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Context of 'November 1995: US Current and Former Officials Play Prominent Roles in Dayton Peace Talks'

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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.

Michael Ledeen, speaking at an event sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), states: “No stages. This is total war. We are fighting a variety of enemies. There are lots of them out there. All this talk about first we are going to do Afghanistan, then we will do Iraq… this is entirely the wrong way to go about it. If we just let our vision of the world go forth, and we embrace it entirely and we don’t try to piece together clever diplomacy, but just wage a total war… our children will sing great songs about us years from now.” (Institute 10/29/2001; Vest 11/21/2001) Interestingly, several sources credit fellow AEI neoconservative Richard Perle, and not Ledeen, with the quote, including John Pilger’s book The New Rulers of the World (Pilger 2002, pp. 10) and former State Department and USAID official William Fisher. (Fisher 2/1/2005) Perle is the moderator of the AEI event where Ledeen speaks. (Institute 10/29/2001; Vest 11/21/2001)

Juma al-Dosari.Juma al-Dosari. [Source: PBS]In November 2001, al-Qaeda operative Juma al-Dosari is captured in Afghanistan. He is soon transferred to the Guantanamo prison. During interrogation in the spring of 2002, he reveals several aliases and that he was trying to recruit a group of US citizens in New York state known as the “Lackawanna Six.” Based on the aliases, US intelligence realizes they have already intercepted communications between him and Osama bin Laden’s son Saad bin Laden, and also him and al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash. They learn he has a long history with al-Qaeda, having fought in Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Chechnya. He was arrested in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia on different occasions for involvement in the 1996 Khobar Towers bombings (see June 25, 1996). He first went to the US in 1999, staying several months in Indiana. Then he got a job at a mosque in Bloomington, Indiana, in the autumn of 2000. He began traveling around the US as a visiting imam, but investigators believe this was just his cover while he worked to recruit for al-Qaeda. In April 2001, he visited Buffalo, New York, and helped convince the “Lackawanna Six” to go to Afghanistan (see April-August 2001). He left the US for Afghanistan in late September 2001. The FBI gets this information in May 2002 and begins monitoring the “Lackawanna Six,” as they are all back in the US. Investigators suspect al-Dosari recruited others in other cities, but they do not know who. (PBS Frontline 10/16/2003; PBS Frontline 10/16/2003) In 2007, al-Dosari will be released from Guantanamo without explanation and set free in Saudi Arabia (see July 16, 2007).

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).

Nine Republican senators, led by conservatives Jesse Helms (R-NC), Trent Lott (R-MS), and Jon Kyl (R-AZ), send a letter to President Bush urging him to withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (see May 26, 1972, May 1, 2001, and June 2001). They explain their position by arguing that the ABM Treaty has become “the most significant obstacle to improved relations between the United States and Russia.” This argument is a complete reversal of conservatives’ earlier positions: that arms control agreements such as the ABM Treaty did nothing to stabilize relations between the US and its nuclear-armed opponents. The argument also flies in the face of public and private statements by Russian leaders, who consider the treaty one of the key elements of stable US-Russian relations. Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly stressed the importance of the treaty in maintaining nuclear parity between the two nations (see July 2001), even as Russia seeks to reduce its nuclear arsenal from 6,000 to 1,500 deployed missiles. In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will speculate as to why conservatives wish to withdraw from the treaty: “For isolationists, missile defense renewed the dream of Fortress America, allowing us to retreat even further from crises abroad. For nationalists and moralists, missile defense was a shield against engagement and detente in the event that, say, North Korea was to develop a nuclear-armed ICBM (see August 31, 1998). For neoconservatives, missile defense was a necessary adjunct to their proactive vision of changing regimes and democratizing the world” (see March 12, 2001). (Scoblic 2008, pp. 174-176)

Th Los Angeles Times reports, “The FBI is increasingly convinced that the person behind the recent anthrax attacks is a lone wolf within the United States who has no links to terrorist groups but is an opportunist using the Sept. 11 hijackings to vent his rage…” The FBI is said to base this conclusion on “case studies, handwriting and linguistic analysis, forensic data and other evidence.” FBI investigators say they are looking for “an adult male with at least limited scientific expertise who was able to use laboratory equipment easily obtained for as little as $2,500 to produce high-quality anthrax.” They believe he is an “anti-social loner” who “has little contact with the public and carries deep-seated resentments but does not like direct confrontation.” However, these investigators admit that psychological profiling is a rough science, especially since they have little more than a small number of words written on the anthrax-laced letters. The letters appear to have tried to frame Muslims for the attacks. For instance, each letter contains the phrase “Allah is great.” Investigators say they are not completely ruling out an overseas connection to the letters, such as an Iraqi or Russian connection, but they consider it very unlikely. Investigators have not explained why they are so confident the attacks were caused by only one person. (Lichtblau and Garvey 11/10/2001)

Richard Perle, chairman of the Defense Policy Board, says in a speech delivered at the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s annual dinner that Saddam Hussein “is busily at work on a nuclear weapon” and that “it’s simply a matter of time before he acquires nuclear weapons.” His assertion is based on information that was provided to him personally by Iraqi defector Khidir Hamza. According to Perle, Hamza said that after the Israeli strikes against Iraq’s Osirak reactor in 1981 (see June 7, 1981), Iraq built some 400 uranium enrichment facilities all over the country in order to protect its nuclear program from future attacks. “Some look like farmhouses, some of them look like classrooms, some of them look like warehouses. You’ll never find them. They don’t turn out much but every day they turn out a little bit of nuclear materials.” (Perle 11/14/2001)

Defense Policy Board member Richard Perle, discussing the US’s planned reaction to the 9/11 attacks, says that Iraq is next on the US’s military strike list. CNN anchor John King asks, “Next phase Saddam Hussein?” and Perle replies, “Absolutely.” The day before, on ABC, Perle explained why the US had to make such a move: “Weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Saddam Hussein, plus his known contact with terrorists, including al-Qaeda terrorists, is simply a threat too large to continue to tolerate.” And what would the upshot of such an invasion be? Perle tells his CNN listeners, “We would be seen as liberators in Iraq.” (Moyers 4/25/2007)

Neoconservative professor Eliot Cohen writes that the Afghan war is misnamed. It should be, he says, the latest salvo in “World War IV,” the US-led fight against Islamist terrorism. In agreement with other neoconservatives (see 1992, February 2002, April 3, 2003, and Spring 2007), Cohen says that World War III was the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union. Like the Cold War, this “world war” against militant Islam “is, in fact, global;… will involve a mixture of violent and nonviolent efforts;… will require mobilization of skill, expertise and resources, if not of vast numbers of soldiers;… may go on for a long time; and… has ideological roots.” Afghanistan is “just one front in World War IV,” Cohen asserts, and after the US destroys al-Qaeda and kills its leadership, including, presumably, Osama bin Laden, it must then engage in new battles. Cohen recommends that the US ally itself with secular democracies in the Muslim world, and actively target Islamic regimes that sponsor terrorism, including Iraq (which he calls “the obvious candidate,” as it “not only helped al-Qaeda, but attacked Americans directly… and developed weapons of mass destruction”). After overthrowing the Iraqi regime, he counsels the US to “mobilize in earnest.” (Cohen 11/20/2001)

Assistant Secretary of Defense Peter Rodham, who works in Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith’s office, asks Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz to “[o]btain approval of creation of a Team B” (see Early 1976) which “[t]hrough independent analysis and evaluation… would determine what is known about al-Qaeda’s worldwide terror network, its suppliers, and relationship to states and other international terrorist organizations.” The 1976 Team B exercise was a deeply flawed effort by conservatives and neoconservatives to second-guess the US intelligence community’s findings about Soviet military and intelligence capabilities (see November 1976). Feith studied under Team B leader Richard Pipes at Harvard, and shares his fundamental distaste and mistrust of US intelligence capabilities. Feith and Wolfowitz believe that “Team B” showed just how limited and misguided the CIA’s intelligence reporting could be, and think that the same “Team B” approach could provide heretofore-unrevealed information about Islamist terrorism. Feith sets about producing a report “proving” a sinister relationship between al-Qaeda and Iraq (see July 25, 2002), while Wolfowitz begins work on what will become the Office of Special Plans (see September 2002). (Scoblic 2008, pp. 218-220)

Christopher DeMuth.Christopher DeMuth. [Source: American Enterprise Institute]Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz arranges for Christopher DeMuth, president of the neoconservative think tank The American Enterprise Institute (AEI), to create a group to strategize about the war on terrorism. The group DeMuth creates is called Bletchley II, named after a team of strategists in World War II. The dozen members of this secret group include:
bullet Bernard Lewis, a professor arguing that the US is facing a clash of civilizations with the Islamic world.
bullet Fareed Zakaria, a Newsweek editor and columnist.
bullet Mark Palmer, a former US ambassador to Hungary.
bullet Fouad Ajami, director of the Middle Eastern Studies Program at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies.
bullet James Wilson, a professor and specialist in human morality and crime.
bullet Ruel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA Middle East expert.
bullet Steve Herbits, a close consultant to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
According to journalist Bob Woodward, the group comes to quick agreement after just two days of discussions and a report is made from their conclusions. They agree it will take two generations for the US to defeat radical Islam. Egypt and Saudi Arabia are the keys to the problems of the Middle East, but the problems there are too intractable. Iran is similarly difficult. But Iraq is weak and vulnerable. DeMuth will later comment: “We concluded that a confrontation with Saddam [Hussein] was inevitable. He was a gathering threat - the most menacing, active, and unavoidable threat. We agreed that Saddam would have to leave the scene before the problem would be addressed.” That is the key to transform the region. Vice President Dick Cheney is reportedly pleased with their report. So is National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who finds it “very, very persuasive.” It is said to have a strong impact on President Bush as well. Woodward later notes the group’s conclusions are “straight from the neoconservative playbook.” (Woodward 2006, pp. 83-85)

