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The Italian newspaper La Repubblica reports that Saddam Hussein’s interpreter, known only by the alias A.S., claims Mohamed Atta was an agent of Mukhabarat, the Iraqi secret services. A.S. is sponsored by the Iraqi exile group the Iraqi National Congress (INC). He claims that it was Atta who planned the 9/11 attacks, not with bin Laden or the other 18 hijackers but with two officials of the Iraqi secret services: Farouk Hijazi, a former Iraqi ambassador to Turkey, and Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, a member of the Iraqi diplomatic corps in Prague, Czech Republic. [La Repubblica (Rome), 11/3/2001]
Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, posing as Jamal al-Ghurairy for Frontline. [Source: PBS]An Iraqi defector identifying himself as Jamal al-Ghurairy, a former lieutenant general in Saddam Hussein’s intelligence corps, the Mukhabarat, tells two US reporters that he has witnessed foreign Islamic militants training to hijack airplanes at an alleged Iraqi terrorist training camp at Salman Pak, near Baghdad. Al-Ghurairy also claims to know of a secret compound at Salman Pak where Iraqi scientists, led by a German, are producing biological weapons. Al-Ghurairy is lying both about his experiences and even his identity, though the reporters, New York Times war correspondent Chris Hedges and PBS’s Christopher Buchanan, do not know this. The meeting between al-Ghurairy and the reporters, which takes place on November 6, 2001, in a luxury suite in a Beirut hotel, was arranged by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC). Buchanan later recalls knowing little about al-Ghurairy, except that “[h]is life might be in danger. I didn’t know much else.” Hedges recalls the former general’s “fierce” appearance and “military bearing.… He looked the part.” Al-Ghurairy is accompanied by several other people, including the INC’s political liaison, Nabeel Musawi. “They were slick and well organized,” Buchanan recalls. Hedges confirms al-Ghurairy’s credibility with the US embassy in Turkey, where he is told that CIA and FBI agents had recently debriefed him. The interview is excerpted for an upcoming PBS Frontline episode, along with another interview with an INC-provided defector, former Iraqi sergeant Sabah Khodada, who echoes al-Ghurairy’s tale. While the excerpt of al-Ghurairy’s interview is relatively short, the interview itself takes over an hour. Al-Ghurairy does not allow his face to be shown on camera.
Times Reports Defectors' Tale - Two days later, on November 8, Hedges publishes a story about al-Ghurairy in the New York Times Times. The Frontline episode airs that same evening. [New York Times, 11/8/2001; Mother Jones, 4/2006] Hedges does not identify al-Ghurairy by name, but reports that he, Khodada, and a third unnamed Iraqi sergeant claim to have “worked for several years at a secret Iraqi government camp that had trained Islamic terrorists in rotations of five or six months since 1995. They said the training at the camp, south of Baghdad, was aimed at carrying out attacks against neighboring countries and possibly Europe and the United States.” Whether the militants being trained are linked to al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden, the defectors cannot be sure, nor do they know of any specific attacks carried out by the militants. Hedges writes that the interviews were “set up by an Iraqi group that seeks the overthrow of… Hussein.” He quotes al-Ghurairy as saying, “There is a lot we do not know. We were forbidden to speak about our activities among each other, even off duty. But over the years, you see and hear things. These Islamic radicals were a scruffy lot. They needed a lot of training, especially physical training. But from speaking with them, it was clear they came from a variety of countries, including Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Algeria, Egypt, and Morocco. We were training these people to attack installations important to the United States. The Gulf War never ended for Saddam Hussein. He is at war with the United States. We were repeatedly told this.” He uses Khodada’s statements as support for al-Ghurairy’s, identifies Khodada by name, and says that Khodada “immigrated to Texas” in May 2001 “after working as an instructor for eight years at Salman Pak…” He quotes the sergeant as saying, “We could see them train around the fuselage. We could see them practice taking over the plane.” Al-Ghurairy adds that the militants were trained to take over a plane without using weapons. Hedges reports that Richard Sperzel, the former chief of the UN biological weapons inspection teams in Iraq, says that the Iraqis always claimed Salman Pak was an anti-terror training camp for Iraqi special forces. However, Sperzel says, “[M]any of us had our own private suspicions. We had nothing specific as evidence.” The US officials who debriefed al-Ghurairy, Hedges reports, do not believe that the Salman Pak training has any links to the 9/11 hijackings. Hedges asks about one of the militants, a clean-shaven Egyptian. “No, he was not Mohamed Atta.” Atta led the 9/11 hijackers. Hedges notes that stories such as this one will likely prompt “an intense debate in Washington over whether to extend the war against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban government of Afghanistan to include Iraq.” [New York Times, 11/8/2001; Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004]
Heavy Press Coverage - The US media immediately reacts, with op-eds running in major newspapers throughout the country and cable-news pundits bringing the story to their audiences. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice says of the story, “I think it surprises no one that Saddam Hussein is engaged in all kinds of activities that are destabilizing.” The White House will use al-Ghurairy’s claims in its background paper, “Decade of Deception and Defiance,” prepared for President’s Bush September 12, 2002 speech to the UN General Assembly (see September 12, 2002). Though the tale lacks specifics, it helps bolster the White House’s attempts to link Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 hijackers, and helps promote Iraq as a legitimate target in the administration’s war on terror. (Five years later, the reporters involved in the story admit they were duped—see April 2006.)
Complete Fiction - The story, as it turns out, is, in the later words of Mother Jones reporter Jack Fairweather, “an elaborate scam.” Not only did US agents in Turkey dismiss the purported lieutenant general’s claims out of hand—a fact they did not pass on to Hedges—but the man who speaks with Hedges and Buchanan is not even Jamal al-Ghurairy. The man they interviewed is actually a former Iraqi sergeant living in Turkey under the pseudonym Abu Zainab. (His real name is later ascertained to be Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, and is a former Iraqi general and senior officer in the Mukhabarat.) The real al-Ghurairy has never left Iraq. In 2006, he will be interviewed by Fairweather, and will confirm that he was not the man interviewed in 2001 (see October 2005). [Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004; Mother Jones, 4/2006] Hedges and Buchanan were not the first reporters to be approached for the story. The INC’s Francis Brooke tried to interest Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff in interviewing Khodada to discuss Salman Pak. Isikoff will recall in 2004 that “he didn’t know what to make of the whole thing or have any way to evaluate the story so I didn’t write about it.” [Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004]
"The Perfect Hoax" - The interview was set up by Chalabi, the leader of the INC, and former CBS producer Lowell Bergman. Bergman had interviewed Khodada previously, but was unable to journey to Beirut, so he and Chalabi briefed Hedges in London before sending him to meet with the defector. Chalabi and Bergman have a long relationship; Chalabi has been a source for Bergman since 1991. The CIA withdrew funding from the group in 1996 (see January 1996) due to its poor intelligence and attempts at deception. For years, the INC combed the large Iraqi exile communities in Damascus and Amman for those who would trade information—real or fabricated—in return for the INC’s assistance in obtaining asylum to the West. Helping run that network was Mohammed al-Zubaidi, who after 9/11 began actively coaching defectors, according to an ex-INC official involved in the INC’s media operations (see December 17, 2001 and July 9, 2004). The ex-INC official, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, did everything from help defectors brush up and polish their stories, to concocting scripts that defectors with little or no knowledge could recite: “They learned the words, and then we handed them over to the American agencies and journalists.” After 9/11, the INC wanted to come up with a big story that would fix the public perception of Saddam Hussein’s involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Al-Zubaidi was given the task. He came up with al-Ghurairy. He chose Zainab for his knowledge of the Iraqi military, brought him to Beirut, paid him, and began prepping him. In the process, al-Zainab made himself known to American and Turkish intelligence officials as al-Ghurairy. “It was the perfect hoax,” al-Haideri will recall in 2006. “The man was a born liar and knew enough about the military to get by, whilst Saddam’s regime could hardly produce the real Ghurairy without revealing at least some of the truth of the story.” Al-Haideri will say that the reality of the Salman Pak story was much as the Iraqis claimed—Iraqi special forces were trained in hostage and hijack scenarios. Al-Zubaidi, who in 2004 will admit to his propaganda activities, calls Al-Zainab “an opportunist, cheap and manipulative. He has poetic interests and has a vivid imagination in making up stories.” [Mother Jones, 4/2006]
Stories Strain Credulity - Knight Ridder reporter Jonathan Landay later says of al-Qurairy, “As you track their stories, they become ever more fantastic, and they’re the same people who are telling these stories, until you get to the most fantastic tales of all, which appeared in Vanity Fair magazine.” Perhaps al-Qurairy’s most fabulous story is that of a training exercise to blow up a full-size mockup of a US destroyer in a lake in central Iraq. Landay adds, “Or, jumping into pits of fouled water and having to kill a dog with your bare teeth. I mean, and this was coming from people, who are appearing in all of these stories, and sometimes their rank would change.… And, you’re saying, ‘Wait a minute. There’s something wrong here, because in this story he was a major, but in this story the guy’s a colonel. And, in this story this was his function, but now he says in this story he was doing something else.’” Landay’s bureau chief, John Walcott, says of al-Qurairy, “What he did was reasonably clever but fairly obvious, which is he gave the same stuff to some reporters that, for one reason or another, he felt would simply report it. And then he gave the same stuff to people in the Vice President’s office [Dick Cheney] and in the Secretary of Defense’s office [Donald Rumsfeld]. And so, if the reporter called the Department of Defense or the Vice President’s office to check, they would’ve said, ‘Oh, I think that’s… you can go with that. We have that, too.’ So, you create the appearance, or Chalabi created the appearance, that there were two sources, and that the information had been independently confirmed, when, in fact, there was only one source. And it hadn’t been confirmed by anybody.” Landay adds, “[L]et’s not forget how close these people were to this administration, which raises the question, was there coordination? I can’t tell you that there was, but it sure looked like it.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
No Evidence Found - On April 6, 2003, US forces will overrun the Salman Pak facility. They will find nothing to indicate that the base was ever used to train terrorists (see April 6, 2003).
Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard Sperzel, Newsweek, Saddam Hussein, Taliban, New York Times, Sabah Khodada, Washington Post, United Nations, Vanity Fair, Nabeel Musawi, Public Broadcasting System, Mother Jones, Ahmed Chalabi, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, Chris Hedges, Al-Qaeda, CBS News, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Mukhabarat, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Francis Brooke, Lowell Bergman, Michael Isikoff, Mohammed al-Zubaidi, Jonathan Landay, John Walcott, Jamal al-Ghurairy, Jack Fairweather, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Christopher Buchanan, Iraqi National Congress
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda
PBS’s Frontline broadcasts an October 2001 interview with Bush foreign policy adviser Brent Scowcroft as part of its Gunning for Saddam episode. Scowcroft recently cemented his status as an outsider in the administration with an op-ed calling for the US to focus on building a coalition of allies before considering invading Iraq (see October 16, 2001). Scowcroft says that a unilateral move to invade Iraq and “deal with Saddam Hussein” will destroy the coalition of nations that still exists ten years after the 1991 Gulf War “virtually instantly.” Suspicion that the US is manipulating information to prove its rationale for war with Iraq is paramount throughout the Middle East and even among the US’s closest allies in Europe. Part of the responsibility for that perception, Scowcroft notes, comes from Iraq: “Saddam has managed to get the view out that the Iraqi people are suffering because of the [UN-mandated economic] sanctions. In fact, they’re suffering because Saddam Hussein doesn’t use the income from the oil he sells to provide for his people. But that’s the fact. So if we turn on Iraq now, it will look like we’re just using September 11 as an excuse to go after our favorite enemy.… So we need to sort of reestablish the kind of confidence that the United States enjoyed a decade ago around the time of the Gulf War. And to do that, we need to prosecute the Afghan/Osama bin Laden part of this whole thing in a way which will demonstrate that we know what we’re doing, that we do it carefully, not wildly and so on.”
Focusing on Terrorist Threat, Not Iraq, a Necessity - Scowcroft calls Hussein and Iraq “a separate problem” from al-Qaeda and global Islamist terrorism. “It is not at all clear that he is a part of a global terrorist network, which is what we’re focusing on.… Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden have one thing in common, and that is they both hate the United States. Otherwise, they have very little in common. As a matter of fact, my guess is, if it weren’t for the United States, Osama bin Laden would turn on Saddam Hussein.” Scowcroft says that even if the US manages to render al-Qaeda impotent, Iraq might not be the next problem on the list. “It’s a problem which right now should be differentiated from the Osama bin Laden problem.… Hezbollah, for example, is a global terrorist network, which has attacked the United States and US interests before. How about that?… We need to be skillful about this. We need to use scalpels, not sledgehammers.” He continues: “Nobody has said what ‘going after Saddam’ really means. What does it mean? Five hundred thousand troops again, based in a Saudi Arabia that would not accept them now? What does ‘going after Saddam’ mean?”
