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Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, gives a speech to the National Newspaper Association in which he discloses classified information about the impending US invasion of Iraq. Roberts tells the audience that he has “been in touch with our intelligence community,” and reveals that the CIA has informed President Bush and the National Security Council “of intelligence information from what we call human intelligence that indicated the location of Saddam Hussein and his leadership in a bunker in the suburbs of Baghdad.” Roberts then tells the audience that Bush, after conferring with his top military advisers, has “authorized a pre-emptive surgical strike with 40 Tomahawk Missiles launched by ship and submarines and so-called bunker bombs by F-117 stealth aircraft. I do not have a damage assessment. The Iraqis report 14 killed and one wounded and are reporting damage in residential areas.” The initial US strikes against an Iraqi governmental complex, Dora Park, missed Hussein. In 2006, four former intelligence officials tell a news reporter that Roberts’s disclosure hampered US efforts to capture Hussein. They will note that Roberts, who is a staunch defender of the Bush administration’s attempts to keep sensitive information out of the press, is never held accountable for what they term a serious security breach; there is no investigation, and his remarks are widely ignored by the press. According to the intelligence officials, Roberts’s disclosure alerts others, including hostile Iraqis, that the US has human intelligence sources close to Hussein. Roberts “had given up that we had a penetration of [Saddam’s] inner circle,” one official will say. “It was the worst thing you could ever do.” The officials will say it is unclear what effect, if any, Roberts’s disclosure has on Hussein’s efforts to escape the US. A Republican Congressional aide familiar with the incident will later call Roberts’s remarks “a mistake” and a “dumb act,” but not one “done with bad intent.” The aide will say that Roberts may have disclosed the information out of an urge for “self-aggrandizement.” [National Journal, 4/25/2006]
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer says during his daily press briefing, “Well, there is no question that we have evidence and information that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, biological
and chemical particularly. This was the reason that the president felt so
strongly that we needed to take military action to disarm Saddam Hussein, since
he would not do it himself.” [White House, 3/21/2003]
Victoria Clarke, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, says during a televised briefing at the Pentagon that the administration knows about “a number of sites” where Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. Clarke refuses to provide any estimate of how many sites the US knows of. [Washington Post, 3/23/2003, pp. A27]
Privates Jessica Lynch and Lori Piestewa. [Source: CNN]US Army Private First Class Jessica Lynch, a supply clerk, is injured in a Humvee crash in the city of Nasiriyah. Lynch’s convoy had become separated from its mates and wound up lost in Nasiriyah, where it came under attack. An Army investigation later shows that Lynch and her colleagues were lost due to exhaustion, several wrong turns, and faulty communications (see July 10, 2003), all of which contribute to the convoy’s misdirection. Eleven US soldiers die in the ambush; Lynch and five others, including her close friend Private Lori Piestewa, are taken captive (see October 24, 2003). Piestewa is mortally wounded and will die within a few hours. Besides Lynch and Piestewa, the others taken prisoner are Sergeant James Riley; Specialists Edgar Hernandez, Joseph Hudson, and Shoshana Johnson; and Private First Class Patrick Miller. [Baltimore Sun, 11/11/2003; POW Network, 6/22/2006]
The New York Times reveals that CIA analysts acknowledge being pressured to shape their intelligence reports on Iraq to conform to Bush administration policies. In particular, they were pressured to find or create evidence that Iraq had links to al-Qaeda. [New York Times, 3/23/2003] In 2004, Times editor Daniel Okrent will admit that the story was “completed several days before the invasion (see March 19, 2003) and unaccountably held for a week,” not appearing until three days after the war began, when it “was interred on Page B10.” [New York Times, 5/30/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 192] For months, some CIA analysts have privately expressed concerns over the forcible shaping of their reports to colleagues and Congressional officials, but until now have not revealed those concerns to reporters. “A lot of analysts have been upset about the way the Iraq-al-Qaeda case has been handled,” a senior intelligence official says. The revelation that the claims of Iraq’s attempt to buy uranium from Niger were false (see March 7, 2003) sparked some analysts to come forward. One government official says, “The forgery heightened people’s feelings that they were being embarrassed by the way Iraqi intelligence has been handled.” The intelligence official says: “As we have become an integral component informing the debate for policy makers, we have been asked a lot of questions. I’m sure it does come across as a pressured environment for analysts. I think there is a sense of being overworked, a sense among analysts that they have already answered the same questions. But if you talk to analysts, they understand why people are asking, and why policy makers aren’t accepting a report at face value.” Other analysts have discussed leaving the agency over their frustration with the way intelligence is being manipulated by the Bush administration. Another government official says, “Several people have told me how distraught they have been about what has been going on.” A CIA official says no analysts have resigned in protest over the management of Iraqi intelligence. [New York Times, 3/23/2003]
The CIA drafts a report containing statements reportedly made by alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) under interrogation at a black site. According to the report, KSM says that 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar did not receive specialized training at a course for al-Qaeda operatives scheduled for inclusion in the 9/11 operation in late 1999 because he had already received the training from KSM. In later statements, KSM will deny this and say he gave Almihdhar no such training, adding that he assumed Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda military commander Mohammed Atef had excused Almihdhar from the training (see Early December 1999). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 157, 493] The report also states that KSM says he sent Zacarias Moussaoui to Malaysia (see September-October 2000), that Jemaah Islamiyah leader Hambali helped Moussaoui when he was in Malaysia, and that KSM recalled Moussaoui from Malaysia when he discovered he was behaving badly there. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 490, 520] The US is already aware that Moussaoui had been to Malaysia, that Hambali and KSM were linked, and that Moussaoui behaved badly in Malaysia. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/8/2006; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/8/2006] Details of the report will apparently be leaked to the media four days later (see March 28, 2003).
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz tells a BBC news correspondent “Until the regime is gone it’s going to be very hard to do anything. Even in cities that are liberated. I think when the people of Basra no longer feel the threat of that regime, you are going to see an explosion of joy and relief.” [BBC, 3/25/2003]
President Bush signs an executive order delaying the public release of millions of government documents, citing the need to more thoroughly review them first. The government faced an April 17 deadline for declassifying millions of documents at least 25 years old. [Reuters, 3/26/2003] The order countermands a 1995 executive order by then-President Bill Clinton, who mandated that government documents over 25 years old be automatically declassified unless there was “significant doubt” as to whether their release would damage national security. [New York Times, 3/21/2003] The order also treats all material sent to American officials from foreign governments, no matter how routine, as subject to classification. It expands the ability of the CIA to shield documents from declassification, giving the director the right to unilaterally block any declassification of agency documents. And for the first time, it gives the vice president the power to classify information. The New York Times says, “Offering that power to Vice President Dick Cheney, who has shown indifference to the public’s right to know what is going on inside the executive branch, seems a particularly worrying development.” [New York Times, 3/21/2003; New York Times, 3/28/2003] Historian Anna Nelson says of the decision: “This is in context with the way this administration has done the whole bit on secrecy. They have left a skeletal process.” But Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists is less harsh in his assessment, saying, “One might have expected a more aggressive, pro-secrecy policy than this draft.” Tom Blanton of the private National Security Archive says the provision to classify information from foreign governments is far too broad: “Making all foreign government information presumptively classified means we’re lowering our openness standard to the lowest common denominator of our ostensible allies.” [New York Times, 3/21/2003]
The Los Angeles Times reports that, ironically, the man in charge of security for the nation where the US bases its headquarters for the Iraq war is a supporter of al-Qaeda. Sheik Abdullah bin Khalid al-Thani is the Interior Minister of Qatar. US Central Command and thousands of US troops are stationed in that country. In 1996, al-Thani was Religious Minister and he apparently let 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) live on his farm (see January-May 1996). Mohammed was tipped off that the US was after him. Some US officials believe al-Thani was the one who helped KSM escape, just as he had assisted other al-Qaeda leaders on other occasions. [Los Angeles Times, 3/28/2003] Another royal family member has sheltered al-Qaeda leaders and given over $1 million to al-Qaeda. KSM was even sheltered by Qatari royalty for two weeks after 9/11 (see Late 2001). [New York Times, 2/6/2003] Ahmad Hikmat Shakir, who has ties to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993), the Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995), and also attended the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000), was sheltered by al-Thani’s religious ministry in 2000. [Newsweek, 9/30/2002] Former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke says al-Thani “had great sympathy for Osama bin Laden, great sympathy for terrorist groups, was using his personal money and ministry money to transfer to al-Qaeda front groups that were allegedly charities.” However, the US has not attempted to apprehend al-Thani or take any other action against him. [Los Angeles Times, 3/28/2003]
The first details of the interrogation of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) are leaked to the press and appear in the Washington Post. At least some of the information appears to come from a report on KSM’s interrogation drafted four days ago. According to the Post article, KSM claims that Zacarias Moussaoui, an al-Qaeda operative arrested in the US in August 2001 (see August 16, 2001), was not part of the 9/11 plot and was scheduled for a follow-up attack. He also says that Moussaoui was helped by Jemaah Islamiyah leader Hambali and Yazid Sufaat, one of Hambali’s associates. KSM reportedly says Sufaat attempted to develop biological weapons for al-Qaeda, but failed because he could not obtain a strain of anthrax that could be dispersed as a weapon. This information appears to be based on a CIA report of KSM’s interrogation drafted on March 24, which discussed KSM’s knowledge of Moussaoui’s stay in Malaysia, where he met both Hambali and Sufaat (see March 24, 2003). The Post notes that if KSM’s claim about Moussaoui were true, this could complicate the prosecution of Moussaoui. For example, it quotes former prosecutor Andrew McBride saying that “on the death penalty, it is quite helpful to Moussaoui.” [Washington Post, 3/28/2003] During the Moussaoui trial, the statement about Moussaoui’s non-involvement in the 9/11 operation will be submitted to the jury as a part of a substitution for testimony by KSM. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, 7/31/2006 ] Moussaoui will escape the death penalty by one vote (see May 3, 2006). During this month, KSM is in CIA custody and is waterboarded 183 times over five days (see After March 7, 2003 and April 18, 2009). The claim about Moussaoui is not the full truth, as a communications intercept between KSM and his associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh in July 2001 showed that KSM was considering Moussaoui for the 9/11 plot (see July 20, 2001).
Aafia Siddiqui. [Source: FBI]Alleged al-Qaeda member Aafia Siddiqui vanishes in Karachi, Pakistan, with her three children. Although she and her family are Pakistani, she had been a long-time US resident until late 2002, and had even graduated with a biology degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The day after her disappearance, local newspapers will report that an unnamed woman has been taken into custody on terrorism charges, which is unusual since nearly all terrorism suspects have been men. A Pakistan interior ministry spokesman confirms that Siddiqui is the woman who has been arrested. But several days later, both the Pakistan government and the FBI publicly deny that she is being held. Later in 2003, her mother will claim that two days after her disappearance, “a man wearing a motor-bike helmet” arrives at the Siddiqui home in Karachi, and without taking off his helmet, says that she should keep quiet if she ever wants to see her daughter and grandchildren again. Beginning with a Newsweek article in June 2003, Siddiqui and her husband will be accused of having helped al-Qaeda as possible US sleeper agents. Siddiqui’s sister will claim that in 2004 she is told by Pakistan’s interior minister that Siddiqui has been released and will return home shortly. Also in 2004, FBI Director Robert Mueller will announce at a press conference that Siddiqui is wanted for questioning. Siddiqui divorced her long-time husband in 2002. The BBC will later report that, shortly before her disappearance, she married Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, a nephew of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and alleged participant in the 9/11 plot. “Although her family denies this, the BBC has been able to confirm it from security sources and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s family.” In July 2008, she will reappear in mysterious circumstances in Afghanistan, and then be transferred to the US to stand trial for murder (see July 17, 2008). Allegations continue that she was secretly held by the US or Pakistan some or all of the five years between 2003 and 2008. Her three children will not be seen following their disappearance. [BBC, 8/6/2008]
A Kurdish soldier allied with US forces stands on the site where the Sargat training camp used to be. He holds a piece of a US cruise missile that hit the camp. [Source: Scott Peterson / Getty Images]US Special Forces working with local Kurdish forces overrun the small border region of Iraq controlled by the militant group Ansar al-Islam. This is where Secretary of State Colin Powell alleged militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had a ‘poison factory’ near the town of Khurmal where chemical weapons of mass destruction capable of killing thousands were made. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers says, “We think that’s probably where the ricin that was found in London probably came; at least the operatives and maybe some of the formulas came from this site.” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld comments, “We’re not certain what we’ll find but we should know more in the next three days - three or four days.” [New York Daily News, 3/31/2003] In a 2007 book, CIA Director George Tenet will claim, “Shortly after the invasion of Iraq, al-Zarqawi’s camp in Khurmal was bombed by the US military. We obtained reliable human intelligence reporting and forensic samples confirming that poisons and toxins had been produced at the camp.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 277-278] He will further claim that the camp “engaged in production and training in the use of low-level poisons such as cyanide. We had intelligence telling us that al-Zarqawi’s men had tested these poisons on animals and, in at least one case, on one of their own associates. They laughed about how well it worked.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 350] But Tenet’s claims seem wildly overblown compared to other subsequent news reports about what was found at the camp. In late April 2003, the Los Angeles Times will report that, “Documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times, along with interviews with US and Kurdish intelligence operatives, indicate [Ansar al-Islam] was partly funded and armed from abroad; was experimenting with chemicals, including toxic agents and a cyanide-based body lotion; and had international aspirations. But the documents, statements by imprisoned Ansar guerrillas, and visits to the group’s strongholds before and after the war produced no strong evidence of connections to Baghdad and indicated that Ansar was not a sophisticated terrorist organization. The group was a dedicated, but fledgling, al-Qaeda surrogate lacking the capability to muster a serious threat beyond its mountain borders.” A crude chemical laboratory is found in the village of Sargat, but no evidence of any sophisticated equipment is found. “Tests have revealed the presence of hydrogen cyanide and potassium cyanide, poisons normally used to kill rodents and other pests. The group, according to Kurdish officials, had been experimenting on animals with a cyanide-laced cream. Several jars of peach body lotion lay at the site beside chemicals and a few empty wooden birdcages.” While a lot of documentation is found showing intention to create chemical weapons, the actual capability appears to have been quite low. [Los Angeles Times, 4/27/2003] As the Christian Science Monitor will later conclude, the “‘poison factory’ proved primitive; nothing but substances commonly used to kill rodents were found there.” [Christian Science Monitor, 10/16/2003] Journalist Jason Burke will also later comment, “As one of the first journalists to enter the [al-Qaeda] research facilities at the Darunta camp in eastern Afghanistan in 2001, I was struck by how crude they were. The Ansar al-Islam terrorist group’s alleged chemical weapons factory in northern Iraq, which I inspected the day after its capture in 2003, was even more rudimentary.” [Foreign Policy, 5/2004]
According to multiple sources, the Defense Department’s head of intelligence, Stephen Cambone, dispatches a quasi-military team to Iraq in the weeks after the invasion. Cambone’s “off-the-books” team, consisting of four or five men, operates under the auspices of Defense Department official Douglas Feith and the Office of Special Plans (OSP—see September 2002). The team is tasked to secure the following, in order of priority: downed Navy pilot Scott Speicher, Iraq’s WMD stockpiles, and Saddam Hussein. The sources, who speak to reporter Larisa Alexandrovna in 2006 on the condition of anonymity, include three US intelligence sources and a person with close ties to the United Nations Security Council. Speicher, classified as “killed in action” (KIA) after being shot down in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm, was touted by Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmed Chalabi (see 1992-1996, November 6-8, 2001, December 20, 2001, and February 2002) as alive and held as a prisoner of war as part of Chalabi’s push for the US invasion of Iraq. Chalabi also told Bush administration officials of enormous stockpiles of chemical and biological WMD throughout Iraq (see Summer 2002, Fall 2002, and Early 2003). Cambone’s team operates outside the auspices of other officially sanctioned groups such as Task Force 20 and other units operating in Iraq before the invasion itself, though the team may be comprised of TF20 personnel. The team is not tasked with actually finding and destroying any WMD stockpiles so much as it is ordered to find such a stockpile and thereby solve what the UN Security Council source calls the administration’s “political WMD” problem. “They come in the summer of 2003, bringing in Iraqis, interviewing them,” the UN source later says. “Then they start talking about WMD and they say to [these Iraqi intelligence officers] that ‘Our president is in trouble. He went to war saying there are WMD and there are no WMD. What can we do? Can you help us?’” [Raw Story, 1/5/2006]
Mindy Kleinberg. [Source: Public domain]Following introductory statements by 9/11 Commissioners (see 9:15 a.m. - 9:45 a.m. March 31, 2003) and questioning of New York officials, several of the victims’ relatives testify on the first day of the Commission’s first hearing. One relative is selected from each of the four organizations they have formed. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 102] The relatives are unhappy and, as the Miami Herald reports, “Several survivors of the attack and victims’ relatives testified that a number of agencies, from federal to local, are ducking responsibility for a series of breakdowns before and during September 11.” [Miami Herald, 3/31/2003] The New York Times suggests that the 9/11 Commission would never have been formed if it were not for the pressure of the 9/11 victims’ relatives. [New York Times, 4/1/2003] Some of the relatives strongly disagree with statements from some commissioners that they should not place blame. For instance, Stephen Push states: “I think this Commission should point fingers.… Some of those people [who failed us] are still in responsible positions in government. Perhaps they shouldn’t be.” [United Press International, 3/31/2003] The most critical testimony comes from 9/11 relative Mindy Kleinberg, but her testimony is only briefly reported on by a few newspapers. [United Press International, 3/31/2003; Newsday, 4/1/2003; New York Times, 4/1/2003; New York Post, 4/1/2003; New Jersey Star-Ledger, 4/1/2003] In her testimony, Kleinberg says: “It has been said that the intelligence agencies have to be right 100 percent of the time and the terrorists only have to get lucky once. This explanation for the devastating attacks of September 11th, simple on its face, is wrong in its value. Because the 9/11 terrorists were not just lucky once: They were lucky over and over again.” She points out the insider trading based on 9/11 foreknowledge, the failure of fighter jets to catch the hijacked planes in time, hijackers getting visas in violation of standard procedures, and other events, and asks how the hijackers could have been lucky so many times. [9/11 Commission, 3/31/2003]
Items seized in a raid on Abu Hamza’s Finsbury Park mosque in January 2003. [Source: Daily Telegraph]After learning some information about the Islamist militant connections of leading London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri, British Home Secretary David Blunkett initiates a campaign against him. Blunkett introduces legislation to have Abu Hamza stripped of his British citizenship, which he acquired unlawfully (see April 29, 1986), and then either deported or interned. However, the British intelligence service MI5 fails to provide Blunkett with all the information it has about Abu Hamza, who has been an informer for MI5 and Special Branch since 1997 (see Early 1997 and Before May 27, 2004). Even after the relevant legislation is passed in April 2003, the process is drawn out by Abu Hamza, who appeals, delays the appeal process by not filing a defense, and then argues the government should pay his legal fees. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 284-5] A hearing will be held on the case in April 2004 (see April 26, 2004).