The CIA realizes that a reported visit by Mohamed Atta to Prague, Czech Republic, was actually made by a Pakistani businessman with a similar name (see May 31, 2000), not by the 9/11 hijacker. Hijacker Atta’s alleged Prague visit was used to bolster the theory that he met an Iraqi intelligence agent there in April 2001 (see September 14, 2001), and that Iraq was connected to 9/11. The Pakistani arrived on May 31, 2000 and was deported, as he did not have a Czech visa. Hijacker Atta arrived two days later on his way to the US on a Czech visa that came into effect on June 1. Shortly after 9/11, it was thought that Atta’s business in Prague in May 2000 was so urgent that he had to fly into the airport and be deported one day before his visa came into effect (note: the theory was that he must have met someone at the airport while waiting for his deportation flight). However, investigation by the CIA, Czech and German authorities finds that the May 30 entry was made by a namesake, not the hijacker. (Crewdson 8/29/2004)

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)

According to a later report by the Senate Intelligence Committee, Pentagon officials conceal potentially life-saving intelligence gleaned from Iranian agents. The report will find that in 2001, the officials, Larry Franklin and Harold Rhode, fail to pass along information gained from Iranian agents to US intelligence agencies, including reports that Iran has sent “hit squads” to Afghanistan to kill Americans. The findings will be based on information from highly unreliable sources: Iranian arms merchant Manucher Ghorbanifar and former Pentagon official Michael Ledeen, both of whom have often provided false or questionable information gathered from questionable sources (see April 3, 2005). In a series of meetings authorized by then-Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley (see December 9, 2001, December 12, 2001, June 2002, July 2002, and June 2003), two Pentagon officials, including one who reported to then-Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith (see September 2002), meet with Ghorbanifar, Ledeen, and other Iranians. Hadley does not fully brief CIA Director George Tenet and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage about the meetings. The head of the DIA is briefed on the meeting but is not authorized to keep a written summary of it or to discuss it on the orders of then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. For his part, Ledeen will say he twice briefed the US ambassador to Italy about the meetings. “Any time the CIA wanted to find out what was going on all they had to do was ask,” he will say. Though the report will admit that the sources of the intelligence are unreliable, it will still criticize the Pentagon for failing to allow what it calls “potentially useful and actionable intelligence” to be shared with intelligence agencies. (Hess 6/5/2008; Senate Intelligence Committee 6/5/2008 pdf file)

Vice President Cheney says on Fox News, “I never say anything is inevitable, but if I were Saddam Hussein, I’d be thinking very carefully about the future and I’d be looking very closely to see what happened to the Taliban in Afghanistan.” (Kirk 6/20/2006)

The newly-installed US ambassador to Italy, Mel Sembler, learns during the course of a private dinner with Iran-Contra figure Michael Ledeen and Italian defense minister Antonio Martino about the secret backchannel meeting they attended three days before (see December 9, 2001) with US defense officials, former Iran-Contra figures, and Iranian government officials. After the dinner, Sembler immediately contacts Jeff Castelli, the CIA station chief in Rome, to find out if he knows about the meeting. But the station chief says he was also unaware of the meeting. “Soon both Sembler and the Rome station chief were sending anxious queries back to the State Department and CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., respectively, raising alarms on both sides of the Potomac” since all US government contact with foreign government intelligence agencies is supposed to be overseen by the CIA. (Marshall, Rozen, and Glastris 9/2004) Old State Department hands are horrified to learn of Ledeen’s involvement with the Iraq-Niger fabrications. Bad enough that Elliott Abrams was brought into the administration (see November 2002-December 2002), they say, but with Ledeen and his associate [Iranian arms dealer Manucher] Ghorbanifar making an appearance, it seems to these State Department veterans that the days of Reagan-era “cowboy diplomacy” are back in full swing. “One of the truly remarkable elements of the neocon story is their addiction to Ghorbanifar,” a State Department official will say in 2007. “It is part of their ‘we are smarter, you are stupid’ attitude.” Author Craig Unger will note, “The key players in Iran-Contra were back in business.” (Unger 2007, pp. 234-235)

US nuclear missiles such as this one will no longer be restricted under the ABM treaty.US nuclear missiles such as this one will no longer be restricted under the ABM treaty. [Source: Associated Press / CNN]President Bush announces that the US is unilaterally withdrawing from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty (see May 26, 1972). The treaty, negotiated with the former Soviet Union in 1972, sets strict limitations on missile and missile defense developments by both Russia and the US. After the six-month withdrawal period is concluded in mid-2002, the US will begin developing an anti-missile defense system, an outgrowth and extension of the old “Star Wars” system (see March 23, 1983). Bush tells reporters: “Today I am giving formal notice to Russia that the United States of America is withdrawing from this almost 30-year-old treaty.… I have concluded the ABM treaty hinders our government’s ability to develop ways to protect our people from future terrorist or rogue state missile attacks.” Bush explains: “The 1972 ABM treaty was signed by the United States and the Soviet Union at a much different time, in a vastly different world. One of the signatories, the Soviet Union, no longer exists and neither does the hostility that once led both our countries to keep thousands of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert, pointed at each other.… Today, as the events of September 11 made all too clear, the greatest threats to both our countries come not from each other, or from other big powers in the world, but from terrorists who strike without warning or rogue states who seek weapons of mass destruction.” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld calls the treaty “outdated.” (White House 12/13/2001; CNN 12/14/2001)
Follows Failure to Persuade Russia to Drop Treaty - The decision follows months of talks in which Bush officials attempted without success to persuade Russia to set the treaty aside and negotiate a new one more favorable to US interests. Bush says that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin “have also agreed that my decision to withdraw from the treaty will not in any way undermine our new relationship or Russian security.” Putin calls Bush’s decision a “mistake,” and says the two nations should move quickly to create a “new framework of our strategic relationship.” Putin says on Russian television that the US decision “presents no threat to the security of the Russian Federation.” He also says that the US and Russia should decrease their present stockpiles of nuclear weapons. He wants what he calls “radical, non-reversible and verifiable reductions in offensive weapons”; in turn, the Bush administration is against any sort of legally binding agreements. Putin says, “Today, when the world has been faced with new threats, one cannot allow a legal vacuum in the sphere of strategic stability.” (CNN 12/14/2001; CNN 12/14/2001)
'Abdication of Responsibility' - Senate Democrats (see December 13-14, 2001) and non-proliferation experts (see December 13, 2001) strongly question the decision to withdraw. Singapore’s New Straits Times writes: “History will one day judge the US decision to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in the same way it views the US failure in 1919 to join the League of Nations—as an abdication of responsibility, a betrayal of humankind’s best hopes, an act of folly. By announcing the decision now, in the midst of a war on terrorism that commands worldwide support, the Bush administration has also displayed a cynicism that will adversely affect the mood of cooperation that has characterized international relations since September 11.” (Carter 2004, pp. 272-273) Sweden’s foreign ministry warns of possibly “serious consequences for the future of international disarmament.” (BBC 12/13/2001)
Seizure of Presidential Power - Regardless of the wisdom of withdrawing from the treaty, Bush’s decision has another effect that is subjected to far less public scrutiny: by unilaterally withdrawing the US from the treaty on his own authority, Bush, in the words of author Charlie Savage, “seized for the presidency the power to pull the United States out of any treaty without obtaining the consent of Congress.” Savage, writing in 2007, will note that the Constitution does not provide a clear method of withdrawing the US from an international treaty. However, he will write, judging from the fact that the US Senate must vote to ratify a treaty before it becomes binding, it can be inferred that the Founders intended for the legislature, not the executive branch, to have the power to pull out of a treaty. In Volume 70 of the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton wrote that treaties are far too important to entrust to the decision of one person who will be in office for as few as four years. Hamilton wrote, “The history of human conduct does not warrant that exalted opinion of human virtue which would make it wise in a nation to commit interests of so delicate and momentous a kind, as those which concern its intercourse with the rest of the world, to the sole disposal of a magistrate created and circumstanced as would be a president of the United States.” (Savage 2007, pp. 140)

After fleeing Iraq, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, 43, defects to the US. Before he is debriefed by the CIA, he spends several days in a Bangkok hotel room being coached by Zaab Sethna, the spokesman of the Iraqi National Congress, on what he should tell his debriefer. On December 17, he meets with a CIA official who questions him. Strapped to a polygraph machine (Bamford 11/17/2005) , al-Haideri proceeds to tell the agent he is a civil engineer who helped hide Iraq’s illicit weapons in subterranean wells, private villas, and even beneath the Saddam Hussein Hospital. After reviewing the polygraph, which was requested by the Defense Intelligence Agency, the intelligence debriefer concludes that Haideri made the entire story up. (Mayer 6/7/2004; Bamford 11/17/2005)

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)

Naval reservist and Penn-State political-science professor Chris Carney and DIA analyst Tina Shelton take over the Counter Terrorism Evaluation Group (see Shortly After September 11, 2001) after Michael Maloof loses his security clearances and David Wurmser moves to the State Department to work for John Bolton, the undersecretary of state for arms control. (Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 238; Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 111)

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).

