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Context of 'September 19, 2002: Blix: UN Inspectors to Enter Iraq by October 15'

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Roger Ailes, the senior media consultant for the Nixon administration (see 1968), writes, or helps write, a secret memo for President Nixon and fellow Republicans outlining a plan for conservatives to “infiltrate and neutralize” the mainstream American media. The document will not be released until 2011; experts will call it the “intellectual forerunner” to Fox News, which Ailes will launch as a “fair and balanced” news network in 1996 (see October 7, 1996). John Cook, the editor of the online news and commentary magazine Gawker, will call the document the outline of a “nakedly partisan… plot by Ailes and other Nixon aides to circumvent the ‘prejudices of network news’ and deliver ‘pro-administration’ stories to heartland television viewers.” The document is entitled “A Plan for Putting the GOP on TV News.” Ailes, currently the owner of REA Productions and Ailes Communications Inc., works for the Nixon White House as a media consultant; he will serve the same function for President George H.W. Bush during his term. Ailes is a forceful advocate for using television to shape the message of the Nixon administration and of Republican policies in general. He frequently suggests launching elaborately staged events to entice favorable coverage from television reporters, and uses his contacts at the news networks to head off negative publicity. Ailes writes that the Nixon White House should run a partisan, pro-Republican media operation—essentially a self-contained news production organization—out of the White House itself. He complains that the “liberal media” “censors” the news to portray Nixon and his administration in a negative light. Cook will say the plan “reads today like a detailed precis for a Fox News prototype.” The initial idea may have originated with Nixon chief of staff H.R. Haldeman, but if so, Ailes expands and details the plan far beyond Haldeman’s initial seed of an idea. (Roger Ailes 1970; Cook 6/30/2011) In 2011, Rolling Stone journalist Tim Dickinson will write: “This is an astounding find. It underscores Ailes’s early preoccupation with providing the GOP with a way to do an end run around skeptical journalists.” (Dickinson 7/1/2011)
Focus on Television - Ailes insists that any such media plan should focus on television and not print. Americans are “lazy,” he writes, and want their thinking done for them: “Today television news is watched more often than people read newspapers, than people listen to the radio, than people read or gather any other form of communication. The reason: People are lazy. With television you just sit—watch—listen. The thinking is done for you.” Ailes says the Nixon administration should create its own news network “to provide pro-administration, videotape, hard news actualities to the major cities of the United States.” Other television news outlets such as NBC News, ABC News, CBS News, and PBS News, are “the enemy,” he writes, and suggests going around them by creating packaged, edited news stories and interviews directly to local television stations. (Years later, these kinds of “news reports” will be called “video news releases,” or VNRs, and will routinely be used by the George W. Bush administration and others—see March 15, 2004, May 19, 2004, March 2005, and March 13, 2005. They will be outlawed in 2005—see May 2005.) “This is a plan that places news of importance to localities (senators and representatives are newsmakers of importance to their localities) on local television news programs while it is still news. It avoids the censorship, the priorities, and the prejudices of network news selectors and disseminators.” Ailes and his colleagues include detailed cost analyses and production plans for such news releases. In a side note on the document, Ailes writes: “Basically a very good idea. It should be expanded to include other members of the administration such as cabinet involved in activity with regional or local interest. Also could involve GOP governors when in DC. Who would purchase equipment and run operation—White House? RNC [Republican National Committee]? Congressional caucus? Will get some flap about news management.”
Dirty Tricks - Ailes suggests planting “volunteers” within the Wallace campaign, referring to segregationist George Wallace (D-AL), whose third-party candidacy in 1968 almost cost Nixon the presidency. Ailes knows Wallace is planning a 1972 run as well, and is apparently suggesting a “mole” to either gather intelligence, carry out sabotage, or both. (Wallace’s plans for another run will be cut short by an assassination attempt—see May 15, 1972.) Ailes also suggests having his firm film interviews with Democrats who support Nixon’s Vietnam policies, such as Senators John Stennis (D-MS) and John McClellan (D-AR). Though Stennis and McClellan would believe that the interviews were for actual news shows, they would actually be carried out by Ailes operatives and financed by a Nixon campaign front group, the “Tell it to Hanoi Committee.” In June 1970, someone in the Nixon administration scuttles the plan, writing: “[T]he fact that this presentation is White House directed, unbeknownst to the Democrats on the show, presents the possibility of a leak that could severely embarrass the White House and damage significantly its already precarious relationship with the Congress. Should two powerful factors like Stennis and McClellan discover they are dupes for the administration the scandal could damage the White House for a long time to come.”
Volunteers to Head Program - Ailes writes that he wants to head any such “news network,” telling Haldeman: “Bob—if you decide to go ahead we would as a production company like to bid on packaging the entire project. I know what has to be done and we could test the feasibility for 90 days without making a commitment beyond that point.” Haldeman will grant Ailes’s request in November 1970, and will give the project a name: “Capitol News Service.” Haldeman will write: “With regard to the news programming effort as proposed last summer, Ailes feels this is a good idea and that we should be going ahead with it. Haldeman suggested the name ‘Capitol News Service’ and Ailes will probably be doing more work in this area.” Documents fail to show whether the “Capitol News Service” is ever actually implemented. (Roger Ailes 1970; Cook 6/30/2011)
Television News Incorporated - Ailes will be fired from the Nixon administration in 1971; he will go on to start a similar private concern, “Television News Incorporated” (TVN—see 1971-1975), an ideological and practical predecessor to Fox News. Dickinson will write: “More important, [the document] links the plot to create what would become Television News Incorporated—the Ailes-helmed ‘fair and balanced’ mid-1970s precursor to Fox News—to the Nixon White House itself.” (Cook 6/30/2011; Dickinson 7/1/2011) A former business colleague of Ailes’s will say in 2011: “Everything Roger wanted to do when he started out in politics, he’s now doing 24/7 with his network [Fox News]. It’s come full circle.” (Dickinson 5/25/2011)

Book cover of the Pentagon Papers.Book cover of the Pentagon Papers. [Source: Daniel Ellsberg]The New York Times receives a huge amount of secret Defense Department documents and memos that document the covert military and intelligence operations waged by previous administrations in Vietnam (see January 15, 1969). The documents are leaked by Daniel Ellsberg, a former Defense Department official who worked in counterintelligence and later for the RAND Corporation while remaining an active consultant to the government on Vietnam. Ellsberg, a former aide to Secretary of State and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger and a member of the task force that produced the Defense Department documents, has, over his tenure as a senior government official, become increasingly disillusioned with the actions of the US in Vietnam. (Herda 1994) The documents are given to Times reporter Neil Sheehan by Ellsberg (see May 1969). (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 313)
Ellsberg Tried to Interest Senators - After he and his friend Anthony Russo had copied the documents (see September 29, 1969), Ellsberg had spent months attempting to persuade several antiwar senators, including William Fulbright (D-AR), Charles Mathias Jr (R-MD), George McGovern (D-SD), and Paul “Pete” McCloskey (R-CA), to enter the study into the public record, all to no avail. But McGovern suggested that Ellsberg provide copies of the documents either to the New York Times or the Washington Post. Ellsberg knew Sheehan in Vietnam, and decided that the Times reporter was his best chance for making the documents public. (Reeves 2001, pp. 333; Moran 2007) Ellsberg originally gave copies of the documents—later dubbed the “Pentagon Papers”—to Phil Geyelin of the Washington Post, but the Post’s Katherine Graham and Ben Bradlee decided not to publish any of the documents. Ellsberg then gave a copy to Sheehan.
Documents Prove White House Deceptions - The documents include information that showed former President Dwight D. Eisenhower had made a secret commitment to help the French defeat the insurgents in Vietnam. They also show that Eisenhower’s successor, John F. Kennedy, had used a secret “provocation strategy” to escalate the US’s presence into a full-blown war that eventually led to the infamous Gulf of Tonkin incident. The documents also show that Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon Johnson, had planned from the outset of his presidency to expand the war (Spartacus Schoolnet 8/2007) , and show how Johnson secretly paved the way for combat troops to be sent to Vietnam, how he had refused to consult Congress before committing both ground and air forces to war, and how he had secretly, and illegally, shifted government funds from other areas to fund the war. Finally, the documents prove that all three presidents had broken Constitutional law in bypassing Congress and sending troops to wage war in Vietnam on their own authority. (Herda 1994)
Times Publishes Against Legal Advice - The Times will begin publishing them in mid-June 1971 (see June 13, 1971) after putting Sheehan and several other reporters up in the New York Hilton to sift through the mountain of photocopies and the senior editors, publishers, and lawyers argued whether or not to publish such a highly classified set of documents. The management will decide, against the advice of its lawyers, to publish articles based on the documents as well as excerpts from the documents themselves. (Moran 2007)

Richard Nixon announcing his resignation to the country.Richard Nixon announcing his resignation to the country. [Source: American Rhetoric.com]President Richard Nixon, forced to resign because of the Watergate scandal, begins his last day in office. The morning is marked by “burn sessions” in several rooms of the White House, where aides burn what author Barry Werth calls “potentially troublesome documents” in fireplaces. Nixon’s chief of staff, Alexander Haig, is preparing for the transition in his office, which is overflowing with plastic bags full of shredded documents. Haig says all of the documents are duplicates. Haig presents Nixon with a one-line letter of resignation—“I hereby resign the office of president of the United States”—and Nixon signs it without comment. Haig later describes Nixon as “haggard and ashen,” and recalls, “Nothing of a personal nature was said… By now, there was not much that could be said that we did not already understand.” Nixon gives his resignation speech at 9 p.m. (Nixon 8/8/1974; Nixon 8/8/1974; American Rhetoric 2001; Werth 2006, pp. 3-8) On August 7, Haig told Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski that Congress would certainly pass a resolution halting any legal actions against Nixon. But, watching Nixon’s televised resignation speech, Jaworski thinks, “Not after that speech, Al.” Nixon refuses to accept any responsibility for any of the myriad crimes and illicit actions surrounding Watergate, and merely admits to some “wrong” judgments. Without some expression of remorse and acceptance of responsibility, Jaworski doubts that Congress will do anything to halt any criminal actions against Nixon. (Werth 2006, pp. 30-31) Instead of accepting responsibility, Nixon tells the nation that he must resign because he no longer has enough support in Congress to remain in office. To leave office before the end of his term “is abhorrent to every instinct in my body,” he says, but “as president, I must put the interests of America first.” Jaworski makes a statement after the resignation speech, declaring that “there has been no agreement or understanding of any sort between the president or his representatives and the special prosecutor relating in any way to the president’s resignation.” Jaworski says that his office “was not asked for any such agreement or understanding and offered none.” (Kilpatrick 8/9/1974)

Oil billionaire David Koch runs for vice president on the Libertarian Party ticket. David and his brother Charles are the primary backers of hard-right libertarian politics in the US (see August 30, 2010); Charles, the dominant brother, is determined to tear government “out at the root,” as he will later be characterized by libertarian Brian Doherty. The brothers have thrown their support behind Libertarian presidential candidate Ed Clark, who is running against Republican Ronald Reagan from the right of the political spectrum. The brothers are frustrated by the legal limits on campaign financing, and they persuade the party to place David on the ticket as vice president, thereby enabling him to spend as much of his personal fortune as he likes. The Libertarian’s presidential campaign slogan is, “The Libertarian Party has only one source of funds: You.” In reality, the Koch brothers’ expenditures of over $2 million is the campaign’s primary source of funding. Clark tells a reporter that the Libertarians are preparing to stage “a very big tea party” because people are “sick to death” of taxes. The Libertarian Party platform calls for the abolition of the FBI and the CIA, as well as of federal regulatory agencies, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Energy. The platform proposes the abolition of Social Security, minimum-wage laws, gun control, and all personal and corporate income taxes; in return, it proposes the legalization of prostitution, recreational drugs, and suicide. Government should be reduced to only one function, the party proclaims: the protection of individual rights. Conservative eminence William F. Buckley Jr. calls the movement “Anarcho-Totalitarianism.” The Clark-Koch ticket receives only one percent of the vote in the November 1980 elections, forcing the Koch brothers to realize that their brand of politics isn’t popular. In response, Charles Koch becomes openly scornful of conventional politics. “It tends to be a nasty, corrupting business,” he says. “I’m interested in advancing libertarian ideas.” Doherty will later write that both Kochs come to view elected politicians as merely “actors playing out a script.” Doherty will quote a longtime confidant of the Kochs as saying that after the 1980 elections, the brothers decide they will “supply the themes and words for the scripts.” In order to alter the direction of America, they had to “influence the areas where policy ideas percolate from: academia and think tanks.” (Mayer 8/30/2010)

The Reagan administration provides covert support to Iraq in an effort to prevent Iran from overrunning the oil-rich states of the Persian Gulf. (Tyler 8/18/2002; Hiro 8/26/2002; Dobbs 12/30/2002)
bullet US Air Force officers are secretly deployed to Iraq to assist their counterparts in the Iraqi military. (Hiro 8/26/2002)
bullet The US provides satellite photography to Iraq revealing the movements of the Iranian forces. (Woodward 12/15/1986; Tyler 8/18/2002 Sources: senior military officers with direct knowledge of the program, Unnamed informed sources interviewed by reporter Bob Woodward)
bullet The US provides Iraq with intelligence gathered by Saudi-owned AWACS operated by the Pentagon. (Hiro 8/26/2002)
bullet Iraq uses US-supplied military intelligence “to calibrate attacks with mustard gas on Iranian ground troops….” (see 1984) (Woodward 12/15/1986)
bullet “[M]ore than 60 officers of the Defense Intelligence Agency…. secretly [provide] detailed information on Iranian deployments, tactical planning for battles, plans for airstrikes and bomb-damage assessments for Iraq.” (Tyler 8/18/2002)
bullet President Reagan and Vice President George Bush personally deliver military advice to Saddam Hussein, both directly and through intermediaries (see 1986). (Affidavit. United States v. Carlos Cardoen, et al. [Charge that Teledyne Wah Chang Albany illegally provided a proscribed substance, zirconium, to Cardoen Industries and to Iraq] 1/31/1995 pdf file; Dobbs 12/30/2002)
bullet The US closely monitors “third country arms sales to Iraq to make sure Iraq [has] the military weaponry required.” (Affidavit. United States v. Carlos Cardoen, et al. [Charge that Teledyne Wah Chang Albany illegally provided a proscribed substance, zirconium, to Cardoen Industries and to Iraq] 1/31/1995 pdf file; Dobbs 12/30/2002)
bullet According to the censured portion of Iraq’s December 7, 2002 declaration to the UN (see December 7, 2002) (see December 19, 2002), Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories help train Iraqi nuclear weapons scientists and provide nonfissile material for Iraq’s nuclear weapons program. (Pimentel 1/26/2003)

Eugene Hasenfus sits among the weapons captured from his downed cargo plane. His Sandinista captors surround him.Eugene Hasenfus sits among the weapons captured from his downed cargo plane. His Sandinista captors surround him. [Source: Nancy McGirr / Reuters / Corbis]A CIA C-123 transport plane (see November 19, 1985) is shot down in southern Nicaragua by a Sandinista soldier wielding a surface-to-air missile. The transport plane left an airfield in El Salvador with arms and other supplies intended for the Nicaraguan Contras. Three crew members—US pilots William Cooper and Wallace Sawyer, Jr, and an unidentified Latin American—die in the crash, but one, a “cargo kicker” named Eugene Hasenfus, ignores CIA orders and parachutes to safety—and capture by the Sandinistas. Hasenfus is a construction worker from Wisconsin who signed on to do temporary work with CIA contractors, and has no intention of “going down with the plane.” The next day, newspapers around the world run stories with Hasenfus’s face peering out from their front pages.
Reveals US's Arming of Contras - The Hasenfus shoot-down will break the news of the Reagan administration’s secret arming of the Contras in their attempt to bring down the democratically elected Socialist government of Nicaragua. (New York Times 11/19/1987; Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993; Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 64)
Damage Control - Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams (see Late 1985 and After) is the designated US spokesman on the Hasenfus shootdown. Abrams coordinates with his fellow Contra supporters, the NSC’s Oliver North and the CIA’s Alan Fiers, and with the US Ambassador to El Salvador, Edwin Corr, on how to handle the situation. Between the three, they coordinate a denial from the Salvadoran military about any Salvadoran or US involvement in the Hasenfus flight. As for themselves, they agree not to flatly lie about anything, because they cannot be sure of what Hasenfus will say, but they agree to remain as quiet as possible and hope the media sensation surrounding Hasenfus dies down with little long-term effect. According to notes taken by Corr during one meeting, everyone knows that a leak—“eventually someone in USG [the US government] will finally acknowledge some ‘winking.’ Salv role now more public”—is inevitable. It is eventually decided that the Contras themselves will take all responsibility for the flight. Fiers worries that the flight will be connected to previous humanitarian aid supplied to the Contras (see October 1985). They also confirm that Felix Rodriguez, North’s liaison to the Contras in Central America (see Mid-September 1985), is in Miami, hiding from the press. Hasenfus will later acknowledge making at least ten supply flights into Nicaragua (see October 9, 1986). (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)

Richard Secord receives whispered advice from his attorney, Thomas Green, during his testimony.Richard Secord receives whispered advice from his attorney, Thomas Green, during his testimony. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Public testimony begins in the joint House and Senate investigations of the Iran-Contra affair. General Richard Secord (see November 19, 1985) is the first witness (see May 5, 1987). (New York Times 11/19/1987)
'Hero's Angle' - The televised hearing area in Room 325 of the Senate Office Building, built to accommodate over two dozen committee members, their staff, witnesses, lawyers, and television reporters and camera operators, features a series of two-tiered stages. Film director Steven Spielberg will later tell Senate counsel Arthur Liman that from a visual viewpoint, the staging is a terrible mistake; the witnesses appear on television “at the hero’s angle, looking up as though from a pit at the committees, who resembled two rows of judges at the Spanish Inquisition.” Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will note with some sardonicism that the committee’s two lawyers could not have been better choices to play television villains. Liman is “a nasal-voiced New York ethnic with ‘spaghetti hair,’” and House counsel John Nields is “a balding lawyer with long locks down to his collar who couldn’t keep his distaste for the witnesses from creeping into his voice.”
Opening Statements; Cheney Blames Congress, Not the White House - The hearings open with the usual long-winded opening statements from the various committee members. Representative Dick Cheney (R-WY), the leader of the Republican hardline contingent, makes it clear from the outset where he intends to go in the investigation. “Some will argue that these events justify the imposition of additional restrictions on presidents to prohibit the possibility of similar occurrences in the future,” he says. “In my opinion, this would be a mistake. In completing our task, we should seek above all to find ways to strengthen the capacity of future presidents and future Congresses to meet the often dangerous and difficult challenges that are bound to rise in the years ahead.” He then introduces his counter-argument: Congress’s dithering, not the Reagan administration’s clear violation of the law, is the crux of the problem with the Iran-Contra affair. “One important question to be asked is to what extent did the lack of a clear-cut policy by the Congress contribute to the events we will be exploring in the weeks ahead?” Cheney and his colleagues will argue that because Congress had supported the Contras in the past, its decision not to continue that support was an unforgivable breach, “a form of actionable negligence,” in Dubose and Bernstein’s words, that made it necessary for the Reagan administration to establish “a parallel support network as a ‘bridging’ mechanism until Congress could be brought around to a sensible policy.” Oliver North will echo this concept in his own testimony (see July 7-10, 1987), driving committee Vice Chairman Warren Rudman (R-NH) to retort: “The American people have the Constitutional right to be wrong. And what Ronald Reagan thinks, or what Oliver North thinks or what I think or what anybody else thinks makes not a whit if the American people say, ‘Enough.’” (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 72-75)

Ahmed Chalabi, the charismatic, MIT-educated head of Jordan’s Petra Bank, flees to London before charges can be filed against him in regards to the collapse of his bank (see August 2, 1989 and April 9, 1992). Unworried about the Jordanian charges, Chalabi, whose formerly wealthy family fled Iraq in 1958, establishes a loose grouping of Iraqi exiles called the Iraqi National Congress, with the aim of overthrowing Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Chalabi has already forged ties with some US neoconservatives like Albert Wohlstetter and Richard Perle. Now he begins cultivating ties with other influential neoconservatives such as Paul Wolfowitz, James Woolsey, Douglas Feith, and Perle’s protege, David Wurmser. Chalabi makes the rounds of the symposia and conferences, and wins new allies in pro-Israeli think tanks such as the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP). Chalabi’s appeal to the neoconservatives is directly linked to his support for Israel as a regional power. The new Iraq he will build, he promises, will have strong relations with Israel. He even declares his intention to rebuild the oil pipeline from Kirkuk to Haifa, which has been inoperative since the 1940s. The neoconservatives ignore his close ties with the Iranian Shi’ite theocracy, as well as the Petra Bank’s funding of the Lebanese Shi’ite militia Amal. Instead, the neoconservatives view Chalabi as a potential savior of the Middle East. Patrick Clawson of WINEP says, “He could be Iraq’s national leader.” (Unger 2007, pp. 123-125)

As tensions escalate between the US and Iraq, Iraqi officials circulate a note to all the embassies in Baghdad, directing them to register all of the civilians in their care with the authorities. Failure to comply can result in execution, the note implies. Such registration can only be done in person at Iraqi governmental offices; Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph Wilson, the ranking US diplomat in Baghdad, knows that bringing American citizens in for registration may well result in those Americans being taken hostage. He is housing some 60 Americans at the ambassador’s residence for their protection. He will later write: “It was clearly a way for the Iraqis to replenish their stock of hostages. The choice, theoretically, was either to turn over Americans or to defy the note and risk execution.” Instead of making the choice, Wilson uses the order to publicly defy the Iraqis. He schedules a press conference and has a Marine make him a hangman’s noose. Wearing the noose, he tells reporters that if Saddam Hussein “wants to execute me for keeping Americans from being taken hostage, I will bring my own f_cking rope.” The press conference, like all of the embassy press conferences, is off the record, but journalists release the story anyway. A garbled, erroneous version from a French news outlet has the Iraqis planning to hang Wilson by sundown. Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, angered and embarrassed by the press coverage, attempts to dress down Wilson that evening, but Wilson refuses to back down. Instead, the Iraqis withdraw the request. Soon after, President Bush sends Wilson a cable lauding his courage and his outspokeness (see November 29, 1990). (Wilson 2004, pp. 153-154; Unger 2007, pp. 311) Conservative columnist Robert Novak co-writes a piece about Wilson that says, “He shows the stuff of heroism.” Novak will later reveal the covert CIA status of Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, as an act of political retaliation (see July 14, 2003). (Wilson 2004, pp. 153-154)

President George H. W. Bush signs a covert “lethal finding” authorizing the CIA to spend a hundred million dollars to “create the conditions for removal of Saddam Hussein from power.” (Mayer 6/7/2004) The CIA forms the Iraqi Opposition Group within its Directorate of Operations to implement this policy. (Ritter 2005, pp. 128) Awash in cash, the agency hires the Rendon Group to influence global political opinion on matters related to Iraq. According to Francis Brooke, an employee of the company who’s paid $22,000 per month, the Rendon Group’s contract with the CIA provides it with a ten percent “management fee” on top of whatever money it spends. “We tried to burn through $40 million a year,” Brooke will tell the New Yorker. “It was a very nice job.” The work involves planting false stories in the foreign press. The company begins supplying British journalists with misinformation which then shows up in the London press. In some cases, these stories are later picked up by the American press, in violation of laws prohibiting domestic propaganda. “It was amazing how well it worked. It was like magic,” Brooke later recalls. Another one of the company’s tasks is to help the CIA create a viable and unified opposition movement against Saddam Hussein (see June 1992). This brings the Rendon Group and Francis Brooke into contact with Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi (see After May 1991). The CIA will soon help Chalabi and Rendon create the Iraqi National Congress (INC) to further the goal of toppling Hussein. (Mayer 6/7/2004) Author and intelligence expert James Bamford will later say, “Chalabi was a creature of American propaganda to a large degree. It was an American company, the Rendon Group, that—working secretly with the CIA—basically created his organization, the Iraqi National Congress. And put Chalabi in charge basically.… From the very beginning Chalabi was paid a lot of money from the US taxpayers. The CIA paid him originally about 350,000 dollars a month, to Chalabi and his organization.” (Moyers 4/25/2007)

Iraqi National Congress logo.Iraqi National Congress logo. [Source: Iraqi National Congress]Over a period of four years, the CIA’s Iraq Operation Group provides the Iraqi National Congress (INC) with $100 million, which the organization uses to set up training camps and propaganda operations in Northern Iraq. (Murphy 6/15/2004; Ritter 2005, pp. 128) During this time span, INC leader Ahmed Chalabi allegedly misuses a lot of the funds. “There was a lot of hanky-panky with the accounting: triple billing, things that weren’t mentioned, things inflated.… It was a nightmare,” a US intelligence official who works with Chalabi will say in 2004. (Hosenball and Hirsh 4/5/2004) Chalabi refuses to share the organization’s books with other members of the INC, and even with the US government itself. According to a former CIA officer, “[T]hey argued that it would breach the secrecy of the operation.” One night, government investigators break into the INC’s offices to do an audit. They find that although the books are in order, many of the group’s expenditures are wasteful. (Mayer 6/7/2004) Chalabi spends much of his time in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq. Robert Baer, a CIA officer who is also working in Iraq, later recalls: “He was like the American Ambassador to Iraq. He could get to the White House and the CIA. He would move around Iraq with five or six Land Cruisers.” Hundreds of thousands of dollars flow “to this shadowy operator—in cars, salaries—and it was just a Potemkin village. He was reporting no intel; it was total trash. The INC’s intelligence was so bad, we weren’t even sending it in.” Chalabi tries to portray Saddam Hussein’s regime as “a leaking warehouse of gas, and all we had to do was light a match,” Baer says. Chalabi, at certain points, claims to know about Iraqi troop movements and palace plans. But “there was no detail, no sourcing—you couldn’t see it on a satellite.” (Mayer 6/7/2004) In her 2007 book Fair Game, former CIA analyst Valerie Plame Wilson, an expert on Iraq’s WMD programs, describes Chalabi as “Machiavellian,” and blames him for sending “dozens of tantalizing but ultimately false leads into the CIA net.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 106-107)

Curveball, as a college student.Curveball, as a college student. [Source: CBS News]The Iraqi engineering student later known to the US and German intelligence communities as “Curveball” graduates last in his class from engineering school at Baghdad University and is hired to work at the Chemical Engineering and Design Center. (Drogin and Goetz 11/20/2005) Curveball, identified thirteen years later as Rafid Ahmed Alwan (see November 4, 2007), will tell German intelligence officials that he graduated first in his class and went on to oversee a secret Iraqi bioweapons laboratory. His claims are entirely fictional (see June 2003-Late 2003), but will become a linchpin of the US’s case for the necessity of invading Iraq (see February 5, 2003).

