2004; Washington Post, 6/22/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 502]
Stephen Hadley, a neoconservative foreign affairs analyst who will become the future President Bush’s national security adviser (see November 2, 2004), briefs a group of prominent Republicans on the national security and foreign policy agenda of Bush. Hadley tells the assembled policymakers that Bush’s “number-one foreign policy agenda” will be removing Iraq’s Saddam Hussein from power. Hadley also says Bush will spend little or no time trying to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. According to Virginia Military Institute professor Clifford Kiracofe, who speaks to many of the policymakers after the meeting, many of them are shocked at the briefing. [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004; Unger, 2007, pp. 175]
Les, a doctor from the CIA’s counter-proliferation branch, meets Curveball and takes a blood sample. The blood is analyzed for the presence of antibodies which would indicate if he has ever been exposed to anthrax or any other biological weapons agent. Curveball claims that he was injured in an accident in the fall of 1998 at the Djerf al Nadaf industrial site that killed 12 bio-warfare technicians. His blood test results are inconclusive. The doctor, who does not speak to Curveball at all during the visit, notes that Curveball speaks excellent English even though the Germans, justifying their refusal to allow the CIA to interview him, have told the CIA that Curveball does not speak the language. [Los Angeles Times, 11/20/2005]
Osama Siblani. [Source: Publicity photo]Presidential candidate George W. Bush allegedly tells Osama Siblani, publisher of an Arab American newspaper, that if he becomes president he will remove Saddam Hussein from power. “He told me that he was going to take him out,” Siblani says in a radio interview on Democracy Now! almost five years later. Siblani will also recall that Bush “wanted to go to Iraq to search for weapons of mass destruction, and he considered the regime an imminent and gathering threat against the United States.” As Siblani will later note, as a presidential candidate Bush has no access to classified intelligence on Iraqi weapons programs. [Democracy Now!, 3/11/2005]
Ahmed Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress, who has plotted for years to overthrow Saddam Hussein (see May 1991, 1992-1996, November 1993, and March 1995), exults over the selection of former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney as George W. Bush’s presidential running mate. “Cheney is good for us,” Chalabi says. [New Republic, 11/20/2003]
People involved in the 2000 PNAC report (from top left): Vice
President Cheney, Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld,
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Cheney Chief of Staff I. Lewis
Libby, Undersecretary of State John Bolton, Undersecretary of Defense Dov
Zakheim, and author Eliot Cohen.
[Source: Public domain]The neoconservative think tank Project for the New American Century writes a “blueprint” for the “creation of a ‘global Pax Americana’” (see June 3, 1997). The document, titled Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategies, Forces and Resources for a New Century, was written for the George W. Bush team even before the 2000 presidential election. It was written for future Vice President Cheney, future Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, future Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Florida Governor and Bush’s brother Jeb Bush, and Cheney’s future chief of staff Lewis Libby. [Project for the New American Century, 9/2000, pp. iv and 51 ]
Plans to Overthrow Iraqi Government - The report calls itself a “blueprint for maintaining global US preeminence, precluding the rise of a great power rival, and shaping the international security order in line with American principles and interests.” The plan shows that the Bush team intends to take military control of Persian Gulf oil whether or not Saddam Hussein was in power and should retain control of the region even if there is no threat. It says: “The United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.” The report calls for the control of space through a new “US Space Forces,” the political control of the internet, the subversion of any growth in political power of even close allies, and advocates “regime change” in China, North Korea, Libya, Syria, Iran and other countries. It also mentions that “advanced forms of biological warfare that can ‘target’ specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool” (see February 7, 2003). [Project for the New American Century, 9/2000 ; Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 9/7/2002]
Greater Need for US Role in Persian Gulf - PNAC states further: “The United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.”
'US Space Forces,' Control of Internet, Subversion of Allies - PNAC calls for the control of space through a new “US Space Forces,” the political control of the Internet, and the subversion of any growth in political power of even close allies, and advocates “regime change” in China, North Korea, Libya, Syria, Iran, and other countries.
Bioweapons Targeting Specific Genotypes 'Useful' - It also mentions that “advanced forms of biological warfare that can ‘target” specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool.”
'A New Pearl Harbor' - However, PNAC complains that thes changes are likely to take a long time, “absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event—like a new Pearl Harbor.” [Los Angeles Times, 1/12/2003]
Bush Will Claim a 'Humble' Foreign Policy Stance - One month later during a presidential debate with Al Gore, Bush will assert that he wants a “humble” foreign policy in the Middle East and says he is against toppling Saddam Hussein in Iraq because it smacks of “nation building” (see October 11, 2000). Around the same time, Cheney will similarly defend Bush’s position of maintaining President Clinton’s policy not to attack Iraq, asserting that the US should not act as though “we were an imperialist power, willy-nilly moving into capitals in that part of the world, taking down governments.” [Washington Post, 1/12/2002] Author Craig Unger will later comment, “Only a few people who had read the papers put forth by the Project for a New American Century might have guessed a far more radical policy had been developed.” [Salon, 3/15/2004] A British member of Parliament will later say of the PNAC report, “This is a blueprint for US world domination—a new world order of their making. These are the thought processes of fantasist Americans who want to control the world.” [Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 9/7/2002] Both PNAC and its strategy plan for Bush are almost virtually ignored by the media until a few weeks before the start of the Iraq war (see February-March 20, 2003).
Entity Tags: Robert Kagan, Robert Martinage, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Robert Killebrew, Peter Rodman, Project for the New American Century, Roger Barnett, Paula J. Dobriansky, Saddam Hussein, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Steve Forbes, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, William J. Bennett, William Kristol, Paul Wolfowitz, Vin Weber, Stephen A. Cambone, Steve Rosen, Thomas Donnelly, Norman Podhoretz, Phil Meilinger, Midge Decter, Donald Kagan, Donald Rumsfeld, Dov S. Zakheim, Devon Gaffney Cross, Aaron Friedberg, Abram Shulsky, Michael Vickers, Dan Quayle, Eliot A. Cohen, Dan Goure, Alvin Bernstein, Barry Watts, David Epstein, Elliott Abrams, Frank Gaffney, John Ellis (“Jeb”) Bush, James Lasswell, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Mark P. Lagon, Mackubin Owens, Francis Fukuyama, Henry S. Rowen, Gary Schmitt, Fred C. Ikle, Frederick Kagan, David Fautua, Hasam Amin, George Weigel
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, 9/11 Timeline, Neoconservative Influence
The book Study of Revenge. [Source: Public domain]Laurie Mylroie, a researcher who held faculty positions at Harvard and the US Naval War College, publishes the book Study of Revenge: Saddam Hussein’s Unfinished War Against America. She argues that the Iraqi government was behind the 1993 WTC bombing. The book is published by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a prominent neoconservative think tank, and her book has strong support from many important neoconservatives.
