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Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage tells Congress that the Bush administration will engage in diplomatic negotiations with North Korea over its nuclear ambitions (see Mid-January 2003). “Of course we’re going to have direct talks with the North Koreans,” he says, the only question is when and how. President Bush repudiates Armitage’s statement, reportedly becoming so furious that he bans his staff from discussing the entire subject of bilateral talks in public. The administration’s policy continues to be a direct refusal to talk to North Korea. Its explanation: the Clinton administration had negotiated the Agreed Framework with the North Koreans (see October 21, 1994), and that agreement had failed. The Framework had actually been negotiated through the efforts of South Korea and Japan along with the US, and for almost nine years has succeeded in stopping North Korea’s plutonium weapons program from developing, the entire point of the agreement (see December 12, 2002). However, a North Korean uranium bomb project is progressing (see June 2002). In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write: “[T]he administration’s disinclination to engage in bilateral talks seemed more morally than tactically motivated. Conservatives within the administration had realized that, while they could not stop any and all talks with the North, they could prevent bilateral talks and, just as important, they could restrict the latitude given to American negotiators—again, much as [neoconservative defense official Richard] Perle had done during the Reagan administration (see September 1981 through November 1983 and October 11-12, 1986)—so that little or no progress would be made.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 240]
The US government sends copies of the Iraq-Niger uranium documents (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001) to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Included with the documents is a number of talking points that attempt to shape the agency’s conclusions. The talking points cite former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s trip to Niger as support of the claim that Iraq tried to acquire uranium from that country (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). [US Congress, 7/7/2004]
Major Jack Rives, a top Judge Advocate General (JAG) officer in the US Air Force, writes a memo challenging the legal opinion issued by Justice Department lawyer John Yoo justifying “harsh interrogation methods” (see January 9, 2002). Rives is representative of a large number of JAG officers who have sent fiercely worded memos calling torture and “harsh interrogation methods” illegal, regardless of what Yoo may have written. Rives writes, “[S]everal of the exceptional techniques, on their face, amount to violations of domestic criminal law,” and notes that US interrogators who use such techniques risk prosecution. And, telling soldiers it is permissable to brutalize prisoners could lead to a general breakdown in discipline and morale, Rives adds, “We need to consider the overall impact of approving extreme interrogation techniques as giving official approval and legal sanctions to the application of interrogation techniques that US forces have consistently trained [as being] unlawful.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 180]
When the secretary of homeland security and the attorney general announce that the national terror level is being raised from yellow to orange (see February 7-13, 2003), InfraGard members are specifically mentioned. InfraGuard is a program in which private companies work with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, which provides these companies with information not available to the public (see 1996-2008). In their listing of “additional steps” that federal agencies are taking to “increase their protective measures,” one of those steps is to “provide alert information to InfraGard program.” [Progressive, 2/7/2008]
[Source: Center for Public Integrity]Charles Lewis of the Center for Public Integrity reveals the leaked text of a new anti-terrorism bill. Called the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003, it becomes popularly known as the Patriot Act II. The text of the bill is dated January 9, 2003. [Congress, 1/9/2003; NOW with Bill Moyers, 2/7/2003; Center for Public Integrity, 2/7/2003] Before it was leaked, the bill was being prepared in complete secrecy from the public and Congress. Only House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Vice President Cheney were sent copies on January 10. [San Francisco Chronicle, 2/11/2003] A week earlier, Attorney General Ashcroft said the Justice Department was not working on any bill of this type, and when the text is released, they say it is just a rough draft. But the text “has all the appearance of a document that has been worked over and over.” [Village Voice, 2/28/2003; ABC News, 3/12/2003] Some, including a number of congresspeople, speculate that the government is waiting until a new terrorist act or war fever before formally introducing this bill. [NOW with Bill Moyers, 2/7/2003; Associated Press, 2/10/2003; United Press International, 3/10/2003; Village Voice, 3/26/2003] Here are some of its provisions:
1) The attorney general is given the power to deport any foreign national, even people who are legal permanent residents. No crime need be asserted, no proof offered, and the deportation can occur in complete secrecy. [St. Petersburg Times, 2/16/2003]
2) It would authorize secret arrests in terrorism investigations, which would overturn a court order requiring the release of names of their detainees. [St. Petersburg Times, 2/16/2003] Not even an attorney or family need be informed until the person is formally charged, if that ever happens. [ABC News, 3/12/2003]
3) The citizenship of any US citizen can be revoked if they are members of or have supported any group the attorney general designates as terrorist. [St. Petersburg Times, 2/16/2003] A person who gives money to a charity that only later turns out to have some terrorist connection could then lose his or her citizenship. [CNN, 3/6/2003]
4) “Whole sections… are devoted to removing judicial oversight.” Federal agents investigating terrorism could have access to credit reports, without judicial permission. [St. Petersburg Times, 2/16/2003]
5) Federal investigators can conduct wiretaps without a court order for 15 days whenever Congress authorizes force or in response to an attack on the United States. [United Press International, 3/10/2003]
6) It creates a DNA database of anyone the Justice Department determines to be a “suspect,” without court order. [Mercury News (San Jose), 2/20/2003]
7) It would be a crime for someone subpoenaed in connection with an investigation being carried out under the Patriot Act to alert Congress to any possible abuses committed by federal agents. [ABC News, 3/12/2003]
8) Businesses and their personnel who provide information to anti-terrorism investigators are granted immunity even if the information is fraudulent. [ABC News, 3/12/2003]
9) The government would be allowed to carry out electronic searches of virtually all information available about an individual without having to show probable cause and without informing the individual that the investigation was being carried out. Critics say this provision “would fundamentally change American society” because everyone would be under suspicion at all times. [ABC News, 3/12/2003]
10) Federal agents would be immune from prosecution when they engage in illegal surveillance acts. [United Press International, 3/10/2003]
11) Restrictions are eased on the use of secret evidence in the prosecution of terror cases. [United Press International, 3/10/2003]
12) Existing judicial consent decrees preventing local police departments from spying on civil rights groups and other organizations are canceled. [Salon, 3/24/2003]
Initially the story generates little press coverage, but there is a slow stream of stories over the next weeks, all expressing criticism. Of all the major newspapers, only the Washington Post puts the story on the front page, and no television network has the story in prime time. [Associated Press, 2/8/2003; CBS News, 2/8/2003; Los Angeles Times, 2/8/2003; New York Times, 2/8/2003; Washington Post, 2/8/2003; Associated Press, 2/10/2003; San Francisco Chronicle, 2/11/2003; Los Angeles Times, 2/13/2003; St. Petersburg Times, 2/16/2003; Denver Post, 2/20/2003; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2/20/2003; Mercury News (San Jose), 2/20/2003; Baltimore Sun, 2/21/2003; Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 2/21/2003; Village Voice, 2/28/2003; Houston Chronicle, 3/1/2003; CNN, 3/6/2003; United Press International, 3/10/2003; ABC News, 3/12/2003; Herald Tribune (Sarasota), 3/19/2003; Salon, 3/24/2003; Village Voice, 3/26/2003; Tampa Tribune, 4/6/2003] Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) says the bill amounts to “little more than the institution of a police state.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 2/11/2003]
The government raises the threat level to orange. The announcement is made by Attorney General John Ashcroft, Homeland Security Secretary Ridge, and FBI Director Mueller. CIA Director George Tenet calls the threat “the most specific we have seen” since 9/11 and says al-Qaeda may use a “radiological dispersal device, as well as poisons and chemicals.” Ashcroft states that “this decision for an increased threat condition designation is based on specific intelligence received and analyzed by the full intelligence community. This information has been corroborated by multiple intelligence sources.” [CNN, 2/7/2003] Ashcroft further claims that they have “evidence that terrorists would attack American hotels and apartment buildings.” [ABC News, 2/13/2007] A detailed plan is described to authorities by a captured terror suspect. This source cited a plot involving a Virginia- or Detroit-based al-Qaeda cell that had developed a method of carrying dirty bombs encased in shoes, suitcases, or laptops through airport scanners. The informant specifies government buildings and Christian or clerical centers as possible targets. [ABC News, 2/13/2007] Three days later, Fire Administrator David Paulison advises Americans to stock up on plastic sheeting and duct tape to protect themselves against radiological or biological attack. This causes a brief buying panic. [MSNBC, 6/4/2007] Batteries of Stinger anti-aircraft missiles are set up around Washington and the capital’s skies are patrolled by F-16 fighter jets and helicopters. [BBC, 2/14/2003] The threat is debunked on February 13, when the main source is finally given an FBI polygraph and fails it. Two senior law enforcement officials in Washington and New York state that a key piece of information leading to the terror alerts was fabricated. The claim made by a captured al-Qaeda member regarding a “dirty bomb” threat to Washington, New York, or Florida had proven to be a product of his imagination. Vincent Cannistraro, former head of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, says the intelligence turned out “to be fabricated and therefore the reason for a lot of the alarm, particularly in Washington this week, has been dissipated after they found out that this information was not true.” But threat levels remain stuck on orange for two more weeks. [ABC News, 2/13/2007] Bush administration officials do admit that the captured terror suspect lied, but add that this suspect was not the only source taken into consideration. Ridge says that there is “no need to start sealing the doors and windows.” Bush says that the warning, although based on evidence fabricated by an alleged terrorist, is a “stark reminder of the era that we’re in, that we’re at war and the war goes on.” [BBC, 2/14/2003] The alert followed less than forty-eight hours after Colin Powell’s famous speech to the United Nations in which he falsely accused Saddam Hussein of harboring al-Qaeda and training terrorists in the use of chemical weapons (see February 5, 2003). [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 ] Anti-war demonstrations also continue to take place world-wide. [MSNBC, 6/4/2007]
Iranian political leader Mohammad Khatami reveals that Iran has begun building two nuclear processing plants devoted to enriching uranium. The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei, later says that one of the Iranian plants is already near completion and a second plant is well underway. Although Iran claims that the nuclear plants are strictly for peaceful energy creation, the Bush administration believes that the Iranians have used the cover of practices not strictly forbidden by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (see July 1, 1968) to hide a nuclear weapons program. One Bush official says that if the Iranians run the Bushehr reactor (see December 12, 2002) for five or six years, withdraw from the Nonproliferation Treaty, just as North Korea has done (see January 10, 2003 and After), and reprocess all of their radioactive material, they would have enough weapons-grade uranium and/or plutonium to build as many as a hundred nuclear weapons. Bush officials hope that a combination of pressure from Russia and the US occupation of neighboring Iraq—one senior Bush official says, “I think the presence of 200,000 American troops on their border for X period of time may tend to concentrate their attention”—may keep Iran’s nuclear program under restraint. [New York Times, 5/4/2003]
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) finds North Korea in material breach of mandated nuclear safeguards (see January 6, 2003) and refers the matter to the United Nations Security Council. The UNSC will not condemn North Korea for its actions. [BBC, 12/2007]
The CIA produces a report entitled “A Reference Guide to Terrorist Passports.” The report discusses a suspicious indicator of terrorist affiliation that was contained in the passports of at least three of the 9/11 hijackers, possibly more. The indicator was placed there deliberately by the Saudi government, which used such indicators to track suspected radicals (see November 2, 2007). However, this report is classified and is not disseminated, meaning that if a radical were to arrive at a US port with a passport indicating he was a terrorist, an immigration official would be unable to recognize the indicator and would admit him. Over a year after this report is completed, the 9/11 Commission will show a passport bearing this indicator to one of the immigration officials who admitted 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar to the US, but she will still be unable to recognize the indicator. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 25, 27, 41 ]
President Bush gives a speech on the impending invasion of Iraq to a friendly audience at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute. In the audience are, among others, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas; the wife of Vice President Cheney, Lynne Cheney; and an assortment of cabinet officers.
Direct Accusations of WMD, Terrorist Ties - Bush accuses Saddam Hussein of “building and hiding weapons that could enable him to dominate the Middle East and intimidate the civilized world,” and promises that “we will not allow it.” He accuses Hussein of having “close ties to terrorist organizations,” and warns that he “could supply them with the terrible means to strike this country—and America will not permit it. The danger posed by Saddam Hussein and his weapons cannot be ignored or wished away. The danger must be confronted. We hope that the Iraqi regime will meet the demands of the United Nations and disarm, fully and peacefully. If it does not, we are prepared to disarm Iraq by force. Either way, this danger will be removed.” Bush states flatly that “[t]he safety of the American people depends on ending this direct and growing threat.”
Securing the Freedom of the World - Moreover, he asserts, “[a]cting against the danger will also contribute greatly to the long-term safety and stability of our world.… A liberated Iraq can show the power of freedom to transform that vital region, by bringing hope and progress into the lives of millions. America’s interests in security, and America’s belief in liberty, both lead in the same direction: to a free and peaceful Iraq.” America will ensure that Iraq’s oil resources will be used to “benefit… the owners—the Iraqi people.” Bush evokes World War II when he says: “After defeating enemies, we did not leave behind occupying armies, we left constitutions and parliaments. We established an atmosphere of safety, in which responsible, reform-minded local leaders could build lasting institutions of freedom.” And a democratic Iraq would have a positive influence on its neighbors, Bush says: “A new regime in Iraq would serve as a dramatic and inspiring example of freedom for other nations in the region.”