Farouk Hijazi.Farouk Hijazi. [Source: CNN]In 2006, a bipartisan Senate report will conclude that only one meeting between representatives of al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq government took place prior to the Iraq war in 2003. “Debriefings and captured regime documents show that the Intelligence Community accurately assessed that Iraqi intelligence officer Farouq Hijazi met with bin Laden in 1995 in Sudan. Debriefings of Hijazi indicate that, prior to the meeting, Saddam directed Hijazi to “only listen” and not negotiate or promise anything to bin Laden. At the meeting, bin Laden requested an office in Iraq, military training for his followers, Chinese sea mines, and the broadcast of speeches from an anti-Saudi cleric,” Sheikh Salman al-Awdah. Hussein immediately rejected most of the requests, but considered broadcasting the speeches. However, it is unknown if he actually did. Hijazi files a negative report to his superiors, telling them that bin Laden was hostile and insisted on the Islamicization of Iraq, which is not in line with Hussein’s secular rule. Soon after filing the report, Hijazi is told by his superiors that he should not try to meet bin Laden again. (US Senate and Intelligence Committee 9/8/2006, pp. 71-73 pdf file) Beginning in 1999, a number of news stories will allege a meeting between Hijazi and bin Laden, but will incorrectly claim the meeting took place in 1998 (see Late December 1998). The Boston Globe will later report, “[I]ntelligence agencies tracked contacts between Iraqi agents and al-Qaeda agents in the ‘90s in Sudan and Afghanistan, where bin Laden is believed to have met with Farouk Hijazi, head of Iraqi intelligence. But current and former intelligence specialists caution that such meetings occur just as often between enemies as friends. Spies frequently make contact with rogue groups to size up their intentions, gauge their strength, or try to infiltrate their ranks, they said.” (Canellos and Bender 8/3/2003) Hijazi, head of the Iraqi Intelligence Service for a time, will be taken into custody by US forces in April 2003 and will make a deal to reactivate his intelligence network to benefit the US occupation. (Hersh 12/8/2003)

The CIA—concerned about Chalabi’s contacts with Iran and convinced that he is not capable of delivering on his promises—severs its ties with him and the Iraqi National Congress. (ABC 2/7/1998; Mayer 6/7/2004; Murphy 6/15/2004) Former CIA base chief Robert Baer recalls in 2006 that “[t]he quality” of the INC’s intelligence “was very bad. There was a feeling that Chalabi was prepping defectors. We had no systematic way to vet the information, but it was obvious most of it was cooked.” (Fairweather 4/2006)

Fox News logo.Fox News logo. [Source: Fox News]Fox News begins broadcasting on US cable television. Fox News provides 24-hour news programming alongside the nation’s only other such cable news provider, CNN. Fox executive Roger Ailes, a former campaign adviser for Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush (see 1968, January 25, 1988, and September 21 - October 4, 1988), envisions Fox News as a conservative “antidote” to what he calls the “liberal bias” of the rest of American news broadcasting. Ailes uses many of the methodologies and characteristics of conservative talk radio, and brings several radio hosts on his channel, including Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, to host television shows. (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 47; Sherman 5/22/2011) Referring to Ailes’s campaign experience, veteran Republican consultant Ed Rollins later says: “Because of his political work, he understood there was an audience. He knew there were a couple million conservatives who were a potential audience, and he built Fox to reach them.” (Sherman 5/22/2011)
Ailes Planned for Fox News as Far Back as 1970 - Ailes began envisioning a conservative news provider to counter what he considers the mainstream media’s “liberal bias” as early as 1970, when he became heavily involved with a Nixon administration plan to plant conservative propaganda in news outlets across the nation (see Summer 1970). In 1971, he headed a short-lived private conservative television news network, Television News Incorporated (TVN—see 1971-1975), which foundered in 1975 in part because of its reporters and staffers balking at reporting Ailes-crafted propaganda instead of “straight” news. Ailes told a New York Times reporter in 1991 that he was leaving politics, saying: “I’ve been in politics for 25 years. It’s always been a detour. Now my business has taken a turn back to my entertainment and corporate clients.” But Ailes misinformed the reporter. He continued to work behind the scenes on the 1992 Bush re-election campaign, providing the campaign with attack points against Democratic contender Bill Clinton (D-AR) and earning the nickname “Deep Throat” from Bush aides. Though Ailes did do work in entertainment, helping develop tabloid television programs such as The Maury Povich Show and heading the cable business news network CNBC for three years, Ailes has continued to stay heavily involved in Republican politics ever since. Ailes became involved in the creation of Fox News in early 1996 after he left NBC, which had canceled his show America’s Talking and launched a new cable news network, MSNBC, without asking for Ailes’s involvement. Fox News is owned by News Corporation (sometimes abbreviated NewsCorp), an international media conglomerate owned by conservative billionaire Rupert Murdoch. When NBC allowed Ailes to leave, Jack Welch, the chairman of NBC’s parent company General Electric, said, “We’ll rue the day we let Roger and Rupert team up.” Murdoch has already tried and failed to buy CNN, and has already begun work on crafting news programs with hard-right slants, such as a 60 Minutes-like show that, reporter Tim Dickinson will write, “would feature a weekly attack-and-destroy piece targeting a liberal politician or social program.” Dan Cooper, the managing editor of the pre-launch Fox News, later says, “The idea of a masquerade was already around prior to Roger arriving.” Eric Burns, who will work for ten years as a Fox News media critic before leaving the network, will say in 2011: “There’s your answer right there to whether Fox News is a conventional news network or whether it has an agenda. That’s its original sin.” To get Fox News onto millions of cable boxes at once, Murdoch paid hundreds of millions of dollars to cable providers to air his new network. Murdoch biographer Neil Chenoweth will later write: “Murdoch’s offer shocked the industry. He was prepared to shell out half a billion dollars just to buy a news voice.” Dickinson will write, “Even before it took to the air, Fox News was guaranteed access to a mass audience, bought and paid for.” Ailes praised Murdoch’s “nerve,” saying, “This is capitalism and one of the things that made this country great.” (Sherman 5/22/2011; Dickinson 5/25/2011)
Using Conservative Talk Radio as Template - In 2003, NBC’s Bob Wright will note that Fox News uses conservative talk radio as a template, saying: “[W]hat Fox did was say, ‘Gee, this is a way for us to distinguish ourselves. We’re going to grab this pent-up anger—shouting—that we’re seeing on talk radio and put it onto television.’” CBS News anchor Dan Rather will be more critical, saying that Fox is a reflection of Murdoch’s own conservative political views. “Mr. Murdoch has a business, a huge worldwide conglomerate business,” Rather says. “He finds it to his benefit to have media outlets, press outlets, that serve his business interests. There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s a free country. It’s not an indictable offense. But by any clear analysis the bias is towards his own personal, political, partisan agenda… primarily because it fits his commercial interests.” (Auletta 5/26/2003)
Putting Ideology Over Journalistic Ethics, Practices - Ailes, determined not to let journalists with ethical qualms disrupt Fox News as they had his previous attempt at creating a conservative news network (see 1971-1975), brought a hand-picked selection of reporters and staffers with demonstrable conservative ideologies from NBC, including business anchor Neil Cavuto and Steve Doocy, who hosts the morning talk show “Fox and Friends.” Both Cavuto and Doocy are Ailes loyalists who, Dickinson will say, owe their careers to Ailes. Ailes then tapped Brit Hume, a veteran ABC correspondent and outspoken conservative, to host the main evening news show, and former Bush speechwriter Tony Snow as a commentator and host. John Moody, a forcefully conservative ABC News veteran, heads the newsroom. Ailes then went on a purge of Fox News staffers. Joe Peyronnin, who headed the network before Ailes displaced him, later recalls: “There was a litmus test. He was going to figure out who was liberal or conservative when he came in, and try to get rid of the liberals.” Ailes confronted reporters with suspected “liberal bias” with “gotcha” questions such as “Why are you a liberal?” Staffers with mainstream media experience were forced to defend their employment at such venues as CBS News, which he calls the “Communist Broadcast System.” He fired scores of staffers for perceived liberal leanings and replaced them with fiery young ideologues whose inexperience helps Ailes shape the network to his vision. Before the network aired its first production, Ailes had a seminal meeting with Moody. “One of the problems we have to work on here together when we start this network is that most journalists are liberals,” he told Moody. “And we’ve got to fight that.” Reporters and staffers knew from the outset that Fox, despite its insistence on being “fair and balanced” (see 1995), was going to present news with a conservative slant, and if that did not suit them, they would not be at Fox long. A former Fox News anchor later says: “All outward appearances were that it was just like any other newsroom. But you knew that the way to get ahead was to show your color—and that your color was red.” The anchor refers to “red” as associated with “red state,” commonly used on news broadcasts to define states with Republican majorities. Ailes will always insist that while his network’s talk-show hosts, such as O’Reilly, Hannity, and others, are frankly conservative, Fox’s hard-news shows maintain what he calls a “bright, clear line” that separates conservative cant from reported fact. In practice, this is not the case. Before Fox aired its first broadcast, Ailes tasked Moody to keep the newsroom in line. Early each morning, Ailes has a meeting with Moody, often with Hume on speakerphone from the Washington office, where the day’s agenda is crafted. Moody then sends a memo to the staff telling them how to slant the day’s news coverage according to the agenda of those on “the Second Floor,” as Ailes and his vice presidents are known. A former Fox anchor will later say: “There’s a chain of command, and it’s followed. Roger talks to his people, and his people pass the message on down.” After the 2004 presidential election, Bush press secretary Scott McClellan will admit, “We at the White House were getting them talking points.”
Targeting a Niche Demographic - Fox New’s primary viewership defies most demographic wisdom. According to information taken in 2011, it averages 65 years of age (the common “target demographic” for age is the 18-24 bracket), and only 1.38% of its viewers are African-American. Perhaps the most telling statistics are for the Hannity show: 86% describe themselves as pro-business, 84% believe government “does too much,” 78% are “Christian conservatives,” 78% do not support gay rights, 75% are “tea party backers,” 73% support the National Rifle Association, 66% lack college degrees, and 65% are over age 50. A former NewsCorp colleague will say: “He’s got a niche audience and he’s programmed to it beautifully. He feeds them exactly what they want to hear.” Other polls from the same time period consistently show that Fox News viewers are the most misinformed of all news consumers, and one study shows that Fox News viewers become more misinformed the more they watch the network’s programming.
Ailes's Security Concerns Affect Operations, Broadcasting - Ailes is uncomfortable in his office, a second-floor corner suite in the Fox News building at 1211 Avenue of the Americas in Manhattan. His office is too close to the street for his tastes; he believes that gay activists intend to try to harm him, either by attacks from outside the building or through assaults carried out from inside. He also believes that he is a top target for al-Qaeda assassins. Ailes barricades himself behind an enormous mahogany desk, insists on having “bombproof” glass installed in the windows, surrounds himself with heavily-armed bodyguards, and carries a firearm (he has a concealed-carry permit). A monitor on his desk shows him what is transpiring outside his office door; once, when he sees a dark-skinned man wearing what he thought was Muslim garb on the monitor, he will order an immediate lockdown of the entire building, shouting, “This man could be bombing me!” The man will turn out to be a janitor. A source close to Ailes will say, “He has a personal paranoia about people who are Muslim—which is consistent with the ideology of his network.” A large security detail escorts him daily to and from his Garrison, New Jersey home to his Manhattan offices; in Garrison, his house is surrounded by empty homes Ailes has bought to enhance his personal security. According to sources close to Ailes, Fox News’s slant on gay rights and Islamist extremism is colored by Ailes’s fear and hatred of the groups.
'We Work for Fox' - Sean Wilentz, a Princeton historian and Reagan biographer, will say: “Fox News is totalized: It’s an entire network, devoted 24 hours a day to an entire politics, and it’s broadcast as ‘the news.’ That’s why Ailes is a genius. He’s combined opinion and journalism in a wholly new way—one that blurs the distinction between the two.” Dickinson will write: “Fox News stands as the culmination of everything Ailes tried to do for Nixon back in 1968. He has created a vast stage set, designed to resemble an actual news network, that is literally hard-wired into the homes of millions of America’s most conservative voters. GOP candidates then use that forum to communicate directly to their base, bypassing the professional journalists Ailes once denounced as ‘matadors’ who want to ‘tear down the social order’ with their ‘elitist, horse-dung, socialist thinking.’ Ironically, it is Ailes who has built the most formidable propaganda machine ever seen outside of the Communist bloc, pioneering a business model that effectively monetizes conservative politics through its relentless focus on the bottom line.” Former Bush speechwriter David Frum will observe: “Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us. Now we’re discovering that we work for Fox.” (Sherman 5/22/2011; Dickinson 5/25/2011)

In 2006, a bipartisan Senate report will conclude that al-Qaeda leader Mahfouz Walad Al-Walid (a.k.a. Abu Hafs the Mauritanian) travels to Iraq this year in an attempt to meet with Saddam Hussein. This is according to debriefings and documentation found after the 2003 Iraq war. But Hussein refuses to meet him and directs that he should leave Iraq because he could cause a problem for the country. Different documents suggest Al-Walid travels in March or June, or makes two trips. He will make a similar attempt to meet with Hussein in 2002, and will be similarly rebuffed (see 2002). The Senate report will conclude that, despite many alleged meetings, these two attempted meetings by Al-Walid and an actual meeting between bin Laden and an Iraqi agent in 1995 (see Early 1995) were the only attempted contacts between the Iraqi government and al-Qaeda before the Iraq war. (US Senate and Intelligence Committee 9/8/2006, pp. 73-75 pdf file)

A number of neoconservatives, led by retired General Wayne Downing (see 1990-1991) and retired CIA officer Duane “Dewey” Clarridge (see December 25, 1992), use the recently passed Iraqi Liberation Act (ILA—see October 31, 1998) to revive the failed “End Game” coup plans against Saddam Hussein (see November 1993 and March 1995). Both Downing and Clarridge are “military consultants” to Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress, who attempted to carry out the coup in 1995 with dismal results. Downing and Clarridge produce an updated version of the INC’s “End Game” scenario, calling it “The Downing Plan.” The Downing scenario varies very little from the original plan. Their plan stipulates that a “crack force” of 5,000 INC fighters, backed up by a detachment of US Special Forces soldiers, could bring down the Iraqi Army. Clarridge later tells reporters: “The idea from the beginning was to encourage defections of Iraqi units. You need to create a nucleus, something for people to defect to. If they could take Basra, it would be all over.” Former Defense Intelligence Agency official Patrick Lang will later write, “It is difficult to understand how a retired four-star Army general [Downing] could believe this to be true.” General Anthony Zinni, commander of CENTCOM, which has operational control of US combat forces in the Middle East, is provided with a copy of Chalabi’s military plan to overthrow Saddam Hussein. “It got me pretty angry,” he later recalls. He warns Congress that Chalabi’s plan is a “pie in the sky, a fairy tale,” and predicts that executing such a poorly envisioned assault would result in a “Bay of Goats.” Chalabi’s INC is nothing more than “some silk-suited, Rolex-wearing guys in London;” neither the INC nor any of the other 91 or so Iraqi opposition groups have anywhere near “the viability to overthrow Saddam.” He tells the New Yorker: “They were saying if you put a thousand troops on the ground Saddam’s regime will collapse, they won’t fight. I said, ‘I fly over them every day, and they shoot at us. We hit them, and they shoot at us again. No way a thousand forces would end it.’ The exile group was giving them inaccurate intelligence. Their scheme was ridiculous.” Zinni earns the enmity of the neoconservative developers of the plan for his stance. (Lang 6/2004; Mayer 6/7/2004)

Air Traffic Controllers on board the USS <i>Enterprise</i> guide strike aircraft on bombing runs into Iraq. Photo taken December 17, 1998.Air Traffic Controllers on board the USS Enterprise guide strike aircraft on bombing runs into Iraq. Photo taken December 17, 1998. [Source: US Navy]The US and Britain launch a joint series of over 250 air strikes against Iraqi military targets, in a campaign dubbed “Operation Desert Fox.” The air strikes are designed to, in the mission statement released by the US Navy, “degrade Saddam Hussein’s ability to make and to use weapons of mass destruction,” to “diminish Saddam Hussein’s ability to wage war against his neighbors,” and to “demonstrate to Saddam Hussein the consequences of violating international obligations.” The air strikes are carried out by US Navy and Marine Corps aircraft from the USS Enterprise, from US and British military bases in the region. The strikes feature, among other weaponry, over 400 Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from naval vessels and US Air Force B-52s. Defense officials say that many of the strikes focus on destroying or damaging targets in southern Iraq, including surface-to-air missile sites, airfields, and command-and-control sites, all with the aim of giving US pilots a “safer corridor” to reach targets in the north. (Stone 12/18/1998; Barletta and Jorgensen 5/1999; Roberts 2008, pp. 121; US Department of Defense 3/7/2008) Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz will later say that at least 62 Iraqis are killed in the strikes. No US or British casualties are reported. (BBC 2002)
Failure to Comply with UN Inspections - President Bill Clinton explains that the military operation was in response to Iraq’s refusal to comply with UN weapons inspections (see December 16, 1998). “The international community gave Saddam one last chance to resume cooperation with the weapons inspectors,” Clinton says. “Saddam’s deception has defeated their effectiveness. Instead of the inspectors disarming Saddam, the Iraqi dictator has disarmed the inspectors.… Saddam has failed to seize the chance. So we had to act and act now.” Clinton continues, “Saddam Hussein must not be allowed to threaten his neighbors or the world with nuclear arms, poison gas, or biological weapons.” He has used them before, Clinton adds, and “left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will use these terrible weapons again.” (Kozaryn 12/17/1998) US Secretary of Defense William Cohen says that the attacks “degraded Saddam Hussein’s ability to deliver chemical and biological weapons,” and defends the US’s right to act unilaterally against Iraq if it is in “our national interest.” British Prime Minister Tony Blair agrees with Clinton’s assessment. “He is a serial breaker of promises,” Blair says. (CNN 12/16/1998)
Real Aim to Destabilize Hussein? - In January 1999, reporter William Arkin, a defense specialist, will write that he believes the strikes were designed to do far more than punish Iraq for not complying with UN inspections. The extremely specific target listings—down to specific buildings—and the nature of the targets chosen will lead Arkin to believe that Desert Fox was designed to cripple Iraq’s ability to wage war. Only 13 of the 100 or so sites were identified as chemical or biological weapons production or research facilities, Arkin will write. Additionally, Arkin will comment that the US-British strikes were not just to “degrade” Iraq’s military capabilities, but to destabilize the Hussein regime. (Arkin 1/17/1999)
Accusations of Political Distraction - Many of Clinton’s political opponents, including Republican lawmakers and conservative commentators and radio hosts, accuse Clinton, both during and after the strikes, of attempting to use a military operation to distract the nation from his admission of a sexual liaison with intern Monica Lewinsky. (BBC 2002)
Destroys Remainder of Iraq's WMD Stockpiles - In 2004, US weapons inspector David Kay will say that Desert Fox and other 1998 air strikes destroyed the remaining stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons left over from the Gulf War (see January 23, 2004).

Yellowcake.Yellowcake. [Source: CBC]Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan takes a trip to West Africa. Ostensibly, he is going to oversee the construction of the Hendrina Khan Hotel in Timbuktu, Mali, which he bought the year before and is named after his wife, but it is believed that is just a cover for nuclear-related business. He spends several days in Khartoum, Sudan, where he is spotted touring the al-Shifa factory, bombed by the US the year before in response to al-Qaeda bombings in Africa (see August 20, 1998). In 2006, intelligence sources in India and Israel will claim that Khan actually partly owns the factory. Khan then travels to N’Djamena, the capital of Chad, Timbuktu in Mali, and Niamey, the capital of Niger. Niger has considerable uranium deposits and had been a major supplier of yellowcake uranium to Pakistan in the 1970s. Khan returns to Sudan, where he meets with the Sudanese president, and then returns to Pakistan. He is accompanied by his top nuclear aides and a number of Pakistani generals, and all expenses on the trip are paid for by the Pakistani government.
CIA Investigates Khan Trip - CIA undercover agent Valerie Plame Wilson learns about the trip, and the CIA is so concerned that it launches an investigation, especially to find out if Khan could be buying yellowcake from Niger. Plame Wilson’s husband Joseph Wilson, a former National Security Council official and US ambassador to the nearby country of Gabon who has close ties to important politicians in Niger, and who who has just set up a private consulting firm with a focus on advising clients who want to do business in Africa, is approached by officials from the CIA’s National Resources Division (NR) to visit Niger. The agency asks Wilson, who already has a business trip planned to West Africa, to find out what he can about Khan’s trip.
Illicit Uranium Sales Highly Unlikely - Wilson concludes that illicit uranium sales are very unlikely since the French government tightly controls Niger’s uranium mines and uranium sales. However, Khan’s trip does raise concern that he could be working with Osama bin Laden, because of his interest in the al-Shifa factory in Sudan, and because of intelligence that the hotel he owns in Timbuktu was paid for by bin Laden as part of a cooperative deal between them. The CIA writes and distributes a report on the trip. (In 2004, the Senate Intelligence Committee will erroneously conclude that the CIA did not distribute the Wilson-Niger report—see July 9, 2004.) Wilson will keep this trip secret, even refusing to mention it in his 2004 memoir The Politics of Truth, presumably because he signed a confidentiality agreement with the CIA. In 2002, he will return to Niger to investigate if Saddam Hussein could be buying uranium in Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). That will lead to the eventual outing of his wife Plame Wilson’s status as a CIA agent. (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 283-285, 516; Wilson 2007, pp. 358-360)

Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who has spent much of his political career representing the US in West Africa, visits Niger at the behest of the CIA to investigate what a Senate investigation (see July 9, 2004) will later call “uranium-related matters.” Wilson is chosen in part because his wife, covert CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson, suggested that since he was going to Niger on business in the near future, he “might be willing to use his contacts in the region” to obtain information. The CIA is interested in a meeting between Niger’s former prime minister, Ibrahim Mayaki, and a delegation from Iraq to discuss “expanding commercial relations” between the two nations. Wilson will later say that the subject of uranium never comes up in a meeting he has with Mayaki (see May 2, 2004). However, CIA analysts will interpret Wilson’s information to mean that Mayaki “interpreted ‘expanding commercial relations’ to mean that the [Iraqi] delegation wanted to discuss uranium yellowcake sales.” The CIA will believe that Wilson’s report bolsters its own suspicions that Iraq is attempting to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger. An intelligence officer will later report that Mayaki indicated that the Iraqis had expressed an interest in buying uranium from Niger. (FactCheck (.org) 7/26/2004; FactCheck (.org) 7/22/2005)

Italian information peddler Rocco Martino agrees to pay Laura Montini, an employee at the Niger embassy in Rome, the sum of £350 per month in exchange for any documents that might shed light on rumours that “rogue states” are trying to acquire uranium from Niger (see Between 1999 and 2000). Martino wants to sell the documents to the French who are investigating the rumours. France is concerned about the security of a French consortium that controls Niger’s only two uranium mines. Martino has reportedly been on French intelligence’s payroll since 1999 (see June or July 1999). Martino learned of Montini through his friend Antonio Nucera, deputy chief of the SISMI center in Viale Pasteur in Rome (see Early 2000). Up until this point, Montini, age 60, has been working as an informant for Italian intelligence. She goes by the name “La Signora.” (Rufford 8/1/2004; Huband 8/2/2004; Bonini and d'Avanzo 10/24/2005; Marshall 11/10/2005; Smith 4/9/2006; Unger 7/2006, pp. 150) One of the first documents she gives to Martino is one relating to Wissam al-Zahawie’s 1999 visit to Niger (see February 1999). Martino reportedly passes the document on to the French. (Smith 4/9/2006) Over the next several months, La Signora reportedly provides Martino with numerous documents—a “codebook,” a dossier including a mixture of fake and genuine documents, and then finally, a purported agreement between Niger and Iraq on the sale of 500 tons of uranium oxide, also known as “yellowcake.” (Marshall 11/10/2005)

After the 2000 Presidential Election, Bush’s White House political adviser, Karl Rove, tells neoconservative Michael Ledeen “Anytime you have a good idea, tell me.” From that point on, according to Ledeen, every month or six weeks, Ledeen offers Rove “something you should be thinking about.” On more than one occasion, ideas faxed to Rove by Ledeen, “become official policy or rhetoric,” the Post reports. (Edsall and Milbank 3/10/2003)

A set of documents is forged implicating Iraq in an attempt to purchase 500 tons of uranium oxide, also known as “yellowcake,” from Niger. (Agence France-Presse 7/19/2003; Reuters 7/19/2003; Hersh 10/27/2003; Talking Points Memo 10/31/2003; Bonini and d'Avanzo 10/24/2005) It is possible that official stamps and letterhead stolen from the Niger embassy in Rome (see January 2, 2001) are used to fabricate the documents, though a subsequent police investigation suggests that the break-in may have been staged to provide a cover story for the origins of the documents. (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 88) Material gleaned from real Italian intelligence (SISMI) documents dating back to the 1980s concerning Iraq’s yellowcake purchases from Niger during that period are also incorporated into the set of forged documents. (Bonini and d'Avanzo 10/24/2005; Collier 10/30/2005) But it is unclear who exactly is responsible for the forgeries. In August 2004, the Financial Times will report that according to Rocco Martino, the Italian information peddler who later tries to sell the documents, the documents are fabricated by SISMI, which passes them on to Martino through embassy employee Laura Montini, a paid SISMI asset. (Huband 8/2/2004) In October 2005, the Italian newspaper La Repubblica will suggest the forgery is done by Montini and fellow embassy employee Zakaria Yaou Maiga under the guidance of Martino and Antonio Nucera, the deputy chief of the SISMI center in Viale Pasteur in Rome. (Bonini and d'Avanzo 10/24/2005) In 2006, an official investigation will add support to this account, concluding that Montini and Maiga, motivated by money, were indeed the forgers of the documents. (Smith 4/9/2006) SISMI director Nicolo Pollari will later acknowledge that Martino had worked as a SISMI agent in the past, but deny any SISMI involvement in the Iraq-Niger affair. “[Nucera] offered [Martino] the use of an intelligence asset [Montini]—no big deal, you understand—one who was still on the books but inactive—to give a hand to Martino,” Pollari will explain. Author Craig Unger will observe that the issue is, if Pollari is to be believed, just one friend helping another friend by loaning him an intelligence asset to help disseminate forged documents. Martino has a different explanation: “SISMI wanted me to pass on the documents, but they didn’t want anyone to know they had been involved.” The information is quite contradictory. The Italian newspaper La Repubblica will call Martino “a failed carabiniere and dishonest spy,” and a “double-dealer” who “plays every side of the fence.” But Unger will later note that assets like him are valuable precisely because they lack credibility. “If there were a deep-cover unit of SISMI, it would make sense to hire someone like Rocco,” says former DIA analyst Patrick Lang. “His flakiness gives SISMI plausible deniability. That’s standard tradecraft for the agencies.” Until Martino stops talking to journalists in 2005, he will insist he believed the documents were authentic (see Summer 2004). “I sell information, I admit,” he will tell a London reporter. “But I only sell good information.” (Unger 2007, pp. 236)

The warehouse at Djerf al Nadaf.The warehouse at Djerf al Nadaf. [Source: CBS News]MI6, Britain’s secret intelligence service, cables the CIA informing the agency that it “is not convinced that Curveball is a wholly reliable source” and that “elements of [his] behavior strike us as typical of… fabricators,” according to a later investigation by the US Senate. The British also note that satellite images taken in 1997 when Curveball was presumably working at Djerf al Nadaf contradict his descriptions of the facility. (Drogin and Goetz 11/20/2005) However, the CIA ignores the British caveat, and after the Bush administration decides to invade Iraq, Curveball’s information is used to bolster the case for war (see February 5, 2003). As reporter Bob Drogin, author of the 2007 book Curveball: Spies, Lies and the Con Man Who Caused a War, will say, “[T]he CIA heard what it wanted to hear. It saw what it wanted to see. And it told the president what he wanted to hear. Time and again, intelligence officials discounted contradictory information, filled in gaps, and made up the dots to reach the conclusion they wanted. In part, they were caught up in the climate of fear after 9/11 and felt they couldn’t afford to underestimate a possible threat. In part, there was a clear understanding by late 2002 that we were going to war and it would make no difference, and probably would hurt your career, if you tried to get in the way. But mostly, I think incompetence and poor leadership allowed unconfirmed and unreliable information to move up the chain of command. Those few intelligence officers who tried to raise red flags, or issue warnings, either were ignored or treated like heretics.” (Holland 10/22/2007)

An official of the Embassy of Niger in Rome returns to the embassy to find that it has been burglarized some time over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. The embassy offices are located in a large apartment and office building near the Piazza Mazzinni. Little of value seems to be missing: a wristwatch, some perfume, bureaucratic documents, embassy stationery, and some official stamps bearing the seal of the Republic of Niger. The documents and materials stolen from the embassy will be used to create forged documents alleging a secret plan for Iraq to buy uranium from Niger (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, October 15, 2001, October 18, 2001, November 20, 2001, February 5, 2002, March 1, 2002, Late April or Early May 2002-June 2002, and Late June 2002). (Unger 7/2006, pp. 150; Unger 2007, pp. 189-190) It appears that the people involved in the break-in also searched through and took some of the embassy’s documents and files. (Isikoff and Thomas 7/28/2003; Bonini and d'Avanzo 10/24/2005) The first comprehensive report on the burglary will come from a 2005 series of reports in Italy’s La Repubblica news daily. The series is based on interviews with SISMI director Nicolo Pollari, former SISMI agent and document peddler Rocco Martino (see March 2000, Late June 2002, Afternoon October 7, 2002, and Summer 2004), and others. Martino will deny participating in the burglary himself, and will claim he only became involved after SISMI had its agent in the embassy, Laura Montini, deliver to him documents secured from the embassy. “I was told that a woman in the Niger embassy in Rome had a gift for me” (see Early 2000), he will later recall. “I met her and she gave me documents.” (Rufford 8/1/2004; Unger 2007, pp. 207) Italian police will later suspect that the break-in was staged to provide an explanation for how a collection of mostly forged documents (which play an important role in the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq) came into being. (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 88)

CIA map showing alleged Iraqi WMD sites.CIA map showing alleged Iraqi WMD sites. [Source: CIA] (click image to enlarge)CIA director George Tenet testifies to Congress that Iraq possesses no weapons of mass destruction and poses no threat to the United State. He says, “We do not have any direct evidence that Iraq has used the period since [Operation] Desert Fox to reconstitute its WMD programs, although given its past behavior, this type of activity must be regarded as likely.… We assess that since the suspension of [UN] inspections in December of 1998, Baghdad has had the capability to reinitiate both its [chemical and biological weapons] programs… without an inspection monitoring program, however, it is more difficult to determine if Iraq has done so.” He continues, “Moreover, the automated video monitoring systems installed by the UN at known and suspect WMD facilities in Iraq are still not operating. Having lost this on-the-ground access, it is more difficult for the UN or the US to accurately assess the current state of Iraq’s WMD programs.” Rumsfeld also discusses al-Qaeda, calling it "the most immediate and serious threat" to US interests (see February 7, 2001). (Leopold 6/27/2003)

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld says in an interview, "Iraq is probably not a nuclear threat at the present time." (Leopold 6/27/2003)

Photo of Iraqi aluminum tube, misidentified as a component for a nuclear reactor.Photo of Iraqi aluminum tube, misidentified as a component for a nuclear reactor. [Source: CIA]The CIA writes at least 15 reports (only seven of which have been identified; see, e.g., June 20, 2001, June 30, 2001, September 2004-September 2006, November 24, 2001, December 15, 2001, June 14, 2001, April 10, 2001) about Iraq’s interest in purchasing 7075-T6 aluminum tubes. Several of the assessments are distributed only to high-level policy makers, including President Bush, and are not sent to other intelligence agencies for peer review. According to a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence investigation, all the assessments rely on the same evidence and they all fail to note that the opinions of leading centrifuge experts at the Energy Department conflict with the CIA’s view. (US Congress 7/7/2004, pp. 59; Barstow, Broad, and Gerth 10/3/2004)

US officials in the Department of Energy (DOE) respond to an intelligence report released the previous day (see April 10, 2001) which contended that the aluminum tubes sought by Iraq (see July 2001) are destined for use as centrifuge rotors in a uranium enrichment program. The Energy Department argues that the tubes are too narrow, too heavy, and too long to be used in a gas centrifuge. Furthermore, “the tubes’ specifications suggest a centrifuge design quite different from any Iraq is known to have.” The officials also note that there is no evidence that Iraq is seeking to acquire other materials that would be needed to construct a centrifuge. And if the Iraqis intend to use the tubes for uranium enrichment, the officials ask, why are they making no effort to conceal their interest in acquiring the tubes? “[T]he manner in which the procurement is being handled (multiple procurement agents, quotes obtained from multiple suppliers in diverse locations, and price haggling) seems to better match our expectations for a conventional Iraqi military buy than a major purchase for a clandestine weapons-of-mass destruction program,” the report notes. (US Congress 7/7/2004; Barstow, Broad, and Gerth 10/3/2004) The DOE therefore concludes that “while the gas centrifuge application cannot be ruled out, we assess that the procurement activity more likely supports a different application, such as conventional ordnance production.” The agency considers it more plausible that the tubes are meant to serve as rocket casings. Notwithstanding, the DOE concedes that it has “not identified an Iraq-specific, military, or other noncentrifuge application that precisely matches the tube specifications.” (US Congress 7/7/2004) The DOE will identify a possible specific conventional military application for the tubes the following month (see May 9, 2001).

