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Profile: Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was a participant or observer in the following events:
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The CIA reports that a foreign government service has determined that the uranium being stored at a warehouse in Cotonou, Benin is destined for France, not Iraq, as was alleged in a recent report (see November 25, 2002) by the US Naval Criminal Investigative Service. [US Congress, 7/7/2004, pp. 64]
At a National Security Council meeting, CIA Director George Tenet is given a hard copy of President Bush’s State of the Union address, to be given the next evening (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), containing a direct assertion that Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from Niger for nuclear weapons (see October 6, 2002). The story of what happens next is murky. Tenet apparently does not read the speech, but sends a copy, via an assistant, to his Deputy Director of Intelligence, Jami Miscik (see January 10, 2003). But, the Senate Intelligence Committee will later report, no one in Miscik’s office recalls ever receiving the speech or if anyone was ever assigned to review it. Some find this story unbelievable: a State of the Union speech calling for war going unread and misplaced is hard to countenance. “It is inconceivable to me that George Tenet didn’t read that speech,” former CIA officer Milt Bearden will later say. “At that point, he was effectively no longer DCI [director of the CIA]. He was part of that [Bush-Cheney] cabal, and no longer able to carry an honest message.” A former intelligence officer close to Tenet will dispute Bearden’s characterization, and insist that Tenet knew nothing of the Niger uranium allegations included in the speech. “Had he been aware,” the official will state, “he would have vigorously tried to have it removed.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 269]
A secret CIA report on possible links between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi government is finished and sent to top US officials. The report, entitled “Iraqi Support of Terrorism,” was substantially finished by December 2002, but was delayed while other US officials put pressure on the CIA to withdraw or revise the report, because it did not find as much evidence of a Hussein-al-Qaeda link as they would have liked. In a 2007 book, former CIA Director George Tenet will describe in detail what was in the report. “Our analysts believed that there was a solid basis for identifying three areas of concern with regard to Iraq and al-Qaeda: safe haven, contacts, and training. But they could not translate this data into a relationship where these two entities had ever moved beyond seeking ways to take advantage of each other.… Ansar al-Islam, a radical Kurdish Islamic group [based in northern Iraq areas out of Iraqi government control], was closely allied to al-Qaeda.… We believed that up to two hundred al-Qaeda fighters began to relocate [to Ansar al-Islam] camps after the Afghan campaign began in the fall of 2001.” He says that one of their camps near the town of Khurmal linked to militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi “engaged in production and training in the use of low-level poisons such as cyanide.” He says that nearly 100 operatives in Western Europe connected to this camp were arrested, but, “What was even more worrisome was that by the spring and summer of 2002, more than a dozen al-Qaeda-affiliated extremists converged on Baghdad, with apparently no harassment on the part of the Iraqi government. They had found a comfortable and secure environment in which they moved people and supplies to support al-Zarqawi’s operations in northeastern Iraq.” He mentions Thirwat Salah Shehata and Yussef Dardiri, considered to be among Islamic Jihad’s best operational planners, as those in Baghdad at the time, and that “Credible information told us that Shehata was willing to strike US, Israeli, and Egyptian targets sometime in the future.” He concludes, “Do we know just how aware Iraqi authorities were of these terrorists’ presence either in Baghdad or northeastern Iraq? No, but from an intelligence point of view it would have been difficult to conclude that the Iraqi intelligence service was not aware of their activities. Certainly, we believe that at least one senior [Ansar al-Islam] operative maintained some sort of liaison relationship with the Iraqis. But operational direction and control? No.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 349-351] It is not clear from Tenet’s book just how much of the above description is of what the CIA believed at the time and how much is what Tenet still believed to be true in 2007. Some of Tenet’s claims from his book appear overblown, such as the danger of poison production in the Khurmal camp (see March 31, 2003).
A new CIA report in 2005 (ignored in Tenet’s book) will conclude that Hussein’s government “did not have a relationship, harbor, or even turn a blind eye toward al-Zarqawi and his associates” (see October 2005). [New York Times, 9/8/2006] In 2006, a bipartisan US Senate report on “Pre-war Intelligence on Iraq” will note that “detainees that originally reported on [links between Ansar al-Islam and Iraqi intelligence] have recanted, and another detainee, in September 2003, was deemed to have insufficient access and level of detail to substantiate his claims.” The report will conclude, “Postwar information reveals that Baghdad viewed Ansar al-Islam as a threat to the regime and that [Iraqi intelligence] attempted to collect intelligence on the group.” [US Senate and Intelligence Committee, 9/8/2006 ]
Tyler Drumheller, the CIA’s chief of European operations, is “dumbfounded,” in author Craig Unger’s words, at the claims President Bush makes in his State of the Union speech (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). Bush and the CIA top brass had ignored Drumheller’s warnings that the intelligence about Iraq’s mobile biological laboratories is weak (see December 18-20, 2002), but Bush made the claim anyway. Just as bad, Bush made a direct reference to the long-disproven Iraq-Niger uranium deal (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). The White House decided to justify the uranium claim by attributing it to Britain. Unger will write, “Not only had the president of the United States taken a statement that many in the administration knew to be a lie and used it as a cause for war, he had taken the cowardly way out and attributed it to a third party.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 273-274]
French officials are shocked by the claims Bush made in his state of the union speech (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) concerning Iraqi attempts to obtain uranium from Africa. One government official will later recall in an interview with the Los Angeles Times that French experts considered Bush’s claim, which he attributed to the British, as “totally crazy because, in our view, there was no backup for this.” Notwithstanding, the French launch another investigation (see Late April or Early May 2002-June 2002) and again, find no evidence supporting the US and British claim. [Los Angeles Times, 12/11/2005]
US Secretary of State Colin Powell reluctantly accepts the task of making the administration’s case for war to the United Nations Security Council. He assigns his close friend and chief of staff Larry Wilkerson to go to the CIA and put together a team to craft a presentation. Though Powell has long harbored deep misgivings about the war, in public he has consistently and staunchly promoted the war, even when it came to repeating claims he knew to be false (see January 23, 2008). Powell also gives Wilkerson a 48-page report from the White House on Iraq’s alleged arsenal of banned weapons. The report is meant to serve as the basis for Powell’s upcoming speech to the UN (see February 5, 2003). Powell, skeptical of the report’s data, instructs Wilkerson to have it looked over by the CIA. The dossier was written primarily by two senior aides to Vice President Cheney, John Hannah and I. Lewis Libby (see January 25, 2003). [Bamford, 2004, pp. 368; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 281; Unger, 2007, pp. 275] The analysts at CIA will quickly determine that the documents are based on unreliable sources (see January 30-February 4, 2003). Speculation is already rampant throughout the State Department and among well-informed observers as to why Powell became such a reliable spokesman for the administration’s war plans. A State Department official will echo the opinion of others in saying that Powell is “completely aware of the machinations going on,” but wants to avoid any sort of public dispute among top White House officials—and Powell wants to keep relations with Vice President Dick Cheney on an even keel. Author Craig Unger will later note, “Regardless of what he really believed, Powell ultimately accommodated the White House to such an extent that he became the most articulate spokesman for the war effort” (see January 26, 2003). [Unger, 2007, pp. 275]
Colin Powell’s chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, meets with other administration officials and aides at the CIA’s Langley headquarters in a conference room down the hall from George Tenet’s office to review two White House reports on Iraq’s alleged illegal activities. The team includes George Tenet, John McLaughlin, William Tobey and Robert Joseph from the National Security Council, and John Hannah from Vice President Cheney’s office. (Tenet had intended to leave for a Middle East junket, but Powell stopped him from going, insisting on his input and participation.) The two dossiers are meant to serve as the basis for Powell’s upcoming speech at the UN (see February 5, 2003). One of the reports—a 48-page dossier that had been provided to Powell’s office a few days earlier (see January 29, 2003)—deals with Iraq’s supposed arsenal of weapons of mass destruction while the other, a slightly more recent report totaling some 45 pages, addresses the issue of Iraq’s history of human rights violations and its alleged ties to Islamic militant groups. Shortly after Wilkerson begins reviewing the 48-page report on Iraq’s alleged WMD, it becomes apparent that the material is not well sourced. [Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 230; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 177; Unger, 2007, pp. 276]
Dossiers Contain Large Amounts of White House Misinformation - Wilkerson has been given three dossiers: about 90 pages of material on Iraq’s WMD, on its sponsorship of terrorism, and on its violation of human rights. Wilkerson is not well informed about the variety of machinations surrounding the WMD issue, but it doesn’t take him long to realize there is a problem. The CIA has an array of analysts with decades of experience studying Iraq’s weapons programs, rigorous peer review procedures to prevent unreliable intelligence from making it into the final assessments, and a large budget devoted to Middle East intelligence. But the CIA had not produced Wilkerson’s dossiers. They had been prepared by Libby, Cheney’s chief of staff. Wilkerson is taken aback by such a breach of procedure, especially on such a critically important matter of state. Former NSC counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke later says, “It’s very strange for the Vice President’s senior adviser to be… saying to the Secretary of State, ‘This is what you should be saying.’” As Wilkerson goes through the material, he realizes, in Unger’s words, “just how aggressively Cheney and his men have stacked the deck.” Wilkerson first reads the 48-page WMD dossier, and is not impressed. “It was anything but an intelligence document,” he later says. “It was, as some people characterized it later, sort of a Chinese menu from which you could pick and choose.”