Lauded by Neoconservatives - Richard Perle calls the book “splendid and wholly convincing,” while Paul Wolfowitz calls it a “provocative and disturbing book.” Former CIA Director James Woolsey says, “Anyone who wishes to continue to deal with Saddam [Hussein] by ignoring his role in international terrorism…and by giving only office furniture to the Iraqi resistance now has the staggering task of trying to refute this superb work.” In her acknowledgements, she thanks John Bolton, I. Lewis Libby, and Wolfowitz for their support and help in writing the book. All of them will go on to take prominent positions in the Bush administration.
Mylroie's Theories Discredited - But war correspondent and terrorism expert Peter Bergen will later comment, “Mylroie became enamored of her theory that Saddam was the mastermind of a vast anti-US terrorist conspiracy in the face of virtually all evidence and expert opinion to the contrary. In what amounts to the discovery of a unified field theory of terrorism, Mylroie believes that Saddam was not only behind the ‘93 Trade Center attack, but also every anti-American terrorist incident of the past decade…” Bergen will continue, “[B]y the mid-‘90s, the Joint Terrorism Task Force in New York, the FBI, the US Attorney’s office in the Southern District of New York, the CIA, the NSC, and the State Department had all found no evidence implicating the Iraqi government in the first Trade Center attack.” Bergen will comment that normally a book like this would not have mattered, except that the neoconservatives “believed her theories, bringing her on as a consultant at the Pentagon, and they seem to continue to entertain her eccentric belief that Saddam is the fount of the entire shadow war against America.” [Washington Monthly, 12/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 216]
No Credible Evidence of Iraqi Involvement in WTC Bombing - The book will be used as a lodestar of neoconservative thought when terrorists launch the 9/11 attacks, when neoconservatives inside and outside the Bush administration will pin the blame for the attacks on Iraq (see September 13, 2001). [Unger, 2007, pp. 216] In 2004, the 9/11 Commission will conclude, “We have found no credible evidence to support theories of Iraqi government involvement in the 1993 WTC bombing.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 559]
Entity Tags: Paul Wolfowitz, Peter Bergen, Richard Perle, Saddam Hussein, Laurie Mylroie, John R. Bolton, American Enterprise Institute, 9/11 Commission, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, James Woolsey
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Neoconservative Influence
During the vice presidential debates, both Joseph Lieberman and Dick Cheney advocate a tough stance toward Saddam Hussein. Lieberman says he and Gore would continue to support Iraqi opposition groups “until the Iraqi people rise up and do what the people of Serbia have done in the last few days: get rid of a despot.” Cheney says it might be necessary “to take military action to forcibly remove Saddam from power.” [CATO Daily Dispatch, 10/6/2000]
Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush describes a Middle East foreign policy he would implement that is very different from the policy described in the papers that his advisers have drawn up. On this day, Bush takes part in the second presidential debate with Democratic candidate Al Gore. The topic is foreign policy. Questioned when it would be appropriate to use American military force, especially with regard to the Middle East, Bush responds, “Our nation stands alone right now in the world in terms of power. And that’s why we’ve got to be humble and yet project strength in a way that promotes freedom… If we’re an arrogant nation, they’ll view us that way, but if we’re a humble nation, they’ll respect us.” Bush dismisses toppling Saddam Hussein in Iraq because it smacks of what he calls “nation-building.” He criticizes the Clinton administration for not maintaining the multilateral anti-Iraq coalition Bush Sr. had built in the Gulf War. Author Craig Unger will later comment, “To the tens of millions of voters who had their eyes trained on their televisions, Bush had put forth a moderate foreign policy with regard to the Middle East that was not substantively different from the policy proposed by Al Gore, or, for that matter, from Bill Clinton’s. Only a few people who had read the papers put forth by the Project for a New American Century might have guessed a far more radical policy had been developed.” [Salon, 3/15/2004] Just one month before, the Project for a New American Century released a position paper that went completely unnoticed by the media at the time (see September 2000). Many future Bush administration officials, including Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz are involved with the paper. It articulates a bold new policy to establish a more forceful US military presence in the Middle East. Regarding Iraq, it states, “The United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.” [Salon, 3/15/2004] From Bush’s first cabinet meeting in January 2001, the focus will be on getting rid of Hussein. Secretary of Treasury Paul O’Neill will later recall, “From the very beginning, there was a conviction, that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go… From the very first instance, it was about Iraq. It was about what we can do to change this regime. Day one, these things were laid and sealed” (see January 30, 2001). Cheney similarly misstates his true foreign policy intentions. In an NBC interview during the 2000 presidential campaign, Cheney defends Bush’s position of maintaining Clinton’s policy not to attack Iraq, asserting that the US should not act as though “we were an imperialist power, willy-nilly moving into capitals in that part of the world, taking down governments.” [Washington Post, 1/12/2002]
The cover of ‘Saddam’s Bombmaker.’ [Source: Simon and Schuster]Former Iraqi nuclear scientist Khidir Hamza publishes a book with reporter Jeff Stein entitled Saddam’s Bombmaker: The Terrifying Inside Story of the Iraqi Nuclear and Biological Weapons Agenda. Two years before, Hamza had tried and failed to get a deal for a book that would show Iraq’s nuclear weapons plans had “fizzled” (see 1998). This book is radically different, telling a dramatic tale of his career as a nuclear bomb-builder and his death-defying escape from Iraq (Hamza defected from Iraq and was brought to the US by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress). Hamza now asserts that Iraq is aggressively pursuing nuclear weapons. According to former Defense Intelligence Agency official Patrick Lang, this is a “vast exaggeration” of the reality of the situation. [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]
A set of documents is forged implicating Iraq in an attempt to purchase 500 tons of uranium oxide, also known as “yellowcake,” from Niger. [Agence France-Presse, 7/19/2003; Reuters, 7/19/2003; New Yorker, 10/27/2003; Talking Points Memo, 10/31/2003; La Repubblica (Rome), 10/24/2005] It is possible that official stamps and letterhead stolen from the Niger embassy in Rome (see January 2, 2001) are used to fabricate the documents, though a subsequent police investigation suggests that the break-in may have been staged to provide a cover story for the origins of the documents. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 88] Material gleaned from real Italian intelligence (SISMI) documents dating back to the 1980s concerning Iraq’s yellowcake purchases from Niger during that period are also incorporated into the set of forged documents. [La Repubblica (Rome), 10/24/2005; San Francisco Chronicle, 10/30/2005] But it is unclear who exactly is responsible for the forgeries. In August 2004, the Financial Times will report that according to Rocco Martino, the Italian information peddler who later tries to sell the documents, the documents are fabricated by SISMI, which passes them on to Martino through embassy employee Laura Montini, a paid SISMI asset. [Financial Times, 8/2/2004] In October 2005, the Italian newspaper La Repubblica will suggest the forgery is done by Montini and fellow embassy employee Zakaria Yaou Maiga under the guidance of Martino and Antonio Nucera, the deputy chief of the SISMI center in Viale Pasteur in Rome. [La Repubblica (Rome), 10/24/2005] In 2006, an official investigation will add support to this account, concluding that Montini and Maiga, motivated by money, were indeed the forgers of the documents. [Sunday Times (London), 4/9/2006] SISMI director Nicolo Pollari will later acknowledge that Martino had worked as a SISMI agent in the past, but deny any SISMI involvement in the Iraq-Niger affair. “[Nucera] offered [Martino] the use of an intelligence asset [Montini]—no big deal, you understand—one who was still on the books but inactive—to give a hand to Martino,” Pollari will explain. Author Craig Unger will observe that the issue is, if Pollari is to be believed, just one friend helping another friend by loaning him an intelligence asset to help disseminate forged documents. Martino has a different explanation: “SISMI wanted me to pass on the documents, but they didn’t want anyone to know they had been involved.” The information is quite contradictory. The Italian newspaper La Repubblica will call Martino “a failed carabiniere and dishonest spy,” and a “double-dealer” who “plays every side of the fence.” But Unger will later note that assets like him are valuable precisely because they lack credibility. “If there were a deep-cover unit of SISMI, it would make sense to hire someone like Rocco,” says former DIA analyst Patrick Lang. “His flakiness gives SISMI plausible deniability. That’s standard tradecraft for the agencies.” Until Martino stops talking to journalists in 2005, he will insist he believed the documents were authentic (see Summer 2004). “I sell information, I admit,” he will tell a London reporter. “But I only sell good information.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 236]
Clinton and Bush meeting in the White House on December 19, 2000. [Source: NBC]President Clinton and President-Elect Bush meet for their "exit interview," in a two-hour meeting. [CNN, 12/19/2000] Clinton gives Bush his list of his top five priorities. At the top of the list is dealing with Osama bin Laden. Clinton also discusses the tensions between Pakistan and India, who are threatening each other with nuclear strikes; the crisis in the Middle East between Israel and Palestine; he discusses North Korea; and he discusses Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Bush shakes Clinton’s hand after Clinton wraps up his presentation, and says, "Thanks for your advice, Mr. President, but I think you’ve got your priorities wrong. I’m putting Saddam at the top of the list." [Moore, 3/15/2004, pp. 16-17] Just one day before, CIA Director George Tenet had warned Clinton that al-Qaeda could attack US interests in the next several weeks (see December 18, 2000). In 2003, Clinton will speak about the interview, saying that he recognized Bush felt the biggest security issues facing the US was Iraq and a national missile defense: "I told him that in my opinion, the biggest security problem was Osama bin Laden." [Reuters, 10/16/2003]
The Bush team moves into Washington. Neoconservative Zalmay Khalilzad heads the Pentagon transition team, and he ensures that plenty of his friends and colleagues move into the civilian offices of the Defense Department. Four of the most influential advocates for the US overthrow of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein—Elliott Abrams, Douglas Feith, Richard Perle, and Abram Shulsky—are waiting to learn where they will serve in the department. But Vice President Cheney is still concerned with ensuring the placement of his own colleagues and cronies who will help him build what many will call the “imperial presidency.” Secretary of State Colin Powell, Cheney’s ideological rival, is working to install his friend and colleague Richard Armitage as deputy secretary of defense. For Cheney, Armitage would be a calamity—although Armitage is sufficiently hardline and in line with conservative foreign policy aims, he is far too centrist for Cheney and the neoconservatives. The neoconservative magazine the Weekly Standard alerts the faithful to the potential problem with an article entitled “The Long Arm of Colin Powell: Will the Next Secretary of State Also Run the Pentagon?” Powell does not get his wish; Armitage eventually becomes deputy secretary of state. Abrams will join the National Security Council; Khalilzad, Feith, and Shulksy will join the Defense Department; and Perle will head the Defense Policy Board, an independent group that advises the Pentagon. [Weekly Standard, 12/25/2000 ; Unger, 2007, pp. 115, 191-192, 204, 249]
Entity Tags: Elliott Abrams, Colin Powell, Bush administration (43), Abram Shulsky, Douglas Feith, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard Armitage, US Department of Defense, Richard Perle, Weekly Standard, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, Saddam Hussein
Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence
Despite the claims by the Iraqi National Congress, and many Republicans, that the defector commonly known as Curveball (see November 4, 2007) has no connections with the INC (see November 4, 2007), at least some evidence exists to the contrary. Los Angeles Times reporter Bob Drogin, author of the 2007 book Curveball: Spies, Lies, and the Con Man Who Caused a War, will note both in his book and in an interview that Curveball has an older brother who fled Iraq in 1992, and who joined the INC shortly thereafter. For years, Curveball and his brother had little contact. But in 2001 the brother calls Curveball and tells him that Ahmed Chalabi, the leader of the INC, heard that Curveball is in Germany, and that Chalabi wants any information on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that the INC might steer towards US intelligence. Drogin will say that Curveball, who he will describe as “semi-psychotic” by this time, is “sent over the edge” by the phone call. He is convinced that he had been tracked down by the Iraqis who, he feels, want to assassinate him, so at that point he stops cooperating with German intelligence. After the invasion of Iraq, CIA agents will track down Curveball’s mother in Baghdad, where she will tell them about the brother. The agents locate the brother, who is still working for the INC out of a Baghdad location called the Hunting Club. The brother will confirm the phone call. However, Drogin will say, “No one was able to prove—and Chalabi repeatedly, angrily denied—that he had sent Curveball out as a deliberate plant. And the reason that this is credible in this case is that Chalabi did send out numerous people—I think 20 is the number who have been identified—who came out through the Iraqi National Congress, and in almost every case proved to be providing false information of one kind or another. But in every one of those cases, they were handed off directly to the Americans. When the CIA found out about the brother, they totally freaked out because they thought, ‘Oh my God, we’ve been set up, Chalabi really pulled the wool over us on this one.’ But in the end it was determined that it was just another fluke in this case, but one that sent them all going crazy for quite a while.” [Salon, 10/16/2007] House member John Conyers (D-MI), the ranking minority member of the House Judiciary Committee, will note in a November 8, 2005 letter to Chalabi, “[W]e have learned that ‘Curveball’ is, in fact, the brother of one of your top lieutenants within the Iraqi National Congress.” He will request that Chalabi “make yourself available to us to explain the details and reasons for your involvement in the manipulation of intelligence as the Bush Administration pushed for war. It is vital to the integrity of both our democracies that the truth behind these terribly destructive events be known.” It is not clear if, and how, Chalabi will respond to Conyers’s request. [Huffington Post, 11/8/2005] And in 2006, a PBS documentary will quote former CIA official Vincent Cannistraro as saying, “Curveball was a relative of a senior official of the INC, the Iraqi National Congress, headed by Ahmed Chalabi.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006] The extent of Curveball’s contact with the INC, and whether or not he was “aimed” at the US to deliberately spread disinformation, is not known.