Larry C. Johnson, a former CIA deputy director of the US State Department Office of Counterterrorism, will say at a National Press Club briefing in February 2004: “By April of last year, I was beginning to pick up grumblings from friends inside the intelligence community that there had been pressure applied to analysts to come up with certain conclusions. Specifically, I was told that analysts were pressured to find an operational link between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. One analyst, in particular, told me they were repeatedly pressured by the most senior officials in the Department of Defense.” Johnson, who is also a former CIA analyst, adds: “In an e-mail exchange with another friend, I raised the possibility that ‘the Bush administration had bought into a lie.’ My friend, who works within the intelligence community, challenged me on the use of the word, ‘bought,’ and suggested instead that the Bush administration had created the lie.… I have spoken to more than two analysts who have expressed fear of retaliation if they come forward and tell what they know. We know that most of the reasons we were given for going to war were wrong.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 333-334; Falls Church News-Press, 2/2004 Sources: Larry C. Johnson]
An unnamed intelligence source tells reporter Thomas Ricks of the Washington Post, Defense Secretary Donald “Rumsfeld is in a death fight with [CIA Director George Tenet] to get control” of intelligence programs. Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone has reportedly created a single office overseeing the organization, planning, and execution of military intelligence missions. Cambone also oversees assets, including one program called “Gray Fox.” This is said to be a secret intelligence organization that specializes in large-scale “deep penetration” missions overseas. It is said to specialize in tapping communications and laying the groundwork for overt military operations. The Post reports that Rumsfeld appears to be winning the turf battle. [Washington Post, 4/20/2003, pp. A01]
Captured suspected “insurgents” and other militants are brought to the ultra-secret Battlefield Interrogation Facilities (BIF) in Baghdad run by Delta Force. NBC will report that “it is the scene of the most egregious violations of the Geneva Conventions in all of Iraq’s prisons.” BIF is described as a “place where the normal rules of interrogation don’t apply.” Prisoners “are kept in tiny dark cells. And in the BIF’s six interrogation rooms, Delta Force soldiers routinely drug prisoners, hold a prisoner under water until he thinks he’s drowning, or smother them almost to suffocation.” Pentagon officials will deny that prisoners held at the facility are subjected to illegal interrogation tactics. [MSNBC, 5/20/2004; CNN, 5/21/2004 Sources: Two unnamed top US government sources]
In April 2003, Spanish police alert judge Baltasar Garzon to the existence of an Islamist militant cell in Madrid. Garzon has generally led al-Qaeda related investigations in Spain. An intelligence report to Garzon details a cell led by Mustapha Maymouni. Its assistant leaders are said to be Driss Chebli, Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, and the brothers Hassan and Mohammed Larbi ben Sellam. The cell is linked to the radical Takfir Wal Hijra movement and the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group (MICG). The MICG is said to be led by Amer el-Azizi, who escaped arrest in Spain (see Shortly After November 21, 2001), and an international arrest warrant has been issued for him. The cell has links to el-Azizi as well. In fact, the wife of one of the cell members recently told the authorities that Fakhet and others are staying in contact with el-Azizi by e-mail (see January 4, 2003), a lead that apparently is not pursued. In May 2003, suicide bombings in Casablanca, Morocco, kill 45, and the MICG is quickly identified as the group behind the attacks. Maymouni had gone to Morocco just before the bombings and is arrested there later in May (see Late May-June 19, 2003). On June 25, 2003, Chebli is arrested in Spain for his links to the Casablanca bombings. He will later be accused of a minor role in the 9/11 plot and sentenced to six years in prison (see September 26, 2005). However, the others are not arrested at this time. The police who are monitoring Fakhet will later say they do not understand why Fakhet at least was not arrested after the Casablanca bombings due to his link to Maymouni, who is his brother-in-law. Authorities will claim he was not arrested because there was no evidence he was involved in any plot. [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/3/2007] However, this cell is being monitored by a variety of means, including the use of
an informant named Abdelkader Farssaoui, a.k.a. Cartagena (see October 2002-June 2003). Even before the Casablanca bombings, Farssaoui tells his handlers that this cell is discussing launching attacks in Morocco and Spain. [El Mundo (Madrid), 10/18/2004] Furthermore, a 2002 report said that Fakhet was preparing for “violent action” (see 2002). Farssaoui will later claim that he came across evidence that Fakhet was also an informant (see Shortly After October 2003). Fakhet will take over leadership of the group after Maymouni’s arrest and will lead most of them in carrying out the Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004).
Jamal Mustafa Sultan Tikriti, photographed at Chalabi’s ANC headquarters on April 21, 2003. [Source: Reuters / Corbis]New York Times reporter Judith Miller is embedded with Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha (MET Alpha), a US Army unit charged with trying to find weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq. Miller had written a number of front-page Times stories before the war, strongly suggesting Iraq was pursuing WMD programs; all those stories will later be proven incorrect (see November 6-8, 2001, September 8, 2002, April 20, 2003, September 18, 2002, and July 25, 2003). Miller plays what the press will later call a “highly unusual role” with the unit. One US official will later claim that she turns the unit into a “rogue operation.” [Washington Post, 6/25/2003]
Accepting Military Restrictions - Miller accepted an unusual set of restrictions from the military in order to embed with MET Alpha. Most embedded journalists agreed not to report on forthcoming military tactics and to conceal sensitive information about troop movements and positions. Miller, on the other hand, agreed to allow the military to censor her work, and agreed not to publish items until they were approved by military officials. MET Alpha public affairs officer Eugene Pomeroy, who works closely with her, will later recall the agreement, saying that Miller helped negotiate the terms, and will recall the agreement being so sensitive that Defense Secretary Donal Rumsfeld signed off on it. According to the agreement, Pomeroy will recall: “Any articles going out had to be, well, censored. The mission contained some highly classified elements and people, what we dubbed the ‘Secret Squirrels,’ and their ‘sources and methods’ had to be protected and a war was about to start.” Miller’s copy is censored by a colonel, presumably MET Alpha commander Colonel Richard McPhee, who, according to Pomeroy, often reads her work in his sleeping bag, clutching a small flashlight between his teeth. Sometimes, while traveling with the unit, Miller wears a military uniform. [New York Magazine, 5/21/2005]
Threats and Connections - Miller, who has the reputation of being a “diva,” is friends with powerful neoconservatives such as Rumsfeld, his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, Pentagon adviser Richard Perle, and other figures in the Pentagon and the Bush administration. One military officer will later claim Miller sometimes “intimidated” Army soldiers by mentioning her relationship to Rumsfeld or Feith, saying, “Essentially, she threatened them,” to get the unit to do her bidding. Another officer says Miller “was always issuing threats of either going to the New York Times or to the secretary of defense. There was nothing veiled about that threat.” This officer adds that MET Alpha “was allowed to bend the rules.” [Washington Post, 6/25/2003; New York Magazine, 5/21/2005] In 2005, reporter Franklin Foer will write: “While Miller might not have intended to march in lockstep with these hawks, she was caught up in an almost irresistible cycle. Because she kept printing the neocon party line, the neocons kept coming to her with huge stories and great quotes, constantly expanding her access.” [New York Magazine, 5/21/2005]
Miller Influences Where the Unit Will Go - On April 21, MET Alpha is ordered to withdraw to the southern Iraqi town of Talil, but Miller objects in a handwritten note to two public affairs officers. Her note says: “I see no reason for me to waste time (or MET Alpha, for that matter) in Talil.… Request permission to stay on here with colleagues at the Palestine Hotel till MET Alpha returns or order to return is rescinded. I intend to write about this decision in the [New York] Times to send a successful team back home just as progress on WMD is being made.” Miller challenges the plan to go to Talil, and takes her concerns to Major General David Petraeus, commander of the 101st Airborne. Petraeus does not have direct authority over McPhee, the commander of the 75th Exploitation Task Force, which contains the MET Alpha unit. But McPhee rescinds the withdrawal order after Petraeus advises him to do so. [Washington Post, 6/25/2003; New York Magazine, 5/21/2005]
Redirecting the Unit's Mission - Miller is also friends with Iraqi National Congress (INC) leader Ahmed Chalabi, who gave her leads for many later-debunked stories. More than half a dozen military officers will later claim that Miller acts as a go-between between Chalabi and the unit. On one occasion in April she takes some unit leaders to Chalabi’s headquarters, where the unit takes custody of Jamal Mustafa Sultan Tikriti, Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law, number 40 on the US’s most wanted list. She also sits in on his debriefing. None of the members of the unit have any experience in interrogation. Several US military officials will say they are upset that completely untrained officers led the debriefing of Tikriti. One Chalabi aide will explain why they turned Tikriti over to the MET Alpha unit instead of using the ANC’s usual contacts with the US miliary, saying, “We told Judy because we thought it was a good story.” When Miller later writes a story about Tikriti’s capture, she will claim that the handover was pure coincidence, as leaders of the unit “happened to be meeting” with Chalabi to “discuss nonproliferation issues.” One official will later complain that the unit became the “Judith Miller team” when she effectively redirected it from finding WMDs to holding and interrogating high-ranking prisoners. A military officer will later say: “This was totally out of their lane, getting involved with human intelligence.… [Miller] came in with a plan. She was leading them.… She ended up almost hijacking the mission.” A senior staff officer of the 75th Exploitation Task Force will similarly complain, “It’s impossible to exaggerate the impact she had on the mission of this unit, and not for the better.” [Washington Post, 6/25/2003]
Guarding Her Access - Pomeroy and another witness will recall Miller jealously guarding her access from other reporters. In one instance, when Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman travels with the unit for a day, Miller orders the unit’s troops not to speak to him. According to Pomeroy, “She told people that she had clearance to be there and Bart didn’t.” [New York Magazine, 5/21/2005]
Miller Has Unit Investigate Dubious Tips from Chalabi - In other cases, the unit apparently follows leads given to Miller by Chalabi or his aides. For instance, it discovers Iraqi intelligence documents and maps related to Israel, and Miller writes a story about this. Chalabi aide Zaab Sethna will later say: “We thought this was a great story for the New York Times.… That came from us.” While embedded with the unit, Miller writes stories for the Times strongly suggesting the unit has discovered WMDs. For instance, one of her headlines is “US Analysts Link Iraq Labs to Germ Arms,” and another is “US Experts Find Radioactive Material in Iraq.” But like her pre-war stories about WMDs in Iraq, these stories also will be completely discredited. It is unclear how long Miller hijacks the MET Alpha unit for, but the Washington Post will publish an expose about these connections in late June 2003. [Washington Post, 6/25/2003] In late 2003, Miller will say that her reliance on Chalabi’s information is “exaggerated.” [New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004] In 2005, Foer will call Miller one of “Chalabi’s credulous allies” along with a number of Bush administration officials. The Times will not acknowledge the breadth of Chalabi’s influence on the reports it published by Miller until May 2005, but will refuse to connect Chalabi and Miller. Foer will note that although Miller had more access to MET Alpha than any other reporter, “she was the only major reporter on the WMD beat to miss the story so completely.” [New York Magazine, 5/21/2005]
A Mouthpiece for the Administration? - In 2004, Miller tells columnist and media expert Michael Massing that as an investigative reporter in the intelligence area, “my job isn’t to assess the government’s information and be an independent intelligence analyst myself. My job is to tell readers of the New York Times what the government thought about Iraq’s arsenal.” Massing will write, “Many journalists would disagree with this; instead, they would consider offering an independent evaluation of official claims one of their chief responsibilities.” [New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004]
Admission of Error - In late 2005, Miller will admit that her reporting on Iraqi WMD issues was almost “entirely wrong” (see October 16, 2005).
Entity Tags: Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha, Richard McPhee, Michael Massing, Ahmed Chalabi, Jamal Mustafa Sultan Tikriti, Iraqi National Congress, David Petraeus, Donald Rumsfeld, Douglas Feith, Judith Miller, Franklin Foer
Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda
Still photo from Defense Department video of Lynch’s rescue. [Source: Associated Press]US Special Operations forces rescue captured Private Jessica Lynch from Saddam Hussein Hospital hospital near Nasiriyah (see March 23, 2003). According to the Pentagon, the rescue is a classic Special Forces raid, with US commandos in Black Hawk helicopters blasting their way through Iraqi resistance in and out of the medical compound. [Baltimore Sun, 11/11/2003] The Associated Press’s initial report is quite guarded, saying only that Lynch had been rescued. An Army spokesman “did not know whether Lynch had been wounded or when she might return to the United States.” [Project for Excellence in Journalism, 6/23/2003]
'Shooting Going In ... Shooting Going Out' - Subsequent accounts are far more detailed (see April 3, 2003). Military officials say that the rescue was mounted after securing intelligence from CIA operatives. A Special Forces unit of Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, and Air Force combat controllers “touched down in blacked-out conditions,” according to the Washington Post. Cover is provided by an AC-130 gunship circling overhead; a reconnaissance aircraft films the events of the rescue. One military official briefed on the operation says: “There was shooting going in, there was some shooting going out. It was not intensive. There was no shooting in the building, but it was hairy, because no one knew what to expect. When they got inside, I don’t think there was any resistance. It was fairly abandoned.” [Washington Post, 4/3/2003] CENTCOM spokesman General Vincent Brooks says he is not yet sure who Lynch’s captors were, but notes: “Clearly the regime had done this. It was regime forces that had been in there. Indications are they were paramilitaries, but we don’t know exactly who. They’d apparently moved most of them out before we arrived to get in, although, as I mentioned, there were buildings outside of the Saddam Hospital, where we received fire—or the assault force received fire—during the night.” [New York Times, 4/2/2003]
'Prototype Torture Chamber' - According to a military official, the Special Forces soldiers find what he calls a “prototype” Iraqi torture chamber in the hospital’s basement, equipped with batteries and metal prods. US Marines are patrolling Nasiriyah to engage whatever Iraqi forces may still be in the area. [Washington Post, 4/3/2003]
Secretive Intelligence Sources - CENTCOM officials refuse to discuss the intelligence that led them to Lynch and the 11 bodies. One official says, “We may need to use those intelligence sources and collection methods again.” [New York Times, 4/2/2003]
Pentagon's Story Almost Entirely Fictitious - Reporters are given a detailed briefing about the rescue, as well as copies of a video of the rescue shot by the soldiers as they performed the mission (see April 1, 2003). Subsequent interviews with Iraqi hospital staffers and nearby residents show that almost every aspect of the Pentagon’s story is fabrication (see May 4, 2003, May 23, 2003, May 25, 2003, and June 17, 2003).