Cherry-Picked Intel - Wilkerson will continue, “When we had a question, which was virtually every line, John Hannah from the vice president’s office would consult a huge clipboard he had.” Hannah, a former official of the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy, had coauthored the dossier with Libby. He had also worked closely with Libby in the White House Iraq Group (see August 2002). Hannah cites the source of each questionable datum Wilkerson asks about, and Wilkerson and his team set about tracking down the original sources of each item. They spend hours poring over satellite photos, intercepts of Iraqi military communications, and various foreign intelligence reports. Wilkerson and his team find that in almost every instance, the original sources do not support the conclusions drawn in the dossier. “Once we read the entirety of those documents,” he will recall, “we’d find that the context was not quite what the cherry-picked item imparted.” Wilkerson believes that much of the dossier’s intelligence comes from Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress (see 1992-1996), a belief given credence by the fact that Hannah had served as the chief liaison between the INC and Cheney’s office. As Wilkerson will later recall, “It was clear the thing was put together by cherry-picking everything from the New York Times to the DIA.” Reporters Michael Isikoff and David Corn will later write that “a Defense Intelligence Agency report was not being used properly, a CIA report was not being cited in a fair way, a referenced New York Times article was quoting a DIA report out of context,” and will confirm that much of the material had come from the Iraqi National Congress. [US News and World Report, 6/9/2003; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 177; Unger, 2007, pp. 276-278]
Incomprehensible 'Genealogy' - According to Wilkerson, Feith’s office had strung together an incomprehensible “genealogy.” “It was like the Bible,” Wilkerson later recalls. “It was the Old Testament. It was ‘Joe met Bob met Frank met Bill met Ted met Jane in Khartoum and therefore we assume that Bob knew Ralph.’ It was incredible.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 180-181]
Link to Office of Special Plans? - Powell’s staff is also “convinced that much of it had been funneled directly to Cheney by a tiny separate intelligence unit set up by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld” (see Summer 2002 and September 2002), Vanity Fair magazine later reports. [Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 230]
Cheney's Aides Attempt to Reinsert Deleted Material - Soon Wilkerson’s team faces the same difficulties with the dossier on Iraq’s connections to Islamist terrorism that it faced with the White House-prepared dossier on Iraq’s WMD (see January 30-February 4, 2003). Tenet has tried manfully to give the administration what it so desperately wants—proof of Iraq’s connections to the 9/11 attacks. The CIA’s unit on Osama bin Laden had gone through 75,000 pages of documents and found no evidence of any such connections. Vice President Cheney and his staffers have always insisted that such a connection does indeed exist. Their strongest claim to that effect is the supposed meeting between 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence agent in April 2000 (see September 14, 2001). This claim has long been discredited (see September 18, 2001), but Cheney’s people keep attempting to bring it back into play (see February 1, 2003-February 4, 2003). [US News and World Report, 6/9/2003; Bamford, 2004, pp. 370-1; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 230; Unger, 2007, pp. 276-278]
Information about Australian Software Erroneous - One item in the White House’s original draft alleged that Iraq had obtained software from an Australian company that would provide Iraqis with sensitive information about US topography. The argument was that Iraqis, using that knowledge, could one day attack the US
with biological or chemical weapons deployed from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). But when Powell’s intelligence team investigated the issue, it became “clear that the information was not ironclad” (see October 1, 2002). [US News and World Report, 6/9/2003]
'Idiocy' - “We were so appalled at what had arrived from the White House,” one official later says. [Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 230] As another senior official (likely Wilkerson) will later recall, “We went through that for about six hours—item by item, page by page and about halfway through the day I realized this is idiocy, we cannot possibly do this, because it was all bullsh_t—it was unsourced, a lot of it was just out of the newspapers, it was—and I look back in retrospect—it was a [Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas] Feith product, it was a Scooter Libby product, it was a Vice President’s office product. It was a product of collusion between that group. And it had no way of standing up, anywhere, I mean it was nuts.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 368-9]
Starting from Scratch - After several hours, Wilkerson and Tenet are both so fed up that they decide to scrap the WMD dossier entirely. “Let’s go back to the NIE,” Tenet suggests, referring to the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002). Wilkerson is not aware of how badly the NIE had been, in author Craig Unger’s words, “tampered with,” but Powell should have known, as his own intelligence bureau in the State Department had disputed key elements of the NIE. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 368-9; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 230; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 177-178; Unger, 2007, pp. 276-278]
Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Office of the Vice President, National Security Council, Richard A. Clarke, White House Iraq Group, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Robert G. Joseph, William H. Tobey, Lawrence Wilkerson, John Hannah, Michael Isikoff, Iraqi National Congress, Colin Powell, Central Intelligence Agency, Ahmed Chalabi, Craig Unger, David Corn, Donald Rumsfeld, John E. McLaughlin, George J. Tenet, Douglas Feith
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
Colin Powell’s chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, tasked with the duty of preparing Powell’s upcoming UN presentation (see January 29, 2003), meets with his hastily assembled team: Lynne Davidson, Powell’s chief speechwriter; Carl Ford, the head of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR); and Barry Lowenkron, principal deputy director of policy planning at State. They also consult with a UN staffer on the logistics of making such a presentation to the Security Council. Later that day, Wilkerson drives to the CIA building in Langley, where he meets with CIA Director George Tenet and Tenet’s deputy, John McLaughlin. Wilkerson examines information provided for Powell’s speech by the White House, and quickly determines that it is unreliable to the point of uselessness (see January 30-February 4, 2003). He decides that his team will assemble its own information. [Unger, 2007, pp. 276]
INR Analysts Not Invited to Presentation Planning Sessions - Over the next few days, Wilkerson and his team works almost around the clock putting together Powell’s upcoming presentation. In addition to Wilkerson’s staff, McLaughlin and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice are frequent participants. Others who take part include Rice’s deputy, Stephen Hadley; National Security Council officer Robert Joseph, who had ensured mention of the Iraq-Niger claim in President Bush’s recent State of the Union address (see January 26 or 27, 2003); another NSC official, Will Tobey; two of Vice President Cheney’s senior aides, John Hannah and Lewis “Scooter” Libby; and Lawrence Gershwin, one of the CIA’s top advisers on technical intelligence. Aside from Ford, there are no representatives from the State Department’s own intelligence analysts of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR). They had refused to give in to White House pressure to “cook” the intelligence on Iraq (see November 14, 2001, January 31, 2002, March 1, 2002, and December 23, 2002). Their absence, author Craig Unger will later write, is “another striking indication that Powell had capitulated and was trying to avoid a showdown with the White House.… [T]he hard-nosed analysts at INR, who had not bowed to White House pressure, would be a political liability for Powell.” [US News and World Report, 6/9/2003; Bamford, 2004, pp. 370-1; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 230; Unger, 2007, pp. 276-278]
Inspirational Film - Early in the process, Wilkerson and his colleagues watch an archived film of then-UN ambassador Adlai Stevenson’s historic 1962 speech before the UN Security Council. Stevenson’s ringing denunciation of the Soviet Union, and his dramatic use of irrefutable evidence that showed Soviet missiles in Cuba, inspires the team to seek what Wilkerson calls “a similar confluence of evidence and rhetoric.” They want Powell to have his own “Stevenson moment” before the UN. [Unger, 2007, pp. 276-278]
Roadblocks - Throughout the process, Wilkerson’s team is deviled by the insistence of White House representatives, most notably those from Cheney’s office, on the insertion of information and claims that Wilkerson and his team know are unreliable (see January 30-February 4, 2003). [Unger, 2007, pp. 275]
Entity Tags: John E. McLaughlin, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Central Intelligence Agency, Carl W. Ford, Jr., Bush administration (43), George J. Tenet, Barry Lowenkron, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, William H. Tobey, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of State, Lynne Davidson, United Nations, Robert G. Joseph, Craig Unger, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, National Security Council, Stephen J. Hadley, Lawrence Wilkerson, John Hannah, Lawrence Gershwin
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
Larry Wilkerson. [Source: CBS News]Secretary of State Colin Powell, preparing for his critically important presentation to the United Nations that will assert the reality of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction (see February 5, 2003), sends his chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, to the CIA to prepare for the presentation. CIA Director George Tenet and his experts regale Wilkerson with the information about mobile bioweapons labs provided by the Iraqi defector Curveball (see November 1999). In 2007, Wilkerson will recall, “They presented it in a very dynamic, dramatic, ‘we know this is accurate,’ way.” Curveball’s assertion that he is a firsthand witness is very important, Wilkerson will say. “This was a man who had actually been in the belly of the beast. He had been in the lab. He had been there when an accident occurred. He’d seen people killed. And the implication was, strong implication, that they weren’t killed because of the accident in the explosion, they were killed because they were contaminated. Yes, the source was very credible. As it was presented by the CIA.” Wilkerson later says that both he and Powell accept the claims because they depend on the intelligence community for good information: “And you depend on the director of central intelligence to assimilate all the intelligence community’s input and give it to you.” Wilkerson feels the section on mobile bioweapons is the strongest part of the presentation, as does Powell. Others at the CIA are not so convinced of Curveball’s truthfulness (see September 2002, January 27, 2003, and December 2002). [CBS News, 11/4/2007]
9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow makes his first visit to the CIA, where he meets Mark Lowenthal, a CIA staffer responsible for liaising with 9/11 investigations, and Winston Wiley, the CIA’s assistant director for homeland security. Both men have met Zelikow before and Wiley dislikes him, later saying that Zelikow “reeks of arrogance,” and, “Here’s a guy who spent his career trying to insinuate himself into power so when something like this came his way, he could grab it.”
