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Six alleged members of the fertilizer bomb plot: Salahuddin Amin, Anthony Garcia, Waheed Mahmood, Momin Khawaja, Jawad Akbar, and Omar Khyam. [Source: Metropolitan Police/ CP Jonathan Hayward]In early 2003, the British intelligence agency MI5 is tracking a suspected al-Qaeda leader living in Britain known as Mohammed Quayyum Khan (a.k.a. “Q”) (see March 2003 and After), and they see him repeatedly meeting with a Pakistani-Briton named Omar Khyam. Quayyum is believed to be an aide to al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi. [BBC, 5/1/2007] By around March or April 2003, investigators begin monitoring Khyam, and soon discover he is a ringleader in a fertilizer bomb plot on unknown targets in Britain. [BBC, 4/30/2007]
Surveillance Intensifies - By the beginning of February 2004, surveillance intensifies. Thousands of hours of audio are recorded on dozens of suspects. The investigation soon focuses on a smaller group of Khyam’s close associates who are originally from Pakistan and had attended training camps in mountainous regions of Pakistan in recent years. Most of these men have links to Al-Muhajiroun, a banned Islamist group formed by radical London imam Omar Bakri Mohammed. The plotters are monitored discussing various targets, including nightclubs, pubs, and a network of underground high-pressure gas pipelines. In February 2004, MI5 intercepts a phone conversation between Khyam talking to his associate Salahuddin Amin, in Pakistan, about the quantities of different ingredients needed to construct a fertilizer bomb. An al-Qaeda operative in Pakistan had encouraged Amin to bomb targets in Britain.
Fertilizer Found and Replaced - Later in February, employees at a self storage depot in London call police after discovering a large amount of ammonium nitrate fertilizer being stored and suspecting it might be used for a bomb. Investigators discover the fertilizer belongs to Khyam and his group, and has been stored there since November 2003. The fertilizer is covertly replaced with an inert substance so a bomb cannot be successfully made from it.
Arrests Made - Investigators discover that Khyam is planning to fly to Pakistan on April 6, and the decision is made to arrest the suspects before he leaves the country. On March 29, a bomb plotter named Momin Khawaja is arrested where he is living in Canada. Weapons and a half-built detonator are found in his house. The next day, Khyam and seventeen others are arrested in England (see March 29, 2004 and After). Aluminum powder, a key bomb ingredient, is found in a shed owned by Khyam. Amin, still living in Pakistan, turns himself in to authorities there a few days later. Another key member of the group, Mohammed Junaid Babar, is not arrested and flies to the US on April 6. But he is arrested there four days later and quickly agrees to reveal all he knows and testify against the others (see April 10, 2004).
Five Convicted in Trial - The suspects will be put on trial in 2006 and Babar will be the star prosecution witness. Five people, including Khyam, will be sentenced to life in prison in 2007. Trials against Khawaja in Canada and Amin in Pakistan have yet to be decided. Curiously, Quayyum, who has been alleged to the mastermind of the plot and the key al-Qaeda link, is never arrested or even questioned, and continues to live openly in Britain (see March 2003 and After). [Guardian, 5/1/2007]
Senior CIA analyst Paul Pillar produces a high-level report on the potential challenges US forces will experience in post-Hussein Iraq. Pillar’s paper argues that imposing democracy on Iraq will not be easy. He warns that the country may fracture along ethnic and religious lines and explode into violence. He also says that the US will not be able to finance reconstruction with Iraq’s oil revenue. The report is sent to the office of CIA Director George Tenet and forwarded to the White House and Pentagon. An administration official tells him that his paper is “too negative.” “You guys just don’t see the possibilities,” Pillar later recalls the official saying. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 198]
The CIA’s Iraq Operations Group flies the Anabasis team from their Nevada training site to Jordan to wait for a green light from the White House. If the signal is given, the team—comprised of more than 100 members—will be flown to an isolated Iraqi military base near the Saudi border where they will announce a coup on the radio and call on other military units to join them. Then, when Hussein flies his troops south to quell the insurrection, the US Air Force will shoot them down for violating the no-fly zone. The confrontation will then be used as a pretext for full-scale war (see also Late November 2001 or December 2001). But the operation will be opposed by General Franks, and the Anabasis team will never receive the signal (see After January 2003). [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 166]
British police discover a ricin lab allegedly connected to a militant training camp in northern Iraq controlled by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Six suspects are arrested in London. The US has known about the camp and its ties to chemical weapons production for months, and twice the US military has drawn up plans for a strike upon it, and twice the White House has decided against taking action (see June 2002 and November 2002). Based on these new developments in London, the US military draws up a third attack plan against the camp, but again the White House rejects taking action. [MSNBC, 3/2/2004] Communications intercepts indicate that al-Zarqawi is still making calls on his satellite phone from within the camp. [Wall Street Journal, 10/25/2004] Lt. Gen. Michael DeLong, deputy commander to Gen. Tommy Franks at Central Command at the time, will later say that the training camp “was so troubling to us. We almost took them out three months before the Iraq war started. We almost took that thing, but we were so concerned that the chemical cloud from there could devastate the region that we chose to take them by land rather than by smart weapons.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006] However, in March 2003 shortly after the Iraq war begins, the camp will actually be hit by air strikes and not the land attack indicated by DeLong (see March 20, 2003). NBC News will later comment, “Military officials insist their case for attacking al-Zarqawi’s operation was airtight, but the [Bush] administration feared destroying the terrorist camp in Iraq could undercut its case for war against Saddam [Hussein].” [MSNBC, 3/2/2004] President Bush will secretly decide around early March 2003 not to attack the camp until the US invasion of Iraq is underway later that month (see Early March 2003).
President Bush receives a highly classified “President’s Summary” from the intelligence community’s National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002), focusing on whether or not Saddam Hussein would launch an unprovoked attack on the US, either directly or in conjunction with terrorist groups. The consensus of all 16 intelligence agencies is that such an attack would be highly unlikely unless “ongoing military operations risked the imminent demise of his regime,” or if Hussein intends to “extract revenge” for such an assault. The State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) goes even farther, stating that Hussein is “unlikely to conduct clandestine attacks against the US homeland even if [his] regime’s demise is imminent” as the result of a US invasion. The same conclusion is circulated in Senior Executive Intelligence Briefs for senior White House officials, their senior staff members, and Congress’s intelligence oversight committees. Bush and his senior officials, specifically including Vice President Dick Cheney, have received at least four other reports since the spring of 2002 drawing the same conclusion, that Saddam Hussein is not a likely threat to the US.
'Imminent Threat' - However, Bush, Cheney, and other government officials have continued, and will continue, to assert that Hussein was ready and willing to use chemical or biological weapons against the US, either on his own or through a terrorist group such as al-Qaeda, unless stopped by force. The argument that Hussein is an “imminent threat” is a major rationale in the administration’s case for war.
Refusal to Release - The Bush administration will refuse to release the Presidential Summary to Congressional investigators who wish to know the basis for the Bush administration’s assertions about the alleged threat from Iraq. Bush and other senior officials will insist for months that they were never told of the intelligence community’s judgment that Hussein had no intention of launching an unprovoked attack on the US. By refusing to release the summary memo, the White House may be withholding the proof that Bush and his officials deliberately misled the public on the issue. [National Journal, 3/2/2006]
The CIA reports to the White House that it has serious doubts about reports that the Iraqi military base at Salman Pak was ever used to train Islamist terrorists (see April 6, 2003). The agency reports in part, “The probability that the training provided at such centers, e.g. Salman Pak, was similar to that al-Qaeda could offer at its own camps in Afghanistan, combined with the sourcing difficulties, leads us to conclude that we need additional corroboration before we can validate that this low level basic terrorist training for al-Qaeda occurred in Iraq.” [Knight Ridder, 6/17/2004]
Two classified intelligence reports prepared for President Bush by the National Intelligence Council warn of the potential costly and bloody consequences of a US-led invasion of Iraq. The reports will be leaked to the press in September 2004 (see September 28, 2004). The assessments both predict that such an invasion will increase support for radical Islam, and deepen already-sharp societal divisions in Iraq to the point where violent internal strife is a strong likelihood. The assessments warn of a possible insurgency, either against the new Iraqi government, the US occupation forces, or both, and predict that “rogue elements” from the Saddam Hussein government may either join with existing terrorist organizations or begin independent insurgent operations. And, the assessments add, war and subsequent occupation is likely to increase sympathy across the Islamic world for some terrorist objectives, at least for a time. It is unlikely that Iraq will actually split into two or three disparate regions, the reports say, but violence between various ethnic and religious groups is almost inevitable unless the occupation forces prevent it. One assessment says that any efforts to build democracy in Iraq will be long, difficult, and potentially turbulent, with the nation always threatening to backslide into authoritarianism, Iraq’s traditional political model. [New York Times, 9/28/2004]
US military commanders in Afghanistan request clarification and guidance from CENTCOM and the Joint Chiefs of Staff as to what interrogation techniques they can use against detainees in US custody. The commanders describe the techniques currently being employed and recommend that they be approved as official policy for Afghanistan operations. Some of the techniques had been approved by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for Guantanamo exclusively (see December 2, 2002); others had been rescinded altogether. Those officials ignore the request. After a time, the military commanders in Afghanistan will decide that “silence is consent,” and will adopt the techniques being used as “official policy.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 7/10/2006]
The FBI lures a Yemeni terrorism financier, Mohammed Ali Hassan al-Moayad, to Germany as part of a sting operation. One of the assets involved in the operation is Mohamed Alanssi, who works as a mole for the bureau, where he is handled by an agent named Robert Fuller (see November 2001). Alanssi will later say that his role in the operation is to persuade al-Moayad to travel to Germany, where US agents manage to tape him boasting of his involvement in providing money, recruits, and supplies to al-Qaeda, Hamas, and other terrorist groups. Al-Moayad is then arrested together with one of his assistants, Mohammed Mohsen Yahya Zayed. They will later be extradited to the US for trial (see November 16, 2003), but Alanssi’s role in the operation will be revealed in the press and his relationship with the FBI will go sour (see November 15, 2004). [BBC, 11/16/2003; Washington Post, 11/16/2004]
Robert G. Houdek, national intelligence officer for Africa, concludes in a memo that allegations about Iraq attempting to obtain uranium from Niger are baseless. [Washington Post, 4/9/2006] The National Intelligence Council, the entity that oversees the US’s 15 intelligence agencies, issues Houdek’s report, which states in part, “The Niger story [of Iraq attempting to purchase Nigerien uranium—see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001] was baseless and should be laid to rest.” The memo immediately goes to President Bush and his top officials. [Unger, 2007, pp. 269]
Two or more CIA officers who have arrived for temporary duty at an agency black site in Poland where al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri is being held discover that unauthorized interrogation techniques have been used against him. [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 42 ; Associated Press, 9/7/2010] These techniques include the use of a handgun and power drill to frighten al-Nashiri (see Between December 28, 2002 and January 1, 2003). They were applied by an officer later referred to as “Albert,” with the approval of his supervisor, “Mike.” The newly arrived officers report the use of the techniques to CIA headquarters, which informs the agency’s inspector general. [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 42 ; Associated Press, 9/7/2010]
According to US intelligence, insurgents in the Zabul province of Afghanistan receive a month of training in bomb-making, explosives, and assassination techniques from “three Pakistani military officers.” The training is said to be conducted in preparation for a spring campaign targeting Westerners. Ricardo Mungia, a Red Cross water engineer, will be killed by militants on March 27, 2003, in the adjacent Oruzgan province. The murder will greatly hinder development programs in many parts of Afghanistan. The intelligence on this is later mentioned in the Guantanamo file of a detainee named Abdul Kakal Hafiz, which will be leaked to the public in 2011. [Guardian, 4/25/2011]
The NSA’s secret room in the AT&T switching center. [Source: PBS]Veteran AT&T technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009) takes an informal tour of his company’s facility on San Francisco’s Folsom Street (see Late 2002), along with three other technicians from his Geary Street offices. The tour, Klein will later say, is to introduce the four technicians to the Folsom Street staff, “because they were obviously eventually planning to bring us over there.” Klein learns that the rumors of a “secret room” in the facility are true (see Fall 2002). The secret room is on the facility’s sixth floor and is being built to house some sort of equipment, but Klein is unsure exactly what that equipment might be. Klein and the others see the outer door of the secret room, and a workman working on the door “suddenly [began talking to Klein and his colleages in a] very low voice like he didn’t want to be overheard. He felt like this was something secret, you know, and he didn’t know much about it, and he was saying: ‘None of us can go in there. It’s all secret.’ This was not only an affront to the technicians; it was a violation of union rules, because they were obviously planning to install telecommunications equipment, which is supposed to be the jurisdiction of the union technicians. We had a contract. So the technicians were not only angry about this secret thing that they’re not let in on, but also the fact that there’s work there that they’re excluded from. And they were told nothing about it. So that was it.” Klein is further surprised to learn that only a single non-union technician (whom he only identifies as “Ski,” an AT&T “field support specialist” who has been granted a security clearance by the National Security Agency (NSA)), is allowed to work in the secure room. No union technicians are allowed in, even though the installation work being done is specifically contracted to the union workers. “The regular technician work force was not allowed in the room,” Klein will later state. Klein deduces that this secret room is the long-rumored NSA installation he has been hearing about. Moreover, he notes with some alarm that the room is next door to the 4ESS phone switch, “the traditional workhorse used for AT&T long-distance calls.” Klein will write, “Now my mental alarm bells were ringing, but for the moment there was nothing to do but take some mental notes, particularly since it was not clear exactly what they [the NSA and AT&T] were doing.” [Wired News, 4/7/2006; Democracy Now!, 5/12/2006; PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007; Klein, 2009, pp. 26-28] Klein will explain that he chooses not to say anything about his concerns because he is “scared for several reasons, one being, well, this is obviously secret. This is obviously some federal government secret operation that they don’t want nosy people nosing around in, and if I started asking questions I could get into trouble. Furthermore, our jobs were in jeopardy anyway, because [we] were always getting wind that they were planning to close our previous office at Geary Street, and I didn’t need to give them an excuse to fire me. So I thought after thinking about it that the best thing to do is not to say anything and just watch it.” [PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007] He later learns that similar cabinets are being installed in AT&T centers in other cities, including Seattle, San Jose, Los Angeles, and San Diego (see Late 2003). [Wired News, 4/7/2006] The Folsom Street facility is apparently connected to a more central surveillance facility operated out of one of AT&T’s main command centers in Missouri (see Late 2002-Early 2003).
The CIA’s Office of the Inspector General, headed by John Helgerson, receives information that some CIA employees are concerned about the agency’s interrogation program. Specifically, they are worried that certain covert CIA activities at an overseas black site where detainees are held may involve violations of human rights. [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 2 ] The identity of the CIA black site and the type of abuse is not publicly known. However, around this time, some new officers arrive at a CIA black site in Poland and report abuse there to the agency’s management (see January 2003).
Harriet Miers. [Source: Public domain via Wikipedia]White House official Harriet Miers is informed by CIA General Counsel Scott Muller that the CIA has made video recordings of detainee interrogations and is told that the CIA is considering destroying the tapes. She advises not to destroy them. [ABC News, 12/7/2007; New York Times, 12/8/2007] The CIA is canvassing opinion on whether the tapes can be destroyed, and it repeatedly asks Miers about what it should do with the videotapes (see November 2005), which are said to show questionable interrogation methods. These discussions are reportedly documented in a series of e-mails between the CIA and the White House. One person involved is CIA Acting General Counsel John Rizzo. Miers’ opinion is asked because the CIA apparently thinks its interrogation and detention program was “imposed” on it by the White House, so the decision about what to do with the tapes should be made “at a political level.” Miers continues to advise the CIA that the tapes should not be destroyed, but the CIA destroys them anyway in late 2005 (see November 2005). [Newsweek, 12/11/2007] It is unclear when this happens. One account says Miers is first consulted in 2003, another in 2005. Miers is deputy chief of staff to the President until early 2005, when she becomes White House Council. [New York Times, 12/19/2007] The CIA also asks other White House officials for their opinions, but there are contradictory reports of their advice (see (2003-2004)).