President Bush’s State of the Union speech describes an “axis of evil” consisting of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. Osama bin Laden is not mentioned in the speech. (US President 2/4/2002) Bush says: “States like these and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic.” Bush goes on to suggest for the first time that the US might be prepared to launch pre-emptive wars by saying, “The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.” (Burrough et al. 5/2004) When Bush advisor Richard Perle was asked one month before 9/11 about new challenges the US faced, he replied by naming these exact three countries (see August 6, 2001). Michael Gerson, head of the White House speechwriting team at the time, will later claim that, as Newsweek will later put it, “Bush was already making plans to topple Saddam Hussein, but he wasn’t ready to say so.” Iran and North Korea are inserted into the speech in order to avoid focusing solely on Iraq. The speech is followed by a new public focus on Iraq and a downplaying of bin Laden (see September 15, 2001-April 6, 2002). Prior to the speech, the Iranian government had been very helpful in the US fight against the Taliban, since the Taliban and Iran were enemies. (Hirsh and Bahari 2/12/2007) At the time, al-Qaeda operatives had been streaming into Iran from Afghanistan following the defeat of the Taliban. Iran has been turning over hundreds of suspects to US allies and providing US intelligence with the names, photographs, and fingerprints of those it is holding. (Linzer 2/10/2007) Newsweek will later say that it is “beyond doubt” the Iranian government was “critical… to stabilizing [Afghanistan] after the fall of Kabul.” But all this cooperation comes to an end after the speech. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Hossein Adeli will later say that “Those [inside the Iranian government] who were in favor of a rapprochement with the United States were marginalized. The speech somehow exonerated those who had always doubted America’s intentions.” (Hirsh and Bahari 2/12/2007) In August 2003, reporter Jeffrey St. Clair will write that “the Axis of Evil [is not] an ‘axis’ at all, since two of the states, Iran and Iraq, hate… each other, and neither [have] anything at all to do with the third, North Korea.” (Clair 8/13/2003)

President Bush orders the CIA to start focusing on Iraq, and find evidence that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. CIA analysts will not find any hard evidence of Iraqi WMDs. (Suskind 2006, pp. 169)

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)

The CIA’s Directorate of Operations (DO) Counterproliferation Division (CPD) provides former ambassador Joseph Wilson with talking points for his scheduled trip to Niger (see February 19, 2002). The points specify that Wilson should ask Nigerien officials if they have been approached, conducted discussions, or entered into any agreements concerning uranium transfers with any “countries of concern.” Wilson should also determine how Niger accounts for all of its uranium each year, the points say. (US Congress 7/7/2004)

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)

Carlton W. Fulford Jr.Carlton W. Fulford Jr. [Source: US Marine Corps]Marine General Carlton W. Fulford Jr., deputy commander of the US European Command, arrives in Niger on a scheduled refueling stop. At the request of US Ambassador to Niger Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, Fulford joins the ambassador at a meeting with Niger’s President Mamadou Tandja and Foreign Minister Aichatou Mindaoudou. He explains the importance of keeping Niger’s ore deposits secure. At the meeting, President Tandja assures the ambassador and General Fulford that Niger is determined to keep its uranium “in safe hands.” (Priest and Milbank 7/15/2003; Belida 7/15/2003; Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 282; US Congress 7/7/2004) After the meeting, Fulford concludes that Niger’s uranium is securely under the control of a French consortium and that there is little risk that the material will end up in the wrong hands. These findings are passed on to General Joseph Ralston who provides them to General Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (Priest and Milbank 7/15/2003; Belida 7/15/2003; Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 282) The Pentagon will later say that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was not informed about the trip or its conclusions. (Belida 7/15/2003)

Retired Lieutenant General Brent Scowcroft leads a presidential panel which proposes that control of the National Security Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office, and the National Imagery and Mapping Agency be transferred from the Department of Defense to the head of the CIA, the director of central intelligence (DCI). The plan is favored by the Congressional 9/11 joint inquiry but opposed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney. For years experts have argued that the US intelligence community’s 13 disparate agencies—“85 percent of whose assets reside in the Defense Department”—should be consolidated under the head of the CIA. (Robinson 8/12/2002; Pincus 8/19/2004)
Intelligence Community Still Focused on Cold War Needs, Scowcroft Finds - Scowcroft, the head of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board and a close friend and confidant of former President George H. W. Bush, actually revises a report he began before the 9/11 attacks. The report concludes that the US intelligence apparatus had been designed to meet the needs of the Cold War era and should now be overhauled. The 9/11 attacks are evidence of this, Scowcroft believes. The attacks came from rogue Islamist terrorists, not a superpower like China or the old USSR.
Opposition from Rumsfeld, Cheney - But, as Ron Suskind will write in his 2006 book The One Percent Doctrine, Rumsfeld is “strongly opposed” to Scowcroft’s idea, presumably because, by transferring control of the NSA from the Pentagon to the CIA, it would take power away from him. Scowcroft approaches Cheney with the dilemma. Scowcroft is well aware of Cheney and Rumsfeld’s long political partnership, and gives Cheney an easy out. If his proposals are overly “disruptive,” Scowcroft says, “I’ll just fold my tent and go away. I don’t want to… but I’ll be guided by you.” Cheney now has a choice. Knowing this is a battle Scowcroft will not win, he can either call Scowcroft off now and defuse a potential political conflict within the administration, or, in author Craig Unger’s words, he can “send Scowcroft off on a fool’s errand, pitting Bush 41’s close friend, as Suskind noted, against Bush 43’s cabinet secretary [Rumsfeld], who just happened to be Bush 41’s lifelong nemesis (see September 21, 1974 and After). Cheney chose the latter.” Cheney tells Scowcroft to “go ahead, submit the report to the president.” He knows President Bush will listen to Cheney and Rumsfeld’s advice and ignore the report. Unger later notes, “Scowcroft had once been Cheney’s mentor, his patron. Now the vice president was just humoring him.” (Unger 2007, pp. 225-226)

A few days after the State Department determines that the reported secret uranium deal between Iraq and Niger is “unlikely” (see March 1, 2002), former ambassador Joseph Wilson returns from his fact-finding trip to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Wilson tells CIA officials that he found no evidence to show that any such deal ever took place. (Unger 2007, pp. 241) Wilson’s wife, senior CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson, will later write that the debriefing actually begins shortly after Wilson’s arrival in the US, with “two clean-cut CIA officers, one of whom was the reports officer who had suggested sending Joe to Niger in the first place” (see February 13, 2002), arriving at the Wilson home, “clearly eager to debrief Joe so they could immediately write up an intelligence report on his trip.” Plame Wilson deliberately absents herself from the debriefing taking place in her living room, though she joins her husband and the two CIA officers for a late dinner of takeout Chinese food, where they discuss general subjects. (Wilson 2004, pp. 29; Wilson 2007, pp. 112) Based on Wilson’s information, the CIA’s Directorate of Operations (DO)‘s case officer writes a draft intelligence report and sends it to the DO reports officer, who adds additional relevant information from his notes. (US Congress 7/7/2004) The report will be distributed by March 8, 2002 (see March 8, 2002). (Wilson 2007, pp. 370)

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)

Senior CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson (see April 2001 and After), whose husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, has recently returned from a trip to Africa to find out the facts behind the allegation that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see February 13, 2002), receives a copy of the final intelligence report written about her husband’s trip (see March 4-5, 2002). In her 2007 book Fair Game, Plame Wilson says she receives the report “as a simple courtesy [from] the reports officer” who had suggested Wilson journey to Niger and investigate the allegations. Plame Wilson will recall the report as being “a couple of pages long and fairly straightforward, in the typical bland style of such reports.” She reads the report, makes “no changes,” and gives it back to the reports officer. (Wilson 2007, pp. 113)

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)

Testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee, CIA Director George Tenet says: “There is no doubt that there have been (Iraqi) contacts and linkages to the al-Qaeda organization. As to where we are on September 11, the jury is still out. As I said carefully in my statement, it would be a mistake to dismiss the possibility of state sponsorship whether Iranian or Iraqi and we’ll see where the evidence takes us…. There is nothing new in the last several months that changes our analysis in any way…. There’s no doubt there have been contacts or linkages to the al-Qaeda organization…. I want you to think about al-Qaeda as a front company that mixes and matches its capabilities…. The distinction between Sunni and Shia that have traditionally divided terrorists groups are not distinctions we should make any more, because there are common interests against the United States and its allies in this region, and they will seek capabilities wherever they can get it…. Their ties may be limited by divergent ideologies, but the two sides’ mutual antipathies toward the United States and the Saudi royal family suggests that tactical cooperation between them is possible.” (PBS 3/19/2002; Agence France-Presse 3/20/2002)