Recriminations at First Meeting - Although the visit is just supposed to be an initial meeting introducing the 9/11 Commission to the CIA, according to Lowenthal, Zelikow starts by saying, “If you had a national intelligence director, none of this would have ever happened.” According to Wiley, Zelikow says that 9/11 was the result of a “massive failure” at the CIA and happened because “you guys weren’t connected to the rest of the community.” Zelikow will later say that he has no recollection of making these remarks and did not have a firm opinion on a director of national intelligence at this time, but both Lowenthal and Wiley will recall both the remarks and being extremely surprised by Zelikow’s tone. Lowenthal thinks that Zelikow has already decided that the intelligence community needs to be restructured, with a national intelligence director appointed above the CIA director, and that Zelikow is “going to make this [the 9/11 investigation] all about the CIA.”
Tenet's Reaction - When Lowenthal warns CIA Director George Tenet about the interview, Tenet cannot believe what Lowenthal is telling him and thinks Lowenthal may have misheard Zelikow. According to journalist and author Philip Shenon, Tenet thinks the idea the CIA is most responsible for 9/11 is “crazy” and the idea of creating a national intelligence director “even nuttier.” Tenet is sure that the “incompetent, arrogant FBI” is most at fault for 9/11 and that if Zelikow gets out of hand, he can deal with the situation by talking to some of the 9/11 commissioners he knows. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 76-80]
Jane Harman. [Source: US House of Representatives]CIA General Counsel Scott Muller briefs a small group of legislators on the CIA’s detainee interrogation program, and indicates that it has made videotapes of the interrogations. Muller says that the CIA is now thinking about destroying the tapes, because they put the officers shown on them at risk. Although four to eight legislators have already been briefed about the program (see September 2002), this is apparently the first mention that videotapes of interrogations have been made. [New York Times, 12/8/2007] According to House Intelligence Committee member Jane Harman (D-CA), the briefing raises “a number of serious concerns.” [The Gavel, 12/9/2007] Both Harman and another of those present, Porter Goss (R-FL), advise the CIA that they think destroying the tapes is a bad idea (see November 2005). Harman is apparently supported by fellow Democrat Nancy Pelosi, who is said to “concur” with Harman’s objections to the tapes’ destruction. [International Herald Tribune, 12/8/2007] Harman writes a follow-up letter to Muller asking about legal opinions on interrogation techniques and urging the CIA to reconsider its decision to destroy the tapes (see February 28, 2003).
Michael Maloof. [Source: PBS]In February, Hassan al-Obeidi, chief of foreign operations of the Iraqi Intelligence Service, pays a visit to Imad Hage, a Lebanese-American businessman living in Beruit who has contacts in the Pentagon. Obeidi requests his help in relaying a backchannel offer to Washington in an attempt to avert war. Hage later tells the New York Times that Obeidi told him: “If this is about oil, we will talk about US oil concessions. If it is about the peace process, then we can talk. If this is about weapons of mass destruction, let the Americans send over their people. There are no weapons of mass destruction. Americans could send 2,000 FBI agents to look wherever they wanted,” At one point, Obeidi says that Iraq would even agree to hold elections within the next two years. Hage relays everything to Pentagon staffer Michael Maloof in Washington. [New York Times, 11/6/2003] Hage then travels to Baghdad and meets with Iraq’s chief of intelligence Tahir Jalil Habbush Al-Tikriti. Hage later recalls: “[The Iraqis] would be willing to allow between 1,000 to 2,000 US agents, FBI and/or scientists, into Iraq to verify, according to them, the absence of weapons of mass destruction or that they no longer had weapons of mass destruction. The second point, they offered to turn over Abdul Rahman Yasin, [under indictment in] the World Trade Center bombing in 1993. And on the third issue, they offered to hold free and fair elections in Iraq within a year or two. They kept on asking why they were targeted or they would be targeted, that they didn’t wish confrontation with the United States. If it was about oil, they’d be willing to make concessions on oil.” [New York Times, 11/6/2003; CNN, 11/7/2003] On February 19, Hage faxes a three-page report to Maloof listing five concessions the Iraqis were willing to make: cooperation in the war on terrorism, “full support for any US plan” in the Arab-Israeli peace process, giving “the US… first priority as it relates to Iraq oil, mining rights,” support for United States strategic interests in the region, and “direct US involvement on the ground in disarming Iraq.” Details of the Iraqi offer are sent to several top Pentagon officials. [New York Times, 11/6/2003] In early March, Hage and Richard Perle meet in London. Hage informs him that the Iraqis would like to arrange a secret meeting with him to discuss their offer. According to Perle, he then contacts the CIA seeking permission to meet with the Iraqis. But according to Perle, the CIA isn’t interested. “The message was, ‘Tell them that we will see them in Baghdad.’” The agency also tells Perle that they had already pursued other backchannel leads with the Iraqi regime. According to one senior US intelligence official, the other leads “came via a broad range of foreign intelligence services, other governments, third parties, charlatans, and independent actors. Every lead that was at all plausible, and some that weren’t, were followed up.” [New York Times, 11/6/2003; Risen, 2006, pp. 183-184] In spite of the CIA’s refusal to engage in talks with the Iraqis, Hage continues to forward offers by the Iraqis to Maloof. The US ignores them. [New York Times, 11/6/2003]
On the evening of Secretary of State Colin Powell’s presentation to the UN Security Council (see February 5, 2003), Powell’s chief of staff Larry Wilkerson (see January 30-February 4, 2003) conducts a dress rehearsal on the top floor of the US Mission to the United Nations. He rearranges the furniture to look like the seating arrangements in the UN Security Council. This is Wilkerson’s last change to get the presentation right and weed out everything that cannot be verified. One item that worries him is an intercept of a conversation between two members of Iraq’s elite Republican Guards. Wilkerson will later say, “They were very classy, rat-tat-tat-tat, hitting you fast, like all the TV crap Americans are used to these says, nine-second sound bites.” But Wilkerson is not sure they say what the CIA and the White House claim they say. “You have this guy at a chemical factory saying, ‘Get rid of it.’ Suppose he’s actually trying to get rid of [the WMD]… [But] all the intercepts could have been interpreted two or three or even more ways. Believe me, I looked at it fifty times.” Wilkerson is doubly worried about the claims that Iraq has mobile bioweapons labs (see February 3, 2003). In a dramatic sequence, Powell will present sketches of the mobile labs based on descriptions from an undisclosed source. Wilkerson is not sold: “Powell and I were both suspicious because these weren’t pictures of the mobile labs,” he will later recall. Wilkerson asks CIA Director George Tenet and Tenet’s deputy John McLaughlin about the sourcing, and both officials agree that the sourcing is “exceptionally strong” (see February 4, 2003). McLaughlin fails to tell Wilkerson about CIA official Tyler Drumheller’s concerns (see Late January, 2003). Wilkerson will recall, “I sat in the room, looking into George Tenet’s eyes, as did the secretary of state, and heard with all the firmness only George could give… I mean eyeball-to-eyeball contact between two of the most powerful men in the administration, Colin Powell and George Tenet, and George Tenet assuring Colin Powell that the information he was presenting to the UN was ironclad.” At the end of the rehearsal, Powell asks Tenet, “Do you stand by this?” “Absolutely, Mr. Secretary,” Tenet replies. “Good,” says Powell, “because you are going to be in camera beside me at the UN Security Council tomorrow.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 282-283]
Senior CIA official and WMD specialist Valerie Plame Wilson watches Secretary of State Colin Powell’s address to the United Nations (see February 5, 2003). In her memoir Fair Game (partially redacted by the CIA), she will later write: “I assumed Powell’s presentation would be, in a sense, a Kabuki-like performance, in which the secretary of state’s sterling reputation would persuade the world of the righteousness of a decision the administration had already made. Still, I had enormous respect for [Powell]—I had heard him speak in the Agency’s bubble-shaped auditorium and had been quite impressed with his eloquence and natural charisma.” Plame Wilson and several other analysts watch Powell’s presentation on a television in their CIA office complex. Plame Wilson calls Powell’s presentation a “bravura performance… but I knew key parts of it were wrong.” She finds “shocking” his claims about Iraq’s mobile bioweapons labs. She knows that information comes from an Iraqi defector code-named “Curveball,” who has already been discredited by CIA analysts. Plame Wilson will recall: “When the program ended and we all drifted back to our desks, I was deeply upset, my head was spinning. I was experiencing what I can only call cognitive dissonance: ‘a psychological phenomenon which refers to the discomfort felt at a discrepancy between what you already know or believe, and new information or interpretation.’ I had been tracking Iraqi WMD efforts carefully for some time [REDACTED] and the facts I knew simply did not match up with what Powell had just presented.” Powell had presented as direct and verified fact a body of arguments that had been seriously questioned and heavily caveated by CIA and other intelligence agencies’ analysts. His presentation was, Plame Wilson will observe, “at a minimum much too optimistic and almost glib. It seemed he had only used the most sensational and tantalizing bits as evidence, without any of those appropriate caveats or cautions.” Plame Wilson will later write that for the rest of the day, she attempts to come to grips with Powell’s presentation. She realizes that others above her have access to information of which she is unaware. “The idea that my government, which I had served loyally for years, might be exaggerating a case for war was impossible to comprehend. Nothing made sense.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 128-130]