Resolution of Israeli-Palestinian Dispute - The overthrow of Saddam Hussein “could also begin a new stage for Middle Eastern peace, and set in motion progress towards a truly democratic Palestinian state,” Bush states. “Without this outside support for terrorism, Palestinians who are working for reform and long for democracy will be in a better position to choose new leaders. True leaders who strive for peace; true leaders who faithfully serve the people. A Palestinian state must be a reformed and peaceful state that abandons forever the use of terror.” If this comes to pass, Israel must recognize that state “and to work as quickly as possible toward a final status agreement. As progress is made toward peace, settlement activity in the occupied territories must end. And the Arab states will be expected to meet their responsibilities to oppose terrorism, to support the emergence of a peaceful and democratic Palestine, and state clearly they will live in peace with Israel.”
The Road Map for Peace - The occupation of Iraq, and the subsequent creation of a democratic Palestinian state, are the first steps in Bush’s “road map for peace,” he says. “We are setting out the necessary conditions for progress toward the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. It is the commitment of our government—and my personal commitment—to implement the road map and to reach that goal. Old patterns of conflict in the Middle East can be broken, if all concerned will let go of bitterness, hatred, and violence, and get on with the serious work of economic development, and political reform, and reconciliation. America will seize every opportunity in pursuit of peace. And the end of the present regime in Iraq would create such an opportunity.”
Internationalism at Work - “In confronting Iraq, the United States is also showing our commitment to effective international institutions,” Bush says. “We are a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. We helped to create the Security Council. We believe in the Security Council—so much that we want its words to have meaning.… A threat to all must be answered by all. High-minded pronouncements against proliferation mean little unless the strongest nations are willing to stand behind them—and use force if necessary. After all, the United Nations was created, as Winston Churchill said, to ‘make sure that the force of right will, in the ultimate issue, be protected by the right of force.’” Bush calls for the passage of the second UN Security Council resolution supporting a military strike against Iraq (see February 24, 2003), and notes that if the resolution does not pass, “the United Nations will be severely weakened as a source of stability and order. If the members rise to this moment, then the Council will fulfill its founding purpose.” [White House, 2/26/2003; CNN, 2/27/2003]
'Presidential Seal of Approval' for War - Former ambassador Joseph Wilson will later observe, “With these words, the presidential seal of approval was stamped on a war to liberate an oppressed people and to redraw the political map of the Middle East.” Wilson goes on to write: “It was hard to disagree with the president that exporting democracy and freeing people from dictatorial regimes are laudable goals. But I also knew that that is not what we’ve structured the US military to do for our country. Notwithstanding administration promises of a cakewalk in Iraq, I was concerned it would be enormously difficult, costly, and time-consuming to impose democracy there at the barrel of a gun, requiring, above all, a grateful and compliant population. If we didn’t succeed, we would be forever blamed for the havoc we wrought in trying.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 319-320]
Point-by-Point Rebuttal - Author and professor of politics Stephen Zunes will write a lengthy, point-by-point rebuttal to Bush’s speech (see March 8, 2003).
On PBS’s NOW with Bill Moyers, former ambassador Joseph Wilson explains why he does not believe the administration’s impending war with Iraq is necessary or warranted. Wilson, as he has said before (see February 13, 2003), is for aggressive, coercive inspections and what he calls “muscular disarmament.” But, Wilson says, President Bush does not want a disarmed Saddam Hussein: “I think he wants a dead Hussein. I don’t think there’s any doubt about it.” Bush is giving Iraq no incentives to disarm because he is not interested in disarmament, he wants nothing less than to overthrow Hussein. “I think war is inevitable,” he says. “Essentially, the speech that the president gave at the American Enterprise Institute (see February 26, 2003) was so much on the overthrow of the regime and the liberation of the Iraqi people that I suspect that Saddam understands that this is not about disarmament.”
'Shock and Awe' - Moyers asks Wilson about the US tactic of “shock and awe” that he has heard is being considered for the opening strikes of the US invasion (see March 19, 2003). Wilson says: “From what I understand about shock and awe, it will be a several day air assault in which they will drop as much ordinance in four or five days as they did during the 39-day bombing campaign of the Gulf War.… Missiles, bombs, precision bombs. I believe the president and our military officials, when they say they will do everything to minimize casualties to the civilian population. But it was difficult to imagine dropping that much ordinance on a population of four million people without having a lot of casualties that are unanticipated. A lot of civilian casualties.” Wilson is pessimistic that even such a massive opening assault might, as Moyers asks, touch off a rebellion against Hussein or a mass retreat and exodus of Hussein’s ground forces. While “you might well have a bloody uprising in Baghdad in which pits essentially the Iraqi population against the Republican Guard in Saddam’s palace, I think far more likely, is that most Baghdadis will just simply go into hiding and try and avoid getting hit by this American ordinance and/or getting killed by the Republican Guard.”
Redrawing the Map of the Middle East - Wilson believes that one of the biggest reasons why Bush is invading Iraq instead of working to disarm the Iraqi regime is because Bush is committed to what he calls “re-growing the political map of the Middle East.” He explains: “[T]hat basically means trying to install regimes in the Middle East that are far more friendly to the United States—there are those in the administration that call them democracies. Somehow it’s hard for me to imagine that a democratic system will emerge out of the ashes of Iraq in the near term. And when and if it does, it’s hard for me to believe that it will be more pro-American and more pro-Israeli than what you’ve got now.” Wilson says that Bush is implementing plans drawn up in the 1990s by neoconservatives such as Richard Perle (see July 8, 1996), which provide “the underpinning of the—of the philosophical argument that calls for basically radically changing the political dynamics in the Middle East and… to favor American national security interests and Israeli national security interests which are tied.”
Recipe for Anti-American Demagoguery - Such a grand agenda will be far more difficult to implement than Perle, Bush, and others believe, Wilson says. “I’ve done democracy in Africa for 25 years,” he says. “And I can tell you that doing democracy in the most benign environments is really tough sledding. And the place like Iraq where politics is a blood sport and where you have these clan, tribal, ethnic and confessional cleavages, coming up with a democratic system that is pluralistic, functioning and, as we like to say about democracies, is not inclined to make war on other democracies, is going to be extraordinarily difficult.” Wilson provides the following scenario: “Assuming that you get the civic institutions and a thriving political culture in the first few iterations of presidential elections, you’re going to have Candidate A who is likely going to be a demagogue. And Candidate B who is likely going to be a populist. That’s what emerges from political discourse. Candidate A, Candidate B, the demagogue and the populist, are going to want to win elections of the presidency. And the way to win election is enflame the passions of your population. The easy way for a demagogue or a populist in the Middle East to enflame the passion of the population is to define himself or herself by their enemies. And the great enemy in the Middle East is Israel and its supplier, the United States. So it’s hard to believe, for me, that a thriving democracy certainly in the immediate and near-term and medium-term future is going to yield a successful presidential candidate who is going to be pro-Israel or pro-America.”
Losing Focus on al-Qaeda - Wilson believes that the US has lost its focus on pursuing Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. “The game has shifted to Iraq for reasons that are confused to everybody,” he says. “We have been sold a war on disarmament or terrorism or the nexus between terrorism and weapons of mass destruction or liberation. Any one of the four. And now with the president’s speeches, you clearly have the idea that we’re going to go in and take this preemptive action to overthrow a regime, occupy its country for the purposes, the explicit purposes of fostering the blossoming of democracy in a part of the world where we really have very little ground, truth or experience. And, certainly, I hope along with everybody that the president in his assessment is correct. And that I am so wrong that I’m never invited to another foreign policy debate again.… Because if I am right, this could be a real disaster.” [PBS, 2/28/2003; Wilson, 2004, pp. 320-321]
President Bush orders several attack planes, along with a number of B-1 and B-52 bombers, to the US Air Force base in Guam, as an implied threat against North Korea’s restarted nuclear program (see January 10, 2003 and After). Foreign affairs journalist Fred Kaplan will call the administration’s response “a feeble threat, a classic case of shutting the barn door after the horses escaped.” The fuel rods of such concern to the US (see October 4, 2002) are long hidden away from US satellites. Bush makes no further preparations for any sort of air strike against North Korea, nor does he make any diplomatic “carrot and stick” overtures to the North Koreans. After two months, Bush orders the aircraft back to their home bases. Why such a feeble response? Many believe that the answer lies in the administration’s focus on Iraq; in the words of one senior administration official, “President Bush does not want to distract international attention from Iraq.” In April, after the invasion of Iraq experiences initial success (see March 25, 2003), Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld tells Bush that North Korea could also profit from an Iraq-style regime change; while Bush agrees, the administration takes no steps in that direction. Instead, Bush officials mount what is little more than a pretense of diplomatic negotiations (see April 2003). [Washington Monthly, 5/2004]
Leader of House of Commons Robin Cook meets with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and has the “most revealing” discussion about Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons arsenal. During the exchange Blair essentially acknowledges that Saddam does not have weapons of mass destruction that could be used against his enemies like the US or Britain. [Sunday Times (London), 10/5/2003] Cook says to Blair: “It’s clear from the private briefing I have had that Saddam has no weapons of mass destruction in a sense of weapons that could strike at strategic cities. But he probably does have several thousand battlefield chemical munitions. Do you never worry that he might use them against British troops?” Blair responds, “Yes, but all the effort he has had to put into concealment makes it difficult for him to assemble them quickly for use.” [Sunday Times (London), 10/5/2003; Cook, 8/2/2004]
Communications antenna at Stare Kiejkuty, the Polish “black site” where Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was held for a time after his capture. [Source: CBC]9/11 planner Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, after being detained and abused for three days in US custody in Afghanistan (see February 29 or March 1, 2003 and Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003), is transferred to another CIA-run facility in Poland. [New Yorker, 8/6/2007; New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] The facility is later identified as Stare Kiejkuty, a secret prison near the Szymany military airbase. Mohammed is flown in on a Gulfstream N379P jet known to prison officials as “the torture taxi.” The plane is probably piloted by “Jerry M,” a 56-year-old pilot for Aero Contractors, a company that transfers prisoners around the world for US intelligence agencies. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 4/27/2009] He is dressed in a tracksuit, blindfolded, hooded, has sound-blocking headphones placed over his ears, and is flown “sitting, leaning back, with my hands and ankles shackled in a high chair,” as he will later tell officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC—see October 6 - December 14, 2006). He later says he manages to sleep a few hours, for the first time in days. Upon arrival, Mohammed is stripped naked and placed in a small cell “with cameras where I was later informed by an interrogator that I was monitored 24 hours a day by a doctor, psychologist, and interrogator.” The walls are wooden and the cell measures some 10 by 13 feet. [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 4/27/2009]
'I Would Be Brought to the Verge of Death and Back Again' - As he will later recall, it was in this detention camp that “the most intense interrogation occurred, led by three experienced CIA interrogators, all over 65 years old and all strong and well trained.” The interrogators tell him that they have received the “green light from Washington” to give him “a hard time” (see Late September 2001 and September 25, 2002). As he will later recall: “They never used the word ‘torture’ and never referred to ‘physical pressure,’ only to ‘a hard time.’ I was never threatened with death, in fact I was told that they would not allow me to die, but that I would be brought to the ‘verge of death and back again.‘… I was kept for one month in the cell in a standing position with my hands cuffed and shackled above my head and my feet cuffed and shackled to a point in the floor.” When he falls asleep, “all my weight [is] applied to the handcuffs around my wrist resulting in open and bleeding wounds.” The ICRC will later confirm that Mohammed bears scars consistent with his allegations on both wrists and both ankles. “Both my feet became very swollen after one month of almost continual standing.”
Interrogations - He is interrogated in a different room, in sessions lasting anywhere from four to eight hours, and with a wide variety of participants. Sometimes women take part in the interrogations. A doctor is usually present. “If I was perceived not to be cooperating I would be put against a wall and punched and slapped in the body, head, and face. A thick flexible plastic collar would also be placed around my neck so that it could then be held at the two ends by a guard who would use it to slam me repeatedly against the wall. The beatings were combined with the use of cold water, which was poured over me using a hose-pipe. The beatings and use of cold water occurred on a daily basis during the first month.”