Chak Shah Mohammad Khan. [Source: DPA] (click image to enlarge)From 2003 until late 2005, Osama bin Laden allegedly lives in a town near Abbottabad, Pakistan. Abbottabad is where he will be killed in 2011 (see May 2, 2011). This is according to Amal Ahmed Abdul Fatah, one of bin Laden’s three wives, who will reportedly be with bin Laden when US Special Forces raid his Abbottabad compound and kill him. After the raid, Amal will talk to Pakistani investigators. She reportedly will tell them that bin Laden moves with his family to Chak Shah Mohammad Khan, a village about a mile from the town of Haripur. Haripur, in turn, is 22 miles south of Abbottabad and 40 miles north of Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. They will move to the Abbottabad compound in late 2005 (see Late 2005-Early 2006) and stay there until the raid that kills bin Laden in 2011. [Dawn (Karachi), 5/7/2011] After bin Laden’s wife mentions bin Laden’s stay in Chak Shah Mohammad Khan in May 2011, the village will be visited by many journalists and officials. It is an extremely isolated and poor village, with no phone lines and no Internet (although some do use cell phones). Villagers say they have never seen bin Laden, and most say they have never even heard of him, and have no idea what he looks like. However, most villagers also do not rule out that he could have hidden nearby. There are a series of abandoned caves near the village, and bin Laden’s wife has said they lived in one of the caves. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 5/9/2011]
Execution of the Anabasis project (see Late November 2001 or December 2001) is blocked by General Tommy Franks. Journalists Michael Isikoff and David Corn write in their book Hubris that Franks “didn’t want a sideshow interfering with his carefully designed invasion plans.” Instead the Anabasis team, which has been waiting in Jordan (see January 2003), will help US forces cut roads and establish ties with local mullahs when the invasion begins. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 211 Sources: John Maguire]
CIA officials John McLaughlin and Robert Walpole send a revised version of a paper on Iraq’s alleged illicit weapons and terrorist ties to the White House. The paper, a rebuttal to Iraq’s December 7 declaration (see December 7, 2002) to the UN, is to serve as the basis for Powell’s February 5 speech (see February 5, 2003) before the UN Security Council. McLaughlin and Walpole say that it is the best they can do. But the White House is not impressed. Bush redelegates the task to Stephen Hadley and I. Lewis Libby, who go to the CIA to search for additional intelligence that they can add to the draft speech. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 175]
The CIA issues an updated version of its September 2002 classified internal report (see September 2002) which stated that according to “sources of varying reliability,” Iraq had provided “training in poisons and gases” to al-Qaeda operatives. The allegation in that report was based on information provided by a captured Libyan national by the name of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi. In this new updated version of the report, the CIA adds that “the detainee [al-Libi] was not in a position to know if any training had taken place.” It is not known whether this report is seen by White House officials. [Newsweek, 11/10/2005] Intelligence provided by al-Libi about Iraq will also be included in Secretary of State Colin Powell’s speech to the UN one month later (see February 5, 2003).
Alberto Mora, the Navy’s general counsel, learns to his dismay that the torturing and abuse of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay is continuing (see December 17-18, 2002), even after a meeting with the Pentagon’s chief counsel, William J. Haynes. Mora had hoped that Haynes would put a stop to the extreme techniques being used (see December 20, 2002). Mora has read an article in the Washington Post detailing allegations of CIA mistreatment of prisoners at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan; the story notes that the director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, believes that US officials who knew about such treatment could be charged with crimes under the doctrine of command responsibility. [Washington Post, 12/26/2002; New Yorker, 2/27/2006] The specific allegations detailed in the story closely parallel what Mora knows were authorized at Guantanamo Bay. Mora continues to argue against the intense interrogation techniques, and his arguments quickly reach the ears of top Pentagon officials such as Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz; Captain Jane Dalton, the legal adviser to the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke; and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who had authorized harsh interrogation techniques at Guantanamo a month before (see December 2, 2002). [New Yorker, 2/27/2006]
Chief executive officers of telecommunications companies and financial institutions express reluctance to provide data about their customers to three government agencies, the CIA, FBI, and Department of Homeland Security. The CEOs have been providing telephone, Internet and financial records to the CIA and, through it, the NSA to support “black” intelligence operations for some time (see After July 11, 1997), but after 9/11 the FBI asks for the same information that the CIA is getting. Then, after it is established in late 2002, the Department of Homeland Security also wants the same information. The CEOs begin saying, “Look, we’ll do this once but not three times,” and prefer to give the information to the FBI, which has formal subpoenas. The dispute grows so serious that White House homeland security adviser Frances Townsend has to mediate and summons FBI Director Robert Mueller and acting CIA Director John McLauglin to the White House to hammer the issue out. After a series of meetings, they agree to each appoint a senior official to coordinate, ensuring companies are not bombarded with multiple requests. [Woodward, 2006, pp. 324-5]
The CIA’s Deputy Director for Operations, James Pavitt, asks the agency’s office of inspector general, headed by John Helgerson, to investigate allegations that a high-value detainee, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, has been abused. Apparently, Pavitt has just learned of the abuse of al-Nashiri, who was captured in October or November the previous year (see Early October 2002). [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 1-2 ] The abuse took place at a black site in Poland and was apparently carried out by a CIA officer known only as “Albert,” with the approval of his superior, “Mike.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 1-2 ; Associated Press, 9/7/2010] The inspector general will issue a report on the incidents later in the year (see October 29, 2003).
The CIA’s Office of Inspector General begins an investigation of the agency’s torture and interrogation practices. The investigation is spurred by three stimuli: notification of a controversial incident in November 2002 (see Shortly After November 20, 2002); concerns over the interrogation of high-value detainee Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see January 2003); and other concerns about human rights abuses at a black site (see (January 2003)). The investigation will cover the period between September 2001 and mid-October 2003. [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 2 ] The inspector general, John Helgerson, will issue his office’s final, classified report on the investigation in May 2004 (see May 7, 2004).
The wife of Mouhannad Almallah gives a statement against her husband to police. She says that he systematically beats her. She also accurately describes in detail his Islamist militant ties:
She says that militants regularly met at her apartment. She and her husband have just moved, and militant continue to meet at their new apartment on Virgen del Coro street in Madrid.
She says that her husband lived with Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet for a month in December 2002. Mustapha Maymouni, Fakhet’s brother-in-law, visited as well. They moved when they felt they were suspected by police.
She saw her husband open several boxes and noticed they contained books and videos about Osama bin Laden.
Her husband and his brother, Moutaz Almallah, strongly suspect their phones are being monitored. Moutaz lives in London but frequently visits Spain (see August 2002).
She describes four particularly important meetings held in her apartment beginning in November 2002. Moutaz and Mouhannad Almallah, Fakhet, and Mayoumi attended all the meetings. Basel Ghalyoun attended the fourth one. In these meetings, they always speak of attack and jihad. They talk about bin Laden, but refer to him as “Emir.”
Sometimes her husband Mouhannad and Fakhet discuss Amer el-Azizi, who fled a police raid in November 2001 (see Shortly After November 21, 2001). She finds out they helped him escape Spain dressed as a woman. El-Azizi is believed to be linked to the 9/11 attacks (see Before July 8, 2001).
Both Mouhannad and Fakhet remain in contact with el-Azizi by e-mail. Her husband’s brother Moutaz does as well.
She occasionally sees her husband with Jamal Ahmidan, alias “El Chino.”
Police apparently take her warnings seriously because they begin monitoring her apartment in March 2003 (see January 17, 2003-Late March 2004). Most of these people—Fakhet, el-Azizi, Ghalyoun, and both Almallah brothers—are already under surveillance (see December 2001-June 2002). [El Mundo (Madrid), 7/28/2005] All of the people she mentions are believed to have important roles in the 2004 Madrid bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), except for Maymouni, who will be arrested and jailed later in 2003 for having a pivotal role in the May 2003 Casablanca bombings (see May 16, 2003).
Kamal Bourgass’s flat in Wood Green, north London. [Source: BBC]Metropolitan Police raid a flat in Wood Green, north London, and discover a locked bag in a room occupied by an Islamist militant named Kamal Bourgass. An illegal immigrant from Algeria, Bourgass had arrived in Britain, hidden in a truck, in 2000. Using several false names, he remained in the country after failing to get asylum in December 2001, despite being fined for shoplifting in 2002 (see July 2002). [Independent, 4/17/2005] In addition, police had discovered a false passport for Bourgass in a raid on a storage depot in Wembley, north London, on June 22, 2002. [BBC, 4/13/2005]
'Kitchen Chemistry' - The bag contains an envelope with instructions in Arabic for manufacturing poisons and explosives, as well as lists of chemicals. These “poison recipes” are in Bourgass’s writing. The envelope has the address of the Finsbury Park mosque with the name of “Nadir,” a name which Bourgass also used. Other discoveries include a cup containing apple seeds, cherry stones, nail polish remover, and a bottle of acetone. The search also uncovers 20 castor beans and £14,000 in cash. [Observer, 4/17/2005] In addition, there are stolen bottles of mouthwash and several toothbrushes, which are still in their packaging. The packaging appears to have been tampered with, indicating the plan may have been to poison the toothbrushes and then replace them on shop shelves. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 245] Police announce that they have discovered a “poisons laboratory” that contains recipes for ricin, toxic nicotine, and cyanide gas weapons. [Observer, 4/17/2005] However, a senior policeman will later be dismissive of the level of the poisons, calling what is found “garden shed, kitchen chemistry.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 245]
Other Arrests - Other flats are raided and seven North Africans are arrested. Six men are arrested on January 5 in north and east London and another man is arrested on January 8 in central London. [Fox News, 1/8/2003] The arrests include a 17-year-old. Police uncover additional poison recipes, false papers, and computer discs with bomb-making instructions.
Bourgass Murders Police Officer - Bourgass had been named as ringleader and other Algerians as co-conspirators in the alleged plot in an intelligence report passed to British officials from Algerian security forces. This report was the result of the interrogation of alleged al-Qaeda operative Mohammed Meguerba (see September 18, 2002-January 3, 2003). Bourgass is not present during the Wood Green raid. However, on January 14, a raid on a flat in Crumpsall Lane, Manchester, seeking another terror suspect, uncovers Bourgass and alleged conspirator Khalid Alwerfeli. After a violent struggle, Bourgass stabs and murders policeman Stephen Oake and wounds several other police officers. [Independent, 4/17/2005]
Alleged ricin ingredients. [Source: BBC]Home Secretary David Blunkett and Health Secretary John Reid issue a joint statement claiming “traces of ricin” and castor beans capable of making “one lethal dose” were found in a raid on a flat in Wood Green, north London, which also resulted in several arrests (see January 5, 2003). The joint statement says “ricin is a toxic material which if ingested or inhaled can be fatal… our primary concern is the safety of the public.” Prime Minister Tony Blair says the discovery highlights the perils of weapons of mass destruction, adding: “The arrests which were made show this danger is present and real and with us now. Its potential is huge.” Dr. Pat Troop, the government’s deputy chief medical officer, issues a statement with police confirming that materials seized “tested positive for the presence of ricin poison.” A small number of easily obtainable castor beans are found. But the same day, chemical weapons experts at the Defense Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down in Wiltshire discover in more accurate tests that the initial positive result for ricin was false: there was no ricin in the flat. But this finding will not be released publicly for two years. [Independent, 4/17/2005] Dr. Martin Pearce, head of the Biological Weapons Identification Group, confirms that there was no ricin in the flat. This report is also suppressed. [Guardian, 4/15/2004] The Ministry of Defence later confirms that the results of the Porton Down test are not released to police and ministers until March 20, 2003, one day after war in Iraq begins. [BBC, 9/15/2005] It appears that there was the intention to create ricin, based on evidence discovered in other raids, but not the technical know-how to actually do so (see January 20, 2003 and January 5, 2003).
UNMOVIC inspectors say they have yet to uncover evidence indicating that Iraq has resumed its production of weapons of mass destruction. After providing the UN Security Council with a summary of the inspectors’ findings, Hans Blix tells reporters in New York, “We have now been there for some two months and been covering the country in ever wider sweeps and we haven’t found any smoking guns.” [Guardian, 1/10/2003] But Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary, insists that the absence of evidence is of little concern, asserting, “The problem with guns that are hidden is you can’t see their smoke. We know for a fact that there are weapons there.” [Guardian, 1/10/2003] When asked how he knows this, Fleischer quotes from the UN weapons inspectors’ report and notes, “So while they’ve [UN Inspectors] said that there’s no smoking gun, they said the absence of it is not assured. And that’s the heart of the problem. The heart of the problem is Iraq is very good at hiding things.” [White House, 1/9/2003] John Negroponte, the US ambassador to the UN, accuses Iraq of “legalistic” cooperation, claiming that it needs to act proactively. He also says, “There is still no evidence that Iraq has fundamentally changed its approach from one of deceit to a genuine attempt to be forthcoming.” [Guardian, 1/10/2003] Colin Powell also seems undaunted by Blix’s remarks. “The lack of a smoking gun does not mean that there’s not one there,” he says, “If the international community sees that Saddam Hussein is not cooperating in a way that would not allow you to determine the truth of the matter, then he is in violation of the UN resolution  (see November 8, 2002)…You don’t really have to have a smoking gun.” [News24, 1/10/2003] Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the British ambassador to the UN, echoes views from Washington, asserting that the “passive cooperation of Iraq has been good in terms of access and other procedural issues,” and adds, “But proactive cooperation has not been forthcoming—the kind of cooperation needed to clear up the remaining questions in the inspectors’ minds.” [Guardian, 1/10/2003]
Alberto Mora, the Navy’s general counsel, meets for a second time with Pentagon general counsel William J. Haynes, who he had tried unsuccessfully to convince to join him in opposing the use of extreme interrogation methods at Guantanamo (see December 20, 2002). Mora will write in a June 2004 memo (see July 7, 2004) that when he tells Haynes how disappointed he is that nothing has been done to stop abuse at Guantanamo, Haynes retorts that “US officials believed the techniques were necessary to obtain information,” and that the interrogations might prevent future attacks against the US and save American lives. Mora acknowledges that he can imagine any number of “ticking bomb” scenarios where it might be the proper, if not the legal, thing to torture suspects. But, he asks, how many lives must be saved to justify torture? Hundreds? Thousands? Where do we draw the line? Shouldn’t there be a public debate on the issue? Mora is doubtful that anyone at Guantanamo would be involved in such a scenario, since almost all of the Guantanamo detainees have been in custody for over a year. He also warns Haynes that the legal opinions the administration is using will probably not stand up in court. If that is the case, then US officials could face criminal charges. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld could find himself in court; the presidency itself could be damaged. “Protect your client!” he says. When Haynes relates Mora’s concerns to Rumsfeld, according to a former administration official, Rumsfeld responds with jokes about how gentle the interrogation techniques are. “Torture?” he asks rhetorically. “That’s not torture!” He himself stands for up to ten hours a day, he says, and prisoners are not allowed to stand for over four. The official will recall, “His attitude was, ‘What’s the big deal?’” Mora continues to push his arguments, but, as a former Pentagon colleague will recall: “people were beginning to roll their eyes. It was like, ‘Yeah, we’ve already heard this.’” [New Yorker, 2/27/2006]
CIA manager Jami Miscik. [Source: Black Collegian]Jami Miscik, head of the CIA’s Directorate of Intelligence, storms into CIA Director George Tenet’s office, complaining about having to attend more meetings with Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley to rebut the Iraq-al-Qaeda connection yet again. She tells Tenet, “I’m not going back there again, George. If I have to go back to hear their crap and rewrite this g_ddamn report… I’m resigning, right now.” Tenet calls Hadley and shouts into the phone, “She is not coming over. We are not rewriting this f_cking report one more time. It’s f_cking over. Do you hear me! And don’t you ever f_cking treat my people this way again. Ever!” This is according to Ron Suskind in his book, The One Percent Doctrine. Suskind will conclude, “And that’s why, three weeks later, in making the case for war in his State of the Union address, George W. Bush was not able to say what he’d long hoped to say at such a moment: that there was a pre-9/11 connection between al-Qaeda and Saddam.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 190-191]
FBI Director Robert Mueller personally awards Marion (Spike) Bowman with a presidential citation and cash bonus of approximately 25 percent of his salary. [Salon, 3/3/2003] Bowman, head of the FBI’s national security law unit and the person who refused to seek a special warrant for a search of Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings before the 9/11 attacks (see August 28, 2001), is among nine recipients of bureau awards for “exceptional performance.” The award comes shortly after a 9/11 Congressional Inquiry report saying Bowman’s unit gave Minneapolis FBI agents “inexcusably confused and inaccurate information” that was “patently false.” [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 12/22/2002] Bowman’s unit was also involved in the failure to locate 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi after their names were put on a watch list (see August 28-29, 2001). In early 2000, the FBI acknowledged serious blunders in surveillance Bowman’s unit conducted during sensitive terrorism and espionage investigations, including agents who illegally videotaped suspects, intercepted e-mails without court permission, and recorded the wrong phone conversations. [Associated Press, 1/10/2003] As Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) and others have pointed out, not only has no one in government been fired or punished for 9/11, but several others have been promoted: [Salon, 3/3/2003]
Richard Blee, chief of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, was made chief of the CIA’s new Kabul station in December 2001 (see December 9, 2001), where he aggressively expanded the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program (see Shortly After December 19, 2001). Blee was the government’s main briefer on al-Qaeda threats in the summer of 2001, but failed to mention that one of the 9/11 hijackers was in the US (see August 22-September 10, 2001).