The US intelligence community—most notably the intelligence gatherers working in the Pentagon offices under Douglas Feith (see September 2002)
—bases several of its intelligence assessments concerning Iraq on information offered by the Iraqi National Congress (INC) and by Iraqi defectors provided by the INC, despite warnings from the State Department and some CIA analysts that the lobbying group cannot be trusted. [New Yorker, 5/12/2003; Salon, 7/16/2003; Guardian, 7/17/2003; Inter Press Service, 8/7/2003; Independent, 9/30/2003; Mother Jones, 1/2004 Sources: Greg Thielmann, Unnamed administration official] The INC’s primary intelligence organization is its Information Collection Program (ICP), which conducts about 20 percent of all US intelligence’s verbal debriefings of Iraqi prisoners, insurgents, and defectors. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 336-337] Some of the INC’s intelligence on Iraq is reportedly funneled directly to the office of Vice President Dick Cheney by Francis Brooke, the DC lobbyist for the group. [Newsweek, 12/15/2003 Sources: Memo, Francis Brooke] Brooke will later acknowedge that the information provided by the INC was driven by an agenda. “I told them [the INC], as their campaign manager, ‘Go get me a terrorist and some WMD, because that’s what the Bush administration is interested in.’” [Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 230] Brooke had previously worked for the Rendon Group, “a shadowy CIA-connected public-relations firm.” [Mother Jones, 1/2004]
According to one National Security Counsel staffer, I. Lewis Libby’s staff regularly reads unvetted transcripts of National Security Agency intercepts. Libby is the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 5] Policy makers are not supposed to have direct access to raw intelligence. The information is supposed to first be scrutinized and vetted by professional analysts in the intelligence community to ensure that the information is sound. This filtering process, which has been in place for some 50 years, is also intended to prevent intelligence from being used to service a particular political agenda. [New Yorker, 10/27/2003]
The warehouse at Djerf al Nadaf. [Source: CBS News]MI6, Britain’s secret intelligence service, cables the CIA informing the agency that it “is not convinced that Curveball is a wholly reliable source” and that “elements of [his] behavior strike us as typical of… fabricators,” according to a later investigation by the US Senate. The British also note that satellite images taken in 1997 when Curveball was presumably working at Djerf al Nadaf contradict his descriptions of the facility. [Los Angeles Times, 11/20/2005] However, the CIA ignores the British caveat, and after the Bush administration decides to invade Iraq, Curveball’s information is used to bolster the case for war (see February 5, 2003). As reporter Bob Drogin, author of the 2007 book Curveball: Spies, Lies and the Con Man Who Caused a War, will say, “[T]he CIA heard what it wanted to hear. It saw what it wanted to see. And it told the president what he wanted to hear. Time and again, intelligence officials discounted contradictory information, filled in gaps, and made up the dots to reach the conclusion they wanted. In part, they were caught up in the climate of fear after 9/11 and felt they couldn’t afford to underestimate a possible threat. In part, there was a clear understanding by late 2002 that we were going to war and it would make no difference, and probably would hurt your career, if you tried to get in the way. But mostly, I think incompetence and poor leadership allowed unconfirmed and unreliable information to move up the chain of command. Those few intelligence officers who tried to raise red flags, or issue warnings, either were ignored or treated like heretics.” [Alternet, 10/22/2007]
Greg Thielmann. [Source: CBC]Shortly after George W. Bush is inaugurated into office, Greg Thielmann, an analyst for the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), is appointed to serve as the intelligence liaison to John Bolton, the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. However, Thielmann’s intelligence briefings do not support Bolton’s assumptions about Iraq, and Thielmann will eventually be barred from attending the relevant meetings (see After October 7, 2002). [New Yorker, 10/27/2003]
Neoconservative David Wurmser, with the assistance of his American Enterprise Institute colleague Douglas Feith, drafts a set of war plans designed around a joint military offensive by the US and Israel. The offensive would, in his words, “fatally strike the centers of radicalism in the Middle East.” Wurmser and Feith’s plans are extensions of an op-ed written by Wurmser weeks before (see November 1, 2000). Wurmser advises: “Israel and the United States should… broaden the conflict to strike fatally, not merely disarm, the centers of radicalism in the region—the regimes of Damascus [Syria], Baghdad [Iraq], Tripoli [Libya], Tehran [Iran], and Gaza [the Palestinians]. That would establish the recognition that fighting either the United States or Israel is suicidal.” Wurmser urges both the US and Israel to be watchful for a crisis, writing, “Crises can be opportunities.” [American Conservative, 3/24/2003]
During a National Press Club Newsmakers luncheon, outgoing Defense Secretary William Cohen says: “Well, Saddam Hussein’s forces are in a state where he cannot pose a threat to his neighbors at this point. We have been successful, through the sanctions regime, to really shut off most of the revenue that will be going to build his—rebuild his military.” [US Department of Defense, 1/10/2001; Jordan Times, 2002]
There are discussions among future members of the Bush administration, including Bush himself, about making the removal of Saddam Hussein a top priority once they are in office. After the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will say that the Bush team had been planning regime change in Iraq since before coming to office, with newly named Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (see December 28, 2000) and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz (see January 11, 2001) taking the lead. “Since the beginning of the administration, indeed well before, they had been pressing for a war with Iraq,” he will write in his book Against All Enemies. “My friends in the Pentagon had been telling me that the word was we would be invading Iraq sometime in 2002.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 7-9; Unger, 2007, pp. 192] During an appearance on Good Morning America on March 22, 2004, he will say, “[T]hey had been planning to do something about Iraq from before the time they came into office.” [Good Morning America, 3/22/2004] Evidence of pre-inaugural discussions on regime change in Iraq comes from other sources as well. Imam Sayed Hassan al-Qazwini, who heads the Islamic Center of America in Detroit, will tell the New York Times in early 2004 that he spoke with Bush about removing Saddam Hussein six or seven times, both before and after the 2000 elections. [New York Times, 1/12/2004] In 2007, author Craig Unger will write: “In certain respects, their actions were a replay of the 1976 Team B experiment (see Early 1976 and November 1976), with one very important difference. This time it wasn’t just a bunch of feverish ideologues presenting a theoretical challenge to the CIA. This time Team B controlled the entire executive branch of the United States.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 192]