'Alternative Procedures' - The CIA interrogators use what they will later call “alternative procedures” on Mohammed, including waterboarding (see After March 7, 2003) and other techniques. He is sprayed with cold water from a hose-pipe in his cell and the “worst day” is when he is beaten for about half an hour by one of the interrogators. “My head was banged against the wall so hard that it started to bleed. Cold water was poured over my head. This was then repeated with other interrogators.” He is then waterboarded until a doctor intervenes. He gets an hours’s sleep and is then “put back in my cell standing with my hands shackled above my head.” He sleeps for a “few minutes” on the floor of cell after the torture sessions, but does not sleep well, “due to shackles on my ankles and wrists.” The toilet consists of a bucket in the cell, which he can use on request, but “I was not allowed to clean myself after toilet during the first month.” In the first month he is only fed on two occasions, “as a reward for perceived cooperation.” He gets Ensure [a liquid nutritional supplement] to drink every four hours. If he refuses it, “then my mouth was forced open by the guard and it was poured down my throat by force.” He loses 18 kg in the first month, after which he gets some clothes. In addition, “Artificial light was on 24 hours a day, but I never saw sunlight.” [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009]
Deliberately False Information - As he will later tell ICRC officials, he often lies to his interrogators: “During the harshest period of my interrogation, I gave a lot of false information in order to satisfy what I believed the interrogators wished to hear in order to make the ill-treatment stop.… I’m sure that the false information I was forced to invent… wasted a lot of their time and led to several false red-alerts being placed in the US.” [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] It will later be reported that up to 90 percent of Mohammed’s confessions may be unreliable. Furthermore, he will recant many of his statements (see August 6, 2007).
Representative Curt Weldon. [Source: H. Rumph Jr / Associated Press]Congressman Curt Weldon (R-PA) becomes embroiled in a plot by Iranian arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar to contrive a secret uranium exchange between Iran and Iraq. According to Ghorbanifar’s story (see January 11, 2006), just before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, a team of Iranian intelligence agents infiltrated Iraq and stole enriched uranium for use in Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The story is later proven to be false, and based on a desire for money and to embroil Iran and Iraq in a spurious WMD plot. After first being contacted by a mysterious Iranian source through a friend and a colleage on March 7, Weldon repeatedly flies to Paris to meet with the source he later calls “Ali,” who is later shown to be Fereidoun Mahdavi, a former minister in the Shah’s Iran who now works as a secretary for Ghorbanifar. Mahdavi has already tried, and failed, to interest several Western intelligence agencies in the stolen uranium tale. He finds Weldon to be far more credulous than the intelligence agencies. According to an intelligence source interviewed in 2006, “Ali provided information that indicated Iranian intelligence had sent a team to Baghdad to extract highly enriched uranium from a stockpile hidden by Saddam Hussein.” Ali tells Weldon that an Iranian intelligence team infiltrated Iraq and stole the uranium for Iran’s nuclear weapons program. According to the story, “the team successfully extracted the stockpile but on the way back to Iran contracted radiation poisoning.” Weldon immediately informs CIA Director George Tenet. Weldon will later write in his book Countdown to Terror: “Tenet appeared interested, even enthusiastic about evaluating Ali and establishing a working relationship with him. He agreed to send his top spy, Stephen Kappes, the deputy director of operations, along with me to Paris for another debriefing of Ali.… On the day of our scheduled second meeting with Ali in Paris, Kappes bowed out, claiming that ‘other commitments’ compelled him to cancel. Later, the CIA claimed to have met with Ali independently. But I discovered this to be untrue.… Incredibly, I learned that the CIA had apparently asked French intelligence to silence Ali.” Weldon is wrong; the CIA’s Paris station chief, Bill Murray, investigates the claims and finds Ghorbanifar (whom either he or the agency mistakenly believes to be “Ali”) to be what the agency calls a “fabricator.” Murray goes so far as to take either Ghorbanifar or Mahdavi to Iraq to have them retrace the route of the Iranian intelligence mission. “Ali” is unable to do so, and Murray learns that the entire story was concocted in hopes of a large payoff: “Soon it became apparent that Ali and his sources were fabricators and were trying to extract large sums of money,” one intelligence source will say. (Murray will later deny going to Iraq with either Ghorbanifar or Mahdavi, but will call “the source” “not credible.… The sensational charges that the source made could not be substantiated.” Weldon, not to be denied, takes his story to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who pressures the CIA to investigate further. One former CIA officer later says, “CIA reluctantly, after pressure from Rumsfeld, followed up by detaching one of their weapons experts from the team that was hunting WMD in Iraq.” Again, this effort proves that Ghorbanifar’s story is completely false. In 2006, reporter Larisa Alexandrovna will call Weldon an “innocent bystander taken in by an internationally known con man and the lure of spook-like activities than an inside player with an agenda or material participant in these events. The Ali composite seems to have used Weldon as a conduit by which to provide the CIA with information.” One intelligence official will observe, “If you were going to launder intel to make up a war, you could easily send some fool on an errand.” [Raw Story, 1/11/2006] Weldon will meet again with Mahdavi, and will write about a lurid Iranian terror plot, the “12th Imam” scheme, based on his tales (see June 8, 2005 and Mid-July 2005). He will claim that the CIA has “routinely” ignored “credible” information about these and other plots.
After being transferred from Afghanistan to Poland (see March 7 - Mid-April, 2003), alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) is repeatedly waterboarded by the CIA, a technique simulating drowning that international law classifies as torture. He is only one of about four high-ranking detainees waterboarded, according to media reports (see May 2002-2003). [New Yorker, 8/6/2007; MSNBC, 9/13/2007; New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] He will recall: “I would be strapped to a special bed, which could be rotated into a vertical position. A cloth would be placed over my face. Cold water from a bottle that had been kept in a fridge was then poured onto the cloth by one of the guards so that I could not breathe.… The cloth was then removed and the bed was put into a vertical position. The whole process was then repeated during about one hour. Injuries to my ankles and wrists also occurred during the waterboarding as I struggled in the panic of not being able to breathe. Female interrogators were also present… and a doctor was always present, standing out of sight behind the head of [the] bed, but I saw him when he came to fix a clip to my finger which was connected to a machine. I think it was to measure my pulse and oxygen content in my blood. So they could take me to [the] breaking point.” [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] Accounts about the use of waterboarding on KSM differ. He says he is waterboarded five times. [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] However, contradictory reports will later appear:
NBC News will claim that, according to multiple unnamed officials, KSM underwent at least two sessions of waterboarding and other extreme measures before talking. One former senior intelligence official will say, “KSM required, shall we say, re-dipping.” [MSNBC, 9/13/2007]
In 2005, former and current intelligence officers and supervisors will tell ABC News that KSM “won the admiration of interrogators when he was able to last between two and two-and-a-half minutes before begging to confess.” [ABC News, 11/18/2005] In 2007, a former CIA official familiar with KSM’s case will tell ABC News a sligntly different version of events: “KSM lasted the longest under waterboarding, about a minute and a half, but once he broke, it never had to be used again.” A senior CIA official will claim that KSM later admitted he only confessed because of the waterboarding. [ABC News, 9/14/2007] In November 2005, John Sifton of Human Rights Watch will say of waterboarding, “The person believes they are being killed, and as such, it really amounts to a mock execution, which is illegal under international law.” [ABC News, 11/18/2005]
The New York Times will claim that “KSM was subjected to intense and repeated torture techniques that, at the time, were specifically designated as illegal under US law.” Some claim that KSM gives useful information. “However, many of the officials interviewed say KSM provided a raft of false and exaggerated statements that did not bear close scrutiny—the usual result, experts say, of torture.” CIA officials stopped the “extreme interrogation” sessions after about two weeks, worrying that they might have exceeded their legal bounds. Apparently pressure to stop comes from Jack Goldsmith, head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, who is troubled about updates from KSM’s interrogations and raises legal questions. He is angrily opposed by the White House, particularly David Addington, a top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney. [New York Times, 10/4/2007]
The New Yorker will report that officials who have seen a classified Red Cross report say that KSM claims he was waterboarded five times. Further, he says he was waterboarded even after he started cooperating. But two former CIA officers will insist that he was waterboarded only once. One of them says that KSM “didn’t resist. He sang right away. He cracked real quick. A lot of them want to talk. Their egos are unimaginable. KSM was just a little doughboy.” [New Yorker, 8/6/2007]
A different ABC News account will claim that KSM was al-Qaeda’s toughest prisoner. CIA officers who subject themselves to waterboarding last only about 14 seconds, but KSM was able to last over two minutes. [ABC News, 11/18/2005]
In 2009, evidence will surface that indicates KSM was waterboarded up to 183 times (see April 16, 2009 and April 18, 2009).
The CIA intelligence report on former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s trip to Niger to find the reality of the allegation that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from that country (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) is disseminated within the government. In addition, some time around this date Vice President Dick Cheney asks his CIA briefer “for an update on the Niger uranium issue,” according to subsequent reports by the Senate Intelligence Committee. CIA officials ensure that the agency’s Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control bureau (WINPAC) receives a copy of the Wilson report. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 189]
While many in the Bush administration continue to insist that the claims of Iraq attempting to buy uranium from Niger are valid (see March 7, 2003-July 7, 2003), even in the face of a thorough debunking by the International Atomic Energy Agency (see March 7, 2003), some officials are quietly admitting that the administration was duped. “We fell for it,” says one unnamed State Department official who reviewed the documents. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Colin Powell says that the administration has “new information” suggesting that Iraq continues to try to get nuclear weapons components such as the suspicious aluminum tubes (see October 6, 2002). David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security retorts, “Despite being presented with the falseness of this claim, the administration persists in making misleading arguments about the significance of the tubes.” [Washington Post, 3/8/2003] Former ambassador Joseph Wilson will note that the administration “had chosen to ignore three reports that had been in their files for nearly a year: mine (see March 4-5, 2002) as well as two others—one submitted by the American ambassador to Niger, Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick (see November 20, 2001) and the other by four-star Marine Corps General Carlton Fulford (see February 24, 2002), who had also traveled there. Instead, the administration chose to give credence to forgeries so crude that even Panorama, the Italian weekly magazine that first received them, had declined to publish (see October 9, 2002). The administration had ample evidence that there was nothing to the uranium charge but went ahead and placed the inflammatory claim in the State of the Union address anyway.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 2-3]
One day after the UN and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issue a report debunking the allegations that Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from Niger (see March 7, 2003), a State Department spokesman says of the forged documents at the heart of the allegation, “We fell for it” (see March 8, 2003). Former ambassador Joseph Wilson is “astounded” at the State Department’s reaction, as he will recall a year later. Wilson had himself debunked the allegations more than a year earlier (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). He tells CNN national security reporter David Ensor that the State Department spokesman “had not spoken accurately.” Wilson does not tell Ensor about his own trip to Niger, nor of the other reports debunking the uranium claims (see February 24, 2002). He does not tell Ensor that “nobody in the management chain of command” at State’s African Bureau “had ever believed there was anything to the story that a spokesman was now claiming they ‘fell for.’” Wilson decides to expose the administration’s duplicity to the public. Appearing on CNN, Wilson is asked a question provided to the interviewer by Ensor, and replies that the State Department knows far more than it is telling about the Iraq-Niger claim. The government should check its files, Wilson says (see March 8, 2003). “We know a lot about the uranium business in Niger,” he says, “and for something like this to go unchallenged by US—the US government is just simply stupid. It would have taken a couple of phone calls. We have had an embassy there since the early ‘60s. All this stuff is open. It’s a restricted market of buyers and sellers. The Nigerians [sic] have always been very open with us. For this to have gotten to the IAEA is on the face of it dumb, but more to the point, it taints the whole rest of the case that the government is trying to build against Iraq.” Wilson adds that when one such piece of evidence is found to be false, “it casts doubt on every other bit of evidence.” Worse, “I think it’s safe to say that the US government should have or did know that this report was a fake before [the IAEA’s Mohamed] ElBaradei mentioned it in his report at the UN yesterday.” Wilson is openly dismissive of the State Department official who said, “We fell for it” (see March 8, 2003). He says: “That’s just not good enough. Either he’s being disingenuous, or he shouldn’t be drawing a government paycheck.” Wilson later learns that it is this CNN appearance that prompts the White House to produce a “workup” on him for the office of the vice president (see March 9, 2003 and After). [CNN, 3/8/2003; Wilson, 2004, pp. 325-326]
In a response to a recent report from the International Atomic Energy Agency debunking the Iraq-Niger uranium claims (see March 7, 2003), and a report from the Defense Intelligence Agency that claims the allegations are true, a CIA senior-level report concludes, “We do not dispute the IAEA director general’s conclusion—last Friday before the UN Security Council—that documents on Iraq’s agreement to buy uranium from Niger are not authentic.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 4/3/2003 ; Central Intelligence Agency, 5/30/2003 ]
Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, writes a letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller. Rockefeller asks for an FBI investigation of the forged Iraq-Niger documents (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), because “the fabrication of these documents may be part of a larger deception campaign aimed at manipulating public opinion and foreign policy regarding Iraq.” An FBI inquiry, Rockefeller writes, “should, at a minimum, help to allay any concerns” that the Bush administration itself created the documents to build support for the war. Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) refuses to sign the letter [Washington Post, 3/22/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 292] , saying he believes it would be inappropriate for the FBI to launch such an inquiry. Secretary of State Colin Powell denies any role by the US government in creating the documents. [Associated Press, 3/14/2003] The FBI will not respond to Rockefeller’s request. [Future of Freedom Foundation, 9/2003]
A suspicious substance is discovered in a train station locker at the Gare de Lyon in central Paris. Agents find two vials of powder, a bottle of liquid, and two other vials with liquid. The Interior Ministry says the contents of the vials are “traces of ricin in a mixture which has proven to be a very toxic poison.” [Newsday, 4/12/2003] Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy calls for greater public vigilance and says there could be a connection with a network of Islamic extremists who were detained around the capital in December. Officials have in the past linked ricin production to al-Qaeda and Iraq. On January 5, British police claimed to find traces of ricin in a raid on a London flat during which five men of North African origin with alleged al-Qaeda connections were arrested (see January 5, 2003). [BBC, 4/11/2003]
Terrorism Scare - The discovery sparks widespread terrorism concerns just two days before the invasion of Iraq. French authorities double the number of soldiers in the streets to 800 and order increased surveillance in train stations and ports. Flights are temporarily banned over nuclear power plants, chemical, petrochemical and other sensitive facilities. [Newsday, 4/12/2003] Ricin, which is derived from castor beans, is relatively easy to make and stockpile. If added to food or drinks, or injected into a victim, it causes severe and rapid bleeding to the stomach and intestines. If the poison gets into the bloodstream, it can attack the liver, kidneys and spleen, often leading to death. It may be inhaled, ingested or injected. There is no treatment or antidote. [New York Times, 4/12/2003]
Alleged al-Qaeda link - US officials said in August that the Islamic extremist group Ansar al-Islam tested ricin along with other chemical and biological agents in northern Iraq, territory controlled by Kurds, not Saddam Hussein. The group is allegedly linked to al-Qaeda. UN weapons inspectors, who left Iraq in 1998 after a first round of inspections, listed ricin among the poisons they believed Saddam produced and later failed to account for. [Newsday, 4/12/2003]
False alarm - The ministry soon downgrades the assessment, saying the traces of suspected ricin are too minute to be lethal. In fact, the substance later proves to be entirely harmless. Further Defense Ministry laboratory tests show the vials contain a mixture of ground barley and wheat germ. “Preliminary tests pointed towards ricin but they were not confirmed by more complete analysis,” an official says. [BBC, 4/11/2003] They said the grain was mistakenly identified as ricin because it consists of protein whose structure is similar to that of ricin. [New York Times, 4/12/2003] However, French officials are still not entirely satisfied that the substances found are not in some way related to a planned terrorist attack. A senior Interior Ministry says the substances may be “the product of an experiment” or the remains of an effort to produce a toxic weapon. Antiterrorism police agents will continue to investigate the incident, the officials says. [New York Times, 4/12/2003]
On March 17, 2003, the National Alert Level is raised to orange. The FBI warns of terror strikes directed by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein or “allied or sympathetic terrorist organizations, most notably the al-Qaeda network.” This warning clearly attempts to establish a connection between Saddam Hussein and the terrorist activities of al-Qaeda. Interestingly, this third orange alert comes three days before President Bush invades Iraq, opening what he calls the “central front of the War on Terror.” The attack claim is debunked by future CIA director Porter Goss, then the chair of the House intelligence committee. He states that there is no intelligence which suggests a new attack. [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 ] The next day, the Arizona National Guard is alerted and sent to an Arizona nuclear plant because “an attack by al-Qaeda agents [is] imminent.” No attack materializes. [News Hounds, 10/9/2004]
President Bush sends a letter to Congress justifying the invasion of Iraq. The letter is addressed to Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and President Pro Tempore of the Senate Ted Stevens (R-AK). In the letter, Bush declares that he has determined that further diplomacy will not “adequately protect the national security of the United States.” Therefore, he is acting to “take the necessary actions against international terrorists and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.” [US President, 3/24/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 293] This mimics language from a bill passed by Congress in October 2002 (see October 11, 2002), which granted Bush the power to declare war against Iraq if a link with the 9/11 attacks is shown and several other conditions are met. [US Congress, 10/2/2002] But there is no evidence linking Iraq to the 9/11 attacks, a fact that Bush has previously acknowledged (see January 31, 2003).