INC Not a Viable Replacement for Hussein - Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC) may or may not be a “viable alternative to Saddam,” Scowcroft says, but it is “certainly not a viable means to” overthrow Hussein. “It is weak, disparate, riven with disputes—probably unattractive to almost anyone inside or out.” [PBS Frontline, 11/8/2001; PBS Frontline, 11/8/2001]
Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman tells Colin Powell and CNN that during the alleged April 2001 meeting in Prague between 9/11 plotter Mohamed Atta and Iraqi diplomat Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, the two men discussed plans to bomb the Radio Free Europe building in Prague, which also housed Radio Free Iraq. The claim is reportedly based on footage from surveillance cameras at the Radio Free Europe building which had shown al-Ani surveying the building in April 2001 (see 1999). The Prime Minister will later back away from the claim, explaining it was just a hypothesis raised by Czech intelligence. [CNN, 11/9/2001; Associated Press, 12/16/2001; Newsweek, 4/28/2002; Washington Post, 5/1/2002]
Family Research Council logo. [Source: Mediamouse (.org)]The Family Research Council (FRC), a Christian conservative organization headed by the Reverend James Dobson, authorizes an advertisement linking Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) to Saddam Hussein. The ad is triggered by Daschle’s opposition to the Bush administration’s desire to drill for oil in the protected Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). The ad is released by American Renewal, the lobbying wing of the FRC headed by Richard Lessner, who formerly headed the editorial page staff at the Manchester Union Leader. In a press release announcing the ad, Lessner asks: “What do Saddam Hussein and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle have in common? Neither man wants America to drill for oil in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.” It juxtaposes photos of Daschle and Hussein, and charges that American buys 725,000 barrels of oil a day from Hussein because Daschle “won’t let America drill for oil at home.” Daschle spokesman Doug Hattaway calls the ad “an outrageous, extremist attack at a time when the nation is unified.” Lessner calls the ad an example of “telling the truth” necessitating “tough talk.” Washington Post pundit Dana Milbank says the ad has all “the subtlety of a Scud missile.” [Washington Post, 11/9/2001]
In a New York Times editorial, conservative columnist William Safire calls the alleged meeting between Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi diplomat in Prague an “undisputed fact.” He does not offer any significant new evidence to support this assertion, however. [New York Times, 11/12/2001]
Richard Perle, chairman of the Defense Policy Board, says in a speech delivered at the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s annual dinner that Saddam Hussein “is busily at work on a nuclear weapon” and that “it’s simply a matter of time before he acquires nuclear weapons.” His assertion is based on information that was provided to him personally by Iraqi defector Khidir Hamza. According to Perle, Hamza said that after the Israeli strikes against Iraq’s Osirak reactor in 1981 (see June 7, 1981), Iraq built some 400 uranium enrichment facilities all over the country in order to protect its nuclear program from future attacks. “Some look like farmhouses, some of them look like classrooms, some of them look like warehouses. You’ll never find them. They don’t turn out much but every day they turn out a little bit of nuclear materials.” [Foreign Policy Research Institute, 11/14/2001]
Neoconservative Richard Perle, the chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board, says during remarks at the Foreign Policy Research Institute that the proposed invasion of Iraq is merely the first step in a much larger military strategy that should encompass most of the Middle East and other states which, in Perle’s view, pose threats to the US. “Those who think Iraq should not be next may want to think about Syria or Iran or Sudan or Yemen or Somalia or North Korea or Lebanon or the Palestinian Authority,” Perle says. “These are all institutions, governments for the most part, that permit acts of terror to take place, that sponsor terrorists, that give them refuge, give them sanctuary, and very often much more help than that. When I recite this list, people typically say ‘Well, are we going to go to war against a dozen countries?’ And I think the answer to that is that, if we do it right with respect to one or two, we’ve got a reasonable chance of persuading the others that they should get out of the business of supporting terrorism. If we destroy the Taliban in Afghanistan, and I’m confident we will, and we then go on to destroy the regime of Saddam Hussein, and we certainly could if we chose to do so, I think we would have an impressive case to make to the Syrians, the Somalis, and others. We could deliver a short message, a two-word message: ‘You’re next. You’re next unless you stop the practice of supporting terrorism.’ Given the fact that until now there has been no cost attached to supporting terror, I think there’s a reasonable prospect that looking at the costs on the one side—that is, that those regimes will be brought to an end—and the benefits on the other—they will decide to get out of the terrorist business. It seems to me a reasonable gamble in any event.” [Foreign Policy Research Institute, 11/14/2001]
Defense Policy Board member Richard Perle, discussing the US’s planned reaction to the 9/11 attacks, says that Iraq is next on the US’s military strike list. CNN anchor John King asks, “Next phase Saddam Hussein?” and Perle replies, “Absolutely.” The day before, on ABC, Perle explained why the US had to make such a move: “Weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Saddam Hussein, plus his known contact with terrorists, including al-Qaeda terrorists, is simply a threat too large to continue to tolerate.” And what would the upshot of such an invasion be? Perle tells his CNN listeners, “We would be seen as liberators in Iraq.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
Neoconservative William Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard and a regular guest on network news broadcasts, says in a Fox News interview, “One person close to the debate said to me this week that it’s no longer a question of if, it’s a question of how we go after Saddam Hussein” (see October 7, 2001). [Fox News, 11/24/2001] Fox’s Fred Barnes asks, “What are the consequences if the US does not finish off this Saddam Hussein as a second step in the war on terrorism?” Kristol replies, “It would mean that the president having declared a global war on terrorism didn’t follow through, didn’t take out the most threatening terrorist state in the world.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
At the request of President Bush (see November 21, 2001), Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld telephones Gen. Tommy Franks with instructions to work on war plans for Iraq. “General Franks, the president wants us to look at options for Iraq,” the general will later recall being told. In his memoirs, Franks will write: “‘Son of a bitch,’ I thought. ‘No rest for the weary.’” Franks will brief Bush on the progress of his work a month later (see December 28, 2001). [Franks, 2004; Salon, 5/19/2005 Sources: Thomas Franks] Over the next few months, Bush will ask for and receive increasingly detailed briefings from Franks about the forces that would be needed if the US were to move against Iraq. The need to prepare for an invasion of Iraq, according to insiders interviewed by the Atlantic Monthly, hinders the US effort against bin Laden and the Taliban. [Atlantic Monthly, 10/2004]
Christopher DeMuth. [Source: American Enterprise Institute]Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz arranges for Christopher DeMuth, president of the neoconservative think tank The American Enterprise Institute (AEI), to create a group to strategize about the war on terrorism. The group DeMuth creates is called Bletchley II, named after a team of strategists in World War II. The dozen members of this secret group include:
Bernard Lewis, a professor arguing that the US is facing a clash of civilizations with the Islamic world.
Fareed Zakaria, a Newsweek editor and columnist.
Mark Palmer, a former US ambassador to Hungary.
Fouad Ajami, director of the Middle Eastern Studies Program at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies.
James Wilson, a professor and specialist in human morality and crime.
Ruel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA Middle East expert.
Steve Herbits, a close consultant to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
According to journalist Bob Woodward, the group comes to quick agreement after just two days of discussions and a report is made from their conclusions. They agree it will take two generations for the US to defeat radical Islam. Egypt and Saudi Arabia are the keys to the problems of the Middle East, but the problems there are too intractable. Iran is similarly difficult. But Iraq is weak and vulnerable. DeMuth will later comment: “We concluded that a confrontation with Saddam [Hussein] was inevitable. He was a gathering threat - the most menacing, active, and unavoidable threat. We agreed that Saddam would have to leave the scene before the problem would be addressed.” That is the key to transform the region. Vice President Dick Cheney is reportedly pleased with their report. So is National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who finds it “very, very persuasive.” It is said to have a strong impact on President Bush as well. Woodward later notes the group’s conclusions are “straight from the neoconservative playbook.” [Woodward, 2006, pp. 83-85]
Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Steve Herbits, Paul Wolfowitz, Fareed Zakaria, Fouad Ajami, George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Mark Palmer, Reuel Marc Gerecht, Bernard Lewis, Christopher DeMuth, James Wilson
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Neoconservative Influence
At the request of CIA director George Tenet, veteran CIA agents Luis (his full name has not been disclosed) and John Maguire devise a covert plan to overthrow the government of Saddam Hussein. Under the plan, code-named Anabasis, the CIA would send a team of paramilitary CIA officers to recruit disloyal Iraqi officers by offering them large chunks of cash. The CIA would conduct a disinformation campaign aimed at making Hussein believe that there was growing internal dissent. Hussein would become increasingly paranoid and eventually implement a repressive internal security policy, mostly likely involving the executions of suspected disloyal officers. In addition, the plan calls for “direct action operations” (understood to be a euphemism for the assassinations of key regime officials); disrupting the government’s finances and supply networks; and conducting sabotage operations, such as the blowing up of railroads and communications towers. Finally, the plan includes creating a casus belli for an open military confrontation between the US and Iraq. The US would transport a group of exiles to Iraq, where they would take over an Iraqi base close to the Saudi border. When Hussein flies his troops south to handle the insurrection, the US would shoot his aircraft down under the guise of enforcing the US-imposed “no-fly” zone. The confrontation would then be used as a pretext for full-scale war. “The idea was to create an incident in which Saddam lashes out,” Maguire later recalls. If the plan worked the US “would have a premise for war: we’ve been invited in.” Implementing the plan would cost an estimated $400 million. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 6-9, 154; Guardian, 9/7/2006] The plan will be canceled at the last minute by Gen. Tommy Franks (see After January 2003).
In May 2002, Time magazine will report, “By the end of 2001, [US] diplomats were discussing how to enlist the support of Arab allies, the military was sharpening its troop estimates, and the communications team was plotting how to sell an attack to the American public. The whole purpose of putting Iraq into Bush’s State of the Union address, as part of the ‘axis of evil,’ was to begin the debate about a possible invasion (see January 29, 2002).” [Time, 5/5/2002]
According to a 2009 Senate Armed Services Committee report (see April 21, 2009), US counterterrorism officials are growing frustrated at the lack of “useful leads” coming from interrogations of suspected terrorists. The officials are particularly concerned with what one Army major will later recall as “establishing a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq.” The lack of actionable intelligence will result in military interrogators resorting to much harsher interrogation methods. [Washington Post, 4/22/2009]
The militant group Ansar al-Islam is formed in Iraq. It is created from a merger of two Kurdish rebel groups and it is led by Mullah Krekar, who spends most of his time living in exile in Norway. Ansar al-Islam preaches a radical interpretation of Islam. It controls a small area of only about a dozen villages in a mountainous region right next to Iraq’s border with Iran. [BBC, 3/22/2003] The US will later accuse the group of hosting militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and many al-Qaeda operatives.
An unnamed US envoy in Middle East, possibly W. Robert Pearson, the US ambassador to Turkey [Salon, 5/19/2005] , tells Newsweek, “The question is not if the United States is going to hit Iraq; the question is when.” [Newsweek, 1/7/2002 Sources: Unnamed US official]
Greg Thielmann, director for strategic proliferation and military affairs at the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), reviews Iraq’s alleged WMD programs for Secretary of State Colin Powell. Thielmann’s review concludes that Italian reports of a possible uranium deal between Iraq and Niger (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, October 15, 2001, October 18, 2001, November 20, 2001, February 5, 2002, Late April or Early May 2002-June 2002, and Late June 2002) are completely false. Thielmann will later recall: “A whole lot of things told us that the report was bogus. This wasn’t highly contested. There weren’t strong advocates on the other side. It was done, shot down” (see March 1, 2002). [Unger, 2007, pp. 229]
Jordanian Islamist militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi flees Afghanistan (see Early 2000-December 2001) and heads to Iran where he continues to run his militant group, al-Tawhid. He uses telephones and a network of couriers to maintain contact with operatives in Europe. By April 2002, he still is based in Iran and has little to no ties to Iraq. But some time in mid-2002, he unites with Ansar al-Islam, an Islamist group based in a part of northern Iraq controlled by Kurdish rebels and opposed to Saddam Hussein (see Mid-2002). He reportedly moves his base of operations there and establishes an explosive training center camp there as well. [Independent, 2/6/2003; Newsweek, 6/25/2003] In an effort to justify military action against Iraq, the Bush administration will later claim that Saddam Hussein is aware of al-Zarqawi’s presence in Baghdad and therefore is guilty of knowingly harboring a terrorist (see September 26, 2002). The administration will also allege—falsely—that al-Zarqawi is a senior al-Qaeda agent and that his visit is evidence that Saddam’s regime has ties to Osama bin Laden. [Guardian, 10/9/2002; Independent, 2/6/2003; Newsweek, 6/25/2003 Sources: Shadi Abdallah] But the administration never offers any conclusive evidence to support this allegation. The claim is disputed by intelligence analysts in both Washington and London. [Daily Telegraph, 2/4/2003]
The Observer publishes an article entitled, “Secret US Plan for Iraq War.” It states that the US is planning to remove Saddam Hussein from power by giving armed support to Iraqi opposition forces. It also says that President Bush has ordered the CIA and US military to prepare plans for a military operation that could start “within months.” The plan calls for “a combined operation with US bombers targeting key military installations while US forces assist opposition groups in the north and south of the country in a stage-managed uprising,” and one version of the plan would have US forces fighting on the ground. The trigger for the attack would be Iraq refusing to allow UN inspectors back in. The article notes that justification for a war based on alleged Iraqi links to the 9/11 attacks is fading, but US officials believe they can make a case based on Iraqi possession of WMDs instead. One European military source who recently returned from General Tommy Franks’s headquarters in Florida says: “The Americans are walking on water. They think they can do anything at the moment.” [Observer, 12/2/2001] The claim that the US is planning a “stage-managed uprising” will later be borne out. Right around this time, some CIA planners come up with a plan code-named Anabasis to create an uprising in Iraq (see Late November 2001 or December 2001).
US Congressmen write a letter to President Bush urging him to take military action against Iraq. Among those who sign the letter are Jesse Helms (R-NC), Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), John McCain (R-AZ), Henry Hyde (R-IL), and Trent Lott (R-MS). The letter states, “As we work to clean up Afghanistan, it is imperative that we plan to eliminate the threat from Iraq. This December will mark three years since United Nations inspectors last visited Iraq. There is no doubt that since that time, Saddam Hussein has reinvigorated his weapons programs.… Reports indicate that biological, chemical and nuclear programs continue apace and may be back to pre-Gulf War levels. We believe we must directly confront Saddam, sooner rather than later.” [Kristol, 12/6/2001; Scripps Howard News Service, 12/15/2001]
Vice President Cheney says in an interview on Meet the Press, “Well, what we now have that’s developed [recently]… was that report that’s been pretty well confirmed, that [Mohamed Atta] did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service in Czechoslovakia last April, several months before the attack. Now, what the purpose of that was, what transpired between them, we simply don’t know at this point. But that’s clearly an avenue that we want to pursue.” [Washington Post, 12/9/2001] The CIA already believes the reports of Atta visiting Prague are incorrect (see December 2001).
