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Context of 'Late July 2001: CIA Analyst Argues with Group of International Scientists over the Potential Uses of the Confiscated Aluminum Tubes'

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CIA agent Joe Turner flies to Vienna and meets with IAEA scientists, arguing that the aluminum tubes ordered by Iraq had been intended for use in nuclear centrifuges. [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 10/27/2003; New York Times, 10/3/2004] But experts at the agency disagree with his conclusions and explain to him why they believe his analysis is wrong. “They pointed out errors in his calculations. They noted design discrepancies,” an unnamed senior US official will later tell the New York Times. [New York Times, 10/3/2004] David Albright, a physicist and former weapons inspector, who now heads the Institute for Science and International Security, similarly explains to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation: “The view in Vienna in the summer of 2001 was ‘Maybe this guy has a clever idea, but he really is just grabbing at almost straws to prove his case, and when he’s debunked in one model, he then shifts it and tries to make his information fit another centrifuge model.’ And yet whenever you confronted him with the facts or the weaknesses in argument, he always came back with the same answer—‘It’s only for centrifuges.’” When Turner returns to Washington, he tells his superiors at the CIA that the IAEA agrees with his theory. [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 10/27/2003] But scientists at the IAEA send a summary of their views on the tubes to the US government on July 27, saying that although the tubes could possibly be used in a gas centrifuge application, they were not directly suited for that purpose. [United Kingdom, 7/14/2004 pdf file; New York Times, 10/3/2004]

Entity Tags: Joe Turner, David Albright, Central Intelligence Agency, International Atomic Energy Agency

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

After CIA analyst Joe Turner’s presentation to UN atomic energy scientists (see Late July 2001), one of the scientists calls David Albright, a nuclear physicist who runs the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, and warns him that the “people across the river [i.e., the CIA] are trying to start a war. They are really beating the drum. They want to attack.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 37]

Entity Tags: David Albright, Institute for Science and International Security, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Judith Miller.Judith Miller. [Source: Washington Post]Judith Miller and Michael Gordon of the New York Times report in a front page story that Iraq is trying to obtain materials to build a nuclear weapon. Citing unnamed senior administration officials, they break the story of the aluminum tubes that were confiscated in Jordan in July 2001 (see July 2001) and write that both “American intelligence experts” and top officials believe the tubes were meant to be used as centrifuge rotors in a nuclear enrichment program. “In the last 14 months, Iraq has sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes, which American officials believe were intended as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium,” reports the newspaper. “The diameter, thickness and other technical specifications of the aluminum tubes had persuaded American intelligence experts that they were meant for Iraq’s nuclear program….” Officials cited in the article warn that the US must not wait for more evidence before taking action to disarm Iraq because the first sign of a “smoking gun” may be a mushroom cloud. [New York Times, 9/8/2002] (The “smoking gun/mushroom cloud” analogy was conceived by presidential speech writer Michael Gerson a few days earlier; see September 4, 2002 for details.) What Gordon and Miller’s sources did not tell them, and what they neglected to find out on their own, was that the country’s top nuclear experts do not believe the tubes are suitable for rotors (see, e.g., July 2001-March 2003, August 17, 2001, and Late 2001). For example, Houston G. Wood III, a retired Oak Ridge physicist, filed a report with the US government more than a year before (see August 17, 2001) concluding that the tubes were not meant for centrifuges. When he reads the New York Times story, he is shocked. In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation more than a year later, he will recount his initial reaction: “My first thought was, ‘This must be some new tubes,’ you know. And then… and then when I realized that these were the tubes that I had been looking at a year before, I was just… I was… I was just shocked. I couldn’t believe that, you know, here we were, saying that these tubes were, you know, the same tubes that I’d come to the conclusion a year before were not valid for centrifuges, and here they’re saying they are. So, er… that was a real surprise.” [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 10/27/2003] In subsequent stories about the tubes, the Times will note that there is a debate, however these reports will appear in the back pages of the newspaper (see, e.g., September 13, 2002). [New York Times, 5/26/2004]

Entity Tags: Michael Gordon, Judith Miller, Houston G. Wood III

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

David Albright, a physicist who helped investigate Iraq’s nuclear weapons program following the 1991 Persian Gulf War as a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s inspection team, is disturbed to read Judith Miller’s story in the New York Times claiming that Iraq is trying to purchase aluminum tubes as part of an attempt to build centrifuges for a nuclear weapon (see September 8, 2002). After the aluminum tubes had been intercepted in the summer of 2001, Albright had been asked by an official to find out some information about them (see Late July 2001), and he had discovered that many experts doubted they were suitable for use in centrifuges. He had frequently worked with Miller in the past, and he contacts her and alerts her about the doubts of many officials, particularly those in the Department of Energy, regarding the Bush administration’s claims about the tubes.
Follow-up Article - Miller and Michael Gordon do write a follow-up article in the Times on September 13, 2002. But while the article does eventually note that “there have been debates among intelligence experts about Iraq’s intentions in trying to buy such tubes,” it states that “other, more senior, officials insisted last night that this was a minority view among intelligence experts and that the CIA had wide support, particularly among the government’s top technical experts and nuclear scientists. ‘This is a footnote, not a split,’ a senior administration official said.”
Insufficient - Albright is upset. He will later claim that he asked Miller “to alert people that there’s a debate, that there are competent people who disagreed with what the CIA was saying. I thought for sure she’d quote me or some people in the government who didn’t agree. It just wasn’t there.” He adds that the Times “made a decision to ice out the critics and insult them on top of it.” Albright goes to Joby Warrick of the Washington Post instead in hopes the Post will publish a better story. Warrick’s story comes out on September 19 and reveals the debate within the government about the tubes. It also notes reports that the Bush administration “is trying to quiet dissent among its own analysts over how to interpret the evidence.” But the story appears on page A18 and gets little notice compared to Miller’s front-page stories. [New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004] Still frustrated, Albright publishes his own report several days later challenging the aluminum tubes story (see September 23, 2002).