The FBI issues a reward of $5 million for information on Adnan Shukrijumah, starting a world-wide manhunt that will last for years. Shukrijumah lived in the same area as most of the 9/11 hijackers and was reportedly seen with Mohamed Atta in the spring of 2001 (see May 2, 2001), when he was being investigated by the FBI over two terrorist plots (see April-May 2001 and (Spring 2001)). Information gleaned from detainees suggests that Shukrijumah is a top al-Qaeda operative who was trained in Afghanistan and is associated with 9/11 architect Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Jose Padilla (see June 10, 2002). In May 2004 Attorney General John Ashcroft will even single out Shukrijumah as the most dangerous al-Qaeda operative planning to attack the US. However, despite reported sightings in Central America, he is still on the run in 2006 and believed to be hiding in the tribal areas of Pakistan. [US News and World Report, 4/7/2003; USA Today, 6/15/2003; FrontPage Magazine, 10/27/2003; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 40-41 ; Los Angeles Times, 9/3/2006]
Flight Training - US authorities claim he is a pilot and has been receiving flight training outside the US for several years, though they do not release any evidence to substantiate this. His family insists that he is neither a qualified pilot nor an al-Qaeda operative. [USA Today, 6/15/2003; CNN, 9/5/2003] A senior Bush administration official says the government has evidence Shukrijumah had attended the Airman Flight School in Norman, Oklahoma, but does not say when. Other Islamist militants, including Zacarias Moussaoui, attended that school before 9/11 (see February 23-June 2001, May 18, 1999 and May 15, 1998). The director of the school claims there is no evidence of a student with any of Shukrijumah’s publicly revealed aliases. [New York Times, 3/21/2003]
Embroiled in controversy over multiple conflicts of interests, Richard Perle resigns his position as chairman of the Defense Advisory Panel (DAP). [CNN, 3/28/2003] His resignation is the result of criticism of his mix of business activities as an investor, consultant, lobbyist, and political advocacy as an adviser to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. In the weeks prior to his resignation, the New Yorker revealed that Perle’s venture capital firm, Trireme Partners LP, solicited funds from Saudi financiers, despite Perle’s vociferous criticisms of the Saudi government (see March 17, 2003). (Perle had notably invited a RAND Corp. analyst to give the DAP a briefing advocating the overthrow of the Saudi regime.) In the New Yorker article, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar, said, “Here he is, on the one hand, trying to make a hundred-million-dollar deal, and, on the other hand, there were elements of the appearance of blackmail—‘If we get in business, he’ll back off on Saudi Arabia’—as I have been informed by participants in the meeting.” [New Yorker, 3/17/2003; Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, 5/2003; Washington Post, 7/24/2004]
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]
Abraham Sofaer of the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank, becomes the first expert witness to testify before the 9/11 Commission. He uses this opportunity to express his support for the war in Iraq. Sofaer, a former federal judge and State Department legal adviser, will later say that he was pleased to testify before the Commission and that he knew what an honor it was to be the first expert witness. According to author Philip Shenon, the witness list was drawn up by Philip Zelikow, the Commission’s executive director, who appears to be a supporter of the Iraq war (see June 14, 2002). Despite Sofaer’s experience, Shenon will think it “odd” that he is the first expert witness, as he has “no special expertise on the events of September 11.” Instead, he advocates the recent US invasion of Iraq and champions the concept of “preemptive defense” or “preemptive war,” even against a country that poses no imminent military threat. “The president’s principles are strategically necessary, morally sound, and legally defensible,” Sofaer says. He also criticizes the perceived policy of former President Bill Clinton, saying, “The notion that criminal prosecution could bring a terrorist group like al-Qaeda to justice is absurd.” In the future, he says, when an enemy “rises up to kill you,” the US should “rise up and kill him first.” He calls on the Commission to endorse the preemptive war concept, and, in effect, the invasion of Iraq. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 103-104]
The Bush administration opens brief, futile negotiations with North Korea over its nuclear program (see October 4, 2002 and January 10, 2003 and After). Chief negotiator Jim Kelly goes to Beijing to prepare for multilateral talks with North Korea, Japan, China, and South Korea. However, Kelly is crippled by specific instructions on how to deal with the North Koreans. He is not even allowed to speak with the North Korean delegates unless the other countries’ delegates are also present. During the negotiations, North Korea’s deputy foreign minister Li Gun, an experienced negotiator, says that his country now has nuclear weapons—calling them a “deterrent”—and says the weapons will not be given up unless the US drops its “hostile attitude” (see March 2003-May 2003) towards the regime. Stripping away the rhetoric, the North Koreans are offering to disarm if the US will sign a non-aggression pact. Kelly returns to Washington and announces a “bold, new proposal” from the North Koreans. But President Bush dismisses the proposal, expressing his feelings in his words to a reporter: “They’re back to the old blackmail game.” Foreign affairs journalist Fred Kaplan will later write, “This was the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld line: As long as the North Koreans were pursuing nuclear weapons, even to sit down with them would be ‘appeasement,’ succumbing to ‘blackmail,’ and ‘rewarding bad behavior.’” [Washington Monthly, 5/2004] Bush administration officials refuse to discuss any specifics until North Korea agrees to scrap its nuclear program. They also refuse to talk directly with the North Korean officials, instead insisting that the Chinese delegation pass along their demands. Not surprisingly, the North Koreans walk out of the meeting. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 240-241]
Sabah Asaad, managing director of a refrigerator factory outside Baghdad, later tells journalist Naomi Klein that when he goes to a nearby US Army base begging the soldiers to help stop the looters who are destroying the factory, they refuse. “I asked one of the officers to send two soldiers and a vehicle to help me kick out the looters. I was crying. The officer said, ‘Sorry, we can’t do anything, we need an order from President Bush.’” [Harper's, 9/24/2004]
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]
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]
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
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]
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]
Many neoconservatives join President Bush in celebrating “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq (see May 1, 2003). Foreign affairs adviser Richard Perle, in a USA Today article entitled “Relax, Celebrate Victory,” calls it “the most important military victory since World War II,” and writes: “This was a war worth fighting.… It ended quickly with few civilian casualties and with little damage to Iraq’s cities, towns, or infrastructure (see Early April 2003-April 9, 2003, April 9, 2003, April 13, 2003, May 20, 2003, and October 10, 2004). It ended without the Arab world rising up against us, as the war’s critics feared, without the quagmire they predicted (see April 28, 2003, June 9-13, 2003, and October 19, 2003, among others), without the heavy losses in house-to-house fighting they warned us to expect” (see July 3, 2007, January 10, 2007 and March 24, 2008). While advising readers to “relax and celebrate,” he also makes his case to invade other countries: “The idea that our victory over Saddam will drive other dictators to develop chemical and biological weapons misses the key point: They are already doing so. That’s why we may someday need to preempt rather than wait until we are attacked. Iran, Syria, North Korea, Libya, these and other nations are relentless in their pursuit of terror weapons. Does anyone seriously argue that they would abandon their programs if we had left Saddam in power? It is a little like arguing that we should not subdue knife-wielding criminals because, if we do, other criminals will go out and get guns. Moreover, this argument, deployed by those who will not take victory for an answer, confuses cause and effect: Does any peaceful state that neither harbors terrorists nor seeks weapons of mass destruction fear that we will launch a preemptive strike against it? Who are they? Why would they?” [USA Today, 5/1/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 305]
Senior Bush administration officials say that their private hope for curtailing North Korea’s “rogue” nuclear weapons program (see January 10, 2003 and After, February 4, 2003, and August 2003) is for regime change—for the dictatorship of Kim Jong Il to fall. One official says the best way to deal with North Korea is to, in essence, use economic and diplomatic embargoes to “starve” the Kim regime. Providing Kim’s government with food and oil, even in return for nuclear concessions, is “morally repugnant,” the official says, and he does not believe North Korea will willingly give up its nuclear weapons anyway (see October 27, 2002 and November 2002). “If we could have containment that’s tailored to the conditions of North Korea, and not continue to throw it lifelines like we have in the past, I think it goes away,” the official says. “It’s a bankrupt economy. I can’t imagine that the regime has any popular support. How long it takes, I don’t know. It could take two years.” (Numerous Bush officials such as Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Rumsfeld’s deputy Paul Wolfowitz, and State Department official John Bolton have all said publicly that North Korea’s regime is bound to collapse sooner or later.) When asked what the North Koreans will do during that transition period, the Bush official replies: “I think it’ll crank out, you know, half a dozen weapons a year or more. We lived with a Soviet Union that had tens of thousands of nuclear weapons, including thousands of them pointed at us. We just have to cope.” Asian and American nuclear experts are horrified by the Bush administration view. As New York Times columnist Bill Keller notes, the argument “has some rather serious holes. First, North Korea, unlike the Soviet Union, will sell anything to anybody for the right price. Second, a collapsing North Korea with nukes may not be as pretty a picture as my official informant anticipates. Third, if this collapse means a merger of the peninsula into a single, unified Korea—that is, if South Korea becomes a de facto nuclear power—that will bring little joy to Japan or China.” Another Bush official says that if North Korea shows signs of expanding its nuclear arsenal, a military strike to eliminate that threat would be considered. “The only acceptable end state [is] everything out,” he says. To tolerate a nuclear-armed North Korea would send a message to Iran (see February 9, 2003) and other nations: “Get your nuclear weapons quickly, before the Americans do to you what they’ve done to Iraq, because North Korea shows once you get the weapons, you’re immune.” [New York Times, 5/4/2003; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 241]
The May 12, 2003, Riyadh suicide bombings, which left 35 dead, targeted several housing compounds for Westerners, include one for Vinnell Corporation employees (see May 12, 2003). (Vinnell had a large contract to train Saudi forces.) Some former Vinnell employees, who are predominantly former American servicemen, will later allege in interviews and court documents that the Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG), the elite force which protects the royal family, colluded with the bombers to facilitate the attacks. They claim that an exercise organized by the National Guard removed most security staff for the day of the bombing, suggesting foreknowledge. They also claim that warnings were ignored and that security was inexplicably lax. [Independent, 5/16/2004] They will then sue Vinnell and Saudi Arabia for negligence. [Independent, 5/8/2005]
North Korea announces that it is withdrawing from a 1992 agreement with South Korea to keep the Korean peninsula free from nuclear weapons. It is Pyongyang’s last remaining international nuclear nonproliferation agreement. [BBC, 12/2007]
For a second Memorial Day in a row (see May 20-24, 2002), the National Alert Level is raised to orange following warnings that “al-Qaeda has entered an operational period worldwide.” Authorities say that recent attacks abroad have raised concerns about an impending attack on the US. The Department of Homeland Security issued this fourth orange alert due to what it calls “the heightened vulnerability associated with the Memorial Day holiday.” However, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge says there is no “credible, specific information” about targets or method of attack.” He does state that “weapons of mass destruction, including those containing chemical, biological or radiological agents or materials, cannot be discounted.” [CNN, 5/20/2003] But federal law enforcement sources say the credibility of the threat is doubtful. They also say those transmissions are not the reason why the government has raised the threat level to orange. [News 8 Austin, 5/20/2003] Meanwhile, two weeks after President Bush declared “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq (see May 1, 2003), the administration’s plan to implement Iraqi self-rule is postponed “indefinitely” due to looting and lawlessness (see May 20, 2003). [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 ]
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]