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)

Vice President Cheney discusses Saddam Hussein on CNN: “This is a man of great evil. He knows we’re deadly serious. Our friends and allies in the region know we’re deadly serious and that we do need to find a way to address this problem.” And that same day on Meet the Press, Cheney discusses Iraq: “The evidence is overwhelming. And one of the things that we need to do is to make the case, lay it out there. This is the evidence. This is what he’s done. This is what he’s doing. This is the threat to the United States and to our friends around the world.” (Kirk 6/20/2006)

The CIA’s Directorate of Operations (DO) distributes a third and final intelligence report from Italy’s military intelligence service, SISMI, on the alleged 2000 Niger-Iraq uranium purchase deal. The report does not provide any information about its source. (Priest and DeYoung 3/22/2003; Landay 6/13/2003; Landay 11/4/2005)

According to Arnaud de Borchgrave, the editor-at-large of the Washington Times, he learns in April 2002 from neoconservatives that the planned war against Iraq is not about WMD, but about reshaping the Middle East. In a February 2004 op-ed, he writes: “WMDs were not the principal reason for going to war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq; they were the pretext.… When this writer first heard from prominent neoconservatives in April 2002 that war was no longer a question of ‘if’ but ‘when,’ the casus belli had little to do with WMDs. The Bush administration, they explained, starkly and simply, had decided to redraw the geopolitical map of the Middle East. The Bush Doctrine of preemption had become the vehicle for driving axis-of-evil practitioners out of power.” (de Borchgrave 2/10/2004)

In a column for the National Review advocating the immediate overthrow of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, neoconservative Jonah Goldberg praises his fellow neoconservative Michael Ledeen and urges the US to implement what he calls the “Ledeen Doctrine,” which he paraphrases as: “Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small, crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.” Goldberg says that he heard Ledeen make this statement in an early 1990s speech. (Goldberg 4/23/2002; Unger 2007, pp. 149)

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)

Former ambassador Joseph Wilson participates in the annual conference of the American Turkish Council. One of the keynote speakers is Richard Perle, the neoconservative head of the Defense Policy Board and the chief author of the 1996 position paper “A Clean Break,” which argued for the forcible redrawing of the political map of the Middle East (see July 8, 1996). In 1996, Perle had called for the overthrow of the Iraqi government. At the conference, Perle makes the same call. Wilson will later recall being deeply troubled by Perle’s “fire and brimstone” speech. The next afternoon, when Wilson is scheduled to speak, he voices his concerns over Perle’s position. Although he had journeyed to Niger to learn the truth or falsity about the Iraq-Niger uranium claims (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), he has not spoken publicly about Iraq in over a decade. He does so because he urgently feels that Perle’s views need to be countered. “No decision is more important than that to send a nation’s sons and daughters to a foreign land in order to kill and perhaps die for their country,” he will write. “As a democracy, we are all participants in that decision. Not to speak out would amount to complicity in whatever decision was taken.” Wilson tells the assemblage that “if we were prepared to entertain the possibility that in coming year Iraq might be reduced to a chemical, biological, and nuclear wasteland, then we should march in lockstep to the martial music played by Perle; if not, we should think about alternatives to war.” His partner at the podium, former Turkish military commander Cevik Bir, is, Wilson will recall, “even more strident than me in his opposition to military action.” The audience, “largely American and Turkish businessmen, [largely] agreed with us,” Wilson will recall. For his part, Perle has long since departed the conference. Wilson will later write: “As I discovered while debating the issue, the prowar advocates were little inclined to listen to the views of others. They had made up their minds long ago, and now it was a matter of ramming their agenda through the decision-making process.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 291-292)

Bush and Putin at a Kremlin news conference announcing the SORT signing.Bush and Putin at a Kremlin news conference announcing the SORT signing. [Source: September 11 News (.com)]Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin sign a joint US-Russian treaty, the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), agreeing to reduce their strategic nuclear arsenals from some 6,000 warheads, respectively, to between 1,700 and 2,200 warheads apiece. Bush allies hail the agreement as evidence of Bush’s willingness to negotiate with other nations and his desire to reduce and perhaps end the threat of mutual nuclear annihilation. However, the treaty is very similar in content to an informal agreement between Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin in 1997. And SORT has far more flexibility built into its framework than either Clinton or Yeltsin had discussed: it does not call for the destruction of delivery vehicles, as the START I and II agreements had (see May 1982 and After), nor does it call for the destruction of warheads themselves, as START III had. In reality, either side can merely remove weapons from missiles and bombers, store them, and redeploy them in the future. Secretary of State Colin Powell will reassure conservative senators in June that “the treaty will allow you to have as many warheads as you want.” Arms reduction opponent John Bolton (see June 2001) approves the treaty, later noting that it “provided ‘exit ramps’ to allow for rapid change.” The treaty—only 500 words long—provides for no verification protocols whatsoever. And, as author J. Peter Scoblic will later write, “in a bit of diplomatic quantum mechanics, the treaty’s warhead limit was slated to take effect on the very day that it expired—December 31, 2012—meaning it would be valid for no more than twenty-four hours.” Scoblic will conclude that the treaty, in line with Bush’s “new strategic framework” (see May 1, 2001), is “still designed to fight nothing less than an all-out nuclear war with Russia.” (Federation of American Scientists 5/24/2002; Scoblic 2008, pp. 177-178) Bush sees little need for the treaty, or any treaty, saying that “mutual trust” between the US and Russia should suffice (see July 2001). He agrees to this treaty in what Scoblic later calls a “condescending” manner, saying, “If we need to write it down on a piece of paper, I’ll do that.” Bolton will later call the treaty “the end of arms control.” (Scoblic 2008, pp. 184)

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)

The CIA issues a classified report titled, “Iraq and al-Qaeda: A Murky Relationship.” According to its cover note, the report “purposely aggressive in seeking to draw connections” between Iraq and Osama bin Laden’s organization. The document, which was prepared in response to pressure from the White House and vice president’s office, is heavily criticized by analysts within the agency. Analysts in the Near East and South Asia division complain that the report inflates “sporadic, wary contacts” between two independent actors into a so-called “relationship.” A complaint is filed with the CIA’s ombudsman for politicization. After interviewing 24 analysts, the ombudsman concludes that the report was crafted under pressure from the administration, later telling Senate investigators that “about a half-dozen [analysts] mentioned ‘pressure’ from the administration; several others did not use that word, but spoke in a context that implied it.” Despite being “purposely aggressive,” the report does not satisfy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, an adamant hawk who strongly believes Iraq is working closely with Islamic militant groups. In a memo to Donald Rumsfeld, he says that the report should be read “for content only—and CIA’s interpretation should be ignored.” (Hoagland 10/20/2002; Risen 4/28/2004; US Congress 7/7/2004, pp. 359; Coman 7/11/2004; Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 112)

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 US military releases a new Defense Planning Guidance strategic vision. It “contains all the key elements” of a similar document written ten years earlier (see March 8, 1992) by largely the same people now in power. Like the original, the centerpiece of this vision is preventing any other powers from challenging US world dominance. Some new tactics are proposed, such as using nuclear weapons for a preemptive strike, but the basic plan remains the same. (Hendren 7/13/2002; Arkin 7/16/2002; Armstrong 10/2002) David Armstrong notes in Harper’s magazine: “[In 1992] the goal was global dominance, and it met with bad reviews. Now it is the answer to terrorism. The emphasis is on preemption, and the reviews are generally enthusiastic. Through all of this, the dominance motif remains, though largely undetected.” (Armstrong 10/2002)

Numerous US and British, current and former, intelligence, military, and other government officials who have inside knowledge refute claims made by the Bush administration that Saddam Hussein’s regime has or is seeking ties with international militant Islamic groups. (Scowcroft 8/15/2002; Priest 9/10/2002; O'Hanlon 9/26/2002; Strobel, Landay, and Walcott 10/7/2002; Sunday Herald (Glasgow) 10/13/2002; Donovan 10/29/2002; Ibrahim 11/1/2002; CBC News 11/1/2002; Rotella 11/4/2002; Risen and Johnston 2/3/2003; Smith and Rennie 2/4/2003; Lashmar and Whitaker 2/9/2003)

A memo written by an intelligence analyst working under Pentagon policy chief Douglas Feith asserts that while “some analysts have argued” that Osama bin Laden will not cooperate with secular Arab groups like Iraq, “reporting indicates otherwise.” A subsequent investigation by the Pentagon’s Office of Inspector General (see February 9, 2007) will criticize the memo, titled “Iraq and al-Qaeda: Making the Case,” saying that it constituted an “alternative intelligence assessment” and therefore should have been developed in accordance with intelligence agency guidelines for publishing alternative views. (US Department of Defense 2/9/2007 pdf file; Cloud and Mazzetti 2/9/2007) Nevertheless, Bush administration officials such as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, CIA Director George Tenet, DIA Director Thomas Wilson, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, and the chief of staff for Vice President Cheney, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, embrace the memo. Cheney’s office is particularly enamoured of the report; journalists Franklin Foer and Spencer Ackerman later report a White House official as saying of Cheney and his staffers, “They so believed that the CIA were wrong, they were like, ‘We want to show these f_ckers that they are wrong.” The memo is based on an earlier briefing by Feith entitled “Assessing the Relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda,” which accused the CIA of using overly rigorous standards to analyze information that might show links between Iraq and the terrorist organization. Feith’s briefing uses almost no evidence to claim a “mature, symbiotic” relationship between the two, alleging “more than a decade of numerous contacts” between al-Qaeda and the Hussein government, and asserting “possible Iraqi coordination with al-Qaeda specifically related to 9/11.” (Scoblic 2008, pp. 220-222) An updated version of the “Making the Case” briefing will be presented to the White House in September 2002 (see September 16, 2002).