Following leads from the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) (see 2000), a team of CIA agents and Jordanian secret police confiscate a shipment of 3,000 7075-T6 aluminum tubes in Jordan. The tubes were purchased by a Jordanian front company, AT&C, on behalf of Iraq. (Gellman and Pincus 8/10/2003; Jackson 10/27/2003) It is later learned that Iraq’s supply of rocket body casing tubes is depleted at about this time (see January 9, 2003) and that “[t]housands of warheads, motors and fins [are]… crated at the assembly lines [in Iraq], awaiting the arrival of tubes.” (Gellman and Pincus 8/10/2003 Sources: Unnamed US intelligence, US administration, and/or UN inspectors)

A team of centrifuge physicists at the US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory and other similar institutions publish a detailed Technical Intelligence Note concerning the aluminum tubes that Iraq recently attempted to import from China (see July 2001). (Gellman and Pincus 8/10/2003; Jackson 10/27/2003; Barstow, Broad, and Gerth 10/3/2004) The team includes Dr. Jon A. Kreykes, head of Oak Ridge’s national security advanced technology group; Dr. Duane F. Starr, an expert on nuclear proliferation threats; and Dr. Edward Von Halle, a retired Oak Ridge nuclear expert. They are advised by Dr. Houston G. Wood III, a retired Oak Ridge physicist considered to be “among the most eminent living experts” on centrifuges, and Dr. Gernot Zippe, one of the German scientists who developed an early uranium centrifuge in the 1950s (see 1950s). The 8-page report, titled “Iraq’s Gas Centrifuge Program: Is Reconstitution Underway?” provides a detailed explanation of why the team believes the 7075-T6 aluminum tubes sought by Iraq were not intended for use in a gas centrifuge. (US Congress 7/7/2004; Barstow, Broad, and Gerth 10/3/2004)
bullet The tubes sought by Iraq are very different from tubes Iraq used previously in its centrifuge prototypes before the first Gulf War. The intercepted aluminum tubes are significantly longer and narrower. (Gellman and Pincus 8/10/2003; Barstow, Broad, and Gerth 10/3/2004)
bullet Aluminum has not been used in gas centrifuges since the 1950s (see After the 1950s). Furthermore, Iraq is known to have had the blueprints for a more efficient centrifuge, which used maraging steel and carbon fiber, not aluminum (see (Late 1980s)). (Gellman and Pincus 8/10/2003) Aluminum “provides performance roughly half that of” maraging steel and carbon fiber composites. Constructing rotors from 7075-T6 aluminum would require the Iraqis to make twice as many rotors, as well as twice as many other centrifuge components, such as end caps, bearings, and outer casings. (US Congress 7/7/2004) “Aluminum would represent a huge step backwards,” according to Wood. (Barstow, Broad, and Gerth 10/3/2004)
bullet There are no known centrifuge machines “deployed in a production environment” that use tubes with such a small diameter. (Barstow, Broad, and Gerth 10/3/2004) Using tubes of this diameter, would have created “various design and operational problems that veteran engineers of Iraq’s prior program should readily understand.” (US Congress 7/7/2004)
bullet The report says that the “various tolerances specified in contract documents… are looser than the expected precision call-outs for an aluminum rotor tube by factors of two to five.” (US Congress 7/7/2004)
bullet The tubes’ walls, measuring 3.3 millimeters, are three times too thick for “favorable use” in a “Zippe-type” centrifuge, which requires tubes with a thickness of no more than 1.1 millimeter. (Gellman and Pincus 8/10/2003; Barstow, Broad, and Gerth 10/3/2004)
bullet The tubes are anodized, which is “not consistent” with a uranium centrifuge because the anodized coating can react with uranium gas. (US Congress 7/7/2004; Barstow, Broad, and Gerth 10/3/2004) Houston G. Wood later tells the Washington Post in mid-2003 that “it would have been extremely difficult to make these tubes into centrifuges,” adding that such a theory stretched “the imagination to come up with a way.” (Gellman and Pincus 8/10/2003) The scientists conclude that using the tubes in centrifuges “is credible but unlikely, and a rocket production is the much more likely end use for these tubes.” (Barstow, Broad, and Gerth 10/3/2004) They also note that the Iraqis previously declared to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that since at least 1989, Iraq’s Nasser State Establishment had used large numbers of high strength aluminum tubes to manufacture 81-mm rockets. “The tubes were declared to be made of 7075-T6 aluminum with an 81 mm outer diameter, 74.4 mm inner diameter, and 900 mm length—the same specifications of the tubes Iraq was trying to acquire in 2001,” a later Senate Intelligence report will say summarizing the nuclear scientists’ report. The scientists also say that IAEA inspectors had seen these tubes stored in various locations at the Nasser site. (US Congress 7/7/2004)

Two sections from Rumsfeld’s notes, dictated to Stephen Cambone.Two sections from Rumsfeld’s notes, dictated to Stephen Cambone. [Source: Defense Department]Defense Secretary Rumsfeld aide Stephen Cambone is taking notes on behalf of Rumsfeld in the National Military Command Center. These notes will be leaked to the media nearly a year later. According to the notes, although Rumsfeld has already been given information indicating the 9/11 attacks were done by al-Qaeda (see 12:05 p.m. September 11, 2001) and he has been given no evidence so far indicating any Iraqi involvement, he is more interested in blaming the attacks on Iraq. According to his aide’s notes, Rumsfeld wants the “best info fast. Judge whether good enough hit S.H. [Saddam Hussein] at same time. Not only UBL [Osama bin Laden].… Need to move swiftly.… Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not.” (CBS News 9/4/2002; Bamford 2004, pp. 285) In a 2004 book, author James Moore will write, “Unless Rumsfeld had an inspired moment while the rest of the nation was in shock, the notes are irrefutable proof that the Bush administration had designs on Iraq and Hussein well before the president raised his hand to take the oath of office.” (Moore 3/15/2004, pp. 18)

David Wurmser (left) and Michael Maloof (right).David Wurmser (left) and Michael Maloof (right). [Source: ThinkProgress.org (left) and PBS (right)]Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith set up a secret intelligence unit, named the Counter Terrorism Evaluation Group (CTEG—sometimes called the Policy Counterterrorism Evaluation Group), to sift through raw intelligence reports and look for evidence of a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda. (Risen 2006, pp. 183-184; Mitchell 5/2006 pdf file)
Modeled after "Team B" - The four to five -person unit, a “B Team” commissioned by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and modeled after the “Team B” analysis exercise of 1976 (see November 1976), is designed to study the policy implications of connections between terrorist organizations. CTEG uses powerful computers and software to scan and sort already-analyzed documents and reports from the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and other agencies in an effort to consider possible interpretations and angles of analysis that these agencies may have missed due to deeply ingrained biases. Middle East specialist Harold Rhode recruits David Wurmser to head the project. Wurmser, the director of Middle East studies for the American Enterprise Institute, is a known advocate of regime change in Iraq, having expressed his views in a 1997 op-ed piece published in the Wall Street Journal (see November 12, 1997) and having participated in the drafting of the 1996 policy paper for Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm (see July 8, 1996). F. Michael Maloof, a former aide to Richard Perle, is also invited to take part in the effort, which becomes known internally as the “Wurmser-Maloof” project. Neither Wurmser nor Maloof are intelligence professionals (Scarborough 1/14/2002; Schmitt and Shanker 10/24/2002; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004; Arkin 2/8/2004; Reuters 2/19/2004; Mitchell 5/2006 pdf file) , but both are close friends of Feith’s.
Countering the CIA - Since the days of Team B, neoconservatives have insisted the CIA has done nothing but underestimate and downplay the threats facing the US. “They have a record over 30 years of being wrong,” says Defense Policy Board member Richard Perle, who adds that the CIA refuses to even allow for the possibility of a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda—one of the topics that most interests Wurmser and Maloof. (Unger 2007, pp. 226-227)
Finding Facts to Fit Premises - Maloof and Wurmser set up shop in a small room on the third floor of the Pentagon, where they set about developing a “matrix” that charts connections between terrorist organizations and their support infrastructures, including support systems within nations themselves. Both men have security clearances, so they are able to draw data from both raw and finished intelligence products available through the Pentagon’s classified computer system. More highly classified intelligence is secured by Maloof from his previous office. He will later recall, “We scoured what we could get up to the secret level, but we kept getting blocked when we tried to get more sensitive materials. I would go back to my office, do a pull and bring it in.… We discovered tons of raw intelligence. We were stunned that we couldn’t find any mention of it in the CIA’s finished reports.” Each week, Wurmser and Maloof report their findings to Stephen Cambone, a fellow member of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC—see January 26, 1998) neoconservative and Feith’s chief aide. George Packer will later describe their process, writing, “Wurmser and Maloof were working deductively, not inductively: The premise was true; facts would be found to confirm it.” CTEG’s activities cause tension within the intelligence community. Critics claim that its members manipulate and distort intelligence, “cherry-picking” bits of information that support their preconceived conclusions. Although the State Department’s own intelligence outfit, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), is supposed to have access to all intelligence materials circulating through the government, INR chief Greg Thielmann later says, “I didn’t know about its [CTEG’s] existence. They were cherry-picking intelligence and packaging it for [Vice President] Cheney and [Defense Secretary] Donald Rumsfeld to take to the president. That’s the kind of rogue operation that peer review is intended to prevent.” A defense official later adds, “There is a complete breakdown in the relationship between the Defense Department and the intelligence community, to include its own Defense Intelligence Agency. Wolfowitz and company disbelieve any analysis that doesn’t support their own preconceived conclusions. The CIA is enemy territory, as far are they’re concerned.” Wurmser and Maloof’s “matrix” leads them to conclude that Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and other groups with conflicting ideologies and objectives are allowing these differences to fall to the wayside as they discover their shared hatred of the US. The group’s research also leads them to believe that al-Qaeda has a presence in such places as Latin American. For weeks, the unit will attempt to uncover evidence tying Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 attacks, a theory advocated by both Feith and Wolfowitz. (Scarborough 1/14/2002; Schmitt and Shanker 10/24/2002; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004; Arkin 2/8/2004; Mitchell 5/2006 pdf file; Unger 2007, pp. 226-227)
Denial - Defending the project, Paul Wolfowitz will tell the New York Times that the team’s purpose is to circumvent the problem “in intelligence work, that people who are pursuing a certain hypothesis will see certain facts that others won’t, and not see other facts that others will.” He insists that the special Pentagon unit is “not making independent intelligence assessments.” (Schmitt and Shanker 10/24/2002) The rest of the US intelligence community is not impressed with CTEG’s work. “I don’t have any problem with [the Pentagon] bringing in a couple of people to take another look at the intelligence and challenge the assessment,” former DIA analyst Patrick Lang will later say. “But the problem is that they brought in people who were not intelligence professionals, people were brought in because they thought like them. They knew what answers they were going to get.” (Unger 2007, pp. 226-227)
Dismissing CIA's Findings that Iraq, al-Qaeda are Not Linked - One example is an early CTEG critique of a CIA report, Iraq and al-Qaeda: Interpreting a Murky Relationship. CTEG notes that the CIA included data indicating links between Iraq and al-Qaeda, and then blast the agency for “attempt[ing] to discredit, dismiss, or downgrade much of this reporting, resulting in inconsistent conclusions in many instances.” In CTEG’s view, policy makers should overlook any equivocations and discrepancies and dismiss the CIA’s guarded conclusions: “[T]he CIA report ought to be read for content only—and CIA’s interpretation ought to be ignored.” Their decision is powered by Wolfowitz, who has instructed them to ignore the intelligence community’s view that al-Qaeda and Iraq were doubtful allies. They also embrace the theory that 9/11 hijacker Mohammad Atta met with an Iraqi official in Prague, a theory discredited by intelligence professionals (see December 2001 and Late July 2002). Author Gordon R. Mitchell refers to the original Team B in calling the critique “1976 redux, with the same players deploying competitive intelligence analysis to sweep away policy obstacles presented by inconvenient CIA threat assessments.” In 1976, the Team B members were outsiders; now they are, Mitchell will write, “firmly entrenched in the corridors of power. Control over the levers of White House bureaucracy enabled Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz to embed a Team B entity within the administration itself. The stage was set for a new kind of Team B intelligence exercise—a stealth coup staged by one arm of the government against the other.” (Mitchell 5/2006 pdf file; Agence France-Presse 2/9/2007)
Stovepiping Information Directly to White House - The group is later accused of stovepiping intelligence directly to the White House. Lang later tells the Washington Times: “That unit had meetings with senior White House officials without the CIA or the Senate being aware of them. That is not legal. There has to be oversight.” According to Lang and another US intelligence official, the two men go to the White House several times to brief officials, bypassing CIA analysts whose analyses they disagreed with. They allegedly brief White House staffers Stephen Hadley, the deputy national security adviser, and Lewis “Scooter” Libby, chief of staff for Vice President Richard Cheney, according to congressional staffers. (Sale 7/29/2004) In October 2004, Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) will conclude, “[T]he differences between the judgments of the IC [intelligence community] and the DOD [Department of Defense] policy office [CTEG] might have been addressed by a discussion between the IC and DOD of underlying assumptions and the credibility and reliability of sources of raw intelligence reports. However, the IC never had the opportunity to defend its analysis, nor point out problems with DOD’s ‘alternative’ view of the Iraq-al-Qaeda relationship when it was presented to the policymakers at the White House.” Levin will add, “Unbeknownst to the IC, policymakers were getting information that was inconsistent with, and thus undermined, the professional judgments of the IC experts. The changes included information that was dubious, misrepresented, or of unknown import.” (Mitchell 5/2006 pdf file)
Passing Intelligence to INC - According to unnamed Pentagon and US intelligence officials, the group is also accused of providing sensitive CIA and Pentagon intercepts to the US-funded Iraqi National Congress, which then pass them on to the government of Iran. (Sale 7/29/2004) “I knew Chalabi from years earlier,” Maloof later recalls, “so I basically asked for help in giving us direction as to where to look for information in our own system in order to be able to get a clear picture of what we were doing. [Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress] were quite helpful.” (Unger 2007, pp. 226-227)
CTEG Evolves into OSP - By August 2002, CTEG will be absorbed into a much more expansive “alternative intelligence” group, the Office of Special Plans (OSP—see September 2002). Wurmser will later be relocated to the State Department where he will be the senior adviser to Undersecretary Of State for Arms Control John Bolton.(see September 2002). (Kwiatkowski 12/1/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004; Mitchell 5/2006 pdf file)
Public Finally Learns of CTEG's Existence - Over a year after its formation, Rumsfeld will announce its existence, but only after the media reveals the existence of the OSP (see October 24, 2002).

On September 12, 2001, President Bush spoke to counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke and told him to look into possible Iraqi links to the 9/11 attacks (see September 12, 2001). Clarke works with CIA and FBI experts to make a report on the issue. (Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 238) On September 18, Clarke sends a memo to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice entitled, “Survey of Intelligence Information on Any Iraq Involvement in the September 11 Attacks.” It passes along a few foreign intelligence reports, including a report just coming out of the Czech Republic alleging that hijacker Mohamed Atta met an Iraqi agent in Prague in April 2001. But it concludes there is no compelling case that Iraq had planned the 9/11 attacks. It further points out that allegations of any ties between al-Qaeda and the Iraqi government are weak, especially since bin Laden resents the secular nature of Saddam Hussein’s government. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 335, 559) Clarke will later claim that the first draft of his memo was returned by National Security Adviser Rice or her deputy Stephen Hadley because it did not find any link between Iraq and al-Qaeda. He says, “It got bounced and sent back, saying ‘Wrong answer…. Do it again.’” Rice and Hadley will later deny that they asked to have the memo redone for this reason. Clarke does not know if Bush ever sees his report. “I don’t think he sees memos that he doesn’t-wouldn’t like the answer.” (Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 238; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 559)

In a briefing with CIA Director George Tenet, President Bush tells Tenet, “I want to know about links between Saddam [Hussein] and al-Qaeda. The Vice President knows some things that might be helpful.” He then turns to Cheney, who is participating in the meeting through a secure video link. Unusual for a vice president, Cheney’s office has nearly a dozen national security staffers. Cheney tells Tenet that one of them has picked up a report that hijacker Mohamed Atta met with an Iraqi agent in Prague. This had already been reported in the press the day before (see September 18, 2001), but apparently Cheney has information about it that the CIA does not. Tenet promises to get to the bottom of it right away. (Suskind 2006, pp. 22-23) Two days later, Tenet will tell Bush that the report “just doesn’t add up” (see September 21, 2001).

Neoconservative author, ad hoc White House foreign policy adviser, and one-time intelligence asset Michael Ledeen, one of the loudest voices for US military expansionism throughout the Middle East (see February 19, 1998 and October 29, 2001), writes that the US must use Iraq as the first battle of a much larger war.
Must Expand Mission to Destroy Governments, Not Merely Terror Organizations - In his book The War Against the Terror Masters: Why It Happened. Where We Are Now. How We’ll Win, Ledeen writes that the US must destroy the governments of the nations that he claims sponsor Islamist terrorism. “First and foremost, we must bring down the terror regimes, beginning with the Big Three: Iran, Iraq, and Syria,” Ledeen writes. “And then we have to come to grips with Saudi Arabia.… Once the tyrants in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Saudi Arabia have been brought down, we will remain engaged.… We have to ensure the fulfillment of the democratic revolution.… Stability is an unworthy American mission, and a misleading concept to boot. We do not want stability in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and even Saudi Arabia; we want things to change. The real issue is not whether, but how to destabilize.”
US a Force for 'Creative Destruction' - The US’s current mission of battling Islamist terror is “unworthy” of such a militarily powerful nation, Ledeen asserts, and defines its true “historic mission:” “Creative destruction is our middle name, both within our society and abroad. We tear down the old order every day, from business to science, literature, art, architecture, and cinema to politics and the law. Our enemies have always hated this whirlwind of energy and creativity which menaces their traditions (whatever they may be) and shames them for their inability to keep pace.… [W]e must destroy them to advance our historic mission.” The US must be “imperious, ruthless, and relentless,” he continues, until there has been “total surrender” by the Muslim world. “We must keep our fangs bared, we must remind them daily that we Americans are in a rage, and we will not rest until we have avenged our deed, we will not be sated until we have had the blood of every miserable little tyrant in the Middle East, until every leader of every cell of the terror network is dead or locked securely away, and every last drooling anti-Semitic and anti-American mullah, imam, sheikh, and ayatollah is either singing the praises of the United States of America, or pumping gasoline for a dime a gallon on an American military base near the Arctic Circle.”
Buchanan: Ledeen's Statement Not Truly Conservative - Conservative author and commentator Pat Buchanan will write in 2003, “Passages like this owe more to Leon Trotsky than to Robert Taft and betray a Jacobin streak in neoconservatism that cannot be reconciled with any concept of true conservatism.” (Buchanan 3/24/2003; Unger 2007, pp. 231-232)

During President Bush’s presidential daily briefing (PDB), Bush is informed that the US intelligence community has found no evidence linking Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq to the 9/11 attacks, nor any evidence of links between Hussein and al-Qaeda. The briefing has been prepared at the request of Bush, who is said to be eager to learn of any possible connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Yet during the briefing, he is told that the few believable reports of contact between the two were in fact attempts by Hussein to monitor the group, which he considered a threat to his secular regime. Analysts believe that at one point Hussein considered infiltrating al-Qaeda with Iraqi nationals or Iraqi intelligence operatives, so as to learn more about its inner workings. A former US administration official later will state, “What the president was told on September 21 was consistent with everything he has been told since—that the evidence [linking Iraq to 9/11] was just not there.” The existence of the September 21 PDB will not be disclosed to the Senate Intelligence Committee until the summer of 2004, while the committee will be investigating whether the Bush administration misrepresented intelligence information in the period leading up to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. As of the end of 2005, the Bush administration will still refuse to turn over the briefing, even on a classified basis, and will say nothing more about it other than the fact that it exists. (Waas 11/22/2005; MSNBC 11/22/2005; Agence France-Presse 11/23/2005; Unger 2007, pp. 217) According to journalist Ron Suskind, during the meeting, CIA Director George Tenet tells Bush about the alleged meeting hijacker Mohamed Atta had with an Iraqi agent in Prague, which has been reported in the media in recent days (see September 18, 2001). However, Tenet says: “Our Prague office is skeptical about the report. It just doesn’t add up.” He points out that credit card and phone records place Atta in Virginia during the time in question. (Suskind 2006, pp. 23)

James Bamford.James Bamford. [Source: PBS]According to author James Bamford, SISMI passes on details of the alleged Iraq-Niger uranium deal “to the Executive Committee of the Intelligence and Security Services (CESIS), which in turn pass[es] it on to the Faresine, the Italian Foreign Ministry, and to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi at his office in Rome’s Palazzo Chigi. Only the Farnesina raise[s] ‘strong objection’ and ‘reservations’ about the report—primarily from the African Countries Directorate. They [are] greatly concerned about the reliability of the information.” (Bamford 2004, pp. 303)

Italy’s military intelligence service (SISMI) provides Jeff Castelli, the CIA station chief in Rome, with papers documenting an alleged uranium deal between Iraq and Niger. Castelli, who is not permitted to duplicate the papers, writes a summary of them and sends the report to Langley. (Hersh 10/27/2003; Landay 11/4/2005; Bonini and D'Avanzo 11/11/2005)
The allegations - The report includes four allegations:
bullet The report states that Iraq first communicated its interest in purchasing uranium from Niger at least as early as 1999. (US Congress 7/7/2004) As blogger ERiposte will conclude through his analysis at TheLeftCoaster.Org (ERiposte 10/31/2005) , none of the documents that are later provided to the US as the basis for this allegation include actual proof of uranium negotiations in 1999. Two of the source documents for this allegation do mention a 1999 visit by Wissam Al-Zahawi to Niger; however, no evidence has ever surfaced suggesting that there were any discussions about uranium during that visit (see February 1999). The first document (possibly authentic) is a letter, dated February 1, 1999, from the Niger embassy in Rome to Adamou Chekou, the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Niger, announcing Zahawie’s trip. It does not mention uranium. (Note that the SISMI report does not mention Al-Zahawi’s trip, it only states that uranium negotiations between the two countries began by at least 1999.) The second document is a letter dated July 30, 1999 from the Niger Ministry of Foreign Affairs to his ambassador in Rome requesting that he contact Zahawie, concerning an agreement signed June 28, 2000 to sell uranium to Iraq. The letter is an obvious forgery because it refers to an event that it describes as taking place 11 months later. (Unknown n.d.; La Repubblica (Rome) 7/16/2003)
bullet The SISMI report states that in “late 2000,” the State Court of Niger approved an agreement with Iraq whereby Niger would sell Iraq a large quantity of uranium. This allegation appears to be based on a forged document titled “Annex 1,” which was possibly an annex to the alleged uranium agreement. It is evident that this document was forged because it says that the state court “met in the chamber of the council in the palace… on Wednesday, July 7, 2000.” But July 7, 2000 was, in fact, a Friday, not a Wednesday. One of SISMI’s reports to the US, possibly this one, actually reproduces this error. (Unknown n.d.; La Repubblica (Rome) 7/16/2003; ERiposte 10/31/2005)
bullet According to the report, Nigerien President Mamadou Tandja approved the agreement and communicated this decision to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The source for this is apparently a forged letter from the president of Niger to Saddam Hussein, in which the president refers to his authority under the country’s obsolete 1966 constitution. At the time the letter was presumed to have been written, the constitution in effect would have been that of December 26, 1992, which was subsequently revised by national referendum on May 12, 1996 and again by referendum on July 18, 1999. (Unknown n.d.; Charbonneau 3/26/2003; La Repubblica (Rome) 7/16/2003; US Department of State 9/2005)
bullet The report also alleges that in October 2000, Nigerien Minister of Foreign Affairs Nassirou Sabo informed one of his ambassadors in Europe that Niger had agreed to provide several tons of uranium to Iraq. (Unknown n.d.; La Repubblica (Rome) 7/16/2003) This is seemingly based on a forged letter that accompanied the alleged uranium sales agreement. The letter, dated October 10, 2000, is stamped as being received in Rome on September 28, 2000—nearly two weeks before the letter was presumably written. Furthermore, there is a problem with the signature. Unlike what is reported in the SISMI papers provided to the CIA, the actual letter is signed by Allele Elhadj Habibou, who left office in 1989. This indicates that someone must have corrected this information, replacing the name of Allele Elhadj Habibou with that of Nassirou Sabo (the minister in October 2000), before the letter was included in this report. (ERiposte 10/31/2005)
Distribution within US Intelligence Community - After receiving the report from its Rome station, the CIA distributes it to other US intelligence agencies. According to a later Senate investigation, the “CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and Department of Energy (DOE) analysts considered the reporting to be ‘possible’ while the Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) regarded the report as ‘highly suspect,’ primarily because INR analysts did not believe that Niger would be likely to engage in such a transaction and did not believe Niger would be able to transfer uranium to Iraq because a French consortium maintained control of the Nigerien uranium industry.” (US Congress 7/7/2004) Sources later interviewed by New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh portray US intelligence analysts’ assessment of the report in slightly harsher terms, saying that they “dismissed [it] as amateurish and unsubstantiated.” (Hersh 10/27/2003) “I can fully believe that SISMI would put out a piece of intelligence like that,” a CIA consultant later tells Hersh, “but why anybody would put credibility in it is beyond me.” (Hersh 5/17/2004, pp. 227) Langley asks for further clarification from Rome and receives a response three days later (see October 18, 2001). (Bonini and D'Avanzo 11/11/2005)
Repeated Dissemination - The documents and reports based on the documents are sent to the CIA at least three separate times. They are also sent to the White House, the US embassy in Rome, British and French intelligence, and Italian journalist Elisabetta Burba of the news magazine Panorama. Each recipient in turn shares the documents, or their contents, with others, creating what author Craig Unger later calls “an echo chamber that gives the illusion that several independent sources had corroborated an Iraq-Niger uranium deal.” (Unger 2007, pp. 237)

Nicolo Pollari, the newly appointed head of Italy’s intelligence agency SISMI, visits his counterparts at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has pressured Pollari to give the US any information he has that would be useful for the US case for war with Iraq. As such, Pollari gives the CIA a dossier concerning the supposed uranium deal between Iraq and Niger, not the first time the CIA has received these documents (see October 15, 2001 and October 18, 2001). The actual forged documents are not in Pollari’s dossier. Although CIA analysts will call the report “very limited and lacking necessary detail,” the fact that Pollari himself delivers the dossier adds credibility to the information; as a result, the State Department will direct the US embassy in Niger to look into the allegations. (Unger 2007, pp. 229)

Nicolo Pollari, chief of Italy’s military intelligence service (SISMI—see (After October 18, 2001) and September 9, 2002), responds to the CIA’s request for clarification on the alleged uranium deal between Iraq and Niger (see October 15, 2001). Pollari’s page and a half letter explains that “the information comes form a creditable source, La Signora [Laura Montini],” who has in the past “given SISMI the cryptographic codes and memorandum ledgers from the Niger Embassy.” (Bonini and D'Avanzo 11/11/2005) Some time around this same date, according to La Repubblica, Pollari discusses the issue with Italy’s Minister of Defense, Antonio Martino (no relation to Rocco Martino, the document peddler—see March 2000, Late June 2002, Afternoon October 7, 2002, and Summer 2004). Martino tells Pollari to expect a visit from “an old friend of Italy,” Martino’s longtime friend and colleague Michael Ledeen (see (After October 18, 2001) and April 3, 2005). Ledeen will later deny that any such meeting with Pollari ever happened. Pollari will deny any involvement with the Iraq-Niger affair. (Unger 2007, pp. 235-236)

Nicolo Pollari.Nicolo Pollari. [Source: Agence France-Presse]Nicolo Pollari, chief of Italian intelligence (SISMI), is reportedly disappointed with his attempts to communicate with US intelligence. (It is not clear from the reporting what exactly Pollari is dissappointed about. It has been interpreted to have meant that Pollari is disappointed about US intelligence’s refusal to take SISMI’s October 15 report seriously) Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi had reportedly asked Pollari to establish closer relations with Washington (see Shortly after September 11, 2001). According to La Repubblica, the prime minister’s diplomatic advisor, Gianni Castellaneta, advises Pollari to look in “other directions.” The Italian minister of defense, Antonio Martino, invites Pollari to meet with American neoconservative Michael Ledeen, which he does in December (see December 9, 2001). (Bonini and d'Avanzo 10/25/2005)

A London Times article by Daniel McGrory claims that not only did Mohamed Atta meet with an Iraqi agent in Prague, but that “a special FBI team” is studying “a report from Prague that anthrax spores were given to Atta” during the meeting. Furthermore, “Saddam’s agents were spotted at various times this year with Atta in Germany, Spain, Italy and the Czech Republic,” and that Atta met with the agent in Prague at least four times. Additionally, an Iraqi intelligence agent in Rome was seen with Atta in Prague and Hamburg and then disappeared shortly before the 9/11 attacks. The article also alleges numerous meetings between Iraqi agents and Osama bin Laden, as well as a meeting between al-Qaeda second-in command Ayman Zawahiri and Iraqi Vice-President Taha Yasin Ramadan. Furthermore, al-Qaeda operatives were supposedly given advanced weapons training in Iraq supervised by Saddam Hussein’s son Uday Hussein. The article mentions no sources at all for these stunning allegations, except to refer to some other recent articles in a couple of cases. However, the article does mention former CIA Director James Woolsey, and it seems probable that Woolsey is a force behind the article, since he is in London at the time attempting to find evidence supporting the Prague meeting and Iraqi involvement in the anthrax attacks (see Mid-September-October 2001). (McGrory 10/27/2001) This article represents the height of the propaganda effort attempting to link al-Qaeda and the Iraqi government together. Many of the allegations in the article are never mentioned in any other newspaper article, and all of them will eventually be debunked.

Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, posing as Jamal al-Ghurairy for Frontline.Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, posing as Jamal al-Ghurairy for Frontline. [Source: PBS]An Iraqi defector identifying himself as Jamal al-Ghurairy, a former lieutenant general in Saddam Hussein’s intelligence corps, the Mukhabarat, tells two US reporters that he has witnessed foreign Islamic militants training to hijack airplanes at an alleged Iraqi terrorist training camp at Salman Pak, near Baghdad. Al-Ghurairy also claims to know of a secret compound at Salman Pak where Iraqi scientists, led by a German, are producing biological weapons. Al-Ghurairy is lying both about his experiences and even his identity, though the reporters, New York Times war correspondent Chris Hedges and PBS’s Christopher Buchanan, do not know this. The meeting between al-Ghurairy and the reporters, which takes place on November 6, 2001, in a luxury suite in a Beirut hotel, was arranged by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC). Buchanan later recalls knowing little about al-Ghurairy, except that “[h]is life might be in danger. I didn’t know much else.” Hedges recalls the former general’s “fierce” appearance and “military bearing.… He looked the part.” Al-Ghurairy is accompanied by several other people, including the INC’s political liaison, Nabeel Musawi. “They were slick and well organized,” Buchanan recalls. Hedges confirms al-Ghurairy’s credibility with the US embassy in Turkey, where he is told that CIA and FBI agents had recently debriefed him. The interview is excerpted for an upcoming PBS Frontline episode, along with another interview with an INC-provided defector, former Iraqi sergeant Sabah Khodada, who echoes al-Ghurairy’s tale. While the excerpt of al-Ghurairy’s interview is relatively short, the interview itself takes over an hour. Al-Ghurairy does not allow his face to be shown on camera.
Times Reports Defectors' Tale - Two days later, on November 8, Hedges publishes a story about al-Ghurairy in the New York Times Times. The Frontline episode airs that same evening. (Hedges 11/8/2001; Fairweather 4/2006) Hedges does not identify al-Ghurairy by name, but reports that he, Khodada, and a third unnamed Iraqi sergeant claim to have “worked for several years at a secret Iraqi government camp that had trained Islamic terrorists in rotations of five or six months since 1995. They said the training at the camp, south of Baghdad, was aimed at carrying out attacks against neighboring countries and possibly Europe and the United States.” Whether the militants being trained are linked to al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden, the defectors cannot be sure, nor do they know of any specific attacks carried out by the militants. Hedges writes that the interviews were “set up by an Iraqi group that seeks the overthrow of… Hussein.” He quotes al-Ghurairy as saying, “There is a lot we do not know. We were forbidden to speak about our activities among each other, even off duty. But over the years, you see and hear things. These Islamic radicals were a scruffy lot. They needed a lot of training, especially physical training. But from speaking with them, it was clear they came from a variety of countries, including Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Algeria, Egypt, and Morocco. We were training these people to attack installations important to the United States. The Gulf War never ended for Saddam Hussein. He is at war with the United States. We were repeatedly told this.” He uses Khodada’s statements as support for al-Ghurairy’s, identifies Khodada by name, and says that Khodada “immigrated to Texas” in May 2001 “after working as an instructor for eight years at Salman Pak…” He quotes the sergeant as saying, “We could see them train around the fuselage. We could see them practice taking over the plane.” Al-Ghurairy adds that the militants were trained to take over a plane without using weapons. Hedges reports that Richard Sperzel, the former chief of the UN biological weapons inspection teams in Iraq, says that the Iraqis always claimed Salman Pak was an anti-terror training camp for Iraqi special forces. However, Sperzel says, “[M]any of us had our own private suspicions. We had nothing specific as evidence.” The US officials who debriefed al-Ghurairy, Hedges reports, do not believe that the Salman Pak training has any links to the 9/11 hijackings. Hedges asks about one of the militants, a clean-shaven Egyptian. “No, he was not Mohamed Atta.” Atta led the 9/11 hijackers. Hedges notes that stories such as this one will likely prompt “an intense debate in Washington over whether to extend the war against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban government of Afghanistan to include Iraq.” (Hedges 11/8/2001; McCollam 7/1/2004)
Heavy Press Coverage - The US media immediately reacts, with op-eds running in major newspapers throughout the country and cable-news pundits bringing the story to their audiences. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice says of the story, “I think it surprises no one that Saddam Hussein is engaged in all kinds of activities that are destabilizing.” The White House will use al-Ghurairy’s claims in its background paper, “Decade of Deception and Defiance,” prepared for President’s Bush September 12, 2002 speech to the UN General Assembly (see September 12, 2002). Though the tale lacks specifics, it helps bolster the White House’s attempts to link Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 hijackers, and helps promote Iraq as a legitimate target in the administration’s war on terror. (Five years later, the reporters involved in the story admit they were duped—see April 2006.)
Complete Fiction - The story, as it turns out, is, in the later words of Mother Jones reporter Jack Fairweather, “an elaborate scam.” Not only did US agents in Turkey dismiss the purported lieutenant general’s claims out of hand—a fact they did not pass on to Hedges—but the man who speaks with Hedges and Buchanan is not even Jamal al-Ghurairy. The man they interviewed is actually a former Iraqi sergeant living in Turkey under the pseudonym Abu Zainab. (His real name is later ascertained to be Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, and is a former Iraqi general and senior officer in the Mukhabarat.) The real al-Ghurairy has never left Iraq. In 2006, he will be interviewed by Fairweather, and will confirm that he was not the man interviewed in 2001 (see October 2005). (McCollam 7/1/2004; Fairweather 4/2006) Hedges and Buchanan were not the first reporters to be approached for the story. The INC’s Francis Brooke tried to interest Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff in interviewing Khodada to discuss Salman Pak. Isikoff will recall in 2004 that “he didn’t know what to make of the whole thing or have any way to evaluate the story so I didn’t write about it.” (McCollam 7/1/2004)
"The Perfect Hoax" - The interview was set up by Chalabi, the leader of the INC, and former CBS producer Lowell Bergman. Bergman had interviewed Khodada previously, but was unable to journey to Beirut, so he and Chalabi briefed Hedges in London before sending him to meet with the defector. Chalabi and Bergman have a long relationship; Chalabi has been a source for Bergman since 1991. The CIA withdrew funding from the group in 1996 (see January 1996) due to its poor intelligence and attempts at deception. For years, the INC combed the large Iraqi exile communities in Damascus and Amman for those who would trade information—real or fabricated—in return for the INC’s assistance in obtaining asylum to the West. Helping run that network was Mohammed al-Zubaidi, who after 9/11 began actively coaching defectors, according to an ex-INC official involved in the INC’s media operations (see December 17, 2001 and July 9, 2004). The ex-INC official, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, did everything from help defectors brush up and polish their stories, to concocting scripts that defectors with little or no knowledge could recite: “They learned the words, and then we handed them over to the American agencies and journalists.” After 9/11, the INC wanted to come up with a big story that would fix the public perception of Saddam Hussein’s involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Al-Zubaidi was given the task. He came up with al-Ghurairy. He chose Zainab for his knowledge of the Iraqi military, brought him to Beirut, paid him, and began prepping him. In the process, al-Zainab made himself known to American and Turkish intelligence officials as al-Ghurairy. “It was the perfect hoax,” al-Haideri will recall in 2006. “The man was a born liar and knew enough about the military to get by, whilst Saddam’s regime could hardly produce the real Ghurairy without revealing at least some of the truth of the story.” Al-Haideri will say that the reality of the Salman Pak story was much as the Iraqis claimed—Iraqi special forces were trained in hostage and hijack scenarios. Al-Zubaidi, who in 2004 will admit to his propaganda activities, calls Al-Zainab “an opportunist, cheap and manipulative. He has poetic interests and has a vivid imagination in making up stories.” (Fairweather 4/2006)
Stories Strain Credulity - Knight Ridder reporter Jonathan Landay later says of al-Qurairy, “As you track their stories, they become ever more fantastic, and they’re the same people who are telling these stories, until you get to the most fantastic tales of all, which appeared in Vanity Fair magazine.” Perhaps al-Qurairy’s most fabulous story is that of a training exercise to blow up a full-size mockup of a US destroyer in a lake in central Iraq. Landay adds, “Or, jumping into pits of fouled water and having to kill a dog with your bare teeth. I mean, and this was coming from people, who are appearing in all of these stories, and sometimes their rank would change.… And, you’re saying, ‘Wait a minute. There’s something wrong here, because in this story he was a major, but in this story the guy’s a colonel. And, in this story this was his function, but now he says in this story he was doing something else.’” Landay’s bureau chief, John Walcott, says of al-Qurairy, “What he did was reasonably clever but fairly obvious, which is he gave the same stuff to some reporters that, for one reason or another, he felt would simply report it. And then he gave the same stuff to people in the Vice President’s office [Dick Cheney] and in the Secretary of Defense’s office [Donald Rumsfeld]. And so, if the reporter called the Department of Defense or the Vice President’s office to check, they would’ve said, ‘Oh, I think that’s… you can go with that. We have that, too.’ So, you create the appearance, or Chalabi created the appearance, that there were two sources, and that the information had been independently confirmed, when, in fact, there was only one source. And it hadn’t been confirmed by anybody.” Landay adds, “[L]et’s not forget how close these people were to this administration, which raises the question, was there coordination? I can’t tell you that there was, but it sure looked like it.” (Moyers 4/25/2007)
No Evidence Found - On April 6, 2003, US forces will overrun the Salman Pak facility. They will find nothing to indicate that the base was ever used to train terrorists (see April 6, 2003).

The State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) says in a report, according to INR official Greg Thielmann, that “there is no persuasive evidence that the Iraqi nuclear program is being reconstituted.” (Hersh 10/27/2003 Sources: Greg Thielmann)

The US Embassy in Niamey, Niger’s capital, disseminates a cable summarizing a recent meeting between the US ambassador and the director general of Niger’s French-led mining consortium. The director general reportedly explained that “there was no possibility” that the government of Niger could have diverted any of the 3,000 tons of uranium produced by the consortium’s two mines. (US Congress 7/7/2004)

Greg Thielmann, director for strategic proliferation and military affairs at the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), reviews Iraq’s alleged WMD programs for Secretary of State Colin Powell. Thielmann’s review concludes that Italian reports of a possible uranium deal between Iraq and Niger (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, October 15, 2001, October 18, 2001, November 20, 2001, February 5, 2002, Late April or Early May 2002-June 2002, and Late June 2002) are completely false. Thielmann will later recall: “A whole lot of things told us that the report was bogus. This wasn’t highly contested. There weren’t strong advocates on the other side. It was done, shot down” (see March 1, 2002). (Unger 2007, pp. 229)

Michael Ledeen, an avid admirer of Machiavelli, argues in a piece published by National Review Online that the US must be “imperious, ruthless, and relentless” against the Muslim world until there has been “total surrender.” Any attempt on the part of the US to be “reasonable” or “evenhanded” will only empower Islamic militants, he asserts. He writes: “We will not be sated until we have had the blood of every miserable little tyrant in the Middle East, until every leader of every cell of the terror network is dead or locked securely away, and every last drooling anti-Semitic and anti-American mullah, imam, sheikh, and ayatollah is either singing the praises of the United States of America, or pumping gasoline, for a dime a gallon, on an American military base near the Arctic Circle.” (Ledeen 12/7/2001) The piece is republished in the Jewish World Review four days later. (Ledeen 12/11/2001)

Manucher Ghorbanifar.Manucher Ghorbanifar. [Source: Ted Thai / Getty Images]The Bush administration sends two defense officials, Harold Rhode and Larry Franklin, to meet with Iranians in Rome in response to an Iranian government offer to provide information relevant to the war on terrorism. The offer had been backchanneled by the Iranians to the White House through Manucher Ghorbanifar, an Iranian arms trader and a central person in the Iran-Contra affair, who contacted another Iran-Contra figure, Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute. Ledeen passed the information on to his friends in the Defense Department who then relayed the offer to Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. Hadley, who expressed no reservations about the proposed meeting, informed CIA Director George Tenet and Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage. According to officials interviewed by the New York Times, the United States Embassy in Rome was not notified of the planned meeting as required by standard interagency procedures. Neither the US embassy nor the CIA station chief in Rome learns of the three-day meeting until after it happens (see December 12, 2001). When they do catch wind of the meeting, they notify CIA and State Department headquarters in Washington which complain to the administration about how the meetings were arranged. (Royce and Phelps 8/9/2003; Graham and Slevin 8/9/2003; Risen 12/7/2003) In addition to Ghorbanifar, Ledeen, Franklin, and Rhode, the meeting is attended by Nicolo Pollari, head of SISMI, and Antonio Martino, Italy’s minister of defense. (Marshall, Rozen, and Glastris 9/2004)
Destabilizing the Iraqi Government - According to the Boston Globe, either at this meeting, a similar one in June (see June 2002), or both, Ledeen and Ghorbanifar discuss ways to destabilize the Iranian government, possibly using the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), a US-designated terrorist group, as a US proxy. (Bender 8/31/2004) The meetings are suspected of being an attempt by what investigative reporters Joshua Micah Marshall, Laura Rozen, and Paul Gastris will later call “a rogue faction at the Pentagon… trying to work outside normal US foreign policy channels to advance a ‘regime-change’ agenda.” The fact that MEK members attend the meetings adds weight to the claim. (Unger 2007, pp. 234-235)
Italian Intelligence on Iraq-Niger Allegations - Additionally, according to an unnamed SISMI source, Pollari speaks with Ledeen about intelligence his agency has collected (see October 15, 2001) suggesting that Iraq made a deal with Niger to purchase several tons of uranium. SISMI already sent a report to Washington on the matter in mid-October (see October 15, 2001). Reportedly, Pollari has also approached CIA Station Chief Jeff Castelli about the report, but Castelli has since indicated he is not interested in the information. (Bonini and d'Avanzo 10/25/2005)

Zaab Sethna of the Iraqi National Congress (INC) arranges for Iraqi defector Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri to be interviewed by Judith Miller of the New York Times. Miller, who has known Chalabi for about eight years (see May 1, 2003), immediately flies out to Bangkok for the interview. Her story is published on December 20, just three days after Haideri told his story to a CIA agent who subjected him to a polygraph and determined Haideri’s story was a complete fabrication (see December 17, 2001). Miller’s front-page article, titled “An Iraqi defector tells of work on at least 20 hidden weapons sites,” reports: “An Iraqi defector who described himself as a civil engineer, said he personally worked on renovations of secret facilities for biological, chemical and nuclear weapons in underground wells, private villas and under the Saddam Hussein Hospital in Baghdad as recently as a year ago.” If verified, Miller notes, “his allegations would provide ammunition to officials within the Bush administration who have been arguing that Mr. Hussein should be driven from power partly because of his unwillingness to stop making weapons of mass destruction, despite his pledges to do so.” Sethna also contacts freelance journalist Paul Moran. Moran is a former employee of the INC and has been employed for years by the Rendon Group, a firm specializing in “perception management” and which helped develop the INC (see May 1991). Moran’s on-camera interview with Haideri is broadcast worldwide by the Australian Broadcasting Corp. (Weapons 12/20/2001; Hoskings 7/23/2003; Massing 2/26/2004; Bamford 11/17/2005) Reporter Jonathan Landay will later say that he and others were skeptical from the outset: “There were some red flags that the New York Times story threw out immediately, which caught our eye, immediately. The first was the idea that a Kurd—the enemy of Saddam—had been allowed into his most top secret military facilities. I don’t think so. That was, for me, the biggest red flag. And there were others, like the idea that Saddam Hussein would put a biological weapons facility under his residence. I mean, would you put a biological weapons lab under your living room? I don’t think so.” Landay’s partner Warren Strobel will add, “The first rule of being an intelligence agent, or a journalist, and they’re really not that different, is you’re skeptical of defectors, because they have a reason to exaggerate. They want to increase their value to you. They probably want something from you. Doesn’t mean they’re lying, but you should be—journalists are supposed to be skeptical, right? And I’m afraid the New York Times reporter in that case and a lot of other reporters were just not skeptical of what these defectors were saying. Nor was the administration…” (Moyers 4/25/2007)

At the request of CIA Director George Tenet, the White House orders the FBI to hand Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a captured al-Qaeda operative being held in Afghanistan (see December 19, 2001), over to the CIA. One day before the transfer, a CIA officer enters al-Libi’s cell, interrupting an interrogation being conducted by FBI agent Russel Fincher, and tells al-Libi: “You’re going to Cairo, you know. Before you get there I’m going to find your mother and I’m going to f_ck her.” Soon after, al-Libi is flown to Egypt. (Hirsh, Barry, and Klaidman 6/21/2004; Priest 6/27/2004; Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 121) The CIA officer will later be identified as “Albert,” a former FBI translator. (Mayer 2008, pp. 106) Presumably, this is the same former FBI translator named “Albert” who will later threaten al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri with a gun and drill during interrogations (see Between December 28, 2002 and January 1, 2003 and Late December 2002 or Early January 2003). (Goldman 9/7/2010) Vincent Cannistraro, former head of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, will later say: “He’s carried off to Egypt, who torture him. And we know that he’s going to be tortured. Anyone who’s worked on Egypt, has worked on other countries in the Middle East, knows that. Egyptians torture him, and he provides a lot of information.” (Kirk 6/20/2006)
Provides Mix of Valid, False Information - It is unclear whether al-Libi is interrogated solely by Egyptian officials, or by a combination of Egyptian and CIA interrogators. Al-Libi is subjected to a series of increasingly harsh techniques, including at least one, waterboarding, that is considered torture (see Mid-March 2002). Reputedly, he is finally broken after being waterboarded and then forced to stand naked in a cold cell overnight where he is repeatedly doused with cold water by his captors. Al-Libi is said to provide his Egyptian interrogators with valuable intelligence about an alleged plot to blow up the US Embassy in Yemen with a truck bomb, and the location of Abu Zubaida, who will be captured in March 2002 (see Mid-May 2002 and After). However, in order to avoid harsh treatment he will also provide false information to the Egyptians, alleging that Iraq trained al-Qaeda members in bomb making and poisons and gases. Officials will later determine that al-Libi has no knowledge of such training or weapons, and fabricates the statements out of fear and a desire to avoid further torture. Sources will later confirm that al-Libi did not try to deliberately mislead his captors; rather, he told them what he thought they wanted to hear. (Ross and Esposito 11/18/2005; Jehl 12/9/2005)
Using Allegations in White House Statements - Both President Bush (see October 7, 2002) and Secretary of State Colin Powell (see February 5, 2003) will include these allegations in major speeches.
Shifting Responsibility for Interrogations to CIA from FBI - The FBI has thus far taken the lead in interrogations of terrorist suspects, because its agents are the ones with most experience. The CIA’s apparent success with al-Libi contributes to the shift of interrogations from the bureau to the CIA. (Priest 6/27/2004) Such methods as making death threats, advocated by the CIA, are opposed by the FBI, which is used to limiting its questioning techniques so the results from interrogations can be used in court. (Priest 6/27/2004) “We don’t believe in coercion,” a senior FBI official says. (Hersh 9/13/2004)

Two analysts in CIA’s WINPAC division review the Niger documents and notice some inconsistencies. But as they later explain to congressional investigators, they don’t see anything “jumping out at [them] that the documents [are] forgeries.” (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 164) By this time, at least three other US intelligence analysts, and one Italian journalist have reviewed the documents and raised questions about their authenticity (see Afternoon October 7, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, and Mid-October 2002).

The Defense Intelligence Agency issues a four-page Defense Intelligence Terrorism Summary (DITSUM No. 044-02) stating that it is probable that prisoner Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi intentionally misled debriefers when he claimed Iraq was supporting al-Qaeda in working with illicit weapons. During interviews with al-Libi, the DIA noted the Libyan al-Qaeda operative could not name any Iraqis involved, any chemical or biological material used, or where the alleged training took place. “It is possible he does not know any further details; it is more likely this individual is intentionally misleading the debriefers,” the report says. “Ibn al-Shaykh has been undergoing debriefs for several weeks and may be describing scenarios to the debriefers that he knows will retain their interest.” The DIA report is presumably circulated widely within the government, and is available to the CIA, the White House, the Pentagon, the National Security Council, and other agencies.
No Evidence of Connections between Iraq, al-Qaeda - On the general subject of Iraq’s alleged ties to al-Qaeda, the DIA report notes: “Saddam [Hussein]‘s regime is intensely secular and is wary of Islamic revolutionary movements. Moreover, Baghdad is unlikely to provide assistance to a group it cannot control.” The report also questions the reliability of information provided by high-value al-Qaeda detainees being held in secret CIA facilities or who have been “rendered” to foreign countries where they are believed to undergo harsh interrogation tactics.
Using al-Libi's Information to Bolster Case for War - Information supplied by al-Libi will be the basis for a claim included in an October 2002 speech (see October 7, 2002) by President Bush, in which he states, “[W]e’ve learned that Iraq has trained al-Qaeda members in bomb making and poisons and gases.” Intelligence provided by al-Libi will also be included in Colin Powell’s February speech (see February 5, 2003) to the UN. In that speech, Powell will cite “the story of a senior terrorist operative telling how Iraq provided training in these weapons to al-Qaeda.” (Jehl 11/6/2005; Pincus 11/6/2005; Gaouette 11/7/2005; Isikoff and Hosenball 11/10/2005)
Report Released as Proof of Administration's Reliance on Poor Intelligence Sources - Declassified portions of the DIA report will be issued on November 6, 2005 by two senators, Carl Levin (D-MI) and John D. Rockefeller (D-WV). Rockefeller will tell CNN that al-Libi is “an entirely unreliable individual upon whom the White House was placing a substantial intelligence trust.” The situation was, Rockefeller will say, “a classic example of a lack of accountability to the American people.” (Gaouette 11/7/2005)

The CIA Directorate of Operations issues a second intelligence report from SISMI, Italy’s military intelligence service, on Iraq’s alleged agreement with Niger to purchase 500 tons of uranium annually. This report provides details that were not included in Italy’s October 15 report (see October 15, 2001), including a “verbatim text” of the accord. (It is not clear what the source is for the “verbatim text”. (ERiposte 3/6/2006) ) According to the report, the purported agreement was signed by Iraqi and Niger officials during meetings held July 5-6, 2000. (US Congress 7/7/2004; Landay 11/4/2005) The SISMI report also draws attention to a 1999 trip to Niger made by Wissam al-Zahawie (see February 1999), Iraq’s former ambassador to the Vatican, and alleges that its mission was to discuss the future purchase of uranium. This is the first report from SISMI that names al-Zahawie and refers directly to his 1999 trip. (SISMI’s previous report had only stated that negotiations had begun by at least 1999.) This report, as well as the previous report, is based on the forged Niger documents. (Hersh 10/27/2003; US Congress 7/7/2004; ERiposte 11/3/2005) Analysts at the CIA and the DIA are more impressed with the detail and substance of this second report, but analysts at the Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) remain skeptical of the report’s allegations noting that it was unlikely that Niger would sell uranium to Iraq because the Nigeriens would have considered the risk of being caught too great. An INR analyst asks the CIA if the source of the report would submit to a polygraph. A CIA analyst who also asks about the source is told by the DO that the source is “very credible.” (US Congress 7/7/2004)

Unnamed US intelligence officials tell the New York Times that the CIA has no evidence that Saddam Hussein’s government has participated in any militant operations against the United States in nearly a decade. The agency also believes that Saddam Hussein has not provided chemical or biological weapons to al-Qaeda or other militant Islamic organizations. (Risen 2/6/2002 Sources: Unnamed US Intelligence Officials)

Former CIA Director James Woolsey telephones Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Linton Wells to arrange a meeting between Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) analysts and Mohammad Harith, an Iraqi defector being supplied by the Iraqi exile group, the Iraqi National Congress. (Landay and Strobel 7/16/2004 Sources: Classified Pentagon report) After the phone call, Wells issues an “executive referral,” requesting that the Iraqi National Congress (INC) introduce Harith to the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). (Landay and Strobel 7/16/2004) Later in the day, two DIA officers meet with Ahmed Chalabi to arrange an interview with Harith. In an email to Knight Ridder Newspapers, Wells will later recall, “I discussed the issue of an individual with information on Iraq[i] weapons of mass destruction with intelligence community members. They said they would follow up. I never met with any member of the INC.” (Landay and Strobel 7/16/2004)

The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) issues “a finished intelligence product” summarizing the February 5, 2002 SISMI report (see February 5, 2002). The report, entitled “Niamey Signed an Agreement to Sell 500 Tons of Uranium a Year to Baghdad,” states as irrefutable fact that Iraq intends to buy weapons-grade uranium from Niger (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, October 15, 2001, October 18, 2001, November 20, 2001, February 5, 2002, March 1, 2002, Late April or Early May 2002-June 2002, and Late June 2002). It concludes, “Iraq probably is searching abroad for natural uranium to assist in its nuclear weapons program.” It does not comment on the credibility of the sourcing. The report is sent directly to Vice President Dick Cheney. Within hours, Cheney directs the CIA (see February 5, 2002) to investigate the claims. According to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 2004 report on Iraqi WMD (see July 9, 2004), CIA and DIA analysts find the subsequent reports more informative and believable than the first, more sketchy reports (see February 5, 2002). The CIA’s Directorate of Operations tells one agency analyst that the report comes from a “very credible source.” Analysts with the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) continue to find the reports unconvincing. (US Congress 7/7/2004; Unger 2007, pp. 239) Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern will later describe Cheney’s receipt of this document as “odd.” “[I]n more than two years of briefing then-Vice President George H. W. Bush every other morning, not once did he ask a question about a DIA report or even indicate that he had read one,” McGovern will note. “That this particular report was given to Cheney almost certainly reflects the widespread practice of ‘cherry picking’ intelligence.” (McGovern 7/25/2005)