Ali Saleh Kahlah Al-Marri, a Qatari citizen and former US college student charged with bank fraud and alleged to be an al-Qaeda sleeper agent (see December 12, 2001), pleads innocent in an Illinois federal court. His court date is set for July 21, but before that can happen, President Bush will designate al-Marri an “enemy combatant” and send him into military custody, where he will be denied access to the US court system (see June 23, 2003). Al-Marri has been in detention in New York City while federal investigators probe his alleged connections to 9/11 hijackers. Al-Marri is charged with credit card fraud (see February 8, 2002) based on his alleged possession of at least 15 unauthorized and counterfeit credit cards; he is alleged to have been part of the al-Qaeda finance network. He is also charged with lying to FBI agents over alleged overseas phone calls to a number associated with an al-Qaeda figure in the United Arab Emirates, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, a known al-Qaeda facilitator linked to the 9/11 attacks (see Early-Late June, 2001). Al-Marri is not charged with being personally linked to the attacks. US Attorney Jan Paul Miller says al-Marri has not been charged with a terrorist crime. [Associated Press, 5/29/2003]
Solicitor General Theodore Olson submits a response to the request that the Supreme Court reopen the 1953 state secrets case US v Reynolds (see February 26, 2003). Olson argues that once a decision has been made, it should be respected—“the law favors finality,” he writes. More surprisingly to the plaintiffs and their lawyers, Olson argues that there was no fraud perpetuated in the original case, a position hard to defend in the face of the declassified accident reports that were the heart of that case (see February 2000 and February 26, 2003). The accident reports never contained military secrets or secret information of any kind, a claim that the Court’s 1953 decision hinged on, but Olson argues that because of the wording of the claims—releasing the reports to the original plaintiffs “might lead to disclosure” of classified information—then the old claims of protecting state secrets are still technically valid (see March 9, 1953). Olson echoes the author of the original Supreme Court opinion, Fred Vinson, by reminding the Court that “[t]he claim of privilege in this case was made in 1950, at a time in the nation’s history—during the twilight of World War II and the dawn of the Cold War—when the country, and especially the military, was uniquely sensitive to need for ‘vigorous preparation for national defense.‘… The allegations of fraud made by the petition in this case… must be viewed in that light.” The lawyer for the plaintiffs in the petition, Wilson Brown, is both angered and impressed by what he calls Olson’s “remarkable obfuscation.” By hiding behind the vague wording of the original claims of state secrets, Olson is implying that this case must turn on factual issues—and therefore should be heard in a lower court, not the Supreme Court. Brown, in his response co-written by colleague Jeff Almeida, calls Olson’s arguments “disingenuous” and insists that the plaintiffs’ original case “had been vitiated through fraud.” [Siegel, 2008, pp. 261-264]
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).
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.
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]
Ann Compton. [Source: ABC Media Net]ABC News Radio journalist Ann Compton has a brief, informal discussion with White House deputy press secretary Scott McClellan. When Compton asks about the as-yet-undiscovered Iraqi WMD, McClellan, as he later recalls, “repeat[ed] the White House’s standard position of the time which I shared: ‘We believe that weapons of mass destruction will eventually be found. The inspectors are still in the early stages of their work.’” McClellan is “a bit shaken” by Compton’s blunt retort. As he will recall, Compton says: “They’re not going to find any weapons. If there were any, they would have found them by now.” Compton, McClellan will recall, “spoke with an air of confidence, as someone who had worked in Washington long enough to anticipate a story’s likely end.” McClellan will recall that after being initially rattled, “as Ann left my office, the sense of hard-nosed reality she brought with her departed as well.” The White House arguments over the WMD issue once again assert themselves in McClellan’s mind. But, he will write, “deep inside, Ann Compton’s words haunted me.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 159-160]
In his 2008 book What Happened, then-deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will write that at this time, the covert “campaign to undermine [former ambassador] Joe Wilson’s credibility as a critic of the White House’s use of intelligence to bolster the case for war was beginning.” McClellan will write that the decision to keep President Bush “out of the loop” on the Wilson propaganda offensive was a deliberate decision made by top Bush officials—and Bush himself. McClellan will write: “The president and those around him agreed that, in Washington’s permanent campaign environment, the president was always to be shielded from the unsavory side of politics and any potential fallout. He would stay above the fray, uninvolved in the aggressive, under-the-radar counterpunching of his advisers. He purposely chose to know little of anything about the tactics they employed.” Presidential deniability, McClellan will note, is of paramount importance. [McClellan, 2008, pp. 166-167]
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]
Shortly after Nicholas Kristof’s New York Times op-ed appears, citing an anonymous source as accusing the Bush administration of ignoring evidence debunking the White House’s claim of Iraqi WMD (see May 6, 2003), Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus contacts Vice President Dick Cheney’s communications director, Cathie Martin, for comment on the controversy. Martin alerts Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, that Pincus is “sniffing around” for information. As White House deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will later write: “The vice president and Libby were quietly stepping up their efforts to counter the allegations of the anonymous envoy to Niger (see June 2003), and Pincus’s story was one opportunity for them to do just that. [Cheney] dictated talking points to Libby, who used them in responding to Pincus.” Pincus subsequently writes a June 12, 2003 story that hinges on Cheney’s assertion that the CIA had never shared its doubts about the existence of Iraqi WMD with the White House. The article helps spin the controversy, fueling speculation that the CIA, not the White House, is responsible for the “erroneous intelligence” on Iraq’s WMD. Pincus does quote a “senior CIA analyst” who says that in the run-up to war, “information not consistent with the administration agenda was discarded and information that was [consistent] was not seriously scrutinized.” The White House does not like either of these versions of events—either it used faulty intelligence to craft its argument for war, or it deliberately lied to the American people to send troops into Iraq. [Time, 7/31/2005; McClellan, 2008, pp. 166-167]
Constitutional lawyers and experts believe that the Supreme Court will not accept the petition to reopen the landmark US v Reynolds case (see February 26, 2003 and May 30, 2003). Kate Martin of the Center for National Security Studies says that the petition is essentially frivolous, and says of the claim that Reynolds was decided on the basis of a fraudulent government presentation: “That the facts of the original case are not true is irrelevant to the state secrets privilege (see March 9, 1953). The idea that it undercuts the privilege is ridiculous. Often in cases, after they’re decided, the facts are proven not to be true. That’s the nature of the legal system. Sometimes people lie. Sometimes there’s new information.” Law professor Jonathan Turley is more sympathetic to the petition, but agrees that the Supreme Court will probably not hear it: “For the Supreme Court to address the fact clearly that it had been lied to would open difficult issues.… The Court used the facts of Reynolds to say the government could be trusted.… Reynolds was based on trust, on willful blinders. There’s much danger in going back now, in recognizing that the government routinely lies. They’re not going to face that. They won’t reopen this. I think Reynolds is like discovering an unfaithful wife after fifty years of marriage. You’re hurt by the betrayal, but you can’t turn back half a century. You preserve the marriage for the children’s sake” (see December 1980, September 1982, November 1984, January 1990, June 13, 1991, and September 16, 1992). [Siegel, 2008, pp. 266-267]
Conservative defenders of the Bush administration contend that Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was misquoted by Vanity Fair reporter Sam Tanenhaus. In an upcoming profile of Wolfowitz, Tanenhaus quotes him as saying, “For bureaucratic reasons we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on” (see May 30, 2003). [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 150] According to a Defense Department transcript of the original May 9, 2003 interview, Wolfowitz’s actual words were: “The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the US government bureaucracy we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason, but… there have always been three fundamental concerns. One is weapons of mass destruction, the second is support for terrorism, the third is the criminal treatment of the Iraqi people. Actually I guess you could say there’s a fourth overriding one, which is the connection between the first two.” [Vanity Fair, 5/9/2003] Some of the controversy centers on which portions of the interview were on the record and which were not. [Talking Points Memo, 6/7/2003] Neoconservative pundit and columnist William Kristol is at the forefront of the counterattacks on Wolfowitz’s behalf. After appearing on Fox News where he accuses Tanenhaus of “misquot[ing]” Wolfowitz’s words and “taking [them] out of context,” he writes a column railing against “[l]azy reporters” who don’t bother to accurately report Wolfowitz’s words, and noting, “Tanenhaus has mischaracterized Wolfowitz’s remarks,… Vanity Fair’s publicists have mischaracterized Tanenhaus’s mischaracterization, and… Bush administration critics are now indulging in an orgy of righteous indignation that is dishonest in triplicate.” Kristol concludes: “In short, Wolfowitz made the perfectly sensible observation that more than just WMD was of concern, but that among several serious reasons for war, WMD was the issue about which there was widest domestic (and international) agreement.… Tanenhaus has taken a straightforward and conventional observation about strategic arrangements in a post-Saddam Middle East and juiced it up into a vaguely sinister ‘admission’ about America’s motives for going to war in the first place.” Kristol is joined by the Wall Street Journal editorial board, which calls the Tanenhaus piece “spin.” [Weekly Standard, 6/9/2003; Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 150]
A visiting delegation of US congressmen led by Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA) tells reporters that North Korea officials admit to having nuclear weapons, and have “just about completed” reprocessing some 8,000 spent fuel rods into plutonium, allowing them to build more. [BBC, 12/2007]
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]
President Bush visits US CENTCOM headquarters in Doha, Qatar. One of the pressing issues on his mind is the continued failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. As Time magazine later recounts the visit, Bush, meeting with the various generals in charge of the US forces, “skip[s] quickly past the niceties” and begins asking about WMD. No one answers. “Are you in charge of finding WMD?” he asks L. Paul Bremer, the newly installed head of the US civilian-led government (see May 1, 2003). Bremer says no, and a clearly exasperated Bush asks the same question of General Tommy Franks, head of CENTCOM. Franks also denies responsibility. Finally, someone names the Washington official in charge of finding WMD: Defense Department aide Stephen Cambone. “Who?” Bush asks. [Rich, 2006, pp. 96]
North Korea announces that it will build an arsenal of nuclear weapons “unless the US gives up its hostile policy” (see May 4, 2003). [BBC, 12/2007]
Journalist Russell Mokhiber asks White House press secretary Ari Fleischer: “You said in April that the war was about weapons of mass destruction (see April 10, 2003). The war resulted in thousands of innocent civilian deaths.… Do you personally feel any remorse given the public case that is being made that this war was based on that false pretext?” Fleischer responds with an assertion about Iraq being safer because of the removal of a brutal tyrant: “Number one, you have no basis to say that it is a false pretext. Number two, when you take a look at the mass graves that have been discovered all around Iraq, I think that world breathes a sign of relief that the brutal dictator Saddam Hussein, with no regard to human rights, was removed from power so that the Iraqi people can at long last have a life to build a future that is based on freedom and opportunity and not on tyranny.” Mokhiber redirects Fleischer back onto the topic of WMD, noting, “But you said the war was based on weapons of mass destruction.” Fleischer says, “That still stands, per earlier in the conversation.” [US Department of State, 6/9/2003; CommonDreams, 6/9/2003]
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 ]
CIA spokesman Bill Harlow speaks twice to Vice President Dick Cheney’s communications director, Cathie Martin. Harlow may divulge the fact that Valerie Plame Wilson is a CIA official to Martin during these conversations. [Office of the Vice President, 6/12/2003 ] Harlow is one of the government officials who will ask, fruitlessly, that columnist Robert Novak not make Plame Wilson’s CIA status public (see (July 11, 2003)).