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)

The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry investigating the 9/11 attacks concludes that there is no evidence that Mohammad Atta—under any of his known aliases—visited Prague in April 2001 (see April 8, 2001). (Canellos and Bender 8/3/2003) However, the Bush administration will delay the publication of the Inquiry’s final report for many months, so this conclusion will not be made public until after the US invasion of Iraq is done (see January-July 2003).

The Counter Terrorism Evaluation Group, once known as the “Wurmser-Maloof” project, is disbanded. The Pentagon leadership created the group shortly after the September 11 attacks (see Shortly After September 11, 2001). Its mission had been to research links between Iraq and Islamic militancy. (Reuters 2/19/2004)

Brent Scowcroft, a Bush foreign affairs adviser who has been marginalized and scorned by administration neoconservatives (see October 16, 2001 and March 2002), appears on CBS’s “Face the Nation” to make his case that the US should not invade Iraq. Scowcroft, with the blessing of his friend and patron George H. W. Bush, is in the midst of a one-man media blitz, having already appeared on Fox News and the BBC to argue his position (see September 1998). The administration’s other high-profile centrists, Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, have refused to publicly disagree with the administration’s push for war. (Unger 2007, pp. 242-243) Scowcroft warns that a unilateral invasion of Iraq could destabilize the Middle East and undermine efforts to defeat international anti-American militant groups. He says: “It’s a matter of setting your priorities. There’s no question that Saddam is a problem. He has already launched two wars and spent all the resources he can working on his military. But the president has announced that terrorism is our number one focus. Saddam [Hussein] is a problem, but he’s not a problem because of terrorism. 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.” (Watson and Kite 8/5/2002)

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)

In an interview broadcast by BBC Radio 4’s Today Program, Condoleezza Rice says: “This is an evil man who, left to his own devices, will wreak havoc again on his own population, his neighbors and, if he gets weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them, on all of us. There is a very powerful moral case for regime change. We certainly do not have the luxury of doing nothing…. Clearly, if Saddam Hussein is left in power doing the things that he is doing now, this is a threat that will emerge, and emerge in a very big way…. The case for regime change is very strong. This is a regime that we know has twice tried and come closer than we thought at the time to acquiring nuclear weapons. He has used chemical weapons against his own people and against his neighbors, he has invaded his neighbors, he has killed thousands of his own people. He shoots at our planes, our airplanes, in the no-fly zones where we are trying to enforce UN security resolutions…. History is littered with cases of inaction that led to very grave consequences for the world. We just have to look back and ask how many dictators who ended up being a tremendous global threat and killing thousands and, indeed, millions of people, should we have stopped in their tracks.” (Peacock 8/15/2002; Guardian 8/15/2002; Guardia, Harnden, and Jones 8/16/2002; Beeston, Editor, and Reid 8/16/2002) Interestingly, Rice does not say Iraq has chemical, biological or nuclear arms. Instead, she speaks of the danger Saddam would pose, “if he gets weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them.” (Diamond 8/15/2002)

Neoconservative Richard Perle, the head of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board, says that the Bush administration has expended so much time and effort in making its case for war against Iraq that it has no other choice except to invade. He says, “The failure to take on Saddam [Hussein]… would produce such a collapse of confidence in the president that it would set back the war on terrorism.” (Purdum and Tyler 8/16/2002) In 2006, author Frank Rich interprets Perle’s words, writing: “If Bush didn’t get rid of Saddam after all this saber rattling, he will look like the biggest wimp since—well, his father. If he didn’t do it soon, after all these months of swagger, he would destroy his credibility and hurt the country’s.” (Rich 2006, pp. 62)

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)

During an interview with Fox News, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld mocks calls from Washington, Europe and the Arab world demanding that the Bush administration show them evidence to substantiate the hawk’s claim that Saddam Hussein is a threat to the US and its allies. “Think of the prelude to World War Two,” the Defense Secretary says. “Think of all the countries that said, well, we don’t have enough evidence. I mean, Mein Kampf had been written. Hitler had indicated what he intended to do. Maybe he won’t attack us. Maybe he won’t do this or that. Well, there were millions of people dead because of the miscalculations. The people who argued for waiting for more evidence have to ask themselves how they are going to feel at that point where another event occurs.” (Rennie 8/21/2002; Borger and Norton-Taylor 8/22/2002; Baier 8/20/2003) Rumsfeld also says during a news conference that according to “intelligence reports,” Saddam’s government is “hosting, supporting or sponsoring” an al-Qaeda presence in Iraq. Responding to a question about whether he has any evidence to support the claim that al-Qaeda is operating in Iraq, Rumsfeld states, “There are Al-Qaeda in a number of locations in Iraq…. The suggestion that… [Iraqi government officials] who are so attentive in denying human rights to their population aren’t aware of where these folks [al-Qaeda] are or what they’re doing is ludicrous in a vicious, repressive dictatorship…. [I]t’s very hard to imagine that the government is not aware of what’s taking place in the country.” (Stout 8/20/2002) Shortly after Rumsfeld’s remarks, a senior US intelligence official tells The Guardian that there is no evidence to back the defense secretary’s claims. “They are not the official guests of the government,” a second official says, adding that any al-Qaeda in the region are still “on the run.” (Borger and Norton-Taylor 8/22/2002)

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)

Dismayed at the lack of post-invasion planning in the Defense Department (see August 2002), the Joint Chiefs of Staff advance their own proposal for a military command to govern Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld insists on a split between military and civilian functions; he places Undersecretary for Policy Douglas Feith in charge of planning for the civilian administration. Feith, whom CENTCOM commander Tommy Franks calls “the dumbest f_cking guy on the planet,” is an academic with no experience at administration on such a level, and will be roundly excoriated for his incompetence in handling the assignment. Author and public administration professor Alasdair Roberts will later write that beyond Feith’s lack of competence is a bureaucratic failure: the Pentagon “was simply reaching beyond its abilities.” A RAND report will later find the Defense Department “lacked experience, expertise, funding authority, local knowledge, and established contacts with other potential civilian organizations” to do the task it had set for itself. Roberts will write that the Pentagon will substitute improvisation for meticulous planning (see January 2003). (Roberts 2008, pp. 126, 134)

During a Defense Department news briefing on Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says: “We know that they were a lot closer than any of the experts had estimated they would be with respect to [developing] a nuclear weapon. To the extent that they have kept their nuclear scientists together and working on these efforts, one has to assume they’ve not been playing tiddlywinks.” (US Department of Defense 9/3/2002; Jelinek 9/3/2002; Hess 9/3/2002)

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)