Vice President Cheney takes office with every intention to push President Bush into invading Iraq. According to an unnamed former subordinate of Cheney’s while Cheney was secretary of defense (see March 20, 1989 and After), Cheney wants to “do Iraq” because he thinks it can be done quickly and easily, and because “the US could do it essentially alone… and that an uncomplicated, total victory would set the stage for a landslide re-election in 2004 and decades of Republican Party domination.” Cheney believes that overthrowing Saddam Hussein “would ‘finish’ the undone work of the first Gulf War and settle scores once and for all with a cast of characters deeply resented by the vice president: George H. W. Bush, Colin Powell, Brent Scowcroft, and Jim Baker.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 182]
An orchestrated push in the media begins to make the case for the need to invade Iraq. The San Diego Union-Tribune reprints a Weekly Standard article by William Kristol and Robert Kagan that tells readers (after comparing President Bush favorably to Ronald Reagan, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Harry Truman, and lauding Bush’s “steely determination”) that US military action “could well be necessary to bring Saddam down.” They write: “At some point, Bush could well find himself confronted by an Iraq armed with weapons of mass destruction. During these past few years, it was relatively easy for congressional Republicans to call for arming and funding the Iraqi opposition. That remains a good idea. But the more sober of Bush’s advisers, like Robert Zoellick and Paul Wolfowitz (see February 18, 1992 and February 27, 2001), have recognized that this alone will not do the trick. Some use of American military force, both from the air and on the ground, could well be necessary to bring Saddam down, no matter how wonderfully the Iraqi opposition performs. Whether he chooses it or not, Bush may quickly be faced with the same decision his father had to make in 1990. He has in his cabinet at least one person who counseled inaction the last time [referring to Secretary of State Colin Powell]. If the crisis comes, Bush, like his father, will not be able to rely only on the judgment of the men and women around him: He will have to act from his own instincts and his own courage.” [Weekly Standard, 1/22/2001; Unger, 2007, pp. 206] In the coming weeks, an onslaught of print and television op-eds and commentaries, some from Bush administration officials, will advocate the overthrow of Hussein (see February 27, 2001, February 16, 2001, April 9, 2001, and July 30, 2001).
Imam Sayed Hassan al-Qazwini, who heads the Islamic Center of America in Detroit, one of the nation’s largest mosques, meets with President Bush in the White House about the administration’s policy towards Iraq. The president says he supports a policy aimed at removing Saddam Hussein from power, though he does not discuss by what means. “No method was discussed at all,” al-Qazwini will tell the New York Times two years later. “It was a general desire for regime change.” He will also tell the newspaper that he had spoken with Bush about removing Saddam Hussein a total of six or seven times, both before and after the 2000 elections. [New York Times, 1/12/2004]
The Bush White House holds its first National Security Council meeting. The focus is on Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 261] This meeting sets the tone for how President Bush intends to handle foreign affairs. Counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke wants to focus on the threat from al-Qaeda and Islamist terrorism, especially in light of the recent attack on the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000). But Bush isn’t interested in terrorism. [Unger, 2007, pp. 201]
Israeli-Palestinian Conflict to be 'Tilted Back Towards Israel' - Instead, Bush channels his neoconservative advisers, particularly incoming Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz (see February 18, 1992 and April-May 1999), in taking a new approach to Middle East affairs, particularly the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Referring to President Clinton’s efforts to make peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, Bush declares: “Clinton overreached, and it all fell apart. That’s why we’re in trouble. If the two sides don’t want peace, there’s no way we can force them. I don’t see much we can do over there at this point. I think it’s time to pull out of the situation.… We’re going to correct the imbalance of the previous administration on the Mideast conflict. We’re going to tilt it back towards Israel.” His view is that the Israeli government, currently headed by Ariel Sharon, should be left alone to deal as it sees fit with the Palestinians. “I’m not going to go by past reputations when it comes to Sharon. I’m going to take him at face value. We’ll work on a relationship based on how things go.” Justifying his position, he recalls a recent trip he took to Israel with the Republican Jewish Coalition. “We flew over the Palestinian camps. Looked real bad down there.… I don’t see much we can do over there at this point.” Secretary of State Colin Powell, surprised by Bush’s intended policy towards the 50-year old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, objects. According to Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neil, Powell “stresse[s] that a pullback by the United States would unleash Sharon and the Israeli army.” When Powell warns the president that the “consequences of that [policy] could be dire, especially for the Palestinians,” Bush shrugs. “Sometimes a show of strength by one side can really clarify things,” he suggests. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 265-266; Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004] In this and subsequent meetings, Bush’s National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, “parrot[s]… the neocon line,” in author Craig Unger’s words, by discussing Iraq. “Iraq might be the key to reshaping the entire region,” she says, clearly alluding to regime change and overthrow in that nation (see March 8, 1992, Autumn 1992, July 8, 1996, Late Summer 1996, Late Summer 1996, 1997-1998, January 26, 1998, February 19, 1998, September 2000, Late December 2000 and Early January 2001, and Shortly after January 20, 2001). [Unger, 2007, pp. 201]