Valerie Plame Wilson.Valerie Plame Wilson. [Source: PEP]In response to questions from Vice President Dick Cheney (see (February 13, 2002)), CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson and officials from the CIA’s DO counterproliferation division (CPD) meet to discuss what the agency should do to determine the validity of recent Italian intelligence reports (see October 15, 2001 and February 5, 2002) alleging that Iraq had sought to purchase uranium from Niger. During the meeting, Plame Wilson suggests sending her husband, Joseph Wilson, an Africa expert and former US diplomat, to Niger to investigate the reports. (US Congress 7/7/2004) The meeting is chronicled in an internal agency memo obtained by the Wall Street Journal in October 2003. (Cloud 10/17/2003) Intelligence officials subsequently will not deny that Plame Wilson was involved in the decision to send Wilson to Niger, but will say she was not “responsible” for the decision. (Cloud 10/17/2003)
CIA Alerted to Cheney's Concerns - In her 2007 book Fair Game, Plame Wilson recalls that shortly after Cheney’s initial questions, a young officer rushes into her CPD office and tells her “someone from the vice president’s office” just called the officer on her secure telephone line. The caller, apparently a member of Cheney’s staff, wants information about an intelligence report that the Italian government has passed to the US, alleging that in 1999 Iraq attempted to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger. Cheney is, according to the staffer, “interested and want[s] more information.” Plame Wilson will write, “If the report was true at all, I knew that it would be damning evidence indeed that Iraq was seeking to restart its nuclear program.”
'Nonplussed' at White House Contact - “I was momentarily nonplussed that someone from the vice president’s office had reached down into the junior working levels of the agency to discuss or find an answer to an intelligence report,” she will write. “In my experience, I had never known that to happen. There were strict protocols and procedures for funneling intelligence to policy makers or fielding their questions. Whole offices within the agency were set up and devoted to doing just that. A call to a random desk officer might get the policy maker a quick answer in the heat of the moment, but it was also a recipe for trouble. Handing a senior policy maker ‘raw’ intelligence that had not been properly vetted, placed into context, or appropriately caveated by intelligence professionals usually led to misinterpretation—at a minimum.” She adds that at the time, she is “not aware of the unprecedented number of visits the vice president had made to our headquarters to meet with analysts and look for any available evidence to support the Iraq WMD claims the administration was beginning to make.… I was still blissfully ignorant of any special visits or pressure from the administration vis-a-vis Iraq. I just wanted to get some answers.”
Decision to Ask Wilson Originates with Records Officer, Not Plame Wilson - Plame Wilson tables her concerns about the unusual contact, and begins pondering how best to find answers to Cheney’s questions. The “first and most obvious choice,” she will write, “would be to contact our [REDACTED] office in Niger and ask them to investigate these allegations using local sources available on the ground.” But the budget cuts of the mid-1990s had forced the closing of numerous CIA offices in Africa, including its station in Niamey, Niger. Plame Wilson will recall, “A midlevel reports officer who had joined the discussion in the hallway enthusiastically suggested, ‘What about talking to Joe about it?’” The reports officer is referring to Plame Wilson’s husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson. “He knew of Joe’s history and role in the first Gulf War (see September 5, 1988 and After and September 20, 1990), his extensive experience in Africa, and also that in 1999 the CIA had sent Joe on a sensitive mission to Africa on uranium issues. Of course, none of us imagined the firestorm this sincere suggestion would ignite. At the moment, the only thought that flashed through my mind was that if Joe were out of the country for an extended period of time I would be left to wrestle two squirmy toddlers into bed each evening.… So I was far from keen on the idea, but we needed to respond to the vice president’s office with something other than a lame and obviously unacceptable, ‘We don’t know, sorry.’” Plame Wilson and the reports officer make the suggestion to send Wilson to Niger; her supervisor decides to meet with Wilson “and the appropriate agency and State [Department] officials.” At her supervisor’s behest, Plame Wilson sends an e-mail to her division chief (whom she will only identify as “Scott”), informing him of the decision and noting that “my husband has good relations with both the PM [prime minister] and the former minister of mines (not to mention lots of French contacts), both of whom could possibly shed some light on this sort of activity.” Plame Wilson will write that her words are intended to “gently remind [her division chief] of Joe’s credentials to support why my boss thought he should come into headquarters in the first place.” She will note: “Months later, those words would be ripped out of that e-mail and cited as proof that I had recommended Joe for the trip (see February 13, 2002). But at the time, I simply hit the ‘send’ button and moved on to the other tasks that were demanding my attention.” That night, Plame Wilson broaches the subject of going to Niger with her husband; he agrees to meet with her superiors at the CPD. (US Congress 7/7/2004; Wilson 2007, pp. 108-110)
Cheney Later Denies Knowledge of Iraq-Niger Claims - During the investigation of the Plame Wilson leak (see September 26, 2003), Cheney will repeatedly deny any knowledge that the CIA was following up on his request for more information. This is a lie. Among other refutations, the Senate Intelligence Committee will report in 2004 that he was told on February 14 that CIA officers were working with clandestine sources to find out the truth behind the Niger allegations (see July 9, 2004). (Wilson 2007, pp. 368)

Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame Wilson.Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame Wilson. [Source: Haraz N. Ghanbari / Associated Press]Officials in the CIA’s Directorate of Operations (DO) Counterproliferation Division (CPD) decide to send former ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger to investigate allegations that Iraq sought to procure uranium from that country. Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, a senior CPD officer (see April 2001 and After), relays the request to him explaining that “there’s this crazy report” asserting that Iraq made a deal with Niger on the sale of a large quantity of uranium. (US Congress 7/7/2004) Shortly afterwards, she sends an overseas cable requesting concurrence with the agency’s decision to send her husband to Niger (see February 13, 2002). She writes, “[B]oth State and [the Department of Defense] have requested additional clarification and indeed, the vice president’s office just asked for background information” (see (February 13, 2002)). (US Congress 7/7/2004)

The CIA’s Directorate of Operations (DO) Counterproliferation Division (CPD) holds a meeting with former ambassador Joseph Wilson, intelligence analysts from both the CIA and State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), and several individuals from the DO’s Africa and CPD divisions. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss the merits of sending Wilson to Niger. Wilson is introduced by his wife Valerie Plame Wilson, who heads CPD’s Joint Task Force on Iraq (JTFI). (US Congress 7/7/2004, pp. 59; Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 94-95)
Wife Does Not Participate in Meeting - In her 2007 book Fair Game, Plame Wilson will write that she brings her husband into the briefing room, introduces him to the “10 or so participants,” and “[a]fter a minute or so, I went back to my desk to attend to what seemed like a hundred other operational crises. When the meeting broke, Joe poked his head in my office to say that the group had asked him to consider going to Niger to discuss the report.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 111)
Wilson's Qualifications - Wilson will later describe himself as “the insider increasing [the CIA analysts’] store of information, supplying that perspective missing from their raw data. I had served as a junior diplomatic officer in Niger in the mid-1970s, a period that happened to coincide with the growth in the uranium business there. We had followed this issue closely from the American Embassy in Niamey, Niger’s capital, just as my staff and I had when I was ambassador to Gabon, another uranium-producing country, from 1992 to 1995. When I worked on the National Security Council in the Clinton administration two years later, among my areas of responsibility was the African uranium industry. Rarely did conversations with Africans from uranium-producing countries fail to touch on the subject. Niger, where I had traveled frequently over the years, was always of particular interest.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 8)
Details Shared with Wilson - In the meeting, Wilson learns of a report that purports to document a memorandum of sale from Niger to Iraq, and that the report had aroused the interest of Vice President Dick Cheney (see (February 13, 2002)). Cheney’s office has tasked the CIA to determine the truth or falsity of the report. The report is lacking in key details. Wilson’s knowledge of the region, particularly of the government and private interests involved in mining and distributing uranium, will be particularly helpful. Wilson later writes, “The Nigeriens were the same people I had dealt with during and after my time at the National Security Council, people I knew well.” The former minister of mines, the man responsible for oversight of the industry at the time of the alleged sales, is a friend of his.
Skepticism among Participants about Report - Wilson will later describe himself as “skeptical, as prudent consumers of intelligence always are about raw information.” He will note that much of this kind of intelligence is classified as “rumint,” or rumors passing as fact, and is usually “no more reliable than Bigfoot sightings. Rumint is a necessary and unfortunate reality in a world where many people will tell you what they think you want to hear, as opposed to simple facts.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 14-15) Notes taken by INR analyst Douglas Rohn, as well as e-mails from other participants, indicate that INR expresses skepticism that the alleged uranium contract could have taken place. Rohn, who served as deputy chief of mission in Niger during the ‘90s, writes that it would have been very difficult to conceal such a large shipment of yellowcake because “the French appear to have control of the uranium mining, milling and transport process, and would seem to have little interest in selling uranium to the Iraqis.” INR also says that the embassy in Niger has good contacts and is thus in a position to get to the truth on the matter, and therefore believes the proposed trip to Niger would be redundant. Others attending the meeting argue that the trip would probably not resolve the matter because the Nigeriens would be unlikely to admit to a uranium sales agreement with Iraq. An e-mail from a WINPAC analyst to CPD following the meeting notes, “[I]t appears that the results from this source will be suspect at best, and not believable under most scenarios.” CPD nonetheless concludes that sending Wilson would be worth a try. (US Congress 7/7/2004, pp. 59; Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 94-95)
Open and Public Visit - Wilson is willing, but points out that he is not a spy, but a former diplomat with no experience with clandestine work. He will be recognized in Niger. Therefore, there can be no expectation of any covert or clandestine actions on his part; everything he does will be open and above board. He also insists on obtaining the approval of both the State Department and the US Ambassador to Niger, Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, before entering the country. He expects no payment for his visit, but will accept reimbursement for expenses. The others in the meeting agree. The rest of the two-hour meeting is spent considering and plotting out various scenarios, based on who he might see and what he might learn during his visit. (Wilson 2004, pp. 16-17) “I went through what I knew about… uranium,” Wilson later recalls. “I went through what I knew about the personalities.… People chimed in, and I answered them as best I could. It was a kind of free-for-all, and at the end they sort of asked, ‘Well, would you be able to clear your schedule and go out there if we wanted?’ and I said, ‘Sure.’” (Ward 1/2004)

Joseph Wilson.Joseph Wilson. [Source: public domain]The CIA sends Joseph C. Wilson, a retired US diplomat, to Niger to investigate claims that Iraq had sought to purchase uranium from that country (see February 13, 2002). The CIA pays Wilson’s expenses for the trip, but does not pay him in any other respect. The identity of the party who requests the mission is later disputed. While Wilson will claim the trip was requested directly by Dick Cheney’s office, other sources will indicate that the CIA had decided (see February 19, 2002) that a delegation to Niger was needed in order to investigate questions raised by one of Dick Cheney’s aides (see (February 13, 2002)). (Kristof 5/6/2003; Pincus 6/12/2003 pdf file; Buncombe and Whitaker 6/29/2003; Wilson, 7/6/2003; US Congress 7/7/2004)
Reason behind Request - Former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman will later note that “Wilson was asked to go to Niger for one specific purpose. It was the CIA’s idea to get Cheney off their backs. Cheney would not get off their backs about the yellowcake documents. They couldn’t get Cheney to stop pressing the issue. He insisted that was the proof of reconstitution of [Iraq’s nuclear] program.” (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 214)
Normal Skepticism - Wilson goes into the situation with a healthy dose of skepticism. “My skepticism was the same as it would have been with any unverified intelligence report, because there is a lot of stuff that comes over the transom every day,” he will recall in 2006. Wilson knows nothing of the influence of the Pentagon neoconservatives (see July 8, 1996, January 26, 1998, July 1998, September 2000, Late December 2000 and Early January 2001, Shortly after January 20, 2001, and Shortly After September 11, 2001) or the growing rift in the intelligence community over the reports: “I was aware that the neocons had a growing role in government and that they were interested in Iraq,” he will recall. “But the administration had not articulated a policy at this stage.” He is not given a copy of the Niger documents before leaving for Africa, nor is he told of their history. “To the best of my knowledge, the documents were not in the possession of the [CIA] at the time I was briefed,” he will recall. “The discussion was whether or not this report could be accurate. During this discussion, everyone who knew something shared stuff about how the uranium business worked, and I laid out what I knew about the government in Niger, what information they could provide.” With this rather sketchy preparation, Wilson leaves for Niger. (Unger 2007, pp. 240; Wilson 2007, pp. 113) Wilson’s wife, senior CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson, will later write, “He figured that if the vice president had asked a serious and legitimate question, it deserved a serious answer and he would try to help find it.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 111)
No Trouble Finding Information - Wilson, who knows the Nigerien government and many of its officials, has little trouble finding the information he needs in the following week. In 2006, he will recall: “Niger has a simplistic government structure. Both the minister of mines and the prime minister had gone through the mines. The French were managing partners of the international consortium [which handles Niger’s uranium]. The French mining company actually had its hands on the project. Nobody else in the consortium had operators on the ground.” Wilson also personally knows Wissam al-Zahawie, Iraq’s ambassador to the Vatican who supposedly negotiated the uranium deal with Niger (see February 1999). Wilson will later observe: “Wissam al-Zahawie was a world-class opera singer, and he went to the Vatican as his last post so he could be near the great European opera houses in Rome. He was not in the Ba’athist inner circle. He was not in Saddam [Hussein]‘s tribe. The idea that he would be entrusted with the super-secret mission to buy 500 tons of uranium from Niger is out of the question.” (Unger 2007, pp. 240-241) Wilson meets with, among other officials, Niger’s former minister of mines, Mai Manga. As later reported by the Senate Intelligence Committee (see July 9, 2004), Manga tells Wilson “there were no sales outside of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) channels since the mid-1980s,” and he “knew of no contracts signed between Niger and any rogue states for the sale of uranium.” Manga says a “French mining consortium controls Nigerien uranium mining and keeps the uranium very tightly controlled from the time it is mined until the time it is loaded onto ships in Benin for transport overseas,” and, “it would be difficult, if not impossible, to arrange a special shipment of uranium to a pariah state given these controls.” (Leupp 11/9/2005)
Meeting with US Ambassador - Wilson arrives in Niger on February 26, two days after Marine General Carlton W. Fulford Jr.‘s meeting (see February 24, 2002) with Nigerien officials. Wilson first meets with US Ambassador to Niger Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, a veteran Foreign Service official, whom Wilson will later describe as “crisp” and well-informed. Over tea in the US Embassy offices in Niamey, Niger’s capital, Owens-Kirkpatrick tells Wilson that she has already concluded that the allegations of uranium sales to Iraq are unfounded. “She had already debunked them in her reports to Washington,” Wilson will later recall. “She said, yeah, she knew a lot about this particular report. She thought she had debunked it—and, oh, by the way, a four-star Marine Corps general had been down there as well—Carlton Fulford. And he had left satisfied there was nothing to report.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 20-22)
Details of Alleged Uranium Production - Niger extracts uranium from two mines, both located in remote locations in the Sahara Desert. It takes well over a day to drive from the mines to Niamey. The mines are owned by a consortium of foreign companies and the Nigerien government, and managed by a French mining company, COGEMA. Because of a recent upswing in the production of Canadian uranium, Niger’s uranium is mined at a net loss, and its only customers are consortium members. Wilson will later write, “[T]he Nigerien government has sold no uranium outside the consortium for two decades.” If Iraq had bought 500 tons of uranium, as the story is told, that would have represented a 40 percent production increase. “There is no doubt,” Wilson will later write, “that such a significant shift from historic production schedules would have been absolutely impossible to hide from the other partners, and most certainly from the managing partner, COGEMA. Everyone involved would have known about it.” Any Nigerien government decision to produce such an amount of uranium would have involved numerous government officials and many well-documented meetings. Because the transaction would have been to a foreign country, Niger’s Foreign Ministry would also have been involved in the decision. To sell Iraq uranium during that time would have been a violation of international law and of UN sanctions against Iraq, a weighty decision that would have ultimately been made by the president of Niger in conjuction with the foreign minister and the minister of mines. Such a decision would have been published in the Nigerien equivalent of the Federal Register and would have dramatic tax and revenue implications. The unexpected huge infusion of cash from the sale would have had a strong impact on the Nigerien economy, and would have been much anticipated and talked about throughout the Nigerien business community. (Wilson 2004, pp. 22-25)
Off-the-Books Production Virtually Impossible - It is conceivable that such an enormous operation could have been conducted entirely “off the books,” Wilson will write, but virtually impossible to pull off. True, a military junta was in power at the time of the alleged sale, one that felt no responsibility or accountability to the Nigerien people. But even a secret transaction would have been impossible to conceal. Such a transaction would have involved thousands of barrels of clandestinely shipped uranium, extensive and complex adjustments to shipping schedules, and other ramifications. “It simply could not have happened without a great many people knowing about it, and secrets widely known do not remain hidden for long. And again, COGEMA, as the managing partner, would have had to know and be complicit.” Add to that Niger’s dependence on US foreign economic aid and its unwillingness to threaten the loss of that aid by secretly shipping uranium to a country that the US considers a dangerous rogue nation. All told, Wilson concludes, the possibility of such a clandestine operation is remote in the extreme. (Wilson 2004; Wilson 2004)
1999 Meeting with Iraqi Official - While speaking with a US Embassy official, Wilson learns about a 1999 meeting between the embassy official and an Iraqi representative in Algiers, perhaps in concert with a similar meeting between Iraqi officials and Niger’s prime minister (see June 1999). (Wilson 2004, pp. 27-28)
Confirmation that Allegations are Unrealistic - After spending several days talking with current government officials, former government officials, and people associated with the country’s uranium business, Wilson concludes the rumors are completely false. He will later call the allegations “bogus and unrealistic.” (Pincus 6/12/2003 pdf file; Landay 6/13/2003; Buncombe and Whitaker 6/29/2003; Wilson, 7/6/2003; CBS News 7/11/2003; Ward 1/2004; Wilson 2004, pp. 20-28, 424; Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 282; Wilson 2007, pp. 113)

While former ambassador Joseph Wilson is still in Africa learning about the supposed Iraq-Niger uranium deal (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), Douglas Rohn, an analyst for the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), writes an intelligence assessment, titled “Niger: Sale of Uranium to Iraq Is Unlikely,” that disputes recent Italian intelligence reports (see October 15, 2001 and February 5, 2002) suggesting that Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from Niger. The assessment reiterates INR’s view that France controls the uranium industry and “would take action to block a sale of the kind alleged in a CIA report of questionable credibility from a foreign government service.” It adds that though “some officials may have conspired for individual gain to arrange a uranium sale,” Nigerien President Mamadou Tandja’s government would have been unlikely to risk relations with the US and other key aid donors. And it cites the logistical difficulties of a secret transaction requiring “25 hard-to-conceal 10-ton trailers” that would have had to travel 1,000 miles and cross one international border before reaching the sea. “A whole lot of things told us that the report was bogus,” Greg Thielmann, a high-ranking INR official, will later explain to Time magazine. “This wasn’t highly contested. There weren’t strong advocates on the other side. It was done, shot down.” The assessment, drafted in response to interest from the vice president’s office (see (February 13, 2002)), is sent to the White House Situation Room and Secretary of State Colin Powell. (Carney and Duffy 7/21/2003; US Congress 7/7/2004, pp. 59; Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 96-97; Unger 2007, pp. 241)

The Office of Africa Analysis in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) argues in a memo that the alleged uranium deal between Iraq and Niger is “unlikely” for a number of reasons. It notes that France—which jointly owns the country’s only two uranium mines and is dependent on them for forty percent of its uranium—“unequivocally controls the overall operation” and would not permit such a transaction to take place. “There are managers and engineers at every point in the mining, milling, and transportation process,” the memo says. Even if Niger did manage to obtain 500 tons of uranium from the mines, transporting it to Iraq (in two phases, as specified in the orginal forged documents) would have required “25 hard-to-conceal 10-ton tractor-trailers” journeying 1,000 miles to the sea and crossing at least one international border. “Moving such a quantity secretly over such a distance would be very difficult,” the memo notes. Furthermore, Niger officials would have deemed such an arrangement too risky because they “understand the value of good relations with the US and other aid donors.” “A payoff from Iraq of $50 million or even $100 million would not make up for what would be lost if the donor community turned off the taps to Niger.” (US Department of State 3/4/2002 pdf file) The memo is distributed at senior levels by the office of Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and by the Defense Intelligence Agency. (Lichtblau 1/18/2006) (Note the similarity between this memo and the one INR released three days earlier (see March 1, 2002). It is not clear how they are related or if indeed they are actually the same)

In response to a request from Vice President Dick Cheney for an update on the Niger uranium issue made a few days earlier, CIA WINPAC analysts provide an analytic update to Cheney’s intelligence briefer stating that the government of Niger has said it is making all efforts to ensure that its uranium will be used for only peaceful purposes. The update says the foreign government service (Italian military intelligence agency, SISMI) that provided the original report “was unable to provide new information, but continues to assess that its source is reliable.” The update also notes that the CIA would “be debriefing a source [Joseph Wilson] who may have information related to the alleged sale on March 5 (see March 4-5, 2002).” (US Congress 7/7/2004)

The CIA sends a one-and-a-half-page cable to the White House, the FBI, the Justice Department, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Defense Intelligence Agency, with news that a CIA source sent to Niger has failed to find any evidence to back claims that Iraq sought uranium from that country (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). The cable contains an initial report of the source’s findings in Niger. (Landay 6/12/2003; ABC News 6/12/2003; Landay 6/13/2003; Pincus 6/13/2003; BBC 7/8/2003; BBC 7/8/2003; US Congress 7/7/2004) The agency rates the quality of the information in the report as “good,” with a rating of 3 out of 5. (Leupp 11/9/2005)
Caveats and Denials - The report does not name the CIA source or indicate that the person is a former ambassador. Instead it describes the source as “a contact with excellent access who does not have an established reporting record” and notes that the Nigeriens with whom he spoke “knew their remarks could reach the US government and may have intended to influence as well as inform.” A later Senate report on the US’s pre-war intelligence on Iraq will state: “The intelligence report indicated that former Nigerien Prime Minister Ibrahim Mayaki was unaware of any contracts that had been signed between Niger and any rogue states for the sale of yellowcake while he was prime minister (1997-1999) or foreign minister (1996-1997). Mayaki said that if there had been any such contract during his tenure, he would have been aware of it.” Mayaki, according to the report, also acknowledged a June 1999 visit (see June 1999) by a businessman who arranged a meeting between Mayaki and an Iraqi delegation to discuss “expanding commercial relations” between Niger and Iraq. The intelligence report says that Mayaki interpreted “expanding commercial relations” to mean that the delegation wanted to discuss purchasing uranium. The meeting did take place, but according to the report, “Mayaki let the matter drop due to UN sanctions on Iraq.” The intelligence report also says that Niger’s former Minister for Energy and Mines, Mai Manga, told Wilson that there have been no sales outside of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) channels since the mid-1980s. Mai Manga is also reported to have described how the French mining consortium controls Nigerien uranium mining and keeps the uranium very tightly controlled from the time it is mined until the time it is loaded onto ships in Benin for transportation overseas. Manga said he believed it would be difficult, if not impossible, to arrange a special clandestine shipment of uranium to a country like Iraq. (US Congress 7/7/2004)
White House: Report Left Out Details, Considered Unimportant - Bush administration officials will say in June 2003 that the report left out important details, such as the trip’s conclusions. And consequently, the Washington Post will report in June 2003, “It was not considered unusual or very important and not passed on to Condoleezza Rice, the president’s national security adviser, or other senior White House officials.” (Pincus 6/12/2003 pdf file; Pincus 6/13/2003; Landay 6/13/2003)
CIA Source Doubts White House Claims - But the CIA source who made the journey, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, will find this explanation hard to believe. “Though I did not file a written report [he provided an oral briefing (see March 4-5, 2002)], there should be at least four documents in United States government archives confirming my mission,” he will later explain. “The documents should include the ambassador’s report of my debriefing in Niamey, a separate report written by the embassy staff, a CIA report summing up my trip, and a specific answer from the agency to the office of the vice president (this may have been delivered orally). While I have not seen any of these reports, I have spent enough time in government to know that this is standard operating procedure.” (Wilson, 7/6/2003)
Senior CIA Case Officer Backs Up Source - In 2007, Wilson’s wife, senior CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson, will write of the report (see March 4-5, 2002) that if standard protocol has been followed, the report is distributed to “all the government departments that have intelligence components, such as the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), the National Security Agency (NSA), the Pentagon, and the overseas military commands. All of us had every reason to believe that their finished report would indeed be sent to the vice president’s office as part of the established protocol.” According to Plame Wilson, who read the report when it was completed (see (March 6, 2002)), much of the report focuses on “Niger’s strict, private, and government controls on mining consortia to ensure that no yellowcake went missing between the uranium mines and the marketplace.” She will write in 2007 that her husband’s report “corroborated and reinforced what was already known.” Both she and her husband assume that the allegations are sufficiently disproven and will not be heard of again. (Wilson 2007, pp. 112-114)
Little New Information - According to intelligence analysts later interviewed by Congressional investigators, the intelligence community does not believe the trip has contributed any significant information to what is already known about the issue, aside from the details of the 1999 Iraqi delegation. (US Congress 7/7/2004)

Peter Ricketts, the British Foreign Office’s political director, offers advice to Foreign Secretary Jack Straw who is to provide Tony Blair with a note (see March 25, 2002) before he sets off for a planned meeting with Bush in Texas. In the memo, Ricketts recommends that Blair back the Bush policy on regime change, in a broad sense, because it would allow the British to exert some influence on the exact shape of the administration’s policy. “In the process, he can bring home to Bush some of the realities which will be less evident from Washington,” he says. “He can help Bush make good decisions by telling him things his own machine probably isn’t.” But he acknowledges that the British, in backing US plans against Iraq, may have a difficult time convincing Parliament and the British public to support the use of military force against Iraq because of scant evidence supporting Washington’s allegations against Iraq. “The truth is that what has changed is not the pace of Saddam Hussein’s WMD programs, but our tolerance of them post-11 September.” He adds that the “figures” being used in a dossier on Iraq that Downing Street is drafting needs more work in order for it to be “consistent with those of the US.” He explains: “[E]ven the best survey of Iraq’s WMD programs will not show much advance in recent years on the nuclear, missile, or chemical weapons/biological weapons fronts: the programs are extremely worrying but have not, as far as we know, been stepped up.” He also says the US has little evidence to support its other allegation. “US scrambling to establish a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda is so far frankly unconvincing,” he says. (United Kingdom 3/22/2002 pdf file; Smith 3/21/2005; Norton-Taylor 4/21/2005; Daniszewski 6/15/2005)

Shadi Abdellah.Shadi Abdellah. [Source: Associated Press]In April 2002, Shadi Abdellah, a militant connected to the al-Tawhid group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, is arrested by German police. Abdellah also briefly worked as one of bin Laden’s bodyguards (see Early 2001). He begins cooperating with German authorities. He reveals that al-Zarqawi is not a part of al-Qaeda but is actually the founder of al-Tawhid, which he says works “in opposition” to al-Qaeda (see 1989-Late 1999). The aim of the group is to kill Jews and install an Islamic regime in Jordan. The group is not really interested in the US, and this is the key ideological difference between it and al-Qaeda. Abdallah recounts one instance where al-Zarqawi vetoed a proposal to share charity funds collected in Germany with al-Qaeda. According to Abdallah, al-Zarqawi’s organization had also “competed” with al-Qaeda for new recruits. He also reveals that al-Zarqawi’s religious mentor is Abu Qatada, an imam openly living in Britain. (Buncombe and Milmo 2/6/2003; Isikoff 6/25/2003; Bergen 2006, pp. 356-358) A German intelligence report compiled in April 2002 based on Abdellah’s confessions further states that “Al-Zarqawi mentioned to Abdellah that the possibility of a merger conflicted with the religious orientation of [Mahfouz Walad Al-Walid (a.k.a. Abu Hafs the Mauritanian)] who was responsible within al-Qaeda for religious or Islamic matters, which contradicted the teachings practices by al-Zarqawi.” (Bergen 2006, pp. 359-422) Newsweek will later report that “several US officials” claim “they were aware all along of the German information about al-Zarqawi.” (Buncombe and Milmo 2/6/2003) Nonetheless, Bush will claim in a televised speech on October 7, 2002 (see October 7, 2002) that a “very senior al-Qaeda leader… received medical treatment in Baghdad this year,” a reference to al-Zarqawi. And Colin Powell will similarly state on February 5, 2003 (see February 5, 2003) that “Iraq is harboring the network of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an associate and collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda lieutenants.” Both statements are made even though “US intelligence already had concluded that al-Zarqawi was not an al-Qaeda member…” (BBC 2/5/2003; Powell 2/5/2003; Pincus 6/22/2003 Sources: Unnamed US intelligence sources)