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]
Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus speaks to Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, on the telephone. Libby returns Pincus’s call from earlier in the day. Pincus and Libby discuss the Iraq-Niger uranium claim and its debunking by former ambassador Joseph Wilson (see July 6, 2003). Libby tells Pincus he is not sure how Wilson was chosen to go to Niger to investigate the uranium claim (see 4:30 p.m. June 10, 2003). Pincus will later say Libby does not discuss Valerie Plame Wilson, Wilson’s wife, or Plame Wilson’s CIA status with him. Pincus is completing a story for the Post concerning questions about Iraq’s WMD programs (see June 12, 2003). [Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007]
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]
Lewis “Scooter” Libby, chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, phones senior CIA official Robert Grenier to ask about a recent trip to Niger by former ambassador Joseph Wilson (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Libby has just left a meeting with Cheney and Cheney’s press secretary, Cathie Martin. According to later testimony by Grenier (see January 24, 2007), Libby is “anxious” to learn about the trip, and obviously annoyed by Wilson’s claims that he was sent to Niger at the behest of Cheney. Grenier, the official in charge of the CIA’s actions as relating to Iraq, promises to look into the matter, but before he can speak again to Libby, the chief of staff pulls him out of a meeting with CIA Director George Tenet to ask him about Wilson. [Office of the Vice President, 6/11/2003 ; New York Times, 2/4/2007; MSNBC, 2/21/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 6/6/2007]
Libby Discusses Feasibility of Leaking Wilson Info - Grenier will later testify that he had never been pulled out of a meeting with Tenet before. Libby had already asked about Wilson, who was, according to Libby, “going around town and speaking to people in the press” about a mission he’d been sent on by the agency to investigate claims that Iraq had sought to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Libby tells Grenier to check out Wilson’s story, and find out if Wilson’s claim that his mission was prompted by the Office of the Vice President is true (see (February 13, 2002)). “He sounded a little bit aggrieved,” Grenier will later testify. “There was a slightly accusatory tone in his voice.” This tone suggests to Grenier that Libby “would need this information sooner than later, so he could potentially get out in front of this story.” Later that day, Grenier receives a call from the CIA’s counterproliferation division—Valerie Plame Wilson’s bureau—confirming that Wilson had been sent to Niger by the agency (see Shortly after February 13, 2002). Grenier calls Libby back and relays that information. The State Department and Pentagon were also interested in the results of Wilson’s investigation, Grenier tells Libby. Grenier also tells Libby that Wilson’s wife works in the same CIA unit as the one that sent Wilson to Niger. The information about Wilson and his wife seems to please Libby, Grenier will later recall. Libby speculates as to the feasibility of leaking that information to the press. Grenier contacts CIA public affairs official Bill Harlow and tells Libby, “We can work something out.” Libby then tells Grenier that Martin will coordinate the effort with Harlow and the CIA public affairs office (see 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003). [Marcy Wheeler, 1/24/2007; ABC News, 1/24/2007; Mother Jones, 1/25/2007]
Grenier Wonders if He Revealed Identity of Agency Official - After hanging up, Grenier will later testify, he feels somewhat guilty, “as if I had said too much.” In particular, he worries that he may have “revealed the identity of an agency officer.” He will testify that such information is something “we normally guard pretty closely. In the CIA our habit is that if we don’t need to say something, we generally don’t.” But, he later says he told himself, “look—this is a senior government official, he probably has every security clearance known to man.” [Marcy Wheeler, 1/24/2007; Mother Jones, 1/25/2007]
After CIA official Robert Grenier calls Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, with the news that the agency sent former ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger (see Shortly after February 13, 2002), and Wilson’s wife is a CIA official (see 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003), CIA spokesman Bill Harlow calls Cheney’s communications director Cathie Martin. In the course of the conversation, Harlow tells Martin that Wilson’s wife works for the CIA. Martin then tells Cheney and Libby about Wilson and Wilson’s wife. [Office of the Vice President, 6/11/2003 ; Marcy Wheeler, 1/24/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 1/25/2007]
Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage asks officers in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) for more information regarding the Joseph Wilson mission to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and July 6, 2003). Armitage is sent a copy of the INR memo on Wilson (see June 10, 2003). [Truthout (.org), 11/24/2005; Nation, 8/27/2006] The next day, Armitage tells Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is a CIA official who sent her husband on the Niger trip (see June 13, 2003).
Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus publishes an article noting that President Bush’s claim of an active Iraqi nuclear weapons program, and his allegation that Iraq tried to buy enriched uranium (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), was called into question by what Pincus calls “a CIA-directed mission to the central African nation in early 2002.” The story has caused some consternation in the Office of the Vice President, which became suspicious of Pincus’s questioning of White House officials about the matter (see Early June 2003 and June 3, 2003). The “senior administration officials” Pincus quotes, likely either Vice President Cheney’s communications director Cathie Martin or Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby (see March 5, 2004), told Pincus that the CIA never told the White House the details of its investigation, and Pincus uses that in his story. Pincus quotes a “senior intelligence official” as saying that the CIA’s failure to inform the White House of its doubts regarding the Iraq-Niger claim was “extremely sloppy” handling of a key piece of evidence against Iraq. The official continued: “It is only one fact and not the reason we went to war. There was a lot more.” The failure, said a CIA analyst, “is indicative of larger problems” involving the handling of intelligence about Iraq’s alleged chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons programs and its links to al-Qaeda, which the administration cited as justification for war. “Information not consistent with the administration agenda was discarded and information that was [consistent] was not seriously scrutinized,” the analyst said. Pincus notes that a “retired US ambassador” went to Niger in February 2002 to investigate the uranium claims; Pincus is referring to the trip by former ambassador Joseph Wilson (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), though he writes that his sources—current and former government officials—“spoke on condition of anonymity and on condition that the name of the former ambassador not be disclosed.” Pincus’s sources told him that the CIA did not inform the White House of the details of Wilson’s trip (see March 5, 2002 and March 8, 2002). One of Pincus’s sources, a “senior intelligence official,” said of Wilson’s trip: “This gent made a visit to the region and chatted up his friends. He relayed back to us that they said it was not true and that he believed them.” Pincus does note that the International Atomic Energy Agency reached the same conclusion as Wilson—that the Iraq-Niger uranium claims were false (see March 7, 2003). Pincus also reports that Cheney’s staff did not know about the mission until well after its conclusion, when a New York Times article alluded to it (see May 6, 2003). [Washington Post, 6/12/2003 ] This claim is false (see March 5, 2002 and March 9, 2003 and After), though Pincus does not know it. Pincus’s article will later be used as a basis for questioning Libby in the Plame Wilson leak investigation. Libby will claim not to remember if he was one of Pincus’s sources, though he will testify that he did not divulge Plame Wilson’s CIA status to the reporter (see March 5, 2004).
After the morning publication of a Washington Post article by reporter Walter Pincus questioning the validity of the Iraq WMD claims (see June 12, 2003), members of the National Security Council, along with White House and State Department staffers, discuss the story. Among the information exchanged is the knowledge that the wife of former ambassador Joseph Wilson, whose trip to Niger helped spark the Post article’s questions about Iraqi WMD (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), is a CIA official. “After Pincus,” a former intelligence later officer says, “there was general discussion with the National Security Council and the White House and State Department and others” about Wilson’s trip and its origins. According to a report by Time magazine, neither Secretary of State Colin Powell nor his deputy, Richard Armitage, speak to anyone at the White House about Wilson’s trip or Plame Wilson’s identity until after July 6, but this claim, sourced by someone “familiar with the [Wilson] memo” (see March 8, 2002), is false; Armitage will inform Post reporter Bob Woodward about Plame Wilson’s identity the day after the Pincus article (see June 13, 2003). Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin will later say that the White House asks about the Wilson trip around this time, but cannot remember when that information was requested (see May 29, 2003, June 2003, June 9, 2003, June 9, 2003, 4:30 p.m. June 10, 2003, 5:25 p.m. June 10, 2003, 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003, and 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003). McLaughlin will say that “we looked into it and found the facts of it, and passed it on.” [Time, 7/31/2005]
Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, Bush administration (43), Bob Woodward, Central Intelligence Agency, John E. McLaughlin, National Security Council, Walter Pincus, Colin Powell, Richard Armitage, US Department of State, Valerie Plame Wilson, Washington Post
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Neoconservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, whom author and media critic Frank Rich calls “a reliable unofficial spokesman for the [Bush] administration’s foreign adventures,” confidently declares that only 33 artifacts were looted from Baghdad’s National Museum, not the 170,000 originally reported stolen or destroyed (see April 13, 2003) or even the 2,000 or 3,000 now considered lost (see June 13, 2003). Krauthammer never explains how he arrives at the conclusion that 33 artifacts were taken, and does not mention the figure in subsequent columns. He does take the opportunity to lambast war critics such as Rich, who decried the looting, as indulging in “narcissism” and “sheer snobbery” typical of “Upper West Side liberalism.” Krauthammer writes that since the looting has been revealed to be less endemic than originally reported, leftist war critics have “simply moved on to another change of subject: the ‘hyping’ of the weapons of mass destruction.” [Washington Post, 6/13/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 86]
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof contradicts National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice’s recent statement that no one in the White House ever suspected that the documents “proving” Iraq sought to buy uranium from Niger were forged (see May 6, 2003). Rice recently said, “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” (see June 8, 2003). Kristof also notes that the White House claims Vice President Cheney learned of its own role in using the forged documents as “evidence” of the Iraq-Niger claim from reading Kristof’s May 6 column in the Times. Using information from what he calls “two people directly involved and three others who were briefed on” the story, Kristof writes that the truth is quite different from what Rice and Cheney say. He writes, “while Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet may not have told [President] Bush that the Niger documents were forged, lower CIA officials did tell both the vice president’s office and National Security Council staff members. Moreover, I hear from another source that the CIA’s operations side and its counterterrorism center undertook their own investigations of the documents, poking around in Italy and Africa, and also concluded that they were false—a judgment that filtered to the top of the CIA” (see January 28-29, 2003 and March 23, 2003). Kristof also notes that “the State Department’s intelligence arm, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, independently came to the exact same conclusion about those documents, according to Greg Thielmann, a former official there. Mr. Thielmann said he was ‘quite confident’ that the conclusion had been passed up to the top of the State Department.” Kristof also quotes former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman, who says, “It was well known throughout the intelligence community that it was a forgery.” Kristof adds that Tenet and the US intelligence communities “were under intense pressure to come up with evidence against Iraq.” As a result, “[a]mbiguities were lost, and doubters were discouraged from speaking up.” A former military intelligence officer says: “It was a foregone conclusion that every photo of a trailer truck would be a ‘mobile bioweapons lab’ and every tanker truck would be ‘filled with weaponized anthrax.’ None of the analysts in military uniform had the option to debate the vice president, secretary of defense, and the secretary of state.” Kristof concludes: “I don’t believe that the president deliberately lied to the public in an attempt to scare Americans into supporting his war. But it does look as if ideologues in the administration deceived themselves about Iraq’s nuclear programs—and then deceived the American public as well.” [New York Times, 6/13/2003]
Entity Tags: New York Times, Bush administration (43), Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Condoleezza Rice, Nicholas Kristof, George J. Tenet, Greg Thielmann, George W. Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Melvin A. Goodman
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
According to the investigation by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, discusses former ambassador Joseph Wilson (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) and his wife, CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003 and (June 12, 2003)), with his CIA briefer, Craig Schmall. According to Schmall’s later testimony (see January 24-25, 2007), Libby is annoyed over Wilson’s 2002 trip to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 216; MSNBC, 2/21/2007] Libby asks Schmall why Wilson was told the trip originated from questions emanating from Cheney. Schmall’s handwritten notes indicate that Libby refers to “Joe Wilson” and “Valerie Wilson.” [Marcy Wheeler, 1/24/2007; New York Times, 2/4/2007]
The day after CIA Director George Tenet received a CIA assessment finding the Iraq-Niger uranium claims specious (see June 17, 2003), CIA official Robert Walpole, the national intelligence officer for strategic and nuclear programs, briefs members of the Senate Intelligence Committee on the assessment. The next day, Walpole briefs members of the House Intelligence Committee. [National Journal, 2/2/2006]
The New Republic prints a long analysis of the Bush administration’s misleading use of intelligence to create a false impression that Iraq posed an imminent threat to the US. The article anonymously quotes former ambassador Joseph Wilson commenting on the claim that Iraq had tried to purchase weapons-grade uranium from Niger, saying that White House officials “knew the Niger story was a flat-out lie.” The reporters, Spencer Ackerman and John Judis, identify Wilson as “a prominent diplomat, who had served as ambassador to three African countries,” sent to Niger to investigate the uranium claims (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). “They knew the Niger story was a flat-out lie,” Wilson tells the reporters. “They were unpersuasive about aluminum tubes (see Between April 2001 and September 2002 and January 9, 2003) and added this to make their case more persuasive.” (Note: The date of the New Republic article is June 29, but the issue containing it is published over a week earlier.) [New Republic, 6/30/2003]
Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward interviews White House chief of staff Andrew Card for his new book, Plan of Attack. Woodward has a list of prepared questions that include the topic of “Joe Wilson’s wife,” meaning CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson, but, as Woodward will later testify (see November 14, 2005), he never broaches the subject of Wilson’s wife. “It did not come up,” Woodward will later say, but he will admit that it is possible he did ask about Plame Wilson. He will testify that the subject of Nigerien yellowcake uranium, in regards to the specious Iraq-Niger uranium allegations, does come up in their conversation. He will deny ever speaking to Lewis Libby about the subject of Plame Wilson. [Washington Post, 11/16/2005; Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007] Woodward is aware of Plame Wilson’s identity as a CIA official (see June 13, 2003).