Vice President Cheney says on Fox News, “I never say anything is inevitable, but if I were Saddam Hussein, I’d be thinking very carefully about the future and I’d be looking very closely to see what happened to the Taliban in Afghanistan.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006]
Czech Police Chief Jiri Kolar says that there is no evidence that 9/11 ringleader Mohamed Atta met an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague in April (see April 8, 2001). He also says—contradicting earlier reports—that there is no documentary evidence that Atta traveled to Prague at all in 2001. Additionally, an unnamed Czech intelligence official tells the newspaper Mlada Fronta Dnes, that that the person who had met with al-Ani on April 2001 near Prague was not Atta. Another person with the same name had arrived in Prague in 2001 but he “didn’t have the same identity card number.” Furthermore, “There was a great difference in their ages, their nationalities didn’t match, basically nothing—it was someone else,” the source says. It is also reported that a man named Hassan, described as a businessman and a long-time member of Prague’s Arab community, claims to have been a close friend of al-Ani. Hassan says that he believes the Czechs had mistaken another man for Atta, a used car dealer from Nuremberg by the name of Saleh, who often visited Prague to meet al-Ani and and who sold him at least one car. “I have sat with the two of them at least twice. The double is an Iraqi who has met with the consul. If someone saw a photo of Atta he might easily mistake the two,” Hassan says. [New York Times, 12/16/2001; Associated Press, 12/16/2001; Daily Telegraph, 12/18/2001 Sources: Hassan, Jiri Kolar, Unnamed Czech intelligence officials, Unnamed Interior Ministry official] Responding to the report, Gabriela Bartikova, spokeswoman for the Czech Minister of Interior, says that the Czech intelligence agency still believes that Mohamed Atta and al-Ani, the consul and second secretary of the Iraqi embassy met in April 2001. She says, “Minister Gross had the information from BIS (the Czech Republic’s Intelligence Agency), and BIS guarantees the information. So we stick by that information.” At about the same time, US officials tell the Associated Press they also still believe the meeting had transpired. [Associated Press, 12/16/2001]
Kellogg Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton, wins a 10-year no-bid contract to provide the Pentagon with support services in Iraq—everything from fighting oil-well fires to building military bases to feeding and housing soldiers. Vice President Dick Cheney is the former CEO of Halliburton. When he was defense secretary under George H. W. Bush, Cheney had pushed to outsource many of the military’s logistical and support functions to private contractors, part of what Vanity Fair will later term “a broader effort to transfer government functions of all kinds to the private sector.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
Zaab Sethna of the Iraqi National Congress (INC) arranges for Iraqi defector Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri to be interviewed by Judith Miller of the New York Times. Miller, who has known Chalabi for about eight years (see May 1, 2003), immediately flies out to Bangkok for the interview. Her story is published on December 20, just three days after Haideri told his story to a CIA agent who subjected him to a polygraph and determined Haideri’s story was a complete fabrication (see December 17, 2001). Miller’s front-page article, titled “An Iraqi defector tells of work on at least 20 hidden weapons sites,” reports: “An Iraqi defector who described himself as a civil engineer, said he personally worked on renovations of secret facilities for biological, chemical and nuclear weapons in underground wells, private villas and under the Saddam Hussein Hospital in Baghdad as recently as a year ago.” If verified, Miller notes, “his allegations would provide ammunition to officials within the Bush administration who have been arguing that Mr. Hussein should be driven from power partly because of his unwillingness to stop making weapons of mass destruction, despite his pledges to do so.” Sethna also contacts freelance journalist Paul Moran. Moran is a former employee of the INC and has been employed for years by the Rendon Group, a firm specializing in “perception management” and which helped develop the INC (see May 1991). Moran’s on-camera interview with Haideri is broadcast worldwide by the Australian Broadcasting Corp. [New York Times, 12/20/2001; SBS Dateline, 7/23/2003; New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004; Rolling Stone, 11/17/2005] Reporter Jonathan Landay will later say that he and others were skeptical from the outset: “There were some red flags that the New York Times story threw out immediately, which caught our eye, immediately. The first was the idea that a Kurd—the enemy of Saddam—had been allowed into his most top secret military facilities. I don’t think so. That was, for me, the biggest red flag. And there were others, like the idea that Saddam Hussein would put a biological weapons facility under his residence. I mean, would you put a biological weapons lab under your living room? I don’t think so.” Landay’s partner Warren Strobel will add, “The first rule of being an intelligence agent, or a journalist, and they’re really not that different, is you’re skeptical of defectors, because they have a reason to exaggerate. They want to increase their value to you. They probably want something from you. Doesn’t mean they’re lying, but you should be—journalists are supposed to be skeptical, right? And I’m afraid the New York Times reporter in that case and a lot of other reporters were just not skeptical of what these defectors were saying. Nor was the administration…” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
Pentagon ‘Nuclear Posture Review.’ [Source: Federation of American Scientists]White House guidance and the Defense Department’s 2001 “Nuclear Posture Review” (NPR) together lead to the creation of a new set of nuclear strike options—OPLAN 8044 Revision 03—against nations that may plan to acquire weapons of mass destruction. These strike options are secretly presented to certain members of Congress. The new nuclear strike options will not be revealed until November 2007, when the Federation of American Scientists receives a partially declassified document from the US Strategic Command (STRATCOM) that details the strike plans. The planning for the new strike options began shortly after the 9/11 attacks, and the US Strategic Command created scenarios for attacking countries such as Russia, China, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and North Korea; the plan will take effect on March 1, 2003, just weeks before the US invasion of Iraq. Until the documents become publicly available in 2007, Bush administration and Pentagon officials will insist that not only has the US not changed its nuclear policy, it has actually decreased the role of nuclear weapons in its strategic planning (see March 10, 2002, March 9, 2002, and October 9, 2007). Those disavowals will be proven false. Instead, according to the STRATCOM document, one of the first options delineated in the NPR is the use of these newly created nuclear strike options. The significance of the NPR’s new options is in the fact that before now, such scenarios have not been included in the national strategic plans, and “on-the-shelf” plans for nuclear bombing and missile strikes against “rogue” states have not been available. Although the details of the strikes remain classified, it is evident that the planning for these strikes goes far deeper than simple retaliation, but includes, in the words of scientist Hans Kristensen: “actual nuclear warfighting intended to annihilate a wide range of facilities in order to deprive the states the ability to launch and fight with WMD. The new plan formally broadened strategic nuclear targeting from two adversaries (Russia and China) to a total of seven.” [Defense, 1/8/2002 ; Federation of American Scientists, 11/5/2007]
CIA official Gary Schoen will later say, “I can remember trying to take issues about Afghanistan to the National Security Council (NSC) during 2002 and early 2003 and being told: ‘It’s off the agenda for today. Iraq is taking the whole agenda.’ Things that we desperately needed to do for Afghanistan were just simply pushed aside by concerns over in Iraq. There just wasn’t the time.” [PBS Frontline, 1/20/2006] A former senior NSC official will similarly recall that the Bush administration turned its attention to Iraq and “discussions about Afghanistan were constrained. Here’s what you have now, you don’t get anything more. No additional missions, no additional forces, no additional dollars.” This official adds that “the meetings to discuss Afghanistan at the time were best described by a comment Doug Feith made in one meeting, when he said we won the war, other people need to be responsible for Afghanistan now. What he meant was that nation building or postconflict stability operations ought to be taken care of by other governments.… To raise Afghanistan was to talk about what we were leaving undone.” [Risen, 2006, pp. 154]
In 2006, a bipartisan Senate report will conclude that al-Qaeda leader Mahfouz Walad Al-Walid (a.k.a. Abu Hafs the Mauritanian) traveled to Iraq this year in an attempt to meet with Saddam Hussein. This is according to debriefings after the 2003 Iraq war. But Hussein refused to meet him and directed that he should leave Iraq because he could cause a problem for the country. Al-Walid made a similar attempt to meet with Hussein in 1998, and was similarly rebuffed (see March-June 1998). 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 ]
Senior CIA officials, including James Pavitt, the deputy director of operations of the CIA, ask CIA Director George Tenet to relay concerns to the White House that invading Iraq will undermine US counterterrorism efforts. They warn that it will divert attention and resources away from the ongoing fight against al-Qaeda, at a time when the United States’ counterterrorism efforts seem to be having a decisive impact. One former aide to Tenet tells author James Risen, “A lot of people went to George to tell him that Iraq would hurt the war on terrorism, but I never heard him express an opinion about war in Iraq. He would just come back from the White House and say they are going to do it.” [Risen, 2006, pp. 183-184]
The CIA’s Joint Task Force on Iraq, headed by career officer Valerie Plame Wilson, sends approximately 30 Iraqi-American civilians back to Iraq to interrogate family members who are weapons scientists. The agency hopes that the operation will help close some gaps in the agency’s Iraq intelligence. The plan was devised by Charlie Allen, the CIA’s assistant director for collection. The operation produces a very accurate picture of Iraq’s weapons programs, though the CIA does not realize this at the time. Every single one of family members (see, e.g., May 2002-September 2002) participating in the program return from Iraq with the same information—that Iraq’s nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs have long since been abandoned. The program is short-lived. It is shut down by officials in the CIA’s Directorate of Operations who are reportedly jealous of Charlie Allen’s incursions onto its operational turf. The program’s results are buried and never distributed to other bodies within the intelligence community. [Risen, 2006, pp. 183-184; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 12-14]
An unnamed senior CIA operative will later allege in a lawsuit that in 2002, his superiors instructed him to falsify his reporting on weapons of mass destruction because it was “contrary” to “official CIA dogma” and “the politically mandated conclusion.” When the operative refuses to change his reporting, the “management” of the CIA’s Counterproliferation Division orders that he “remove himself from any further ‘handling’” of the unnamed asset, who the CIA regards as “a highly respected human asset.” The operative will also allege that CIA managers retaliated in response to his refusal to obey their orders. [Washington Post, 12/9/2004]
US embassies are approached by a number of individuals claiming to have information about Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction programs. But in every case, the CIA’s Joint Task Force on Iraq—the division that has been tasked with following these leads—determines that the would-be informant is a fabricator. The agency suspects that these individuals are being sent to them by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 14-15]
The Bush administration develops plans for post-war Iraq. But the process is plagued with infighting between a small, highly secretive group of planners in the Pentagon and experts at the CIA and State Department who are involved with the “Future of Iraq Project” (see April 2002-March 2003). The two opposing groups disagree on a wide range of topics, but it is the Pentagon group which exerts the strongest influence on the White House’s plans (see Fall 2002) for administering post-Saddam Iraq. One State Department official complains to The Washington Post in October 2002 “that the Pentagon is seeking to dominate every aspect of Iraq’s postwar reconstruction.” The group of Pentagon planners includes several noted neoconservatives who work in, or in association with, the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans (see September 2002) and the Near East/South Asia bureau. The planners have close ties to the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), two think tanks with a shared vision of reshaping the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East in favor of US and Israeli interests. The Pentagon planning group “had a visionary strategy that it hoped would transform Iraq into an ally of Israel, remove a potential threat to the Persian Gulf oil trade and encircle Iran with US friends and allies,” Knight Ridder Newspapers will later observe. The group’s objectives put it at odds with planners at the CIA and State Department whose approach and objectives are much more prudent. The Pentagon unit works independently of the CIA and State Department and pays little attention to the work of those two agencies. Critics complain that the group is working in virtual secrecy and evading the scrutiny and oversight of others involved in the post-war planning process by confining their inter-agency communications to discussions with their neoconservative colleagues working in other parts of the government. The Pentagon planners even have a direct line to the office of Dick Cheney where their fellow neoconservative, Lewis Libby, is working. [Daily Telegraph, 11/12/2002; Washington Post, 4/2/2003; Knight Ridder, 7/12/2003] In the fall of 2002, the various groups involved in planning for post-war Iraq send their recommendations to the White House’s Executive Steering Committee, which reviews their work and then passes on its own recommendations to the cabinet heads (see Fall 2002). According to a July 2003 report by Knight Ridder Newspapers, the ultimate responsibility for deciding the administration’s post-war transition plans lay with Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. [Knight Ridder, 7/12/2003]
The Office of Special Plans -
The civilian planners at the Pentagon believe that the UN should exert no influence over the structure, make-up, or policy of the interim Iraqi post-Saddam government. They seek to limit the UN’s role to humanitarian and reconstruction projects, and possibly security. The State Department, however, believes that the US will not be able to do it alone and that UN participation in post-Saddam Iraq will be essential. [Los Angeles Times, 4/2/2003; Observer, 4/6/2003]
The Pentagon group wants to install Ahmad Chalabi, the controversial Iraqi exile leader of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), as leader of post-Saddam Iraq. [American Prospect, 5/1/2003; Knight Ridder, 7/12/2003 Sources: Richard Perle] The group thinks that the Iraqis will welcome Chalabi, who claims he has a secret network inside and outside the Ba’ath government which will quickly fill in the power vacuum to restore order to the country. Chalabi is a notorious figure who is considered untrustworthy by the State Department and CIA and who has a history of financial misdealings. [Knight Ridder, 7/12/2003] But the Pentagon is said to be enamored with Chalabi “because he [advocates] normal diplomatic relations with Israel” which they believe will “‘[take] off the board’ one of the only remaining major Arab threats to Israeli security.” Another geopolitical benefit to installing Chalabi is that he can help the US contain “the influence of Iran’s radical Islamic leaders in the region, because he would… [provide] bases in Iraq for US troops,” which would “complete Iran’s encirclement by American military forces around the Persian Gulf and US friends in Russia and Central Asia.” [Knight Ridder, 7/12/2003 Sources: Unnamed Bush administration official] Danielle Pletka, vice president of the American Enterprise Institute, with close ties to the Pentagon’s planning group, tells Robert Dreyfuss of American Prospect Magazine that the State Department’s perception of Chalabi is wrong. “The [Defense Department] is running post-Saddam Iraq,” said Pletka, almost shouting. “The people at the State Department don’t know what they are talking about! Who the hell are they?… the simple fact is, the president is comfortable with people who are comfortable with the INC.” [American Prospect, 5/1/2003]
The Pentagon’s planning unit believes that the Iraqis will welcome US troops as liberators and that any militant resistance will be short-lived. They do not develop a contingency plan for persistent civil unrest. [Knight Ridder, 7/12/2003] However the State Department’s “Future of Iraq” planning project is more prudent, noting that Iraqis will likely be weary of US designs on their country. [New York Times, 10/19/2003]
The Pentagon planners believe that Iraq’s oil reserves—estimated to contain some 112 billion barrels of oil—should be used to help fund the reconstruction of Iraq. They also advocate a plan that would give the US more control over Iraq’s oil. “[The Pentagon] hawks have long argued that US control of Iraq’s oil would help deliver a second objective,” reports the Observer. “That is the destruction of OPEC, the oil producers’ cartel, which they argue is ‘evil’—that is, incompatible with American interests.” The State Department, however, believes such aggressive policies will surely infuriate Iraqis and give credence to suspicions that the invasion is motivated by oil interests. One critic of the plan says “that only a puppet Iraqi government would acquiesce to US supervision of the oil fields and that one so slavish to US interests risks becoming untenable with Iraqis.” [Observer, 11/3/2002; Insight, 12/28/2002]
An unnamed CIA case officer with the agency’s Directorate of Operations (DO) will later say with regard to Iraq’s alleged arsenal of WMD: “Where I was working, I never saw anything—no one else there did either.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 333]
Noted experts, analysts and commentators, as well as current and former US and foreign government officials, say that control over Iraq’s oil would benefit the United States. A pro-American government in Iraq would provide the US with stable access to its northern and southern oil fields, provide US oil companies with favorable access to oil production sharing agreements and other oil industry-related contracts, allow the US to undermine OPEC’s influence in the oil market, and ensure that Iraq’s oil is traded in US dollars. [London Times, 7/11/2002; Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 8/20/2002; Washington Post, 9/15/2002; Wall Street Journal, 9/16/2002; Daily Telegraph, 9/17/2002; San Francisco Chronicle, 9/29/2002; ABC News, 10/4/2002; ABC News, 10/4/2002; Alternet, 10/16/2002; Reuters, 10/17/2002; New York Times, 10/17/2002; Le Monde (Paris), 11/2002; International Herald Tribune, 11/1/2002; Los Angeles Times, 11/5/2002; MSNBC, 11/7/2002; MSNBC, 11/7/2002; MSNBC, 11/7/2002; Los Angeles Times, 11/8/2002; Los Angeles Times, 11/8/2002; MSNBC, 11/11/2002; MSNBC, 11/11/2002; Guardian, 11/22/2002; New York Times, 12/26/2002; International Herald Tribune, 1/17/2003; Observer, 1/26/2003; Guardian, 1/26/2003; Fox News Sunday, 3/6/2003; Time, 5/10/2003; Washington Post, 6/5/2003]
In explaining the Bush administration’s policy on Iraq, top US officials waver between “disarmament” and “regime change.” [Agence France-Presse, 8/22/2002; CNN, 8/25/2002; CNN, 9/30/2002; US President, 10/14/2002; White House, 10/21/2002; White House, 10/22/2002; White House, 10/23/2002; US President, 10/28/2002; Washington Post, 12/5/2002]
In the lead-up to the war, top Bush administration officials make strong statements asserting that Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction. The administration claims that it has incontrovertible evidence, though no such evidence is disclosed to the public—neither before nor after the invasion. [Chicago Tribune, 2/7/2002; Daily Telegraph, 8/21/2002; Guardian, 8/22/2002; White House, 8/26/2002; US Department of Defense, 9/3/2002; Associated Press, 9/3/2002; United Press International, 9/3/2002; Associated Press, 9/8/2002; NewsMax, 9/8/2002; PBS, 9/12/2002; US President, 9/16/2002; US President, 10/14/2002; CBC News, 12/5/2002; Associated Press, 1/7/2003; White House, 1/9/2003; US President, 2/3/2003; US Department of State, 2/5/2003; US Department of State, 2/5/2003; White House, 3/21/2003; US President, 3/24/2003; Age (Melbourne), 6/7/2003; Village Voice, 6/18/2003; Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 7/13/2003; Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 7/17/2003; Fox News, 8/20/2003; Associated Press, 12/5/2003] Then-deputy press secretary Scott McClellan later observes: “[A]s the campaign [to sell the Iraq war to the American public] accelerated, caveats and qualifications were downplayed or dropped altogether. Contradictory intelligence was largely ignored or simply disregarded. Evidence based on high confidence from the intelligence community was lumped together with intelligence of lesser confidence. A nuclear threat was added to the biological and chemical threats to create a greater sense of urgency. Support for terrorism was given greater weight by playing up dubious al-Qaeda connections to Iraq. When it was all packaged together, the case constituted a ‘grave and gathering danger’ (see September 16, 2002) that needed to be dealt with urgently.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 144-145]
Bruce Hardcastle, the Defense Intelligence Agency officer assigned to Bill Luti, provides Luti’s office, the Office of Special Plans, with intelligence briefings. But his reports are not utilized by Luti or his colleagues, because they do not support neoconservatives’ assumptions about Iraq’s weapon capabilities and terrorist activities. [Salon, 3/10/2004 Sources: Paul O’Neill]
Most of Task Force 5’s members are called home from Afghanistan to prepare for operations in Iraq. In early 2002, there were roughly 150 Task Force 5 commandos in Afghanistan. After the massive transfer, Task Force 5’s numbers dip to as low as 30 men. Task Force 5 is a top-secret elite group that includes CIA paramilitary units and military “special mission units,” or SMUs. One of the SMUs is the former Delta Force. The name of the other unit, which specializes in human and technical intelligence operations, is not known. The Washington Post will later note, “These elite forces, along with the battlefield intelligence technology of Predator and Global Hawk drone aircraft, were the scarcest tools of the hunt for jihadists along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.” According to Flynt Leverett, a career CIA analyst assigned to the State Deparmtent, “There is a direct consequence for us having taken these guys out prematurely. There were people on the staff level raising questions about what that meant for getting al-Qaeda, for creating an Afghan security and intelligence service [to help combat jihadists]. Those questions didn’t get above staff level, because clearly there had been a strategic decision taken.” [Washington Post, 10/22/2004] In 2003, Task Force 5 will be disbanded and then merged into the new Task Force 121, which is to operate in both Iraq and Afghanistan. [New York Times, 11/7/2003]
According to a 2006 book by journalist Ron Suskind, around early 2002, in National Security Council briefings, the main stated reason for a war in Iraq is “to make an example of [Saddam] Hussein, to create a demonstration model to guide the behavior of anyone with the temerity to acquire destructive weapons or, in any way, flout the authority of the United States.… More specifically, the theory [is] that the United States… would change the rules of geopolitical analysis and action for countless other countries.” In meetings, President Bush often calls war with Iraq a “game changer.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 123]
Pentagon chief of public relations Victoria Clarke. [Source: Department of Defense]While detailed plans for the upcoming invasion of Iraq are well underway, the administration realizes that the American people are not strongly behind such an invasion. They aren’t convinced that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the 9/11 attacks, and unsure about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction. White House and Pentagon officials decide that using retired military officers as “independent military analysts” in the national media can help change hearts and minds (see April 20, 2008). Assistant secretary of defense for public affairs Victoria “Torie” Clarke, a former public relations executive, intends to achieve what she calls “information dominance.” The news culture is saturated by “spin” and combating viewpoints; Clarke argues that opinions are most swayed by voices seen as authoritative and completely independent. Clarke has already put together a system within the Pentagon to recruit what she calls “key influentials,” powerful and influential people from all areas who, with the proper coaching, can generate support for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s agenda. After 9/11, when each of the news networks rushed to land its own platoon of retired military officers to provide commentary and analysis, Clarke saw an opportunity: such military analysts are the ultimate “key influentials,” having tremendous authority and credibility with average Americans. They often get more airtime than network reporters, Clarke notes. More importantly, they are not just explaining military minutiae, but telling viewers how to interpret events. Best of all, while they are in the news media, they are not creatures of the media. Reporter David Barstow will write in 2008, “They were military men, many of them ideologically in sync with the administration’s neoconservative brain trust, many of them important players in a military industry anticipating large budget increases to pay for an Iraq war.” And even those without such ties tended to support the military and the government. Retired Army general and ABC analyst William Nash will say: “It is very hard for me to criticize the United States Army. It is my life.”