Entity Tags: Judith Miller, David Albright, Joby Warrick, Michael Gordon

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

David Albright, a physicist who helped investigate Iraq’s nuclear weapons program following the 1991 Persian Gulf War as a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s inspection team, concludes in a study that Iraq’s attempt to import aluminum tubes is not “evidence that Iraq is in possession of, or close to possessing, nuclear weapons” or that Iraq has an operating centrifuge plant. His assessment is based on several factors, including the fact that the tubes are made of an aluminum alloy that is ill-suited for welding. He notes that Iraq had used maraging steel and carbon fiber in its earlier attempts to make centrifuges (see (Late 1980s)). Albright also challenges the CIA’s contention the tubes’ anodized coating is an indication that they are meant to be used as rotors in a gas centrifuge. The nuclear physicist notes that the fact the tubes are anodized actually supports the theory that they were meant to be used in rockets, not a centrifuge. He cites another expert who said that an “anodized layer on the inside of the tube… can result in hampering the operation of the centrifuge.” [Albright, 10/9/2003 Sources: David Albright] Though Albright is critical of the charges being made by the Bush administration against Iraq, concerning nuclear weapons, he is no sympathizer of Saddam Hussein. He believes that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction and advocates a tough stance towards his regime. [New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004] His report is widely dispersed and is covered in detail by the Washington Post on September 19, 2002 (see September 19, 2002). Several other newspapers also cover Albright’s report. [Washington Post, 9/19/2002; Guardian, 10/9/2002; San Francisco Chronicle, 10/12/2002] It is later revealed that scientists at the Energy Department secretly worked with Albright on the report. [New York Times, 10/3/2004]

Entity Tags: David Albright, US Department of Energy

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Outgoing Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, one of the key architects of the Iraq occupation, is bemused by the fact that, despite his predictions and those of his neoconservative colleagues, Iraq is teetering on the edge of all-out civil war. He has come under fire from both political enemies and former supporters, with Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) accusing him of deceiving both the White House and Congress, and fellow neoconservative William Kristol accusing him of “being an agent of” disgraced Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (see November 6-December 18, 2006). Feith defends the invasion of Iraq, calling it “an operation to prevent the next, as it were, 9/11,” and noting that the failure to find WMD is essentially irrelevant to the justification for the war. “There’s a certain revisionism in people looking back and identifying the main intelligence error [the assumption of stockpiles] and then saying that our entire policy was built on that error.” Feith is apparently ignoring the fact that the administration’s arguments for invading Iraq—including many of his own assertions—were built almost entirely on the “error” of the Iraqi WMD threat (see July 30, 2001, Summer 2001, September 11, 2001-March 17, 2003, Shortly After September 11, 2001, September 14, 2001, September 19-20, 2001, September 20, 2001, October 14, 2001, November 14, 2001, 2002, 2002-March 2003, February 2002, Summer 2002, August 26, 2002, September 3, 2002, September 4, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 10, 2002, September 12, 2002, Late September 2002, September 19, 2002, September 24, 2002, September 24, 2002, September 28, 2002, October 7, 2002, December 3, 2002, December 12, 2002, January 9, 2003, February 3, 2003, February 5, 2003, February 8, 2003, March 22, 2003, and March 23, 2003, among others).
Cultural Understanding Did Not Lead to Success - Feith says he is not sure why what he describes as his deep understanding of Iraqi culture did not lead to accurate predictions of the welcome the US would receive from the Iraqi people (see November 18-19, 2001, 2002-2003, September 9, 2002, and October 11, 2002). “There’s a paradox I’ve never been able to work out,” he says. “It helps to be deeply knowledgeable about an area—to know the people, to know the language, to know the history, the culture, the literature. But it is not a guarantee that you will have the right strategy or policy as a matter of statecraft for dealing with that area. You see, the great experts in certain areas sometimes get it fundamentally wrong.” Who got it right? President Bush, he says. “[E]xpertise is a very good thing, but it is not the same thing as sound judgment regarding strategy and policy. George W. Bush has more insight, because of his knowledge of human beings and his sense of history, about the motive force, the craving for freedom and participation in self-rule, than do many of the language experts and history experts and culture experts.”
'Flowers in Their Minds' - When a reporter notes that Iraqis had not, as promised, greeted American soldiers with flowers, Feith responds that they were still too intimidated by their fear of the overthrown Hussein regime to physically express their gratitude. “But,” he says, “they had flowers in their minds.” [New Yorker, 5/9/2005; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 228-229]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Carl Levin, William Kristol, Douglas Feith

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

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