Possible WMD Sites in Iraq Spark Bush to Order Plans for Ground Assaults - The meeting then moves on to the subject of Iraq. Rice begins noting “that Iraq might be the key to reshaping the entire region.” She turns the meeting over to CIA Director George Tenet who summarizes current intelligence on Iraq. He mentions a factory that “might” be producing “either chemical or biological materials for weapons manufacture.” The evidence he provides is a picture of the factory with some truck activity, a water tower, and railroad tracks going into a building. He admits that there is “no confirming intelligence” on just what is going on at these sites. Bush orders Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Hugh Shelton to begin preparing options for the use of US ground forces in Iraq’s northern and southern no-fly zones in support of a native-based insurgency against the Hussein regime. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 267; Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004] Author Ron Suskind later sums up the discussion: “Meeting adjourned. Ten days in, and it was about Iraq. Rumsfeld had said little, Cheney nothing at all, though both men clearly had long entertained the idea of overthrowing Saddam.” Defense Intelligence Agency official Patrick Lang later writes: “If this was a decision meeting, it was strange. It ended in a presidential order to prepare contingency plans for war in Iraq.” [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]
Regime Change Intended from the Outset - US Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill, later recalls: “From the very beginning, there was a conviction, that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go.… From the very first instance, it was about Iraq. It was about what we can do to change this regime. Day one, these things were laid and sealed.” O’Neill will say officials never questioned the logic behind this policy. No one ever asked, “Why Saddam?” and “Why now?” Instead, the issue that needed to be resolved was how this could be accomplished. “It was all about finding a way to do it,” O’Neill will explain. “That was the tone of it. The president saying ‘Go find me a way to do this.’” [CBS News, 1/10/2004; New York Times, 1/12/2004; Guardian, 1/12/2004; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 234] Another official who attends the meeting will later say that the tone of the meeting implied a policy much more aggressive than that of the previous administration. “The president told his Pentagon officials to explore the military options, including use of ground forces,” the official will tell ABC News. “That went beyond the Clinton administration’s halfhearted attempts to overthrow Hussein without force.” [ABC News, 1/13/2004] Unger later writes, “These were the policies that even the Israeli right had not dared to implement.” One senior administration official says after the meeting, “The Likudniks are really in charge now.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 201]
Funding the Iraqi National Congress - The council does more than just discuss Iraq. It makes a decision to allow the Iraqi National Congress (INC), an Iraqi opposition group, to use $4 million to fund efforts inside Iraq to compile information relating to Baghdad’s war crimes, military operations, and other internal developments. The money had been authorized by Congress in late 2004. The US has not directly funded Iraqi opposition activities inside Iraq itself since 1996. [Guardian, 2/3/2005]
White House Downplays Significance - After Paul O’Neill first provides his account of this meeting in 2004, the White House will attempt to downplay its significance. “The stated policy of my administration toward Saddam Hussein was very clear,” Bush will tell reporters during a visit to Mexico In January 2004. “Like the previous administration, we were for regime change.… And in the initial stages of the administration, as you might remember, we were dealing with desert badger or fly-overs and fly-betweens and looks, and so we were fashioning policy along those lines.” [New York Times, 1/12/2004]
Entity Tags: Richard B. Myers, Hugh Shelton, Paul O’Neill, George W. Bush, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, George J. Tenet, Condoleezza Rice, Craig Unger, Iraqi National Congress
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
Ahmed Zaidan. [Source: PBS]Ahmed Zaidan, a journalist for Al Jazeera, is invited to a wedding also attended by al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Mohammed Atef in Afghanistan (see February 26, 2001), and while there he talks to Atef about al-Qaeda’s military strategy. He will later recall that Atef told him, “He was explaining to me what’s going to happen in the coming five years.… There are two or three places in the world which [are] the most suitable places to fight Americans: Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia. We are expecting the United States to invade Afghanistan. And we are preparing for that. We want them to come to Afghanistan.” Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, will later comment, “Did they want us involve in the war on the ground in Islamic countries? Absolutely. Part of the goal was to make sure that Muslims perceived America as the infidel invader of Muslim lands.” [William Cran, 4/15/2007] It is not known if any Western intelligence agencies were aware of this strategy prior to 9/11. However, other al-Qaeda-linked figures will make similar comments to reporters before 9/11 (see April 2001 and August 2-3, 2001).
Satellite photo of the Djerf al Nadaf site. [Source: CBS News]US and German intelligence experts meet in Munich to discuss the information provided by the Iraqi defector code-named “Curveball” (see November 1999). Using satellite imagery, they examine photos of the Djerf al Nadaf site, where Curveball claimed to have been a senior project director for a secret mobile biological weapons laboratory. The photos match with Curveball’s description, except for one detail. According to former CIA official Tyler Drumheller, “If you look at the photos, all the way back to 1998, there was a wall that was built there. Like a cinderblock wall that was built there, that nothing could go through.” The wall stood exactly where Curveball claimed the trucks would go into the warehouse. But CIA analysts convinced of Curveball’s veracity has an explanation: “There was an idea that it could have been a fake wall,” Drumheller recalls. [CBS News, 11/4/2007]
Former CIA director James Woolsey visits Britain to look for evidence tying Saddam Hussein to the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. He is looking to support the theory (see Late July or Early August 2001) that Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind behind the 1993 WTC bombing, was actually an Iraqi agent who had assumed the identity of a Pakistani student named Abdul Basit. This theory was proposed in a 2000 book praised by Woolsey (see October 2000). He will also make a visit for the same purpose in the weeks after 9/11 (see Late September 2001). On at least one of the trips, Woolsey visits the Swansea Institute, where Basit studied, to see if Basit’s fingerprints match those of Yousef, who is now serving a life sentence in a Colorado prison. Matching fingerprints would discredit the theory. According to Knight Ridder, “Several of those with knowledge of the trips said they failed to produce any new evidence that Iraq was behind the attacks.” [Knight Ridder, 10/11/2001] But despite a lack of evidence, politicians in Washington interested in the theory will manage to reopen the files into Yousef around August 2001 anyway (see Late July or Early August 2001). An article by Woolsey pushing the theory about Yousef will be published just two days after 9/11 (see September 13, 2001).