CIA Director George Tenet appears before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in a secret session to discuss the agency’s intelligence on Iraq. He tells the senators that agency analysts have concluded that Saddam Hussein is rebuilding his nuclear arsenal and that there are about 550 sites in Iraq where chemical and biological weapons are being stored. He adds that the regime has developed drones capable of delivering these weapons, perhaps even to the US mainland. When Tenet finishes his briefing, senators Bob Graham (D-FL) and Richard Durbin (D-IL) ask to see the agency’s latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq. Tenet replies that the CIA has not prepared one. “We’ve never done a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, including its weapons of mass destruction.” The Democrats find this revelation “stunning.” Recalling the matter in a 2006 interview, Graham tells PBS Frontline: “We do these on almost every significant activity—much less significant than getting ready to go to war.… We were flying blind.” (Graham 1/20/2006)
Democrats Insist on NIE; CIA, White House Resistant - The Democrats on the committee begin pressing for a new NIE on Iraq. They want it completed before they vote on a resolution that would authorize the use of force against Iraq. (Gumbel 11/3/2003; Barstow, Broad, and Gerth 10/3/2004) Tenet trys to resist the senators’ call, saying that the agency is “doing a lot of other things” and “is stretched thin.” (Graham 1/20/2006) The White House does not want a National Intelligence Estimate, because, according to one senior intelligence official, it knows “there [are] disagreements over details in almost every aspect of the administration’s case against Iraq.” The president’s advisers, according to the official, do not want “a lot of footnotes and disclaimers.” (Gellman and Pincus 8/10/2003) Graham tells Tenet: “We don’t care. This is the most important decision that we as members of Congress and that the people of America are likely to make in the foreseeable future. We want to have the best understanding of what it is we’re about to get involved in.” (Unger 2007, pp. 245-246) Tenet will finally give into the senators’ request on September 11 after Graham insists on a new NIE in a classified letter. (Gellman and Pincus 8/10/2003; Lang 6/2004)
NIE Finished in Three Weeks - Though NIEs usually take months, sometimes even years, to prepare, US intelligence services will finish the report in three weeks (see October 1, 2002). (Gumbel 11/3/2003; Barstow, Broad, and Gerth 10/3/2004; Graham 1/20/2006) Former Defense Intelligence Agency official Patrick Lang will later write: “It is telling that, in the more than two-year run-up to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, nobody in the Bush administration sought to commission a National Intelligence Estimate… on Saddam Hussein’s WMD programs. Perhaps it is unsurprising that they did not want such an estimate. An estimate, if conducted over a period of months, would undoubtedly have revealed deep skepticism about the threat posed by Saddam’s weapons program. It would have exposed major gaps in the intelligence picture, particularly since the pullout of UN weapons inspectors from Iraq at the end of 1998, and it would have likely undercut the rush to war.… The report was to be rushed to completion in three weeks, so it could reach the desks of the relevant Congressional committee members before a vote on war-powers authorization scheduled for early October, on the eve of the midterm elections. As the NIE went forward for approval, everyone knew that there were major problems with it.” (Lang 6/2004)
Hubris, Failure to Consider Consequences behind Failure to Seek NIE - Reflecting on the administration’s reluctance to seek an NIE on Iraq before invading it, Paul Pillar, currently the CIA’s National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia, will say: “The makers of the war had no appetite for and did not request any such assessments. Anybody who wanted an intelligence community assessment on any of this stuff would’ve come through me, and I got no requests at all. As to why this was the case, I would give two general answers. Number one was just extreme hubris and self-confidence. If you truly believe in the power of free economics and free politics, and their attractiveness to all populations of the world, and their ability to sweep away all manner of ills, then you tend not to worry about these things so much. The other major reason is that, given the difficulty of mustering public support for something as extreme as an offensive war, any serious discussion inside the government about the messy consequences, the things that could go wrong, would complicate even further the job of selling the war.” (Murphy and Purdum 2/2009)

Jonathan Landay, a reporter for Knight Ridder Newspapers, watches Vice President Cheney’s speech on August 26, 2002, in which Cheney argues that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction and must be confronted soon (see August 26, 2002). Landay is particularly interested in Cheney’s comment, “Many of us are convinced that Saddam Hussein will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon.” Landay will later recall, “I looked at that and I said, ‘What is he talking about?’ Because, to develop a nuclear weapon you need specific infrastructure and in particular the way the Iraqi’s were trying to produce a nuclear weapon was through enrichment of uranium. Now, you need tens of thousands of machines called centrifuges to produce highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon. You’ve gotta house those in a fairly big place, and you’ve gotta provide a huge amount of power to this facility. Could [Saddam Hussein] really have done it with all of these eyes on his country?… So, when Cheney said that, I got on the phone to people, and one person said to me - somebody who watched proliferation as their job - said, ‘The Vice President is lying.’” (Moyers 4/25/2007) Around the same time, John Walcott, chief of Knight Ridder’s Washington bureau, begins hearing from other sources in the military, intelligence community, and foreign service who question the Bush administration’s claims. Most of them are career officials, not political appointees. Walcott will later comment, “These people were better informed about the details of the intelligence than the people higher up in the food chain, and they were deeply troubled by what they regarded as the administration’s deliberate misrepresentation of intelligence, ranging from overstating the case to outright fabrication.” Walcott assigns Landay and Landay’s frequent reporting partner Warren Strobel to talk with these sources. (Massing 2/26/2004) On September 6, a story by Landay is published, entitled, “Lack of Hard Evidence of Iraqi Weapons Worries Top US Officials.” It quotes anonymous senior US officials who say that “they have detected no alarming increase in the threat that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein poses to American security and Middle East stability.” While it is well known that Iraq is “aggressively trying to rebuild” its weapons programs, “there is no new intelligence that indicates the Iraqis have made significant advances” in doing so. (Landay 9/6/2002) But while Knight Ridder publishes 32 newspapers in the US, it has no outlets in New York or Washington, and so it has little impact on the power elite. Additionally, its story is drowned out by a false claim in the New York Times two days later that Iraq is trying to use aluminum tubes to build a nuclear weapon (see September 8, 2002). (Moyers 4/25/2007)

During a joint press conference with US President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the two leaders make two factually incorrect statements, which are quickly contested by experts.
bullet Tony Blair states, “We only need to look at the report from the International Atomic Agency [IAEA] this morning showing what has been going on at the former nuclear weapons sites to realize that” Saddam is a real threat. (US President 9/16/2002) But no such report exists. (Curl 9/27/2002) What Blair is actually referring to is a set of commercial satellite photographs showing signs of new construction at a site the US had bombed in 1998. (MSNBC 9/7/2002; Norton-Taylor 9/9/2002; Associated Press 9/10/2002) That same day, Mark Gwozdecky, a spokesman for the UN agency, says the agency had drawn no conclusion from those photographs. (MSNBC 9/7/2002) On September 9, the Guardian of London will report that according to “a well-placed source” the photographs do not support Blair’s statement. “You cannot draw any conclusions,” the source explains. “The satellites were only looking at the top of a roof. You cannot tell without inspectors on the ground.” (Norton-Taylor 9/9/2002) The following day, Hans Blix, head of UNMOVIC, will similarly tell reporters: “… [S]atellites don’t see through roofs. So we are not drawing conclusions from them. But it would be an important element in where, maybe, we want to go to inspect and monitor.” (Associated Press 9/10/2002; Globe and Mail 9/11/2002)
bullet Bush asserts, “I would remind you that when the inspectors first went into Iraq and were denied—finally denied access [in 1998], a report came out of the Atomic—the IAEA that they were six months away from developing a weapon,” adding, “I don’t know what more evidence we need.” (US President 9/16/2002; Curl 9/27/2002) But Bush’s statement is quickly refuted by an MSNBC news report published later that day, which includes an excerpt from the summary of the 1998 IAEA report Bush cited. The summary reads, “[B]ased on all credible information available to date… the IAEA has found no indication of Iraq having achieved its program goal of producing nuclear weapons or of Iraq having retained a physical capability for the production of weapon-useable nuclear material or having clandestinely obtained such material.” (MSNBC 9/7/2002; Dean 2004, pp. 138) The text of the actual report, authored by IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei, reads: “There are no indications that there remains in Iraq any physical capability for the production of weapon-usable nuclear material of any practical significance.” (Curl 9/27/2002) When confronted by MSNBC reporters on this point, an unnamed senior White House official states, “What happened was, we formed our own conclusions based on the report.” (MSNBC 9/7/2002) Later, when The Washington Times presses Deputy Press Secretary Scott McClellan for an explanation, he says, “[Bush is] referring to 1991 there. In ‘91, there was a report saying that after the war they found out they were about six months away.” But this too is challenged by Gwozdecky, spokesman for the UN agency, who says that no such report was ever published by the IAEA in 1991. Apparently the President’s accusations are based on two news articles that were published more than a decade ago—“a July 16 [2001] story in the London Times by Michael Evans and a July 18 [2001] story in the New York Times by Paul Lewis.” But as The Washington Times notes, “Neither article cites an IAEA report on Iraq’s nuclear-weapons program or states that Saddam was only six months away from ‘developing a weapon’—as claimed by Mr. Bush.” Instead the two news articles reported that at that time, UN inspectors had concluded that Iraq was only six months away from the large-scale production of enriched uranium. But as the 1998 report shows, both 1991 news stories are outdated. (Curl 9/27/2002)

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)

Vice President Dick Cheney, appearing on CNN’s American Morning, says: “I think that the people of Iraq would welcome the US force as liberators; they would not see us as oppressors, by any means.” (Cheney 9/9/2002)

In remarks made at a foreign policy conference at the University of Virginia, Philip Zelikow says that Iraq is more of a threat to Israel than to the US and that protecting Israel would be a major motive for a US-Iraq war. Zelikow’s speech goes unreported at the time but will come to light in a 2004 article. Zelikow says: “Why would Iraq attack America or use nuclear weapons against us? I’ll tell you what I think the real threat (is) and actually has been since 1990—it’s the threat against Israel.… And this is the threat that dare not speak its name, because the Europeans don’t care deeply about that threat, I will tell you frankly. And the American government doesn’t want to lean too hard on it rhetorically, because it is not a popular sell.” Zelikow is at the time a member of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB), and will later serve as the executive director to the 9/11 Commission. (Mekay 3/31/2004) John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt will later use Zelikow’s statement in their controversial paper “The Israel Lobby” as evidence that the Iraq War was launched in part to advance Israel’s security. (Mearsheimer and Walt 3/23/2006; Zelikow 4/25/2006; Mearsheimer and Walt 4/25/2006)

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)