'Writing the Op-Ed' for the War - As a result, according to Clarke’s aide Don Meyer, Clarke decides to make the military analysts the main focus of the public relations push to build a case for invading Iraq. They, not journalists, will “be our primary vehicle to get information out,” Meyer recalls. The military analysts are not handled by the Pentagon’s regular press office, but are lavished with attention and “perks” in a separate office run by another aide to Clarke, Brent Krueger. According to Krueger, the military analysts will, in effect, be “writing the op-ed” for the war.
Working in Tandem with the White House - The Bush administration works closely with Clarke’s team from the outset. White House officials request lists of potential recruits for the team, and suggests names for the lists. Clarke’s team writes summaries of each potential analyst, describing their backgrounds, business and political affiliations, and their opinions on the war. Rumsfeld has the final say on who is on the team: “Rumsfeld ultimately cleared off on all invitees,” Krueger will say. Ultimately, the Pentagon recruits over 75 retired officers, though some only participate briefly or sporadically.
Saturation Coverage on Cable - The largest contingent of analysts is affiliated with Fox News, followed by NBC and CNN, the networks with 24-hour cable news coverage. Many analysts work for ABC and CBS as well. Many also appear on radio news and talk broadcasts, publish op-ed articles in newspapers, and are quoted in press reports, magazine articles, and in Web sites and blogs. Barstow, a New York Times reporter, will note that “[a]t least nine of them have written op-ed articles for The Times.”
Representing the Defense Industry - Many of the analysts have close ties with defense contractors and/or lobbying firms involved in helping contractors win military contracts from the Pentagon:
Retired Army general James Marks, who begins working as an analyst for CNN in 2004 (until his firing three years later—see July 2007) is a senior executive with McNeil Technologies, and helps that firm land military and intelligence contracts from the government.
Thomas McInerney, a retired Air Force general and Fox News analyst, sits on the boards of several military contractors.
CBS military analyst Jeffrey McCausland is a lobbyist for Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, a major lobbying firm where he is director of a national security team that represents several military contractors. His team proclaims on the firm’s Web site, “We offer clients access to key decision makers.”
Shortly after signing with CBS, retired Air Force general Joseph Ralston became vice chairman of the Cohen Group, a consulting firm headed by former Defense Secretary William Cohen (also an analyst for CNN). The Cohen Group says of itself on its Web site, “The Cohen Group knows that getting to ‘yes’ in the aerospace and defense market—whether in the United States or abroad—requires that companies have a thorough, up-to-date understanding of the thinking of government decision makers.”
Ideological Ties - Many military analysts have political and ideological ties to the Bush administration and its supporters. These include:
Two of NBC’s most familiar analysts, retired generals Barry McCaffrey and Wayne Downing, are on the advisory board of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, an advocacy group created with White House encouragement in 2002 to push for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. [New York Times, 4/20/2008] Additionally, McCaffrey is chief of BR McCaffrey Associates, which “provides strategic, analytic, and advocacy consulting services to businesses, non-profits, governments, and international organizations.” [Washington Post, 4/21/2008] Other members include senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), and prominent neoconservatives Richard Perle and William Kristol. [Truthout (.org), 4/28/2008] Both McCaffrey and Downing head their own consulting firms and are board members of major defense contractors.
Retired Army general Paul Vallely, a Fox News analyst from 2001 through 2007, shares with the Bush national security team the belief that the reason the US lost in Vietnam was due to negative media coverage, and the commitment to prevent that happening with the Iraq war. In 1980, Vallely co-wrote a paper accusing the US press of failing to defend the nation from what he called “enemy” propaganda—negative media coverage—during the Vietnam War. “We lost the war—not because we were outfought, but because we were out Psyoped,” he wrote. Vallely advocated something he called “MindWar,” an all-out propaganda campaign by the government to convince US citizens of the need to support a future war effort. Vallely’s “MindWar” would use network TV and radio to “strengthen our national will to victory.” [New York Times, 4/20/2008]
Ironically, Clarke herself will eventually leave the Pentagon and become a commentator for ABC News. [Democracy Now!, 4/22/2008]
Seducing the Analysts - Analysts describe a “powerfully seductive environment,” in Barstow’s words, created for them in the Pentagon: the uniformed escorts to Rumsfeld’s private conference room, lavish lunches served on the best government china, embossed name cards, “blizzard[s] of PowerPoints, the solicitations of advice and counsel, the appeals to duty and country, the warm thank you notes from the secretary himself.” Former NBC analyst Kenneth Allard, who has taught information warfare at the National Defense University, says: “[Y]ou have no idea. You’re back. They listen to you. They listen to what you say on TV.” Allard calls the entire process “psyops on steroids,” using flattery and proximity to gain the desired influence and effect. “It’s not like it’s, ‘We’ll pay you $500 to get our story out,’” Allard says. “It’s more subtle.”
Keeping Pentagon Connections Hidden - In return, the analysts are instructed not to quote their briefers directly or to mention their contacts with the Pentagon. The idea is always to present a facade of independent thought. One example is the analysts’ almost perfect recitation of Pentagon talking points during a fall and winter 2002 PR campaign (see Fall and Winter 2002). [New York Times, 4/20/2008]
Entity Tags: Richard Perle, Paul Vallely, Thomas G. McInerney, William S. Cohen, Wayne Downing, US Department of Defense, William Nash, William Kristol, New York Times, Joseph Ralston, Kenneth Allard, CBS News, Bush administration (43), Brent T. Krueger, Barry McCaffrey, ABC News, CNN, Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, David Barstow, Don Meyer, Joseph Lieberman, John McCain, NBC, Jeffrey McCausland, Fox News, Donald Rumsfeld, James Marks, Victoria (“Torie”) Clarke
Timeline Tags: US Military, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda
While most US military and intelligence professionals dismiss the Iraq-Niger uranium deal as sheer fabrications that have been repeatedly discredited (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, October 15, 2001, October 18, 2001, November 20, 2001, February 5, 2002, March 1, 2002, Late April or Early May 2002-June 2002, and Late June 2002), neoconservatives in the Pentagon keep the reports alive. They “delighted in telling people, ‘You don’t understand your own data,’” former DIA analyst Patrick Lang will later recall. “‘We know that Saddam [Hussein] is evil and deceptive, and if you see this piece of data, to say just because it is not well supported it’s not true, is politically naive.’” [Unger, 2007, pp. 239]
Members of the US Fifth Special Forces Group pose with future Afghan president Hamid Karzai, whom they are protecting.
[Source: US Military]The Atlantic Monthly will later report, “By the beginning of 2002, US and Northern Alliance forces had beaten the Taliban but lost bin Laden. At that point the United States faced a consequential choice: to bear down even harder in Afghanistan, or to shift the emphasis in the global war on terror somewhere else.… Implicitly at the beginning of 2002, and as a matter of formal policy by the end, it placed all other considerations second to regime change in Iraq.” [Atlantic Monthly, 10/2004] In February, 2002, Gen. Tommy Franks allegedly tells Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL), “Senator, we have stopped fighting the war on terror in Afghanistan. We are moving military and intelligence personnel and resources out of Afghanistan to get ready for a future war in Iraq” (see February 19, 2002). [Council on Foreign Relations, 3/26/2004] This shift from Afghanistan to Iraq involves a change of focus and attention (see Early 2002). Additionally, while the total number of US troops (less than 10,000) in Afghanistan does not go down, there is a considerable shift of specialized personnel and equipment many months before the war in Iraq will begin:
On February 15, 2002, President Bush directs the CIA to conduct operations in Iraq (see Early 2002). In mid-March, the CIA tells the White House that it is cutting back operations in Afghanistan (see Spring 2002).
Most of Task Force 5, a top-secret elite CIA and military special forces group, is called home from Afghanistan to prepare for operations in Iraq (see Early 2002).
In March 2002, Fifth Group Special Forces, an elite group whose members speak Arabic, Pashtun, and Dari, that is apparently different from Task Force 5, is sent from Afghanistan to Iraq (see March 2002).
The US Air Force’s only two specially-equipped spy planes that had successfully intercepted the radio transmissions and cell phone calls of al-Qaeda’s leaders are pulled from Afghanistan to conduct surveillance over Iraq. NSA satellites are “boreholed,” (or redirected) from Afghanistan to Iraq as well
(see May 2002).
Almost all Predator drones are withdrawn from Afghanistan and apparently moved to the Persian Gulf region for missions over Iraq (see April 2002).