Falah Aljibury, an Iraqi-born oil industry consultant with strong ties to OPEC and western oil industries, interviews potential successors to Saddam Hussein on behalf of the Bush administration. One of the candidates that he will consider is Gen. Nizar Khazrahi, who is under house arrest in Denmark awaiting trial for war crimes. [BBC Newsnight, 3/17/2005; Democracy Now!, 3/21/2005; Harper's, 4/2005, pp. 74-76]
President Bush hosts British Prime Minister Tony Blair at Camp David. Iraq is on the agenda. Bush and Blair tell reporters that they want to restructure the sanctions on Iraq through the United Nations, using what the White House calls “smart sanctions”—sanctions that are designed to constrain the Iraqi government without harming the Iraqi citizenry. The new sanctions are primarily aimed at tightening controls on “dual-use” goods, items that can be used for both civilian and military purposes, and to keep the regime from getting illicit funds from oil smuggling. Bush says: “A change in sanctions should not in any way, shape, or form, embolden Saddam Hussein. He has got to understand that we are going to watch him carefully and, if we catch him developing weapons of mass destruction, we’ll take the appropriate action. And if we catch him threatening his neighbors we will take the appropriate action.” In 2008, former Bush press secretary Scott McClellan will write: “Saddam was viewed more as a ‘problem’ to deal with than a ‘grave and gathering danger’ in the early days. Talk centered on if he was developing WMD, not that he was developing them.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 93-94]
“Within weeks” of taking office, the Bush administration begins planning for a post-Saddam Iraqi government. The State Department convenes a series of secret discussions attended by prominent Iraqi expatriates, many with ties to US industries, to plan for a post-Saddam Iraq. The meetings are held in the home of Falah Aljibury, an adviser to OPEC, Goldman Sachs, and Amerada Hess’s oil trading arm. He also served as Ronald Reagan’s backchannel to Saddam Hussein during the 1980s. According to Aljibury, the discussion group, led by Pamela Quanrud, an NSC economics expert, quickly evolves into an “oil group.” The plan they develop is said to represent the views of the oil industry and the State Department. According to the plan, Saddam Hussein would be replaced by some former Baathist general, while the rest of the government would continue to function as before. One of the candidates that is considered to head post-Saddam Iraq is Gen. Nizar Khazrahi (see Between February 2001 and February 2003), who is under house arrest in Denmark awaiting trial for war crimes. “The petroleum industry, the chemical industry, the banking industry—they’d hoped that Iraq would go for a revolution like in the past and government was shut down for two or three days,” Aljibury will later tell reporter Greg Palast. “You have martial law… and say Iraq is being liberated and everybody stay where they are… Everything as is.” [BBC Newsnight, 3/17/2005; Democracy Now!, 3/21/2005; Harper's, 4/2005, pp. 74-76]
The Bush White House holds its second National Security Council meeting. Like the first meeting (see January 30, 2001), the issue of regime change in Iraq is a central topic. [CBS News, 1/10/2004; New York Times, 1/12/2004] Officials discuss a memo titled “Plan for post-Saddam Iraq,” which talks about troop requirements, establishing war crimes tribunals, and divvying up Iraq’s oil wealth. [ [Sources: Paul O’Neill] Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld interrupts Colin Powell’s discussion of UN-based sanctions against Iraq, saying, “Sanctions are fine. But what we really want to discuss is going after Saddam.” He continues, “Imagine what the region would look like without Saddam and with a regime that’s aligned with US interests. It would change everything in the region and beyond it. It would demonstrate what US policy is all about.” [Suskind, 2004, pp. 85-86 Sources: Paul O’Neill] According to Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, Rumsfeld talks at the meeting “in general terms about post-Saddam Iraq, dealing with the Kurds in the north, the oil fields, the reconstruction of the country’s economy, and the ‘freeing of the Iraqi people.’” [New York Times, 1/12/2004 Sources: Paul O’Neill] Other people, in addition to O’Neill, Bush, and Rumsfeld, who are likely in attendance include Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard B. Myers. [US President, 2/13/2001]
CIA map showing alleged Iraqi WMD sites. [Source: CIA] (click image to enlarge)CIA director George Tenet testifies to Congress that Iraq possesses no weapons of mass destruction and poses no threat to the United State. He says, “We do not have any direct evidence that Iraq has used the period since [Operation] Desert Fox to reconstitute its WMD programs, although given its past behavior, this type of activity must be regarded as likely.… We assess that since the suspension of [UN] inspections in December of 1998, Baghdad has had the capability to reinitiate both its [chemical and biological weapons] programs… without an inspection monitoring program, however, it is more difficult to determine if Iraq has done so.” He continues, “Moreover, the automated video monitoring systems installed by the UN at known and suspect WMD facilities in Iraq are still not operating. Having lost this on-the-ground access, it is more difficult for the UN or the US to accurately assess the current state of Iraq’s WMD programs.” Rumsfeld also discusses al-Qaeda, calling it "the most immediate and serious threat" to US interests (see February 7, 2001). [Scoop, 6/27/2003]
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld says in an interview, "Iraq is probably not a nuclear threat at the present time." [Scoop, 6/27/2003]
Conservative media pundit Bill O’Reilly tells his listeners, “You know, I don’t take Saddam Hussein all that seriously anymore as far as a world threat. Maybe I’m wrong and naive here. Should we be very frightened of this guy?” [Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), 5/2003]
Twenty-four US and British aircraft attack five military radar sites five to 20 miles from Baghdad. This is the first Western attack outside the no-fly zones in the north and south of the country since December 1998 (see December 1998-August 1999). Nine people are reportedly injured. British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon says, “This was a proportionate response to a recent increase in the threat to aircraft carrying out legitimate humanitarian patrols in the southern no-fly zone.” President Bush, who authorized the strike, says, “We’re going to watch very carefully as to whether or not he develops weapons of mass destruction, and if we catch him doing so, we’ll take the appropriate action.” [Reuters, 2/16/2001]
Neoconservative Richard Perle, a new addition to President Bush’s Defense Policy Board, advocates “removing Saddam [Hussein]” on CNN. [Unger, 2007, pp. 206]
A joint US-British air force strike team bombs 20 radar and command centers inside Iraq, enforcing the UN no-fly zones in the largest air strikes within Iraq in two years. While the White House is informed of the strikes by a general from the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is livid because he feels he hasn’t been given enough information about the strikes quickly enough. Rumsfeld’s information comes to him, by established law and protocol, through the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Henry Shelton; thus it could be hours before Rumsfeld learns of such events. Saying, “I’m the secretary of defense. I’m in the chain of command,” Rumsfeld decides to upend the entire system and ensure that he, not Shelton, will be informed first about any such operations. Rumsfeld presses Shelton for information about the reporting of the air strikes: who had selected those targets and why, who had briefed, who had been briefed, and most importantly, why wasn’t Rumsfeld consulted? CNN had reported air strikes in Baghdad, though the actual bases struck were not in the city itself; it looked for a moment if the US had just declared unilateral war on Iraq. Rumsfeld feels misled and ignored. He is the one in the chain of command, he insists, he is the one reporting to the president, so he should be informed first. Shelton replies that he has to know what’s going on, to know what details to press for and what questions to ask, in order to properly inform the Secretary of Defense, who can then properly inform the president. Rumsfeld insists on being informed before Shelton, and demands a top-to-bottom review of the procedures involving the National Military Command Center (NMCC) and detailed timelines of each incident where Shelton was informed before Rumsfeld. [Woodward, 2006, pp. 22-25]