The London-based Independent prints the following front-page headline: “Retired American diplomat accuses British ministers of being liars.” Former ambassador Joseph Wilson realizes that the headline is about him (see June 9, 2003-July 6, 2003), and knows he will have to write of his own part in the Iraq-Niger affair (see July 6, 2003). [Wilson, 2004, pp. 332]
Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri. [Source: Slate]A month before he is slated to go on trial for bank and credit card fraud charges (see February 8, 2002), the federal government drops all criminal charges against Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, who has been held without legal representation, and in solitary confinement, since 2001 (see December 12, 2001). [CBS News, 6/23/2003; CBS News, 6/23/2003; CNN, 12/13/2005; Progressive, 3/2007]
'Grave Danger' - President Bush says al-Marri “represents a continuing, present, and grave danger” to the country, and the government designates al-Marri as an “enemy combatant,” alleging that he helped al-Qaeda operatives settle in the US. “Mr. Al-Marri possesses intelligence, including intelligence about personnel and activities of al-Qaeda,” Bush continues, and adds that gaining access to it “would aid US efforts to prevent attacks by al-Qaeda.” [Knight Ridder, 6/24/2003; Progressive, 3/2007] The presidential order says he “engaged in conduct that constituted hostile and war-like acts, including conduct in preparation for acts of international terrorism.” His detention is necessary, the order claims, to prevent him from participating in terrorist activities against the US. The order in effect precludes a pretrial hearing scheduled for July 2 and the start of a formal trial on July 22. [CNN, 6/24/2003]
Alleged Sleeper Agent - The government declaration for al-Marri says he worked as an “al-Qaeda sleeper agent” who was planning to “hack into the computer systems of US banks,” and possibly facilitate a follow up to the 9/11 attacks. For its part, the Defense Department says al-Marri trained at a terror camp in Afghanistan before 9/11, personally met Osama bin Laden, and volunteered for an unspecified “martyr mission.” [CNN, 12/13/2005] Attorney General John Ashcroft will later claim that al-Marri refused repeated offers to cooperate with the FBI; “consequently,” Ashcroft will write, Bush declares him an enemy combatant. Ashcroft will claim that under the laws of war, an enemy combatant can be killed out of hand. Instead, the government will hold al-Marri “without charge or trial until the end of the war.” [Slate, 11/30/2006]
Transferred to Navy Brig - Instead, the “enemy combatant” designation takes al-Marri, a Qatari citizen and legal US resident, out of the civilian criminal justice system and places him under the control of the Defense Department, which immediately transfers him into detention at a Navy brig in South Carolina. He could face a military tribunal or remain in detention indefinitely, without trial. He is only the third person to be publicly named as an enemy combatant, along with US citizens Jose Padilla and Yaser Esam Hamdi.
Fingered by KSM - According to a Justice Department official, al-Marri was “positively identified” as being part of a planned second wave of al-Qaeda terrorist attacks by an “al-Qaeda detainee in a position to know.” Justice officials imply that the detainee to finger al-Marri is senior 9/11 planner Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. [CBS News, 6/23/2003] Another suspected al-Qaeda operative, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi (see Early-Late June, 2001), is also said to have mentioned him. [CNN, 12/13/2005] Alice Fisher, the deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s criminal division, says the department did not drop the criminal charges against al-Marri because the case was weak: “We are confident we would have prevailed on the criminal charges. However, setting the criminal charges aside is in the best interests of our national security.” The criminal charges—lying to banks, lying to the FBI, and credit card fraud—could have given al-Marri up to 60 years in prison and $1.75 million in fines. [CBS News, 6/23/2003]
Pleaded Not Guilty - Al-Marri’s lawyer Mark Berman says that his client pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges (see May 29, 2003), and the case was proceeding to trial. “I definitely got the sense they were reluctant to try the case in court,” Berman says. “They’d rather be in a forum where defendants aren’t represented by counsel.” Al-Marri’s wife and five children have left the US. The Saudi Arabian government granted the family passports in February, in spite of a State Department request not to issue the passports, as department officials wanted al-Marri’s wife, who is Saudi, to be available to the FBI for questioning. [Knight Ridder, 6/23/2003] Al-Marri’s lawyers say they are preparing a legal challenge to Bush’s decision. [Knight Ridder, 6/24/2003]
Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, US Department of State, Osama bin Laden, US Department of Justice, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, John Ashcroft, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Al-Qaeda, Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, Mark Berman, Alice Fisher, George W. Bush, Jose Padilla, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Yaser Esam Hamdi
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties
The Supreme Court refuses to hear a petition to reopen the 1953 state secrets case US v Reynolds (see February 26, 2003). It issues a one-sentence ruling: “The motion for leave to file a writ of error coram nobis is denied.” Plaintiff Judy Palya Loether says: “Maybe the law isn’t about right or wrong. The concept that the government lied to the Supreme Court (see February 2000) seemed to me a terrible thing to do. It appears that the justices were not as appalled as I was.” Further attempts to reopen the case in lower courts will also fail. [Siegel, 2008, pp. 267-298]
Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward has a telephone conversation with Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby. Woodward informs Libby that he is sending an 18-page list of questions for his upcoming book, Plan of Attack, that he wants to ask Cheney. One question is about “yellowcake” uranium, obviously a reference to the claims that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from Niger (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), and another is about the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002). Woodward will later testify that he does not discuss Valerie Plame Wilson, the covert CIA agent whom another government official had “outed” to him a few days before (see June 13, 2003). [Washington Post, 11/16/2005]
Lewis “Scooter” Libby, chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, “outs” a covert CIA agent to a reporter. Libby tells New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who has been a reliable outlet for administration leaks and disinformation (see December 20, 2001, August 2002, and May 1, 2003), that Valerie Plame Wilson is a CIA official. Plame Wilson is a covert CIA officer currently working at CIA headquarters on WMD issues in the Middle East. More importantly for Libby, she is the husband of former US ambassador Joseph Wilson, who went to Niger to verify the administration’s claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium there (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), and who has become an outspoken critic of the administration’s war policies both on television and in print (see July 6, 2003).
Libby Blames CIA for 'Slanted Intell' - Miller meets Libby at the Old Executive Building. Her focus is, as she has written in her notebook, “Was the intell slanted?” meaning the intelligence used to propel the US into war with Iraq. Libby is “displeased,” she notes, by what he calls the “selective leaking” of information to the press by the CIA. He calls it a “hedging strategy,” and Miller quotes him in her notes: “If we find it, fine, if not, we hedged.” Miller feels that Libby is trying to use the interview to set up a conflict between the White House and the CIA. He says that reports suggesting senior administration officials may have selectively used some intelligence reports to bolster their claims about Iraq while ignoring others are “highly distorted.” The thrust of his conversation, Miller will later testify (see September 30, 2005), is to try to blame the CIA for the intelligence failures leading up to the Iraq invasion. The CIA is now trying to “hedge” its earlier assessments, Libby says. He accuses it of waging what he calls a “perverted war” against the White House over the issue, and is clearly angry that it failed to, in his view, share its “doubts about Iraq intelligence.” He tells Miller, “No briefer came in [after the State of the Union address] and said, ‘You got it wrong, Mr. President.’”
Joseph Wilson and 'Valerie Flame' - Libby refers to “a clandestine guy,” meaning Wilson, and tells Miller that Cheney “didn’t know” about him, attempting to disassociate Cheney from any responsibility for Wilson’s trip. In her notes, Miller writes, “wife works in bureau?” and she will later testify that she is sure Libby is referring to the CIA. In her notes, she also writes the words “Valerie Flame,” a misspelled reference to Wilson’s wife. [New York Times, 10/16/2005; Vanity Fair, 4/2006; Unger, 2007, pp. 310; MSNBC, 2/21/2007]
No Story from Interview - Miller does not write a story based on the conversation with Libby. [New York Times, 10/16/2005; New York Times, 10/16/2005]
Libby a 'Good-Faith Source' - Miller will later recall Libby as being “a good-faith source who was usually straight with me.” [New York Times, 10/16/2005] She will note that she was not accustomed to interviewing high-level White House officials such as him. For Miller, Libby was “a major figure” and “one of the most senior people I interviewed,” she will say. “I never interviewed the vice president, never met the president, and have met Karl Rove only once. I operated at the wonk level. That is why all of this stuff that came later about my White House spin is such bullsh_t. I did not talk to these people.… Libby was not a social friend, like Richard Perle.” [Vanity Fair, 4/2006]
Initial Incorrect Dating by Times - In October, the New York Times will initially, and incorrectly, identify the date of this conversation as June 25. [New York Times, 10/8/2005]
Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward speaks with Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, in preparation for an interview he intends to conduct with Cheney for his book Plan of Attack. Woodward sends a list of questions to Libby for Cheney, including a question about “yellowcake” uranium and the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate regarding Iraq’s weapons programs (see October 1, 2002). He will later testify that he does not include a question about CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson in the list of questions, though he did consider asking White House chief of staff Andrew Card about her (see June 20, 2003). [Washington Post, 11/16/2005; Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007] Woodward is aware of Plame Wilson’s identity as a CIA official (see June 13, 2003).
President Bush issues a proclamation to mark the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. Bush states that the US is “committed to the worldwide elimination of torture and we are leading this fight by example.” He vows to prosecute torture and to prevent any “other cruel and unusual punishment.” The CIA’s chief lawyer, Scott Muller, complains to the White House that Bush’s statement could cause CIA interrogators, authorized by Bush to torture suspected al-Qaeda members (see February 7, 2002), to fear that they could be used as scapegoats by the administration. White House officials reassure Muller that despite Bush’s words, the administration still supports the CIA’s torture of prisoners. [New York Times, 5/3/2009]
Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward meets with Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, pursuant to their telephone conversation four days prior (see June 23, 2003). Woodward’s interview is in regards to to his upcoming book Plan of Attack. Although Woodward questions Libby about the prewar National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002) and 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), Woodward will later testify that the subject of “outed” CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson does not come up. He will say that he may have asked Libby about either Plame Wilson or her husband Joseph Wilson (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and July 6, 2003), but he has nothing in his notes about Libby discussing the subject. [Washington Post, 11/16/2005; Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007] Woodward is aware of Plame Wilson’s identity as a CIA official (see June 13, 2003). According to later testimony from Woodward (see November 14, 2005), Libby discusses classified information from the October 2002 NIE (see October 1, 2002) that purports to show Iraq attempted to buy enriched uranium from Africa. According to Woodward’s notes, Libby describes the purported Iraqi efforts to buy uranium as “vigorous.” [Washington Post, 4/9/2006]
Syndicated columnist Robert Novak, a well-established Washington conservative, lands an interview with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. Novak has been trying for some time to schedule an interview with Armitage without success, but Armitage calls him virtually out of nowhere and offers an interview. They agree to meet soon after the 4th of July holiday. It is at this meeting that Armitage will tell Novak that administration critic Joseph Wilson’s wife is a covert CIA agent (see July 8, 2003), just as he has previously told Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward (see June 13, 2003). [Unger, 2007, pp. 310]
A group including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger issues a report entitled “An American Security Policy.” The report, commissioned by Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), lists six areas of security concerns ranked in their order of importance. Leading the field is the section called “The Loose Nukes Crisis in North Korea.” The second most pressing concern, the report says, is the unsecured nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons in Russia and the former Soviet states. Iraq is ranked fourth. [Carter, 2004, pp. 19]
The CIA briefs Vice President Dick Cheney, Attorney General John Ashcroft, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, and National Security Council legal adviser John Bellinger on the use of waterboarding and other methods. According to a 2009 Senate Intelligence Committee report, the officials “reaffirmed that the CIA program was lawful and reflected administration policy.” [Senate Intelligence Committee, 4/22/2009 ; Washington Post, 4/22/2009] In 2009, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)‘s Jameel Jaffer will say: “This was not an abstract discussion. These were very detailed and specific conversations. And it’s further evidence of the role that senior administration officials had.” [Washington Post, 4/22/2009]
New York Times reporter David Sanger interviews Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, about Secretary of State Colin Powell’s UN presentation in February (see February 5, 2003). As he and Cheney have planned (see August 2002, June 27, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 14 or 15, 2003, and July 18, 2003), Libby discloses classified information from the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate to Sanger (see October 1, 2002). [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 3/5/2004 ; US Department of Justice, 2/2007 ; Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007]
Former ambassador Joseph Wilson is the leadoff guest on NBC’s Meet the Press. Wilson is there to discuss his op-ed article in the New York Times detailing his debunking of the Iraq-Niger uranium claims (see July 6, 2003). He is followed by Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and John Warner (R-VA), who have both just returned from a tour of Iraq; Washington Post columnist David Broder; New York Times reporter Elisabeth Bumiller; and syndicated conservative columnist Robert Novak. During his interview with guest host Andrea Mitchell, Wilson makes two main points, as he will later recall: “First, that in a democracy the decision to send troops to war had to be based on commonly accepted facts; and second, that if the war had in fact been based on a trumped-up threat of weapons of mass destruction, should we in the future face a real WMD threat, it would be much more difficult to convince the world or even the American people of its actual seriousness.” Wilson will recall that both Levin and Warner are “supportive” of his positions in their appearances, and that Broder characterizes his points as important. “The positions I had taken,” he will write, “were now part of the public discussion, and my credibility, though sure to be attacked, had been vouched for.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 333-334] Appearing after Wilson, Novak derides any concerns that the administration’s claims of Iraqi WMD might be false. “Weapons of mass destruction or uranium are little elitist issues that don’t bother most of the people,” he says. [Rich, 2006, pp. 98-99]
The Washington Post publishes an article about former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s New York Times op-ed questioning the White House’s claim that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003). Post reporters Richard Leiby and Walter Pincus report that Wilson says he was told that his mission to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) was at the request of Vice President Dick Cheney or his staff, and add that, according to “[a] senior administration official,” Wilson was sent to Niger by the CIA, but not at the behest of Cheney or his office. “It was not orchestrated by the vice president,” the official says. The truth of the matter is somewhat less clear, as Cheney asked his CIA briefer to have the agency send him information about the Iraq-Niger allegations (see (February 13, 2002)). It is not clear that Cheney asked for Wilson or anyone else to be sent to Niger, but Cheney did receive the CIA’s report on Wilson’s mission (see March 5, 2002). [Washington Post, 7/6/2003] The denial is part of a larger effort to distance Cheney from the Wilson mission to Niger and discredit Wilson (see July 6-10, 2003).