More personnel will shift to Iraq in late 2002 and early 2003 (see Late 2002-Early 2003). In 2007, retired US Gen. James L. Jones, a former NATO supreme commander, will say that Iraq caused the US to “take its eye off the ball” in Afghanistan. [New York Times, 8/12/2007]
Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, National Security Agency, Thomas Franks, George W. Bush, Flynt Leverett, Al-Qaeda, James L. Jones, Bush administration (43), Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, Central Intelligence Agency, Taliban
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
The US State Department asks the government of Brazil to remove Jose Bustani from his position as director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), because the US is uncomfortable with his “management style” and his plan to convince Iraq to join the OPCW (see Between January 20, 2001 and June 2001). Brazil refuses. George Monbiot of the Guardian will note that the request is in violation of the chemical weapons convention, which states: “The director-general… shall not seek or receive instructions from any government.” [Guardian, 4/16/2002]
The CIA leadership informs the two veteran CIA agents working on Anabasis (see Late November 2001 or December 2001), CIA agents Luis (his full name has not been disclosed) and John Maguire, that the plan needs to be ready for implementation by January 2003. Maguire will later recall the message being: “Be ready to turn this thing on by January 2003. Be ready to go in a year. You got a year.” Maguire understands this to mean that the decision to invade Iraq has been made. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 12]
Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz orders the CIA to conduct an investigation of Hans Blix, chairman of the new UN weapons inspection team (UNMOVIC) that will go to Iraq if Saddam Hussein agrees to re-admit the weapons inspectors. Wolfowitz feels that past investigations of Saddam’s declared nuclear power plants under the authority of Hans Blix were not sufficiently aggressive. The CIA reports back in late January that Blix conducted his past investigations “fully within the parameters he could operate” as chief of the agency. There are two opposing accounts of how Wolfowitz responds to the report’s conclusion. According to an anonymous former State Department official, Wolfowitz “hit the ceiling” upon learning the results because it did not provide a pretext for undermining Blix and UNMOVIC. However an administration official disputes this, claiming that he “did not angrily respond.” [Washington Post, 4/15/2002; Guardian, 4/23/2002; Independent, 5/10/2002] The Washington Post notes, “[T]he request for a CIA investigation underscored the degree of concern by Wolfowitz and his civilian colleagues in the Pentagon that new inspections—or protracted negotiations over them—could torpedo their plans for military action to remove Hussein from power” and ultimately lead to the suspension of sanctions. [Washington Post, 4/15/2002]
Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz proposes that President Bush should declare Ramzi Yousef an “enemy combatant.” Yousef is already in the “Supermax” prison, the most secure prison in the US, after being sentenced to life in prison for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing years before. But Wolfowitz contends that as an enemy combatant, heavy interrogation could get Yousef to admit he bombed the WTC on behalf of the Iraqi government. However, Wolfowitz’s proposal is strongly opposed by the FBI, which asserts that theories tying Yousef to the Iraqi government had been repeatedly investigated and debunked. Further, Yousef doesn’t meet any of the criteria the White House had laid out for designating enemy combatants. “At one point, the high-level discussions apparently prompted a top Bureau of Prisons official to make an unauthorized entry to Yousef’s [Supermax cell] to sound out his willingness to talk—a move that prompted strong protests to the Justice Department from the bomber’s lawyer…” The issue is debated until the start of the Iraq war, at which point apparently Wolfowitz loses interest. One lawyer involved in the discussions will later recall, “We talked it to death.” [Newsweek, 4/21/2004]
Former ambassador Joseph Wilson has numerous conversations with Brent Scowcroft, the former national security adviser to the first President Bush (see September 1998), and the head of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, about what Wilson sees as the worrisome drive to war with Iraq in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Wilson is particularly worried about the neoconservatives in the current Bush administration and their call for the implementation of the Iraq Liberation Act (see October 31, 1998) by declaring war against Iraq. Scowcroft is dismissive of the administration neoconservatives, calling them “right-wing nuts” and assuring Wilson, “They will not win the policy.” Wilson is not so sure, telling Scowcroft that, as he will write in 2004, “[w]e were committing our future… to a band of fanatics whose approach was the opposite of that pursued by the first President Bush, or articulated by candidate George W. Bush (see October 3, 2000 and October 11, 2000)…” Wilson believes, wrongly that Scowcroft’s “sage counsel [is] being listened to in the White House” (see October 16, 2001). [Wilson, 2004, pp. 290-291]
Vice President Dick Cheney, sometimes accompanied by his chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, visits the offices of US intelligence analysts working at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia “approximately 10” times. He interrogates them on their intelligence work on Iraq. Some analysts later complain that Cheney’s visits made them feel pressured to provide the administration with conclusions that supported the case for war. Other analysts will say they did not feel pressured. [Washington Post, 6/5/2003; Sydney Morning Herald, 6/5/2003; Guardian, 7/17/2003; Bamford, 2004, pp. 336; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 242] Michael Sulick, deputy chief of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, will later recall, “It was like they were hoping we’d find something buried in the files or come back with a different answer.” As a result of these visits, Sulick believes that agency analysts became “overly eager to please.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 4-5] According to Ray McGovern, a 27-year veteran CIA analyst, these visits were “unprecedented.” [Common Dreams, 7/23/2003] In 2006, author Craig Unger will call the visits “a highly irregular occurrence.” Former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman will recall: “I was at the CIA for 24 years. The only time a vice president came to the CIA building was for a ceremony, to cut a ribbon, to stand on a stage, but not to harangue analysts about finished intelligence.… When they go, it’s usually for some ceremonial reason, to hand out an award or to cut a ribbon. Then they get the hell out.” Former DIA analyst Patrick Lang will say: “Many, many of them [CIA analysts] have told me they were pressured. And there are a lot of ways. Pressure takes a lot of forms.” A State Department official will note: “For the vice president to be meeting with analysts, that was a real red flag. It was so unusual. It was clear that people were being leaned on. Usually, if a high-ranking official wants information, it gets tasked out through appropriate channels. It was highly unusual to lock these people in a room and keep pressing. It crossed the line between… intellectual inquiry and not accepting the real answer.” Another intelligence source says: “[Cheney] wanted them to make a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda. He already got them to agree on nuclear weapons. But he wanted the al-Qaeda connection.” Retired CIA officer Richard Kerr, brought back to the agency to study intelligence failures, later describes “overwhelming consumer demand” on agency analysts, which Kerr will say results in flawed intelligence reports. The pressure brought on analysts, another source says, is “brutal.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 211; Unger, 2007, pp. 262-263] Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) also makes visits to CIA headquarters in Langley. [Guardian, 7/17/2003]
As the United States and its allies ready themselves for war with Iraq, numerous press reports say that the US military may use newly-developed “directed energy” weapons during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Directed energy weapons (DEW) are based on laser technology. The most advanced DEW and most likely to be actually deployed is a high-powered microwave (HPM) used to destroy enemy electronics by releasing an electro-magnectic pulse or EMP, akin to an electric surge caused by lightning. The danger of an electro-magnetic pulse was first realized in the 1960s during nuclear weapons research. A nuclear explosion can release enough radiation to “fry” electronic equipment. The US and Soviet militaries are known to have devoted considerable efforts to harden their equipment against such damage. Since the 1980s, the United States has also researched the use of a high-powered microwave as an offensive weapon to disable enemy communications, electric, and computing equipment. Such research has taken place primarily at Kirtland Air Force Base, in New Mexico, under the purview of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Directed Energy Directorate. The Kirtland center has about 600 employees and a 120 million dollars annual budget. US companies such as TRW, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin are also involved in the field. [Economist, 1/30/2003; Reuters, 2/2/2003; New York Times, 2/20/2003; Associated Press, 3/19/2003]
Vice President Dick Cheney makes an unusually personal plea to President Bush to redirect the US war on terror to focus on Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Several of Bush’s senior aides have argued the point before, but until now the US strategy has been to root out al-Qaeda from Afghanistan. Cheney argues that in 1991 he was part of the team that created what he now believes to be a flawed policy—leaving Hussein in power after the Gulf War—and now Bush can correct that error (see February 1991-1992). Cheney’s argument is very successful. “The reason that Cheney was able to sell Bush the policy is that he was able to say, ‘I’ve changed,’” a senior administration official will say. “‘I used to have the same position as [James] Baker, [Brent] Scowcroft, and your father—and here’s why it’s wrong.’” By late February or early March of 2002, Bush has swung to the position Cheney advocates, so much so that he interrupts a meeting between National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and three senators to boast: “F_ck Saddam. We’re taking him out” (see (March 2002)). [New Republic, 11/20/2003] According to his 2008 book What Happened, deputy press secretary Scott McClellan isn’t sure why Cheney is so determined to invade Iraq. McClellan will state flatly that “some, like Cheney, [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld, and [Deputy Defense Secretary Paul] Wolfowitz were evidently pursuing their own agendas,” and will note that “[t]he most significant of their personal agendas was probably Cheney’s, given his closeness to the president and his influence over him.” Because of “Cheney’s personality and his penchant for secrecy,” McClellan believes his agenda “is the most likely to remain unknown.” Whether Cheney was driven to “finish the job he started as defense secretary in 1991,” when the US invaded Iraq but did not topple the Hussein regime (see January 16, 1991 and After), or whether he sought to “give America more influence over Iraq’s oil reserves,” McClellan is unsure. McClellan will write that Condoleezza Rice, President Bush’s top foreign policy adviser, should have stood up to the “forceful personalities” of Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz, “rather than deferring to them.” But, he will write, “my later experiences with Condi led me to believe that she was more interested in figuring out where the president stood and just carrying out his wishes while expending only cursory effort on helping him understand all the considerations and potential consequences” of an invasion. Bush, McClellan will observe, is “intellectually incurious” and prone to make decisions based on instinct rather than “deep intellectual debate.” McClellan believes that Bush’s mistakes “could have been prevented had his beliefs been properly vetted and challenged by his top advisers. Bush’s top advisers, especially those on his national security team, allowed the president to be put in the position he is in today. His credibility has been shattered and his public standing seemingly irreparably damaged.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 145-146]
Senator John McCain (R-AZ), speaking before US troops on the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt in the Arabian Sea, shouts out, “Next stop, Baghdad!” [New York Times, 8/16/2008]
Some of the weapons found aboard the ‘Karine A.’ [Source: Associated Press / BBC]Israeli commandos seize a freighter, the “Karine A” (or “Karin A”), in the Red Sea 300 miles off the coast of Israel, in an operation dubbed “Operation Noah’s Ark.” Eli Marum, an Israeli Navy operations chief, says the operation took less than eight minutes and did not require a single shot being fired. “The crew was fully surprised,” he says. “They did not anticipate that we would strike so far out into the Red Sea.” Israeli officials claim the freighter contains a large store of Iranian-supplied weapons—including Katyusha rockets capable of destroying tanks, mortars, grenades, Kalashnikov assault rifles, anti-tank missiles, high explosives, and two speedboats—for use by Palestinian fighters against Israeli targets. The Palestinian Authority is forbidden by treaty to own such weaponry. Israel also claims that the captain of the freighter, Omar Akawi, has direct ties to the Palestinian Authority and to its leader, Yasser Arafat. (According to Israeli sources, Akawi claims he is a member of Arafat’s organization Fatah.) Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer tells European Union (EU) authorities that the freighter “was purchased by the Palestinian Authority after September 11” and that “the whole operation was managed and funded by the Palestinian Authority in cooperation with Iran and other sources.” [BBC, 1/10/2002; Guardian, 1/21/2002; Jewish Virtual Library, 2009] “What Iran is trying to do is create another base, besides its base in Lebanon” to threaten Israel, says Major General Giora Eiland, the Israeli Army’s chief of planning. [New York Times, 1/12/2002]
Arafat's Denials - Initially, Arafat denies any connection whatsoever with the shipment, accusing Israel of fomenting a propaganda attack to thwart US-led efforts to implement a cease-fire agreement, and says Israel “fabricated” the whole affair. Ahmed Abdel Rahman, the secretary general of the Palestinian cabinet, calls the operation “an Israeli trap.” Later, Arafat continues to insist that he had no involvement in the affair, but admits that he cannot control “everyone” in the Palestinian Authority. American and Israeli intelligence officials note that the weaponry on board the “Karine A” is similar to that of a “wish list” allegedly drawn up by senior Palestinian officials under Arafat’s direction. [New York Times, 1/12/2002; Jewish Virtual Library, 2009]
Propaganda by Israel? - Some, such as Guardian reporter Brian Whitaker, believe that Israel is using the incident to persuade the EU to stop funding the Palestinian Authority. And, Whitaker notes, Israeli lawmakers and pundits such as former President Benjamin Netanyahu are using the incident to argue that the idea of Palestinian statehood be permanently scrapped. Whatever the truth of the matter, the attempts suffer setbacks when documents show that an Iraqi, Ali Mohamed Abbas, purchased the ship, and other records disprove the Israelis’ claims about the ship’s cargo, which Israel says it picked up in Yemen. It seems clear that the freighter was indeed carrying weapons, but little of Israel’s other claims—they were Iranian in origin and intended for Palestinian use against Israel—are borne out by ascertainable facts.
Hezbollah Connection? - American intelligence sources later speculate that the weapons may have been intended for Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shi’ite militant organization with close ties to Iran, and not the Palestinians. Israel is initially resistant to the idea, but Israeli defense sources later tell Israeli reporters that it was “certainly possible that some of the arms were earmarked for Hizbullah,” though it is certain that most “were clearly bound for the Palestinian Authority.” Whitaker echoes skeptics’ disbelief about the Hezbollah claim, noting that there are easier and more secure methods of delivering arms to Lebanon than a risky sea voyage past Israeli patrol boats. [Guardian, 1/21/2002] Israel names reputed senior Hezbollah security officer Imad Mughniyeh as a key figure in the incident. Mughniyeh has not been heard from for years by Western intelligence, but is wanted by the FBI for his participation in kidnapping Americans in Beirut during the 1980s and the hijacking of a TWA passenger plane. The BBC reports, “Correspondents say the Israeli government has been going to great lengths to convince Washington that the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is linked to Tehran and the pro-Iranian Hezbollah, and hence to what it sees as international terrorism.” [BBC, 1/10/2002]
Iranian Connection Unlikely - And the Iranian connection is similarly hard to swallow. Though Israel insists that the arms prove a new and disturbing connection between Iran and Palestinian militants, Whitaker writes, “most non-Israeli observers of Iran ridicule the idea totally, for a variety of historical, political and religious reasons. It also conflicts with the foreign policies adopted by [Iranian] President [Mohamed] Khatami.” He goes on to add: “The trouble with Iran, though—as one Iranian exile remarked last week—is that it has two governments and 10,000 leaders. If you are going to pin blame, you have to determine which one is responsible.” Whitaker is referring to Iran’s religious and secular leaders, who are often at odds with one another, and to the propensity of Iranian leaders from both sides to conduct independent operations without “official” government sanction. [Guardian, 1/21/2002] The New York Times notes: “Iran’s government has dismissed the Israeli accusations. But Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have discretionary funds and access to weapons, and they often run operations independent of the elected government of… Khatami.” [New York Times, 1/12/2002] The “Karine A” incident helps prompt Bush officials to include Iran as a member of the so-called “axis of evil,” disrupting backchannel negotiations between Iranian and US officials (see January 29, 2002).
Entity Tags: Fatah al-Islam, Omar Akawi, Giora Eiland, Hezbollah, Eli Marum, Bush administration (43), Brian Whitaker, Ahmed Abdel Rahman, Yasser Arafat, Hojjat ol-Eslam Seyyed Mohammad Khatami, Imad Mughniyeh, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, Benjamin Netanyahu, Ali Mohamed Abbas
Timeline Tags: US International Relations
The “military analysts” named by the New York Times as participants in the Pentagon’s propaganda operation to manipulate public opinion on the Iraq war (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) appear over 4,500 times on network and television news broadcasts between January 1, 2002 and May 13, 2008. The news outlets included in the May 13, 2008 count, performed by the media watchdog group Media Matters, includes ABC, ABC News Now, CBS, CBS Radio Network, NBC, CNN, CNN Headline News, Fox News, MSNBC, CNBC, and NPR. Media Matters uses the Lexis/Nexis database to compile their report. Media Matters releases a spreadsheet documenting each analyst’s appearance on each particular broadcast outlet. [Media Matters, 5/13/2008] Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald notes, “If anything, the Media Matters study actually under-counts the appearances, since it only counted ‘the analysts named in the Times article,’ and several of the analysts who were most active in the Pentagon’s propaganda program weren’t mentioned by name in that article.” [Salon, 5/15/2008]
Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, New York Times, National Public Radio, Media Matters, CNBC, CBS News, ABC News, NBC, Fox News, MSNBC, Glenn Greenwald, CNN
Timeline Tags: US Military, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda
Two analysts in CIA’s WINPAC division review the Niger documents and notice some inconsistencies. But as they later explain to congressional investigators, they don’t see anything “jumping out at [them] that the documents [are] forgeries.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 164] By this time, at least three other US intelligence analysts, and one Italian journalist have reviewed the documents and raised questions about their authenticity (see Afternoon October 7, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, and Mid-October 2002).