Secretary of State Colin Powell travels to Cairo and meets with his counterpart Amre Moussa. Following up on his statements from the day before (see February 23, 2001), Powell says sanctions against the Iraqi government: “[F]rankly they have worked. [Saddam Hussein] has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors. So in effect, our policies have strengthened the security of the neighbors of Iraq….” Powell adds, “[H]e threatens not the United States.” [US Department of State, 2/24/2003; Mirror, 9/22/2003; Associated Press, 9/25/2003] Some nineteen months later, when Powell is asked to explain why his assessment of Iraq had so drastically changed over such a short span of time, Powell will say, “… I did not say he (Iraqi President Saddam Hussein) didn’t have weapons of mass destruction…. He was a threat then. The extent of his holdings were yet to be determined. It was early in the administration and the fact of the matter is it was long before 9/11 (the date of the 2001 attacks on the United States)…. A lot changed between February 2001 (and the invasion), but I don’t find anything inconsistent between what I said then and what I’ve said all along.” [US Department of State, 9/25/2003; Associated Press, 9/25/2003; Washington Post, 9/26/2003]
Neoconservative and incoming Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, testifying before the Senate in his nomination hearings, tells the assembled senators that he supports overthrowing the Iraqi government. [Unger, 2007, pp. 206] Wolfowitz also criticizes the policy of turning a blind eye to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program pursued by the Carter, Reagan, and, initially, first Bush administration. “I specifically sensed that people thought we could somehow construct a policy on a house of cards that the Congress wouldn’t know what the Pakistanis were doing,” he says. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 300, 518]
During a White House meeting, Bush administration officials discuss new proposals on how to undermine Saddam Hussein. At one point during the meeting, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley tells Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin that the CIA needs to stop bad-mouthing Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi so the Bush administration can work with Chalabi to overthrow the Iraqi government. McLaughlin reportedly makes it clear to Hadley that the agency will not undermine White House efforts to work with Chalabi. Hadley’s pressure on the CIA produces the intended results. Though the CIA will never work directly with Chalabi, the CIA will nonetheless allow the Pentagon to disseminate intelligence reports to other US intelligence agencies based on information from Iraqi defectors supplied by Chalabi’s organization, the Iraqi National Congress. One CIA official later tells author James Risen that the White House message to drop its objections to Chalabi was sent to the CIA “a thousand times, in a thousand different ways.” [Risen, 2006, pp. 183-184]
Defense Policy Board chairman and prominent neoconservative Richard Perle tells the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “Does Saddam [Hussein] now have weapons of mass destruction? Sure he does. We know he has chemical weapons. We know he has biological weapons.…How far he’s gone on the nuclear-weapons side I don’t think we really know. My guess is it’s further than we think. It’s always further than we think, because we limit ourselves, as we think about this, to what we’re able to prove and demonstrate…. And, unless you believe that we’ve uncovered everything, you have to assume there is more than we’re able to report.” Perle fails to offer any evidence of his claims to the senators, and fails to provide evidence from UN inspectors that shows virtually all of Iraq’s WMD stockpiles and programs have long since been destroyed. [Hersh, 2004, pp. 209-210]
Retired US soldiers give weapons training to members of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), the Iraqi opposition group led by Ahmed Chalabi. The five-day training session takes place in College Station, Texas, and is said to only be the first round of training. The INC has a contract with the Guidry Group, a consulting firm comprised of ex-secret service agents, to learn diplomatic security. Previously, the US backed training for the INC, but limited it only to “non-lethal” activities such as public relations, emergency medical care, and war crimes investigations. But with the Bush administration newly in power, approval has been given to let the INC learn how to use 12-gauge shotguns, pistols, Kalishnikov rifles, and other fire-arms. Retired Gen. Wayne Downing says, “This is significant because this is the first lethal training. It is designed to protect, so the significance is that this is the first time they are being trained to do anything on this level.” Downing, who has been advising the INC for three years, calls the training “a drop in the bucket.” He adds, “This is not the training they will need to put together a liberation army. There you would need individual training, basic training, weapons training, involving anti tank weapons, machine guns, rockets and that sort of thing.” The Washington Post will later call Downing the INC’s “mentor and biggest cheerleader.” [United Press International, 2/12/2001; Washington Post, 11/20/2001]
Vice President Cheney’s Energy Task Force authors a variety of documents relating to the oil industries of Iraq, United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. [Judicial Watch, 7/17/2003; CBS News, 1/10/2004; New York Times, 1/12/2004]
Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield contracts - This document, dated March 5, 2001, includes a table listing 30 countries which have interests in Iraq’s oil industry. The document also includes the names of companies that have interests, the oil fields with which those interests are associated, as well as the statuses of those interests. [Vice President, 2001 ; Vice President, 2001]
Map of Iraq's oil fields - The map includes markings for “supergiant” oil fields of 5 billion barrels or more, other oilfields, fields “earmarked for production sharing,” oil pipelines, operational refineries, and tanker terminals. [Vice President, 2001 ]
Other documents - Other documents include oil field maps and project tables for both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates [Vice President, 2001; Vice President, 2001; Vice President, 2001; Vice President, 2001]
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later says that sometime between March and May, Bush administration officials discussed creating a casus belli for war with Iraq. In a 2007 interview with radio show host Jon Elliot, Clarke says: “Prior to 9/11 a number of people in the White House were saying to me you know this—this administration, particularly Cheney, but also Bush [and] people like Wolfowitz in the Pentagon, are really intent on going to war with Iraq. And this was the whispered conversations in the National Security Council staff.… Early, early on in the administration people I knew and trusted in the administration were saying to me, ‘You know. They’re really going to do it. They are going to go to war with Iraq.’ And I was flabbergasted. Why would you want to do that of all the things in the world that one could choose to do?… And how are we going to do it? How are we going to cause that provocation? And there was some discussion of ‘Well maybe [we’ll] keep flying aircraft over Iraq and maybe one day one of them will be shot down.’… And some of the talk I was hearing—in the March, April, May timeframe—‘Maybe we’ll do something that is so provocative and do it in such a way that our aircraft will be shot down.’ And then we’ll have an excuse to go to war with Iraq.” [Jon Elliot Show, 1/11/2007 Sources: Richard A. Clarke]
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