Army Private Jessica Lynch, rescued from an Iraqi hospital by US Special Operations forces (see April 1, 2003), arrives at a US military hospital in Landestul, Germany. Military officials describe her as in “stable” condition, with multiple broken limbs and multiple gunshot and stab wounds. Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke tells reporters that Lynch is “in good spirits and being treated for injuries.” Another military officer tells reporters that she is conscious and was able to communicate with her rescuers, but “she was pretty messed up.” Lynch has spoken with her parents by telephone, who describe her as in good spirits, but hungry and in pain. [Washington Post, 4/3/2003] The New York Times reports that Lynch suffered from gunshot wounds: “Details of what happened to Private Lynch were scarce. An Army official said Tuesday night that Private Lynch had been shot multiple times. The official said that it had not been determined whether she was shot during the rescue attempt or before it.” The Associated Press reports, “Officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said she was suffering from broken legs, a broken arm, and at least one gunshot wound.” [Project for Excellence in Journalism, 6/23/2003] It is later determined that Lynch was not, in fact, shot (see April 15, 2003).
A barely conscious Lynch lies on a stretcher. An American flag is draped over her chest. This will become one of the iconic photos of the Lynch saga. [Source: Reuters / Corbis]The Washington Post prints a story purporting to detail the trials and tribulations of Private Jessica Lynch, captured in a recent ambush by Iraqi fighters (see March 23, 2003). The Post headline: “She Was Fighting to the Death.” According to the story, Lynch fought valiantly to defend her injured and killed comrades, herself killing several of her attackers and suffering repeated gunshot and stab wounds. [Washington Post, 4/3/2003; Baltimore Sun, 11/11/2003]
'Talk about Spunk!' - According to the tale, provided to Post reporters by unnamed US officials, Lynch continued firing until she ran out of ammunition, and even after suffering “multiple gunshot wounds.” An official says: “She was fighting to the death. She did not want to be taken alive.” One military official, senior military spokesman Captain Frank Thorp, tells reporters from the Military Times that Lynch “waged quite a battle prior to her capture. We do have very strong indications that Jessica Lynch was not captured very easily. Reports are that she fired her [M-16 rifle] until she had no more ammunition.” (This is not true, but Thorp will later deny that any deliberate deception occurred—see April 2007 and March 18, 2008.) Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) is fulsome with his praise of Lynch after being briefed by Pentagon officials: “Talk about spunk! She just persevered. It takes that and a tremendous faith that your country is going to come and get you.” Initial reports indicated that she had been stabbed to death at the scene, but those reports were incorrect. Officials warn that “the precise sequence of events is still being determined, and that further information will emerge as Lynch is debriefed.” Pentagon officials say they have heard “rumors” of Lynch’s heroism, but as yet have no confirmation from either Lynch or other survivors. Eleven bodies were found at the hospital during her rescue; at least some of those bodies are believed to be those of US servicemen. Seven soldiers from Lynch’s 507th Ordnance Maintenance Company are still listed as missing in action; five others were captured after the attack. Iraqi broadcasts have shown video footage of the five, along with pictures of at least four US soldiers killed during the attack. Because of debriefing and counseling, it may be some time before Lynch is reunited with her family in West Virginia. [Washington Post, 4/3/2003; US News and World Report, 3/18/2008; Editor & Publisher, 7/14/2008] Other media stories add to the Post’s account. The New York Daily News reports: “Jessica was being tortured. That was the urgent word from an Iraqi man who alerted American troops where to find Pfc. Jessica Lynch—and her injuries seem to bear out the allegation.… Her broken bones are a telltale sign of torture, said Amy Waters Yarsinske, a former Navy intelligence officer and an expert on POW and MIA treatment. ‘It’s awfully hard to break both legs and an arm in a truck accident,’ Yarsinske said.” The Daily News is almost certainly referring to Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief, the Iraqi who told US forces about Lynch being at an Iraqi hospital (see June 17, 2003). The Los Angeles Times reports Lynch was “flown to a US military hospital at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, where she was reported to be in stable condition, recovering from injuries said to include broken legs, a broken arm and at least one gunshot wound.” [Project for Excellence in Journalism, 6/23/2003]
Discrepancies in Story - An Iraqi pharmacist who was at the hospital during Lynch’s captivity says as far as he knew, Lynch only suffered leg wounds. He recalls her crying about wanting to go home. “She said every time, about wanting to go home,” the pharmacist recalls. “She knew that the American Army and the British were on the other side of the [Euphrates] river in Nasiriyah city.… She said, ‘Maybe this minute the American Army [will] come and get me.’” [Washington Post, 4/3/2003]
Story Almost Pure Fiction - According to subsequent investigations by reporters, the Pentagon tale as reported by the Post is almost pure fiction (see May 4, 2003 and June 17, 2003). Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write that at this point in the narrative, “Jessica Lynch herself, unable to speak, was reduced to a mere pawn, an innocent bystander in the production of her own big-budget action-packed biopic.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 82]
The CIA sends the Senate Intelligence Committee a background paper titled “Purported Iraqi Attempt to Get Uranium from Niger.” The paper sums up the CIA’s knowledge of the supposed Iraq-Niger uranium deal to date. [Central Intelligence Agency, 4/3/2003 ]
In a report, the Pentagon working group (see January 15, 2003) recommends the adoption of 35 interrogation techniques. Twenty-six of them are recommended for use in interrogations of all unlawful combatants held outside the US. The remaining nine are considered “exceptional” and recommended for use only on unlawful combatants suspected of holding “critical intelligence.” The advice is clearly not for the public eye. “Should information regarding the use of more aggressive interrogation techniques than have been used traditionally by US forces become public,” the panel warns in its report, “it is likely to be exaggerated or distorted in the US and international media accounts, and may produce an adverse effect on support for the war on terrorism.” [MSNBC, 6/23/2004]
Overhead photo of Salman Pak, with erroneous captioning. [Source: The Beasley Firm]US forces overrun the Iraqi military training facility at Salman Pak, just south of Baghdad. The facility has been identified by several Iraqi National Congress defectors as a training facility for foreign terrorists, possibly aligned with al-Qaeda (see November 6-8, 2001). [New Yorker, 5/12/2003; Knight Ridder, 11/2/2005] The day of the raid, Brigadier General Vincent Brooks attempts to give the impression that US forces have found evidence that the camp was used to train terrorists, telling reporters that the camp was hit “in response to information that had been gained by coalition forces from some foreign fighters that we encountered from other country, not Iraq, and we believe that this camp had been used to train these foreign fighters in terror tactics…. The nature of the work being done by some of those people that we captured, their inferences to the type of training that they received, all of these things give us the impression that there was terrorist training that was conducted at Salman Pak.” Brooks says that tanks, armored personnel carriers, buildings used for “command and control and… morale and welfare” were destroyed. “All of that when you roll it together, the reports, where they’re from, why they might be here tell us there’s a linkage between this regime and terrorism and that’s something that we want to break…. There’s no indications of specific organizations that I’m aware of inside of that. We may still find it as with all operations that we conduct into a place, we look for more information after the operation is complete. We’ll pull documents out of it and see what the documents say, if there’s any links or indications. We’ll look and see if there’s any persons that are recovered that may not be Iraqi.” [CNN, 4/6/2003] However, US forces find no evidence whatsoever of any terrorists training activities at the camp. The story had a sensational effect in the media, and helped feed the public impression that the regime of Saddam Hussein was connected in some way with the 9/11 terrorists, but others, from Iraqi spokespersons to former US intelligence officials, asserted before the March 2003 invation that the Salman Pak facility was built, not for training terrorists, but for training Iraqi special forces to combat passenger jet hijackers. The facility formerly housed an old fuselage, generally identified as being from a Boeing 707, used in the training, and has been used in counter-terrorism training since the mid-1980s. A former CIA station chief says the agency assisted the Iraqis in their training: “We were helping our allies everywhere we had a liaison.” The former station chief adds that it is unlikely that the Iraqis, or anyone else, would train for terrorist strikes in an open facility easily spotted by satellite surveillance and human observers. “That’s Hollywood rinky-dink stuff,” he says. “They train in basements. You don’t need a real airplane to practice hijacking. The 9/11 terrorists went to gyms. But to take one back you have to practice on the real thing.” The US forces comb through Salman Pak, and find nothing to indicate that the facility was used for anything except counter-terrorism training. [New Yorker, 5/12/2003; Knight Ridder, 11/2/2005] In 2004, a senior US official will say of the claims about Salman Pak as a terrorist training facility, “We certainly have found nothing to substantiate that.” [Knight Ridder, 3/15/2004] In 2006, the Senate Intelligence Committee will report similar findings (see ISeptember 8, 2006). The CIA doubted reports of Salman Pak being used as a terrorist training camp as early as 2003 (see January 2003). And former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter was debunking those stories in 2002 (see August 2002).
While Saddam Hussein is usually well out of harm’s way from US and coalition forces, hiding at various safe houses in Baghdad while American forces fruitlessly attack possible retreats and hiding places he might currently occupy (see March 20, 2003), he does experience one unsettlingly close call. The CIA receives information that Hussein is in a safe house near a restaurant in Baghdad’s Mansour district; a B-1 bomber drops four 2,000-pound bombs on and around the restaurant. The blast kills 18 civilians, according to Human Rights Watch, but, the Joint Forces Command later notes, “Saddam was not in the targeted area at the time of the attack.” However, early this morning, he is in a safe house less than two miles from the route taken by US troops on their second “Thunder Run” into Baghdad. Hussein will hide for two days, then he and his aides force their way into a private Baghdad residence, where they are able to elude capture by US troops searching the neighborhood. He then flees to Ramadi with his two sons and his personal secretary on April 10. He will eventually go to ground near the town of Hit, where he is eventually captured in the so-called “spider hole” (see December 14, 2003). [New York Times, 3/12/2006]
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer says, “… make no mistake—as I said earlier—we have high confidence that [the Iraqis] have weapons of mass destruction. That is what this war was about and it is about. And we have high confidence it will be found.” [White House, 4/10/2003]
In 2007, CIA Director George Tenet will write in a book, “Once US forces reached Baghdad (see April 9, 2003), they discovered—stacked where they could easily find them—purported Iraqi intelligence service documents that showed much tighter links between Saddam [Hussein] and [Abu Musab] al-Zarqawi, and Saddam and al-Qaeda.” CIA analysts work with the Secret Service to check the paper and ink, plus to verify the details mentioned in the documents. But “time and again” the documents turn out to be forgeries. “It was obvious that someone was trying to mislead us. But these raw, unevaluated documents that painted a more nefarious picture of Iraq and al-Qaeda continued to show up in the hands of senior [Bush] administration officials without having gone through normal intelligence channels.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 356] For instance, one forged document found in December 2003 and reported on by the press will purport that 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta went to Iraq to be trained by Iraqi intelligence agents (see December 14, 2003). Tenet will not speculate who is behind the forgeries.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld signs a memo on interrogation methods approving 24 of the 35 techniques recommended by the Pentagon working group (see April 4, 2003) earlier in the month. The new set of guidelines, to be applied to prisoners at Guantanamo and Afghanistan, is a somewhat softer version of the initial interrogation policy that Rumsfeld approved in December 2002 (see December 2, 2002). [Roth and Malinowski, 5/3/2004; Washington Post, 5/11/2004; Age (Melbourne), 5/13/2004; Washington Post, 5/13/2004; Los Angeles Times, 5/22/2004; Newsweek, 5/24/2004; Wall Street Journal, 6/7/2004; MSNBC, 6/23/2004; Truthout (.org), 6/28/2004] Several of the techniques listed are ones that the US military trains Special Forces to prepare for in the event that they are captured by enemy forces (see December 2001 and July 2002). [New York Times, 5/13/2004]
Two Classes of Methods - The list is divided into two classes: tactics that are authorized for use on all prisoners and special “enhanced measures” that require the approval of Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez. The latter category of methods includes tactics that “could cause temporary physical or mental pain,” like “sensory deprivation,” “stress positions,” “dietary manipulation,” forced changes in sleep patterns, and isolated confinement. [Washington Post, 5/11/2004; Washington Post, 5/13/2004] Other techniques include “change of scenery down,” “dietary manipulation,” “environmental manipulation,” and “false flag.” The first 18 tactics listed all appear in the 1992 US Army Field Manual (FM) 34-52, with the exception of the so-called “Mutt-and-Jeff” approach, which is taken from an obsolete 1987 military field manual (1987 FM 34-52). [USA Today, 6/22/2004] The approved tactics can be used in conjunction with one another, essentially allowing interrogators to “pile on” one harsh technique after another. Categories such as “Fear Up Harsh” and “Pride and Ego Down” remain undefined, allowing interrogators to interpret them as they see fit. And Rumsfeld writes that any other tactic not already approved can be used if he gives permission. Author and reporter Charlie Savage will later write, “In other words, there were no binding laws and treaties anymore—the only limit was the judgment and goodwill of executive branch officials. ” [Savage, 2007, pp. 181] The use of forced nudity as a tactic is not included in the list. The working group rejected it because its members felt it might be considered inhumane treatment under international law. [Associated Press, 6/23/2004]
Result of Discussions among Pentagon Officials - The memo, marked for declassification in 2013 [Truthout (.org), 6/28/2004] , is the outcome, according to Deputy General Counsel Daniel Dell’Orto, of discussions between Rumsfeld, William J. Haynes, Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz, and General Richard Myers. [Washington File, 6/23/2004] One US official explains: “There are very specific guidelines that are thoroughly vetted. Everyone is on board. It’s legal.” However in May 2004, it will be learned that there was in fact opposition to the new guidelines. Pentagon lawyers from the Army Judge Advocate General’s office had objected (see May 2003 and October 2003) and many officials quietly expressed concerns that they might have to answer for the policy at a later date (see (April 2003)). [Washington Post, 5/11/2004; Washington Post, 5/13/2004]
US troops with the 101st Airborne Division use tools to cut through wire seals on nine explosives-storage bunkers at the Al Qaqaa military facility. The seals were put there by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) before the invasion, to seal bunkers containing hundreds of tons of conventional high explosives that could be used in the detonation of nuclear weapons. The Airborne soldiers search the bunkers for chemical and biological weapons. After finding no such weapons, the soldiers depart, leaving the bunkers unsealed. A Minnesota television station will broadcast a video of the incident in November 2004. The bunkers will be looted by Iraqis almost immediately thereafter (see Late April-Early May, 2003); by October 2004, the IAEA will report that around 380 tons of high explosives are missing from the facility (see October 10, 2004 and October 25, 2004). [Los Angeles Times, 11/4/2004]
New York Times reporter Judith Miller speaks about her reporting on PBS. [Source: PBS]New York Times reporter Judith Miller, embedded with the Army’s 101st Airborne Division south of Baghdad, writes that Iraq destroyed large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons in the days before the March 2003 invasion.
Single Unidentified 'Scientist' as Source - Miller’s source is identified as an Iraqi scientist who claims to have worked in Iraq’s chemical weapons program for over a decade; this scientist is said to have told an American military team hunting for unconventional weapons in Iraq, the Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha, or MET Alpha (see April-May 2003), of the stockpiles. According to MET Alpha, the scientist has taken the team to a supply of material he buried in his backyard—“precursors for a toxic agent”—as evidence of Iraq’s illicit weapons programs. The scientist also claims that Iraq sent unconventional weapons and technology to Syria, and has been cooperating with al-Qaeda. In the last years of the Hussein regime, Miller reports the scientist as claiming, Iraq “focused its efforts… on research and development projects that are virtually impervious to detection by international inspectors, and even American forces on the ground combing through Iraq’s giant weapons plants.” MET Alpha refuses to identify the scientist, saying to do so would imperil his safety, and does not take Miller to see the scientist’s buried supply of materials. According to Miller, the team describes the scientist’s assertions and his cache of materials as “the most important discovery to date in the hunt for illegal weapons.” Moreover, Miller writes that the discovery “supports the Bush administration’s charges that Iraq continued to develop those weapons and lied to the United Nations about it. Finding and destroying illegal weapons was a major justification for the war.”