In addition to Blee, the CIA also promoted his former director for operations at Alec Station, a woman who took the unit’s number two position. This was despite the fact that the unit failed to put the two suspected terrorists on the watch list (see August 23, 2001). “The leaders were promoted even though some people in the intelligence community and in Congress say the counterterrorism unit they ran bore some responsibility for waiting until August 2001 to put the suspect pair on the interagency watch list.” CIA Director George Tenet has failed to fulfill a promise given to Congress in late 2002 that he would name the CIA officials responsible for 9/11 failures. [New York Times, 5/15/2003]
Pasquale D’Amuro, the FBI’s counterterrorism chief in New York City before 9/11, was promoted to the bureau’s top counterterrorism post. [Time, 12/30/2002]
FBI Supervisory Special Agent Michael Maltbie, who removed information from the Minnesota FBI’s application to get the search warrant for Moussaoui, was promoted to field supervisor and goes on to head the Joint Terrorism Task Force at the FBI’s Cleveland office. [Salon, 3/3/2003; Newsday, 3/21/2006]
David Frasca, head of the FBI’s Radical Fundamentalist Unit, is “still at headquarters,” Grassley notes. [Salon, 3/3/2003] The Phoenix memo, which was addressed to Frasca, was received by his unit and warned that al-Qaeda terrorists could be using flight schools inside the US (see July 10, 2001 and July 27, 2001 and after). Two weeks later Zacarias Moussaoui was arrested while training to fly a 747, but Frasca’s unit was unhelpful when local FBI agents wanted to search his belongings—a step that could have prevented 9/11 (see August 16, 2001 and August 20-September 11, 2001). “The Phoenix memo was buried; the Moussaoui warrant request was denied.” [Time, 5/27/2002] Even after 9/11, Frasca continued to “[throw] up roadblocks” in the Moussaoui case. [New York Times, 5/27/2002]
Dina Corsi, an intelligence operations specialist in the FBI’s bin Laden unit in the run-up to 9/11, later became a supervisory intelligence analyst. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 279-280 ; CNN, 7/22/2005] Corsi repeatedly hampered the investigation of Almihdhar and Alhazmi in the summer of 2001 (see June 11, 2001, June 12-September 11, 2001, Before August 22, 2001, August 27-28, 2001, August 28, 2001, August 28-29, 2001, and (September 5, 2001)).
President Bush later names Barbara Bodine the director of Central Iraq shortly after the US conquest of Iraq. Many in government are upset about the appointment because of her blocking of the USS Cole investigation, which some say could have uncovered the 9/11 plot (see October 14-Late November, 2000). She did not apologize or admit she was wrong. [Washington Times, 4/10/2003] However, she is fired after about a month, apparently for doing a poor job.
An FBI official who tolerates penetration of the translation department by Turkish spies and encourages slow translations just after 9/11 was promoted (see March 22, 2002). [CBS News, 10/25/2002]
Entity Tags: Barbara Bodine, George W. Bush, Charles Grassley, David Frasca, Central Intelligence Agency, Khalid Almihdhar, Michael Maltbie, Dina Corsi, Marion (“Spike”) Bowman, Robert S. Mueller III, Pasquale D’Amuro, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Richard Blee
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Beginning around January 2003, Spanish authorities discover that a group of Islamist militants living in Madrid are committing a variety of crimes. Barakat Yarkas, the head of the al-Qaeda cell in Madrid, was arrested with some associates in November 2001 (see November 13, 2001) and this group is largely led by other associates who were not arrested then (see November 13, 2001). Police learn members of this group are creating false passports for other militants, and stealing cars and selling them in Morocco to raise money for their militant activities. [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/10/2005] A number of them are drug dealers. For instance, Jamal Ahmidan, who begins associating with Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet and many of the other militants in 2003, leads a group of about six drug dealers. For example, in December 2003, Ahmidan shoots someone in the leg for failing to pay for the drugs he had given him. And mere days before the 2004 Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), he flies to the Spanish island of Mallorca to organize a sale of hashish and Ecstasy. Three of the seven men who blow themselves up in April 2003 with Fakhet and Ahmidan are believed to be drug dealers as well (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004). [Los Angeles Times, 5/23/2004; El Mundo (Madrid), 2/12/2006; New York Times Magazine, 11/25/2007] In fact, Spanish authorities have observed militants committing various crimes to fund their activities since 1995, but they continue to merely gather intelligence and none of them are ever arrested for these crimes (see Late 1995 and After). This pattern continues, and none of the militants will be arrested for obvious criminal activity until after they commit the Madrid bombings.
A Special Mission Unit (SMU) Task Force lawyer in Afghanistan (see Early 2002) writes in a classified legal review that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s authorization of harsh interrogation methods (see December 2, 2002) “provides us the most persuasive argument for use of ‘advanced techniques’ as we capture possible [high value targets]… the fact that SECDEF [Rumsfeld] approved the use of the… techniques at GTMO [Guantanamo], [which is] subject to the same laws, provides an analogy and basis for use of these techniques [in accordance with] international and US law.” [Huffington Post, 4/21/2009]
Simon Dodge, an Iraq nuclear analyst from the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), writes in an email to other intelligence community analysts that the “uranium purchase agreement probably is a hoax.” He adds that the document (see October 15, 2002) suggesting that Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, and Pakistan had met to discuss forming an anti-West coalition was “clearly a forgery.” [US Congress, 7/7/2004; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 164] A July 2003 memo from the INR’s Carl Ford will note that on the same day as Dodge’s email, the bureau “expressed concerns to the CIA that the documents pertaining to the Iraq-Niger deal were forgeries.” [Carl W. Ford, Jr, 7/7/2003]
Michael Ashcroft. [Source: Conservative Home Blogs.com]Former Drug Enforcement Administration analyst Jonathan Randel is sentenced to a year in prison on felony theft charges surrounding his passing of DEA information to Toby Follett, a London Times investigative reporter. Randel’s prosecution is unusual because he passed unclassified information to the reporter, and none of his actions threatened national security. The prosecutor of Randel’s case says flatly that Randel was taken to court to discourage other government employees from cooperating with the press. Additionally, there is wide speculation that Randel’s prosecution may have something to do with the target of Follett’s investigation, Lord Michael Ashcroft. Ashcroft (no relation to Attorney General John Ashcroft) was under investigation by the DEA because of his ownership of a bank in Belize that was a known outlet for laundered drug money. Randel provided Follett with information that was not classified, but was categorized as “sensitive.” Times editor Robert Thomson says that Randel’s prosecution is distressing because “[c]onfidential information is passed to journalists every day.” However, Justice Department prosecutor William Duffey, a former deputy independent counsel under Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth Starr, says that Randel’s prosecution was designed to warn other government workers of the dangers of cooperating with the media.
'Particularly Alarming' - Lucy Dalglish, head of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, says, “What is particularly alarming is that this is not classified information and is probably disclosable under the Freedom of Information Act. This is the kind of thing that journalists ask for every day.” She says that other, similar actions by other public employees have been addressed with reprimands and letters in their personnel files. “But jail?” she asks. Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean writes in 2004, “Clearly this was a warning aimed at potential whistleblowers in the federal bureaucracy, advising them to keep quiet, or risk jail.” [New York Times, 1/16/2003; Dean, 2004, pp. 67-69]
No Precedent - Neither Duffey nor anyone in the DEA can cite any other cases where the government has prosecuted an employee for leaking confidential but unclassified information. Lawyer Kevin Goldberg, legal counsel for the American Society of Newspaper Editors, says that such a prosecution is rare in the extreme. If such a broad standard were applied to other whistleblowers, then charges could well be brought against FBI agent Coleen Rowley, whose revelations of FBI mismanagement and obduracy before the 9/11 attacks earned her a citation as one of Time Magazine’s “Persons of the Year.” Journalism professor Catherine Manegold calls Randel’s prosecution “not too different from McCarthyism.… If we are confined to official, pre-vetted statements, that’s a terribly dangerous place to be.” [Fulton County Daily Report, 1/15/2003]
Protecting Lord Ashcroft - Dean will say that the Justice Department’s prosecution of Randel was extraordinary, writing that the Department “threw the book at him.” It filed a twenty-count indictment against Randel, including 16 separate charges for each time Randel used a DEA computer to locate information on Ashcroft, and characterizing each computer usage as a separate scheme to “defraud” the US government. If convicted of all charges and given the maximum possible sentence, Randel would have faced up to 580 years in prison—a prime reason, Dean believes, that Randel accepted a plea bargain to a single charge of felony theft. According to Dean, Randel strongly believes that the Justice Department prosecuted him to protect Ashcroft, a wealthy Conservative lord living in the United States. [Dean, 2004, pp. 67-69] According to his attorney, Steven Sadow, Randel thinks “Ashcroft was getting a free ride for crooked activities. That’s why he did what he did.” Ashcroft has filed a lawsuit for defamation of character against the Times over its charges that he was involved in drug trafficking and money laundering; the Times’s owner, Rupert Murdoch, settled the case by printing a front-page apology to Ashcroft (see December 8, 1999). [Fulton County Daily Report, 1/15/2003] Ashcroft is also being probed over his potentially illegal dealings with the US toy manufacturer Tyco, and is suspected of participating in racketeering, securities fraud, tax fraud, and/or falsification of records. [Dean, 2004, pp. 67-69]
Entity Tags: Robert Thomson, William Duffey, US Department of Justice, Steven Sadow, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Lucy Dalglish, London Times, American Society of Newspaper Editors, Catherine Manegold, Michael Ashcroft, Drug Enforcement Administration, Jonathan Randel, Kevin Goldberg, John Dean, Toby Follett
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The Navy’s general counsel, Alberto Mora, is angered at the lack of response to his attempts to persuade the Pentagon to stop abusing prisoners at Guantanamo and is particularly frustrated with the Pentagon’s general counsel, William J. Haynes (see December 20, 2002 and January 9, 2003 and After). Mora decides to take a step that he knows will antagonize Haynes, who always warns subordinates never to put anything controversial in writing or in e-mail messages. Mora delivers an unsigned draft memo of his objections to Haynes, and tells him that he intends to “sign it out” that afternoon—thereby making it an official document—unless the harsh interrogation techniques at Guantanamo stop. Mora’s memo describes the interrogations at Guantanamo as “at a minimum cruel and unusual treatment, and, at worst, torture.”
'Working Group to Be Created - Haynes calls Mora later that day with good news: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is suspending his authorization of the disputed interrogation techniques (see December 2, 2002) and is appointing a “working group” of lawyers from all branches of the armed forces to develop new interrogation guidelines. Mora will be a part of that working group. An elated Mora begins working with the group of lawyers to discuss the constitutionality and effectiveness of various interrogation techniques. In 2006, he will say that he felt “no one would ever learn about the best thing I’d ever done in my life.”
Mora Outmaneuvered - But Haynes has outmaneuvered Mora. A week later, Mora sees a lengthy classified document that negates every argument he has made. Haynes has already solicited a second, overarching opinion from John Yoo, a lawyer at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, that supersedes Mora’s working group (see January 9, 2002). Mora is astonished (see January 23-Late January, 2003). He will later learn that the working group’s report will be forced to comply with Yoo’s legal reasoning. In fact, the group’s final report is never completed—though the draft report, which follows Yoo’s memo, is signed by Rumsfeld without Mora’s knowledge. [New Yorker, 2/27/2006] Mora later says that while Yoo’s memo displays a “seeming sophistication,” it is “profoundly in error,” contradicting both domestic law and international treaties. Mora and the other “dissident” members of the working group are led to believe that the report has been abandoned. [Savage, 2007, pp. 181] He will learn about Rumsfeld’s signature on the draft report while watching C-SPAN in mid-2004. [New Yorker, 2/27/2006; Savage, 2007, pp. 189]
White House speechwriters Michael Gerson, Matthew Scully, and John Gibson decide to include an allegation about the purported Iraq-Niger uranium deal in President Bush’s upcoming state of the union address. They remember that the allegation had been pulled from at least two previous speeches (see September 11, 2002, October 5, 2002, October 6, 2002, and Late September 2002), but figure that if the CIA has a problem with it, the agency will ask them to remove it. They want to include it in the speech to increase the persuasiveness of Bush’s argument. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 169] Gibson later recalls that his assumption at this time is, “Maybe we had gotten better information on it.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 171]
The British Defense Intelligence Staff Agency (DIS) completes a classified study which concludes that Saddam Hussein and Bin Laden’s earlier attempts to collaborate had “foundered” due to ideological differences. The report says: “While there have been contacts between al-Qaeda and the regime in the past, it is assessed that any fledgling relationship foundered due to mistrust and incompatible ideology.” Osama bin Laden’s objectives, notes the report, are “in ideological conflict with present day Iraq.” The top secret report is sent to Prime Minister Tony Blair and other senior members of his government. [United Kingdom, n.d.; BBC, 2/5/2003; Independent, 2/6/2003]
Beginning on January 17, 2003, Spanish police begin monitoring an apartment on Virgen de Coro street in Madrid owned by the brothers Moutaz and Mouhannad Almallah. Moutaz owns it but lives in London, so Mouhannad is the landlord and works there every day as well. Police were tipped off about the house earlier in the month by Mouhannad’s estranged wife. She revealed that a group of Islamist militants are regularly meeting there (see January 4, 2003). [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/10/2005] Both Almallah brothers ties to known al-Qaeda figures such as Barakat Yarkas and radical imam Abu Qatada, and Moutaz moved to London in August 2002 to live with Qatada (see August 2002). In 2007, an unnamed Spanish police officer testifying in the Madrid bombings trial will give details about the surveillance of the apartment. He will call it an important place for both meetings and recruitment. The police note that both brothers travel frequently to and from London and also regularly call London. These calls are usually followed by calls to the Middle East or North Africa. Police are aware that Moutaz has no job in London and is in the circle of people around Abu Qatada (although Abu Qatada himself was arrested in late 2002 see (see October 23, 2002)). Basel Ghalyoun and Fouad el Morabit live at the apartment and frequently meet there with Mouhannad Almallah and Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet. [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/21/2007] Ghalyoun will later admit that in early 2003, Fakhet began to “talk of carrying out an attack in Spain, making jihad…” He will say that others attending jihad meetings at the apartment in 2003 include Arish Rifaat and Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed. [El Mundo (Madrid), 10/15/2005] Mohammed Larbi ben Sellam is also frequently seen there. [El Mundo (Madrid), 9/28/2004] The surveillance intensifies in subsequent months, and soon the apartment is monitored with video as well (see Spring 2003 and After). Police will keep watching the apartment until arrests are made after the March 2004 Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). Rifaat, Fakret, and others will allegedly blow themselves up shortly after the Madrid bombings (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004). There are allegations Fakret was an informant (see Shortly After October 2003). Mouhannad Almallah, Ghalyoun, ben Sellam, and el Morabit will be convicted in 2007 and each sentenced to 12 years for roles in the bombings (see October 31, 2007). Ahmed will be convicted of different charges in Italy (see October 31, 2007). Curiously, when the apartment is raided shortly after the Madrid bombings, two documents belonging to police officer Ayman Maussili Kalaji will be found inside. Kalaji will admit to having a friendship with Moutaz Almallah dating back at least to 1995 (see May 16, 2005).
Entity Tags: Moutaz Almallah, Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed, Mouhannad Almallah, Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, Mohammed Larbi ben Sellam, Mouhannad Almallah’s wife, Basel Ghalyoun, Abu Qatada, Fouad el Morabit, Barakat Yarkas, Arish Rifaat
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Raid on Finsbury Park Mosque. [Source: BBC]The Metropolitan Police mount an early morning raid on Finsbury Park mosque, sending in 200 officers.
Decision to Launch - The raid is primarily the result of intelligence about Kamal Bourgass, a man implicated in an alleged ricin plot (see September 18, 2002-January 3, 2003). Bourgass was in possession of an envelope with instructions in Arabic for manufacturing poisons and explosives, as well as lists of chemicals, discovered by police during a raid in Wood Green days earlier (see January 5, 2003). These “poison recipes” were in Bourgass’s writing, and the envelope had the address of the Finsbury Park Mosque with the name of “Nadir,” an alias used by Bourgass. [Observer, 4/17/2005; O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 254] Like other illegal immigrants, Bourgass had used the mosque as a place to stay and as his postal address for correspondence with the immigration service. He had stayed there in the weeks before his attempts to make ricin were discovered. [BBC, 2/7/2006] In addition, one of many suspects detained by the police around Britain at this time tells police that the photocopier in the mosque’s office had been used to copy some “recipes” written by Bourgass. Other suspects detained have links to the mosque, and have worked or slept there. Finally, two suspects the police want to detain are known to sleep in the mosque’s basement.