Colin Powell and George Tenet, at the UN presentation. [Source: CBS News]US Secretary of State Colin Powell presents the Bush administration’s case against Saddam to the UN Security Council, in advance of an expected vote on a second resolution that the US and Britain hope will provide the justification to use military force against Iraq. [US Department of State, 2/5/2003] At the insistence of Powell, CIA Director George Tenet is seated directly behind him to the right. “It was theater, a device to signal to the world that Powell was relying on the CIA to make his case that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction,” Vanity Fair magazine will later explain. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 371-2; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 232] In his speech before the Council, Powell makes the case that Iraq is in further material breach of past UN resolutions, specifically the most recent one, UN Resolution 1441 (see November 8, 2002). Sources cited in Powell’s presentation include defectors, informants, communication intercepts, procurement records, photographs, and detainees. [US Department of State, 2/5/2003] Most of the allegations made by Powell are later demonstrated to be false. “The defectors and other sources went unidentified,” the Associated Press will later report. “The audiotapes were uncorroborated, as were the photo interpretations. No other supporting documents were presented. Little was independently verifiable.” [Associated Press, 8/9/2003]
Iraq's December 7 Declaration Was Inaccurate - Powell contends that Iraq’s December 7 declaration was not complete. According to UN Resolution 1441 the document was supposed to be a “currently accurate, full and complete declaration of all aspects” of its programs to develop weapons of mass destruction. But Saddam has not done this, says Powell, who explains that Iraq has yet to provide sufficient evidence that it destroyed its previously declared stock of 8,500 liters of anthrax, as it claimed in the declaration. Furthermore, notes the secretary of state, UNSCOM inspectors had previously estimated that Iraq possessed the raw materials to produce as much as 25,000 liters of the virus. [New York Times, 2/5/2003; US Department of State, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 2/6/2003]
Iraq Has Ties to Al-Qaeda - Powell repeats earlier claims that Saddam Hussein’s government has ties to al-Qaeda. Powell focuses on the cases of the militant Islamic group Ansar-al-Islam and Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born Palestinian, who had received medical treatment in Baghdad during the summer of 2002 (see December 2001-Mid-2002). [US Department of State, 2/5/2003] However, just days before Powell’s speech, US and British intelligence officials—speaking on condition of anonymity—told the press that the administration’s allegations of Iraqi-al-Qaeda ties were based on information provided by Kurdish groups, who, as enemies of Ansar-al-Islam, should not be considered reliable. Furthermore, these sources unequivocally stated that intelligence analysts on both sides of the Atlantic remained unconvinced of the purported links between Iraq and al-Qaeda (see February 3-4, 2003). [Independent, 2/3/2003; Daily Telegraph, 2/4/2003] Powell also claims that Iraq provided “chemical or biological weapons training for two al-Qaeda associates beginning in December 2000.” The claim is based on a September 2002 CIA document which had warned that its sources were of “varying reliability” and that the claim was not 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 recounts the claim (see February 14, 2004). [CNN, 9/26/2002; New York Times, 7/31/2004; Newsweek, 7/5/2005] Larry Wilkerson, Powell’s chief of staff, will later say that neither he nor Powell ever received “any dissent with respect to those lines… indeed the entire section that now we know came from [al-Libi].” [Newsweek, 11/10/2005] Senior US officials will admit to the New York Times and Washington Post after the presentation that the administration was not claiming that Saddam Hussein is “exercising operational control” of al-Qaeda. [New York Times, 2/6/2003; Washington Post, 2/7/2003]
Iraq Has Missiles Capable of Flying Up to 1,200 Kilometers - Describing a photo of the al-Rafah weapons site, Powell says: “As part of this effort, another little piece of evidence, Iraq has built an engine test stand that is larger than anything it has ever had. Notice the dramatic difference in size between the test stand on the left, the old one, and the new one on the right. Note the large exhaust vent. This is where the flame from the engine comes out. The exhaust vent on the right test stand is five times longer than the one on the left. The one of the left is used for short-range missiles. The one on the right is clearly intended for long-range missiles that can fly 1,200 kilometers. This photograph was taken in April of 2002. Since then, the test stand has been finished and a roof has been put over it so it will be harder for satellites to see what’s going on underneath the test stand.” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; New York Times, 2/5/2003] But according to the Associated Press, “… UN missile experts have reported inspecting al-Rafah at least five times since inspections resumed Nov. 27, have studied the specifications of the new test stand, regularly monitor tests at the installation, and thus far have reported no concerns.” [Associated Press, 2/7/2003] Similarly, Reuters quotes Ali Jassem, an Iraqi official, who explains that the large stand referred to in Powell’s speech is not yet in operation and that its larger size is due to the fact that it will be testing engines horizontally. [Reuters, 2/7/2003; Guardian, 2/15/2003] Several days later, Blix will report to the UN that “so far, the test stand has not been associated with a proscribed activity.” [Guardian, 2/15/2003]
Iraqis Attempted to Hide Evidence from Inspectors - Powell shows the UN Security Council satellite shots depicting what he claims are chemical weapons bunkers and convoys of Iraqi cargo trucks preparing to transport ballistic missile components from a weapons site just two days before the arrival of inspectors. “We saw this kind of housecleaning at close to 30 sites,” Powell explains. “We must ask ourselves: Why would Iraq suddenly move equipment of this nature before inspections if they were anxious to demonstrate what they had or did not have?” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003] But the photos are interpreted differently by others. An unnamed UN official and German UN Inspector Peter Franck both say the trucks in the photos are actually fire engines. [Mercury News (San Jose), 3/18/2003; Agence France-Presse, 6/6/2003]
'Literally Removed the Crust of the Earth' - Another series of photos—taken during the spring and summer of 2002—show that Iraqis have removed a layer of topsoil from the al-Musayyib chemical complex. This piece of evidence, combined with information provided by an unnamed source, leads Powell to draw the following conclusion: “The Iraqis literally removed the crust of the earth from large portions of this site in order to conceal chemical weapons evidence that would be there from years of chemical weapons activity.” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 2/6/2003] Showing another series of pictures—one taken on November 10 (before inspections) and one taken on December 22—Powell says that a guard station and decontamination truck were removed prior to the arrival of inspectors. Powell does not explain how he knows that the truck in the photograph was a decontamination truck. [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 2/6/2003; Washington Post, 2/6/2003] AP reporter Charles Hanley says that some of Powell’s claims that Iraq is hiding evidence are “ridiculous.” Powell says of a missile site, “This photograph was taken in April of 2002. Since then, the test stand has been finished and a roof has been put over it so it will be harder for satellites to see what’s going on underneath the test stand.” Hanley later says, “What he neglected to mention was that the inspectors were underneath, watching what was going on.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
Communication Intercepts Demonstrate Iraqi Attempts to Conceal Information from Inspectors - Powell plays recordings of three conversations intercepted by US intelligence—one on November 26, another on January 30, and a third, a “few weeks” before. The conversations suggest that the Iraqis were attempting to hide evidence from inspectors. [New York Times, 2/5/2003; US Department of State, 2/5/2003; London Times, 2/6/2003; Sydney Morning Herald, 2/7/2003] Senior administration officials concede to the Washington Post that it was not known “what military items were discussed in the intercepts.” [Washington Post, 2/13/2003] Some critics argue that the intercepts were presented out of context and open to interpretation. [Sydney Morning Herald, 2/7/2003; Sydney Morning Herald, 2/9/2003] Others note that the conversations were translated from Arabic by US translators and were not analyzed or verified by an independent specialist. [Newsday, 2/6/2003]