In part due to pressure from Vice President Cheney, the CIA sends a cable to France’s intelligence agency, the Direction Generale de la Securite Exterieure (DGSE), communicating concerns about intelligence suggesting that Iraq is attempting to purchase uranium from Niger. (Another cable had been sent the year before (see Summer 2001).) Specifically, the CIA says it is concerned about an alleged agreement between Iraq and Niger on the sale of 500 tons of uranium that was signed by Nigerian officials. (In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, DGSE official Alain Chouet will note that the details of this agreement matched those of the forged documents.) (Hamburger, Wallsten, and Drogin 12/11/2005; Unger 2007, pp. 241) Niger is a former French colony, and the French keep a tight rein on Niger’s uranium production. Hence, the CIA turns to French intelligence to vet the claim of Nigerien uranium going to Iraq. “The French were managing partners of the international consortium in Niger,” former US ambassador Joseph Wilson will later say. “The French did the actual mining and shipping of [uranium].” (Unger 2007, pp. 208-209) The CIA asks for an immediate answer about the authenticity of the information. (Bonni and D'Avanzo 12/1/2005) In response, the DGSE sends its head of security intelligence, Chouet, to look into the uranium deal. The initial information Chouet receives from the CIA is vague, he will later recall, except for one striking detail: Iraq’s ambassador to the Vatican, Wissam al-Zahawie, made an unusual trip to four African countries in 1999, including Niger. CIA analysts fear the trip may have been a prelude to the uranium deal. But Chouet soon learns that the al-Zawahie trip (see February 1999) had not been secret, as the CIA avers, but had been well covered by, among other news outlets, the local Nigerien press. In addition, French, British, and US intelligence had received routine reports on al-Zawahie’s visits. Chouet, head of a 700-person intelligence unit specializing in weapons proliferation and terrorism, sends an undercover team of five or six men to Niger to check on the security of Niger’s uranium. The investigation produces no evidence that al-Zawahie had even discussed uranium with the Nigeriens. (Bonni and D'Avanzo 12/1/2005; Hamburger, Wallsten, and Drogin 12/11/2005; Unger 2007, pp. 208-209) Chouet will later recall, “[O]nce back, they told me a very simple thing: ‘the American information on uranium is all bullsh_t.’” (Bonni and D'Avanzo 12/1/2005) The French summarize the results of their investigation in a series of formal cables they send to CIA offices in Langley and Paris. Chouet will later tell the Times that they communicated their doubts about the claims in no uncertain terms. “We told the Americans, ‘Bullshi_t. It doesn’t make any sense.’” (Bonni and D'Avanzo 12/1/2005; Hamburger, Wallsten, and Drogin 12/11/2005) Choeut’s formal reports to the CIA use less coarse language, but he later describes them as candid. “We had the feeling we had been heard,” he will recall. (Unger 2007, pp. 241) The DGSE considers the issue closed. (Unger 2007, pp. 208-209)

Defense Intelligence Agency analysts issue a “fabricator notice,” warning the intelligence community that the agency has determined (see Between February 12, 2002 and March 31, 2002) that Iraqi defector Mohammad Harith is of questionable reliability and recommending that agencies disregard any intelligence that he has provided. It also notes that Harith had been “coached by [the] Iraqi National Congress” on what to tell US interrogators. (Jehl 2/13/2004; Hosenball and Barry 2/16/2004; Landay and Strobel 7/16/2004 Sources: Unnamed US intelligence official) The classified memo is “widely circulated within intelligence agencies, including the DIA and CIA,” Newsweek will later report, citing unnamed intelligence officials. (Hosenball and Barry 2/16/2004 Sources: Unnamed US Intelligence Officials, Linton Wells) Almost a year later, in a presentation to the UN, Secretary of State Colin Powell will make the claim that Iraq has mobile biological weapons labs (see February 5, 2003), and cite Harith as one of US Intelligence’s four sources. Explaining how the reference to a dubious source made its way into Powell’s speech, the State Department will say that the “fabricator notice” had not been properly cross-referenced in intelligence computers. (Hosenball and Barry 2/16/2004)

Ahmed Chalabi, the leader of the Iraqi National Congress, says that “informants within the Iraqi intelligence community,” have revealed “that Hussein’s VX stockpile is far larger than the 3.9 tons Iraq reported—something UNSCOM inspectors have long suspected,” reports the Washington Post. “Chalabi also says that the VX had been converted into a dry salt for long term storage and was positioned in various sites across Iraq for use in the event of a foreign attack. UNSCOM officials said the account seemed credible, given what was learned about Iraq’s VX program in the final months of weapons inspections.” (Warrick 7/31/2002)

Entifadh Qanbar, a lobbyist for the Iraqi National Congress (INC), sends a memo to the staff of the Senate Appropriations Committee, in which he provides information about a State Department-funded intelligence program, known as the “information-collection program,” run by the INC (see September 2004-September 2006). Qanbar, who says he is the overall manager of the group, states in the memo that under the program, “defectors, reports and raw intelligence are cultivated and analyzed,” and “the results are reported through the INC newspaper (Al Mutamar), the Arabic and Western media and to appropriate governmental, nongovernmental and international agencies.” Information is also passed on to William Luti, who will later run the Office of Special Plans (see September 2002), and John Hannah, a senior national-security aide on Cheney’s staff, who Qunbar describes as the “principal point of contact.” (Hosenball and Isikoff 12/15/2003; Risen 2/12/2004 Sources: Memo) The memo provides a description of some of the people involved in the group and their activities. It says that the analytical group includes five analysts with a background in Iraq’s military, Iraq’s intelligence services and human rights. One person, a consultant, monitors the Iraqi government’s alleged efforts to develop banned weapons. The five analysts process information and write reports, which are sent to Al Mutamar, the INC’s newspaper, as well as the US government and many mainstream news organizations. Qanbar says that the information-collection program issued 30 reports between August 2001 and June 2002, which were sent to Al Mutamar. (Al Mutamar is only available inside Iraq on the Internet; the effectiveness of other government-funded projects to disseminate propaganda inside Iraq could not be proven, and may not have ever existed.) According to the memo, the group published 28 private reports in collaboration with the INC’s headquarters in London. The memo reveals that between October 2001 and May 2002, information provided by the INC was cited in 108 articles published by a variety of English-language news publications, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, Time, Newsweek, the New Yorker, CNN, Fox News, and several others. (Risen 2/12/2004; Mayer 6/7/2004; McCollam 7/1/2004) New York Daily News reporter Helen Kennedy will say in 2004, “The INC’s agenda was to get us into a war.” Kennedy’s name appears on Qanbar’s list. “The really damaging stories all came from those guys, not the CIA. They did a really sophisticated job of getting it out there.” Bob Drogin of the Los Angeles Times will say, “I think something that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention is how [the INC] used the British press to plant a lot of this stuff, some of it pretty outlandish.” British journalist Jamie Dettmer points the finger the other way. “I’ve been utterly appalled by the lack of skepticism about this entire Iraq project and the war on terrorism” in the press. When Dettmer learns that his name is on the list, he shouts, “Complete bollocks!” Other journalists on the list will refuse to admit that they were duped by the INC, even though some of their stories contain extensive interviews and dramatic claims from INC sources that were later disproven. Qanbar will say, “We did not provide information. We provided defectors. We take no position on them. It’s up to you reporters to decide if they are credible or not.” (McCollam 7/1/2004)

Rocco Martino, an Italian information peddler, attempts to sell a collection of mostly forged documents (though it is not clear precisely what documents these are) to the Direction Generale de la Securite Exterieure (DGSE), France’s intelligence agency for $100,000. (According to Martino, he has been selling documents to the French since 1999 (see June or July 1999).) The documents suggest that Niger agreed to sell uranium to Iraq in 2000. (Drogin and Hamburger 2/17/2004; Bonini and d'Avanzo 10/24/2005; Landay and Strobel 10/25/2005; Smith 11/6/2005) The French insist on reviewing the documents before there is any exchange of money. (Bonni and D'Avanzo 12/1/2005) In a matter of days, French intelligence determines the documents are not authentic. (Hamburger, Wallsten, and Drogin 12/11/2005) SISMI, Italy’s military intelligence service, is reportedly aware of Martino’s dealing with the French, and may have actually arranged them. (Bonini and d'Avanzo 10/24/2005)

The International Atomic Energy Agency sends the US a report reiterating its previous conclusion (see July 2001) regarding the intended use of the aluminum tubes that Iraq attempted to import in July 2001 (see 2000). The IAEA believes that while the tubes could be modified for use as rotors in a gas centrifuge system, the tubes are not directly suited to that use. (United Kingdom 7/14/2004 pdf file)

Khidir Hamza.Khidir Hamza. [Source: Radio Bremen]Khidir Hamza, “who played a leading role in Iraq’s nuclear weapon program before defecting in 1994,” tells the Senate Judiciary Committee that according to German intelligence, Iraq has “more than 10 tons of uranium and one ton of slightly enriched uranium… in its possession” which would be “enough to generate the needed bomb-grade uranium for three nuclear weapons by 2005.” He says that Iraq is “using corporations in India and other countries to import the needed equipment for its program and channel it through countries like Malaysia for shipment to Iraq.” He also claims that Iraq is “gearing up to extend the range of its missiles to easily reach Israel.” The testimony is widely reported in the media. (CNN 8/1/2002; Borger 8/1/2002; Harnden 8/1/2002) Hamza, however, is considered by many to be an unreliable source. David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security where Hamza worked as an analyst from 1997 to 1999, says that after Hamza defected “he went off the edge” and “started saying irresponsible things.” (Collier 10/12/2002; Massing 2/26/2004) And General Hussein Kamel, Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law who was in charge of the dictator’s former weapons program but who defected in 1995, told UNSCOM and IAEA inspectors at the time of his defection, as well as US and British intelligence, that Hamza was not a reliable source (see August 22, 1995). (Kamal 8/22/1995 pdf file; Hersh 5/12/2003) The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will say in 2004 that before the US invasion of Iraq, it had warned journalists reporting on Iraq’s alleged nuclear weapons program that Hamza was not a credible source. “Hamza had no credibility at all. Journalists who called us and asked for an assessment of these people—we’d certainly tell them.” (Massing 2/26/2004 Sources: Unnamed IAEA staff member)

US satellite photos reportedly show increased activity near the Taji factory in Iraq, which US intelligence suspects may be involved in the production of anthrax. The facility is located 10 miles outside of Baghdad. (World Tribune 8/14/2002) But on August 20, a week after news of the satellite photos are reported, the Iraqi government allows 15 journalists, mostly Iraqis representing foreign presses, to tour the alleged weapons site. Reporters who tour the facility find “piles of 110-pound sacks of sugar and rice and boxes of milk covered the floor. Writing on the sacks [indicates]… they were imported under the oil-for-food program that allows Iraq to sell unlimited quantities of oil provided the proceeds go for food, medicine and other supplies,” (Yacoub 8/20/2002) including powdered milk imported from Yemen, Vietnam, Tunisia and Indonesia and sacks of sugar imported from Egypt and India. (Saleh 8/20/2002) Iraq’s trade minister, Mohammed Mehdi Saleh, explains that the trucks captured by the satellite photos had been distributing foodstuffs from al-Taji to warehouses in the various provinces of Iraq. He states: “They [Americans] are checking every movement in Iraq, but a satellite cannot tell real information. This is rubbish information, actually rubbish information to convert baby milk and baby food and sugar to weapons of mass destruction…. We started to move food from this warehouse to supply stores in provinces early this month, and more specifically on August 4 as we started to distribute food rations every two months…. We have transported 2,500 tons of powdered milk in 187 trucks and not 60 trucks as the Americans said and we will continue (to do so)…. If they enlarge the satellite photographs they can compare boxes of the baby milk moved from this site as they were not covered and boxes here.” (Saleh 8/20/2002) An enlargement of the pictures would have revealed the words, “Al-moudhish,” written on the packages—the brand name of the milk that had been imported from Oman. (Yacoub 8/20/2002)

On August 4, 2002, retired Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft said that if the US invades Iraq: “I think we could have an explosion in the Middle East. It could turn the whole region into a cauldron and destroy the War on Terror” (see October 16, 2001, March 2002, and August 4, 2002). On August 6, prominent neoconservative author and sometime intelligence agent Michael Ledeen, who is an informal White House adviser and a sometimes-vituperative advocate for the US invasion of Iraq, mocks Scowcroft. Writing in his weekly column for the National Review, Ledeen says: “It’s always reassuring to hear Brent Scowcroft attack one’s cherished convictions; it makes one cherish them all the more.… One can only hope that we turn the region into a cauldron, and faster, please. If ever there were a region that richly deserved being cauldronized, it is the Middle East today. If we wage the war effectively, we will bring down the terror regimes in Iraq, Iran, and Syria, and either bring down the Saudi monarchy or force it to abandon its global assembly line to indoctrinate young terrorists. That’s our mission in the war against terror.” (Ledeen 8/6/2002; Unger 2007, pp. 231) Author Craig Unger will later comment: “‘Faster, please,’ became [Ledeen’s] mantra, repeated incessantly in his National Review columns. Rhapsodizing about war week after week, in the aftermath of 9/11, seemingly intoxicated by the grandiosity of his fury, Ledeen became the chief rhetorician for neoconservative visionaries who wanted to remake the Middle East.” (Unger 2007, pp. 231)

Howard Kurtz.Howard Kurtz. [Source: CNN / ThinkProgress.org]In 2007, Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz will say, “From August 2002 until the war was launched in March of 2003 there were about 140 front page pieces in The Washington Post making the [Bush] administration’s case for war. It was, ‘The President said yesterday.’ ‘The Vice President said yesterday.’ ‘The Pentagon said yesterday.’ Well, that’s part of our job. Those people want to speak. We have to provide them a platform. I don’t have anything wrong with that. But there was only a handful—a handful—of stories that ran on the front page, some more that ran inside the pages of the paper, that made the opposite case. Or, if not making the opposite case, raised questions.” (Moyers 4/25/2007) Kurtz will also write in an August 2004 front page Washington Post story criticizing the newspaper’s pre-war coverage, “An examination of the paper’s coverage, and interviews with more than a dozen of the editors and reporters involved, shows that The Post published a number of pieces challenging the White House, but rarely on the front page. Some reporters who were lobbying for greater prominence for stories that questioned the administration’s evidence complained to senior editors who, in the view of those reporters, were unenthusiastic about such pieces. The result was coverage that, despite flashes of groundbreaking reporting, in hindsight looks strikingly one-sided at times.” At the time, The Post’s editorial page was strongly advocating war with Iraq. For instance, a day after Colin Powell’s presentation to the UN (see February 5, 2003), the Post commented that “it is hard to imagine how anyone could doubt that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction.” (Kurtz 8/12/2004)

Cheney speaking before the Veterans of Foreign Wars.Cheney speaking before the Veterans of Foreign Wars. [Source: White House]In a speech to the Nashville convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Vice President Dick Cheney says Saddam Hussein will “seek domination of the entire Middle East, take control of a great portion of the world’s energy supplies, directly threaten America’s friends throughout the region, and subject the United States or any other nation to nuclear blackmail.” He also states unequivocally that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. “Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt that he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.… What he wants is time, and more time to husband his resources to invest in his ongoing chemical and biological weapons program, and to gain possession of nuclear weapons.… Deliverable weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a terror network, or a murderous dictator, or the two working together constitutes as grave a threat as can be imagined,” he says. “The risks of inaction are far greater than the risk of action.… The Iraqi regime has in fact been very busy enhancing its capabilities in the field of chemical and biological agents, and they continue to pursue the nuclear program they began so many years ago.” Therefore he argues, the answer is not weapons inspections. “Against that background, a person would be right to question any suggestion that we should just get inspectors back into Iraq, and then our worries will be over. Saddam has perfected the game of shoot and retreat, and is very skilled in the art of denial and deception. A return of inspectors would provide no assurance whatsoever of his compliance with UN resolutions.” He also says: “Regime change in Iraq would bring about a number of benefits to the region. When the gravest of threats are eliminated, the freedom-loving peoples of the region will have a chance to promote the values that can bring lasting peace.” (Cheney 8/26/2002)
First White House Assertion of Iraq's Nuclear Program - Cheney’s speech marks the first major statement from the White House regarding the Bush administration’s Iraq policy following a flood of criticisms from former officials. Significantly, the speech was not cleared by the CIA or the State Department. (Fineman and Lipper 9/9/2002) Furthermore, Cheney’s comments dismissing the need for the return of inspectors, were not cleared by President Bush, according to White House chief of staff Andrew Card. (Fineman and Lipper 9/9/2002) The speech creates a media stir because it is the first time a senior US official has asserted Iraq has nuclear capabilities with such certainty. The CIA is astonished by the claim. CIA official Jami Miscik will later recall: “He said that Saddam was building his nuclear program. Our reaction was, ‘Where is he getting that stuff from? Does he have a source of information that we don’t know about?’” CIA analysts redouble their efforts to collect and review evidence on Iraq and nuclear weapons, but analysts know very little. (Suskind 2006, pp. 167-169) Cheney’s assertions are contradicted by a broad base of military experts. (Dean 2004, pp. 138)
Powell 'Blindsided' by Cheney - Three days after the speech, a State Department source tells CNN that Secretary of State Colin Powell’s view clashes with that which was presented in Cheney’s speech, explaining that the secretary of state is opposed to any military action in which the US would “go it alone… as if it doesn’t give a damn” what other nations think. The source also says that Powell and “others in the State Department were ‘blindsided’ by Cheney’s ‘time is running out’ speech… and were just as surprised as everyone else.” (Koppel 8/30/2002) Author and Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward will later describe Powell as “dumbfounded.” (Roberts 2008, pp. 145) Cheney did, however, inform President Bush he would be speaking to the VFW. He did not provide Bush a copy of his speech. Bush merely told Cheney, “Don’t get me into trouble.” (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 175)
'Off Script' - Current deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will later observe that it was always a tactic of the Iraq campaign strategy for Cheney to “lean a little more forward in his rhetoric than the president.” However, McClellan will go on to say that Cheney did not always “stay on message,” and will blame Cheney’s “deep-seated certitude, even arrogance” that sometimes operates “to the detriment of the president.” Cheney’s assertion to the VFW that it would be pointless to send UN inspectors back to Iraq is, McClellan will reflect, “off script.” Bush wants to continue to “show that he [is] exhausting all diplomatic options” before invading Iraq. (McClellan 2008, pp. 138)

William Luti.William Luti. [Source: Helene C. Stikkel / Defense Department]Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, both staunch neoconservatives, rename the Northern Gulf Affairs Office on the Pentagon’s fourth floor (in the seventh corridor of D Ring) the “Office of Special Plans” (OSP) and increase its four-person staff to sixteen. (Strobel 8/16/2002; Arkin 11/24/2002; Hersh 5/12/2003; Lobe 8/7/2003; Rosenfeld 8/27/2003; Kwiatkowski 12/1/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) William Luti, a former navy officer and ex-aide to Vice President Cheney, is put in charge of the day-to-day operations (Borger 7/17/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) , apparently at the behest of Cheney. Luti was, according to former Defense Intelligence Agency official Patrick Lang, a member of Cheney’s “shadow National Security Council.” (Lang 6/2004)
Transforming NESA - Luti worked for the Near East and South Asian Affairs desk (NESA) at the Pentagon since mid-2001. Lang later describes NESA as having been “a Pentagon backwater, responsible primarily for arranging bilateral meetings with military counterparts” from various nations. Before the Afghanistan war, NESA worked closely with the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Defense Intelligence Officer (DIO) for the Near East, South Asia, and Counterterrorism. During Luti’s first months at NESA, the DIO was Bruce Hardcastle. The Pentagon dismantled the entire DIO system, partly because of friction between Luti and Hardcastle (see Early 2002). Lang will write, “The roots of the friction between Hardcastle and Luti were straightforward: Hardcastle brought with him the combined wisdom of the professional military intelligence community. The community had serious doubts about the lethality of the threat from Saddam Hussein, the terrorism links and the status of the Iraqi WMD programs. Luti could not accept this. He knew what he wanted: to bring down Saddam Hussein. Hardcastle could not accept the very idea of allowing a desired outcome to shape the results of analysis.” Luti transforms NESA into what Lang will call “a ‘de facto’ arm of the vice president’s office,” and in the process shuts Hardcastle out of NESA (and later OSP) intelligence briefings. Luti does not report to either Feith or Donald Rumsfeld, as his chain of command delineates, but to Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby. OSP staffer Karen Kwiatkowski later recalls being “shocked” to learn that Luti reports to Libby and not to his putative Pentagon superiors. She will say, “In one of the first staff meetings that I attended there, Bill Luti said, ‘Well, did you get that thing over to Scooter? Scooter wants this, and somebody’s got to get it over to him, and get that up to him right away.’ After the meeting, I asked one of my co-workers, who’d been there longer, ‘Who is this Scooter?’ I was told, ‘That’s Scooter Libby over at the OVP (Office of the Vice President). He’s the Vice President’s chief of staff.’ Later I came to understand that Cheney had put Luti there.” Under Luti, NESA becomes a virtual adjunct to the OSP. (Lobe 8/7/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004; Lang 6/2004)
Strong Neoconservative Influence - The Office of Special Plans is staffed with a tight group of like-minded neoconservative ideologues, who are known advocates of regime change in Iraq. Notably, the staffers have little background in intelligence or Iraqi history and culture. (Boehlert 7/16/2003; Lobe 8/7/2003; Kwiatkowski 12/1/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) Some of the people associated with this office were earlier involved with the Counter Terrorism Evaluation Group, also known as the “Wurmser-Maloof” project (see Shortly After September 11, 2001). They hire “scores of temporary ‘consultants‘… including like-minded lawyers, congressional staffers, and policy wonks from the numerous right-wing think-tanks in the US capital.” Neoconservative ideologues, like Richard Perle, Michael Ledeen, and Newt Gingrich, are afforded direct input into the Office of Special Plans. (Borger 7/17/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004; Unger 7/2006, pp. 150) Kwiatkowski later says she saw Ledeen going “in and out of there (OSP) all the time.” (Unger 7/2006, pp. 150)
Planning for Post-Saddam Iraq - The official business of Special Plans is to help plan for post-Saddam Iraq. The office’s staff members presumably “develop defense policies aimed at building an international coalition, prepare the secretary of defense and his top deputies for interagency meetings, coordinate troop-deployment orders, craft policies for dealing with prisoners of war and illegal combatants, postwar assistance and reconstruction policy planning, postwar governance, Iraqi oil infrastructure policy, postwar Iraqi property disputes, war crimes and atrocities, war-plan review and, in their spare time, prepare congressional testimony for their principals.” (Timmerman 12/2/2003)
Covert Source of 'Alternative' Intelligence - But according to numerous well-placed sources, the office becomes a source for many of the administration’s prewar allegations against Iraq. It is accused of exaggerating, politicizing, and misrepresenting intelligence, which is “stovepiped” to top administration officials who use the intelligence in their policy decisions on Iraq. (Strobel 8/16/2002; Arkin 11/24/2002; Hersh 5/12/2003; Lobe 8/7/2003; Rosenfeld 8/27/2003; Kwiatkowski 12/1/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004; Coman 7/11/2004; CNN 7/11/2004)
'Top Secret' - There are very few news reports in the American mainstream media that report on the office. In fact, the office is reportedly Top Secret. (Bamford 2004, pp. 308) “We were instructed at a staff meeting that this office was not to be discussed or explained,” Kwiatkowski will later say, “and if people in the Joint Staff, among others, asked, we were to offer no comment.” (Kwiatkowski 12/1/2003)
Part of a 'Separate Government,' Powell Feels - Colin Powell is said to have felt that Cheney and the neoconservatives in this “Gestapo” office had established what was essentially a separate government. (Hamilton 4/17/2004) Powell’s former chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, is even more blunt. “When I say ‘secret cabal,’ I mean ‘secret cabal,’ he says of the White House officials behind the OSP. He compares Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the neoconservatives to the Jacobins, the radical zealots who plunged 18th-century France into the Reign of Terror. “I see them as messianic advocates of American power from one end of the globe, much as the Jacobins in France were messianic advocates of the French Revolution. I don’t care whether utopians are Vladimir Lenin on a sealed train to Moscow or Paul Wolfowitz. You’re never going to bring utopia, and you’re going to hurt a lot of people in the process.” (Unger 2007, pp. 299-300) Among the claims critics find most troubling about the office are:
Heavy Reliance on Intelligence from Exiles and Defectors - The office relies heavily on accounts from Iraqi exiles and defectors associated with Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC), long considered suspect by other US intelligence agencies. (Hersh 5/12/2003; Boehlert 7/16/2003; Borger 7/17/2003; Lobe 8/7/2003; Buncombe 9/30/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) One defector in particular, code-named “Curveball,” provides as much as 98 percent of the intelligence on Iraq’s alleged arsenal of biological weapons. (CNN 7/11/2004) Much of the information provided by the INC’s sources consists of “misleading and often faked intelligence reports,” which often flow to Special Plans and NESA directly, “sometimes through Defense Intelligence Agency debriefings of Iraqi defectors via the Defense Human Intelligence Service and sometimes through the INC’s own US-funded Intelligence Collection Program, which was overseen by the Pentagon.” (Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) According to Kwiatkowski, the movement of intelligence from the INC to the Office of Special Plans is facilitated by a Colonel Bruner, a former military aide to Gingrich. (Hosenball and Isikoff 12/15/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004; Kwiatkowski 3/10/2004) Bruner “was Chalabi’s handler,” Kwiatkowski will tell Mother Jones. “He would arrange meetings with Chalabi and Chalabi’s folks.” (Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) Kwiatkowski also finds that OSP personnel, along with DIA and CIA officials, are taking part in the debriefing of INC informants. She will recall confronting one DIA officer, John Trigilio, about the practice: “I argued with [Tregilio] after the president’s Cincinnati speech (see October 5, 2002 and October 6, 2002). I told him that the president had made a number of statements that were just not supported by the intelligence. He said that the president’s statements are supported by intelligence, and he would finally say, ‘We have sources that you don’t have.’ I took it to mean the sources that Chalabi was bringing in for debriefing… Trigilio told me he participated in a number of debriefs, conducted in hotels downtown, or wherever, of people that Chalabi brought in. These debriefs had Trigilio from OSP, but also CIA and DIA participated… If [the information] sounded good, it would go straight to the OVP or elsewhere. I don’t put it out of possibility that the information would go straight to the media because of the (media’s) close relationship with some of the neoconservatives. So this information would make it straight out into the knowledge base without waiting for intelligence [analysts] to come by with their qualifications and reservations.” (Lang 6/2004)
Cherry-Picked Intelligence - The Office of Special Plans purposefully ignores intelligence that undermines the case for war while exaggerating any leads that support it. “It wasn’t intelligence—it was propaganda,” Kwiatkowski will later explain. “They’d take a little bit of intelligence, cherry-pick it, make it sound much more exciting, usually by taking it out of context, often by juxtaposition of two pieces of information that don’t belong together.” (Schmitt and Shanker 10/24/2002; Hersh 5/12/2003; Boehlert 7/16/2003; Borger 7/17/2003; Lobe 8/7/2003; Buncombe 9/30/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) “At the OSP, what they were doing was looking at all the intelligence they could find on WMD. That was the focal point, picking bits and pieces that were the most inflammatory, removing any context that might have been provided in the original intelligence report, that would have caused you to have some pause in believing it or reflected doubts that the intelligence community had, so if the intelligence community had doubts, those would be left out… They would take items that had occurred many years ago, and put them in the present tense, make it seem like they occurred not many years ago… But they would not talk about the dates; they would say things like, ‘He has continued since that time’ and ‘He could do it tomorrow,’ which of course, wasn’t true… The other thing they would do would be to take unrelated events that were reported in totally unrelated ways and make connections that the intelligence community had not made. This was primarily in discussing Iraq’s activities and how they might be related to al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups that might be against us, or against Israel… These kinds of links would be made. They would be made casually, and they would be made in a calculated way to form an image that is definitely not the image that anyone reading the original reports would have. The summaries that we would see from Intelligence did not match the kinds of things that OSP was putting out. So that is what I call propaganda development. It goes beyond the manipulation of intelligence to propaganda development.” (Lang 6/2004)
No Intelligence Oversight - The OSP bypasses established oversight procedures by sending its intelligence assessments directly to the White House and National Security Council without having them first vetted by a review process involving other US intelligence agencies. (Hersh 5/12/2003; Boehlert 7/16/2003; Borger 7/17/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) The people at Special Plans are so successful at bypassing conventional procedures, in part, because their neoconservative colleagues hold key positions in several other agencies and offices. Their contacts in other agencies include: John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security; Bolton’s adviser, David Wurmser, a former research fellow on the Middle East at the American Enterprise Institute, who was just recently working in a secret Pentagon planning unit at Douglas Feith’s office (see Shortly After September 11, 2001); Elizabeth Cheney, deputy assistant secretary of state for Near East Affairs; Stephen Hadley, the deputy national security adviser; Elliott Abrams, the National Security Council’s top Middle East aide; and Richard Perle, Newt Gingrich, James Woolsey and Kenneth Adelman of the Defense Policy Board. The office provides very little information about its work to other US intelligence offices. (Boehlert 7/16/2003; Borger 7/17/2003; Lobe 8/7/2003)
'Stealth Organization' - Greg Thielmann, the former director of the Strategic, Proliferation and Military Affairs Office at the State Department’s Intelligence Bureau, later says of the OSP: “It was a stealth organization. They didn’t play in the intelligence community proceedings that our office participated in. When the intelligence community met as a community, there was no OSP represented in these sessions. Because, if they had done that, they would have had to subject their views to peer review. Why do that when you can send stuff right in to the vice president?” (Lang 6/2004; Unger 2007, pp. 299) Lang will say in January 2004 that what happened was fundamentally different from anything that had happened under previous presidents. Cheney’s staff and allies “behaved as though they had seized control of the government in a ‘silent coup,’” The result, according to Lang, is “a highly corrupted system of intelligence and policymaking, one twisted to serve specific group goals, ends, and beliefs held to the point of religious faith.” (Unger 2007, pp. 301)
Pressuring Intelligence Analysts - Retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel Dale Davis, who headed the International Programs Department at the Virginia Military Institute until March 2004, and an expert on Middle East affairs, later says he believes intelligence analysts at the CIA and other agencies were pressured indirectly. Davis will say, “By creating the OSP [Office of Special Plans], Cheney was able to say, ‘Hey, look at what we’re getting out of OSP. How come you guys aren’t doing as well? What is your response to what this alternative analysis that we’re receiving from the Pentagon says?’ That’s how you do it. You pressure people indirectly.” Vincent Cannistraro, a former senior counterterrorism official with the CIA, will agree: “Over a long period of time, there was a subtle process of pressure and intimidation until people started giving them what was wanted… When the Senate Intelligence Committee interviewed, under oath, over 100 analysts, not one of them said, ‘I changed my assessment because of pressure.‘… The environment was conditioned in such a way that the analyst subtly leaned toward the conceits of the policymakers… The intelligence community was vulnerable to the aggressiveness of neoconservative policymakers, particularly at the Pentagon and at the VP’s office. As one analyst said to me, ‘You can’t fight something with nothing, and those people had something. Whether it was right or wrong, fraudulent or specious, it almost didn’t make any difference, because the policymakers believed it already, and if you didn’t have hard countervailing evidence to persuade them, then you were at a loss.’” (Lang 6/2004)
Strong Pro-Israel, Anti-Arab Biases - Lastly, the people involved in Special Plans openly exhibit strong pro-Israel and anti-Arab bias. The problem, note critics, is that the analysis of intelligence is supposed to be apolitical and untainted by ideological viewpoints. (Kwiatkowski 12/1/2003) According to a CIA intelligence official and four members of the Senate’s Intelligence Committee, Special Plans is the group responsible for the claim Bush will make in his 2003 State of the Union address that Iraq had attempted to procure uranium from an African country (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). (Dreyfuss 6/19/2003; Leopold 7/16/2003)
Personal Grudges against Intelligence Community - The OSP reflects the personal grudges and ill will of many in the Office of the Vice President against the intelligence community, in part because of the CIA’s refusal to give much weight to the claims of Chalabi and the INC. “This had been a fight for such a long period of time, where people were so dug in,” a friend of one of Vice President Cheney’s senior staffers will later reflect. A colleague of the senior staff later says, “They so believed that the CIA were wrong, they were like, ‘We want to show these f_ckers that they are wrong.’” (Foer and Ackerman 11/20/2003)
Propaganda - Kwiatkowski will later recall that the OSP generated a large amount of what she terms propaganda, in the form of “talking points” used in briefings and in press conferences. “With the talking points, many of the propagandistic bullets that were given to use in papers for our superiors to inform them—internal propaganda—many of those same phrases and assumptions and tones, I saw in Vice President Cheney’s speeches and the president’s speeches,” she will say. “So I got the impression that those talking points were not just for us, but were the core of an overall agenda for a disciplined product, beyond the Pentagon. Over at the vice president’s office and the [neoconservative news magazine] Weekly Standard, the media, and the neoconservative talking heads and that kind of thing, all on the same sheet of music.” Kwiatkowski identifies Abram Shulsky, a neoconservative academic and recent Pentagon hire, as the source of many of these talking points. (Lang 6/2004)
Denials, Counter-Accusations after Public Learns of OSP - After the existence of the Office of Special Plans is revealed to the public, the Pentagon will deny that it served as a direct conduit to the White House for misleading intelligence, instead claiming that its activities had been limited to postwar plans for Iraq. (Hersh 5/12/2003) And a December 2003 opinion piece published in Insight magazine will call the allegations surrounding the Office of Special Plans the work of conspiracy theorists. (Timmerman 12/2/2003)