High-Level Approval - Due to the politically sensitive nature of the operation, it is approved in advance by Prime Minister Tony Blair, Home Secretary David Blunkett, and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. In the 24 hours before the raid, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens says publicly that many terrorists are under surveillance and Blunkett says he is happy for counterterrorist units to take “whatever steps necessary, controversial, or otherwise.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 254-256]
Searches, Discoveries - Armored officers batter down the doors to begin days of searches. In addition, they make seven arrests. After the trial and conviction of radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri for hate crimes in February 2006, police will reveal their discoveries from the raid. The police uncover chemical weapons protection suits, pistols, CS spray, and a stun gun. Other military paraphernalia include a gas mask, handcuffs, hunting knives, and a walkie-talkie. The police also find more than 100 stolen or forged passports and identity documents, credit cards, laminating equipment, and checkbooks hidden in the ceiling and under rugs, as well as more than $6,000 in cash. A senior police officer will say, “The fact that they were happy to keep this sort of stuff in the building is an indication of how safe and secure they felt they were inside.” Authors Daniel McGrory and Sean O’Neill will comment, “This was exactly the kind of material that informants like Reda Hassaine had told the intelligence services about years before” (see 1995-April 21, 2000).
Afterwards - Despite the haul, Abu Hamza is neither arrested nor interviewed, although police believe he must have known what was going on. The items seized will not be mentioned at his trial, or, with the exception of the photocopier, the ricin trial. However, they lead to police inquiries in 26 countries, which McGrory and O’Neill will call “a clear indication of the reach and influence of the terrorist networks operating out of Finsbury Park.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 260-262; BBC, 2/7/2006]
President Bush submits a report to Congress citing Iraq’s attempts “to acquire uranium and the means to enrich it.” Bush does not tell Congress about the report recently issued by the National Intelligence Council saying that the Iraq-Niger uranium allegations are “baseless” (see January 2003). [Unger, 2007, pp. 269]
Sometime after Joe Turner’s presentation to IAEA scientists, US analysts collect and photograph tubes in Iraq that are “virtually identical” to the Medusa tubes made in Italy. The tubes even have a stamped logo of the rocket’s Italian manufacturer and the words, “81mm rocket.” This is reported by the Washington Post on January 24: “The quantity and specifications of the tubes—narrow, silver cylinders measuring 81 millimeters in diameter and about a meter in length—made them ill-suited to enrich uranium without extensive modification, the experts said. But they are a perfect fit for a well-documented 81mm conventional rocket program in place for two decades. Iraq imported the same aluminum tubes for rockets in the 1980s. The new tubes it tried to purchase actually bear an inscription that includes the word ‘rocket,’ according to one official who examined them.” [Washington Post, 1/24/2003; Washington Post, 8/10/2003 Sources: Unnamed US intelligence, US administration, and/or UN inspectors]
Congress imposes some limitations on the Total Information Awareness program (see March 2002; November 9, 2002). Research and development of the program would have to halt within 90 days of enactment of the bill unless the Defense Department submits a detailed report about the program. The research can also continue if Bush certifies that the report cannot be provided. Congress also okays use of the program internationally, but it cannot be used inside the US unless Congress passes new legislation specifically authorizing such use. [New York Times, 1/24/2003; Los Angeles Times, 2/19/2003] However, a bill to completely stop the program has yet to pass. [Mercury News (San Jose), 1/17/2003; Los Angeles Times, 2/19/2003] Several days earlier, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) alleged that the Justice Department and FBI are more extensively exploring the use of the Total Information Awareness program than they have previously acknowledged. [Associated Press, 1/21/2003; Washington Post, 1/22/2003] Contracts worth tens of millions of dollars have been signed with private companies to develop pieces of the program. [Associated Press, 2/12/2003] Salon also reports that the program “has now advanced to the point where it’s much more than a mere ‘research project’.” [Salon, 1/29/2003]
The Navy’s general counsel, Alberto Mora, is shocked when he reads a legal opinion drafted by John Yoo, of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, about techniques that can be used in prisoner interrogations (see January 9, 2002). Mora has been fighting the use of questionable techniques and was part of a working group that was reviewing them (see January 15-22, 2003). The opinion was sought by Pentagon general counsel William J. Haynes and not only counters every legal and moral argument Mora has brought to bear, but supersedes the working group. Only one copy of the opinion exists, kept in the office of the Air Force’s general counsel, Mary Walker, the head of the working group.
'Catastrophically Poor Legal Reasoning' - Mora reads it in Walker’s office with mounting horror. The opinion says nothing about prohibiting cruel, degrading, and inhuman treatment of detainees; in fact, it defends such tactics. While sophisticated, it displays “catastrophically poor legal reasoning,” he will later recall. Mora believes that it approaches the level of the notorious Supreme Court decision in Korematsu v. United States, the 1944 decision that upheld the government’s detention of innocent Japanese-Americans during World War II. Mora is not aware that Yoo, like Haynes, is a member of an informal but extremely powerful “inner circle” dominated by David Addington, the chief of staff for Vice President Cheney. In fact, Yoo and Haynes are regular racquetball partners. Like Addington and Cheney, Yoo believes in virtually unrestricted executive powers during a time of war. Yoo wrote that almost any interrogation methods used against terror suspects is legally permissible, an argument that shocks Mora.
Mora's Response - In his June 2004 memo on the subject (see July 7, 2004), Mora will write, “The memo espoused an extreme and virtually unlimited theory of the extent of the President’s Commander-in-Chief authority.” Yoo’s reasoning is “profoundly in error,” Mora concludes, and is “clearly at variance with applicable law.” In 2006, Mora will add, “If everything is permissible, and almost nothing is prohibited, it makes a mockery of the law.” He writes to Walker shortly thereafter, saying that not only is Yoo’s opinion “fundamentally in error” but “dangerous,” because it has the weight of law and can only be reversed by the Attorney General or the President. Walker writes back that she disagrees, and she believes Haynes does as well. Two weeks later, Mora will discuss the memo with Yoo (see February 6, 2003). [New Yorker, 2/27/2006]
Robert Walpole, the national intelligence officer for strategic and nuclear programs, sends Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley and other White House officials a memo saying Iraq attempted to obtain uranium from Africa. The memo, intended to help Colin Powell prepare for his presentation before the UN Security Council, provides no new evidence to support the allegation. Rather it cites the National Intelligence Estimate written last September (see October 1, 2002), even though the Africa-uranium allegation was personally disavowed by CIA Director George Tenet on October 6 (see October 6, 2002). [New York Times, 7/23/2003]
Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, presents the latest draft of a paper that is meant to serve as a rebuttal to Iraq’s December 7 declaration (see February 5, 2003) to Condoleezza Rice, Stephen Hadley, Paul Wolfowitz, Karl Rove, Richard Armitage, Michael Gerson, and Karen Hughes. The paper, written with the help of John Hannah, is supposed to serve as the basis for the speech Secretary of State Colin Powell will deliver to the UN Security Council on February 5 (see February 5, 2003). In his presentation, Libby says that intercepts and human intelligence reports indicate that Saddam Hussein has been attempting to conceal items. He doesn’t know what items are being hidden by the Iraqis, but he says it must be weapons of mass destruction. He also claims that Iraq has extensive ties to al-Qaeda, and cites the alleged meeting between Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi Intelligence agent (see April 8, 2001) as one example. While Armitage is disappointed with Libby’s presentation, Wolfowitz and Rove seem impressed. Karen Hughes warns Libby not to stretch the facts. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 368; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 175]
When asked by Fox News commentator Tony Snow, “If Saddam is toppled from power, do you expect to see celebrations in the streets?” White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card replies: “I think the Iraqi people are crying out for liberation and freedom. And they’ve been denied it. They’ve been living in fear for a very long time. They’re a very industrious people, and they have an awful lot to contribute to their own society as well as to the world, and they’ve been denied that chance to do so.” Snow then asks, “So you’re not worried about after shocks in Iraq?” Card answers, “I think the Iraqi people would welcome freedom with jubilation.” [Fox News Sunday, 1/26/2003]
Al-Zarqawi’s injury report after his death in 2006. He has both legs but there is a recent fracture in one leg. [Source: Ali Haider / EPA / Corbis]On January 26, 2003, Newsweek reports that in 2002, Islamist militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi “supposedly went to Baghdad, where doctors amputated his leg (injured in Afghan fighting) and replaced it with a prosthesis.” Newsweek also claims that al-Zarqawi “is supposed to be one of al-Qaeda’s top experts on chemical and biological weapons” and that he also met with “Hezbollah militants” and “Iranian secret agents.” This new account builds on previous reports claiming that al-Zarqawi was in Baghdad for some unspecified medical treatment (see October 2, 2002). The article does note, “Not surprisingly, reports putting al-Zarqawi in Iraq piqued the interest of Pentagon hard-liners eager to find evidence to support their suspicion that Saddam [Hussein] and bin Laden are allied and may have plotted 9/11 together. But neither the CIA nor Britain’s legendary MI6 put much stock in al-Zarqawi’s alleged Iraqi visits, stressing such reports are ‘unconfirmed.’” [Newsweek, 1/26/2003] Despite these caveats, it soon will be widely reported that al-Zarqawi had a leg amputated in Baghdad, with at least the tacit knowledge of the Iraqi government. For instance, several days later, USA Today reports, “To those who operate with and against the shadowy al-Zarqawi, including the Kurds of northern Iraq, he is called ‘the man with the limp.’ That is a reference to a poorly fitting artificial limb that replaced a leg amputated in Baghdad last August.” [USA Today, 2/5/2003] And Secretary of State Colin Powell will claim in his February 5, 2003 presentation to the United Nations that al-Zarqawi went to Baghdad in May 2002 for medical treatment and stayed two months (see February 5, 2003). But in October 2004, Knight Ridder will report, based on a new CIA report (see October 4, 2004), “Al-Zarqawi originally was reported to have had a leg amputated, a claim that officials now acknowledge was incorrect.” [Knight Ridder, 10/4/2004] In early 2006, al-Zarqawi will be seen walking in a videotape, clearly in possession of both his legs. And when he is killed later that year, x-rays of his dead body will show a fracture of his right lower leg, but apparently that was caused by the blast that killed him. [Atlantic Monthly, 6/8/2006; Associated Press, 6/13/2006]
Robert G. Joseph, director for nonproliferation at the National Security Council. [Source: CBC]Embarrassed and angered by CIA Director George Tenet’s refusal to support the use of the Iraq-Niger uranium claim in President Bush’s upcoming State of the Union speech (see October 5, 2002, October 6, 2002, January 27, 2003, and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), the White House decides to go behind Tenet’s back to get CIA approval for publicly citing the claim in the speech. Robert Joseph, director for nonproliferation at the National Security Council (NSC), telephones Alan Foley, director of the CIA’s Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control Center (WINPAC), and mentions plans to include the Africa-uranium claim in Bush’s upcoming State of the Union address. When Foley warns that the allegation has little evidence to support it, Joseph instead suggests including a statement about the British learning that Iraq was seeking uranium in Africa, leaving out the bit about Niger and the exact quantity of uranium that was allegedly sought. [Washington Post, 7/17/2003; New York Times, 7/17/2003; Time, 7/21/2003; Washington Post, 7/27/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 273-274] Foley apparently has no qualms about putting his bureau’s stamp of approval on the claim, having already told his staff, “If the president wants to go to war, our job is to find the intelligence to allow him to do so.” Foley rationalizes that if Bush attributes the claim to British intelligence, he can make it without having to worry whether it is actually true. The fact that the CIA has repeatedly labeled the British reports as untrustworthy does not stop Foley from vetting the claim. [Unger, 2007, pp. 273-274] Joseph will claim he does not recall the discussion, and White House communications director Dan Bartlett will call Foley’s version of events a “conspiracy theory.” [Washington Post, 7/27/2003]
Secretary of State Colin Powell, in a speech before the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, asks, “Why is Iraq still trying to procure uranium and the special equipment needed to transform it into material for nuclear weapons?” [Washington Post, 8/8/2003] Author Craig Unger will later write, “In referring to the Niger deal (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001) and the aluminum tubes (see Between April 2001 and September 2002), Powell was actually betraying his own State Department analysts who had rejected these two key pieces of ‘evidence’ against Saddam” Hussein (see March 1, 2002, March 4, 2002, and January 12, 2003). [Unger, 2007, pp. 276]
At a National Security Council meeting, CIA Director George Tenet is given a hard copy of President Bush’s State of the Union address, to be given the next evening (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), containing a direct assertion that Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from Niger for nuclear weapons (see October 6, 2002). The story of what happens next is murky. Tenet apparently does not read the speech, but sends a copy, via an assistant, to his Deputy Director of Intelligence, Jami Miscik (see January 10, 2003). But, the Senate Intelligence Committee will later report, no one in Miscik’s office recalls ever receiving the speech or if anyone was ever assigned to review it. Some find this story unbelievable: a State of the Union speech calling for war going unread and misplaced is hard to countenance. “It is inconceivable to me that George Tenet didn’t read that speech,” former CIA officer Milt Bearden will later say. “At that point, he was effectively no longer DCI [director of the CIA]. He was part of that [Bush-Cheney] cabal, and no longer able to carry an honest message.” A former intelligence officer close to Tenet will dispute Bearden’s characterization, and insist that Tenet knew nothing of the Niger uranium allegations included in the speech. “Had he been aware,” the official will state, “he would have vigorously tried to have it removed.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 269]
A secret CIA report on possible links between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi government is finished and sent to top US officials. The report, entitled “Iraqi Support of Terrorism,” was substantially finished by December 2002, but was delayed while other US officials put pressure on the CIA to withdraw or revise the report, because it did not find as much evidence of a Hussein-al-Qaeda link as they would have liked. In a 2007 book, former CIA Director George Tenet will describe in detail what was in the report. “Our analysts believed that there was a solid basis for identifying three areas of concern with regard to Iraq and al-Qaeda: safe haven, contacts, and training. But they could not translate this data into a relationship where these two entities had ever moved beyond seeking ways to take advantage of each other.… Ansar al-Islam, a radical Kurdish Islamic group [based in northern Iraq areas out of Iraqi government control], was closely allied to al-Qaeda.… We believed that up to two hundred al-Qaeda fighters began to relocate [to Ansar al-Islam] camps after the Afghan campaign began in the fall of 2001.” He says that one of their camps near the town of Khurmal linked to militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi “engaged in production and training in the use of low-level poisons such as cyanide.” He says that nearly 100 operatives in Western Europe connected to this camp were arrested, but, “What was even more worrisome was that by the spring and summer of 2002, more than a dozen al-Qaeda-affiliated extremists converged on Baghdad, with apparently no harassment on the part of the Iraqi government. They had found a comfortable and secure environment in which they moved people and supplies to support al-Zarqawi’s operations in northeastern Iraq.” He mentions Thirwat Salah Shehata and Yussef Dardiri, considered to be among Islamic Jihad’s best operational planners, as those in Baghdad at the time, and that “Credible information told us that Shehata was willing to strike US, Israeli, and Egyptian targets sometime in the future.” He concludes, “Do we know just how aware Iraqi authorities were of these terrorists’ presence either in Baghdad or northeastern Iraq? No, but from an intelligence point of view it would have been difficult to conclude that the Iraqi intelligence service was not aware of their activities. Certainly, we believe that at least one senior [Ansar al-Islam] operative maintained some sort of liaison relationship with the Iraqis. But operational direction and control? No.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 349-351] It is not clear from Tenet’s book just how much of the above description is of what the CIA believed at the time and how much is what Tenet still believed to be true in 2007. Some of Tenet’s claims from his book appear overblown, such as the danger of poison production in the Khurmal camp (see March 31, 2003).