Biological Weapons Factories - Colin Powell says that US intelligence has “firsthand descriptions” that Iraq has 18 mobile biological weapons factories mounted on trucks and railroad cars. Information about the mobile weapons labs are based on the testimonies of four sources—a defected Iraqi chemical engineer who claims to have supervised one of these facilities, an Iraqi civil engineer (see December 20, 2001), a source in “a position to know,” and a defected Iraqi major (see February 11, 2002). Powell says that the mobile units are capable of producing enough dry biological agent in a single month to kill several thousand people. He shows computer-generated diagrams and pictures based on the sources’ descriptions of the facilities. Powell says that according to the chemical engineer, during the late 1990s, Iraq’s biological weapons scientists would often begin the production of pathogens on Thursday nights and complete the process on Fridays in order to evade UNSCOM inspectors whom Iraq believed would not conduct inspections on the Muslim holy day. [New York Times, 2/5/2003; US Department of State, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 2/6/2003; Reuters, 2/11/2003] Powell tells the delegates, “The source was an eyewitness, an Iraqi chemical engineer, who supervised one of these facilities. He actually was present during biological agent production runs. He was also at the site when an accident occurred in 1998. Twelve technicians died from exposure to biological agents.” He displays models of the mobile trucks drawn from the source’s statements. [CBS News, 11/4/2007] Responding to the allegation, Iraqi officials will concede that they do in fact have mobile labs, but insist that they are not used for the development of weapons. According to the Iraqis, the mobile labs are used for food analysis for disease outbreaks, mobile field hospitals, a military field bakery, food and medicine refrigeration trucks, a mobile military morgue and mobile ice making trucks. [Guardian, 2/5/2003; ABC News, 5/21/2003] Iraq’s explanation is consistent with earlier assessments of the UN weapons inspectors. Before Powell’s presentation, Hans Blix had dismissed suggestions that the Iraqis were using mobile biological weapons labs, reporting that inspections of two alleged mobile labs had turned up nothing. “Two food-testing trucks have been inspected and nothing has been found,” Blix said. And Ewen Buchanan, spokesman for the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, said, “The outline and characteristics of these trucks that we inspected were all consistent with the declared purposes.” [Guardian, 2/5/2003; ABC News, 5/21/2003]
'Curveball' Primary Source of Claims - Powell’s case is further damaged when it is later learned that one of the sources Powell cited, the Iraqi major, had been earlier judged unreliable by intelligence agents at the Defense Intelligence Agency (see February 11, 2002). In May 2002, the analysts had issued a “fabricator notice” on the informant, noting that he had been “coached by [the] Iraqi National Congress” (INC) (see May 2002). But the main source for the claim had been an Iraqi defector known as “Curveball,” who was initially believed to be the brother of a top aide to Ahmed Chalabi. The source claimed to be a chemical engineer who had helped design and build the mobile labs. His information was passed to Washington through Germany’s intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), which had been introduced to the source by the INC. In passing along the information, the BND noted that there were “various problems with the source.” And only one member of the US intelligence community had actually met with the person—an unnamed Pentagon analyst who determined the man was an alcoholic and of dubious reliability. Yet both the DIA and the CIA validated the information. [Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, 8/22/2003; Los Angeles Times, 3/28/2004; Knight Ridder, 4/4/2004; Newsweek, 4/19/2004; Newsweek, 7/19/2004] Powell says that the US has three other intelligence sources besides Curveball for the mobile bioweapons labs. Powell will be infuriated to learn that none of those three sources ever corroborated Curveball’s story, and sometimes their information contradicted each other. One of the three had failed a polygraph test and was determined to have lied to his debriefers. Another had already been declared a fabricator by US intelligence community, and had been proven to have mined his information off the Internet. [Buzzflash (.com), 11/27/2007] In November 2007, Curveball is identified as Rafid Ahmed Alwan. Serious questions about Curveball’s veracity had already been raised by the time of Powell’s UN presentation. He will later be completely discredited (see November 4, 2007).
Further Problems with Mobile Lab Claims - In addition to the inspectors’ assessments and the dubious nature of the sources Powell cited, there are numerous other problems with the mobile factories claim. Raymond Zilinskas, a microbiologist and former UN weapons inspector, argues that significant amounts of pathogens such as anthrax, could not be produced in the short span of time suggested in Powell’s speech. “You normally would require 36 to 48 hours just to do the fermentation…. The short processing time seems suspicious to me.” He also says: “The only reason you would have mobile labs is to avoid inspectors, because everything about them is difficult. We know it is possible to build them—the United States developed mobile production plants, including one designed for an airplane—but it’s a big hassle. That’s why this strikes me as a bit far-fetched.” [Washington Post, 2/6/2003] After Powell’s speech, Blix will say in his March 7 report to the UN that his inspectors found no evidence of mobile weapons labs (see March 7, 2003). [CNN, 3/7/2003; Agence France-Presse, 3/7/2003; CNN, 3/7/2003] Reporter Bob Drogin, author of Curveball: Spies, Lies and the Con Man Who Caused a War, says in 2007, “[B]y the time Colin Powell goes to the UN to make the case for war, he shows the world artists’ conjectures based on analysts’ interpretations and extrapolations of Arabic-to-German-to-English translations of summary debriefing reports of interviews with a manic-depressive defector whom the Americans had never met. [CIA director George] Tenet told Powell that Curveball’s information was ironclad and unassailable. It was a travesty.” [Alternet, 10/22/2007]
'Four Tons' of VX Toxin - Powell also claims that Iraq has “four tons” of VX nerve toxin. “A single drop of VX on the skin will kill in minutes,” he says. “Four tons.” Hanley later notes, “He didn’t point out that most of that had already been destroyed. And, on point after point he failed to point out that these facilities about which he was raising such alarm were under repeated inspections good, expert people with very good equipment, and who were leaving behind cameras and other monitoring equipment to keep us a continuing eye on it.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
Iraq is Developing Unmanned Drones Capable of Delivering Weapons of Mass Destruction - Powell asserts that Iraq has flight-tested an unmanned drone capable of flying up to 310 miles and is working on a liquid-fueled ballistic missile with a range of 745 miles. He plays a video of an Iraqi F-1 Mirage jet dispersing “simulated anthrax.” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; New York Times, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 2/6/2003] But the Associated Press will later report that the video was made prior to the 1991 Gulf War. Apparently, three of the four spray tanks shown in the film had been destroyed during the 1991 military intervention. [Associated Press, 8/9/2003]
Imported Aluminum Tubes were Meant for Centrifuge - Powell argues that the aluminum tubes which Iraq had attempted to import in July 2001 (see July 2001) were meant to be used in a nuclear weapons program and not for artillery rockets as experts from the US Energy Department, the INR, and the IAEA have been arguing (see February 3, 2003)
(see January 11, 2003)
(see August 17, 2001)
(see January 27, 2003). To support the administration’s case, he cites unusually precise specifications and high tolerances for heat and stress. “It strikes me as quite odd that these tubes are manufactured to a tolerance that far exceeds US requirements for comparable rockets,” he says. “Maybe Iraqis just manufacture their conventional weapons to a higher standard than we do, but I don’t think so.” Powell also suggests that because the tubes were “anodized,” it was unlikely that they had been designed for conventional use. [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 3/8/2003] Powell does not mention that numerous US nuclear scientists have dismissed this claim (see August 17, 2001)
(see September 23, 2002)
(see December 2002). [Albright, 10/9/2003] Powell also fails to say that Iraq has rockets identical to the Italian Medusa 81 mm rockets, which are of the same dimensions and made of the same alloy as the 3,000 tubes that were intercepted in July 2001 (see After January 22, 2003). [Washington Post, 8/10/2003] This had been reported just two weeks earlier by the Washington Post. [Washington Post, 1/24/2003] Moreover, just two days before, Powell was explicitly warned by the US State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research not to cite the aluminum tubes as evidence that Iraq is pursuing nuclear weapons (see February 3, 2003). [Financial Times, 7/29/2003]
Iraq Attempted to Acquire Magnets for Use in a Gas Centrifuge Program - Powell says: “We… have intelligence from multiple sources that Iraq is attempting to acquire magnets and high-speed balancing machines. Both items can be used in a gas centrifuge program to enrich uranium. In 1999 and 2000, Iraqi officials negotiated with firms in Romania, India, Russia and Slovenia for the purchase of a magnet production plant. Iraq wanted the plant to produce magnets weighing 20 to 30 grams. That’s the same weight as the magnets used in Iraq’s gas centrifuge program before the Gulf War.” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; New York Times, 2/6/2003] Investigation by the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] will demonstrate that the magnets have a dual use. IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei said a little more than a week before, on January 27, in his report to the Security Council: “Iraq presented detailed information on a project to construct a facility to produce magnets for the Iraqi missile program, as well as for industrial applications, and that Iraq had prepared a solicitation of offers, but that the project had been delayed due to ‘financial credit arrangements.’ Preliminary investigations indicate that the specifications contained in the offer solicitation are consistent with those required for the declared intended uses. However, the IAEA will continue to investigate the matter….”