Military Controlled, Vetted Report - Miller admits to not interviewing the scientist, not being permitted to write about the scientist for three days, and having her report vetted by military officials before submitting it for publication. She says that portions of her report detailing the chemicals located by the MET Alpha team were deleted, again for fear that such reporting might place the scientist in jeopardy. Neither Pentagon officials in Washington nor CENTCOM officials in Qatar will verify that the scientist is actually working with American forces. Miller’s only contact with the scientist is viewing him “from a distance at the sites where he said that material from the arms program was buried,” where he wore a baseball cap and pointed at spots in the sand where he claimed chemical weapons materials were buried.
'Incalculable Value' - Miller quotes the commander of the 101st Airborne, Major General David Petraeus, as calling the potential of MET Alpha’s work “enormous.” Petraeus adds: “What they’ve discovered could prove to be of incalculable value. Though much work must still be done to validate the information MET Alpha has uncovered, if it proves out it will clearly be one of the major discoveries of this operation, and it may be the major discovery.” [New York Times, 4/21/2003] The day after her report is published, Miller will tell a PBS interviewer: “I think they found something more than a smoking gun.… What they’ve found is… a silver bullet in the form of a person, an Iraqi individual, a scientist, as we’ve called him, who really worked on the programs, who knows them firsthand, and who has led MET Alpha people to some pretty startling conclusions.” Asked if the report will confirm “the insistence coming from the US government that after the war, various Iraqi tongues would loosen, and there might be people who would be willing to help,” Miller responds: “Yes, it clearly does.… That’s what the Bush administration has finally done. They have changed the political environment, and they’ve enabled people like the scientists that MET Alpha has found to come forth.” [American Journalism Review, 8/2003; Huffington Post, 1/30/2007]
Report Almost Entirely Wrong - Miller’s reporting will be proven to be almost entirely wrong. Neither Miller nor MET Alpha will ever produce any tangible evidence of the scientist’s claims, including the so-called “evidence” he claims he buried in his backyard. And, Miller will later admit, the “scientist” was actually a former Iraqi military intelligence officer with no connection to Iraq’s WMD programs (see July 25, 2003). [Slate, 7/25/2003] Other reporters, such as the Washington Post’s Barton Gellman and the Associated Press’s Dafna Linzer, report that teams such as MET Alpha have found nothing of use. Linzer will soon report that nothing the Iraqi scientist claims can be verified. And Miller will admit that much of the information she has published in the Times has come from Iraqi National Congress head Ahmed Chalabi (see May 1, 2003), a known fabricator (see 1992-1996, (1994), November 6-8, 2001, Summer 2002, Early 2003, and July 9, 2004). Miller will continue to insist that her reporting is accurate. [American Journalism Review, 8/2003]
Mullah Dadullah Akhund. [Source: Associated Press]Afghan President Hamid Karzai travels to Islamabad, Pakistan, and meets with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf. Karzai hands Musharraf a list of Taliban leaders living in Quetta, Pakistan, and urges Musharraf to have them arrested. The list includes the names of senior Taliban leaders Mullah Omar, Mullah Dadullah Akhund, and Mullah Akhter Mohammed Usmani. All are believed to be in Quetta. The list is leaked to the press. The Pakistani government denounces Karzai and denies any Taliban leaders are in Pakistan. The US government declines to back the list, even though the US embassy in Kabul had helped make it. Journalist Ahmed Rashid will later explain: “The Americans were already deeply involved in Iraq and wanted no distractions such as a cat fight between the presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan. [The US] was unwilling to push the Pakistanis, and the Afghans were angry that the Americans had allowed Karzai’s credibility to suffer.” [Rashid, 2008, pp. 246]
About a dozen US soldiers witness looters stealing high explosives from the Al Qaqaa ammunition site in northern Babil Province over a span of several days. The Al Qaqaa facility is where hundreds of tons of some of Iraq’s most powerful conventional explosives have been stored since 1991 (see May 2003); at least nine of its bunkers were unsealed by US troops days before (see April 18, 2003). In October 2004 the International Atomic Energy Agency will inform the US that around 380 tons of high explosives from Qaqaa are missing (see October 10, 2004 and October 25, 2004). The US soldiers, Army reservists and National Guardsmen, will say in November 2004 that they are unable to prevent the looting because they are drastically outnumbered. Some of the soldiers call their commanders to request help in securing the site, but receive no reply. The soldiers later describe watching Iraqis heave explosives from unsecured bunkers into Toyota pickup trucks. They try, with little success, to deter the looters; one noncommissioned officer will recall: “We were running from one side of the compound to the other side, trying to kick people out.… On our last day there, there were at least 100 vehicles waiting at the site for us to leave so looters could come in and take munitions.” Another officer will recall: “It was complete chaos. It was looting like [Los Angeles] during the Rodney King riots.” The soldiers who recall the events for the Los Angeles Times ask not to be identified, fearing reprisals from the Pentagon. When US search teams visit the facility on May 8, they find it “had been looted and stripped and vandalized.” No IAEA-monitored materials are found. No US forces were specifically delegated to guard the Al Qaqaa facility, codenamed “Objective Elm” by US strategists. Marine units are later delegated to guard the facility; one senior Marine officer will say in November 2004: “That site was just abandoned by the 101st Airborne, and there was never a physical handoff by the 101st to the Marines. They just left. We knew these sites were being looted, but there was nothing we could do about it.… There was no plan to prevent these weapons from being used against us a year later.” [Los Angeles Times, 11/4/2004]
Twenty-five al-Qaeda operatives are captured in Karachi, Pakistan, including two key 9/11 figures. The captured include Tawfiq bin Attash, better known by his nickname Khallad. He is considered one of the masterminds of the USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000) and attended a Malaysia summit where the 9/11 plot was discussed (see January 5-8, 2000). Also captured is Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, one of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s nephews. He made travel arrangements for and wired money to many of the 9/11 hijackers. One investigator will later say, “He was turning up everywhere we looked—like a chameleon.” [New York Times, 5/1/2003; Los Angeles Times, 5/21/2006] Both Aziz Ali and bin Attash will be sent to secret CIA prisons and remain there until 2006, when they will be transfered to the Guantanamo Bay prison (see September 2-3, 2006). Bin Attash will be extensively tortured while in US custody in Afghanistan (see April 29 - Mid-May, 2003). The identities and fates of the others captured with them are unknown.
A medical report by US doctors at Guantanamo Bay details an attempt by a detainee to commit suicide. The detainee, who cannot be identified from publicly released records, attempted to hang himself with a towel. He fell into what doctors call a “vegetative state” due to brain injuries suffered during the hanging. Guantanamo doctors “most strongly advocate” for the detainee’s “earliest return to his home country,” noting that the detainee has a “history of depression” and “his rehabilitation will be long.” Available records will not show whether Guantanamo officials follow the recommendations of the medical staff. [American Civil Liberties Union, 6/19/2006]
One of a group of 25 al-Qaeda members captured in Pakistan, Tawfiq bin Attash (see April 29, 2003), is taken into US custody and sent to a CIA-run detention facility in Afghanistan. Years later, after being transferred to Guantanamo, he will discuss his experiences and treatment with officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC—see October 6 - December 14, 2006), who will identify him as “Walid bin Attash” in their documents.
'Forced Standing' - Bin Attash will recall his introduction to detention in Afghanistan as follows: “On arrival at the place of detention in Afghanistan I was stripped naked. I remained naked for the next two weeks. I was put in a cell measuring approximately [3 1/2 by 6 1/2 feet]. I was kept in a standing position, feet flat on the floor, but with my arms above my head and fixed with handcuffs and a chain to a metal bar running across the width of the cell. The cell was dark with no light, artificial or natural. During the first two weeks I did not receive any food. I was only given Ensure [a liquid nutritional supplement] and water to drink. A guard would come and hold the bottle for me while I drank.… The toilet consisted of a bucket in the cell.… I was not allowed to clean myself after using the bucket. Loud music was playing 24 hours each day throughout the three weeks I was there.” Author Mark Danner, writing of the ICRC report in 2009 (see March 15, 2009), will note that the “forced standing” technique. with arms shackled above the head, was a favorite technique of the Soviets, who called it “stoika.” Bin Attash, who had lost a leg fighting in Afghanistan, found the technique particularly painful: “After some time being held in this position my stump began to hurt so I removed my artificial leg to relieve the pain. Of course my good leg then began to ache and soon started to give way so that I was left hanging with all my weight on my wrists. I shouted for help but at first nobody came. Finally, after about one hour a guard came and my artificial leg was given back to me and I was again placed in the standing position with my hands above my head. After that the interrogators sometimes deliberately removed my artificial leg in order to add extra stress to the position.” He is checked periodically by a doctor. The doctor does not object to the ‘forced standing,’ even though the treatment causes intense pain in bin Attash’s leg; neither does the doctor object to the suspension from shackles, even though the shackles cut and abrade his wrists.
Cold Water, Physical Beatings - Bin Attash will tell ICRC officials that he is “washed down with cold water every day.” Every day he is also subjected to beatings: “Every day for the first two weeks I was subjected to slaps to my face and punches to my body during interrogation. This was done by one interrogator wearing gloves.… Also on a daily basis during the first two weeks a collar was looped around my neck and then used to slam me against the walls of the interrogation room. It was also placed around my neck when being taken out of my cell for interrogation and was used to lead me along the corridor. It was also used to slam me against the walls of the corridor during such movements. Also on a daily basis during the first two weeks I was made to lie on a plastic sheet placed on the floor which would then be lifted at the edges. Cold water was then poured onto my body with buckets.… I would be kept wrapped inside the sheet with the cold water for several minutes. I would then be taken for interrogation.”
Moved to Second Facility - It remains unclear where bin Attash is moved to after his initial detention in Afghanistan, but he will tell ICRC officials that his captors there—also Americans—“were rather more sophisticated than in Afghanistan because they had a hose-pipe with which to pour the water over me.” Danner will later note that the methods used to interrogate and torture bin Attash are somewhat more refined than those used on an experimental basis with another al-Qaeda suspect, Abu Zubaida (see April - June 2002). For example, a towel was wrapped around Zubaida’s neck and used to slam him into walls, while bin Attash was given a plastic collar. [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009]
In late April 2003, the first civilian cargo planes begin arriving in Baghdad, Iraq, after US-led forces took over the city. As many as sixty civilian flights and seventy military flights arrive at Baghdad International Airport, all of them filled with supplies to replenish the US military effort and for Iraq’s reconstruction. The US military officers in charge of the airport, such as US Air National Guard Major Christopher Walker have no idea how private supply contracts were made or with whom, but they note that most of the pilots appear to be from Russia and various Eastern European countries, flying rugged Russian-made aircraft. On May 17, 2004, the Financial Times reports that many of the planes delivering supplies to US troops in Iraq are actually owned by a Russian named Victor Bout, the world’s biggest illegal arms dealer. The United Nations has placed a ban on all dealings with Bout, due to his links to the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and many other militant and rebel groups around the world. Walker has never heard of Bout, but he is tasked to look into the allegations by his superiors. He quickly concludes that many of the planes flying into Baghdad daily are owned by Bout’s front companies, and that such Bout flights have been taking place over since the US reopened the airport. Bout’s companies have contracts flying in tents, food, and other supplies for US firms working for the US military in Iraq, including a large contract to fly supplies for Kellogg, Brown, and Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton, the company once run by Vice President Cheney. Bout’s companies also fly for US Air Mobility Command. Walker is reluctant to stop the flow of vital supplies, and leaves the issue to US military contracting officials to hire planes not linked to Bout. [Financial Times, 5/17/2004; Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 214-224] However, the US military does not stop hiring and using Bout’s planes until about 2007 (see Late April 2003-2007). Walker will later speculate, “If the government really wanted him bad they could have come up with a pretext and seized his planes. But I guess they looked at Victor Bout and figured this guy’s an asshole, but he’s our asshole, so let’s keep him in business.” [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 251]
Beginning in late April 2003, when the first civilian cargo planes begin arriving in Baghdad (see Late April 2003), through at least 2007, Victor Bout front companies fly supplies into Iraq for the US military. Bout is the world’s biggest arms dealer, with links to the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and other militant and rebel groups around the world. The United Nations has banned all business dealings with his companies since before 9/11. Around October 2003, the CIA apparently learns that Bout’s planes have been flying into Iraq, but this warning does not lead to any action to stop such flights. [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 232]
Bout Flights Exposed by Media - Starting in May 2004, various newspapers occasionally report on how Bout front companies are supplying the US military. Some actions are eventually taken against him. For instance, on July 22, 2004, President Bush signs an executive order declaring Bout a “specially designated person,” permanently freezes his assets, and bans all US business with his companies. [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 225, 237]
Continued Collaboration - But the US military continues to hire Bout’s companies for Iraq supply flights. One Bout front company alone is estimated to make about 1,000 flights into US controlled air bases in Iraq by the end of 2004. [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 225] A Pentagon spokesman will later confirm that the US military gave at least 500,000 gallons of free airplane fuel to Bout’s pilots. US government contractors pay Bout-controlled companies roughly $60 million to fly supplies into Iraq. [ABC News, 3/6/2008] Journalist Stephen Braun will later claim, “The US military insisted they had no responsibility for Bout’s hiring, because, as [Deputy Defense Secretary] Paul Wolfowitz said, he was a ‘second-tier contractor’-in other words, hired by, say, [Kellogg, Brown, and Root] or FedEx, not directly by the Army or the Marines. But there were other reports of direct contracts. [The Defense Department] made no effort to put Bout on a no-fly list early on, and made only perfunctory follow-up efforts to find out the backgrounds of the companies flying for them.” [Harper's, 7/26/2007]
Bout Flights Continue - In early 2006, it will be reported, “The New Republic has learned that the Defense Department has largely turned a blind eye to Bout’s activities and has continued to supply him with contracts, in violation of [Bush’s] executive order and despite the fact that other, more legitimate air carriers are available.” [New Republic, 1/12/2006] In 2008, Douglas Farah, who co-wrote a 2007 book with Braun about Bout, will tell ABC News that Bout may have worked on behalf of the US government as recently as 2007. [ABC News, 3/6/2008]
Outrage - Gayle Smith of the National Security Council will comment in 2007: “It’s an obscenity. It’s contrary to a smart war on terror. Even if you needed a cut-out (to transport supplies) why would you go to the one on the bottom of the pile, with the most blood on his hands? Because he worked fastest and cheapest? What’s the trade-off? Where’s the morality there?” National Security Council adviser Lee Wolosky, who led a US effort to apprehend Bout before 9/11, will similarly complain, “It befuddles the mind that the Pentagon would continue to work with an organization that both the Clinton and Bush White Houses actively fought to dismantle.” [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 237]
Theories - Some officials and experts believe the US military is simply being incompetent by repeatedly hiring Bout. Others suggest there was some kind of secret deal. For instance, one senior Belgian Foreign Ministry official involved in efforts to try to arrest Bout comments: “Not only does Bout have the protection of the US government, he now works for them as well. It’s incredible, amazing. It has to be the only reason why he is still around and free.” [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 224-225] In 2006, Bout’s companies will supply weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon (see July 2006) and an al-Qaeda linked militant group in Somalia (see Late July 2006). Bout will finally be arrested by US agents in Thailand in March 2008 (see March 6, 2008).
Bombing damage at Mike’s Place. [Source: Associated Press]On April 30, two British citizens, Asif Hanif and Omar Sharif, attempt to bomb Mike’s Place, a cafe in Tel Aviv, Israel, located very close to the US embassy.