A new CIA report in 2005 (ignored in Tenet’s book) will conclude that Hussein’s government “did not have a relationship, harbor, or even turn a blind eye toward al-Zarqawi and his associates” (see October 2005). [New York Times, 9/8/2006] In 2006, a bipartisan US Senate report on “Pre-war Intelligence on Iraq” will note that “detainees that originally reported on [links between Ansar al-Islam and Iraqi intelligence] have recanted, and another detainee, in September 2003, was deemed to have insufficient access and level of detail to substantiate his claims.” The report will conclude, “Postwar information reveals that Baghdad viewed Ansar al-Islam as a threat to the regime and that [Iraqi intelligence] attempted to collect intelligence on the group.” [US Senate and Intelligence Committee, 9/8/2006 ]
Knight Ridder Newspapers reports: “US officials and private analysts said Bush’s suggestion that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein might give such weapons to terrorists—and the implication that the risk of American retaliation can no longer deter him—stretches the analysis of US intelligence agencies to, and perhaps beyond, the limit.” The newspaper’s sources also say that “there was no evidence that Iraq and al-Qaeda had cooperated on terrorist operations and no evidence of any Iraqi role in the Sept. 11 attacks.” [Knight Ridder, 1/28/2003 Sources: Unnamed US official]
A White House report to Congress titled “A report on matters relevant to the authorization for use of military force against Iraq,” complains that Iraq did not report in its December 2002 declaration (see December 7, 2002) to the UN that it had attempted “to acquire uranium and the means to enrich it.” [US President, 1/28/2003 ; Washington Post, 8/8/2003]
Tyler Drumheller, the CIA’s chief of European operations, is “dumbfounded,” in author Craig Unger’s words, at the claims President Bush makes in his State of the Union speech (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). Bush and the CIA top brass had ignored Drumheller’s warnings that the intelligence about Iraq’s mobile biological laboratories is weak (see December 18-20, 2002), but Bush made the claim anyway. Just as bad, Bush made a direct reference to the long-disproven Iraq-Niger uranium deal (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). The White House decided to justify the uranium claim by attributing it to Britain. Unger will write, “Not only had the president of the United States taken a statement that many in the administration knew to be a lie and used it as a cause for war, he had taken the cowardly way out and attributed it to a third party.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 273-274]
Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who went to Niger almost a year ago to determine the truth or falsehood of the story that Iraq attempted to secure 500 tons of uranium from Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), and his wife, CIA case officer and WMD specialist Valerie Plame Wilson, both watch President Bush’s State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). According to Plame Wilson’s 2007 book Fair Game, Wilson watches from a Canadian television studio, brought there to comment on the address immediately afterwards. His wife watches from their Washington, DC, home. Plame Wilson will recall being dumbstruck at Bush’s “16 words” claim that British intelligence had found a clandestine attempt by Iraq to purchase uranium from an African nation. She will write: “What? Had I heard him correctly? Hadn’t Joe’s report on his trip to Niger nearly a year ago (see March 4-5, 2002 and March 5, 2002), distributed throughout the intelligence community, including presumably the vice president’s office, proved the emptiness of these charges?” When Wilson returns home, he and his wife, according to Plame Wilson’s recollection, “briefly discussed what we thought the president’s claim could have meant. It seemed so odd.” The next day, Wilson asks a friend at the State Department about the claim, and notes that Bush’s assertion is not borne out by the facts. If Bush had indeed referred to Niger in the speech, then his report, along with those of the US Ambassador to Niger and General Carlton Fulford (see February 24, 2002), “had all been wrong. Or had the president misspoken? In that case, the record needed to be corrected.” Wilson’s friend replies that Bush may have been speaking of one of the other African countries that produce uranium—Gabon, South Africa, or Namibia. Wilson accepts the explanation for the time being. As a side note, Plame Wilson adds at this point in her book, “Several years later, the assistant secretary of state for African affairs told Joe, ‘You don’t think that if we had seen the State of the Union address before it was delivered, that we would have allowed that phrase to remain in it, do you?” [New York Times, 7/6/2003; Wilson, 2004, pp. 313-314; Wilson, 2007, pp. 125-126]
French officials are shocked by the claims Bush made in his state of the union speech (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) concerning Iraqi attempts to obtain uranium from Africa. One government official will later recall in an interview with the Los Angeles Times that French experts considered Bush’s claim, which he attributed to the British, as “totally crazy because, in our view, there was no backup for this.” Notwithstanding, the French launch another investigation (see Late April or Early May 2002-June 2002) and again, find no evidence supporting the US and British claim. [Los Angeles Times, 12/11/2005]
Former Ambassador Joseph Wilson attempts to contact the White House through his contacts in the State Department and Senate with the message that it needs to correct the record on Iraq, specifically the allegation Bush recently made that Iraq sought uranium from Africa (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). Wilson had been sent to Niger nearly a year before by the CIA to investigate these claims (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Both he and the current US ambassador in Niger confirmed that the country’s uranium supplies were under the complete control of a French consortium and that it would have been impossible for Niger to divert uranium to Iraq. Wilson also tells his contacts about General Carlton W. Fulford Jr’s trip (see February 24, 2002) to Niger. On that trip the four-star Marine Corps general had similarly reported to Washington that the purported uranium deal was probably not true. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 174] The White House refuses to communicate with Wilson. The only message he receives is one from National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice saying that he can state his case in writing in a public forum. [Truthout (.org), 1/23/2007]
Tyler Drumheller, head of CIA spying in Europe, reviews a classified draft of the speech Secretary of State Colin Powell will be delivering to the UN Security Council on February 5. He is surprised to see the allegation that according to an unnamed “chemical engineer,” Iraq has mobile biological weapons factories. Drumheller recognizes the description of the source as that of Curveball, an Iraqi defector living in Germany who is suspected of being a fabricator. Only a few days before, CIA’s Berlin station chief warned CIA headquarters that Curveball’s statements could not be verified (see January 27, 2003). Drumheller takes his pen and crosses out the entire paragraph referring to Curveball, and then calls CIA Deputy Director John E. McLaughlin who meets with him immediately. McLaughlin, concerned, admits that Curveball is the CIA’s “only tangible source” for the story. “This is the heart of the case,” he says to the surprise of Drumheller. [Risen, 2006; Washington Post, 6/25/2006] Drumheller recalls, “And John said, ‘Oh my, I hope not. You know this is all we have,’ and I said, ‘This can’t be all we have.’ I said, ‘There must be another, there must be something else.’ And he said, ‘No, this is really the only tangible thing we have.’” [ABC News, 3/13/2007] According to Drumheller, McLaughlin says he will take care of the issue. McLaughlin later says he does not recall the meeting, but the final report of the Silberman-Robb commission cites e-mails and interviews with other CIA officials who back Drumheller’s account. [Risen, 2006; Washington Post, 6/25/2006] Despite the warning, the claim remains in Powell’s speech (see February 5, 2003).
Igor Ivanov, the Russian foreign minister, says that neither his country nor any other has evidence of ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda. “So far, neither Russia nor any other country has information about Iraq’s ties with al-Qaeda.” he says. “Nobody has provided us with such information…. If we receive such information we will analyze it. Statements made so far are not backed by concrete documents and concrete facts.” [Reuters, 1/30/2003; Sydney Morning Herald, 2/1/2003]
US Secretary of State Colin Powell reluctantly accepts the task of making the administration’s case for war to the United Nations Security Council. He assigns his close friend and chief of staff Larry Wilkerson to go to the CIA and put together a team to craft a presentation. Though Powell has long harbored deep misgivings about the war, in public he has consistently and staunchly promoted the war, even when it came to repeating claims he knew to be false (see January 23, 2008). Powell also gives Wilkerson a 48-page report from the White House on Iraq’s alleged arsenal of banned weapons. The report is meant to serve as the basis for Powell’s upcoming speech to the UN (see February 5, 2003). Powell, skeptical of the report’s data, instructs Wilkerson to have it looked over by the CIA. The dossier was written primarily by two senior aides to Vice President Cheney, John Hannah and I. Lewis Libby (see January 25, 2003). [Bamford, 2004, pp. 368; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 281; Unger, 2007, pp. 275] The analysts at CIA will quickly determine that the documents are based on unreliable sources (see January 30-February 4, 2003). Speculation is already rampant throughout the State Department and among well-informed observers as to why Powell became such a reliable spokesman for the administration’s war plans. A State Department official will echo the opinion of others in saying that Powell is “completely aware of the machinations going on,” but wants to avoid any sort of public dispute among top White House officials—and Powell wants to keep relations with Vice President Dick Cheney on an even keel. Author Craig Unger will later note, “Regardless of what he really believed, Powell ultimately accommodated the White House to such an extent that he became the most articulate spokesman for the war effort” (see January 26, 2003). [Unger, 2007, pp. 275]
Colin Powell’s chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, meets with other administration officials and aides at the CIA’s Langley headquarters in a conference room down the hall from George Tenet’s office to review two White House reports on Iraq’s alleged illegal activities. The team includes George Tenet, John McLaughlin, William Tobey and Robert Joseph from the National Security Council, and John Hannah from Vice President Cheney’s office. (Tenet had intended to leave for a Middle East junket, but Powell stopped him from going, insisting on his input and participation.) The two dossiers are meant to serve as the basis for Powell’s upcoming speech at the UN (see February 5, 2003). One of the reports—a 48-page dossier that had been provided to Powell’s office a few days earlier (see January 29, 2003)—deals with Iraq’s supposed arsenal of weapons of mass destruction while the other, a slightly more recent report totaling some 45 pages, addresses the issue of Iraq’s history of human rights violations and its alleged ties to Islamic militant groups. Shortly after Wilkerson begins reviewing the 48-page report on Iraq’s alleged WMD, it becomes apparent that the material is not well sourced. [Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 230; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 177; Unger, 2007, pp. 276]
Dossiers Contain Large Amounts of White House Misinformation - Wilkerson has been given three dossiers: about 90 pages of material on Iraq’s WMD, on its sponsorship of terrorism, and on its violation of human rights. Wilkerson is not well informed about the variety of machinations surrounding the WMD issue, but it doesn’t take him long to realize there is a problem. The CIA has an array of analysts with decades of experience studying Iraq’s weapons programs, rigorous peer review procedures to prevent unreliable intelligence from making it into the final assessments, and a large budget devoted to Middle East intelligence. But the CIA had not produced Wilkerson’s dossiers. They had been prepared by Libby, Cheney’s chief of staff. Wilkerson is taken aback by such a breach of procedure, especially on such a critically important matter of state. Former NSC counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke later says, “It’s very strange for the Vice President’s senior adviser to be… saying to the Secretary of State, ‘This is what you should be saying.’” As Wilkerson goes through the material, he realizes, in Unger’s words, “just how aggressively Cheney and his men have stacked the deck.” Wilkerson first reads the 48-page WMD dossier, and is not impressed. “It was anything but an intelligence document,” he later says. “It was, as some people characterized it later, sort of a Chinese menu from which you could pick and choose.”
Cherry-Picked Intel - Wilkerson will continue, “When we had a question, which was virtually every line, John Hannah from the vice president’s office would consult a huge clipboard he had.” Hannah, a former official of the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy, had coauthored the dossier with Libby. He had also worked closely with Libby in the White House Iraq Group (see August 2002). Hannah cites the source of each questionable datum Wilkerson asks about, and Wilkerson and his team set about tracking down the original sources of each item. They spend hours poring over satellite photos, intercepts of Iraqi military communications, and various foreign intelligence reports. Wilkerson and his team find that in almost every instance, the original sources do not support the conclusions drawn in the dossier. “Once we read the entirety of those documents,” he will recall, “we’d find that the context was not quite what the cherry-picked item imparted.” Wilkerson believes that much of the dossier’s intelligence comes from Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress (see 1992-1996), a belief given credence by the fact that Hannah had served as the chief liaison between the INC and Cheney’s office. As Wilkerson will later recall, “It was clear the thing was put together by cherry-picking everything from the New York Times to the DIA.” Reporters Michael Isikoff and David Corn will later write that “a Defense Intelligence Agency report was not being used properly, a CIA report was not being cited in a fair way, a referenced New York Times article was quoting a DIA report out of context,” and will confirm that much of the material had come from the Iraqi National Congress. [US News and World Report, 6/9/2003; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 177; Unger, 2007, pp. 276-278]
Incomprehensible 'Genealogy' - According to Wilkerson, Feith’s office had strung together an incomprehensible “genealogy.” “It was like the Bible,” Wilkerson later recalls. “It was the Old Testament. It was ‘Joe met Bob met Frank met Bill met Ted met Jane in Khartoum and therefore we assume that Bob knew Ralph.’ It was incredible.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 180-181]
Link to Office of Special Plans? - Powell’s staff is also “convinced that much of it had been funneled directly to Cheney by a tiny separate intelligence unit set up by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld” (see Summer 2002 and September 2002), Vanity Fair magazine later reports. [Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 230]
Cheney's Aides Attempt to Reinsert Deleted Material - Soon Wilkerson’s team faces the same difficulties with the dossier on Iraq’s connections to Islamist terrorism that it faced with the White House-prepared dossier on Iraq’s WMD (see January 30-February 4, 2003). Tenet has tried manfully to give the administration what it so desperately wants—proof of Iraq’s connections to the 9/11 attacks. The CIA’s unit on Osama bin Laden had gone through 75,000 pages of documents and found no evidence of any such connections. Vice President Cheney and his staffers have always insisted that such a connection does indeed exist. Their strongest claim to that effect is the supposed meeting between 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence agent in April 2000 (see September 14, 2001). This claim has long been discredited (see September 18, 2001), but Cheney’s people keep attempting to bring it back into play (see February 1, 2003-February 4, 2003). [US News and World Report, 6/9/2003; Bamford, 2004, pp. 370-1; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 230; Unger, 2007, pp. 276-278]
Information about Australian Software Erroneous - One item in the White House’s original draft alleged that Iraq had obtained software from an Australian company that would provide Iraqis with sensitive information about US topography. The argument was that Iraqis, using that knowledge, could one day attack the US
with biological or chemical weapons deployed from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). But when Powell’s intelligence team investigated the issue, it became “clear that the information was not ironclad” (see October 1, 2002). [US News and World Report, 6/9/2003]
'Idiocy' - “We were so appalled at what had arrived from the White House,” one official later says. [Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 230] As another senior official (likely Wilkerson) will later recall, “We went through that for about six hours—item by item, page by page and about halfway through the day I realized this is idiocy, we cannot possibly do this, because it was all bullsh_t—it was unsourced, a lot of it was just out of the newspapers, it was—and I look back in retrospect—it was a [Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas] Feith product, it was a Scooter Libby product, it was a Vice President’s office product. It was a product of collusion between that group. And it had no way of standing up, anywhere, I mean it was nuts.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 368-9]
Starting from Scratch - After several hours, Wilkerson and Tenet are both so fed up that they decide to scrap the WMD dossier entirely. “Let’s go back to the NIE,” Tenet suggests, referring to the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002). Wilkerson is not aware of how badly the NIE had been, in author Craig Unger’s words, “tampered with,” but Powell should have known, as his own intelligence bureau in the State Department had disputed key elements of the NIE. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 368-9; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 230; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 177-178; Unger, 2007, pp. 276-278]
Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Office of the Vice President, National Security Council, Richard A. Clarke, White House Iraq Group, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Robert G. Joseph, William H. Tobey, Lawrence Wilkerson, John Hannah, Michael Isikoff, Iraqi National Congress, Colin Powell, Central Intelligence Agency, Ahmed Chalabi, Craig Unger, David Corn, Donald Rumsfeld, John E. McLaughlin, George J. Tenet, Douglas Feith
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
Colin Powell’s chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, tasked with the duty of preparing Powell’s upcoming UN presentation (see January 29, 2003), meets with his hastily assembled team: Lynne Davidson, Powell’s chief speechwriter; Carl Ford, the head of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR); and Barry Lowenkron, principal deputy director of policy planning at State. They also consult with a UN staffer on the logistics of making such a presentation to the Security Council. Later that day, Wilkerson drives to the CIA building in Langley, where he meets with CIA Director George Tenet and Tenet’s deputy, John McLaughlin. Wilkerson examines information provided for Powell’s speech by the White House, and quickly determines that it is unreliable to the point of uselessness (see January 30-February 4, 2003). He decides that his team will assemble its own information. [Unger, 2007, pp. 276]
INR Analysts Not Invited to Presentation Planning Sessions - Over the next few days, Wilkerson and his team works almost around the clock putting together Powell’s upcoming presentation. In addition to Wilkerson’s staff, McLaughlin and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice are frequent participants. Others who take part include Rice’s deputy, Stephen Hadley; National Security Council officer Robert Joseph, who had ensured mention of the Iraq-Niger claim in President Bush’s recent State of the Union address (see January 26 or 27, 2003); another NSC official, Will Tobey; two of Vice President Cheney’s senior aides, John Hannah and Lewis “Scooter” Libby; and Lawrence Gershwin, one of the CIA’s top advisers on technical intelligence. Aside from Ford, there are no representatives from the State Department’s own intelligence analysts of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR). They had refused to give in to White House pressure to “cook” the intelligence on Iraq (see November 14, 2001, January 31, 2002, March 1, 2002, and December 23, 2002). Their absence, author Craig Unger will later write, is “another striking indication that Powell had capitulated and was trying to avoid a showdown with the White House.… [T]he hard-nosed analysts at INR, who had not bowed to White House pressure, would be a political liability for Powell.” [US News and World Report, 6/9/2003; Bamford, 2004, pp. 370-1; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 230; Unger, 2007, pp. 276-278]
Inspirational Film - Early in the process, Wilkerson and his colleagues watch an archived film of then-UN ambassador Adlai Stevenson’s historic 1962 speech before the UN Security Council. Stevenson’s ringing denunciation of the Soviet Union, and his dramatic use of irrefutable evidence that showed Soviet missiles in Cuba, inspires the team to seek what Wilkerson calls “a similar confluence of evidence and rhetoric.” They want Powell to have his own “Stevenson moment” before the UN. [Unger, 2007, pp. 276-278]
Roadblocks - Throughout the process, Wilkerson’s team is deviled by the insistence of White House representatives, most notably those from Cheney’s office, on the insertion of information and claims that Wilkerson and his team know are unreliable (see January 30-February 4, 2003). [Unger, 2007, pp. 275]
Entity Tags: John E. McLaughlin, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Central Intelligence Agency, Carl W. Ford, Jr., Bush administration (43), George J. Tenet, Barry Lowenkron, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, William H. Tobey, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of State, Lynne Davidson, United Nations, Robert G. Joseph, Craig Unger, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, National Security Council, Stephen J. Hadley, Lawrence Wilkerson, John Hannah, Lawrence Gershwin
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
Mohamed Atta has his hands on the shoulders of Mohammed Rajih in a portion of a 1999 group photo. [Source: DDP/ AFP]The Los Angeles Times reports that an al-Qaeda cell may still exist in Hamburg, Germany, and al-Qaeda sympathizers are threatening witnesses in a trial there. The CIA told the German government in late 2002 that it suspects an al-Qaeda cell is still present in Hamburg. It is known that a criminal investigation of at least eight suspected cell members is continuing in Germany. Mounir El Motassadeq is on trial for a role in the 9/11 plot. According to the Times, police have taped “telephone conversations of people—who never identify themselves—telling El Motassadeq’s wife that they would give her money if she needs it, implying that El Motassadeq will be assisted as long as he remains quiet.” One witness withdrew his statement to police after he was told he might need to testify publicly. Another witness named Shahid Nickels, who lived with hijacker associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh at one point, has told investigators that after 9/11, a man named Mohammed Rajih urged him to destroy any phone number or other contact information he might have for the Hamburg cell. Rajih soon moved to Morocco. He is suspected of being involved with the cell, and was under investigation even before 9/11. [Los Angeles Times, 1/30/2003] In 2009, a group of ten men who regularly attend the Al-Quds mosque in Hamburg—the same mosque attended by three of the 9/11 hijackers—will depart for militant training camps in Pakistan. One of the men, Naamen Meziche, will turn out to have been a member of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell even before 9/11 (see March 5, 2009 and August 9, 2010).