(see January 27, 2003) [Annan, 1/27/2003 ] On March 7, ElBaradei will provide an additional update: “The IAEA has verified that previously acquired magnets have been used for missile guidance systems, industrial machinery, electricity meters and field telephones. Through visits to research and production sites, reviews of engineering drawings and analyses of sample magnets, IAEA experts familiar with the use of such magnets in centrifuge enrichment have verified that none of the magnets that Iraq has declared could be used directly for a centrifuge magnetic bearing.”
(see March 7, 2003) [CNN, 3/7/2003]
Iraq Attempted to Purchase Machines to Balance Centrifuge Rotors - Powell states: “Intercepted communications from mid-2000 through last summer show that Iraq front companies sought to buy machines that can be used to balance gas centrifuge rotors. One of these companies also had been involved in a failed effort in 2001 to smuggle aluminum tubes into Iraq.” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; New York Times, 2/6/2003]
Powell Cites Documents Removed from Home of Iraqi Scientist Faleh Hassan - Powell cites the documents that had been found on January 16, 2003 by inspectors with the help of US intelligence at the Baghdad home of Faleh Hassan, a nuclear scientist. Powell asserts that the papers are a “dramatic confirmation” that Saddam Hussein is concealing evidence and not cooperating with the inspections. The 3,000 documents contained information relating to the laser enrichment of uranium (see January 16, 2003). [Daily Telegraph, 1/18/2003; Associated Press, 1/18/2003; BBC, 1/19/2003; US Department of State, 2/5/2003] A little more than a week later, in the inspectors’ February 14 update to the UN Security Council (see February 14, 2003), ElBaradei will say, “While the documents have provided some additional details about Iraq’s laser enrichment development efforts, they refer to activities or sites already known to the IAEA and appear to be the personal files of the scientist in whose home they were found. Nothing contained in the documents alters the conclusions previously drawn by the IAEA concerning the extent of Iraq’s laser enrichment program.” [Guardian, 2/15/2003; BBC, 2/17/2003; Associated Press, 8/9/2003]
Iraq is Hiding Missiles in the Desert - Powell says that according to unidentified sources, the Iraqis have hidden rocket launchers and warheads containing biological weapons in the western desert. He further contends that these caches of weapons are hidden in palm groves and moved to different locations on a weekly basis. [US Department of State, 2/5/2003] It will later be suggested that this claim was “lifted whole from an Iraqi general’s written account of hiding missiles in the 1991 war.” [Associated Press, 8/9/2003]
Iraq Has Scud Missiles - Powell also says that according to unnamed “intelligence sources,” Iraq has a few dozen Scud-type missiles. [Associated Press, 8/9/2003]
Iraq Has Weapons of Mass Destruction - Secretary of State Colin Powell states unequivocally: “We… have satellite photos that indicate that banned materials have recently been moved from a number of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction facilities. There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more.” Elsewhere in his speech he says: “We know that Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his weapons of mass destruction, is determined to make more.” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; CNN, 2/5/2003]
Governments, Media Reaction Mixed - Powell’s speech will fail to convince many skeptical governments, nor will it impress many in the European media. But it will have a tremendous impact in the US media (see February 5, 2003 and After).
Entity Tags: Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Bush administration (43), Bundesnachrichtendienst, Bob Drogin, Central Intelligence Agency, Ansar al-Islam, ’Curveball’, Al-Qaeda, Charles Hanley, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Ahmed Chalabi, Ali Jassem, Colin Powell, Ewen Buchanan, Faleh Hassan, Saddam Hussein, United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, United Nations Special Commission, Raymond Zilinskas, Peter Franck, United Nations Security Council, Lawrence Wilkerson, Hans Blix, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, Iraqi National Congress, Mohamed ElBaradei, George J. Tenet
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
CIA Director George Tenet briefs National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice on the forthcoming rendition of al-Qaeda figure Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr from Italy to Egypt (see Noon February 17, 2003). According to a senior CIA officer who GQ magazine will say is “directly involved,” Rice approves the mission, but worries how she will tell President Bush. [GQ, 3/2007 ]
The CIA produces a report entitled “A Reference Guide to Terrorist Passports.” The report discusses a suspicious indicator of terrorist affiliation that was contained in the passports of at least three of the 9/11 hijackers, possibly more. The indicator was placed there deliberately by the Saudi government, which used such indicators to track suspected radicals (see November 2, 2007). However, this report is classified and is not disseminated, meaning that if a radical were to arrive at a US port with a passport indicating he was a terrorist, an immigration official would be unable to recognize the indicator and would admit him. Over a year after this report is completed, the 9/11 Commission will show a passport bearing this indicator to one of the immigration officials who admitted 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar to the US, but she will still be unable to recognize the indicator. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 25, 27, 41 ]
A dispute breaks out at the CIA after a proposal is made to render an Islamist extremist named Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr from Italy to Egypt. Nasr had previously informed for the CIA (see August 27, 1995 and Shortly After), but had been close to a senior al-Qaeda figure (see Summer 2000). Robert Seldon Lady, the CIA’s senior official in Milan, disagrees with the plan. The CIA and local Italian authorities are co-operating on surveillance of Nasr, and in a few months Lady thinks they will have enough evidence to arrest and convict him. In addition, kidnapping a man in Italy could endanger US-Italian relations. However, the rendition is supported by Jeff Castelli, the chief of the CIA station in Rome. [GQ, 3/2007 ] Reporter Jeff Stein will even say that the rendition is Castelli’s “brainchild.” [Congressional Quarterly, 4/19/2008] Opinion appears to be divided at CIA headquarters. According to one account, the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center is against the idea, but the plan is ultimately approved by unspecified CIA managers. [GQ, 3/2007 ] According to another account, it is the Counterterrorist Center that approves the rendition. [Congressional Quarterly, 4/19/2008] One of the CIA officials involved in the rendition is Stephen Kappes, assistant director of the Directorate of Operations. However, details of his opinions on it are unknown. [New York Times, 11/4/2009] CIA Director George Tenet also agrees to the rendition. [GQ, 3/2007 ]
The Italian military intelligence agency SISMI is briefed by the CIA on a plan to kidnap radical imam Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar) in Milan (see Noon February 17, 2003). SISMI agrees to the plan, but it appears other Italian agencies are not informed of it. The CIA will later claim the plan is even approved by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, although documentation to support this will not be produced. When Italian anti-terrorist authorities, who are monitoring Nasr and planning to arrest him, find he has been kidnapped, they will charge several CIA officers with breaking Italian law (see June 23, 2005 and After). [Washington Post, 12/6/2005]
Newsweek reports: “In recent weeks a small group of CIA analysts have been meeting as part of a ‘predictive analysis project’ to divine if and when Saddam might strike the United States with a weapon of mass destruction. The theory is that Saddam might slip one of his chem-bio or radiological weapons to al-Qaeda or some other terrorist group to create a massive diversion, a crisis in the American homeland that could stall an attack on Iraq.” The CIA has no hard evidence supporting this idea, but the CIA has calculated the odds, and in a report obtained by Newsweek, these analysts predict “that under the stipulated scenario there is a 59 percent probability that an attack on the US homeland involving WMD would occur before March 31, 2003, a 35 percent probability an attack would occur at a later date, and a 6 percent probability an attack would never occur.” But Newsweek will comment that “it is important to remember that the odds are determined by averaging a bunch of guesses, informed perhaps, but from experts whose careers can only be ruined by underestimating the threat.” [Newsweek, 2/17/2003] No such attack occurs.
A surveillance photograph of Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr. [Source: Central Intelligence Agency]The CIA kidnaps an Islamic extremist who previously informed for it in Milan, Italy. The man, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar), who was a member of the Egyptian terror group Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya and was close to al-Qaeda, provided information to the CIA in Albania (see August 27, 1995 and Shortly After) and operated in Italy (see Summer 2000). [Chicago Tribune, 7/2/2005] While the kidnap is happening, one of the CIA officers involved in the operation, Robert Seldon Lady, is having a meeting on the other side of Milan with Bruno Megale, head of Milan’s antiterrorism police service, DIGOS. The meeting’s purpose is to allow Lady to keep an eye on Megale in case something goes wrong. [GQ, 3/2007 ] The US will say that Nasr is a dangerous terrorist and that he once plotted to assassinate the Egyptian foreign minister. However, Italian officials, who were monitoring him, will deny this and say his abduction damages an intelligence operation against al-Qaeda. A senior prosecutor will say, “When Nasr disappeared in February , our investigation came to a standstill.” Italian authorities are mystified by the kidnap, as they are sharing the results of their surveillance with the CIA. Nor can they understand why Egypt wants Nasr back. When Nasr reaches Cairo, he is taken to the Egyptian interior minister and told that if he agrees to inform again, he will be set free. However, he refuses and spends most of the next 14 months in prison, facing “terrible tortures.” The Chicago Tribune will ask, “Why would the US government go to elaborate lengths to seize a 39-year-old Egyptian who, according to former Albanian intelligence officials, was once the CIA’s most productive source of information within the tightly knit group of Islamic fundamentalists living in exile in Albania?” One possible answer is that he is kidnapped in an attempt to turn him back into the informer he once was. The kidnapping generates a substantial amount of publicity, leading to an investigation of the CIA’s practice of extraordinary rendition, and an Italian official will comment, “Instead of having an investigation against terrorists, we are investigating this CIA kidnapping.” [Chicago Tribune, 7/2/2005] Arrest warrants will later be issued for some US intelligence officers involved in the kidnapping (see June 23, 2005 and After).