After more than two months and more than 350 inspections, the UN teams have failed to find the arsenal of banned weapons the US and Britain claim Iraq has. Nor are there any signs of programs to build such weapons. The London Observer reports that International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors are convinced Iraq does not have a reconstituted nuclear weapons program. “IAEA officials and intelligence sources admit it is extremely unlikely that Iraq has nuclear weapons squirreled away,” The Observer reports, explaining that “… the IAEA [had] revealed that analysis of samples taken by UN nuclear inspectors in Iraq… showed no evidence of prohibited nuclear activity.” [Observer, 1/26/2003; Los Angeles Times, 1/26/2003; Washington Post, 12/27/2003]
Referring to the UN weapons inspectors’ upcoming report (see January 27, 2003), Colin Powell says in an interview with Saturday’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung, “We believe that at the end of the month it will be convincingly proven that Iraq is not cooperating.” [BBC, 1/18/2003]
Ramzi bin al-Shibh attempts to obtain a false passport, but fails to do so as he cannot afford one and a group controlled by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi refuses to pay for him. Bin al-Shibh, already known as a key 9/11 plotter at this time, presumably desires the passport so he can make a trip outside Pakistan, where he will be interviewed in April (see April, June, or August 2002). He tries to obtain it from the terrorist organization Ansar al-Islam, which is associated with al-Zarqawi. In a conversation monitored by the police, Ansar operatives discuss using money from fake ID operations to pay for bin al-Shibh, but decide not to do so as, according to the Wall Street Journal, “Mr. Zarqawi… had allocated all the available profits to pay for passports for his own fighters,” and bin al-Shibh “isn’t part of the al Tawhid [another group associated with Ansar and al-Zarqawi] structure, and has no position in the hierarchy.” [Wall Street Journal, 4/14/2004]
Two weeks after Justice Department lawyers John Yoo and Robert Delahunty write a memo saying that the US should not be bound by international laws covering warfare and torture (see January 9, 2002), White House counsel Alberto Gonzales concurs (see January 25, 2002), saying: “In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions.” [Mother Jones, 1/9/2002] But others inside and outside the administration strongly disagree. Many will later point to Yoo and Delahunty’s memo as providing the “spark” for the torture and prisoner abuses reported from Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison (see Evening November 7, 2003), Guantanamo Bay (see December 28, 2001), and other clandestine prisoner detention centers (see March 2, 2007). Human Rights Watch director Kenneth Roth will call the memo a “maliciously ideological or deceptive” document that ignores US obligations under multiple international agreements. “You can’t pick or choose what laws you’re going to follow,” Roth will observe. “These political lawyers set the nation on a course that permitted the abusive interrogation techniques” disclosed in later months. Scott Horton, president of the International League for Human Rights, agrees. When you read the memo, Horton says, “the first thing that comes to mind is that this is not a lofty statement of policy on behalf of the United States. You get the impression very quickly that it is some very clever criminal defense lawyers trying to figure out how to weave and bob around the law and avoid its applications.” Two days later, the State Department, whose lawyers are “horrified” by the Yoo memo, vehemently disagrees with its position (see
January 11, 2002). Three weeks later, State again criticizes the memo (see February 2, 2002). State senior counsel William Howard Taft IV points out that the US depends itself on the even observations of international law, and that following Yoo’s recommendations may undermine attempts to prosecute detainees under that same body of law. Secretary of State Colin Powell “hit[s] the roof” when he reads Gonzales’s response to the Yoo memo, warning that adopting such a legal practice “will reverse over a century of US policy and practice” and have “a high cost in terms of negative international reaction” (see January 26, 2002). The Bush administration will give in a bit to Powell’s position, announcing that it will allow Geneva to apply to the Afghan war—but not to Taliban and al-Qaeda prisoners. State Department lawyers call it a “hollow” victory for Powell, leaving the administration’s position essentially unchanged. [Newsweek, 5/21/2004; Newsweek, 5/24/2004]
Entity Tags: Robert J. Delahunty, Human Rights Watch, Colin Powell, Alberto R. Gonzales, International League for Human Rights, John C. Yoo, Kenneth Roth, William Howard Taft IV, Scott Horton, US Department of State
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
President Bush says of the detainees held at Guantanamo prison in Cuba, “We are adhering to the spirit of the Geneva Convention. They’re being well treated.” He also says, “We are not going to call them prisoners of war. And the reason why is al-Qaeda is not a known military. These are killers, these are terrorists, they know no countries.” [Associated Press, 1/29/2002]
President Bush’s State of the Union speech describes an “axis of evil” consisting of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. Osama bin Laden is not mentioned in the speech. [US President, 2/4/2002] Bush says: “States like these and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic.” Bush goes on to suggest for the first time that the US might be prepared to launch pre-emptive wars by saying, “The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.” [Vanity Fair, 5/2004] When Bush advisor Richard Perle was asked one month before 9/11 about new challenges the US faced, he replied by naming these exact three countries (see August 6, 2001). Michael Gerson, head of the White House speechwriting team at the time, will later claim that, as Newsweek will later put it, “Bush was already making plans to topple Saddam Hussein, but he wasn’t ready to say so.” Iran and North Korea are inserted into the speech in order to avoid focusing solely on Iraq. The speech is followed by a new public focus on Iraq and a downplaying of bin Laden (see September 15, 2001-April 6, 2002). Prior to the speech, the Iranian government had been very helpful in the US fight against the Taliban, since the Taliban and Iran were enemies. [Newsweek, 2/12/2007] At the time, al-Qaeda operatives had been streaming into Iran from Afghanistan following the defeat of the Taliban. Iran has been turning over hundreds of suspects to US allies and providing US intelligence with the names, photographs, and fingerprints of those it is holding. [Washington Post, 2/10/2007] Newsweek will later say that it is “beyond doubt” the Iranian government was “critical… to stabilizing [Afghanistan] after the fall of Kabul.” But all this cooperation comes to an end after the speech. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Hossein Adeli will later say that “Those [inside the Iranian government] who were in favor of a rapprochement with the United States were marginalized. The speech somehow exonerated those who had always doubted America’s intentions.” [Newsweek, 2/12/2007] In August 2003, reporter Jeffrey St. Clair will write that “the Axis of Evil [is not] an ‘axis’ at all, since two of the states, Iran and Iraq, hate… each other, and neither [have] anything at all to do with the third, North Korea.” [CounterPunch, 8/13/2003]
Uzi Arad. [Source: Jerusalem Post]Israeli officials tell Bush officials shortly after the president’s “axis of evil” speech (see January 29, 2002) that of the three countries on the list—Iran, Iraq, and North Korea—Iraq is a distant third as far as posing any threat to its neighbors. But Bush officials have a plan. According to former Mossad director of intelligence Uzi Arad, who served as Benjamin Netanyahu’s foreign policy advisor, those officials respond, “Let’s do first things first. Once we do Iraq, we’ll have a military presence in Iraq, which would enable us to handle the Iranians from closer quarters, would give us more leverage.” (Netanyahu, in the years following his term as Israel’s prime minister, will become an outspoken advocate for military strikes against Iran—see November 17, 2006). [Vanity Fair, 3/2007]
The State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) sends Colin Powell a memo warning that the current draft (see January 30-February 4, 2003) of Powell’s UN speech contains 38 “weak” and “unsubstantiated” allegations. It says the allegation that Saddam has plans to conceal his WMDs is from mostly “questionable sources” and that the alleged decontamination vehicles—purported to be evidence of Iraqi WMD—are “water trucks that can have legitimate uses.” The memo emphatically warns that the section on the aluminum tubes is “WEAK” and contains “egregious errors.” It also disputes the speech’s claim that terrorists “could come through Baghdad and pick-up biological weapons.” As a result of the memo’s warnings, 28 of the 38 allegations identified by INR as weak are removed from the draft. Two days later, three more claims are removed when INR objects to seven more of the speech’s allegations. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 179]
Australian Ambassador to the United Nations John Dauth tells Trevor Flugge, chairman of Australian Wheat Board (AWB), that the Australian government intends to participate in a US-led effort to overthrow Saddam Hussein. At a subsequent AWB board meeting held on February 27, Flugge tells boardmembers that Dauth “believed US military action to depose Saddam Hussein was inevitable and that at this time the Australian Government would support and participate in such action.” Dauth predicted that Baghdad’s offer to permit the return of UN weapons inspectors would be “likely to stave off US action for 12 to 18 months but that some military action was inevitable.” [Board, 2/27/2002, pp. 10 ; Sydney Morning Herald, 11/22/2006]
President Bush orders the CIA to start focusing on Iraq, and find evidence that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. CIA analysts will not find any hard evidence of Iraqi WMDs. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 169]
Ahmed Chalabi. [Source: Associated Press]In an interview with the Guardian of London, Ahmed Chalabi describes his plan to overthrow the Iraqi government. “The United States will help us to train and equip light anti-tank battalions, well-trained, and highly mobile. Those people, once on the ground, will be able to defeat Saddam’s forces.” Just 11 weeks of training would be adequate to train the Iraqi National Congress’ forces to defeat Iraq’s army of 400,000, he insists. “Chalabi gave a theoretical example: a rebel incursion across the Kuwaiti border to capture a frontier town. The rebel force would be protected from counter-attack by US air power, and within days the key southern city of Basra would fall as its garrison mutinied.” According to Chalabi, Saddam would quickly lose his grip on the country. “Once that happens, our problem will not be finding people—our problem will be absorbing people,” Chalabi claims. [New Yorker, 6/7/2004]
Vice President Dick Cheney prepares for a March trip to the Middle East. According to public statements by the Bush administration, Cheney will be conferring with Arab leaders on US Iraq policy. However, a senior Bush administration official tells the Philadelphia Inquirer: “He’s not going to beg for support. He’s going to inform them that the president’s decision has been made and will be carried out, and if they want some input into how and when it’s carried out, now’s the time for them to speak up.” [Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/13/2002]
At a NATO security conference in Munich, Germany, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) publicly argues that the US should invade Iraq. He says: “A terrorist resides in Baghdad.… A day of reckoning is approaching.” He argues that attacking Iraq in addition to Afghanistan would force other state sponsors of terrorism to stop supporting terrorists, “accomplishing by example what we would otherwise have to pursue through force of arms.” According to a later account by the New York Times, McCain “[urges] the Europeans to join what he portrayed as an all but certain assault on Saddam Hussein.” McCain concludes: “Just as Sept. 11 revolutionized our resolve to defeat our enemies, so has it brought into focus the opportunities we now have to secure and expand our freedom.… A better world is already emerging from the rubble.” [New York Times, 8/16/2008]
The Defense Intelligence Agency issues a four-page Defense Intelligence Terrorism Summary (DITSUM No. 044-02) stating that it is probable that prisoner Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi intentionally misled debriefers when he claimed Iraq was supporting al-Qaeda in working with illicit weapons. During interviews with al-Libi, the DIA noted the Libyan al-Qaeda operative could not name any Iraqis involved, any chemical or biological material used, or where the alleged training took place. “It is possible he does not know any further details; it is more likely this individual is intentionally misleading the debriefers,” the report says. “Ibn al-Shaykh has been undergoing debriefs for several weeks and may be describing scenarios to the debriefers that he knows will retain their interest.” The DIA report is presumably circulated widely within the government, and is available to the CIA, the White House, the Pentagon, the National Security Council, and other agencies.
No Evidence of Connections between Iraq, al-Qaeda - On the general subject of Iraq’s alleged ties to al-Qaeda, the DIA report notes: “Saddam [Hussein]‘s regime is intensely secular and is wary of Islamic revolutionary movements. Moreover, Baghdad is unlikely to provide assistance to a group it cannot control.” The report also questions the reliability of information provided by high-value al-Qaeda detainees being held in secret CIA facilities or who have been “rendered” to foreign countries where they are believed to undergo harsh interrogation tactics.
Using al-Libi's Information to Bolster Case for War - Information supplied by al-Libi will be the basis for a claim included in an October 2002 speech (see October 7, 2002) by President Bush, in which he states, “[W]e’ve learned that Iraq has trained al-Qaeda members in bomb making and poisons and gases.” Intelligence provided by al-Libi will also be included in Colin Powell’s February speech (see February 5, 2003) to the UN. In that speech, Powell will cite “the story of a senior terrorist operative telling how Iraq provided training in these weapons to al-Qaeda.” [New York Times, 11/6/2005; Washington Post, 11/6/2005; Los Angeles Times, 11/7/2005; Newsweek, 11/10/2005]
Report Released as Proof of Administration's Reliance on Poor Intelligence Sources - Declassified portions of the DIA report will be issued on November 6, 2005 by two senators, Carl Levin (D-MI) and John D. Rockefeller (D-WV). Rockefeller will tell CNN that al-Libi is “an entirely unreliable individual upon whom the White House was placing a substantial intelligence trust.” The situation was, Rockefeller will say, “a classic example of a lack of accountability to the American people.” [Los Angeles Times, 11/7/2005]
Entity Tags: Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, US Department of Defense, National Security Council, George W. Bush, Saddam Hussein, Colin Powell, Al-Qaeda, Defense Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), John D. Rockefeller, Carl Levin, Central Intelligence Agency
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
Norman Podhoretz, the editor of the neoconservative magazine Commentary, writes a call to arms called “How to Win World War IV.” For Podhoretz, the US has already won World War III—the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Now, he asserts, it is time to win the war against Islamist terrorism. The US must embrace this war against civilizations, and President Bush must accept that it is his mission “to fight World War IV—the war against militant Islam.” To win this war, Podhoretz writes, the nations of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea must be overthrown, but also Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority. Bush must reject the “timorous counsels” of the “incorrigibly cautious Colin Powell [and] find the stomach to impose a new political culture on the defeated” Islamic world. The 9/11 attacks caused the US to destroy the Afghan Taliban in the process of battling al-Qaeda, Podhoretz writes: “We may willy-nilly find ourselves forced… to topple five or six or seven more tyrannies in the Islamic world (including that other sponsor of terrorism, Yasir Arafat’s Palestinian Authority). I can even [imagine] the turmoil of this war leading to some new species of an imperial mission for America, whose purpose would be to oversee the emergence of successor governments in the region more amenable to reform and modernization than the despotisms now in place.… I can also envisage the establishment of some kind of American protectorate over the oil fields of Saudi Arabia, as we more and more come to wonder why 7,000 princes should go on being permitted to exert so much leverage over us and everyone else.” A year later, conservative pundit Pat Buchanan will explain why Podhoretz wants to so drastically remake the map of the Middle East: “[O]ne nation, one leader, one party. Israel, [Ariel] Sharon, Likud.” [Commentary, 2/2002; American Conservative, 3/24/2003]
Though the CIA has chosen not to add anything about the Iraq-Niger allegations (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, October 15, 2001, October 18, 2001, November 20, 2001, February 5, 2002, March 1, 2002, Late April or Early May 2002-June 2002, and Late June 2002) to the President’s Daily Briefing, it issues a new report on the purported deal, including what it calls “verbatim text” of the agreement between Iraq and Niger (see February 5, 2002). The neoconservatives in the Pentagon (see Early 2002), in author Craig Unger’s words, “pounce… on the new material, and quickly begin working on their own reports that will allege Iraqi attempts to buy enough uranium to make nuclear weapons.” [US Congress, 7/7/2004; Unger, 2007, pp. 239]
The CIA Directorate of Operations issues a second intelligence report from SISMI, Italy’s military intelligence service, on Iraq’s alleged agreement with Niger to purchase 500 tons of uranium annually. This report provides details that were not included in Italy’s October 15 report (see October 15, 2001), including a “verbatim text” of the accord. (It is not clear what the source is for the “verbatim text”. [ERiposte, 3/6/2006] ) According to the report, the purported agreement was signed by Iraqi and Niger officials during meetings held July 5-6, 2000. [US Congress, 7/7/2004; Knight Ridder, 11/4/2005] The SISMI report also draws attention to a 1999 trip to Niger made by Wissam al-Zahawie (see February 1999), Iraq’s former ambassador to the Vatican, and alleges that its mission was to discuss the future purchase of uranium. This is the first report from SISMI that names al-Zahawie and refers directly to his 1999 trip. (SISMI’s previous report had only stated that negotiations had begun by at least 1999.) This report, as well as the previous report, is based on the forged Niger documents. [New Yorker, 10/27/2003; US Congress, 7/7/2004; ERiposte, 11/3/2005] Analysts at the CIA and the DIA are more impressed with the detail and substance of this second report, but analysts at the Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) remain skeptical of the report’s allegations noting that it was unlikely that Niger would sell uranium to Iraq because the Nigeriens would have considered the risk of being caught too great. An INR analyst asks the CIA if the source of the report would submit to a polygraph. A CIA analyst who also asks about the source is told by the DO that the source is “very credible.” [US Congress, 7/7/2004]
Vice Admiral Thomas R. Wilson, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, submits a written testimony, titled Global Threats and Challenges, to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. He says that the agency’s “near-term concerns” include another terrorist attack, a major war between India and Pakistan; the worsening of civil unrest within Pakistan; and violence against US interests in Colombia, the Philippines, and Indonesia. Notably, he does not include Iraq as a near-term concern. Rather, in the section devoted to Iraq, he writes: “The on-going UN sanctions and US military presence continue to be the keys to restraining Saddam’s ambitions. Indeed, years of UN sanctions, embargoes, and inspections, combined with US and Coalition military actions, have significantly degraded Iraq’s military capabilities. Saddam’s military forces are much smaller and weaker than those he had in 1991. Manpower and equipment shortages, a problematic logistics system, and fragile military morale remain major shortcomings. Saddam’s paranoia and lack of trust—and related oppression and mistreatment—extend to the military, and are a drain on military effectiveness. Nevertheless, Iraq’s ground forces continue to be one of the most formidable within the region. They can move rapidly and pose a threat to Iraq’s neighbors. Baghdad’s air and air defense forces retain only a marginal defensive capability. The Air Force cannot effectively project air power outside Iraq’s borders. Still, Saddam continues to threaten Coalition forces in the No Fly Zones, and remains committed to interfering with Coalition military operations monitoring his military activities.” [US Congress, 2/6/2001]
The New York Times reports, “[S]enior American intelligence officials have concluded that the meeting between Mr. Atta and the Iraqi officer, Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, did take place. But they say they do not believe that the meeting provides enough evidence to tie Iraq to the Sept. 11 attacks.” A month and a half earlier, the same newspaper had reported that sources in the Czech Republic thought that it had been a different “Mohamed Atta” who had met al-Ani (see December 16, 2001). [CNN, 11/9/2001; New York Times, 12/16/2001 Sources: Unnamed Senior US intelligence officials]
Unnamed US intelligence officials tell the New York Times that the CIA has no evidence that Saddam Hussein’s government has participated in any militant operations against the United States in nearly a decade. The agency also believes that Saddam Hussein has not provided chemical or biological weapons to al-Qaeda or other militant Islamic organizations. [New York Times, 2/6/2002 Sources: Unnamed US Intelligence Officials]
George Tenet tells the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, “Our major near-term concern is the possibility that Saddam might gain access to fissile material, . . . [and] with substantial foreign assistance, [Iraq] could flight-test a longer-range ballistic missile within the next five years.” [Chicago Tribune, 2/7/2002]
In a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, 48 percent of the respondents believe that Iraq has “weapons that threaten US.” [USA Today, 2/11/2002]
Secretary of State Colin Powell gives testimony before a Senate committee, following President Bush’s State of the Union address labeling Iran, Iraq, and North Korea as the “axis of evil” (see January 29, 2002). Powell promises that there is no plan start a war with Iran or North Korea, but “with respect to Iraq it has long been, for several years now, a policy of the United States government that regime change would be in the best interests of the region, the best interests of the Iraqi people. And we are looking into a variety of options that would bring that about.” Afterwards, unnamed senior administration officials tell the New York Times, “There [is] a consensus within the [Bush] administration that [Saddam Hussein] must be overthrown and that plans to do so are being drawn up. But there is no agreement as to how precisely that should be done or how long the United States should be prepared to wait for action.” [Vanity Fair, 5/2004]
Senior Bush administration officials say President Bush has decided to oust Iraqi despot Saddam Hussein from power. “This is not an argument about whether to get rid of Saddam Hussein,” one official says. “That debate is over. This is… how you do it.”