The US Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute produces a report assessing the challenges the US will probably face in post-Hussein Iraq. According to the report:
“Ethnic, tribal, and religious schisms could produce civil war or fracture the state after Saddam is deposed.”
Iraq reconstruction will require “a considerable commitment of American resources.”
The “longer US presence is maintained, the more likely violent resistance will develop.”
Political parties will likely form along ethnic, tribal, and religious lines. Free elections among these parties may actually “increase divisions rather than mitigate them.”
Armed militias may emerge.
Islamic radicals could move in and conduct suicide bombings in an effort to turn Iraqis against the US occupation
Revenue from oil production will be insufficient to fund reconstruction.
The occupation force will find it “exceptionally challenging” to provide Iraqis with electricity, water, food, and security.
The paper lists 135 postinvasion tasks that the US would need to perform, including securing the borders, establishing local governments, protecting religious, historical, and cultural sites, establishing police systems, restoring and maintaining power systems, operating hospitals, reorganizing Iraq’s military and security forces, and disarming militia groups.
The reports says the US should not abolish the Iraqi army.
About a thousand copies of the report are distributed to various government officials and offices, including to members of Congress. While Central Command reportedly appreciates the report, there is no feedback from the Pentagon’s civilian leadership. [Strategic Studies Institute, 2/2003 ; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 197-198; Salon, 6/8/2006]
Larry Wilkerson. [Source: CBS News]Secretary of State Colin Powell, preparing for his critically important presentation to the United Nations that will assert the reality of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction (see February 5, 2003), sends his chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, to the CIA to prepare for the presentation. CIA Director George Tenet and his experts regale Wilkerson with the information about mobile bioweapons labs provided by the Iraqi defector Curveball (see November 1999). In 2007, Wilkerson will recall, “They presented it in a very dynamic, dramatic, ‘we know this is accurate,’ way.” Curveball’s assertion that he is a firsthand witness is very important, Wilkerson will say. “This was a man who had actually been in the belly of the beast. He had been in the lab. He had been there when an accident occurred. He’d seen people killed. And the implication was, strong implication, that they weren’t killed because of the accident in the explosion, they were killed because they were contaminated. Yes, the source was very credible. As it was presented by the CIA.” Wilkerson later says that both he and Powell accept the claims because they depend on the intelligence community for good information: “And you depend on the director of central intelligence to assimilate all the intelligence community’s input and give it to you.” Wilkerson feels the section on mobile bioweapons is the strongest part of the presentation, as does Powell. Others at the CIA are not so convinced of Curveball’s truthfulness (see September 2002, January 27, 2003, and December 2002). [CBS News, 11/4/2007]
Britain’s GCHQ. [Source: BBC]British officials order translators and analysts working at the British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) to cooperate with a US surveillance operation (see January 31, 2003) that is targeting diplomats from the “swing nations” on the Security Council—Chile, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Angola, Guinea, and Pakistan. China, too, is likely a target of the mission. The espionage campaign is “designed to help smooth the way for a second UN resolution authorizing war in Iraq.” [Observer, 2/8/2004 Sources: Unnamed sources close to the intelligence services] The operation is likely known to the director-general of GCHQ, David Pepper, and Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, “who has overall responsibility for GCHQ.” [Observer, 2/8/2004] The operation reportedly causes “significant disquiet in the intelligence community on both sides of the Atlantic.” [Observer, 2/8/2004]
Former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, resigning his position as the White House cybersecurity chief, receives a handwritten note from President Bush that reads in part: “Dear Dick, you will be missed. You served our nation with distinction and honor. You have left a positive mark on our government.” Clarke will later note: “This is not the normal typewritten letter that everybody gets. This is the president’s handwriting” (see March 28, 2004). [MSNBC, 3/28/2004]
Frank Koza, chief of staff in the “Regional Targets” section of the National Security Agency, issues a secret memo to senior NSA officials that orders staff to conduct aggressive, covert surveillance against several United Nations Security Council members. This surveillance, which has the potential to wreak havoc on US relations with its fellow nations, is reportedly ordered by George W. Bush and his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice. Koza, whose section spies on countries considered strategically important to US interests, is trying to compile information on certain Security Council members in order to help the United States to win an upcoming UN resolution vote on whether to support military action against Iraq (see February 24, 2003.
Targeted Nations Include 'Middle Six' - The targeted members are the delegations from Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Mexico, Guinea, and Pakistan, who together make up the so-called “Middle Six.” These six nations are officially “on the fence,” and their votes are being aggressively courted by both the pro-war faction, led by the US and Britain, and the anti-war faction, led by France, Russia and China (see Mid-February 2003-March 2003. [Observer, 3/2/2003] Bulgaria is another nation targeted, and that operation will apparently be successful, because within days Bulgaria joined the US in supporting the Iraq war resolution. Mexico, another fence-straddler, is not targeted, but that may be because, in journalist Martin Bright’s words, “the Americans had other means of twisting the arms of the Mexicans.” (Bright is one of the authors of the original news report.) The surveillance program will backfire with at least one country, Chile, who has its own history of being victimized by US “dirty tricks” and CIA-led coups. Chile is almost certain to oppose the US resolution. [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 3/6/2003] It is also likely, some experts believe, that China is an ultimate target of the spy operation, since the junior translater who will leak the Koza memo in February, Katharine Gun, is fluent in Mandarin Chinese and is unlikely to have seen the memo unless she would have been involved in translating it into that language. [AlterNet, 2/18/2004]
Operation Ruined US Chances of Winning Vote - Later assessment shows that many experts believe the spying operation scuttled any chance the US had of winning the UN vote, as well as the last-ditch attempt by the UN to find a compromise that would avert a US-British invasion of Iraq. [Observer, 2/15/2004]
Chile 'Surprised' to be Targeted - Chile’s ambassador to Britain, Mariano Fernandez, will say after learning of the NSA surveillance, “We cannot understand why the United States was spying on Chile. We were very surprised. Relations have been good with America since the time of George Bush, Sr.” [Observer, 3/9/2003]
Mexico Suspected Spying - Mexico’s UN representative, Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, will tell the Observer a year later that he and other UN delegates believed at the time that they were being spied upon by the US during their meetings. “The surprising thing was the very rapid flow of information to the US quarters,” he will recall. “It was very obvious to the countries involved in the discussion on Iraq that we were being observed and that our communications were probably being tapped. The information was being gathered to benefit the United States.” [Observer, 2/15/2004]
Memo Comes Before Powell's UN Presentation - The memo comes just five days before Colin Powell’s extraordinary presentation to the UN to build a case for war against Iraq (see [complete_timeline_of_the_2003_invasion_of_iraq_442]]), and is evidence of the US’s plans to do everything possible to influence the UN to vote to authorize war with that nation. The memo says the eavesdropping push “will probably peak” after Powell’s speech. [Baltimore Sun, 3/4/2003]
NSA Wants Details of Voting Plans, More - The NSA wants information about how these countries’ delegations “will vote on any second resolution on Iraq, but also ‘policies’, ‘negotiating positions’, ‘alliances’ and ‘dependencies’—the whole gamut of information that could give US policymakers an edge in obtaining results favorable to US goals or to head off surprises.” [Observer, 3/2/2003] Bright will tell other reporters on March 9, “It’s quite clear what they were going for was not only the voting patterns and the voting plans and the negotiations with other interested parties such as the French or the Chinese, it wasn’t just the bare bones, it was also the office telephone communications and email communications and also what are described as ‘domestic coms’, which is the home telephones of people working within the UN. This can only mean that they were looking for personal information. That is, information which could be used against those delagates. It’s even clear from the memo that this was an aggressive operation. It wasn’t simply a neutral surveillance operation.” According to Bright’s sources, the orders for the program came “from a level at least as high as Condoleezza Rice, who is the President’s National Security Adviser.” [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 3/6/2003]
'Surge' of Covert Intelligence Gathering - Koza advises his fellow NSA officials that the agency is “mounting a surge” aimed at gaining covert information that will help the US in its negotiations. This information will be used for the US’s so-called Quick Response Capability (QRC), “against” the six delegations. In the memo, Koza writes that the staff should also monitor “existing non-UN Security Council Member UN-related and domestic comms [office and home telephones] for anything useful related to Security Council deliberations,” suggesting that not only are the delegates to be monitored in their UN offices, but at their homes as well. Koza’s memo is copied to senior officials at an unnamed foreign intelligence agency (later revealed to be Britain). Koza addresses those officials: “We’d appreciate your support in getting the word to your analysts who might have similar more indirect access to valuable information from accesses in your product lines [intelligence sources].…I suspect that you’ll be hearing more along these lines in formal channels.” The surveillance is part of a comprehensive attempt by the US to influence other nations to vote to authorize a war against Iraq; these US attempts include proffers of economic and military aid, and threats that existing aid packages will be withdrawn. A European intelligence source says, The Americans are being very purposeful about this.” [National Security Agency, 1/31/2003; Observer, 3/2/2003; Observer, 2/8/2004]
US Media Ignores Operation - While the European and other regional media have produced intensive coverage of the news of the NSA’s wiretapping of the UN, the American media virtually ignores the story until 2004, when Gun’s court case is scheduled to commence (see February 26, 2004). Bright, in an interview with an Australian news outlet, says on March 6 that “[i]t’s as well not to get too paranoid about these things and too conspiratorial,” he was scheduled for interviews by three major US television news outlets, NBC, Fox News, and CNN, who all “appeared very excited about the story to the extent of sending cars to my house to get me into the studio, and at the last minute, were told by their American desks to drop the story. I think they’ve got some questions to answer too.” [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 3/6/2003] Most US print media outlets fail to cover the story, either. The New York Times, the self-described newspaper of record for the US, do not cover the story whatsoever. The Times’s deputy foreign editor, Alison Smale, says on March 5, “Well, it’s not that we haven’t been interested, [but] we could get no confirmation or comment” on the memo from US officials. “We would normally expect to do our own intelligence reporting.” The Washington Post publishes a single story about the operation, focusing on the idea that surveillance at the UN is business as usual. The Los Angeles Times fixes on claims by unnamed “former top intelligence officials” believe Koza’s memo is a forgery. (When the memo is proven to be authentic, both the Post and the Los Angeles Times refuse to print anything further on the story.) Author Norman Solomon writes, “In contrast to the courage of the lone woman who leaked the NSA memo—and in contrast to the journalistic vigor of the Observer team that exposed it—the most powerful US news outlets gave the revelation the media equivalent of a yawn. Top officials of the Bush administration, no doubt relieved at the lack of US media concern about the NSA’s illicit spying, must have been very encouraged.” [ZNet, 12/28/2005]
UN to Launch Inquiry - The United Nations will launch its own inquiry into the NSA surveillance operation (see March 9, 2003).
Entity Tags: United Nations Security Council, Washington Post, NBC, New York Times, Martin Bright, Condoleezza Rice, George W. Bush, Alison Smale, Britain Mariano FernÃ¡ndez, Los Angeles Times, CNN, Fox News, Colin Powell, National Security Agency, Frank Koza
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
The State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), reduced to fact-checking the drafts of Secretary of State Colin Powell’s upcoming UN speech (see January 30-February 4, 2003 and February 5, 2003), flags 38 of the charges in the draft as “unsubstantiated” or “weak.” Twenty-eight of them are removed from the draft. [Unger, 2007, pp. 278]
Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists says that he is not sure that Congress’s public termination of the Total Information Awareness (TIA) project (see January 23, 2003) was as real and outrage-driven as it seemed at the time. “The whole congressional action looks like a shell game,” Aftergood says. “There may be enough of a difference for them to claim TIA was terminated while for all practical purposes the identical work is continuing.” While Congress terminated TIA with visible indignation, it also quietly funded the “National Foreign Intelligence Program,” and never identified which intelligence agency would do the work—which was also kept from the public eye. Congress did say that none of the research would be used against US citizens. No one in Congress will discuss how many of Poindexter’s programs survived, but knowledgeable sources will confirm that some 18 data-mining programs known as Evidence Extraction and Link Discovery in Poindexter’s research were preserved after TIA’s termination. These programs may well include the sprawling data mining program known as Novel Intelligence from Massive Data (NIMD) (see After September 11, 2001), though this cannot be confirmed. Former TIA chief John Poindexter’s vision of the technology behind NIMD envisioned software that can quickly analyze “multiple petabytes” of data. A single petabyte would fill the Library of Congress space for 18 million books more than 50 times, or could hold 40 pages of text for each of the more than 6.2 billion humans on Earth. Poindexter and his colleagues envisioned the program as handling a petabyte or more of data a month. [Associated Press, 2/23/2004] Concerns about the privacy rights of US citizens being damaged by the program are rife. “If they were to stick to strictly military-related research and development, there is less of an issue, but these technologies have much broader social implications,” says Barbara Simons, a computer scientist who is past president of the Association of Computing Machinery, an organization that has expressed concerns about TIA. [New York Times, 5/21/2003] At least one Senator is uncomfortable with the apparent resurgence of TIA. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) will write Vice President Dick Cheney in June 2003 after receiving a briefing on the various secret surveillance programs (see July 17, 2003). Rockefeller will write, “As I reflected on the meeting today, John Poindexter’s TIA project sprung to mind, exacerbating my concern regarding the direction the administration is moving with regard to security, technology, and surveillance.” [National Journal, 1/20/2006]
Jane Harman. [Source: US House of Representatives]CIA General Counsel Scott Muller briefs a small group of legislators on the CIA’s detainee interrogation program, and indicates that it has made videotapes of the interrogations. Muller says that the CIA is now thinking about destroying the tapes, because they put the officers shown on them at risk. Although four to eight legislators have already been briefed about the program (see September 2002), this is apparently the first mention that videotapes of interrogations have been made. [New York Times, 12/8/2007] According to House Intelligence Committee member Jane Harman (D-CA), the briefing raises “a number of serious concerns.” [The Gavel, 12/9/2007] Both Harman and another of those present, Porter Goss (R-FL), advise the CIA that they think destroying the tapes is a bad idea (see November 2005). Harman is apparently supported by fellow Democrat Nancy Pelosi, who is said to “concur” with Harman’s objections to the tapes’ destruction. [International Herald Tribune, 12/8/2007] Harman writes a follow-up letter to Muller asking about legal opinions on interrogation techniques and urging the CIA to reconsider its decision to destroy the tapes (see February 28, 2003).