According to White House press secretary Ari Fleischer’s deputy and imminent successor Scott McClellan, “Armed with updated talking points from the vice president’s office… Fleischer dispute[s] the notion that Cheney and others in the administration must have known about [former ambassador Joseph] Wilson’s findings” (see March 5, 2002). Fleischer denies that Vice President Dick Cheney asked for someone to go to Niger to investigate claims that Iraq had tried to buy enriched uranium from there (see (February 13, 2002)), and denies Cheney’s awareness of the mission until it was reported. However, Fleischer “inadvertently drop[s] a small bombshell,” according to McClellan. He tells reporters, “Now we’ve long acknowledged—and this is old news, we’ve said it repeatedly—that the information on [Nigeran uranium] did, indeed, turn out to be incorrect.” McClellan will later acknowledge that the admission is anything but “old news,” and will write: “But Fleischer now appeared to suggest for the first time that the president’s 16 words in the State of the Union address had been based primarily on the Niger documents (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). Up until that point, the White House had maintained that the president’s language had been deliberately broad so as to include African countries other than Niger” (see January 28-29, 2003). Reporters “jump[ed] all over the story,” McClellan will recall. “Admitting that something the president had said was wrong was big news, and it would need to be discussed among senior advisers and approved by the president.” McClellan will note, “Throughout the day, there was much discussion among the president’s advisers on whether or not to acknowledge the obvious.” According to McClellan, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is one of the strongest advocates for making the admission, and “her point of view prevail[s].” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 168-169]
After the publication of Joseph Wilson’s op-ed debunking the administration’s claims of an Iraq-Niger uranium connection (see July 6, 2003), White House officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, White House communications director Dan Bartlett, and Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby discuss methods of discrediting Wilson. The four work with CIA Director George Tenet to declassify records that might help them prove their contention that they accurately portrayed intelligence about the Iraq-Niger claim, and put Wilson in a poor light. During Libby’s perjury trial (see January 16-23, 2007), a senior White House official involved in the process will testify: “We were trying to figure out what happened and get the story out. There was nothing nefarious as to what occurred.” In a 2007 interview, that same official will confirm what will be said in federal grand jury testimony and public court filings: that Cheney and Libby often acted without the knowledge or approval of other senior White House staff when it came to their efforts to discredit Wilson, including leaking classified information to the press. [National Journal, 1/12/2007]
The State Department sends a memo (see June 10, 2003) to Secretary of State Colin Powell as he is traveling with President Bush and other senior White House officials to Africa. Powell is seen during the flight walking around Air Force One with the memo in his hand. The memo concerns the trip by former ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger, where he learned that allegations of Iraq attempts to purchase Nigerien uranium were false (see February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003), and reveals his wife as a covert CIA agent. [New York Times, 7/16/2005; Rich, 2006, pp. 180] The paragraph identifying Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA official is marked “S-NF,” signfying its information is classified “Secret, Noforn.” Noforn is a code word indicating that the information is not to be shared with foreign nationals. [Washington Post, 7/21/2005; Newsweek, 8/1/2005] When Wilson’s op-ed debunking the uranium claim and lambasting the administration for using it as a justification for war appears in the New York Times (see July 6, 2003), Powell’s deputy, Richard Armitage, calls Carl Ford, the head of the State Department’s internal intelligence unit, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) at Ford’s home. Armitage asks Ford to send a copy of the Grossman memo to Powell, who is preparing to leave for Africa with Bush. Ford sends a copy of the memo to the White House for transmission to Powell. The memo relies on notes by an analyst who was involved in a February 19, 2002 meeting to discuss whether to send someone to Africa to investigate the uranium claims, and if so, who (see February 19, 2002). The notes do not identify either Wilson or his wife by name, and erroneously state that the meeting was “apparently convened by” the wife of a former ambassador “who had the idea to dispatch” her husband to Niger because of his contacts in the region. Wilson is a former ambassador to Gabon. Plame Wilson has said that she suggested her husband for the trip, introduced him at the meeting, and left after about three minutes (see February 13, 2002). The memo identifies Wilson’s wife as Valerie Wilson; when conservative columnist Robert Novak outs her as a CIA agent (see July 14, 2003), he identifies her by her maiden name, Valerie Plame. The memo will later become a matter of intense interest to investigators attempting to learn how Plame Wilson’s identity was leaked to the press (see (July 15, 2005)). [New York Times, 7/16/2005; Rich, 2006, pp. 180]
Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, George W. Bush, Carl W. Ford, Jr., Valerie Plame Wilson, Richard Armitage, Central Intelligence Agency, US Department of State, Colin Powell, Robert Novak
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
A photo of the Wilson op-ed with Cheney’s notes written on it. The clipping will be presented as evidence in the Libby trial. [Source: National Public Radio]According to court documents filed by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald in 2006, Vice President Dick Cheney has a conversation with his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, where he “expressed concerns to [Libby] regarding whether [former ambassador Joseph] Wilson’s trip [to Niger—see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) was legitimate or whether it was a junket set up by Mr. Wilson’s wife,” CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson. Soon after the conversation, Libby discloses Plame Wilson’s CIA identity to a reporter, adding that Plame Wilson sent her husband to Niger (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003). White House political strategist Karl Rove gives Time columnist Robert Novak similar information (see July 8, 2003). [National Journal, 6/14/2006] On a clipped copy of Wilson’s op-ed about his Niger mission (see July 6, 2003), Cheney writes: “Have they [the CIA] done this sort of thing before? Send an Amb. [ambassador] to answer a question? Do we ordinarily send people out pro bono to work for us? Or did his wife send him on a junket?” [New York Times, 5/14/2006; National Public Radio, 3/7/2007]
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer has a telephone conversation with conservative syndicated columnist Robert Novak. Neither Fleischer nor Novak will reveal the contents of that conversation, though the conversation takes place shortly after the publication of Joseph Wilson’s op-ed debunking the administration’s attempts to claim that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003) and a week before Novak, using White House sources, will reveal that Wilson’s wife is a CIA agent (see July 14, 2003). [New York Times, 7/19/2005] Fleischer will later testify (see January 29, 2007) that he learned that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, was a CIA agent from White House official Lewis “Scooter” Libby (see 12:00 p.m. July 7, 2003). Libby told Fleischer that the knowledge of Plame Wilson’s CIA status is not widely known. [MSNBC, 2/21/2007]
Vice President Dick Cheney writes talking points for press secretary Ari Fleischer and other White House officials to use with the press to address the recent New York Times op-ed by former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who revealed that during a 2002 fact-finding mission to Africa, he found nothing to support administration claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase weapons-grade uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003). After Wilson’s op-ed, the White House was forced to back away from its claims about the uranium purchase (see July 6-7, 2003, July 7, 2003, and July 8, 2003), a move that Cheney and other White House officials believed damaged the administration’s credibility over its justifications for the Iraq invasion. Cheney then rewrites the talking points to provide White House officials with more information that can be used to discredit Wilson, and to maximize the chances that reporters will conclude that Wilson’s wife, CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson, sent her husband on a “junket” to Niger (see July 7, 2003 or Shortly After). The lead talking point changes from the original version as drafted by Cheney press aide Cathie Martin: “The vice president’s office did not request the mission to Niger,” to Cheney’s: “It is not clear who authorized Joe Wilson’s trip to Niger.” Cheney will admit that in rewriting the talking points to draw attention to Plame Wilson’s putative role in arranging for the Niger mission, reporters might find out that she was a CIA officer. However, he will deny that he did anything on purpose to give reporters that information. FBI investigators will not be convinced by Cheney’s explanation.
Telling Reporters Cheney, Aides Knew Nothing of Wilson Mission - Another reason for revising the talking points is to give the impression that Cheney had little to no role in Wilson’s mission to Niger, and knew nothing of the trip before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq (see March 5, 2002). Cheney will later admit to FBI investigators that he rewrote the talking points to lead reporters to that conclusion—a conclusion that he hopes will paint Wilson’s trip to Niger as a nepotistic jaunt envisioned to discredit the administration. That conclusion is false (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, and October 17, 2003). Cheney’s subsidiary talking points include: “The vice president’s office did not request the mission to Niger”; the “vice president’s office was not informed of Joe Wilson’s mission”; Cheney’s office was not briefed about the mission until long after it occurred; and Cheney and his aides, including his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, only learned about the mission from reporters a year later. [Washington Post, 2/21/2007; Murray Waas, 12/23/2008]
Talking Points Revised Just before Libby Outs Plame Wilson to Reporter - Cheney revises the talking points on July 8, hours before Libby reveals Plame Wilson’s CIA identity to reporter Judith Miller and tells Miller that Plame Wilson sent her husband to Niger (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003). Both Cheney and Libby will later testify that Libby’s purpose in meeting with Miller is to leak classified intelligence information that the White House hopes will discredit Wilson’s allegations that the White House manipulated intelligence to bolster its justification for the invasion (see July 12, 2003).
Talking Points Used in Morning 'Press Gaggle' - In the July 8 morning briefing for the White House press corps, informally known as the “press gaggle,” Fleischer reiterates the talking points, telling the reporters: “The vice president’s office did not request the mission to Niger. The vice president’s office was not informed of his mission and he was not aware of Mr. Wilson’s mission until recent press accounts… accounted for it. So this was something that the CIA undertook.… They sent him on their own volition.”
'Growing Body of Evidence' that Cheney Directed Libby to Out Plame Wilson - In 2008, reporter Murray Waas will write, “That Cheney, by his own admission, had revised the talking points in an effort to have the reporters examine who sent Wilson on the very same day that his chief of staff was disclosing to Miller Plame [Wilson]‘s identity as a CIA officer may be the most compelling evidence to date that Cheney himself might have directed Libby to disclose Plame [Wilson]‘s identity to Miller and other reporters.” Waas will write that Cheney’s admission adds to the “growing body of evidence that Cheney may have directed Libby to disclose Plame [Wilson]‘s identity to reporters and that Libby acted to protect Cheney by lying to federal investigators and a federal grand jury about the matter.” Cheney’s admission is not, Waas will note, the “smoking gun” that would prove he directed Libby to leak Plame Wilson’s identity. Neither does it prove that Libby outed Plame Wilson on his own by acting “overzealously” to follow Cheney’s “broader mandate” to besmirch and discredit Wilson. Waas will write that special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald believes that Libby lied and placed himself in criminal jeopardy in order to protect Cheney, perhaps to conceal the fact that Cheney had told him to leak Plame Wilson’s identity to the press. [Murray Waas, 12/23/2008]
Entity Tags: Murray Waas, Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, Bush administration (43), Ari Fleischer, Joseph C. Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Judith Miller, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Valerie Plame Wilson
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
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