A group of CIA officers arrives at Aviano Air Force Base, north of Venice, Italy, with Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar), an Islamist extremist they kidnapped in Milan five hours previously (see Noon February 17, 2003). Some English-speaking interrogators strip Omar’s clothes, putting him in blue overalls, and photograph him. They ask him some questions about his connections to al-Qaeda, his sending of recruits to fight in Iraq, and his relationship with Islamist radicals in Albania (see August 27, 1995 and Shortly After). However, Nasr says nothing. The interrogators punch him in the stomach and slap him across the face. Then they wrap his head in a sticky bandage, cut some breathing holes into it, and put him on a plane that arrives in Cairo seven hours later. [GQ, 3/2007 ] Twenty-six US officials will later be charged in Italy with the kidnap. One of them is Joseph Romano, a US Air Force officer whose role is to help the kidnappers at the air base in Aviano. [Congressional Quarterly, 9/23/2009]
Jeff Castelli, the CIA station chief whose idea it was to render Islamist extremist Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr from Italy to Egypt (see Before February 17, 2003 and Noon February 17, 2003), is promoted twice following the operation. According to journalist Matthew Cole, this places Castelli “deep in senior management” at the agency. [GQ, 3/2007 ]
Robert Seldon Lady, chief of the CIA’s substation in Milan, Italy, travels to Egypt for three weeks. A radical imam named Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar) was kidnapped by the CIA in Milan five days before and taken to Egypt, and Lady will later be accused of being a party to the abduction (see Noon February 17, 2003 and June 23, 2005 and After). According to the Washington Post, “many counterterrorism analysts take [Lady’s trip to Egypt] to mean he took part in the initial interrogation.” A search of Lady’s villa will later turn up computer disks showing a flight reservation from Zurich to Cairo and cell phone records will show that a phone associated with Lady was used to place calls from Cairo during the period Lady is thought to be there. Nasr will later say he is tortured when in Egypt (see April-May 2004). [Washington Post, 12/6/2005]
The CIA assists with the interrogation in Egypt of Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, an Islamist extremist the agency recently rendered from Italy (see Noon February 17, 2003). Nasr is questioned at a Cairo prison by three agents of the Egyptian Mukhabarat, who repeatedly ask him about his recruiting network and which members of the Islamist organization Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya are working with him. Several CIA officers, presumably including Robert Seldon Lady (see February 22-March 15, 2003), watch Nasr stonewall the questions on a video monitor in a nearby room. The officers, who know intimate family details about Nasr’s life due to a bug in his house, give the Egyptians a fabricated message that Nasr is to be told is from his son. Upon hearing the message, Nasr breaks down and cries. He then tells his interrogators everything he knows, including who is involved in his recruiting efforts in Milan and which Egyptians have helped hide his money transfers. Having gotten the information they wanted, the CIA agents leave and the Egyptians begin torturing Nasr (see Late February 2003 or Shortly After). [GQ, 3/2007 ]
Abdurahman Khadr. [Source: Cageprisoners]Prisoner Abdurahman Khadr says he is forced at a US prison in Bagram, Afghanistan, to lie on a cold concrete block for two days in the spring of 2003. He also experiences US soldiers stepping on his shackles, which cut through his skin “to the bone.” A female guard drags him up a flight of stairs, he recalls, after smiling at her. He is then flown to the US prison in Guantanamo, Cuba. He says the flight was a “whole torture on its own,” because, “There were people screaming around me and there was people begging for water and nobody was getting anything.” At Guantanamo, he is placed in an isolation block for 30 days, in a dark cell with just a hole for food. He is only allowed out for 15 minutes every three days. He claims, “They use this room to torture us.… They put the heat up or they put it too low so we are freezing or we are suffering because there is no air. They put the music on so you can’t sleep. They throw rocks at the block so you can’t sleep.” Ironically, Khadr is serving as a CIA informant at the time (see November 10, 2001-Early 2003). When he asks his CIA handlers why he has to suffer so much, he is told it is to make the prisoners think he is one of them. [Toronto Star, 8/19/2004] He complains and in the early summer of 2003 he is transferred to better quarters and secretly allowed better treatment. Sometimes he is even allowed to secretly leave the prison. In September 2003, he will leave Guantanamo as the CIA gives him another assignment (see September-November 2003). [PBS Frontline, 4/22/2004]
The CIA tells anti-terrorist authorities in Italy that it has reliable information that Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar), a radical Islamist cleric who was under joint Italian-CIA surveillance in Milan until recently, is in Bosnia. This is a deliberate lie; the CIA knows Nasr is in Egypt, as it recently kidnapped him and took him there, handing him over to Egyptian authorities (see Noon February 17, 2003). According to the Washington Post, the purpose of the lie is “to stymie efforts by the Italian anti-terrorism police to track down the cleric….” The Italians believe the CIA’s story for more than a year, but subsequently discover the CIA was involved in his kidnapping. [Washington Post, 12/6/2005]
A CIA analyst who is investigating intelligence reports suggesting that Iraq is seeking US mapping software that could be used to guide its drones to the US, interviews the Iraqi procurement agent who placed the order for the software. He concludes from the interview that the Iraqi agent’s purchase order for the mapping software was likely inadvertent, and that he was actually trying to obtain other pieces of equipment from the manufacturer’s online store. The CIA reports in a memo addressed to the House intelligence committee that it now has “no definite indications that Baghdad is planning to use WMD-armed UAVs against the US mainland.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 206]
Al-Qaeda operative Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, under interrogation by the CIA following his capture (see February 29 or March 1, 2003), reportedly gives the agency the first information it has received about another al-Qaeda operative who was involved in the 9/11 plot. That operative’s name will be redacted in a later report by the CIA’s inspector general. Alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed will later provide additional information about that person. [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 86 ]
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed shortly after arrest. (Note: this picture is from a video presentation on prisoners the Pakistani government gave to BBC filmmakers. It has been adjusted to remove some blue tinge.) [Source: BBC's "The New Al-Qaeda."]Following his arrest in Pakistan (see February 29 or March 1, 2003), al-Qaeda leader Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) finds himself in CIA custody. After two days of detention in Pakistan, where, he will allege, he is punched and stomped upon by a CIA agent, he is sent to Afghanistan. After being transferred to Guantanamo in 2006, he will discuss his experiences and treatment with officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC—see October 6 - December 14, 2006). Mohammed will say of his transfer: “My eyes were covered with a cloth tied around my head and with a cloth bag pulled over it. A suppository was inserted into my rectum. I was not told what the suppository was for.” [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009]
Naked - He is reportedly placed in a cell naked for several days and repeatedly questioned by females as a humiliation. He is attached to a dog leash and repeatedly yanked into the walls of his cell. He is suspended from the ceiling, chained naked in a painful crouch for long periods, doused with cold water, and kept in suffocating heat. [New Yorker, 8/6/2007; MSNBC, 9/13/2007] On arriving in Afghanistan, he is put in a small cell, where, he will recall, he is “kept in a standing position with my hands cuffed and chained to a bar above my head.” After about an hour, “I was taken to another room where I was made to stand on tiptoes for about two hours during questioning.”
Interrogators - He will add: “Approximately 13 persons were in the room. These included the head interrogator (a man) and two female interrogators, plus about 10 muscle guys wearing masks. I think they were all Americans. From time to time one of the muscle guys would punch me in the chest and stomach.” This is the usual interrogation session that Mohammed will experience over the next few weeks.
Cold Water - They are interrupted periodically by his removal to a separate room. There, he will recall, he is doused with “cold water from buckets… for about 40 minutes. Not constantly as it took time to refill the buckets. After which I would be taken back to the interrogation room.”
No Toilet Access - During one interrogation, “I was offered water to drink; when I refused I was again taken to another room where I was made to lie [on] the floor with three persons holding me down. A tube was inserted into my anus and water poured inside. Afterwards I wanted to go to the toilet as I had a feeling as if I had diarrhea. No toilet access was provided until four hours later when I was given a bucket to use.” When he is returned to his cell, as he will recall, “I was always kept in the standing position with my hands cuffed and chained to a bar above my head.” [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] However, he is resistant to these methods, so it is decided he will be transferred to a secret CIA prison in Poland (see March 7 - Mid-April, 2003), where he will be extensively waterboarded and tortured in other ways.