Concerning the proposed Congressional resolution to authorize force against Iraq (see September 19, 2002), President Bush is asked, “Are you concerned that Democrats in Congress don’t want a vote there until after UN action?” Bush replies, “[Are] Democrats waiting for the UN to act? I can’t imagine an elected United States—elected member of the United States Senate or House of Representatives saying, I think I’m going to wait for the United Nations to make a decision. It seems like to me that if you’re representing the United States, you ought to be making a decision on what’s best for the United States. If I were running for office, I’m not sure how I’d explain to the American people—say, vote for me, and, oh, by the way, on a matter of national security, I think I’m going to wait for somebody else to act.… My answer to the Congress is, they need to debate this issue and consult with us, and get the issue done as quickly as possible. It’s in our national interests that we do so. I don’t imagine Saddam Hussein sitting around, saying, gosh, I think I’m going to wait for some resolution. He’s a threat that we must deal with as quickly as possible.” (White House 9/13/2002)

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)

Two days before the CIA is to issue an assessment (see August 2002) on Iraq’s supposed links to militant Islamic groups, Defense Department officials working in the Office of Special Plans (OSP) deliver a briefing in the White House to several top officials, including I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, and Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. The briefing is entitled “Assessing the Relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda,” and is an updated version of a briefing presented in July 2002 (see July 25, 2002). The OSP, working under Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith, is aggressively promoting any evidence it can find to support a decision to invade Iraq (see September 2002).
bullet The briefing claims that the relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda is “mature” and “symbiotic,” and marked by shared interests.
bullet It lists cooperation in 10 categories, or “multiple areas of cooperation,” including training, financing, and logistics. (Savage 2007, pp. 292; New York Times 4/6/2007; Smith 4/6/2007)
bullet An alleged 2001 meeting in Prague between an Iraqi spy and 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta is listed as one of eight “Known Iraq-Al-Qaeda Contacts.” It claims that there is a “known contact” between Atta and the Iraqi intelligence agency, a claim already rejected by the CIA. (Savage 2007, pp. 293; Smith 4/6/2007)
bullet The briefing claims that “Fragmentary reporting points to possible Iraqi involvement not only in 9/11 but also in previous al-Qaeda attacks.” (Smith 4/6/2007)
bullet It includes a slide criticizing the rest of the US intelligence community, which says there are “fundamental problems” with CIA intelligence gathering methods. It claims other intelligence agencies assume “that secularists and Islamists will not cooperate, even when they have common interests,” and there is a “consistent underestimation of importance that would be attached by Iraq and al-Qaeda to hiding a relationship.” (Coman 7/11/2004; Isikoff 7/19/2004; Savage 2007, pp. 293; Smith 4/6/2007)
Around the same time, the briefing is also presented with slight variations to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and CIA Director George Tenet. The slide criticizing other intelligence agencies is excluded when a version of the briefing is given to Tenet. A later report by the Defense Department’s Office of Inspector General will conclude the briefing was entirely incorrect and deliberately ignored intelligence by the CIA, DIA, and other intelligence agencies that contradicted its conclusions (see February 9, 2007). (Smith 4/6/2007) The CIA has already found the majority of the information in the presentation either completely false or largely unsupported by reliable evidence. (Savage 2007, pp. 293)
Unusual Briefing - This briefing, delivered at the same time the White House is pressing Congress to authorize the upcoming war with Iraq (see October 11, 2002), is, in the words of author and reporter Charlie Savage, “highly unusual.” Usually, high-level administration officials making national security decisions rely on information vetted by top-flight analysts at the CIA, in order to ensure the information is as accurate and politically neutral as possible. No CIA analyst has ever found a meaningful link between Hussein and al-Qaeda; the few reports of such claims were seen as highly dubious. But Cheney and his supporters consider the CIA slow, pedantic, and incompetent, and believe Feith’s OSP can provide better—or at least more amenable—intelligence. Savage will write: “In Feith’s shop and elsewhere in the executive branch, neoconservative political appointees stitched together raw intelligence reports, often of dubious credibility, without any vetting or analysis by professional intelligence specialists. The officials cherry-picked the files for reports that supported the notion that Iraq had an active [WMD] program and that it was working hand-in-hand with al-Qaeda, ‘stovepiping’ such reports to top decision makers (and leaking them to the press) while discounting any skepticism mounted by the professionals.” (Savage 2007, pp. 292)
Dismantling Intelligence Filtering System in Favor of Politically Controlled Intelligence Provisions - What the presentation accomplishes, according to former CIA intelligence analyst Kenneth Pollock, is to support a conclusion already drawn—the need to get rid of Saddam Hussein—by using slanted, altered, and sometimes entirely fabricated “intelligence.” The White House proceeded to “dismantle the existing filtering process that for 50 years had been preventing the policymakers from getting bad information.” Savage goes one step farther. He will write that the presentation is part of a larger White House strategy to alter the balance of power between the presidency and a key element of the bureaucracy. By setting up a politically controlled alternative intelligence filtering system, he will write, “the administration succeeded in diminishing the power of the CIA’s information bureaucracy to check the White House’s desired course of action.” (Savage 2007, pp. 294)

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)

Eleven days after the New York Times published a front-page article detailing Iraq’s supposed attempt to procure components for creating nuclear weapons (see August 2002 and September 8, 2002), the Washington Post’s Joby Warrick has a story published, “Evidence on Iraq Challenged; Experts Question if Tubes Were Meant for Weapons Program,” that disputes the Times’ article and questions whether the components—aluminum tubes—are indeed intended for nuclear use. Warrick cites “a report by independent experts” from the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) questioning the conclusion that the tubes must be for use in constructing nuclear weapons (see September 23, 2002). The ISIS report also notes that the Bush administration is trying to rein in dissent among its own analysts about how to interpret the evidence provided by the aluminum tubes. “By themselves, these attempted procurements are not evidence that Iraq is in possession of, or close to possessing, nuclear weapons,” the report says. “They do not provide evidence that Iraq has an operating centrifuge plant or when such a plant could be operational.” In recent days, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice has told television viewers that the tubes “are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs” (see September 8, 2002). But Warrick’s story is buried on page 18 of the Post and widely ignored. Author Craig Unger will later write: “No one paid attention. Once the conventional wisdom had been forged, mere facts did not suffice to change things.” (Warrick 9/19/2002; Unger 2007, pp. 254)

The Bush administration submits to Congress a 31-page document entitled “The National Security Strategy of the United States.”
Preemptive War - The National Security Strategy (NSS) openly advocates the necessity for the US to engage in “preemptive war” against nations it believes are likely to become a threat to the US’s security. It declares: “In an age where the enemies of civilization openly and actively seek the world’s most destructive technologies, the United States cannot remain idle. The United States will, if necessary, act preemptively.” The declaration that the US will engage in preemptive war with other nations reverses decades of American military and foreign policy stances; until now, the US has held that it would only launch an attack against another nation if it had been attacked first, or if American lives were in imminent danger. President Bush had first mentioned the new policy in a speech in June 2002 (see June 1, 2002), and it echoes policies proposed by Paul Wolfowitz during the George H. W. Bush administration (see March 8, 1992). (Shenon 2008, pp. 128)
US Must Maintain Military 'Beyond Challenge' - The National Security Strategy states that the ultimate objective of US national security policy is to “dissuade future military competition.” The US must therefore “build and maintain our defenses beyond challenge. Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States.” (Watson 9/21/2002)
Ignoring the International Criminal Court - The NSS also states, “We will take the actions necessary to ensure that our efforts to meet our global security commitments and protect Americans are not impaired by the potential for investigations, inquiry, or prosecution by the International Criminal Court (ICC), whose jurisdiction does not extend to Americans and which we do not accept.” (US President 9/2002)
Declaring War on Terrorism Itself - It states: “The enemy is not a single political regime or person or religion or ideology. The enemy is terrorism—premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against innocents.” Journalism professor Mark Danner will later comment in the New York Times: “Not Islamic terrorism or Middle Eastern terrorism or even terrorism directed against the United States: terrorism itself. ‘Declaring war on “terror,”’ as one military strategist later remarked to me, ‘is like declaring war on air power.’” (Danner 9/11/2005)
Fundamental Reversal of Containment, Deterrence Principles - Washington Post reporter Tim Reich later describes the NSS as “revers[ing] the fundamental principles that have guided successive presidents for more than 50 years: containment and deterrence.” Foreign policy professor Andrew Bacevich will write that the NSS is a “fusion of breathtaking utopianism [and] barely disguised machtpolitik.” Bacevich continues, “It reads as if it were the product not of sober, ostensibly conservative Republicans but of an unlikely collaboration between Woodrow Wilson and the elder Field Marshal von Moltke.” (Buchanan 3/24/2003)
Written by Future Executive Director of 9/11 Commission - The document is released under George W. Bush’s signature, but was written by Philip D. Zelikow, formerly a member of the previous Bush administration’s National Security Council, and currently a history professor at the University of Virginia and a member of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. Zelikow produced the document at the behest of his longtime colleague National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see June 1, 2002). His authorship of the document will not be revealed until well after he is appointed executive director of the 9/11 commission (see Mid-December 2002-March 2003). Many on the Commission will consider Zelikow’s authorship of the document a prima facie conflict of interest, and fear that Zelikow’s position on the Commission will be used to further the Bush administration’s doctrine of preemptive war (see March 21, 2004). (US Department of State 8/5/2005; Shenon 2008, pp. 128)

Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley convenes a meeting in the White House Situation Room to discuss Iraq with Colin Powell, George Tenet, and Donald Rumsfeld. The White House wants to be sure they are all on the same page when they testify before Congress next week. When a CIA officer notes that the alleged ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda are not supported by current intelligence, Douglas Feith cuts in insisting that Mohamed Atta had met an Iraqi agent in Prague, and that the director of Iraqi intelligence had met with Osama bin Laden in 1996. Both theories have been dismissed by the intelligence community. After a few minutes, Hadley cuts him off and tells him to sit down. (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 113-114)

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)

In a classified session, George Tenet and other intelligence officials brief the Senate Intelligence Committee on the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq (see October 1, 2002). In his summary of the document, Tenet reportedly says that Iraq attempted to obtain uranium from Niger. Though he mentions that there are some doubts about the reliability of the evidence, he does not provide any details. (Pincus 6/12/2003 pdf file; ABC News 6/16/2003) Tenet also says that the aluminum tubes sought by Iraq (see July 2001) were intended for its nuclear program, that the country has a fleet of mobile biological weapons labs, and that Iraq has developed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that could be armed with chemical or biological weapons for an attack against the US mainland. At one point during the session, a committee staff member slips Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) a note suggesting that the senator ask Tenet what “technically collected” evidence does the CIA have that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction. Biden asks the question and Tenet replies, “None, Senator.” Everyone becomes silent. Biden, apparently annoyed by the answer, asks Tenet, “George, do you want me to clear the staff out of the room,” meaning that if the intelligence is so classified that it shouldn’t be shared with staffers he will ask them to leave. But Tenet says, “There’s no reason to.” When Tenet finishes his testimony, he leaves to attend his son’s basketball game. Other senators also leave. The next witnesses are Carl Ford, Jr., the State Department’s chief intelligence officer, and Rhys Williams, the chief intelligence officer in the Energy Department. Both men say they do not believe that the aluminum tubes sought by Iraq were intended for a nuclear program. But few senators are still in the room to hear these opinions. After the hearing, Peter Zimmerman, the committee’s scientific advisor, asks Robert Walpole the CIA’s national intelligence officer for nuclear weapons, to show him one of the tubes referred to by Tenet. Zimmerman looks at the sample Walpole brought and becomes immediately doubtful. He then grills Walpole on several technical details, who fails to provide any convincing answers. Zimmerman gets the impression that Walpole has little understanding of centrifuges. “I remember going home that night and practically putting my fist through the wall half a dozen times,” Zimmerman later recalls. “I was frustrated as I’ve ever been. I remember saying to my wife, ‘They’re going to war and there’s not a damn piece of evidence to substantiate it.’” (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 117-119)

After learning that the recent British dossier on Iraq (see October 7, 2002) included the allegation that Iraq had attempted to obtain uranium from Niger, Joseph Wilson, the former ambassador who had visited Niger in February 2002 (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) and concluded the allegations were false, contacts the CIA and advises the agency to inform the British about his trip. (Buncombe and Whitaker 6/29/2003)

Secretary of State Colin Powell tells the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “The world had to recognize that the potential connection between terrorists and weapons of mass destruction moved terrorism to a new level of threat. In fact, that nexus became the overriding security concern of our nation. It still is and it will continue to be our overriding concern for some years to come.” (US Department of State 9/26/2002) But Paul Anderson, spokesman for Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, tells reporters that Graham, who has access to highly classified reports, has seen no evidence that Iraq has ties to al-Qaeda. (Slavin and Diamond 9/26/2002)

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says the link between al-Qaeda and Iraq is “accurate and not debatable.” He also claims that President Bush has not yet made any decision on possible military action against Iraq. (Garamone 9/27/2002)

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)

In a congressional closed-door hearing, CIA Director George Tenet and his deputy John McLaughlin appear before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to discuss the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq that was released the day before (see October 1, 2002). When Tenet is asked whether the agency has any of its own spies on the ground in Iraq who can verify the NIE’s claims about Saddam Hussein’s alleged arsenal of illicit weapons, he replies that the agency does not. “I was stunned,” Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) later recalls. At some point during the hearing, Levin asks McLaughlin: “If [Hussein] didn’t feel threatened, did not feel threatened, is it likely that he would initiate an attack using a weapon of mass destruction?” McLaughlin responds that under those circumstances “the likelihood… would be low.” But the probability of Hussein using such weapons would increase, McLaughlin says, if the US initiates an attack. (Central Intelligence Agency 10/7/2002; CBC News 11/1/2002; Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 138, 141) Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) asks McLaughlin whether he has read the British white paper (see September 24, 2002) on Iraq and whether he disagrees with any of its conclusions. McLaughlin says, “The one thing where I think they stretched a little bit beyond where we would stretch is on the points about Iraq seeking uranium from various African locations. We’ve looked at those reports and we don’t think they are very credible…” (US Congress 7/7/2004, pp. 59) Graham and Levin ask the CIA to release a declassified version of the NIE so the public will be aware of the dissenting opinions in the document and so members of Congress can have something to refer to during their debates on the Iraq war resolution. (Central Intelligence Agency 10/7/2002; CBC News 11/1/2002; Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 138, 141) The CIA will comply with the request and release a declassified version of the document two days later (see October 4, 2002).

The US and Britain continue to demand that weapons inspectors not return to Iraq until after a stronger resolution—one that authorizes the use of force—is agreed upon by the National Security Council. Bush threatens to lead a coalition against Iraq if the UN Security Council fails to back him. During an address in Washington to Hispanic leaders, Bush says: “My intent, of course, is for the United Nations to do its job. I think it’ll make it easier for us to keep the peace…. My intent is to put together a vast coalition of countries who understand the threat of Saddam Hussein. The military option is my last choice, not my first. It’s my last choice…. The choice is up to the United Nations to show its resolve. The choice is up to Saddam Hussein to fulfill its word—his word. And if neither of them acts, the United States, in deliberate fashion, will lead a coalition to take away the world’s worst weapons from one of the world’s worst leaders.” (Leopold and Mikkelsen 10/3/2002; US President 10/7/2002) But Russia, France, and China maintain their opposition to the US-British draft resolution which would pave the way for using military force against Iraq. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Saltanov strongly disagrees that a tougher resolution is needed. And France remains insistent that any further resolutions against Iraq should be broken into two parts—one defining the terms of inspections, and a second outlining the consequences if Iraq does not comply. (Leopold and Mikkelsen 10/3/2002)

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)

When Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) reads the CIA’s white paper on Iraq, a document written for public consumption that was supposed to have been an accurate summary of the agency’s recently released NIE (see October 1, 2002), he begins “to question whether the White House [is] telling the truth—or even [has] an interest in knowing the truth,” he later says. The document includes none of the dissenting opinions or caveats that were in the NIE, and therefore makes the CIA’s evidence against Saddam Hussein appear much stronger than it actually is. When Graham calls CIA Director George Tenet to ask what happened, Tenet becomes defensive and accuses the senator of questioning his professionalism and patriotism. Graham then sends the CIA a letter requesting that the agency declassify the dissenting opinions as well as the passages that contained more nuanced and cautionary language. He also requests that the agency declassify his October 2 exchange (see October 2, 2002) with Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin concerning the NIE. In that exchange, McLaughlin had conceded that the likelihood of Saddam Hussein launching an attack with weapons of mass destruction were “low.” (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 140-141)

Reporter Jonathan Landay will recall being surprised about the superficial evidence in the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002), particularly the evidence regarding the aluminum tubes that were supposedly for nuclear weapons production. Landay says: “I got my copy [of the unclassified version—see October 4, 2002], and I opened it up and I came to the part that talked about the aluminum tubes. Now, it said that the majority of analysts believed that those tubes were for the nuclear weapons program. It turns out, though, that that majority of intelligence analysts had no background in nuclear weapons.… So, here was yet another building block in this chain of building blocks that we had collected over these months about what they were saying to the public, and what the intelligence was actually telling them. And, there were differences. Some of them were nuanced. Some of them were quite large. But, it became quite apparent that they were grabbing just about anything they could to make the case for going to war in Iraq.” (Moyers 4/25/2007)

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).

Vice President Cheney’s man in the State Department, Undersecretary of State John Bolton, takes steps to ensure that only the “right” intelligence analysts will be allowed to attend meetings on Iraq, after the embarrassment of having the CIA refuse to allow President Bush to accuse Iraq of attempting to buy uranium from Niger (see October 5, 2002 and October 6, 2002). Bolton bars Greg Thielmann, the director of the State Department’s INR (its in-house intelligence bureau), from attending any more meetings on any related subject. Thielmann had questioned the forged Niger documents (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, February 5, 2002, and February 12, 2002). “Bolton seemed to be troubled because INR was not telling them what he wanted to hear,” Thielmann will later recall. “I was intercepted at the door of his office and told, ‘The undersecretary doesn’t need you to attend this meeting anymore. The undersecretary wants to keep this in the family.’” (Unger 2007, pp. 263)

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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