At a meeting of the White House Iraq Group, speechwriter Michael Gerson suggests that Bush argue in his next speech that the US should not wait until there is conclusive evidence that Iraq has acquired a nuclear weapon because the first sign of a “smoking gun” may be a “mushroom cloud.” Gerson’s suggestion is met with enthusiastic approval. The soundbite is so well liked that the phrase is leaked to the New York Times before the speech, appearing in an article on September 8 (see September 8, 2002). (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 35) Gerson, a devout evangelical Christian, was trained by former Nixon aide Charles Colson, whom Colson’s former colleague John Dean describes as “Nixon’s hatchet man and political schemer.” (Dean 2004, pp. 62)

Condoleezza Rice appears on CNN to discuss the alleged threat posed to the US by Saddam Hussein. She insists that Iraq is intent on developing a nuclear weapon. “We do know that he is actively pursuing a nuclear weapon. We do know that there have been shipments going into Iran, for instance—into Iraq, for instance, of aluminum tubes that really are only suited to—high-quality aluminum tools that are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs. We know that he has the infrastructure, nuclear scientists to make a nuclear weapon. And we know that when the inspectors assessed this after the Gulf War, he was far, far closer to a crude nuclear device than anybody thought, maybe six months from a crude nuclear device. The problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don’t what the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” (CNN 9/8/2002; CNN 9/8/2002; Risen, Sanger, and Shanker 7/20/2003; US House Committee on Government Reform 3/16/2004) In his 2006 book The One Percent Doctrine, author Ron Suskind writes, “The statement sent off shock waves. Rice was criticized for fear-mongering, for suggesting that there was evidence that Hussein might have such a weapon. Arguments about proof, though, were missing the point—Rice’s roundabout argument was that the United States should act whether or not it found a “smoking gun.” She was showing an edge of the actual US policy: the severing of fact-based analysis from forceful response; acting on any inkling was now appropriate—to be safe, to be sure, to get an opponent before he can develop capability, so others know to not even start down that path.” (Suskind 2006, pp. 170)

Nicolo Pollari, chief of SISMI, Italy’s military intelligence service, meets briefly with US National Security Council officials. (Rocca 10/28/2005) Present at the meeting are National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice; her deputy, Stephen Hadley; and other US and Italian officials. (Bonini and d'Avanzo 10/25/2005; Rozen 10/25/2005; Bonini and d'Avanzo 10/26/2005; Wilkinson 10/28/2005; AGI online 10/29/2005)
Mysterious 'Courtesy Call' - Pollari can presumably set the record straight on the question of whether Iraq is trying to purchase aluminum tubes for manufacturing rockets or for use in building muclear weapons (see Between April 2001 and September 2002, April 11, 2001, July 25, 2002, September 24, 2002, October 1, 2002, Between December 2002 and January 2003, January 11, 2003, and March 7, 2003)—the aluminum tubes in question are exactly the same as the Italians use in their Medusa air-to-ground missile systems (see December 2002). Apparently Iraq is trying to reproduce “obsolete” missile systems dating back to when Italy and Iraq engaged in military trade. Pollari could also discuss the documents alleging that Iraq and Niger entered into a secret uranium deal (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001), a set of documents originally promulgated by SISMI and now thoroughly discredited (see February 5, 2003). But apparently Pollari discusses none of this with White House officials. Hadley, who hosts the meeting with Pollari, will refuse to say what they discuss, except to label Pollari’s visit “just a courtesy call,” and will add, “Nobody participating in that meeting or asked about that meeting has any recollection of a discussion of natural uranium, or any recollection of any documents passed.”
Meeting with Hadley, Not Tenet, Significant - Author Craig Unger will write in 2007 that the real significance of the meeting is that Pollari meets with Hadley (widely considered an ally of Vice President Dick Cheney), and not with Pollari’s counterpart, CIA Director George Tenet. Former CIA officer Philip Giraldi later says, “It is completely out of protocol for the head of a foreign intelligence service to circumvent the CIA. It is uniquely unusual.” Of the Iraq-Niger documents, Giraldi will say, “In spite of lots of people having seen the documents, and having said they were not right, they went around them.” Former CIA and State Department analyst Melvin Goodman will concur. “To me there is no benign interpretation of” the Pollari-Hadley meeting, Goodman will say. “At the highest level it was known that the documents were forgeries. Stephen Hadley knew it. Condi Rice [Hadley’s supervisor] knew it. Everyone at the highest level knew.” Neoconservative columnist, author, and former Italian intelligence asset Michael Ledeen, who has close ties with both Pollari and Hadley and may have played a part in producing the Iraq-Niger forgeries (see December 9, 2001). will deny setting up the meeting. And a former CIA official speaking on Tenet’s behalf will say that Tenet has no information to suggest that Pollari or elements of SISMI were trying to circumvent the CIA and go directly to the White House. (Unger 2007, pp. 258-259) (In 2006, history professor Gary Leupp will write that Ledeen is the informal liaison between SISMI and the Office of Special Plans—see September 2002). (Leupp 11/9/2005)
Downplaying Significance of Meeting - The Bush administration later insists the meeting was of little importance. Frederick Jones, a National Security Council spokesman, describes the meeting as a courtesy call of 15 minutes or less. He also says, “No one present at that meeting has any recollection of yellowcake [uranium oxide] being discussed or documents being provided.” (Jehl 10/28/2005)
Meeting Remains Secret until 2005 - This meeting is not reported until 2005, when Italy’s La Repubblica reports that a meeting—arranged through a backchannel by Gianni Castellaneta, the Italian prime minister’s diplomatic advisor—took place between Pollari and Hadley on this date. The report is refuted by Italy which insists it was actually a short meeting between Pollari and Rice. Italy says that although Hadley was present, he was really not part of the meeting. (AGI online 10/29/2005) It is not clear from the reporting, however, if the meeting acknowledged by Italy and Washington, is in fact the same meeting reported by La Repubblica.

White House speechwriter Michael Gerson contacts John Gibson, another speechwriter, at his Waldorf-Astoria hotel room where he is putting the final touches on Bush’s upcoming speech to the UN. Gerson asks him to contact National Security Council aide Robert Joseph about some new intelligence that Gibson might be able to insert into the speech. If it’s not used in the speech, “it’s something we might leak to the New York Times,” Gerson says. Gibson calls Joseph, who tells him to write in the speech that Iraq was caught trying to purchase 500 tons of uranium from Niger. Simultaneously, the office of Stephen Hadley, deputy national security adviser, asks the CIA to clear language so that President Bush can state: “Within the past few years, Iraq has resumed efforts to purchase large quantities of a type of uranium oxide known as yellowcake (see 1979-1982 and Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001).… The regime was caught trying to purchase 500 metric tons of this material. It takes about 10 tons to produce enough enriched uranium for a single nuclear weapon.” But later in the day, the CIA rescinds its approval for this passage, saying that the information for this allegation had come from a single source and was not solid enough for a presidential speech. The reference to the alleged attempt to obtain uranium is dropped. (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 85-86; Unger 2007, pp. 259)

The White House publishes a 26-page government white paper titled, “A Decade of Deception and Defiance,” which seeks to demonstrate that Saddam Hussein represents a serious and imminent threat to the United States. The report, written by White House Iraq Group member James Wilkinson, relies primarily on public sources, including reports that have been published by human rights groups and the State Department, as well as various newspaper articles, including two by the New York Times. (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 48) Section 5 of the report deals with “Saddam Hussein’s support for international terrorism,” though it makes no attempt to tie Hussein’s government to al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden. It lists six points linking Saddam Hussein to terrorist activities, some dating as far back as the ‘70s. One of the points criticizes Iraq for its ties to the Mujahadeen-e Khalq Organization (MKO), an obscure militant Iranian dissident group whose main office is in Baghdad. The report says: “Iraq shelters terrorist groups including the Mujahedin-e-Khalq Organization (MKO), which has used terrorist violence against Iran and in the 1970s was responsible for killing several US military personnel and US civilians.” The paper notes that the US State Department classified MKO as a “foreign terrorist organization” in 1997, “accusing the Baghdad-based group of a long series of bombings, guerilla cross-border raids and targeted assassinations of Iranian leaders.” (Isikoff 9/26/2002 Sources: Richard Durbin) The administration is quickly ridiculed for making the claim when, two weeks later, Newsweek reports that MKO’s front organization, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, has a small office in the National Press Building in Washington, DC. It is also reported that only two years beforehand this very group had been supported by then-Senator John Ashcroft and more than 200 other members of Congress. On several issues the senator and his colleagues had expressed solidarity with MKO at the behest of their Iranian-American constituencies. (Isikoff 9/26/2002) Another allegation included in the paper states that Iraqi defector Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, a civil engineer, “had visited twenty secret facilities for chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons.” According to the White House dossier, Haideri “supported his claims with stacks of Iraqi government contracts, complete with technical specifications.” Ten months earlier, the CIA had debriefed Haideri in Bangkok and concluded from the results of a polygraph that Haideri account was a complete fabrication (see December 17, 2001). (Executive Office of the President 9/12/2002 pdf file)

In response to Tony Snow’s probing on Fox News Sunday as to whether or not President Bush was convinced there were links between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is circumspect until she’s pressed. “He clearly has links to terrorism…—Links to terrorism [that] would include al-Qaeda….” (Fox News 9/15/2002; Islam Online 9/15/2002; CNN 9/26/2002; US House Committee on Government Reform 3/16/2004)

The French arrange a backchannel meeting between a friend of Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri Hadithi and the CIA’s station chief in Paris, Bill Murray. Sabri’s friend, a Lebanese journalist, tells Murray that Sabri would be willing to provide the CIA with accurate information on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction program in exchange for $1 million. The CIA agrees to advance the journalist $200,000. (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 45; Roston and Myers 3/21/2006) When CIA Director George Tenet announces the deal during a high-level meeting at the White House—attended by President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice—the news is greeted with enthusiasm. “They were enthusiastic because they said, they were excited that we had a high-level penetration of Iraqis,” Tyler Drumheller, the agency’s head of spying in Europe, later tells 60 Minutes. (CBS News 4/23/2006) But Sabri does not tell the CIA what the White House is expecting to hear. In a New York hotel room, the Lebanese journalist says that according to Sabri Iraq does not have a significant, active biological weapons program. He does however acknowledge that Iraq has some “poison gas” left over from the first Gulf War. Regarding the country’s alleged nuclear weapons program, Sabri’s friend says the Iraqis do not have an active program because they lack the fissile material needed to develop a nuclear bomb. But he does concede that Hussein desperately wants one. (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 62-63; Roston and Myers 3/21/2006) “He told us that they had no active weapons of mass destruction programs,” Drumheller, will recall. (Unger 2007, pp. 246-247) The White House immediately loses interest in Sabri as a source after the New York meeting. Sabri, Bush says, is merely telling the US “the same old thing.” The CIA continues to corroborate material provided to the agency by Sabri. Wiretaps on Sabri’s phone conversations by French intelligence back up Sabri’s claims, but Bush could not care less. “Bush didn’t give a f_ck about the intelligence,” a CIA officer will later say. “He had his mind made up.” CIA agent Luis (whose full name has never been disclosed) and John Maguire, the chief and deputy chief of the Iraq Operations Group, also lose interest in the lead. In one confrontation between Maguire and Murray, Maguire allegedly says: “One of these days you’re going to get it. This is not about intelligence. This is about regime change.” Drumheller will agree, saying the White House is “no longer interested.… They said, ‘Well, this isn’t about intel anymore. This is about regime change.’” (Roston and Myers 3/21/2006; CBS News 4/23/2006; Unger 2007, pp. 246-247)

UN Chief Weapons Inspector Hans Blix tells the Security Council that he intends to position an advance weapons inspection team in Iraq by October 15. He explains: “We will select some sites that we think are interesting to go to in the early phases, so it’s not like it takes two months before we can send any guys out there in the field. It will be much earlier than that.” (BBC 9/20/2002)

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. (Massing 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. (Warrick 9/19/2002; Borger 10/9/2002; Collier 10/12/2002) It is later revealed that scientists at the Energy Department secretly worked with Albright on the report. (Barstow, Broad, and Gerth 10/3/2004)

British Prime Minister Tony Blair gives a speech to Parliament concurrent with the just-released dossier on Iraqi WMD (see September 24, 2002). Blair combines fact—such as Iraq’s lengthy defiance and deception of UN weapons inspections since the 1991 Gulf War, the possible existence of tons of chemical and biological weapons material left unaccounted for in 1998, and the attempts by Iraq to subvert the UN’s Food for Oil program—with speculation that Saddam Hussein’s “chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons program is not an historic leftover from 1998.… His WMD program is active, detailed, and growing. The policy of containment is not working. The WMD program is not shut down. It is up and running.”
Unverified Claims - Blair calls the dossier “extensive, detailed, and authoritative,” and says that according to intelligence data used to compile it: “Iraq has chemical and biological weapons.… Saddam has continued to produce them… he has existing and active military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons, which could be activated within 45 minutes, including against his own Shi’a population, and … he is actively trying to acquire nuclear weapons capability.” Only the “45-minute” strike capability is not sourced from the dossier (see September 28, 2002). Blair makes a number of patently false allegations about Iraq’s nuclear weapons, including the disputed aluminum tubes claim (see Between April 2001 and September 2002, April 11, 2001, July 25, 2002, September 24, 2002, October 1, 2002, Between December 2002 and January 2003, January 11, 2003, and March 7, 2003) and the tale about Iraq attempting to purchase uranium from Niger (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, October 15, 2001, October 18, 2001, November 20, 2001, February 5, 2002, March 1, 2002, Late April or Early May 2002-June 2002, and Late June 2002). “[W]e know Saddam has been trying to buy significant quantities of uranium from Africa, though we do not know whether he has been successful,” Blair says. He tells the assembled lawmakers: “There will be some who dismiss all this. Intelligence is not always right. For some of this material there may be innocent explanations. There will be others who say, rightly, that, for example, on present going, it could be several years before he acquires a usable nuclear weapon. Though, if he were able to purchase fissile materiel illegally, it would only be a year or two. But let me put it at its simplest: on this 11-year history; with this man, Saddam; with this accumulated, detailed intelligence available; with what we know and what we can reasonably speculate: would the world be wise to leave the present situation undisturbed; to say, despite 14 separate UN demands on this issue, all of which Saddam is in breach of, we should do nothing; to conclude that we should trust not to the good faith of the UN weapons inspectors but to the good faith of the current Iraqi regime?”
Regime Change - After all of this buildup, Blair says that he is not necessarily calling for military action against Iraq, but “the case for ensuring Iraqi disarmament… is overwhelming.” He then makes the case for regime change, citing the need for a new leader “who can bring Iraq back into the international community where it belongs, not languishing as a pariah. Someone who can make the country rich and successful, not impoverished by Saddam’s personal greed. Someone who can lead a government more representative of the country as a whole, while maintaining absolutely Iraq’s territorial integrity. We have no quarrel with the Iraqi people. Liberated from Saddam, they could make Iraq prosperous and a force for good in the Middle East. So the ending of regime would be the cause of regret for no one other than Saddam.” Blair says, “our purpose is disarmament,” not military action, but it is hard to conceive how the regime change he advocates could be effected without military action. (Blair 9/24/2002) Two years later, Blair will admit that the claim is erroneous (see October 13, 2004).

The Times of London uses the recently released intelligence “dossier” from British intelligence (see September 24, 2002) to report that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein has sent agents into Africa to find uranium for Iraqi nuclear weapons. The Times does not inform its readers that many British journalists were shown evidence contradicting the British intelligence claims (see September 24, 2002). It focuses on the dossier’s claim that Iraqi “agents” have secretly visited several African countries in search of uranium. Thirteen African nations produce uranium to one extent or another. A Whitehall source tells The Times that while Hussein may have attempted to find African uranium, those alleged efforts were unsuccessful. “If Iraq had succeeded in buying uranium from Africa, the dossier would have said so,” the source says. The Times reports that Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from, among other sources, the Democratic Republic of Congo, though at least part of that nation’s uranium mines are currently under the control of troops from Zimbabwe. The dossier does not specify any other countries that may have been contacted by Iraq. The Times also repeats the dossier’s claim that Iraq has biological and chemical weapons that can be launched against targets in as little as 45 minutes (see Late May 2003, August 16, 2003, December 7, 2003, January 27, 2004, and October 13, 2004), that Iraq is developing missiles with ranges of 600 miles (see January 9, 2003, January 16, 2003, February 27, 2003, March 7, 2003, and June 2004), and that Hussein may have given his son Qusay the power to order the use of those weapons. It also reports that the dossier specifically downplays suspected links between Iraq and radical Islamist groups such as al-Qaeda. Hussein has little sympathy for Islamist fundamentalists, The Times reports. (Evans and Beeston 9/25/2002)

In his weekly radio address, President Bush tells the nation: “The Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons, is rebuilding the facilities to make more, and, according to the British government, could launch a biological or chemical attack in as little as 45 minutes after the order is given. The regime has long-standing and continuing ties to terrorist groups, and there are al-Qaeda terrorists inside Iraq. This regime is seeking a nuclear bomb, and with fissile material could build one within a year.” Many Americans are shocked and frightened by Bush’s flat litany of assertions. What they do not know is that none of them are true. The CIA had reluctantly agreed to produce a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq less than three weeks before (see September 5, 2002); the result is an NIE packed with half-truths, exaggerations, and outright lies (see October 1, 2002). None of Bush’s statements are supported by hard intelligence, and all will later be disproven. (Bush 9/28/2002; Center for Public Integrity 1/23/2008) In 2007, author Craig Unger will write that the conflict seems to have gotten personal with Bush. “There’s no doubt [Saddam Hussein’s] hatred is mainly directed against us,” Bush says during the address. “There’s no doubt he can’t stand us. After all, this is a guy that tried to kill my dad at one time.” (Unger 2007, pp. 264)

The CIA distributes a classified report on the aluminum tubes (see July 2001) concluding that Iraq probably intended to use the tubes as rotors in gas centrifuges. The report, titled “Iraq ‘s Hunt for Aluminum Tubes: Evidence of a Renewed Uranium Enrichment Program,” is the most detailed to date and will serve as the basis for the draft text of the majority position on the aluminum tubes in the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002). It summarizes Iraq’s “efforts to hide the tube procurement attempts, the materials, high cost, tight tolerances, dimensions and the anodized coating of the tubes, and CIA’s assessment that the tubes ‘matched’ known centrifuge rotor dimensions,” according to a later Senate Intelligence report The CIA assessment also states that the US Army’s National Ground Intelligence Center (NGIC) does not believe it is likely that the tubes were intended for a conventional rocket program. (US Congress 7/7/2004; Barstow, Broad, and Gerth 10/3/2004) The two analysts responsible for the NGIC opinion, George Norris and Robert Campos, will receive job performance awards in 2002, 2003, and 2004 even though, according to a later investigation headed by former Senator Charles Robb (D-Va.) and Judge Laurence H. Silberman, their analysis “was clearly mistaken and should have been recognized as such at the time.” (The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction (aka 'Robb-Silberman Commission') 3/31/2005; Pincus 5/28/2005) The CIA report also acknowledges that “some in the intelligence community” have argued that the tubes were likely intended to be used in the production of conventional rockets, not gas centrifuges. (Barstow, Broad, and Gerth 10/3/2004)