Hanif’s bomb goes off, but a security guard prevented him from entering the cafe, so just three people are killed and 65 are injured. Only Sharif’s detonator goes off, so he flees the scene, being chased by several people. He manages to run away, but his dead body is found in the ocean nearby two weeks later. A British inquest will later suggest he drowned, although why he did remains unknown. The two men are Britain’s second known Islamist suicide bombers (see December 25, 2000). They had lived in Britain most of their lives and only arrived in Israel a couple of weeks earlier, after a short stay in Syria. Hamas takes credit for the bombing and later shows a video of their last testaments in which Hanif states: “It is an honor to kill all these people. It is an honor.” [Daily Telegraph, 9/6/2006] The two are believed to have been members of the radical British militant group Al-Muhajiroun. The group’s leader, Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, says Sharif had recently attended a course at his school, studying Islamic law. A reporter claims to have interviewed Hanif by chance at Al-Muhajiroun’s London office a month before the bombing. They also attended the Finsbury Park mosque, where radical imam Abu Hamza al-Masri preaches. [Observer, 5/4/2003; ISN Security Watch, 7/21/2005; BBC, 7/9/2006] The pair apparently were featured in a recruitment video for Abu Hamza in March 2000. In 2002, a pair of activists working against Abu Hamza, Neil Doyle and Glen Jenvey, tricked Abu Hamza into sending them some recruitment videos, and one showed two masked men holding assault rifles claiming to be fighting in Bosnia. Only in 2004, after Hamas released the video of Sharif and Hanif’s last testaments, did it become clear they were the masked men in the 2000 video as well. [Sunday Mercury (Birmingham UK), 9/19/2004] Mohammad Sidique Khan, the lead suicide bomber in the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), traveled to Israel seven weeks before the bombing, and it is suspected he assisted the bombing in some way, because he had known the two men since at least 2001 (see Summer 2001 and February 19-20, 2003).
The CIA appoints a chief to its new station in Baghdad, Iraq. The officer, whose name is not known, had previously served at the station before the 1991 Gulf War and ran the CIA’s operations in Iraq from a neighboring country before the recent invasion. He is fluent in Arabic and experienced at setting up and running large intelligence operations. [Los Angeles Times, 2/20/2004] The officer will only remain in his position for a couple of months (see (June 2003)).
The CIA notifies the Italian military intelligence agency SISMI that Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, an Islamist radical the agencies kidnapped from Milan in February (see Noon February 17, 2003), is being interrogated in Cairo, Egypt. After Italian prosecutors begin investigating the kidnap, they will raid a SISMI safehouse in Rome, finding a document that confirms the notification. [Reuters, 11/4/2009] Nasr is actually tortured in Egypt (see Late February 2003 or Shortly After).
Vice President Dick Cheney’s interest in former ambassador and current Iraq whistleblower Joseph Wilson is renewed when Wilson informs New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof that he was the special envoy who went to Niger in February 2002 to investigate the uranium claims (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). When Kristof publishes the information (see May 6, 2003), according to a CIA official, “a request came in from Cheney that was passed to me that said ‘the vice president wants to know whether Joe Wilson went to Niger.’ I’m paraphrasing. But that’s more or less what I was asked to find out.” Cheney, of course, knew Wilson had gone to Niger (see (February 13, 2002)). The campaign to discredit and besmirch Wilson begins again (see March 9, 2003 and After), this time in a much more intensified manner. “Cheney and Libby made it clear that Wilson had to be shut down,” the CIA official will later say. “This wasn’t just about protecting the credibility of the White House. For the vice president, going after Wilson was purely personal, in my opinion.” Cheney is heavily involved in this second phase of the anti-Wilson campaign as well, pushing CIA officials to find out everything they can about Wilson. Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley also pressures State Department officials to send information they have on Wilson to his attention at the NSC. It is also at this time that Cheney and at least some members of his staff learn that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is a covert CIA officer. At least one meeting is held in the Office of the Vice President to discuss possible strategies to use against Wilson. According to a State Department official, Cheney is not at this particular meeting: “Libby [Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby] led the meeting. But he was just as upset about Wilson as Cheney was.” [USA Today, 4/29/2004; Truthout (.org), 2/9/2006] In a 2005 interview, Wilson will tell a reporter that he believes others in the White House’s communications and public relation staffs, including Karl Rove, Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin, and James Wilkinson, all become aware of Plame Wilson’s secret CIA status, as does Hadley, his boss, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and White House chief of staff Andrew Card. “That would be the natural group because they were constituted to spin the war, so they would be naturally the ones to try to deflect criticism,” Wilson will say. [Raw Story, 7/13/2005] In 2008, current White House deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will acknowledge that “Cheney and his staff were leading a White House effort to discredit Joe Wilson himself.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 171]
Entity Tags: Office of the Vice President, Karen Hughes, Joseph C. Wilson, James R. Wilkinson, Condoleezza Rice, Central Intelligence Agency, Andrew Card, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Nicholas Kristof, US Department of State, Valerie Plame Wilson, Scott McClellan, Mary Matalin, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Stephen J. Hadley
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
The CIA’s Office of the Inspector General reviews videotapes of the interrogation and custody of militant training camp facilitator Abu Zubaida. The tapes, made in 2002 (see Spring-Late 2002), show 83 applications of the waterboarding technique, most of which last for less than 10 seconds. However, 11 of the interrogation videos turn out to be blank, two others are blank except for one or two minutes, and two more are broken and cannot be reviewed. The Inspector General then compares the tapes to logs and cables about the interrogations and identifies a 21-hour period, including two waterboarding sessions, that is not captured on the tapes. [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 36-37 ]
Beginning on May 1, American nuclear physicist David Albright attempts to contact US defense officials to inform them that Mahdi Obeidi—the Iraqi nuclear scientist who once headed Iraq’s gas centrifuge program for uranium enrichment—has valuable information that he wants to share with the United States. But according to Albright, his inquiries are initially “rebuffed.” Finally, on May 7, he finds someone at the CIA who is interested. A little more than three weeks later, US authorities will investigate this lead (see June 2, 2003). [CNN, 6/26/2003; Newsweek, 8/8/2003; Washington Post, 10/26/2003]
Joseph Wilson, the former ambassador who journeyed to Niger to investigate groundless claims that Iraq had clandestinely bought uranium from that nation (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), takes part in a retreat for Democratic senators. During a panel discussion with some of the senators and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, Wilson discusses his trip and his findings. Kristof asks if he can write about Wilson’s trip (see May 6, 2003); Wilson agrees after stipulating that Kristof may only identify him as a “retired former ambassador.” Wilson’s wife, senior CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson, will write in 2007 that her husband’s reason for remaining anonymous “was not to hide from our government, but to avoid drawing attention to himself.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 138]
The group Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity writes an open letter to President George W. Bush, warning him that the intelligence being used to make policy decisions is being manipulated. The group writes: “While there have been occasions in the past when intelligence has been deliberately warped for political purposes, never before has such warping been used in such a systematic way to mislead our elected representatives into voting to authorize launching a war. You may not realize the extent of the current ferment within the intelligence community and particularly the CIA. In intelligence, there is one unpardonable sin—cooking intelligence to the recipe of high policy. There is ample indication that this has been done in Iraq.” They call the skewing of intelligence “a policy and intelligence fiasco of monumental proportions.” [Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, 5/1/2003; Reuters, 5/30/2003; London Times, 5/31/2003]
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) warns US officials that the Al Qaqaa military facility must be kept under close supervision. The facility has long been a storage cache for hundreds of tons of extremely powerful explosives such as HMX and RDX since 1991, when, in the aftermath of the Gulf War, the UN locked down the facility. In 1996, the United Nations used some of the Al Qaqaa explosives to destroy a large Iraqi germ warfare facility. The IAEA repeatedly warned the US about the explosives cache before the March invasion; with the current wave of looting and depredations occurring around the country (see April 9, 2003), terrorists or other unfriendlies could, the agency says, help “themselves to the greatest explosives bonanza in history.” In October 2004, the IAEA will come to believe that looting of the explosives began in April 2003 because of “the theft and looting of the governmental installations due to lack of security.” That same month, the US media will learn that at least 380 tons of explosives from the Al Qaqaa cache have gone missing (see October 10, 2004 and October 25, 2004). [New York Times, 10/25/2004]
In an email to New York Times Baghdad bureau chief John Burns, reporter Judith Miller defends a story she filed on Ahmed Chalabi, which had scooped a major story being written by another Times reporter. In her email she reveals that Chalabi was the source of most of her reporting on Iraq’s alleged arsenal of WMD. She writes: “I’ve been covering Chalabi for about 10 years, and have done most of the stories about him for our paper, including the long takeout we recently did on him. He has provided most of the front page exclusives on WMD to our paper.” [Washington Post, 5/26/2003] Miller has long relied on Chalabi as a primary source for information about Iraq. She has also proven more than willing—“eager,” in author Craig Unger’s words—to pass along information and disinformation alike from Chalabi and the White House about Iraq and its supposed WMD program. However, she will later retract her admission. [Unger, 2007, pp. 252]
The Sunday Herald reports: “Senior officials in the Bush administration have admitted that they would be ‘amazed’ if weapons of mass destruction (WMD) were found in Iraq…. [One] senior US official added that America never expected to find a huge arsenal, arguing that the administration was more concerned about the ability of Saddam’s scientists—which he labeled the ‘nuclear mujahadeen’
—to develop WMDs when the crisis passed.” [Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 5/4/2003; Observer, 5/4/2003 Sources: Unnamed senior administration officials]
Nicholas Kristof. [Source: Women's Conference]New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, citing unnamed sources, breaks the story of former US diplomat Joseph Wilson’s February 2002 trip to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Kristof’s source for the story is Wilson, who he recently met at a political conference in Washington that was sponsored by the Senate Democratic Policy Committee (see Early May 2003). The following morning, they met for breakfast, and Wilson recounted the details of his trip. Kristof writes in part: “I’m told by a person involved in the Niger caper that more than a year ago the vice president’s office asked for an investigation of the uranium deal, so a former US ambassador to Africa was dispatched to Niger.… In February 2002, according to someone present at the meetings, that envoy reported to the CIA and State Department that the information was unequivocally wrong, and that the documents had been forged.” [New York Times, 5/6/2003; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 282] In response to the column, Patrick Lang, the former head of the DIA’s Middle Eastern affairs bureau, tells Kristof that the office of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld had pressured the US intelligence community before the war, asking analysts “to think it over again” when they filed reports skeptical of Iraq’s WMD programs. Lang also says that any intelligence warning “that Iraqis would not necessarily line up to cheer US troops, and that the Shi’ite clergy could be a problem,” was also unwelcome at the Defense Department. [Rich, 2006, pp. 97] In 2007, author Craig Unger will write: “Now the secret was out with regard to the Niger documents. Not only had the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] determined that they were forgeries (see February 17, 2003), but it was clear that the administration knew the Niger deal was phony even before Bush cited them in the State of the Union address” (see March 8, 2002 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). [Unger, 2007, pp. 309] Wilson expects a certain amount of criticism and opprobrium from the White House and its allies in the media over the column, but as his wife, senior CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson, will later write, “In retrospect, if anything, he underestimated the potential for those in the administration, and their allies, to change the subject from the lies in the president’s address to lies about us.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 108]
Fahad al Thumairy, a Saudi official suspected of contacts with two 9/11 hijackers, is deported from the US. Al Thumairy had worked at the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles since 1996. In March 2003, he was secretly put on a watch list due to suspected terrorist links. He then left the US to visit Saudi Arabia. When he returns on May 6, he is stopped at the Los Angeles International Airport and detained, despite having a special diplomatic visa. He is held in custody for two days and questioned for several hours, but apparently he says very little. Then he is deported to Saudi Arabia. [Los Angeles Times, 5/10/2003] Al Thumairy was in frequent contact with hijacker associate Omar al-Bayoumi (see December 1998-December 2000), and the FBI gained evidence he could have been in contact with hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar (see 2002), as well as al-Qaeda figure Khallad bin Attash (see June 9, 2000). Journalist Philip Shenon will later comment that al Thumairy “had a reputation as fanatically anti-American.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 53]
On May 7, 2003, Leonie Brinkema, the judge in the Zacarias Moussaoui trial, asks the CIA if it has recordings of interrogations of detainees related to Moussaoui’s case. Two days later, the CIA replies that it does not, although it is actually in possession of some recordings. In 2002, the CIA secretly videotaped interrogations of high-ranking detainees Abu Zubaida and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see Spring-Late 2002) but it does not reveal this to anyone involved in the Moussaoui trial. In 2005, some of these videotapes will be destroyed (see November 2005), around the time the Brinkema makes a repeat request for the tapes (see November 3-14, 2005). However, other recordings—two videotapes and one audio tape—will survive and will finally be viewed by Moussaoui’s prosecutors in 2007, long after Moussaoui has been convicted (see September 19 and October 18, 2007). [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 10/25/2007 ; Reuters, 11/13/2007] Although the identity of the detainees in the recordings requested is not known, one of the prosecutors will later say, “Obviously the important witnesses included [Abu] Zubaidah, [Ramzi] bin al-Shibh, and KSM [Khalid Shaikh Mohammed]… those are the guys at the head of the witness list.” However, he will not specifically recall which tapes are requested. [Associated Press, 12/7/2007]
The Bush administration blames Iran for helping al-Qaeda bomb three foreign worker compounds in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (see May 12, 2003). Though the US has no evidence of Iranian complicity in the bombings, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney insist that Iran must have been involved, and prevail upon President Bush to shut down the informal backchannel discussions between Iranian and US officials (see September 11, 2001). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 249]
Saif al-Adel. [Source: FBI]Around May 4, 2003, Iran attempted to start negotiations in an attempt to resolve all outstanding issues between Iran and the US. The US completely rejected the offer within days. Iran immediately comes back with a more limited proposal, offering to hand over a group of al-Qaeda leaders being held in Iran in return for the US to hand over leaders of the Mujahedeen of Iran (MEK). The US had already officially listed MEK as a terrorist group. [American Prospect, 5/21/2006] Iran is believed to be holding a number of top al-Qaeda leaders, including military commander Saif al-Adel and Osama bin Laden’s son Saad bin Laden (see Spring 2002). The US had captured about 4,000 members of MEK in Iraq the month before, in bases where they had been staging attacks against Iran. Iran pledges to grant amnesty to most of the MEK prisoners, try only 65 leaders, forgo the death penalty on them, and allow the Red Cross to supervise the transfer. [Washington Post, 7/9/2004] Iran proposes to start with an exchange of information, offering to share the list of names of al-Qaeda operatives they are detaining in return for the US to share the list of names of MEK operatives US forces has captured in Iraq. This exchange of names is discussed at a White House meeting. Hardliners in favor of regime change in Iran argue that MEK is different than al-Qaeda. President Bush is said to respond, “But we say there is no such thing as a good terrorist.” [American Prospect, 5/21/2006] And he initially seems in favor of a prisoner exchange, saying about the MEK, “Why not? They’re terrorists.” [Washington Post, 7/9/2004] But Bush does not immediately approve the exchange of names, although he does approve the disarming of MEK who have surrendered to US troops and he allows the State Department to continue secret negotiations on the issue of exchanging names and prisoners in Switzerland. But on May 12, 2003, a bombing in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia kills a number of US citizens (see May 12, 2003). Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, Vice President Cheney, and other neoconservatives argue that the bombing was planned by al-Qaeda leaders being held in Iran. [American Prospect, 5/21/2006] The Washington Post will report in 2007 that, “US intelligence officials said there are suspicions, but no proof, that one of [the al-Qaeda leaders in Iran] may have been involved from afar in planning” the Riyadh bombing. Some of Bush’s top advisers argue in favor of trading the prisoners, suggesting that directly interrogating the al-Qaeda leaders could result in important new intelligence leads. But Cheney and Rumsfeld argue that any deal would legitimize Iran’s government. Bush ultimately offers to accept information about the al-Qaeda leaders without offering anything in return. Not surprisingly, Iran refuses. [Washington Post, 2/10/2007] A planned meeting between US and Iranian officials on May 21 is canceled and negotiations come to a halt. The American Prospect will later comment, “In a masterstroke, Rumsfeld and Cheney had shut down the only diplomatic avenue available for communicating with Iran and convinced Bush that Iran was on the same side as al-Qaeda.” [American Prospect, 5/21/2006] Flynt Leverett, a State Department official dealing with Middle East policy, will later say, “Why we didn’t cut this deal is beyond me.” [Washington Post, 7/9/2004] One anonymous senior US official will later say, “One reason nothing came of it was because we knew that there were parts of the US government who didn’t want to give them the MEK because they had other plans for them… like overthrowing the Iranian government.” [MSNBC, 6/24/205]
Senators Pat Roberts (R-KS) and John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), respectively the chairman and the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, send a joint letter asking the CIA and State Department inspectors general to review issues related to the Iraq-Niger forgeries. [CounterPunch, 11/9/2005]
The CIA publicly releases a 6-page white paper titled “Iraqi Mobile Biological Warfare Agent Production Plants” concluding that the two trailers discovered in northern Iraq (see April 19, 2003)
(see May 9, 2003) were designed to produce biological weapons—directly contradicting the conclusion of a field report filed the previous day by biological weapons experts working in Iraq (see May 27, 2003). The report—the US government’s first formal assessment of the trailers—calls the discovery of the trailers the “strongest evidence to date that Iraq was hiding a biological warfare program.” It is based on a comparison of the trailers to descriptions that had been provided by Iraqi sources prior to the invasion. Though the report claims that there are no other plausible explanations for the trailers’ purpose, it does acknowledge that senior Iraqi officials at the al-Kindi research facility in Mosul, as well as a company that manufactured components for the trailers, say the trailers were built to make hydrogen for artillery weather balloons. The report calls this a “cover story.” [Central Intelligence Agency and Defense Intelligence Agency, 5/28/2003; New York Times, 6/7/2003; Los Angeles Times, 6/21/2003; New York Times, 6/26/2003] Though the report was authored by the CIA, there is a DIA logo printed on the paper to indicate that the DIA backs the report’s conclusions. But most DIA analysts do not. When the CIA was unable to convince DIA analysts to sign the paper, according to book Hubris, they contacted the one DIA analyst who did agree with their position, and got his approval to place the DIA logo on the white paper. “We were tricked,” one DIA analyst later explains. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 228] It is later learned that the report was completed before the investigation had run its full course. A week after the report’s release, laboratories in the Middle East and the United States were still analyzing more than 100 samples that had been taken from the trailers. A senior analyst tells the New York Times that the white paper “was a rushed job and looks political.” [New York Times, 6/7/2003] It is also discovered that the two agencies did not consult with other intelligence offices. Normally such reports are not finalized until there is a consensus among the government’s numerous intelligence agencies. “The exclusion of the State Department’s intelligence bureau [INR] and other agencies seemed unusual, several government officials said, because of the high-profile subject,” the New York Times will later report. Moreover, the State Department’s intelligence agency was not even informed that the report was being prepared. [New York Times, 6/26/2003] When INR analysts read the report, they go “ballistic.” INR intelligence chief Carl Ford Jr. will later say of the report’s authors, “It wasn’t just that it was wrong. They lied.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 228]
According to the subsequent investigation by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, calls the State Department to ask about the results of former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s trip to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Libby is particularly interested in learning who the “unnamed ambassador” was, and who sent Wilson to Niger. [Raw Story, 11/2/2005; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 216] According to the New York Times, Libby asks an undersecretary of state, presumably Marc Grossman (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003), for the information. [New York Times, 2006] Grossman later testifies that Libby did indeed contact him for the information (see January 23-24, 2007). Grossman is allegedly involved in a nuclear smuggling ring (see (1997-2002) and Summer 2001), and knows Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is investigating the ring (see Summer-Autumn 2001).