A Special Mission Unit (SMU) Task Force designated to leave Afghanistan and deploy to Iraq receives a copy of the SMU interrogation policy from Afghanistan that includes torture methods for use against detainees (see January 11, 2003). The SMU Task Force changes the letterhead and adopts the policy verbatim. [Huffington Post, 4/21/2009]
The US and British conduct a spy operation targeting UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and other top UN officials. But news of this will not surface until February 2004. “[T]he UK… was… spying on Kofi Annan’s office and getting reports from him about what was going on,” former British cabinet member Claire Short will tell BBC Radio 4’s Today. When asked to elaborate, she says, “Well I know—I’ve seen transcripts of Kofi Annan’s conversations.” [BBC, 2/26/2004; Independent, 2/26/2004; New York Times, 2/27/2004; Guardian, 2/28/2004 Sources: Claire Short] And in an interview with The Guardian one day later, Hans Blix will say that he believes he too was bugged. [Guardian, 2/28/2004 Sources: Hans Blix] Under international treaties, it is illegal for member states to spy on UN offices. [New York Times, 2/27/2004; Sydney Morning Herald, 2/28/2004]
Michael Maloof. [Source: PBS]In February, Hassan al-Obeidi, chief of foreign operations of the Iraqi Intelligence Service, pays a visit to Imad Hage, a Lebanese-American businessman living in Beruit who has contacts in the Pentagon. Obeidi requests his help in relaying a backchannel offer to Washington in an attempt to avert war. Hage later tells the New York Times that Obeidi told him: “If this is about oil, we will talk about US oil concessions. If it is about the peace process, then we can talk. If this is about weapons of mass destruction, let the Americans send over their people. There are no weapons of mass destruction. Americans could send 2,000 FBI agents to look wherever they wanted,” At one point, Obeidi says that Iraq would even agree to hold elections within the next two years. Hage relays everything to Pentagon staffer Michael Maloof in Washington. [New York Times, 11/6/2003] Hage then travels to Baghdad and meets with Iraq’s chief of intelligence Tahir Jalil Habbush Al-Tikriti. Hage later recalls: “[The Iraqis] would be willing to allow between 1,000 to 2,000 US agents, FBI and/or scientists, into Iraq to verify, according to them, the absence of weapons of mass destruction or that they no longer had weapons of mass destruction. The second point, they offered to turn over Abdul Rahman Yasin, [under indictment in] the World Trade Center bombing in 1993. And on the third issue, they offered to hold free and fair elections in Iraq within a year or two. They kept on asking why they were targeted or they would be targeted, that they didn’t wish confrontation with the United States. If it was about oil, they’d be willing to make concessions on oil.” [New York Times, 11/6/2003; CNN, 11/7/2003] On February 19, Hage faxes a three-page report to Maloof listing five concessions the Iraqis were willing to make: cooperation in the war on terrorism, “full support for any US plan” in the Arab-Israeli peace process, giving “the US… first priority as it relates to Iraq oil, mining rights,” support for United States strategic interests in the region, and “direct US involvement on the ground in disarming Iraq.” Details of the Iraqi offer are sent to several top Pentagon officials. [New York Times, 11/6/2003] In early March, Hage and Richard Perle meet in London. Hage informs him that the Iraqis would like to arrange a secret meeting with him to discuss their offer. According to Perle, he then contacts the CIA seeking permission to meet with the Iraqis. But according to Perle, the CIA isn’t interested. “The message was, ‘Tell them that we will see them in Baghdad.’” The agency also tells Perle that they had already pursued other backchannel leads with the Iraqi regime. According to one senior US intelligence official, the other leads “came via a broad range of foreign intelligence services, other governments, third parties, charlatans, and independent actors. Every lead that was at all plausible, and some that weren’t, were followed up.” [New York Times, 11/6/2003; Risen, 2006, pp. 183-184] In spite of the CIA’s refusal to engage in talks with the Iraqis, Hage continues to forward offers by the Iraqis to Maloof. The US ignores them. [New York Times, 11/6/2003]
An unnamed Justice Department official tells the New York Times that the FBI has been baffled by the administration’s claims of links between Iraq and al-Qaeda. “We’ve been looking at this hard for more than a year and you know what, we just don’t think it’s there,” the official says. [New York Times, 2/3/2003 Sources: Unnamed government official]
In a book published in 2006, 9/11 Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice-Chairman Lee Hamilton will say that 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) is captured “in an early 2003 raid on a Karachi apartment orchestrated by the CIA, the FBI, and Pakistani security services.” [Kean and Hamilton, 2006, pp. 115] Pakistan and the US will announce the arrest at the beginning of March (see February 29 or March 1, 2003). In contrast to the version put forward later by Kean and Hamilton, the Pakistani government initially states he is captured in a house in Rawalpindi, solely by Pakistani security forces. The US agrees on the date and place, but says it was a joint operation. [CNN, 3/2/2003; Dawn (Karachi), 3/2/2003] However, the initial account is called into question due to various problems (see March 10, 2003). It is unclear whether Kean and Hamilton realize that the passing reference in their book is at variance with the initial account.
On February 1, Secretary of State Colin Powell begins rehearsing for his February 5 presentation to the UN Security Council (see February 5, 2003). Powell is assisted by members of his staff, including his chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see January 30-February 4, 2003). [US News and World Report, 6/9/2003; Bamford, 2004, pp. 368-9; Gentlemen's Quarterly, 4/29/2004]
Discredited Items Keep Reappearing - One item that keeps reoccurring is the discredited claim that 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta met with Iraqi officials in Prague (see September 14, 2001 and September 18, 2001). Cheney’s people keep attempting to insert it into the presentation. It takes Powell’s personal intervention to have the claim removed from the presentation. “He was trying to get rid of everything that didn’t have a credible intelligence community-based source,” Wilkerson will later recall. But even after Powell’s decision, Cheney loyalist Stephen Hadley, the deputy national security adviser, tries to have it reinserted. “They were just relentless,” Wilkerson will recall. “You would take it out and they would stick it back in. That was their favorite bureaucratic technique—ruthless relentlessness.” An official (probably Wilkerson) later adds: “We cut it and somehow it got back in. And the secretary said, ‘I thought I cut this?’ And Steve Hadley looked around and said, ‘My fault, Mr. Secretary, I put it back in.’ ‘Well, cut it, permanently!’ yelled Powell. It was all cartoon. The specious connection between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, much of which I subsequently found came probably from the INC and from their sources, defectors and so forth, [regarding the] training in Iraq for terrorists.… No question in my mind that some of the sources that we were using were probably Israeli intelligence. That was one thing that was rarely revealed to us—if it was a foreign source.” Powell becomes so angry at the machinations that he throws the dossier into the air and snaps: “This is bullsh_t. I’m not doing this.” But he continues working on the presentation. [US News and World Report, 6/9/2003; Bamford, 2004, pp. 370-1; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 230; Unger, 2007, pp. 278-279] The same official will add that every time Powell balks at using a particular item, he is “fought by the vice president’s office in the person of Scooter Libby, by the National Security Adviser [Condoleezza Rice] herself, by her deputy [Stephen Hadley], and sometimes by the intelligence people—George [Tenet] and [Deputy CIA Director] John [McLaughlin].” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 370]
Mobile Bioweapons Claim Survives Editing Process - One of the allegations Powell rehearses is the claim that Iraq has developed mobile biological weapons laboratories, a claim based on sources that US intelligence knows are of questionable reliability (see Late January, 2003 and February 4, 2003). Referring to one of the sources, an Iraqi major, Powell later tells the Los Angeles Times, “What really made me not pleased was they had put out a burn [fabricator] notice on this guy, and people who were even present at my briefings knew it.” Nor does anyone inform Powell that another source, an Iraqi defector known as Curveball, is also a suspected fabricator (see January 27, 2003). [Los Angeles Times, 11/20/2005] In fact, the CIA issued an official “burn notice” formally retracting more than 100 intelligence reports based on Curveball’s information. [ABC News, 3/13/2007]
Powell 'Angry, Disappointed' in Poor Sourcing of Claim - In March 2007, Powell will claim he is “angry and disappointed” that he was never told the CIA had doubts about the reliability of the source. “I spent four days at CIA headquarters, and they told me they had this nailed.” But former CIA chief of European operations Tyler Drumheller will later claim in a book that he tried and failed to keep the Curveball information out of the Powell speech (see February 4-5, 2003). “People died because of this,” he will say. “All off this one little guy who all he wanted to do was stay in Germany.” Drumheller will say he personally redacted all references to Curveball material in an advance draft of the Powell speech. “We said, ‘This is from Curveball. Don’t use this.’” But Powell later says neither he nor his chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, were ever told of any doubts about Curveball. “In fact, it was the exact opposite,” Wilkerson will assert. “Never from anyone did we even hear the word ‘Curveball,’ let alone any expression of doubt in what Secretary Powell was presenting with regard to the biological labs.” [ABC News, 3/13/2007]
Entity Tags: White House Iraq Group, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Lawrence Wilkerson, John E. McLaughlin, George J. Tenet, Condoleezza Rice, Richard Armitage, Colin Powell, Stephen J. Hadley
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda
The State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) finds seven more items (see January 31, 2003) in the latest draft of Secretary of State Colin Powell’s upcoming presentation to the UN Security Council (see February 5, 2003) that it terms as unreliable or unverifiable. Three are removed, four stay. [Unger, 2007, pp. 281]
The British government releases a dossier titled “Iraq: Its Infrastructure of Concealment, Deception, and Intimidation.” The government says the dossier is based on high-level intelligence and diplomatic sources and was produced with the approval of Prime Minister Tony Blair; it also wins praise from US Secretary of State Colin Powell (see February 7, 2003). Unfortunately, the dossier is almost wholly plagiarized from a September 2002 article by university student Ibrahim al-Marashi. [Middle East Review of International Affairs, 2/23/2003] Al-Marashi was doing postgraduate work at Oxford University when he wrote it. [International Policy Fellowships, 10/1/2006] The article is entitled “Iraq’s Security and Intelligence Network: A Guide and Analysis,” and was published in the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal (MERIA). [Middle East Review of International Affairs, 2/23/2003] The British dossier plagiarizes two other articles as well, both from Jane’s Intelligence Review (see February 8, 2003), some of which were published as far back as 1997. MERIA is based in Israel, which even moderate Arabs say makes it a suspect source, and all the more reason why the origin of the information should have been cited. [Guardian, 2/7/2003] MERIA, an Internet-based magazine with about 10,000 subscribers, is edited by Jerusalem Post columnist Barry Rubin. [Jerusalem Post, 2/8/2003] Rubin will responds dryly: “We are pleased that the high quality of MERIA Journal’s articles has made them so valuable to our readers.… As noted on the masthead of each issue and all our publications, however, we do appreciate being given credit.” [Middle East Review of International Affairs, 2/23/2003] Al-Marashi, currently working at California’s Center for Nonproliferation Studies, describes himself as an opponent of Saddam Hussein’s regime: “As an Iraqi, I support regime change in Iraq,” he says. [Reuters, 2/8/2003; Associated Press, 2/7/2007]
Article Used Information from 1991 - He examined Iraq’s secret police and other, similar forces in detail, using captured Iraqi documents from the 1991 Gulf War and updating that information to be more timely. [Middle East Review of International Affairs, 9/2002] The dossier contains entire sections from al-Marashi’s article quoted almost verbatim, including typographical errors contained in the original. When asked about the plagiarism, al-Marashi says he was not approached by the British government for permission to use his work. “It was a shock to me,” he says. Chris Aaron, editor of Jane’s Intelligence Review, says he had not been asked for permission to use material from his article in the dossier. The dossier uses the three articles to detail methods used by the Iraqi government to block and misdirect UN weapons inspectors’ attempts to locate weapons stockpiles in Iraq. The dossier claims that while the UN only has 108 weapons inspectors inside Iraq, the Iraqi government has 20,000 intelligence officers “engaged in disrupting their inspections and concealing weapons of mass destruction.” The dossier claims that every hotel room and telephone used by the weapons inspectors is bugged, and that WMD-related documents are being concealed in Iraqi hospitals, mosques, and homes. Powell will cite the dossier as part of his presentation to the UN detailing evidence of Iraqi weapons programs (see February 5, 2003). [Associated Press, 2/6/2003; BBC, 2/7/2003] When the media exposes the origins of the dossier, Blair officials will concede that they should have been more honest about the source material (see February 6, 2003).