UNSCOM photo of an Iraqi unmanned aerial vehicle.UNSCOM photo of an Iraqi unmanned aerial vehicle. [Source: CIA]The National Intelligence Council, a board of senior analysts that prepares reports on crucial national security issues, completes a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq. The purpose of an NIE is to provide policy-makers with an intelligence assessment that includes all available information on a specific issue so they can make sound policy decisions. The formal document is supposed to be the result of a collaborative effort of the entire intelligence community and is supposed to be untainted by political interests. The decision to produce the assessment on Iraq followed criticisms that the administration had already made a decision to invade Iraq without having thoroughly reviewed all available intelligence on Iraq. Congress wanted the NIE completed prior to voting on a bill authorizing the president to use force against Iraq (see September 5, 2002). NIEs such as this usually take months to prepare, however this document took a mere three weeks. The person in charge of preparing the document was weapons expert Robert Walpole. According to the Independent of London, Walpole has a track record of tailoring his work to support the biases of his superiors. “In 1998, he had come up with an estimate of the missile capabilities of various rogue states that managed to sound considerably more alarming than a previous CIA estimate issued three years earlier,” the newspaper later reports. “On that occasion, he was acting at the behest of a congressional commission anxious to make the case for a missile defense system; the commission chairman was none other than Donald Rumsfeld….” (Gumbel 11/3/2003; Barstow, Broad, and Gerth 10/3/2004)
Summary of NIE Conclusions - The NIE says there are potentially links between Iraq and al-Qaeda, but uses cautionary language and acknowledges that its sources—Iraqi defectors and captured al-Qaeda members—have provided conflicting reports. The sections dealing with weapons of mass destruction are also filled with caveats and nuanced statements. In the second paragraph of its “key judgment” section, the NIE states that US intelligence lacks “specific information” on Iraq’s alleged arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. And while the NIE says that Iraq probably has chemical and biological weapons, it also says that US intelligence analysts believe that Saddam Hussein would only launch an attack against the US if he felt a US invasion were inevitable. It also concludes that Saddam would only provide terrorists with chemical or biological agents for use against the United States as a last resort in order to “exact vengeance by taking a large number of victims with him.” (Central Intelligence Agency 10/1/2002; Pincus 6/22/2003; Agence France-Presse 11/30/2003)
Reconstituted nuclear weapons programs - According to the NIE, “most” of the US’ six intelligence agencies believe there is “compelling evidence that Saddam [Hussein] is reconstituting a uranium enrichment effort for Baghdad’s nuclear weapons program.” The one agency that disagrees with this conclusion is the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), which says in its dissenting opinion: “The activities we have detected do not, however, add up to a compelling case that Iraq is currently pursuing what INR would consider to be an integrated and comprehensive approach to acquire nuclear weapons. Iraq may be doing so, but INR considers the available evidence inadequate to support such a judgment. Lacking persuasive evidence that Baghdad has launched a coherent effort to reconstitute its nuclear weapons programs, INR is unwilling to… project a timeline for the completion of activities it does not now see happening.” It is later learned that nuclear scientists in the Department of Energy’s in-house intelligence office were also opposed to the NIE’s conclusion and wanted to endorse the State’s alternative view. However, the person representing the DOE, Thomas Ryder, silenced them and inexplicably voted to support the position that Iraq had reconstituted its nuclear weapons program (see Late September 2002). The DOE’s vote was seen as critical, since the department’s assessment was supposed to represent the views of the government’s nuclear experts. (Central Intelligence Agency 10/1/2002; Milbank 7/19/2003; Landay 2/10/2004; Landay 2/10/2004)
Iraqi attempts to obtain uranium from Africa - According to the NIE, Iraq is “vigorously trying” to obtain uranium and “reportedly” is working on a deal to purchase “up to 500 tons” of uranium from Niger. It reads: “A foreign government service reported that as of early 2001, Niger planned to send several tons of ‘pure uranium’ (probably yellowcake) to Iraq. As of early 2001, Niger and Iraq reportedly were still working out arrangements for this deal, which could be for up to 500 tons of yellowcake. We do not know the status of this arrangement. Reports indicate Iraq also has sought uranium ore from Somalia and possibly the Democratic Republic of the Congo.” But the alternative view—endorsed by the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR)—says that it is doubtful Iraq is trying to procure uranium from Africa. ”(T)he claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa are, in INR’s assessment, highly dubious,” it reads. (Central Intelligence Agency 10/1/2002; Milbank 7/19/2003)
Iraqi attempts to obtain aluminum tubes - The NIE says that most “agencies believe that Saddam’s personal interest in and Iraq’s aggressive attempts to obtain high-strength aluminum tubes for centrifuge rotors—as well as Iraq’s attempts to acquire magnets, high-speed balancing machines, and machine tools—provide compelling evidence that Saddam is reconstituting a uranium enrichment effort for Baghdad’s nuclear weapons program.” To support its analysis of the tubes, it includes a chart which compares the dimensions of the aluminum tubes sought by Iraq with those that would be needed for a “Zippe-type” centrifuge. The chart’s comparison of the tubes makes it appear that the tubes are similar. But the NIE neglects to say that the aluminum tubes are an exact match with those used in Iraq’s 81-millimeter rocket. The estimate also claims that the tubes are not suitable for rockets. The assertion ignores the fact that similar tubes are used in rockets from several countries, including the United States. (US Congress 7/7/2004, pp. 84; Barstow, Broad, and Gerth 10/3/2004) It does note however that the 900 mm tubes ordered by Iraq would have to have been cut in half to make two 400 mm rotors, and that the tubes would have needed other modifications as well in order to be used in centrifuge rotors. (The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction (aka 'Robb-Silberman Commission') 3/31/2005) The NIE’s conclusion about the tubes is challenged by two US intelligence agencies, the DOE’s in house intelligence agency, and the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research. In its dissenting opinion, the DOE says, “It is well established in open sources that bare aluminum is resistant to UF6 and anodization is unnecessary for corrosion resistance, either for the aluminum rotors or for the thousands of feet of aluminum piping in a centrifuge facility. Instead, anodization would likely introduce uncertainties into the design that would need to be resolved before a centrifuge could be operated.” The DOE’s dissenting opinion—written mainly by nuclear physicist William Domke at the Energy Department’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and nuclear physicist Jeffrey Bedell at the Los Alamos National Laboratory—also notes that anodization is a standard practice in missile construction for environmental protection. The Energy Department’s centrifuge physicists suggested more than a year before that the tubes were meant to serve as casings for conventional rockets (see May 9, 2001), but CIA analysts held fast to their theory. (Milbank 7/19/2003; Nichols and Diamond 7/31/2003; Gellman 10/26/2003; US Congress 7/7/2004, pp. 59) Years later a DOE intelligence analyst will tell two journalists, “[The DOE’s nuclear scientists] are the most boring people. Their whole lives revolve around nuclear technology. They can talk about gas centrifuges until you want to jump out of a window. And maybe once every ten years or longer there comes along an important question about gas centrifuges. That’s when you should really listen to these guys. If they say an aluminum tube is not for a gas centrifuge, it’s like a fish talking about water.” (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 40) The State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, similarly writes in its dissenting footnote: “In INR’s view Iraq’s efforts to acquire aluminum tubes is central to the argument that Baghdad is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program, but INR is not persuaded that the tubes in question are intended for use as centrifuge rotors. INR accepts the judgment of technical experts at the US Department of Energy (DOE) who have concluded that the tubes Iraq seeks to acquire are poorly suited for use in gas centrifuges to be used for uranium enrichment and finds unpersuasive the arguments advanced by others to make the case that they are intended for that purpose. INR considers it far more likely that the tubes are intended for another purpose, most likely the production of artillery rockets. The very large quantities being sought, the way the tubes were tested by the Iraqis, and the atypical lack of attention to operational security in the procurement efforts are among the factors, in addition to the DOE assessment, that lead INR to conclude that the tubes are not intended for use in Iraq’s nuclear weapon program.” (Milbank 7/19/2003; Nichols and Diamond 7/31/2003)
Chemical and Biological Weapons - On the question of chemical and biological weapons, the NIE says: “We judge Iraq has some lethal and incapacitating BW agents and is capable of quickly producing and weaponizing a variety of such agents, including anthrax, for delivery by bombs, missiles, aerial sprayers, and covert operatives.” But the document also highlights the belief that it is unlikely that Iraq has any intention to use these against the US. “… Baghdad for now appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks with conventional or CBW [Chemical/Biological Weapons] against the United States, fearing that exposure of Iraqi involvement would provide Washington with a stronger case for making war.” Iraq would probably only use such weapons against the United States if it “feared an attack that threatened the survival of the regime were imminent or unavoidable, or possibly for revenge.” (Central Intelligence Agency 10/1/2002)
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles - Citing defectors and exiles, the NIE states that Iraq possesses unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) which can be used to deploy biological and chemical weapons. But the document includes a dissenting opinion by the Air Force’s National Air and Space Intelligence Center. The center, which controls most of the US military’s UAV fleet, says there is little evidence that Iraq’s drones are related to the country’s suspected biological weapons program. Current intelligence suggests that the drones are not capable of carrying much more than a camera and a video recorder. The Air Force believes that Iraq’s unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are for reconnaissance, like its counterparts in the US. The dissenting opinion reads: “… The Director, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, US Air Force, does not agree that Iraq is developing UAVs primarily intended to be delivery platforms for chemical and biological warfare (CBW) agents. The small size of Iraq’s new UAV strongly suggests a primary role of reconnaissance, although CBW delivery is an inherent capability.” (Linzer and Lumpkin 8/24/2003; Graham 9/26/2003; Landay 2/10/2004) Bob Boyd, director of the Air Force Intelligence Analysis Agency, will tell reporters in August 2003 that his department thought the allegation in the NIE “was a little odd,” noting that Air Force assessments “all along” had said that reconnaissance, not weapons delivery, was the purpose of Iraq’s drones. “Everything we discovered strengthened our conviction that the UAVs were to be used for reconnaissance,” he will explain. “What we were thinking was: Why would you purposefully design a vehicle to be an inefficient delivery means? Wouldn’t it make more sense that they were purposefully designing it to be a decent reconnaissance UAV?” (Linzer and Lumpkin 8/24/2003; Graham 9/26/2003) The NIE also says that Iraq is attempting to obtain commercially available route-planning software that contains topographic data of the United States. According to the NIE, this data could facilitate targeting of US sites. But Air Force analysts were not convinced by the argument, noting that this sort of information could easily be retrieved from the Internet and other highly accessible sources. “We saw nothing sinister about the inclusion of the US maps in route-planning software,” Boyd will tell reporters. (Graham 9/26/2003) Analysts at the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency are said to back the Air Force’s National Air and Space Intelligence Center’s position. (Linzer and Lumpkin 8/24/2003)
Appendices - Most of the caveats and dissents in the NIE are relegated to a variety of appendices at the end of the document. (Unger 2007, pp. 266)
Aftermath - After the completion of the National Intelligence Estimate, the Bush administration will continue to make allegations concerning Iraq’s weapons capabilities and ties to militant Islamic groups, but will include none of the qualifications and nuances that are present in the classified NIE. After excerpts from the classified version of the NIE are published in the press in July of 2003 (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003), administration officials will claim that neither Bush, Rice, nor other top officials were informed about the alternative views expressed by the DOE, INR, and the Air Force intelligence agency. They will also assert that the dissenting views did not significantly undermine the overall conclusion of the NIE that Iraq was continuing its banned weapons program despite UN resolutions. (Milbank 7/19/2003; Stevenson 7/19/2003; Milbank and Allen 7/27/2003) But this claim is later disputed in an article by the Washington Post, which reports: “One person who has worked with Rice describes as ‘inconceivable’ the claims that she was not more actively involved. Indeed, subsequent to the July 18 briefing, another senior administration official said Rice had been briefed immediately on the NIE—including the doubts about Iraq’s nuclear program—and had ‘skimmed’ the document. The official said that within a couple of weeks, Rice ‘read it all.’” (Milbank and Allen 7/27/2003) The official’s account, will in fact be confirmed by Rice herself, who reportedly tells Gwen Ifill at the National Association of Black Journalists Convention in Dallas on August 7, 2003: “I did read everything that the CIA produced for the president on weapons of mass destruction. I read the National Intelligence Estimate cover to cover a couple of times. I read the reports; I was briefed on the reports. This is—after 20 years, as somebody who has read a lot of intelligence reports—this is one of the strongest cases about weapons of mass destruction that I had ever read.” (Daily Howler 8/11/2003)
Conclusions 'Overstated' - George Bush is also provided with a summary of the NIE’s dissenting views. According to the Robb-Silberman report, released in early 2005, the president’s summary of the NIE notes that “INR and DOE believe that the tubes more likely are intended for conventional weapon uses.” (The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction (aka 'Robb-Silberman Commission') 3/31/2005) Additionally, senior CIA analyst Stuart Cohen, the acting chairman of the National Intelligence Council at this time, who helped write the document, will tell the Agence France-Presse, “Any reader would have had to read only as far as the second paragraph of the Key Judgments to know that as we said, ‘we lacked specific information on many key aspects of Iraq’s WMD program.’” The Key Judgments section is also where INR’s detailed dissent on the aluminum tubes allegation was located. (Agence France-Presse 11/30/2003) A Senate Intelligence Committee investigation will determine in July 2004 that “most of the major key judgments in the Intelligence Community’s October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), Iraq’s Continuing Programs for Weapons of Mass Destruction, either overstated, or were not supported by, the underlying intelligence reporting.” (US Congress 7/7/2004, pp. 59) And in 2006, one of the report’s authors, CIA senior analyst Paul Pillar, will admit the NIE had been written with the intent of “strengthen[ing] the case of going to war with the American public.” (Pillar 6/20/2006)
NIE 'Distorted' Due to Political Pressures, Author Claims - In 2007, author Craig Unger will write, “At the time, to virtually everyone in Congress, the NIE was still sacrosanct. It was still the last word in American intelligence. Yet it had been distorted thanks to political pressures from the neocons and the White House. If one took it seriously, the Niger documents were real. Curveball had credibility. And the aluminum tubes were part of Saddam’s nuclear program. Only one conclusion could be drawn: Saddam Hussein post an extraordinarily grave threat.” (Unger 2007, pp. 266)

The Associated Press reports that Islamist militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi “was in Baghdad about two months ago, and US officials suspect his presence was known to the government of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, a defense official said…” This anonymous US official also calls al-Zarqawi among al-Qaeda’s top two dozen leaders. The article notes that “some US officials… contend the United States has no solid evidence of Iraq and al-Qaeda working together to conduct terrorist operations.” (Lumpkin 10/2/2002) But despite this caveat, just five days later, in a public speech President Bush mentions “one very senior al-Qaeda leader who received medical treatment in Baghdad this year, and who has been associated with planning for chemical and biological attacks” (see October 7, 2002). This is a reference to al-Zarqawi, and is said to be based on communications intercepts. But the same day as the speech, Knight Ridder Newspapers reports that according to US intelligence officials, “The intercepts provide no evidence that [al-Zarqawi] was working with the Iraqi regime or that he was working on a terrorist operation while he was in Iraq.” (Strobel, Landay, and Walcott 10/7/2002; US President 10/14/2002) After the US invades Iraq in March 2003, evidence of this Baghdad connection will start to be questioned. Reports that al-Zarqawi was there to have a leg amputated will later be debunked (see January 26, 2003). In June 2003, Newsweek will report, “Bush Administration officials also have acknowledged that their information about al-Zarqawi’s stay in Baghdad is sketchy at best.” (Isikoff 6/25/2003) Whether al-Zarqawi stayed in Baghdad and if the Hussein government was aware of his movements remains unclear.

The CIA releases a 25-page declassified version of its October 1 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002) and posts it on the agency’s website for public viewing. (Pincus 6/22/2003; Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 281) The document, titled “Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs,” presents a very different assessment of the threat posed by Iraq than the original document. Printed on slick glossy magazine-style paper, and full of colorful maps, graphs, tables, and photos, the document contains few of the caveats and nuances that are in the classified version. Nor does it include the dissenting opinions of the Energy Department’s in-house intelligence agency, the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, or the Air Force’s National Air and Space Intelligence Center. (Central Intelligence Agency 10/4/2002 pdf file; Pincus and Priest 2/7/2003; Landay 2/10/2004) Paul Pillar, the principal author of the paper, will later admit, “In retrospect, we shouldn’t have done that white paper at all.” Instead of intelligence analysis, the “paper was policy advocacy,” he admits. (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 138-139)

Preparing for a major speech by President Bush on Iraq (see October 7, 2002), the National Security Council has sent the sixth draft of the speech to the CIA for vetting. It includes a line saying that Iraq “has been caught attempting to purchase up to 500 metric tons of uranium oxide from Africa—an essential ingredient in the enrichment process.” It is essentially the same language turned down by the CIA for an earlier speech (see September 11, 2002). In response, the CIA’s associate deputy director for intelligence [ADDI] sends a four-page memo to Bush administration officials, including Bush’s Deputy National Security Adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, and the chief speechwriter, Michael Gerson, expressing doubt over claims that Iraq had attempted to obtain uranium from Niger. On page three of the memo, the ADDI advises removing the allegation from the draft of Bush’s upcoming speech in Cincinnati. “[R]emove the sentence because the amount is in dispute and it is debatable whether it can be acquired from the source. We told Congress that the Brits have exaggerated this issue (see September 24, 2002). Finally, the Iraqis already have 550 metric tons of uranium oxide in their inventory.” (Milbank and Pincus 7/23/2003; Unger 2007, pp. 261-262) Despite the warning, the White House refuses to make substantial changes. Draft seven of the speech, completed later in the day (see October 6, 2002), contains the passage, “[T]he regime has been caught attempting to purchase substantial amounts of uranium oxide from sources in Africa.” (US Congress 7/7/2004) Hadley will later claim in July 2003 that he did not brief his boss, Condoleezza Rice, on the memo. (Milbank and Allen 7/27/2003)

The CIA’s associate deputy director for intelligence (ADDI) receives draft seven of President Bush’s upcoming speech in Cincinnati and sees that the speechwriters have failed to remove the passage on Iraq’s alleged attempt to purchase uranium from Niger, as the CIA had advised the day before (see October 5, 2002). The revised passage reads in part, “the regime has been caught attempting to purchase a substantial amount of uranium oxide from sources in Africa.” The ADDI contacts Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet and tells him that the “president should not be a fact witness on this issue” because the agency’s analysts consider the reporting “weak” and say it is based solely on one source. Tenet then personally calls White House officials, including Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, with the CIA’s concerns. The allegation is finally removed from the speech. Later in the day, to press its point even further, the CIA faxes another memo, summarizing its position on the Africa-uranium claim. The memo states: “[M]ore on why we recommend removing the sentence about procuring uranium oxide from Africa: Three points (1) The evidence is weak. One of the two mines cited by the source as the location of the uranium oxide is flooded. The other mine cited by the source is under the control of the French authorities. (2) The procurement is not particularly significant to Iraq’s nuclear ambitions because the Iraqis already have a large stock of uranium oxide in their inventory. And (3) we have shared points one and two with Congress, telling them that the Africa story is overblown and telling them this is one of the two issues where we differed with the British.” (Pincus and Allen 7/13/2003; Milbank and Pincus 7/23/2003; US Congress 7/7/2004; Unger 2007, pp. 261-262) The memo’s recipients include National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and her deputy, Hadley. (Milbank and Pincus 7/23/2003) Bush will not use the reference in his speech—although he does repeat the “smoking gun/mushroom cloud” trope (see September 4, 2002)—but the administration’s neoconservatives, such as Hadley, are not through with the issue. They will continue trying to insert the language into other speeches (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). Larry Wilkerson, the chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell, will later say: “That was their favorite technique. Stick that baby in there 47 times and on the 47th time it would stay. I’m serious. It was interesting to watch them do this. At every level of the decision-making process you had to have your axe out, ready to chop their fingers off. Sooner or later you would miss one and it would get in there.” (Unger 2007, pp. 261-262)

Fallujah II chemical plant.Fallujah II chemical plant. [Source: CIA]In a televised speech, President Bush presents the administration’s case that Saddam Hussein’s regime is a threat to the security of the nation and insists that regime change would improve lifes for Iraqis. “Some worry that a change of leadership in Iraq could create instability and make the situation worse. The situation could hardly get worse, for world security and for the people of Iraq. The lives of Iraqi citizens would improve dramatically if Saddam Hussein were no longer in power, just as the lives of Afghanistan’s citizens improved after the Taliban.” The speech is widely criticized for including false and exaggerated statements.
Iraq has attempted to purchase equipment used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons - Bush claims that a shipment of 3,000 aluminum tubes to Iraq, which were intercepted in Jordan by US authorities in July of 2001 (see July 2001), had been destined for use in a uranium enrichment program. But by this time numerous experts and government scientists have already warned the administration against making this allegation. (US President 10/14/2002) Three weeks before Bush’s speech, The Washington Post ran a story on the aluminum tubes. The article summarized a study by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), disputing the administration’s claim that the tubes were to be used for gas centrifuges. The report was authored by the institute’s president and founder, David Albright, a respected nuclear physicist, who had investigated Iraq’s nuclear weapons program after the First Gulf War as a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s inspection team and who has spoken before Congress on numerous occasions. In his study, he concluded that Iraq’s attempts to import the tubes “are not evidence that Iraq is in possession of, or close to possessing, nuclear weapons” and “do not provide evidence that Iraq has an operating centrifuge plant or when such a plant could be operational.” (Warrick 9/19/2002; Borger 10/9/2002; Collier 10/12/2002; Albright 10/9/2003) Soon after the speech, Albright tells The Guardian newspaper that there is still no evidence to substantiate that interpretation. As one unnamed specialist at the US Department of Energy explains to the newspaper, “I would just say there is not much support for that [nuclear] theory around here.” (Borger 10/9/2002) The Washington Post article also reported that government experts on nuclear technology who disagreed with the White House view had told Albright that the administration expected them to remain silent. (Warrick 9/19/2002; Fisk 9/22/2002) Houston G. Wood III, a retired Oak Ridge physicist considered to be “among the most eminent living experts” on gas centrifuges reviewed the tube question in August 2001 (see 1950s) and concluded at that time that it was very unlikely that the tubes had been imported to be used for centrifuges in a uranium enrichment program. He later tells The Washington Post in mid-2003 that “it would have been extremely difficult to make these tubes into centrifuges,” adding that it stretched “the imagination to come up with a way.” He also says that other centrifuge experts whom he knew shared his assessment of the tubes. (Gellman and Pincus 8/10/2003) In addition to the several outside experts who criticized the tubes allegation, analysts within the US intelligence community also doubted the claim. Less than a week before Bush’s speech, the Energy Department and the State Department’s intelligence branch, the INR, had appended a statement to a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq disputing the theory (see October 1, 2002). (Central Intelligence Agency 10/1/2002 Sources: David Albright)
Saddam Hussein ordered his nuclear program to continue in 1998 - Bush says that US intelligence has information that Saddam Hussein ordered his nuclear program to continue after inspectors left in 1998. “Before being barred from Iraq in 1998, the International Atomic Energy Agency dismantled extensive nuclear weapons-related facilities, including three uranium enrichment sites,” Bush charges. “That same year, information from a high-ranking Iraqi nuclear engineer who had defected revealed that despite his public promises, Saddam Hussein had ordered his nuclear program to continue.” (Collier 10/12/2002; US President 10/14/2002) But Bush’s “high-ranking” source turns out to be Khidir Hamza, who is considered by many to be an unreliable source. Albright, who was president of the Institute for Science and International Security where Hamza worked as an analyst from 1997 to 1999, says that after Hamza defected, “he went off the edge [and] started saying irresponsible things.” (Collier 10/12/2002) And General Hussein Kamel, Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law who was in charge of the dictator’s former weapons program but who defected in 1995, told UNSCOM and IAEA inspectors, as well as US and British intelligence, that Khidir Hamza was “a professional liar.” Kamel explained, “He worked with us, but he was useless and always looking for promotions. He consulted with me but could not deliver anything…. He was even interrogated by a team before he left and was allowed to go.” (United Nations Special Commission 4/16/1998; Hersh 5/12/2003)
Iraq is developing drones that could deploy chemical and biological weapons - The President claims that Iraq is developing drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which “could be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons across broad areas.” He goes so far as to say, “We’re concerned that Iraq is exploring ways of using these UAVs for missions targeting the United States.” (Borger 10/9/2002; US President 10/14/2002) But this claim comes shortly after US intelligence agencies completed a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, in which Air Force intelligence had disputed the drone allegation (see October 1, 2002). Bush’s drone allegation is quickly derided by experts and other sources. The Guardian of London reports two days later that according to US military experts, “Iraq had been converting eastern European trainer jets, known as L-29s, into drones, but… that with a maximum range of a few hundred miles they were no threat to targets in the US.” (Borger 10/9/2002) And the San Francisco Chronicle will cite experts who say that “slow-moving unmanned aerial vehicles would likely be shot down as soon as they crossed Iraq’s borders” because “Iraqi airspace is closely monitored by US and British planes and radar systems.” The report will also note, “It’s also unclear how the vehicles would reach the US mainland—the nearest point is Maine, almost 5, 500 miles away—without being intercepted.” (Collier 10/12/2002) Anthony Cordesman, a security analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, will say he believes the drone allegation is unrealistic. In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, he says, “As a guesstimate, Iraq’s present holdings of delivery systems and chemical and biological weapons seem most likely to be so limited in technology and operational lethality that they do not constrain US freedom of action or do much to intimidate Iraq’s neighbors.” (Collier 10/12/2002) These criticisms of Bush’s claim are validated after the US invasion of Iraq. Two US government scientists involved in the post-invasion hunt for weapons of mass destruction will tell the Associated Press in August 2003 that they inspected the drones and concluded that they were never a threat to the US. “We just looked at the UAVs and said, ‘There’s nothing here. There’s no room to put anything in here,’” one of the scientists will say. “The US scientists, weapons experts who spoke on condition of anonymity, reached their conclusions after studying the small aircraft and interviewing Iraqi missile experts, system designers and Gen. Ibrahim Hussein Ismail, the Iraqi head of the military facility where the UAVs were designed,” the Associated Press will explain in its report. (Linzer and Lumpkin 8/24/2003)
Saddam Hussein could give terrorists weapons of mass destruction - Bush asserts, “Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists.” (US President 10/14/2002) But not only have numerous experts and inside sources disputed this theory (see July 2002-March 19, 2003), US intelligence’s National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq—completed just one week before—concluded that this is an unlikely scenario (see October 1, 2002). “Baghdad, for now, appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks with conventional or CBW against the United States,” the document clearly stated. “Should Saddam conclude that a US-led attack could no longer be deterred he probably would become much less constrained in adopting terrorist actions.” (Collier 10/12/2002)
Iraq rebuilding facilities associated with production of biological and chemical weapons - Bush claims that surveillance photos indicate that Iraq “is rebuilding facilities that it had used to produce chemical and biological weapons.” (US President 10/14/2002) On the following day, photos are published on the White House website showing that Iraq had repaired three sites damaged by US bombs—the Al Furat Manufacturing Facility, the Nassr Engineering Establishment Manufacturing Facility, and Fallujah II. (US President 10/14/2002) But no evidence is provided by the White House demonstrating that these sites have resumed activities related to the production of weapons of mass destruction. Iraqi authorities will give reporters a tour of the facilities on October 10 (see October 10, 2002).
Iraq has trained al-Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases - Bush alleges that Iraq has trained al-Qaeda operatives “in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases.” (US President 10/14/2002) The claim is based on a September 2002 CIA document which had warned that its sources were of “varying reliability” and that the claim had not yet been substantiated (see September 2002). The report’s main source, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an al-Qaeda operative who offered the information to CIA interrogators while in custody, later recants the claim (see February 14, 2004). A Defense Intelligence Agency report in February 2002 (see February 2002) had also expressed doubt in the claim, going so far as to suggest that al-Libi was “intentionally misleading [his] debriefers.” (CNN 9/26/2002; Jehl 7/31/2004; Isikoff 7/5/2005; Jehl 11/6/2005) And earlier in the month, US intelligence services had concluded in their National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq that this allegation could not be confirmed. (CNN 9/26/2002; Royce 10/10/2002; Collier 10/12/2002; Pincus 6/22/2003)
A very senior al-Qaeda leader received medical treatment in Baghdad - Bush claims: “Some al-Qaeda leaders who fled Afghanistan went to Iraq. These include one very senior al-Qaeda leader who received medical treatment in Baghdad this year, and who has been associated with planning for chemical and biological attacks.” The allegation refers to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born Palestinian who is the founder of al-Tawhid, an organization whose aim is to kill Jews and install an Islamic regime in Jordan. It was first leaked to the press by an anonymous US official several days before Bush’s speech (see October 2, 2002). The allegation is partly based on intercepted telephone calls in which al-Zarqawi was overheard calling friends or relatives (see December 2001-Mid-2002). But on the same day as Bush’s speech, Knight Ridder Newspapers reports that according to US intelligence officials, “The intercepts provide no evidence that the suspected terrorist was working with the Iraqi regime or that he was working on a terrorist operation while he was in Iraq.” (Strobel, Landay, and Walcott 10/7/2002; US President 10/14/2002) Al-Zarqawi will link with al-Qaeda, but only in 2004, after the start of the war in Iraq (see October 17, 2004).

Italian freelance information peddler and former SISMI agent Rocco Martino, surprised at the tremendous media coverage his documents alleging an Iraq-Niger uranium deal are receiving (see September 24, 2002,March 2000, Late June 2002, and Summer 2004), approaches Elisabetta Burba, a journalist for a Milan news magazine, Panorama. Martino and Burba have worked together in the past; she considers him to be a reliable source. Panorama is edited by Carlo Rossella, a close political ally of conservative Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (see October 16, 2001). Berlusconi is a close ally of the Bush administration, and is actively working with the US to promote the war with Iraq. One of Panorama’s foreign contributors is American neoconservative Michael Ledeen (see December 9, 2001). These are all considerations which may have influenced Martino’s decision to contact Burba rather than a journalist with another news outlet. He tells her that he has some documents (see March 2000) that might interest her. (Talking Points Memo 10/31/2003; Huband 8/2/2004; Unger 2007, pp. 259-261; Eisner 4/3/2007)
'Let's Make This War Start' - They meet at a restaurant in Rome. Martino tells Burba that he has documents proving that Iraq made a deal to purchase hundreds of tons of uranium from Niger. “Let’s make this war start,” he says. “This is a megagalactica situation.” (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 147)
The 'Italian Letter' - Perhaps the most interesting document is a letter from Nigerien President Mamadou Tandja to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, giving his formal approval for a deal for Niger to sell 500 tons of uranium a year to Iraq. Washington Post reporter Peter Eisner will later write, “This was the smoking gun in the package, claiming to show the formal approval of Niger’s president to supply Iraq with a commodity that would in all likelihood only be used for a nuclear weapons program: Iraq had no nuclear power plants.” The letter is written in all capital letters, like an old telex, is dated July 27, 2000, and bears what Eisner describes as “an odd shield on the top, a shining sun surrounded by a horned animal head, a star, and a bird.” It is marked “Confidential and Urgent.” The letter reads in part, “500 tons of pure uranium per year will be delivered in two phases.” It bears a seal reading “The Office of the President of the Republic of Niger.” Written over the seal is a barely legible signature, apparently from Tandja. (Eisner 4/3/2007)
Cash on Corroboration - Martino hands over copies of the documents, totaling some 22 pages, mostly in French, and offers to sell Burba the originals. Skeptical but interested, Burba agrees to pay Martino 10,000 euros—about $12,500—for the documents if they can be corroborated by independent authorities. When Burba informs Rossella of the deal later in the day, he proposes sending her to Africa to investigate the claim (see October 16, 2002 and After), and insists she give copies of Martino’s documents to the US embassy. “I think the Americans are very interested in this problem of unconventional weapons,” he tells her. (Agence France-Presse 7/19/2003; Reuters 7/19/2003; Hersh 10/27/2003; Talking Points Memo 10/31/2003; Unger 2007, pp. 259-261; Eisner 4/3/2007)

Italian Panorama journalist Elisabetta Burba goes to the US Embassy in Rome and gives US officials copies of the Niger uranium documents (see March 2000) that she had obtained two days before (see Afternoon October 7, 2002). (Agence France-Presse 7/19/2003; Agence France-Presse 7/19/2003; Priest 7/20/2003; Associated Press 7/20/2003; Agence France-Presse 9/19/2003; Hersh 10/27/2003) Up till now, the embassy had only received reports of the documents. (Unger 2007, pp. 261) It is likely that the so-called “Italian Letter,” a letter purporting to be from the president of Niger to Iraq’s Saddam Hussein confirming the Iraq-Niger uranium deal, is not in the bundle of documents Burba brings to the embassy. (ERiposte 3/6/2006) Burba meets with the embassy’s press spokesman, Ian Kelly. Over coffee, she tells him that she has documents purporting to show that Iraq has signed a deal to buy uranium from Niger, and she needs his help to confirm their authenticity and accuracy. Kelly brings three others into the discussion—a political officer, one of his own staffers, and perhaps a US military official, as Burba will later recall—and moves the entire group into his office. The subsequent discussion is brief; Burba hands over the documents. Kelly tells her the embassy will look into the matter. The CIA station chief, Jeff Castelli, refuses to meet with Burba. (Eisner 4/3/2007) Castelli is told about Burba’s visit, but is not interested. As the CIA’s head of European operations, Tyler Drumheller, will later recall, Castelli says, “This is bullsh_t we don’t have time to waste on.” Castelli receives a copy of the documents but quickly forgets about them. According to Drumheller, Castelli is “not the most organized guy in the world. And his view was, ‘This is the least important thing that’s coming across my desk now.’ He just made a mistake.” (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 148; CBS News 4/23/2006) Several newspapers cite sources (mostly unnamed, so it’s possible they are all relying on the same sources) that appear to support Drumheller’s account. (New York Times 3/23/2003; Priest 7/20/2003; Hersh 10/27/2003) For example, an unnamed senior CIA official will tell Knut Royce of Newsday in July of 2003 that the CIA “had serious questions about [the claims] from day one” (see July 21, 2003). The agency “had accounts (see October 15, 2001, February 5, 2002, and March 25, 2002) of them [the letters] and that was close enough. We didn’t take it that seriously to begin with.… We didn’t put a lot of stock in these reports from Niger. We didn’t rush around to get the actual documents.” (Royce 7/11/2003) The documents are faxed to the State Department on October 15 (see October 15, 2002), and its intelligence unit will quickly conclude that the papers are probably fakes. (Priest 7/20/2003; Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 148; Unger 2007, pp. 261)

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