Libby Contacts Bolton? - However, according to a 2005 report by the news Web site Raw Story, Libby asks Undersecretary of State John Bolton for the information regarding Wilson’s mission to Niger. Bolton refers the query to Grossman, who directs the State Department’s intelligence arm, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), to prepare a report concerning Wilson and his trip (see June 10, 2003). Within days, Grossman informs Libby of Wilson’s identity. The INR memo is written as part of a work-up order orchestrated by the White House Iraq Group (WHIG—see August 2002). [Raw Story, 11/2/2005; CounterPunch, 11/9/2005]
CIA Tells Bolton of Plame Wilson's Identity - Bolton also learns that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is a CIA official. He learns this from his chief of staff, Frederick Fleitz, who also serves as a senior CIA Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control official. Bolton tells his aide David Wurmser, who is working concurrently in Cheney’s office. Wurmser passes the information along to another Cheney aide, John Hannah. Around June 11, Fleitz will inform Libby of Plame Wilson’s status (see (June 11, 2003)).
Bolton's Connections to CIA - According to Raw Story, Bolton has “his own connections to agents at the CIA who share… his political philosophy on Iraq.” Greg Thielmann, a former director at the State Department who was assigned to Bolton and entrusted with providing him with intelligence information, will later say of Bolton, “He surrounded himself with a hand-chosen group of loyalists, and found a way to get CIA information directly.” [Raw Story, 11/2/2005]
Entity Tags: US Department of State, Valerie Plame Wilson, White House Iraq Group, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Marc Grossman, Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control, Joseph C. Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Central Intelligence Agency, Frederick Fleitz, David Wurmser, John Hannah, John R. Bolton, Greg Thielmann
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
An FBI memo released to the American Civil Liberties Union in 2006 (ACLU—see February 23, 2006) documents escalating tensions between FBI and Defense Department personnel stationed at Guantanamo. According to the memo, beginning in late 2002, Defense Department interrogators received encouragement from their superiors to “use aggressive interrogation tactics” that FBI agents believed were “of questionable effectiveness and subject to uncertain interpretation based on law and regulation.” The memo names Major General Geoffrey Miller, the commander of Joint Task Force-Guantanamo, as supporting interrogation methods FBI agents believe “could easily result in the elicitation of unreliable and legally inadmissible information.” FBI personnel took their concerns to senior Pentagon officials, but were ignored. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2/23/2006]
In the upcoming issue of Vanity Fair, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz admits that the Bush administration chose the issue of Iraqi WMD as its primary justification for war, not because it was necessarily a legitimate concern, but because it was, in the words of reporter David Usbourne, “politically convenient.” Wolfowitz also acknowledges that another justification played a strong part in the decision to invade: the prospect of the US being able to withdraw all of its forces from Saudi Arabia (see August 7, 1990) once Saddam Hussein’s regime was overthrown. “Just lifting that burden from the Saudis is itself going to the door” towards making progress elsewhere in achieving Middle East peace, says Wolfowitz. The presence of US forces in Saudi Arabia has been one of the main grievances of al-Qaeda and other Islamist groups. The most controversial statement by Wolfowitz is his acknowledgement that, “For bureaucratic reasons we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on.” Usbourne writes, “The comments suggest that, even for the US administration, the logic that was presented for going to war may have been an empty shell.” He notes that finding a rationale for attacking Iraq that was “acceptable to everyone” may refer to Secretary of State Colin Powell, the most prominent Cabinet member to vocally, if privately, oppose the invasion. Powell relied on the WMD issue in his February presentation to the UN Security Council (see February 5, 2003), which many consider to be a key element in the administration’s effort to convince the American citizenry that the invasion was necessary and justified. [Independent, 5/30/2003]
Democrats: WMD Scare 'Hyped' by Administration - Many Congressional Democrats echo the sentiments of Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), who says of the administration’s push for war: “I do think that we hyped nuclear, we hyped al-Qaeda, we hyped the ability to disperse and use these weapons. I think that tends to be done by all presidents when they are trying to accomplish a goal that they want to get broad national support for.… I think a lot of the hype here is a serious, serious, serious mistake and it hurts our credibility.” [Washington Times, 5/30/2003]
British Official: Clear That Rationale for War Was False - Former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, who quit as leader of the House of Commons to protest the war, says he never believed Iraq had the WMD claimed by US and British government officials. “The war was sold on the basis of what was described as a pre-emptive strike, ‘Hit Saddam before he hits us,’” he says. “It is now quite clear that Saddam did not have anything with which to hit us in the first place.” Former Danish Foreign Minister Niels Helveg Petersen says he is shocked by Wolfowitz’s claim. “It leaves the world with one question: What should we believe?” he says. [Associated Press, 5/30/2003]
Wolfowitz Claims Misquoting - After the initial reports of the interview and the resulting storm of controversy and recriminations, Wolfowitz and his defenders will claim that Vanity Fair reporter Sam Tanenhaus misquoted his words and took his statements out of context (see June 1-9, 2003).
Press Official: Selection of WMD as Primary Focus a 'Marketing Choice' - In 2008, current deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will write, “So the decision to downplay the democratic vision as a motive for war was basically a marketing choice.” Reflecting on this choice, he will add: “Every president wants to achieve greatness but few do. As I have heard [President] Bush say, only a wartime president is likely to achieve greatness, in part because the epochal upheavals of war provide the opportunity for transformative change of the kind Bush hoped to achieve. In Iraq, Bush saw his opportunity to create a legacy of greatness. Intoxicated by the influence and power of America, Bush believed that a successful transformation of Iraq could be the linchpin for realizing his dream of a free Middle East. But there was a problem here, which has become obvious to me only in retrospect—a disconnect between the president’s most heartfelt objective in going to war and the publicly stated rationale for that war. Bush and his advisers knew that the American people would almost certainly not support a war launched primarily for the ambitious purpose of transforming the Middle East.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 131-133]
British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s now-infamous claim that Iraq could launch weapons of mass destruction “within 45 minutes” is based on information gathered from a single, anonymous Iraqi defector of dubious reliability, British Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram admits. According to Ingram, the defector was supplied by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress. The INC defector told American intelligence agents that if Saddam Hussein gave the order, WMDs, presumably contained in missiles, could be on their way to their targets in 45 minutes. The Americans shared that intelligence with their British counterparts, but British intelligence officials considered the story to be unreliable and uncorroborated. According to The Independent, “[h]ow it came to be included as the most dramatic element in the government’s ‘intelligence dossier’ last September, making the case for war (see September 24, 2002), is now the subject of a furious row in Whitehall and abroad.” The 45-minute claim was not part of the original draft of the September 2002 dossier (see September 28, 2002), and government officials deny that the claim was added at the behest of politicians who wanted the dossier “sexed up.” Faced with thunderous denunciations from his own Labour Party and his Conservative opponents for apparently deceiving the nation about Iraqi WMD, Blair says that he has further intelligence, gleaned from former Iraqi scientists, that proves Iraq had an arsenal of WMD. He will present that intelligence in due course, he says. An intelligence source says: “The ‘45-minute’ remark was part of the American intelligence input into the dossier. It was being treated cautiously by the British, but it was alighted on by the politicos and blown out of proportion.” [Independent, 6/1/2003] Further verification of the hearsay nature of the claim comes in August, when a previously unreleased document shows that the claim came from an anonymous Iraqi source (see August 16, 2003).
On May 13, 2003, 45 people are killed in a series of suicide bombings in Casablanca, Morocco (see May 16, 2003). Later that month, Mustapha Maymouni is arrested in Morocco for a role in the bombings. He will be sentenced to 18 years in prison. In early June, Abdelaziz Benyaich is arrested in Cadiz, Spain for a role in the bombings. He will later be sentenced to eight years in prison in Spain, then acquitted, and has since been fighting extradition to Morocco. On June 19, Hicham Temsamani is also arrested in the Basque region of Spain for a role in the bombings. He will be extradited to Morocco in March 2004 but acquitted in 2005. [El Mundo (Madrid), 9/28/2004; Arabic News, 4/21/2005; El Mundo (Madrid), 9/18/2006] All three men had been under surveillance by Spanish police for months before the Casablanca bombings. Maymouni is the brother-in-law to Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, who will later be considered one of about three masterminds of the 2004 Madrid train bombings. Spanish police have been monitoring Fakhet’s apartment while Maymouni slept there for several months (see January 17, 2003-Late March 2004). Police have also noticed that Benyaich is part of the group of militants around Fakhet. This group has also been in contact with Temsamani, who is a former imam of a mosque in Toledo, Spain. [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/10/2005] As a result, Spanish authorities focus more attention and surveillance on Fakhet’s militant group. Court approvals for more surveillance usually make reference to links to the Casablanca bombings. For instance, in February 2004, the court order to approve more surveillance of Madrid bombers Fakhet and Jamal Zougam will say that they have been linked “with al-Qaeda operatives” who were “directly implicated in the events” in Casablanca (see February 3, 2004). [El Mundo (Madrid), 9/28/2004]
Yusef al-Ayeri, believed to be in charge of al-Qaeda operations in the Arabian peninsula, is shot and killed while attempting to flee a security checkpoint in Saudi Arabia. His body was strapped with explosives and a 6-month-old letter from Osama bin Laden was reportedly in his pocket. Al-Ayeri was publicly named earlier in the month and his photograph was distributed nationwide. [Knight Ridder, 6/4/2003] US intelligence had known of al-Ayeri by his alias “Swift Sword” for a year and had eventually learned his real name. They had told Saudi intelligence that he may be behind an aborted al-Qaeda plot to attack the US with a chemical bomb (see February-Late March 2003) and said they were highly interested in questioning him. However, not only is he killed, but the Saudis apparently never collect his personal effects, such as his cell phone, his address book, or his car registry, and never trace such clues back to any residence that can be searched. One CIA operative involved in the search to find him will later recall, “We wondered, was it an accident that they killed him, or not? The Saudis just shrugged.… The bottom line: the missing link [that could reveal who took part in the planned US attack] was dead and his personal effects, which can be pretty important, were gone. Like so much else when you’re dealing with these countries, you’re never sure—was it an issue of will or capability?” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 146, 237-239] The Internet communications run by al-Ayeri will be taken over by a previously unknown figure named Lewis Atiyallah. In 2005, it will be reported that some counterterrorism experts believe Atiyallah “is a pseudonym for Yusef al-Ayeri… Al-Ayeri was reported killed in 2003, however there are lingering doubts about whether he is in fact dead.” [AKI, 6/8/2005]
Nearly half the US intelligence agents and commandos in Afghanistan and Pakistan are reassigned to Iraq as the resistance begins intensifying there. Some politicians in Washington apparently privately complain that President Bush is easing the pressure on bin Laden. Many transferred to Iraq end up in an elite task force created in October 2003 to track down Saddam Hussein and other resistance figures. But there is no anticipated shift of personnel back to Afghanistan after Hussein is captured in December 2003. Vincent Cannistraro, former head of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center, will say shortly after Hussein’s capture, “Clearly, the resources devoted to bin Laden were diluted, but I don’t expect a switch back to Afghanistan just because of the capture of [Hussein].” [Knight Ridder, 12/14/2003]
CIA officials ask for reauthorization of the controversial harsh interrogation methods (see April 2002 and After and August 1, 2002) that had been withdrawn (see December 2003-June 2004) after the revelation of abuse and torture at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison (see November 5, 2003). The CIA has captured a new al-Qaeda suspect in Asia, and top agency officials ask the National Security Council Principals Committee—Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, CIA Director George Tenet, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Attorney General John Ashcroft—for permission to use extreme methods of interrogation against the new detainee. Rice, who chairs the Principals Committee, says: “This is your baby. Go do it.” [ABC News, 4/9/2008] The name of the new suspect captured in Asia is not mentioned, but Hambali is captured in Thailand in August 2003 (see August 12, 2003), and he is the only prominent al-Qaeda figure arrested that summer. He is considered one of al-Qaeda’s most important leaders. There are some reports that he is one of only about four prisoners directly waterboarded by the US (see Shortly After August 12, 2003).
Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, George J. Tenet, John Ashcroft, Hambali, National Security Council, Donald Rumsfeld
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline
Lewis Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, provides classified information to author and reporter Bob Woodward for use in his upcoming book Plan of Attack, which will document the Bush administration’s push for war with Iraq. According to his own later testimony (see March 24, 2004), Libby is authorized to disclose this information to Woodward by President Bush. The information is from the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, which documented the purported WMD belonging to Iraq (see October 1, 2002). In 2006, other former senior officials in the Bush administration will add that Bush told others to cooperate with Woodward as well. One official will say: “There were people on the seventh floor [of the CIA] who were told by [CIA Director George] Tenet to cooperate because the president wanted it done. There were calls to people to by [White House communications director] Dan Bartlett that the president wanted it done, if you were not cooperating. And sometimes the president himself told people that they should cooperate.” It is unclear whether any other White House official provides Woodward with classified information. [National Journal, 4/6/2006] It is unclear whether Libby discloses this information to Woodward during two June 2003 meetings he has with the reporter (see June 23, 2003 and June 27, 2003), or at another, unreported meeting.