British 'Inflated' Some Numbers, Used More Extreme Language - Al-Marashi, who learns of the plagiarism from a colleague, Glen Rangwala (see February 5, 2003), says the dossier is accurate despite “a few minor cosmetic changes.” He adds: “The only inaccuracies in the [British] document were that they maybe inflated some of the numbers of these intelligence agencies. The primary documents I used for this article are a collection of two sets of documents, one taken from Kurdish rebels in the north of Iraq—around four million documents—as well as 300,000 documents left by Iraqi security services in Kuwait.” [BBC, 2/7/2003] Al-Marashi and Rangwala both note that the dossier uses more extreme language. “Being an academic paper, I tried to soften the language” al-Marashi says. “For example, in one of my documents, I said that [the Iraqi intelligence agency known as the Mukhabarat] support[s] organizations in what Iraq considers hostile regimes, whereas the [British] document refers to it as ‘supporting terrorist organizations in hostile regimes.’” [Guardian, 2/7/2003; New York Times, 2/8/2003]
Third Attempt to Pass Off Old Information as New Evidence - This is the third time in recent months that Downing Street has tried to pass off old, suspect information as damning evidence against Iraq. In September, it released a 50-page dossier, “Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Assessment of the British Government,” that used years-old information from the Foreign Office and British intelligence to make its case (see September 24, 2002); UN inspectors and British journalists visited some of the “facilities of concern” and found nothing (see September 24, 2002). In December, Downing Street released a 23-page report, “Saddam Hussein: Crimes and Human Rights Abuses,” that was heavily criticized by human rights groups, members of Parliament, and others for reusing old information. When that dossier was released, the Foreign Office put forward an Iraqi exile who had been jailed by Hussein for 11 years. The exile displayed handcuffs he said had been placed on him while in captivity. Afterwards, the exile admitted that the handcuffs were actually British in origin. [Guardian, 2/7/2003]
Dossier Product of Heated Debate - The Observer writes of the current “dodgy dossier” that discussions between Blair’s head of strategic communications, Alastair Campbell, foreign policy adviser David Manning, senior intelligence officials, and the new head of British homeland security, David Omand, resulted in a decision to “repeat a wheeze from last autumn: publishing a dossier of ‘intelligence-based evidence,’” this time focusing on Iraq’s history of deceiving weapons inspectors. The dossier had to be released before chief UN inspector Hans Blix could make his scheduled report in mid-February. The previous dossier, about Iraq’s dismal human rights record, had led to what The Observer calls “several stand-up rows between Omand and Campbell, with the former accusing the latter of sprinkling too much ‘magic dust’ over the facts to spice it up for public consumption.” That dossier left “the more sensationalist elements” in the forward, but for this dossier, “there was no time for such niceties. Led by Campbell, a team from the Coalition Information Center—the group set up by Campbell and his American counterpart during the war on the Taliban—began collecting published information that touched on useful themes.” Al-Marashi’s work became the central piece for the cut-and-pasted dossier, which The Observer says was compiled so sloppily that, in using the al-Marashi report and one of the Jane’s articles, two different organizations were confused with one another. [Observer, 2/9/2003]
Entity Tags: Hans Blix, UK Security Service (MI5), David Omand, Glen Rangwala, Ibrahim al-Marashi, Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal, Jerusalem Post, Jane’s Intelligence Review, Mukhabarat, David Manning, Colin Powell, Blair administration, Christopher Aaron, United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Coalition Information Center, Alastair Campbell, Saddam Hussein, Barry Rubin, Center for Nonproliferation Studies, British Foreign Office, Tony Blair
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda
The Independent reports on February 3 that according to security sources in London, Colin Powell will attempt to link Iraq to al-Qaeda in his February 5 presentation to the UN. But the sources say that intelligence analysts in both Washington and London do not believe such links exist. [Independent, 2/3/2003 Sources: Unnamed British intelligence sources] This is followed by a report the next day in the London Telegraph, reporting that the Bush administration’s insistence of a link between al-Zarqawi, Ansar al-Islam, and Saddam Hussein “has infuriated many within the United States intelligence community.” The report cites one unnamed US intelligence source who says, “The intelligence is practically non-existent,” and explains that the claim is largely based on information provided by Kurdish groups, which are enemies of Ansar al-Islam. “It is impossible to support the bald conclusions being made by the White House and the Pentagon given the poor quantity and quality of the intelligence available. There is uproar within the intelligence community on all of these points, but the Bush White House has quashed dissent.” [Daily Telegraph, 2/4/2003 Sources: Unnamed US and British intelligence sources] The Telegraph predicts that “if Mr. Powell tries to prove the link between Iraq and al-Qaeda, the whole thing could fall apart,” explaining that the veto-wielding Security Council members, “France, Russia, and China… all have powerful intelligence services and their own material on al-Qaeda and they will know better than to accept the flimsy evidence of a spurious link with Baghdad.” [Daily Telegraph, 2/4/2003]
CIA Director George Tenet and Deputy Director John McLaughlin assure Colin Powell that the statements he will be making in his February 5 speech (see February 5, 2003) to the UN are backed by solid intelligence. Powell is apparently concerned that the allegations about mobile biological weapons laboratories have little evidence behind them. “Powell and I were both suspicious because there were no pictures of the mobile labs,” Powell’s deputy, Larry Wilkerson, will later recall in an interview with the Washington Post. But the two CIA officials claim that evidence for the mobile units is based on multiple sources whose accounts have been independently corroborated. “This is it, Mr. Secretary. You can’t doubt this one,” Wilkerson remembers them saying. [Washington Post, 6/25/2006]
Les, the CIA doctor who met Curveball (see May 2000), warns the deputy chief of the CIA’s Joint Task Force in an email that one of the allegations Powell is planning to make in his February 5 presentation to the UN is based on intelligence from a single informant of dubious reliability. The doctor—who is the only member of US intelligence to have met the source—says it isn’t even certain if the informant, known as “Curveball,” is “who he said he was.” He adds, “These issues, in my opinion, warrant further inquiry before we use the information as the backbone of one of four major findings of the existence of a continuing Iraqi BW program!” The CIA official quickly responds: “Let’s keep in mind the fact that this war’s going to happen regardless of what Curveball said or didn’t say,” he wrote. “The Powers That Be probably aren’t terribly interested in whether Curveball knows what he’s talking about.” [US Congress, 7/7/2004, pp. 58; Newsweek, 7/19/2004; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 183]
The Australian reports, “The US is understood to estimate the prospect of terrorism will rise by about 75 percent if it launches military action against the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.” [Australian, 2/4/2003 Sources: Unnamed US officials]
Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE) calls Colin Powell and tells him he is hopeful that his upcoming presentation to the UN Security Council will improve the prospect of getting a second UN resolution. Another resolution might force Saddam to capitulate, Biden suggests, or at the very least give an invasion legitimacy. Biden also advises Powell, “Don’t speak to anything you don’t know about.” Powell responds, “Someday when we’re both out of office, we’ll have a cup of coffee and I’ll tell you why.” Biden later says he believe Powell’s comment meant that he wasn’t confident in the information he was going to present. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 185]
On the evening of Secretary of State Colin Powell’s presentation to the UN Security Council (see February 5, 2003), Powell’s chief of staff Larry Wilkerson (see January 30-February 4, 2003) conducts a dress rehearsal on the top floor of the US Mission to the United Nations. He rearranges the furniture to look like the seating arrangements in the UN Security Council. This is Wilkerson’s last change to get the presentation right and weed out everything that cannot be verified. One item that worries him is an intercept of a conversation between two members of Iraq’s elite Republican Guards. Wilkerson will later say, “They were very classy, rat-tat-tat-tat, hitting you fast, like all the TV crap Americans are used to these says, nine-second sound bites.” But Wilkerson is not sure they say what the CIA and the White House claim they say. “You have this guy at a chemical factory saying, ‘Get rid of it.’ Suppose he’s actually trying to get rid of [the WMD]… [But] all the intercepts could have been interpreted two or three or even more ways. Believe me, I looked at it fifty times.” Wilkerson is doubly worried about the claims that Iraq has mobile bioweapons labs (see February 3, 2003). In a dramatic sequence, Powell will present sketches of the mobile labs based on descriptions from an undisclosed source. Wilkerson is not sold: “Powell and I were both suspicious because these weren’t pictures of the mobile labs,” he will later recall. Wilkerson asks CIA Director George Tenet and Tenet’s deputy John McLaughlin about the sourcing, and both officials agree that the sourcing is “exceptionally strong” (see February 4, 2003). McLaughlin fails to tell Wilkerson about CIA official Tyler Drumheller’s concerns (see Late January, 2003). Wilkerson will recall, “I sat in the room, looking into George Tenet’s eyes, as did the secretary of state, and heard with all the firmness only George could give… I mean eyeball-to-eyeball contact between two of the most powerful men in the administration, Colin Powell and George Tenet, and George Tenet assuring Colin Powell that the information he was presenting to the UN was ironclad.” At the end of the rehearsal, Powell asks Tenet, “Do you stand by this?” “Absolutely, Mr. Secretary,” Tenet replies. “Good,” says Powell, “because you are going to be in camera beside me at the UN Security Council tomorrow.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 282-283]
The US government sends copies of the Iraq-Niger uranium documents (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001) to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Included with the documents is a number of talking points that attempt to shape the agency’s conclusions. The talking points cite former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s trip to Niger as support of the claim that Iraq tried to acquire uranium from that country (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). [US Congress, 7/7/2004]
Around midnight, CIA Director George Tenet calls CIA official Tyler Drumheller at home and asks for the phone number of Richard Dearlove, the British intelligence chief. Tenet wants to get Dearlove’s approval to use British intelligence in Secretary of State Colin Powell’s speech to the UN (see February 5, 2003). Drumheller takes the opportunity to remind Tenet that the source for the alleged mobile labs, Curveball, is not reliable. “Hey, boss, you’re not going to use that stuff in the speech… ? There are real problems with that,” Drumheller asks. Tenet, distracted and tired, tells him not to worry. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 184; Washington Post, 6/25/2006] Tenet will later deny having such a conversation with Drumheller, writing: “I remember no such midnight call or warning.… Drumheller had dozens of opportunities before and after the Powell speech to raise the alarm with me [about Curveball], yet he failed to do so.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 283]
CIA terrorism specialist Phil Mudd visits Colin Powell’s hotel suite at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City to review the terrorism section of the speech Powell will make to the UN the next morning. Mudd looks over the changes, including a deleted section on connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda. After Mudd reads the section, he says, “Looks fine.” After leaving the hotel, he will inform CIA Director George Tenet that Powell’s team had trimmed the section on Iraq’s alleged ties to militant Islamic groups. [Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 230; Unger, 2007, pp. 283-284]
Alan Foley, director of the CIA’s Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control Center (WINPAC), tells a former colleague that the allegations being made by Powell in his speech (see February 5, 2003) to the UN Security Council are not backed by evidence. The former colleague tells reporter James Risen, “I talked to Foley on the day of Powell’s UN speech, and he said, we just don’t have it. It’s not very good.” [Risen, 2006, pp. 183-184]
When asked on CNN if there is a clear connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, National Security Adviser Rice replies: “There is no question in my mind about the al-Qaeda connection. It is a connection that has unfolded, that we’re learning more about as we are able to take the testimony of detainees, people who were high up in the al-Qaeda organization. And what emerges is a picture of a Saddam Hussein who became impressed with what al-Qaeda did after it bombed our embassies in 1998 in Kenya and Tanzania, began to give them assistance in chemical and biological weapons, something that they were having trouble achieving on their own, that harbored a terrorist network under this man [Abu Musab] al-Zarqawi, despite the fact that Saddam Hussein was told that al-Zarqawi was there.” [CNN, 2/5/2003; US House Committee on Government Reform, 3/16/2004]
Glen Rangwala, a lecturer in politics at Cambridge University, realizes that a just-released dossier on Iraqi WMDs released by the British government is almost wholly plagiarized from the work of his colleague, graduate student Ibrahim al-Marashi. Rangwala alerts al-Marashi to the dossier in an e-mail after being sent a copy of the online version by researchers in Sweden. A Cambridge undergraduate student forwards a copy of Rangwala’s e-mail to journalists. “I found it quite startling when I realized that I’d read most of it before,” Rangwala later tells the press. “Apart from passing this off as the work of its intelligence services, it indicates that [Britain] really does not have any independent sources of information on Iraq’s internal policies. It just draws upon publicly available data.” [Guardian, 2/7/2003; Observer, 2/9/2003] In his e-mail, posted on the discussion board of the organization Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq, Rangwala cites numerous identical passages in the dossier and in al-Marashi’s article. [Glen Rangwala, 2/5/2003] Rangwala notes that in the article al-Marashi acknowledged using 12-year old data, but “the British government, when it transplants that information into its own dossier, does not make that acknowledgment.” Al-Marashi says that when he learned his material had formed the basis for the dossier: “[I was] flattered at first, then surprised that they didn’t cite me… It was a case of cut and paste. They even left in my mistakes.” [Jerusalem Post, 2/8/2003] Al-Marashi also comments, “I’ll be more skeptical of any British intelligence I read in future.” [London Times, 2/7/2003]
After months of delay, the US State Department provides French nuclear scientist Jacques Baute, head of the UN Iraq Nuclear Verification office, with the Niger documents (see March 2000). The State Department includes the following caveat with the documents: “We cannot confirm these reports and have questions regarding some specific claims.” [Independent, 7/10/2003; Washington Post, 7/20/2003] Only Baute and International Atomic Energy Agency Director Mohamed ElBaradei are authorized to view the documents. The memo about an alleged plan (see October 15, 2002) to form an anti-Western coalition is not included in the set of papers. Baute, who assumes the papers are authentic, travels to Baghdad and interviews several current and former Iraqi officials about the alleged attempt to purchase uranium from Niger. When he returns from his trip on February 17, he examines the documents and almost immediately concludes they are fakes
(see February 17, 2003). [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 201-203]
At 2:30 a.m., Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, gets a call from one of CIA Director George Tenet’s aides (see 2:30 a.m. February 5, 2003). Vice President Dick Cheney’s staff is insisting that the widely discredited claim (see October 21, 2002) that Mohamed Atta had met in Prague with an Iraqi intelligence officer in April 2001 (see April 8, 2001) be reinstated into Powell’s forthcoming speech to the UN Security Council. The pressure continues throughout the night. Just before 9 a.m., when Powell begins his speech, Wilkerson’s phone rings again and again. Caller ID shows it is Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, presumably to try one more time to argue for the inclusion of the material. Wilkerson refuses to take the call. “Scooter,” one State Department aide will later explain to reporter Craig Unger, “wasn’t happy.” [Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 232; Unger, 2007, pp. 283-284]
The case officer at the German intelligence agency BND who supervises the Iraqi defector “Curveball” (see September 2002 and January 27, 2003) is aghast at Secretary of State Colin Powell’s UN presentation (see February 5, 2003), particularly Powell’s reliance on data supplied by Curveball as if it were verified fact. “Mein Gott!” he will later exclaim. “We had always told them it was not proven.… It was not hard intelligence.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 287]
Senior CIA official and WMD specialist Valerie Plame Wilson watches Secretary of State Colin Powell’s address to the United Nations (see February 5, 2003). In her memoir Fair Game (partially redacted by the CIA), she will later write: “I assumed Powell’s presentation would be, in a sense, a Kabuki-like performance, in which the secretary of state’s sterling reputation would persuade the world of the righteousness of a decision the administration had already made. Still, I had enormous respect for [Powell]—I had heard him speak in the Agency’s bubble-shaped auditorium and had been quite impressed with his eloquence and natural charisma.” Plame Wilson and several other analysts watch Powell’s presentation on a television in their CIA office complex. Plame Wilson calls Powell’s presentation a “bravura performance… but I knew key parts of it were wrong.” She finds “shocking” his claims about Iraq’s mobile bioweapons labs. She knows that information comes from an Iraqi defector code-named “Curveball,” who has already been discredited by CIA analysts. Plame Wilson will recall: “When the program ended and we all drifted back to our desks, I was deeply upset, my head was spinning. I was experiencing what I can only call cognitive dissonance: ‘a psychological phenomenon which refers to the discomfort felt at a discrepancy between what you already know or believe, and new information or interpretation.’ I had been tracking Iraqi WMD efforts carefully for some time [REDACTED] and the facts I knew simply did not match up with what Powell had just presented.” Powell had presented as direct and verified fact a body of arguments that had been seriously questioned and heavily caveated by CIA and other intelligence agencies’ analysts. His presentation was, Plame Wilson will observe, “at a minimum much too optimistic and almost glib. It seemed he had only used the most sensational and tantalizing bits as evidence, without any of those appropriate caveats or cautions.” Plame Wilson will later write that for the rest of the day, she attempts to come to grips with Powell’s presentation. She realizes that others above her have access to information of which she is unaware. “The idea that my government, which I had served loyally for years, might be exaggerating a case for war was impossible to comprehend. Nothing made sense.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 128-130]
Colin Powell’s speech to the UN Security Council (see February 5, 2003) has a far more powerful effect on the American populace than it does among others. [Unger, 2007, pp. 286-288]
Did Not Convince Skeptical Governments - The presentation does little to change minds on the Security Council. France, Russia, and China remain opposed to the idea of a new resolution that would pave the way for the US to invade Iraq. These countries say that Powell’s speech demonstrates that inspections are working and must be allowed to continue. “Immediately after Powell spoke, the foreign ministers of France, Russia and China—all of which hold veto power—rejected the need for imminent military action and instead said the solution was more inspections,” reports the Washington Post. But governments who have been supportive of the United States’ stance remain firmly behind Washington. [Washington Post, 2/6/2003; Washington Post, 2/7/2003]
European Press Skeptical - The European press’s response to Powell’s evidence is also mixed. The Times of London, a relatively conservative daily newspaper, describes Powell’s presentation as a “few smudgy satellite photographs, a teaspoon of talcum powder, some Lego-style drawings of sinister trucks and trains, a picture of an American U2 spy plane, several mugshots of Arabic men, and a script that required a suspension of mistrust by the world’s doves.” [London Times, 2/6/2003]
American Media Strongly Positive - The US media’s reaction to Powell’s presentation is immediate and overwhelmingly positive. Over 100 press outlets compare his speech to Adlai Stevenson’s 1962 denunciation of the USSR during the Cuban Missile Crisis (see January 30-February 4, 2003). One poll shows that 90 percent of Americans now believe Iraq has an active WMD program that poses a dire threat to the nation. Another shows 67 percent of Americans believe that the US is justified in going to war with Iraq because of that nation’s illicit WMD. The San Francisco Chronicle calls the speech “impressive in its breadth and eloquence.” The Denver Post compares Powell to “Marshal Dillon facing down a gunslinger in Dodge City,” and adds that he showed the world “not just one ‘smoking gun’ but a battery of them.” Perhaps the most telling reaction is among the media’s liberals. The Washington Post’s Mary McGrory says Powell won her over. Richard Cohen, a moderate Post colleague, writes that Powell’s evidence is “absolutely bone-chilling in its detail… [and] had to prove to anyone that Iraq not only hadn’t accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them. Only a fool, or possibly a Frenchman, could conclude otherwise.” And the New York Times writes three separate stories praising Powell as “powerful,” “sober,” “factual,” and “nearly encyclopedic.” Columnist William Safire says Powell’s presentation has “half a dozen smoking guns” and makes an “irrefutable and undeniable” case. Safire’s colleague at the Times, Michael Gordon, concludes, “It will be difficult for skeptics to argue that Washington’s case against Iraq is based on groundless suspicions and not intelligence information.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 286-288] In the days after the speech, the Washington Post opinion pages are filled with praises for Powell and the presentation. [New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004] One Post editorial proclaims that after the presentation, it is “hard to imagine how anyone could doubt that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction.” [Washington Post, 2/6/2004]
Powell 'Trusted' - Former ambassador Joseph Wilson will write in 2004: “[I]t was Powell’s credibility that finally put public opinion over the top. Over and over again, I was told, ‘Colin Powell wouldn’t lie to us.‘… Powell’s support for invading Iraq with a pseudo-coalition was essential, and he deserves at least as much of the responsibility for the subsequent situation that we find ourselves in as anybody else in the administration, because, more than anybody else, it was his credibility and standing among the American people that tipped the scales.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 317-318] In 2007, CBS anchor Dan Rather gives a simple reason why Powell’s presentation is so strongly accepted by so many. “Colin Powell was trusted. Is trusted, I’d put it—in a sense. He, unlike many of the people who made the decisions to go to war, Colin Powell has seen war. He knows what a green jungle hell Vietnam was. He knows what the battlefield looks like. And when Colin Powell says to you, ‘I, Colin Powell, am putting my personal stamp on this information. It’s my name, my face, and I’m putting it out there,’ that did make a difference.… I was impressed. And who wouldn’t be?” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
Entity Tags: United Nations Security Council, San Francisco Chronicle, Richard Cohen, New York Times, William Safire, Mary McGrory, Colin Powell, Michael Gordon, Denver Post, Dan Rather, London Times, Joseph C. Wilson
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
CIA Director George Tenet calls Secretary of State Colin Powell’s hotel room at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City. Powell’s chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, picks up the phone. Tenet says that he is concerned that too much has been cut from Powell’s speech (see (11:00 p.m.) February 4, 2003) and tells Wilkerson that he wants to take one last look at the final draft. A copy of the speech is quickly sent to Tenet, who is staying at another hotel. [Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 230-231]
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