CIA, Pentagon Making Plans for Regime Change - Bush has ordered the CIA, the Pentagon, and other agencies to come up with a plan combining military, diplomatic, and covert actions to force Hussein from power. A military strike is not yet imminent, but Bush has decided that Hussein and his putative weapons of mass destruction are such a threat to US security that he must be removed from power, even if US allies do not help. The CIA has already presented Bush with a plan to destabilize Hussein’s regime, incorporating covert action campaigns, sabotage, information warfare, and stepped-up bombing runs throughout the northern and southern “no-fly” zones. Bush is reportedly enthusiastic about the plan, and the CIA has begun assigning officers to the task. Reporters Warren P. Strobel and John Walcott write: “The president’s decision has launched the United States on a course that will have major ramifications for the US military, the Middle East’s future political alignment, international oil flows, and Bush’s own war on terrorism.”
Some Allies Dubious - Allies such as Russia have already expressed grave doubts about the wisdom of such a series of actions, and military experts warn that any campaign in Iraq would be long, bloody, and difficult to bring to a satisfactory conclusion. Nevertheless, one foreign leader who recently met with Bush came away “with the feeling that a decision has been made to strike Iraq, and the ‘how’ and ‘when’ are still fluid,” according to a diplomat.
Cheney to Inform Middle Eastern Leaders of US Intentions - Vice President Cheney will soon depart for a visit to 11 Middle East nations; while the public explanation is that he wants to listen to those nations’ views on the US’s Iraq policy, in reality, Cheney will inform them that the US will overthrow the Hussein regime. One senior official says: “He’s not going to beg for support. He’s going to inform them that the president’s decision has been made and will be carried out, and if they want some input into how and when it’s carried out, now’s the time for them to speak up.” At least one Middle Eastern ally, Egypt, has reservations about such a plan. Egyptian Ambassador Nabil Fahmy said last week that Bush should keep the US focus on fighting international terrorism, where he has broad international backing. “If you mix two issues together, you will lose this focus,” he said.
Debate over Role of Chalabi, INC - There is still sharp debate within the administration over the role that Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress will play in the overthrow and subsequent realignment. Many neoconservatives, particularly in the offices of Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, tout Chalabi as the next leader of Iraq, but others are not sanguine about Chalabi and his organization, with CIA officials warning that the INC is riven by internal debate and undoubtedly riddled with spies from Iraq and Iran. [Knight Ridder, 2/13/2002]
Entity Tags: Warren Strobel, Saddam Hussein, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Ahmed Chalabi, Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush, Iraqi National Congress, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Nabil Fahmy, John Walcott, US Department of Defense
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) issues “a finished intelligence product” summarizing the February 5, 2002 SISMI report (see February 5, 2002). The report, entitled “Niamey Signed an Agreement to Sell 500 Tons of Uranium a Year to Baghdad,” states as irrefutable fact that Iraq intends to buy weapons-grade uranium from Niger (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, October 15, 2001, October 18, 2001, November 20, 2001, February 5, 2002, March 1, 2002, Late April or Early May 2002-June 2002, and Late June 2002). It concludes, “Iraq probably is searching abroad for natural uranium to assist in its nuclear weapons program.” It does not comment on the credibility of the sourcing. The report is sent directly to Vice President Dick Cheney. Within hours, Cheney directs the CIA (see February 5, 2002) to investigate the claims. According to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 2004 report on Iraqi WMD (see July 9, 2004), CIA and DIA analysts find the subsequent reports more informative and believable than the first, more sketchy reports (see February 5, 2002). The CIA’s Directorate of Operations tells one agency analyst that the report comes from a “very credible source.” Analysts with the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) continue to find the reports unconvincing. [US Congress, 7/7/2004; Unger, 2007, pp. 239] Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern will later describe Cheney’s receipt of this document as “odd.” “[I]n more than two years of briefing then-Vice President George H. W. Bush every other morning, not once did he ask a question about a DIA report or even indicate that he had read one,” McGovern will note. “That this particular report was given to Cheney almost certainly reflects the widespread practice of ‘cherry picking’ intelligence.” [AfterDowningStreet (.org), 7/25/2005]
Kenneth Adelman. [Source: PBS]Neoconservative Kenneth Adelman, who served as an assistant to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld from 1975-1977 and was arms control director in the Reagan administration, writes an op-ed for the Washington Post titled “Cakewalk in Iraq.” Adelman is straightforward in his insistence that defeating the Iraqi military and beginning a transition to a democratic government in Iraq will be a “cakewalk.” He derides predictions that the US could lose “thousands of troops in the process,” writing, “I believe demolishing Hussein’s military power and liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk.” He gives what he calls “simple, responsible reasons:” it was a cakewalk in 1991, Iraq is significantly weaker than during the Gulf War, and “now we’re playing for keeps.” Adelman details just how weak and insignificant the much-vaunted Iraqi ground forces are, and says that US forces are “much fiercer.” Between that quality and the sophisticated “gizmos”—unmanned Predator drones, “smart” bombs, and other technological wonders—Adelman says the Iraqi military should be routed with ease. He gives similar short shrift to the idea that the US needs to build a multinational coalition. In 1991, he writes, the US “engaged a grand international coalition because we lacked a domestic coalition. Virtually the entire Democratic leadership stood against that President Bush. The public, too, was divided.” The situation is different today. “This President Bush does not need to amass rinky-dink nations as ‘coalition partners’ to convince the Washington establishment that we’re right. Americans of all parties now know we must wage a total war on terrorism.” Saddam Hussein, and not Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda, is “the number one threat against American security and civilization. Unlike Osama bin Laden, he has billions of dollars in government funds, scores of government research labs working feverishly on weapons of mass destruction—and just as deep a hatred of America and civilized free societies.… Measured by any cost-benefit analysis, such an operation would constitute the greatest victory in America’s war on terrorism.” [Washington Post, 2/13/2002]
Vice President Dick Cheney asks his morning intelligence briefer, CIA briefer David Terry, about the Defense Intelligence Agency’s recent analysis (see February 12, 2002) of SISMI’s February 5 report (see February 5, 2002) suggesting that Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from Niger. [Time, 7/21/2003; New Yorker, 10/27/2003; US Congress, 7/7/2004] Cheney is reportedly dissatisfied with his briefer’s initial response, and asks the agency to take another look (see Shortly after February 12, 2002). [CIA Task Sheet, 2/13/2002; New Yorker, 10/27/2003] Cheney’s questions quickly reach the desk of senior CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson, who accepts the suggestion of another CIA officer to send her husband, Joseph Wilson, to Niger to investigate the claims (see February 13, 2002). [Wilson, 2007, pp. 108-110]
The CIA’s DO Counterproliferation Division (CPD) sends a cable to an unnamed government office or official (the identity of which is redacted in the source document) requesting approval to send former ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger to investigate Italian intelligence reports that Iraq has attempted to purchase uranium from that country (see February 13, 2002). The cable also requests additional information from Italy regarding the matter. [US Congress, 7/7/2004]
Valerie Plame Wilson. [Source: PEP]In response to questions from Vice President Dick Cheney (see (February 13, 2002)), CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson and officials from the CIA’s DO counterproliferation division (CPD) meet to discuss what the agency should do to determine the validity of recent Italian intelligence reports (see October 15, 2001 and February 5, 2002) alleging that Iraq had sought to purchase uranium from Niger. During the meeting, Plame Wilson suggests sending her husband, Joseph Wilson, an Africa expert and former US diplomat, to Niger to investigate the reports. [US Congress, 7/7/2004] The meeting is chronicled in an internal agency memo obtained by the Wall Street Journal in October 2003. [Wall Street Journal, 10/17/2003] Intelligence officials subsequently will not deny that Plame Wilson was involved in the decision to send Wilson to Niger, but will say she was not “responsible” for the decision. [Wall Street Journal, 10/17/2003]
CIA Alerted to Cheney's Concerns - In her 2007 book Fair Game, Plame Wilson recalls that shortly after Cheney’s initial questions, a young officer rushes into her CPD office and tells her “someone from the vice president’s office” just called the officer on her secure telephone line. The caller, apparently a member of Cheney’s staff, wants information about an intelligence report that the Italian government has passed to the US, alleging that in 1999 Iraq attempted to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger. Cheney is, according to the staffer, “interested and want[s] more information.” Plame Wilson will write, “If the report was true at all, I knew that it would be damning evidence indeed that Iraq was seeking to restart its nuclear program.”
'Nonplussed' at White House Contact - “I was momentarily nonplussed that someone from the vice president’s office had reached down into the junior working levels of the agency to discuss or find an answer to an intelligence report,” she will write. “In my experience, I had never known that to happen. There were strict protocols and procedures for funneling intelligence to policy makers or fielding their questions. Whole offices within the agency were set up and devoted to doing just that. A call to a random desk officer might get the policy maker a quick answer in the heat of the moment, but it was also a recipe for trouble. Handing a senior policy maker ‘raw’ intelligence that had not been properly vetted, placed into context, or appropriately caveated by intelligence professionals usually led to misinterpretation—at a minimum.” She adds that at the time, she is “not aware of the unprecedented number of visits the vice president had made to our headquarters to meet with analysts and look for any available evidence to support the Iraq WMD claims the administration was beginning to make.… I was still blissfully ignorant of any special visits or pressure from the administration vis-a-vis Iraq. I just wanted to get some answers.”
Decision to Ask Wilson Originates with Records Officer, Not Plame Wilson - Plame Wilson tables her concerns about the unusual contact, and begins pondering how best to find answers to Cheney’s questions. The “first and most obvious choice,” she will write, “would be to contact our [REDACTED] office in Niger and ask them to investigate these allegations using local sources available on the ground.” But the budget cuts of the mid-1990s had forced the closing of numerous CIA offices in Africa, including its station in Niamey, Niger. Plame Wilson will recall, “A midlevel reports officer who had joined the discussion in the hallway enthusiastically suggested, ‘What about talking to Joe about it?’” The reports officer is referring to Plame Wilson’s husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson. “He knew of Joe’s history and role in the first Gulf War (see September 5, 1988 and After and September 20, 1990), his extensive experience in Africa, and also that in 1999 the CIA had sent Joe on a sensitive mission to Africa on uranium issues. Of course, none of us imagined the firestorm this sincere suggestion would ignite. At the moment, the only thought that flashed through my mind was that if Joe were out of the country for an extended period of time I would be left to wrestle two squirmy toddlers into bed each evening.… So I was far from keen on the idea, but we needed to respond to the vice president’s office with something other than a lame and obviously unacceptable, ‘We don’t know, sorry.’” Plame Wilson and the reports officer make the suggestion to send Wilson to Niger; her supervisor decides to meet with Wilson “and the appropriate agency and State [Department] officials.” At her supervisor’s behest, Plame Wilson sends an e-mail to her division chief (whom she will only identify as “Scott”), informing him of the decision and noting that “my husband has good relations with both the PM [prime minister] and the former minister of mines (not to mention lots of French contacts), both of whom could possibly shed some light on this sort of activity.” Plame Wilson will write that her words are intended to “gently remind [her division chief] of Joe’s credentials to support why my boss thought he should come into headquarters in the first place.” She will note: “Months later, those words would be ripped out of that e-mail and cited as proof that I had recommended Joe for the trip (see February 13, 2002). But at the time, I simply hit the ‘send’ button and moved on to the other tasks that were demanding my attention.” That night, Plame Wilson broaches the subject of going to Niger with her husband; he agrees to meet with her superiors at the CPD. [US Congress, 7/7/2004; Wilson, 2007, pp. 108-110]
Cheney Later Denies Knowledge of Iraq-Niger Claims - During the investigation of the Plame Wilson leak (see September 26, 2003), Cheney will repeatedly deny any knowledge that the CIA was following up on his request for more information. This is a lie. Among other refutations, the Senate Intelligence Committee will report in 2004 that he was told on February 14 that CIA officers were working with clandestine sources to find out the truth behind the Niger allegations (see July 9, 2004). [Wilson, 2007, pp. 368]
Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame Wilson. [Source: Haraz N. Ghanbari / Associated Press]Officials in the CIA’s Directorate of Operations (DO) Counterproliferation Division (CPD) decide to send former ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger to investigate allegations that Iraq sought to procure uranium from that country. Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, a senior CPD officer (see April 2001 and After), relays the request to him explaining that “there’s this crazy report” asserting that Iraq made a deal with Niger on the sale of a large quantity of uranium. [US Congress, 7/7/2004] Shortly afterwards, she sends an overseas cable requesting concurrence with the agency’s decision to send her husband to Niger (see February 13, 2002). She writes, “[B]oth State and [the Department of Defense] have requested additional clarification and indeed, the vice president’s office just asked for background information” (see (February 13, 2002)). [US Congress, 7/7/2004]
The CIA publishes a classified report that concludes, in part, “information on the alleged uranium contract between Iraq and Niger comes exclusively from a foreign government service report that lacks crucial details, and we are working to clarify the information and to determine whether it can be corroborated.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 4/3/2003 ; Central Intelligence Agency, 5/30/2003 ]
Bush signs an intelligence finding directing the CIA to conduct some of the operations that have been proposed in the Anabasis plan devised by veteran CIA agents Luis (full-name not disclosed) and John Maguire (see Late November 2001 or December 2001). The plan called for conducting covert operations within Iraq as part of a larger effort to overthrow Hussein’s government. [Washington Post, 4/17/2004; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 9 Sources: Top officials interviewed by Washington Post editor Bob Woodward]
The US embassy in Niger disseminates a cable reporting that the alleged Iraq-Niger uranium deal “provides sufficient detail to warrant another hard look at Niger’s uranium sales. The names of GON [government of Niger] officials cited in the report track closely with those we know to be in those, or closely-related positions. However, the purported 4,000-ton annual production listed is fully 1,000 tons more than the mining companies claim to have produced in 2001.” The report says that US ambassador to Niger Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick met with the Nigerien foreign minister to ask for an unequivocal assurance that Niger is not selling uranium to so-called “rogue states.” The cable also notes that in September 2001 Nigerien Prime Minister Mamadou Tandja had informed the US embassy that there were buyers like Iraq who had expressed willingness to pay more for Niger’s uranium than France, but he assured them at that time that “of course Niger cannot sell to them.” However, the cable concludes that “we should not dismiss out of hand the possibility that some scheme could be, or has been, underway to supply Iraq with yellowcake from here.” [US Congress, 7/7/2004] Shortly after the cable is sent, Owens-Kirkpatrick reports to the State Department that “there was no possibility” that Iraq made any sort of uranium deal with Niger. She comes to this conclusion after reviewing the possibility of such a deal with the director general of Niger’s French-led uranium consortium. [US Congress, 7/7/2004; Unger, 2007, pp. 229]