The Iraq Survey Group closely inspects the Iraqi drones that the Bush administration had alleged were being developed to deploy chemical and biological weapons. ISG head David Kay later says of the investigation: “We knew the range, navigation, and payload capability. There was no way this was a threat to anyone.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 309]
According to journalist Seymour Hersh, by the summer of 2003, US-led forces have conquered Iraq but it becomes increasingly obvious that there is a growing insurgency movement. However, the US knows very little about the insurgency. A secret military report from the time states, “Human intelligence is poor or lacking… due to the dearth of competence and expertise.” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his close assistant Under-Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Steven Cambone try to solve this problem by authorizing increasingly aggressive interrogation of detainees in Iraq prisons. Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, commander of the Guantanamo (or “Gitmo”) prison in Cuba, comes to Iraq with a plan to “Gitmoize” the prisons in Iraq to make them more geared towards interrogation (see August 31, 2003-September 9, 2003). A former intelligence official will later tell Hersh, “They weren’t getting anything substantive from the detainees in Iraq. No names. Nothing that they could hang their hat on. Cambone says, I’ve got to crack this thing and I’m tired of working through the normal chain of command. I’ve got this apparatus set up—the black special-access program—and I’m going in hot.” The program mentioned is Operation Copper Green, which allows secret task forces to capture and interrogate wanted figures with very little oversight, and which is expanded to Iraq around this time. This official continues, “And it’s working. We’re getting a picture of the insurgency in Iraq and the intelligence is flowing into the white world. We’re getting good stuff. But we’ve got more targets” - meaning Iraqi detainees -“than people who can handle them.” As a result, Cambone decides to include some of the military intelligence officers working in the Iraqi prisons in the special access programs that are a part of Operation Copper Green. “So here are fundamentally good soldiers—military-intelligence guys—being told that no rules apply. And, as far as they’re concerned, this is a covert operation, and its’ to be kept within Defense Department channels.” As a result, more and more people, including the MPs (military police) pictured in the later Abu Ghraib abuse photographs, get involved in these covert programs that have almost no accountability and the stage is set for abuses to occur. The official says, “as soon as you enlarge the secret program beyond the oversight capability of experienced people, you lose control.” By the end of 2003, this official claims that senior CIA officials were complaining. “They said, ‘No way. We signed up for the core program in Afghanistan—pre-approved for operations against high-value terrorist targets—and now you want to use it for cabdrivers, brothers-in-law, and people pulled off the streets.’” The CIA supposedly ends its involvement with the covert programs in Iraqi prisons, although exactly when this happens is not clear. [New Yorker, 5/24/2004]
Destruction after the bombing of the UN building in Baghdad. [Source: US Army]In the summer of 2003, Islamist militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi moves his operations to the Sunni areas of Iraq. Soon he is linked to a number of bombings of civilians.
On August 7, his group al-Tawhid allegedly car bombs the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad, killing 17 people and wounding more than 60.
On August 19, a car bomb hits United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, killing 24 people and wounding more than 100. UN envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello is one of those killed.
On August 29, two suicide car bombs explode outside the Imam Ali Shrine in Najaf, one of the most sacred shrines for Shi’ites, killing 125 people. Ayatollah Mohammed Baqr al-Hakim, a revered Shia cleric, is one of those killed. [MSNBC, 5/4/2005; Atlantic Monthly, 6/8/2006]
A former Jordanian intelligence official who studied al-Zarqawi for a decade will say in 2006 of this time period, “Even then—and even more so now—al-Zarqawi was not the main force in the insurgency. To establish himself, he carried out the Muhammad al-Hakim operation, and the attack against the UN. Both of them gained a lot of support for him—with the tribes, with Saddam’s army and other remnants of his regime. They made al-Zarqawi the symbol of the resistance in Iraq, but not the leader. And he never has been.” [Atlantic Monthly, 6/8/2006] Over the next several years, the US government blames nearly every major bombing of civilians in Iraq on al-Zarqawi. For instance, an MSNBC article in early 2005 lists 35 attacks attributed to him. [MSNBC, 5/4/2005] But there is rarely any evidence definitively determining who was behind any given attack, and arrests or prosecutions of the bombers or their associates are even rarer. In late 2004, a Daily Telegraph article will claim that several US military intelligence sources complain that the importance of al-Zarqawi “has been exaggerated by flawed intelligence and the Bush administration’s desire to find ‘a villain’ for the post-invasion mayhem. US military intelligence agents in Iraq have revealed a series of botched and often tawdry dealings with unreliable sources who, in the words of one source, ‘told us what we wanted to hear.… We were basically paying up to $10,000 a time to opportunists, criminals, and chancers who passed off fiction and supposition about al-Zarqawi as cast-iron fact, making him out as the linchpin of just about every attack in Iraq’” (see October 4, 2004). [Daily Telegraph, 10/4/2004] But despite this, the blaming of nearly all attacks on al-Zarqawi will continue. The Jordanian intelligence expert on al-Zarqawi will complain in 2006, “The Americans have been patently stupid in all of this. They’ve blown Zarqawi so out of proportion that, of course, his prestige has grown. And as a result, sleeper cells from all over Europe are coming to join him now.… Your government is creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.” [Atlantic Monthly, 6/8/2006] In April 2006, the Washington Post will report that the US military has been deliberately exaggerating the importance of al-Zarqawi in order to link the war in Iraq to al-Qaeda for the US public, due to al-Zarqawi’s alleged al-Qaeda ties (see April 10, 2006).
Kean (left) and Hamilton (right) of the 9/11 Commission. [Source: Doug Mills / New York Times]The 9/11 Commission does not receive video or audio recordings of interrogations of detainees thought to know something about the 9/11 plot (see Spring-Late 2002), even though it is unhappy with the amount and quality of information it is getting from detainees (see Summer 2003) and has a series of meetings with CIA officials to improve access (see November 5, 2003-January 2004). The CIA will indicate that the Commission never asks for the tapes, saying it “went to great lengths to meet the requests of the 9/11 Commission,” and that one of the reasons that the tapes are not destroyed until after the Commission releases its final report in 2004 is so that it could have the tapes, if it so desires. [New York Times, 12/8/2007] However, when the tapes’ destruction is revealed in late 2007 (see November 2005 and December 6, 2007), former 9/11 Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton will dispute this, saying that in hours of negotiations and discussions with the CIA and written requests they make it clear they want all material connected to the interrogations of the relevant detainees. [International Herald Tribune, 12/8/2007] Kean will say, “They knew what they had and they didn’t give it to us.” [ABC News, 12/7/2007] Hamilton will say, “The CIA certainly knew of our interest in getting all the information we could on the detainees, and they never indicated to us there were any videotapes… Did they obstruct our inquiry? The answer is clearly yes. Whether that amounts to a crime, others will have to judge.” [International Herald Tribune, 12/8/2007]
Larry Franklin. [Source: Win McNamee / Getty Images]Larry Franklin, a member of Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith’s Office of Special Plans, and Harold Rhode, a protege of neoconservative Iran “specialist” Michael Ledeen, meets with Iranian arms merchant and Iran-Contra figure Manucher Ghorbanifar in Paris. This is the third of three meetings (see December 9, 2001 and June 2002) between these figures. While no details of the discussions that took place at this meeting are available, it is likely that, like the other two, the main focus of the meeting is the manipulation of “evidence” showing Iraq has weapons of mass destruction in order to provide “proof” that the US invasion of Iraq was justified. (Franklin will later be convicted of passing classified US intelligence to Israel, and will be sentenced to 12 years in prison—see April 13, 1999-2004 and October 5, 2005). [Vanity Fair, 3/2007] Journalists Joshua Micah Marshall, Laura Rozen, and Paul Glastris later speculate that the meetings have a hidden agenda alongside the Iraq concern: the destabilization of Iran. They write, “[T]he [Defense Department]-Ghorbanifar meetings suggest the possibility that a rogue faction at the Pentagon was trying to work outside normal US foreign policy channels to advance a ‘regime change’ agenda not approved by the president’s foreign policy principals or even the president himself.” [Washington Monthly, 9/2004]
Entity Tags: Paul Glastris, Michael Ledeen, Laura Rozen, Douglas Feith, Manucher Ghorbanifar, Harold Rhode, Larry Franklin, Joshua Micah Marshall, Office of Special Plans
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Iran-Contra Affair, Neoconservative Influence
Iraqi national Hiwa Abdul Rahman Rashul, later to be nicknamed “Triple-X,” is captured by Kurdish soldiers on suspicion that he is a member of Al-Ansar al-Islam, a militant group operating in northern Iraq. [Washington Post, 10/24/2004] He is then handed over to the CIA, which takes him outside of Iraq to a secret facility in Afghanistan. [New York Times, 9/10/2004]
A 53-year-old Iraqi man, Naem Sadoon Hatab, is strangled to death while in US custody at the Whitehorse detainment camp in Nasiriyah. Hatab’s death will be investigated by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS—see May 14, 2008). [American Civil Liberties Union, 5/14/2008]
The CIA starts a course for officers it calls “debriefers,” who are to participate in detainee interrogations. (In the CIA’s terminology of this time, an “interrogator” is someone who applies the agency’s “enhanced interrogation techniques,” whereas a debriefer does not apply the techniques, but merely asks a detainee questions after an interrogator has designated a detainee as “compliant.”) The purpose of the course is to train the debriefers to collect actionable intelligence from high-value detainees in CIA custody. It is intended to familiarize them with key aspects of the CIA’s interrogation program, including its goals and legal authorities, the interrogation guidelines, and the roles and responsibilities of all who interact with high value detainees. [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 38 ] The agency began a course for interrogators the previous year (see November 2002).
The CIA appoints a new chief of its station in Kabul, Afghanistan. The chief, known only as “Peter,” will remain in the position for a year (see June 2004). [Washington Post, 10/22/2004]
Writing in 2007, CIA analyst Valerie Plame Wilson, who works with the issue of Iraq’s WMD, will recall that many of her colleagues now feel “bewilderment over why we weren’t finding any WMD caches at all.” As more and more evidence accumulates that Iraq never had the wide array of WMD stockpiles that the Bush administration has alleged for so long, she begins to experience “a sinking feeling in my stomach that Saddam [Hussein] had pulled off one of the greatest intelligence deceptions of all time: he had made the world believe he had significant stashes of WMD that he would use, if threatened, when in fact, he had nothing” (see January 28, 2004). [Wilson, 2007, pp. 153-154]
Babel TV facility, from which Curveball stole equipment. [Source: CBS News]Curveball, the Iraqi defector (see November 4, 2007) whose claims that Saddam Hussein has mobile bioweapons became an integral part of Secretary of State Colin Powell’s presentation to the UN (see February 5, 2003) “proving” the existence of Iraqi WMDs, continues to disintegrate as a reliable intelligence source. His fundamental claims of being a senior Iraqi chemical engineer working on the secret bioweapons project falls apart as both German intelligence analysts and the CIA gather more information on him. Veteran CIA bio-weapons analyst publicly identified only as “Jerry,” who before the war had championed Curveball’s claim that Iraq had mobile biological weapons laboratories, leads a unit of the Iraq Survey Group to Baghdad to investigate Curveball’s background. His team locates Curveball’s personnel file in an Iraqi government storeroom and learns that the Iraqi defector’s allegations consisted of a string of lies. Curveball came in last in his engineering class, not first, as he had told his debriefers (see 1994 and January 2000-September 2001). Nor was he a project chief or site manager, as he had claimed. Rather he was just a low-level trainee engineer. Dr. Basil al-Sa’ati, whom Curveball cited as his supervisor at the Djerf al Nadaf seed purification plant (Curveball claimed that the plant was a secret bioweapons production facility), confirmed that Curveball did indeed work for him at the plant, where al-Sa’ati was the head of production design. But Curveball only worked there a few months, while the facility was being built, and was fired in 1995, the very year that he presumably began working on the alleged program to convert trucks into biological weapons laboratories. The following years were not auspicious for Curveball: he was jailed for a sex crime, briefly drove a taxi in Baghdad, and worked for Iraq’s Babel television production company until he was charged with stealing equipment (the charges were dropped when he agreed to reimburse the company for his theft.) He even sold “homemade cosmetics,” according to his friend Dr. Hillal al Dulaimi. Curveball claimed to have witnessed a biological accident that killed 12 people at Djerf al Nadaf in 1998, but he wasn’t even in Iraq by that time. He had left the country, traveled around the Middle East, and wound up in Morocco. No trace exists of Curveball between that time and when he defected to Germany in 1999. Curveball’s former bosses at the engineering center tell CIA officers that they got duped, falling for “water cooler gossip” and “corridor conversations.” “The Iraqis were all laughing,” a member of the Iraq Survey Group will later recall. “They were saying, ‘This guy? You’ve got to be kidding.’” The team even interviews Curveball’s childhood friends who also corroborate what others have said about him. They say he was a “great liar,” a “con artist,” and “a real operator.” Everyone’s description of Curveball is the same: “People kept saying what a rat Curveball was.” Jerry and another CIA analyst, having heard enough, end the investigation and return to Washington. According to David Kay, by this time Jerry is close to having a nervous breakdown. “They had been true believers in Curveball,” Kay says. “They absolutely believed in him. They knew every detail in his file. But it was total hokum. There was no truth in it. They said they had to go home to explain how all this was all so wrong.” But the CIA doesn’t want to hear it. Jerry is accused of “making waves” and then transferred out of the weapons center. According to Michael Scheuer, another dissident CIA analyst, “Jerry had become kind of a nonperson. There was a tremendous amount of pressure on him not to say anything. Just to sit there and shut up.” [Los Angeles Times, 11/20/2005; CBS News, 11/4/2007]
A senior British source tells the Independent of London that British intelligence has kept records of its communications with Tony Blair’s staff, demonstrating that they were under pressure to produce reports that supported Blair’s claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. “A smoking gun may well exist over WMDs, but it may not be to the Government’s liking,” one senior British official will say to the Independent a few months after the invasion. “Minuted details will show exactly what went on. Because of the frequency and, at times, unusual nature of the demands from Downing Street, people have made sure records were kept. There is a certain amount of self-preservation in this, of course.” [Independent, 6/8/2003]
The 9/11 Commission becomes unhappy with the quality of information being provided by the CIA, FBI, and Pentagon about detainees in US custody who are being interrogated, because “the government’s investigators [are] not asking the detainees the kinds of questions [it wants] answered” - they are asking about future threats rather than the history of the 9/11 plot. The Commission is receiving detainee evidence “third-hand - passed from the detainee, to the interrogator, to the person who writes up the interrogation report, and finally to [its] staff in the form of reports, not even transcripts.” It can take up to six weeks for a report on an interrogation to be produced. Due to the absence of any interaction between Commission staff and detainees, they also have “no way of evaluating the credibility of detainee information.” [Kean and Hamilton, 2006, pp. 119-123] In at least one case, it seem possible that the 9/11 Commission was not given all the information from CIA interrogations that it needed. Counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna will later independently view some interrogation transcripts, and from them he will claim that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) confessed to attending a pivotal al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia where the 9/11 plot was discussed (see January 5-8, 2000). The CIA was in charge of monitoring this meeting, so their failure to notice the presence of KSM, a photographed and well-known terrorist mastermind with a $2 million bounty on his head at the time, would have been nearly inexplicable (see July 9, 2003). The Commission subsequently requests direct access to the detainees, but this request is not granted (see November 5, 2003-January 2004).
Carl Ford Jr. [Source: PBS]Carl Ford Jr., head of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, authors a classified memo addressed to Colin Powell, informing him that current intelligence does not support the conclusion of the joint CIA-DIA May 28 white paper (see May 28, 2003) which concluded that the two trailers found in Iraq (see April 19, 2003 and May 9, 2003) were mobile biological weapon factories. The memo also says that the CIA and DIA were wrong in asserting that there were no other plausible uses for the trailer, suggesting that the two pieces of equipment may have been designed for refueling Iraqi missiles. [New York Times, 6/26/2003; Fox News, 6/26/2003; CBS News, 6/27/2003]
Abdelhaleem Ashqar. [Source: Paul J. Richards / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images]NBS News and ABC News report that Mohammad Salah is living openly in Chicago. The US government had declared Salah a “designated global terrorist,” in 1995 and his name has remained on the list ever since (see February 1995). Salah was convicted in Israel for being a member of Hamas and served five years in prison. Suspected Hamas fundraiser Jamil Sarsour is running a grocery store in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. US officials say Sarsour helped finance a string of suicide bus bombings in Israel, including one that killed two Americans. He also spent several years in an Israeli prison in the 1990s. Furthermore, suspected Hamas fundraiser Abdelhaleem Ashqar is working as a professor at Howard University in Washington. NBC additionally reports there are “about two dozen [other] alleged Hamas operatives in the United States now under investigation by the FBI.” FBI agent Robert Wright began investigating these men and others in the early 1990s. For instance, Ashqar organized a secret Hamas fundraising meeting in Philadelphia in the early 1990s that was wiretapped by the FBI (see October 1993). Wright believes Sarsour has been a pivotal figure in sending funds from the US to Hamas overseas since the early 1990s (see 1989-January 1993). Wright claims that the FBI could have moved against Hamas in the US years before 9/11. He says, “The Hamas criminal enterprise has been flourishing since then. These guys are still operating strong today because we’re doing absolutely nothing about it. The FBI has turned a blind eye to what they are doing.” Salah, who had been employed as a college professor in Chicago since February 2002, is fired from his job as a result of these stories. [MSNBC, 6/2/2003; ABC News, 6/5/2003; ABC News, 6/12/2003] But the men are not arrested in the wake of the media reports. Salah and Ashqar will finally be indicted in August 2004 (see August 20, 2004).