General Tommy Franks allegedly tells Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL), who is on a visit to US Central Command: “Senator, we have stopped fighting the war on terror in Afghanistan. We are moving military and intelligence personnel and resources out of Afghanistan to get ready for a future war in Iraq.” [Council on Foreign Relations, 3/26/2004] (In his memoirs, Graham quotes Franks as saying that “military and intelligence personnel are being re-deployed to prepare for an action in Iraq.”) [Graham and Nussbaum, 2004, pp. 125; Knight Ridder, 6/18/2005] Franks will deny making the comment. [Knight Ridder, 6/18/2005] The New Yorker magazine will also report on a redeployment of resources to Iraq at this time (see Early March 2002). [New Yorker, 10/27/2003] In 2009, Graham will tell a Vanity Fair reporter: “In February of ‘02, I had a visit at Central Command, in Tampa, and the purpose was to get a briefing on the status of the war in Afghanistan. At the end of the briefing, the commanding officer, Tommy Franks, asked me to go into his office for a private meeting, and he told me that we were no longer fighting a war in Afghanistan and, among other things, that some of the key personnel, particularly some Special Operations units and some equipment, specifically the Predator unmanned drone, were being withdrawn in order to get ready for a war in Iraq. That was my first indication that war in Iraq was as serious a possibility as it was, and that it was in competition with Afghanistan for materiel. We didn’t have the resources to do both successfully and simultaneously.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
Joseph Wilson. [Source: public domain]The CIA sends Joseph C. Wilson, a retired US diplomat, to Niger to investigate claims that Iraq had sought to purchase uranium from that country (see February 13, 2002). The CIA pays Wilson’s expenses for the trip, but does not pay him in any other respect. The identity of the party who requests the mission is later disputed. While Wilson will claim the trip was requested directly by Dick Cheney’s office, other sources will indicate that the CIA had decided (see February 19, 2002) that a delegation to Niger was needed in order to investigate questions raised by one of Dick Cheney’s aides (see (February 13, 2002)). [New York Times, 5/6/2003; Washington Post, 6/12/2003 ; Independent, 6/29/2003; New York Times, 7/6/2003; US Congress, 7/7/2004]
Reason behind Request - Former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman will later note that “Wilson was asked to go to Niger for one specific purpose. It was the CIA’s idea to get Cheney off their backs. Cheney would not get off their backs about the yellowcake documents. They couldn’t get Cheney to stop pressing the issue. He insisted that was the proof of reconstitution of [Iraq’s nuclear] program.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 214]
Normal Skepticism - Wilson goes into the situation with a healthy dose of skepticism. “My skepticism was the same as it would have been with any unverified intelligence report, because there is a lot of stuff that comes over the transom every day,” he will recall in 2006. Wilson knows nothing of the influence of the Pentagon neoconservatives (see July 8, 1996, January 26, 1998, July 1998, September 2000, Late December 2000 and Early January 2001, Shortly after January 20, 2001, and Shortly After September 11, 2001) or the growing rift in the intelligence community over the reports: “I was aware that the neocons had a growing role in government and that they were interested in Iraq,” he will recall. “But the administration had not articulated a policy at this stage.” He is not given a copy of the Niger documents before leaving for Africa, nor is he told of their history. “To the best of my knowledge, the documents were not in the possession of the [CIA] at the time I was briefed,” he will recall. “The discussion was whether or not this report could be accurate. During this discussion, everyone who knew something shared stuff about how the uranium business worked, and I laid out what I knew about the government in Niger, what information they could provide.” With this rather sketchy preparation, Wilson leaves for Niger. [Unger, 2007, pp. 240; Wilson, 2007, pp. 113] Wilson’s wife, senior CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson, will later write, “He figured that if the vice president had asked a serious and legitimate question, it deserved a serious answer and he would try to help find it.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 111]
No Trouble Finding Information - Wilson, who knows the Nigerien government and many of its officials, has little trouble finding the information he needs in the following week. In 2006, he will recall: “Niger has a simplistic government structure. Both the minister of mines and the prime minister had gone through the mines. The French were managing partners of the international consortium [which handles Niger’s uranium]. The French mining company actually had its hands on the project. Nobody else in the consortium had operators on the ground.” Wilson also personally knows Wissam al-Zahawie, Iraq’s ambassador to the Vatican who supposedly negotiated the uranium deal with Niger (see February 1999). Wilson will later observe: “Wissam al-Zahawie was a world-class opera singer, and he went to the Vatican as his last post so he could be near the great European opera houses in Rome. He was not in the Ba’athist inner circle. He was not in Saddam [Hussein]‘s tribe. The idea that he would be entrusted with the super-secret mission to buy 500 tons of uranium from Niger is out of the question.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 240-241] Wilson meets with, among other officials, Niger’s former minister of mines, Mai Manga. As later reported by the Senate Intelligence Committee (see July 9, 2004), Manga tells Wilson “there were no sales outside of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) channels since the mid-1980s,” and he “knew of no contracts signed between Niger and any rogue states for the sale of uranium.” Manga says a “French mining consortium controls Nigerien uranium mining and keeps the uranium very tightly controlled from the time it is mined until the time it is loaded onto ships in Benin for transport overseas,” and, “it would be difficult, if not impossible, to arrange a special shipment of uranium to a pariah state given these controls.” [CounterPunch, 11/9/2005]
Meeting with US Ambassador - Wilson arrives in Niger on February 26, two days after Marine General Carlton W. Fulford Jr.‘s meeting (see February 24, 2002) with Nigerien officials. Wilson first meets with US Ambassador to Niger Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, a veteran Foreign Service official, whom Wilson will later describe as “crisp” and well-informed. Over tea in the US Embassy offices in Niamey, Niger’s capital, Owens-Kirkpatrick tells Wilson that she has already concluded that the allegations of uranium sales to Iraq are unfounded. “She had already debunked them in her reports to Washington,” Wilson will later recall. “She said, yeah, she knew a lot about this particular report. She thought she had debunked it—and, oh, by the way, a four-star Marine Corps general had been down there as well—Carlton Fulford. And he had left satisfied there was nothing to report.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 20-22]
Details of Alleged Uranium Production - Niger extracts uranium from two mines, both located in remote locations in the Sahara Desert. It takes well over a day to drive from the mines to Niamey. The mines are owned by a consortium of foreign companies and the Nigerien government, and managed by a French mining company, COGEMA. Because of a recent upswing in the production of Canadian uranium, Niger’s uranium is mined at a net loss, and its only customers are consortium members. Wilson will later write, “[T]he Nigerien government has sold no uranium outside the consortium for two decades.” If Iraq had bought 500 tons of uranium, as the story is told, that would have represented a 40 percent production increase. “There is no doubt,” Wilson will later write, “that such a significant shift from historic production schedules would have been absolutely impossible to hide from the other partners, and most certainly from the managing partner, COGEMA. Everyone involved would have known about it.” Any Nigerien government decision to produce such an amount of uranium would have involved numerous government officials and many well-documented meetings. Because the transaction would have been to a foreign country, Niger’s Foreign Ministry would also have been involved in the decision. To sell Iraq uranium during that time would have been a violation of international law and of UN sanctions against Iraq, a weighty decision that would have ultimately been made by the president of Niger in conjuction with the foreign minister and the minister of mines. Such a decision would have been published in the Nigerien equivalent of the Federal Register and would have dramatic tax and revenue implications. The unexpected huge infusion of cash from the sale would have had a strong impact on the Nigerien economy, and would have been much anticipated and talked about throughout the Nigerien business community. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 22-25]
Off-the-Books Production Virtually Impossible - It is conceivable that such an enormous operation could have been conducted entirely “off the books,” Wilson will write, but virtually impossible to pull off. True, a military junta was in power at the time of the alleged sale, one that felt no responsibility or accountability to the Nigerien people. But even a secret transaction would have been impossible to conceal. Such a transaction would have involved thousands of barrels of clandestinely shipped uranium, extensive and complex adjustments to shipping schedules, and other ramifications. “It simply could not have happened without a great many people knowing about it, and secrets widely known do not remain hidden for long. And again, COGEMA, as the managing partner, would have had to know and be complicit.” Add to that Niger’s dependence on US foreign economic aid and its unwillingness to threaten the loss of that aid by secretly shipping uranium to a country that the US considers a dangerous rogue nation. All told, Wilson concludes, the possibility of such a clandestine operation is remote in the extreme. [Wilson, 2004; Wilson, 2004]
1999 Meeting with Iraqi Official - While speaking with a US Embassy official, Wilson learns about a 1999 meeting between the embassy official and an Iraqi representative in Algiers, perhaps in concert with a similar meeting between Iraqi officials and Niger’s prime minister (see June 1999). [Wilson, 2004, pp. 27-28]
Confirmation that Allegations are Unrealistic - After spending several days talking with current government officials, former government officials, and people associated with the country’s uranium business, Wilson concludes the rumors are completely false. He will later call the allegations “bogus and unrealistic.” [Washington Post, 6/12/2003 ; Knight Ridder, 6/13/2003; Independent, 6/29/2003; New York Times, 7/6/2003; CBS News, 7/11/2003; Vanity Fair, 1/2004; Wilson, 2004, pp. 20-28, 424; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 282; Wilson, 2007, pp. 113]
Entity Tags: Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, Wissam al-Zahawie, Carlton W. Fulford, COGEMA, Mai Manga, Valerie Plame Wilson, Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf, Melvin A. Goodman, Central Intelligence Agency, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Joseph C. Wilson
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
An unnamed UN official tells the Washington Post that Iraq’s level of cooperation is improving. “[F]or example,” the Iraqis have been “frantically digging in an area where it claims biological weapons were destroyed,” the UN official explains. [Washington Post, 3/1/2003]
Chief UN Inspector Hans Blix prepares a list of disarmament tasks that Iraq needs to complete in order prove its claim that it has no weapons of mass destruction. According to UN Resolution 1284, the completion of these tasks would make Iraq eligible for the suspension of sanctions. [Washington Post, 3/1/2003]
During a British cabinet meeting, Home Secretary David Blunkett initiates a discussion about Iraq. During the discussion, British Foreign Minister Robin Cook mentions that most of the Arab world considers Ariel Sharon, rather than Saddam Hussein, to be the largest threat to peace in the Middle East. Describing the subsequent reaction to his comments, Cook later writes in his diary: “Somewhat to my surprise this line provides a round of ‘hear, hearing’ from colleagues, which is the nearest I heard to mutiny in the cabinet.” [Sunday Times (London), 10/5/2003; Guardian, 10/6/2003; Independent, 10/6/2003; Cook, 8/2/2004] During the meeting, Patricia Hewitt, the Trade and Industry Secretary, says “We are in danger of being seen as close to President Bush, but without any influence over President Bush.” [Independent, 10/6/2003; Cook, 8/2/2004]
The Bush administration shifts its attention from Afghanistan and al-Qaeda to Iraq. White House counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later recalls: “They took one thing that people on the outside find hard to believe or appreciate. Management time. We’re a huge government, and we have hundreds of thousands of people involved in national security. Therefore you would think we could walk and chew gum at the same time. I’ve never found that to be true.… It just is not credible that the principals and the deputies paid as much attention to Afghanistan or the war against al-Qaeda as they should have.” [Atlantic Monthly, 10/2004] Laurence Pope, an ambassador to Chad, will similarly recall that the change in focus that spring had a particularly damaging effect on operations in Afghanistan. “There was a moment of six months or so when we could have put much more pressure on the tribal areas [to get al-Qaeda], and on Pakistan, and done a better job of reconstruction in Afghanistan. In reality, the Beltway can only do one thing at a time, and because of the attention to Iraq, what should have happened in Afghanistan didn’t.” [Atlantic Monthly, 10/2004] US Intelligence agencies are also affected by the shift in priorities. The CIA’s limited supply of Arabic-speakers and Middle East specialists are redeployed to help meet the increasing demand for intelligence on Iraq. Michael Scheuer, a career CIA officer who was working on capturing bin Laden in Afghanistan at the time, says, “With a finite number of people who have any kind of pertinent experience there [was] unquestionably a sucking away of resources from Afghanistan and al-Qaeda to Iraq, just because it was a much bigger effort.” [Atlantic Monthly, 10/2004] Scheuer adds: “There really wasn’t any balance between the two threats, but clearly by 2002 in the springtime, it was almost taken for granted that we were going to go to war with Iraq… It was a nightmare. I know Tenet was briefed repeatedly by the head of the bin Laden department, that any invasion of Iraq would break the back of our counterterrorism program, and it was just ignored.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006] In addition to a shift in focus, there is a considerable shift of specialized equipment and personnel (see Early 2002).
In mid-March 2002, Deputy CIA Director John E. McLaughlin informs senior members of the president’s national security team that the CIA is cutting back operations in Afghanistan. Presumably the CIA there are to be used in Iraq instead. [Washington Post, 10/22/2004] Newsweek will later report that around this time, “The most knowledgeable CIA case officers, the ones with tribal contacts, were rotated out.” The CIA station chief in Kabul, Afghanistan, a fluent Arabic speaker and intellectual, is replaced by a highly unpopular chief who admits to only having read one book on Afghanistan. [Newsweek, 8/28/2007] More CIA personnel will move from Afghanistan to Iraq in late 2002 and early 2003 (see Late 2002-Early 2003).
CIA official Michael Scheuer will later comment: “By the spring of 2002 the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (CTC) realized that the administration had decided to go to war with Iraq. There was no announcement to that effect, of course, but the intent was evident as the flow of officers sent to beef up the post-9/11 war against al-Qaeda ended and experienced Arabic-speaking officers were reassigned from CTC to Middle East posts (see Spring 2002) and to the task forces at CIA headquarters charged with preparing for the Iraq war.” [Scheuer, 2008, pp. 122] He will also say: “It was almost taken for granted that we were going to go to war with Iraq. It was a nightmare, and I know [CIA Director George] Tenet was briefed repeatedly by the head of the bin Laden department that any invasion of Iraq would break the back of our counterterrorism program.” [PBS Frontline, 3/24/2008]
Vice President Dick Cheney drops by a Senate Republican policy lunch and instructs everyone that what he is about to say should not be repeated to anyone. He then explains that the question is no longer if the US will attack Iraq, but when. Time magazine reports this in May 2002. [Time, 5/5/2002]
Fifth Group Special Forces—an elite group whose members speak Arabic, Pashtun, and Dari—is pulled from its mission in Afghanistan and sent to Iraq where the group is assigned the task of locating Saddam Hussein. Members of Fifth Group, who spent six months developing a network of local sources and alliances and who believe they were close to finding Osama bin Laden, are upset with the orders. “We were going nuts on the ground about that decision,” one of them will later recall. [Guardian, 3/26/2004] They are replaced by the Seventh Group Special Forces, who are Spanish speakers experienced mostly in Latin America. They have no local rapport or knowledge. [Guardian, 3/26/2004; Newsweek, 8/28/2007] They are also replaced by the Third Group Special Forces, which is trained to operate in sub-Saharan Africa. They speak French and various African languages. [MSNBC, 7/29/2003] CIA official Gary Schroen will later comment, “Well, you could see changes being made in the US military staffing in Afghanistan, that the Green Beret units, the Fifth Special Forces group, for the most of it, were being pulled out to refit and get ready for Iraq. And it was clear that the kind of guys that I think a lot of us believed were essential US military personnel with special operations capabilities were being pulled away.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006]
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