Robert Jordan. [Source: KGW]Beginning in 1999, the FBI had conducted five disciplinary investigations of FBI agent Robert Wright and failed to find any wrongdoing. But within days of Wright’s second press conference (see June 2, 2003), they launch yet another investigation about him, claiming his media appearances show he was insubordinate. [Chicago Tribune, 4/22/2005] Senators Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) quickly hear of this new investigation and co-author a letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller on July 12. The letter states, “We are troubled by the FBI’s apparent haste to launch [a disciplinary] investigation every time an agent speaks publicly about problems within the FBI… The FBI should worry more about catching terrorists than gagging its own agents.” The senators demand a briefing on what is happening. [CNN, 6/19/2003; Chicago Tribune, 7/13/2004] In July 2003, FBI agent Royden Rice speaks to a reporter from the LA Weekly. Wright will later sue the FBI, alleging that Rice disclosed classified information to the reporter in an attempt to smear him. Rice denies the charges and the case is still pending. [LA Weekly, 7/22/2005] In December 2003, John Roberts, the third highest ranking official in the FBI’s disciplinary office, writes a memo about FBI Assistant Director Robert Jordan and Deputy Assistant Director Jody Weis. The memo claims that Jordan and Weis were overheard saying that Wright’s second press conference (see June 2, 2003) would give them an opportunity to “take him out.” Roberts also refers to an e-mail from a higher up in the Chicago FBI office asking for permission to do a media smear job on Wright (it is not known if this agent is Rice or someone else). Roberts claims that Jordan and Weis are misusing the FBI’s disciplinary process to silence and punish whistleblowers like Wright. He also claims that the allegations against Wright were not serious enough for a disciplinary investigation and at most Wright should have faced a written reprimand, since no classified information was disclosed. Roberts says, “I was left with the clear understanding that I was to… deceive, misrepresent, and hide… the facts of this matter.” [Chicago Tribune, 7/13/2004; New York Post, 7/14/2004] Even though details of Roberts’ memo will be revealed to the press in 2004, the investigation into Wright will continue and result in him being fired in 2005. Senators Grassley and Leahy will write at least three more letters to Mueller demanding explanations, but still will receive no answer. Later in 2005, Wright’s dismissal will be overruled by the Justice Department and he will be reinstated (see April 30, 2005-October 19, 2005). There appears to have been no investigation into the behavior of Jordan and Weis. [LA Weekly, 7/22/2005]
Entity Tags: Robert S. Mueller III, Robert G. Wright, Jr., Robert Jordan, Patrick J. Leahy, Jody Weis, Royden Rice, John E. Roberts, Charles Grassley, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of Justice
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Mahdi Obeidi. [Source: CNN]Mahdi Obeidi is taken into custody by US Special Forces. He is released on June 17, 2003. During his detention, Obeidi is interviewed by US authorities seeking to learn more about Saddam’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons. But instead of meeting with a US nuclear physicist as Obeidi expects, he is interviewed by CIA agent Joe T., the main proponent of the theory that the 81mm aluminum tubes Iraq attempted to import in July 2001 (see July 2001) had been meant for a centrifuge program. Joe’s area of expertise, however, is not nuclear physics. His background relates to export controls (see Early 1980s)
(see 1999). When asked about Saddam’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons, Obeidi does not tell Joe T. what he wants to hear. Instead, he tells him that Saddam abandoned the program in 1991 as the Iraqi government had claimed in its December 7 declaration to the UN. He adds that if the program had been restarted, he would have known about it. He also says that the tube shipment confiscated by the CIA in July 2001 was completely unrelated to nuclear weapons. Those tubes—with a diameter of 81mm—could not have been used in the gas centrifuge designed by Obeidi, which specified tubes with a 145mm diameter. “The physics of a centrifuge would not permit a simple substitution of aluminum tubes for the maraging steel and carbon fiber designs used by Obeidi,” the Washington Post will later report. Obeidi and his family will later move to a CIA safe house in Kuwait. [Newsweek, 8/8/2003; Washington Post, 10/26/2003 Sources: David Albright] At the end of the summer, he will receive permission to move to an East Coast suburb on the basis of Public Law 110 , which allows “those who help the United States by providing valuable intelligence information” to resettle in the US. [Central Intelligence Agency, 11/2/2003 Sources: David Kay]
Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, issues a press release saying he intends to push for an investigation into the Iraq-Niger forgeries. Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), the chairman of the committee, issues his own press release saying calls for an investigation are premature. Both Rockefeller and Roberts have asked the CIA and State Department to investigate the forgeries (see May 23, 2003). [CounterPunch, 11/9/2005]
Appearing on ABC’s This Week, Condoleezza Rice defends the Bush administration’s prewar intelligence. For example, she tells host George Stephanopoulos, “Already, we’ve discovered… trailers… that look remarkably similar to what Colin Powell described in his February 5 speech (see February 5, 2003).” [This Week with George Stephanopoulos, 6/8/2003; American Forces Press Service, 6/9/2003] Asked why the Africa-uranium claim was included in Bush’s 2003 State of the Union Address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) even though it had been debunked by the CIA several months earlier (see October 6, 2002), Rice claims the administration had “other sources” which supported the claim that Hussein was determined to obtain uranium from somewhere in Africa. “At the time that the State of the Union address was prepared, there were also other sources that said that they were, the Iraqis were seeking yellow cake, uranium oxide from Africa.” [This Week with George Stephanopoulos, 6/8/2003; US House Committee on Government Reform, 3/16/2004] When Stephanopoulos notes that there were several people in the US government who doubted the Africa-uranium claim, Rice responds, “The intelligence community did not know at that time or at levels that got to us that this, that there was serious questions about this report.” [This Week with George Stephanopoulos, 6/8/2003; Washington Post, 7/26/2003; US House Committee on Government Reform, 3/16/2004]
Commenting on the recent revelation (see May 6, 2003) that former diplomat Joseph Wilson’s 2002 trip to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) had determined that Iraq did not conclude a deal with Niger to supply it with uranium, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice says during an appearance on “Meet the Press,” “Maybe someone knew down in the bowels of the agency, but no one in our circles knew that there were doubts and suspicions that this might be a forgery.” [Washington Post, 6/13/2003; Knight Ridder, 6/13/2003; ABC News, 6/16/2003] Upon learning of Rice’s comments, an infuriated Wilson sends a message to Rice that if she will not correct her statement, he will (see June 9, 2003-July 6, 2003).
According to notes taken by Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, President Bush expresses an interest in his January State of the Union Address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) and the subsequent article by the New York Times’s Nicholas Kristof questioning the Iraq-Niger uranium claim made in that address (see May 6, 2003). Libby later testifies that he is unsure how he came to know of Bush’s interest in the article, and will deny ever discussing it with either Bush or Cheney. Libby will claim that the subject is something he may have wanted to bring to Cheney’s attention, and may have learned from a White House staffer. [US Department of Justice, 3/5/2004 ]
Vice President Dick Cheney’s National Security Adviser, John Hannah, sends Cheney a copy of an April 3 CIA report (see April 3, 2003). The report summarized the CIA’s knowledge of the supposed Iraq-Niger uranium deal through early April. [US Department of Justice, 2/2007 ]
According to the investigation by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, the CIA faxes Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, classified documents concerning Joseph Wilson’s trip to Niger (see March 4-5, 2002, (March 6, 2002) and March 8, 2002), in response to a recent op-ed by Wilson (see July 6, 2003). Although the documents do not mention Wilson by name, the words “Wilson” and “Joe Wilson,” in Libby’s handwriting, are later found written on one of them. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/28/2005 ; Marcy Wheeler, 11/1/2005; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 216; National Journal, 6/14/2006; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 9/22/2006 ] Another, unidentified White House official also receives the documents. [New York Times, 2006] He is most likely Cheney’s national security adviser, John Hannah. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/28/2005 ] Reporter Murray Waas will write, “It is unclear if one of the documents in question, or the one with Wilson’s name handwritten on it by someone in the vice president’s office, was the March 2002 CIA report (see July 12, 2003), but the fact that it did not mention Wilson by name suggests that it possibly was indeed the one with the handwriting.” [National Journal, 6/14/2006]
The pond drained by investigators. [Source: Tom Fedor / Maryland Gazette]From June 9 until June 28, 2003, the FBI conducts a highly public search of a pond near Frederick, Maryland. Investigators completely drain 1.45 million gallons of water from the pond and then search in the mud for clues. This search is said to be based on a comment by anthrax attacks suspect Steven Hatfill, who once spoke hypothetically about how he might dispose of contaminated materials in water. The pond is located about eight miles from USAMRIID, the US Army’s top biological laboratory, where Hatfill worked in the late 1990s. Once the search is over, the FBI admits that nothing of interest was found in the pond. Investigators say they knew the search was a long shot, but did it just to be thorough. The pond search is expected to cost about $250,000. [Washington Post, 6/29/2003; Washington Post, 8/1/2003] The Washington Post will comment later in the year, “[F]or days this past June, the prospect of what this pond might contain had captivated much of America.” But the pond search is the end of the FBI’s high profile activity targeting Hatfill. [Washington Post, 9/14/2003]
Marc Grossman, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, prepares a memo about former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s trip to Niger to ascertain the truth or falsity of claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from that nation (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). The memo refers explicitly to Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, as a CIA official and identifies her as Wilson’s wife, using the name “Valerie Wilson.” The second paragraph of the memo is marked with an “S,” denoting that Wilson is a covert operative for the agency. [New York Times, 7/16/2005; Rich, 2006, pp. 180]
Memo Based on Information from State Department's Intelligence Bureau - Grossman prepares his memo based on information he receives from Carl Ford of the State Department’s in-house intelligence agency, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR). Ford, in a paragraph marked SNF for “secret, not foreign,” cites “Valerie Wilson, a CIA WMD manager and the wife of Joe Wilson.” [US Department of State, 6/10/2003 ; Washington Post, 7/21/2005]
INR: Wilson a 'Walk On' - The INR report calls Wilson a “walk on,” and goes on to note: “From what we can find in our records, Joe Wilson played only a walk-on part in the Niger/Iraq uranium story. In a February 19, 2002 meeting convened by Valerie Wilson (see February 19, 2002), [a] CIA WMD manager and the wife of Joe Wilson, he previewed his plans and rationale for going to Niger but said he would only go if the department thought his trip made sense.” [US Department of State, 6/10/2003 ; ABC News, 1/24/2007]
Libby Originated Request for Information on Wilsons; Memo Contains Erroneous Material - The memo is prepared by Grossman at the request of the INR; the INR in turn responded to a request from Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the vice president’s chief of staff. The memo claims that Plame Wilson “apparently convened” the CIA meeting that resulted in her husband’s selection for the investigative journey to Niger, a claim that Plame Wilson will later note is erroneous. According to Plame Wilson, Doug Rohn, the INR official who joined the February 2002 CIA meeting about Wilson’s proposed trip (see February 13, 2002), was late to the meeting and was not sure about Plame Wilson’s role. She had already left the meeting by the time Rohn arrived. When Grossman wrote his memo in June 2003, Rohn had left Washington to become the consul general in Karachi, Pakistan. Another analyst, Neil Silver, actually writes the memo for Grossman using Rohn’s old notes. Silver states as a fact that Plame Wilson convened the meeting. Authors Michael Isikoff and David Corn will later write: “Inadvertently, Rohn’s uninformed impression was now portrayed as a hard-and-fast truth. It would soon become, in the hands of White House spinners, a political charge.” The rest of the memo is fairly accurate, Plame Wilson will observe, and notes that, as the INR memo says: “Joe Wilson played only a walk-on part in the Niger-Iraq uranium story.… [H]e previewed his plans and rationale for going to Niger, but said he would only go if the [State] Department thought that his trip made sense.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 261-262]
John Kiriakou, an executive assistant to the CIA’s Iraq mission manager Robert Grenier, sends out an email asking other CIA officers for information about Ambassador Joe Wilson’s trip to Niger concerning allegations Iraq purchased yellowcake uranium there. The e-mail is sent out in response to a request from Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin for information Vice President Dick Cheney will want at a meeting scheduled for tomorrow, and is sent “on behalf of the vice president.” The questions concern Wilson’s trip, what the CIA knew of it, and President Bush’s State of the Union address that mentioned the allegations. According to journalist Laura Rozen, “The email makes clear that senior CIA officials, including Kiriakou’s boss [Grenier] and the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence [McLaughlin], did not know who Valerie Wilson was at the time.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 6/10/2003 ; Mother Jones, 12/21/2007] After resigning from the agency, Kiriakou will come to national attention when he makes a crucial intervention in the US debate on the ethics of waterboarding (see December 10, 2007).
The Senate Intelligence Committee, under the aegis of chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS), issues a report on the US intelligence community’s prewar intelligence assessments of Iraq. Contained within the report is a section on the Iraq-Niger uranium claims (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), a section that author Craig Unger will call “extraordinary.” The report concludes in part, “At the time the president delivered the State of the Union address (see September 11, 2002, Late September 2002, and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), no one in the IC [intelligence community] had asked anyone in the White House to remove the sentence from the speech” (see October 5, 2002 and October 6, 2002). It also finds, “CIA Iraq nuclear analysts told committee staff that at the time of the State of the Union, they still believed that Iraq was probably seeking uranium from Africa” (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). [US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, 6/11/2003 ; Unger, 2007, pp. 312]
Vice President Dick Cheney, having already asked the CIA for information about former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s 2002 fact-finding mission to Niger (see 4:30 p.m. June 10, 2003), makes personal inquiries about the trip to both CIA Director George Tenet and CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin. According to evidence revealed during the trial of Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby (see January 16-23, 2007), both Tenet and McLaughlin tell Cheney that Wilson’s wife, CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson, played a role in assigning her husband to make the trip to Niger. This may be the first time that Cheney learns of Plame Wilson’s CIA status, though he will also learn the information from his press aide, Cathie Martin (see 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003). [Murray Waas, 12/23/2008]
Frederick Fleitz, the chief of staff for Undersecretary of State John Bolton, informs Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby that the wife of former ambassador Joseph Wilson is a CIA official (see June 10, 2003). Fleitz, who is also a CIA officer at the Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control (WINPAC) desk, is responding to an inquiry from Libby about the fact-finding trip to Niger by Wilson (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and May 29, 2003). Fleitz tells Libby that Wilson’s wife, whom he does not name but who is Valerie Plame Wilson, works at the CIA, and is believed to have been responsible for sending Wilson to Niger. [Raw Story, 11/2/2005]
According to the investigation by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, learns from Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman that former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is an undercover CIA agent (see June 10, 2003). Grossman tells Libby that “Joe Wilson’s wife works for the CIA,” and that State Department personnel are saying that Wilson’s wife was involved in planning Wilson’s trip to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 216; Marcy Wheeler, 1/23/2007] Plame Wilson was working on counterproliferation issues for the CIA, and Grossman is allegedly involved in a nuclear smuggling ring (see (1997-2002) and Summer 2001). Grossman tipped the ring off to Plame Wilson’s attempts to penetrate it in the summer of 2001 (see Summer-Autumn 2001). Libby also receives the same information from an unnamed senior CIA official. [MSNBC, 2/21/2007] According to Libby’s 2005 indictment for perjury and obstruction of justice (see October 28, 2005), “Libby spoke with a senior officer of the CIA to ask about the origin and circumstances of Wilson’s trip (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), and was advised by the CIA officer that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA and was believed to be responsible for sending Wilson on the trip.” The next day, according to the indictment, Cheney will tell Libby that Plame Wilson works for the CIA’s counterproliferation division (see (June 12, 2003)). [National Journal, 2/2/2006]
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