At some point after alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) is captured (see February 29 or March 1, 2003), interrogators threaten to kill his children if he does not co-operate with them. An “experienced agency interrogator” will tell the CIA inspector general that “interrogators said to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed that if anything else happens in the United States, ‘We’re going to kill your children.’” [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 43 ] Two of his children are alleged to have been captured in late 2002 (see After September 11, 2002). According to author Ron Suskind, this is after CIA headquarters authorizes the interrogators to “do whatever’s necessary” to get information. However, according to a CIA manager with knowledge of the incident, “He [KSM] basically said, so, fine, they’ll join Allah in a better place.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 230]
An article in the New Republic claims that “President Bush has repeatedly stifled efforts to strengthen domestic safeguards against further terrorist attacks. As a consequence, homeland security remains perilously deficient.” The article cites numerous examples to support this contention, and comments: “Bush’s record on homeland security ought to be considered a scandal. Yet, not only is it not a scandal, it’s not even a story, having largely failed to register with the public, the media, or even the political elite.” It points out numerous examples where the administration has opposed the spending of more money to protect against an attack and argues: “The White House appears to grasp that Bush’s standing on national security issues, especially after September 11, is so unassailable that he does not need to shore it up. Instead, the administration seems to view his wartime popularity as a massive bank of political capital from which they can withdraw and spend on other, unrelated causes. In the short run, this strategy is a political boon for Bush and his party. But, in the long run, it divides and weakens the nation against its external threats.” [New Republic, 3/3/2003] Here are some of the examples of evidence supporting this article’s arguments pointed out in this and subsequent articles:
Airports are said to be unacceptably vulnerable to terrorism. [Associated Press, 6/8/2004]
Terrorist watch lists remain unconsolidated. [United Press International, 4/30/2003]
Basic background checks on air security personnel remain undone. [Time, 7/8/2003]
The Treasury Department has assigned five times as many agents to investigate Cuban embargo violations as it has to track al-Qaeda’s finances. [Associated Press, 4/30/2004]
The White House has spurned a request for 80 more investigators to track and disrupt the global financial networks of US-designated terrorist groups. [New York Times, 4/4/2004]
Cases involving “international terrorism” have been fizzling out in US courts. [Los Angeles Times, 12/9/2003]
Experts have concluded that the Iraq War has diverted resources from the war on terrorism and made the US less secure. [MSNBC, 7/29/2003; Salon, 7/31/2003]
Investigations have shown that most chemical plants across the US remain dangerously vulnerable to a guerilla-style attack. Some plants have virtually no security at all, often not even locked gates. Explosions at some of these plants could kill more than a million people. Yet the Bush administration has so far successfully opposed strengthening security regulations, apparently at the behest of chemical industry lobbyists. [New Republic, 3/3/2003; New Jersey Star-Ledger, 1/28/2005]
There has been a huge increase in government spending to train and respond to terrorist attacks, but Time magazine reports that the geographical spread of “funding appears to be almost inversely proportional to risk.” [Time, 3/21/2004]
Several high-profile studies have concluded that despite its frequent “bear any burden” rhetoric, the Bush administration has grossly underfunded domestic security. [New Republic, 3/3/2003; New York Times, 7/25/2003]
Community-based “first responders” lack basic equipment, including protective clothing and radios. [New Republic, 3/3/2003; New York Times, 7/25/2003]
Spending on computer upgrades, airport security, more customs agents, port security, border controls, chemical plant security, bioweapon vaccinations, and much more, is far below needed levels and often below Promised levels. [New Republic, 3/3/2003]
Communications antenna at Stare Kiejkuty, the Polish “black site” where Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was held for a time after his capture. [Source: CBC]9/11 planner Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, after being detained and abused for three days in US custody in Afghanistan (see February 29 or March 1, 2003 and Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003), is transferred to another CIA-run facility in Poland. [New Yorker, 8/6/2007; New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] The facility is later identified as Stare Kiejkuty, a secret prison near the Szymany military airbase. Mohammed is flown in on a Gulfstream N379P jet known to prison officials as “the torture taxi.” The plane is probably piloted by “Jerry M,” a 56-year-old pilot for Aero Contractors, a company that transfers prisoners around the world for US intelligence agencies. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 4/27/2009] He is dressed in a tracksuit, blindfolded, hooded, has sound-blocking headphones placed over his ears, and is flown “sitting, leaning back, with my hands and ankles shackled in a high chair,” as he will later tell officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC—see October 6 - December 14, 2006). He later says he manages to sleep a few hours, for the first time in days. Upon arrival, Mohammed is stripped naked and placed in a small cell “with cameras where I was later informed by an interrogator that I was monitored 24 hours a day by a doctor, psychologist, and interrogator.” The walls are wooden and the cell measures some 10 by 13 feet. [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 4/27/2009]
'I Would Be Brought to the Verge of Death and Back Again' - As he will later recall, it was in this detention camp that “the most intense interrogation occurred, led by three experienced CIA interrogators, all over 65 years old and all strong and well trained.” The interrogators tell him that they have received the “green light from Washington” to give him “a hard time” (see Late September 2001 and September 25, 2002). As he will later recall: “They never used the word ‘torture’ and never referred to ‘physical pressure,’ only to ‘a hard time.’ I was never threatened with death, in fact I was told that they would not allow me to die, but that I would be brought to the ‘verge of death and back again.‘… I was kept for one month in the cell in a standing position with my hands cuffed and shackled above my head and my feet cuffed and shackled to a point in the floor.” When he falls asleep, “all my weight [is] applied to the handcuffs around my wrist resulting in open and bleeding wounds.” The ICRC will later confirm that Mohammed bears scars consistent with his allegations on both wrists and both ankles. “Both my feet became very swollen after one month of almost continual standing.”
Interrogations - He is interrogated in a different room, in sessions lasting anywhere from four to eight hours, and with a wide variety of participants. Sometimes women take part in the interrogations. A doctor is usually present. “If I was perceived not to be cooperating I would be put against a wall and punched and slapped in the body, head, and face. A thick flexible plastic collar would also be placed around my neck so that it could then be held at the two ends by a guard who would use it to slam me repeatedly against the wall. The beatings were combined with the use of cold water, which was poured over me using a hose-pipe. The beatings and use of cold water occurred on a daily basis during the first month.”
'Alternative Procedures' - The CIA interrogators use what they will later call “alternative procedures” on Mohammed, including waterboarding (see After March 7, 2003) and other techniques. He is sprayed with cold water from a hose-pipe in his cell and the “worst day” is when he is beaten for about half an hour by one of the interrogators. “My head was banged against the wall so hard that it started to bleed. Cold water was poured over my head. This was then repeated with other interrogators.” He is then waterboarded until a doctor intervenes. He gets an hours’s sleep and is then “put back in my cell standing with my hands shackled above my head.” He sleeps for a “few minutes” on the floor of cell after the torture sessions, but does not sleep well, “due to shackles on my ankles and wrists.” The toilet consists of a bucket in the cell, which he can use on request, but “I was not allowed to clean myself after toilet during the first month.” In the first month he is only fed on two occasions, “as a reward for perceived cooperation.” He gets Ensure [a liquid nutritional supplement] to drink every four hours. If he refuses it, “then my mouth was forced open by the guard and it was poured down my throat by force.” He loses 18 kg in the first month, after which he gets some clothes. In addition, “Artificial light was on 24 hours a day, but I never saw sunlight.” [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009]
Deliberately False Information - As he will later tell ICRC officials, he often lies to his interrogators: “During the harshest period of my interrogation, I gave a lot of false information in order to satisfy what I believed the interrogators wished to hear in order to make the ill-treatment stop.… I’m sure that the false information I was forced to invent… wasted a lot of their time and led to several false red-alerts being placed in the US.” [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] It will later be reported that up to 90 percent of Mohammed’s confessions may be unreliable. Furthermore, he will recant many of his statements (see August 6, 2007).
Representative Curt Weldon. [Source: H. Rumph Jr / Associated Press]Congressman Curt Weldon (R-PA) becomes embroiled in a plot by Iranian arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar to contrive a secret uranium exchange between Iran and Iraq. According to Ghorbanifar’s story (see January 11, 2006), just before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, a team of Iranian intelligence agents infiltrated Iraq and stole enriched uranium for use in Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The story is later proven to be false, and based on a desire for money and to embroil Iran and Iraq in a spurious WMD plot. After first being contacted by a mysterious Iranian source through a friend and a colleage on March 7, Weldon repeatedly flies to Paris to meet with the source he later calls “Ali,” who is later shown to be Fereidoun Mahdavi, a former minister in the Shah’s Iran who now works as a secretary for Ghorbanifar. Mahdavi has already tried, and failed, to interest several Western intelligence agencies in the stolen uranium tale. He finds Weldon to be far more credulous than the intelligence agencies. According to an intelligence source interviewed in 2006, “Ali provided information that indicated Iranian intelligence had sent a team to Baghdad to extract highly enriched uranium from a stockpile hidden by Saddam Hussein.” Ali tells Weldon that an Iranian intelligence team infiltrated Iraq and stole the uranium for Iran’s nuclear weapons program. According to the story, “the team successfully extracted the stockpile but on the way back to Iran contracted radiation poisoning.” Weldon immediately informs CIA Director George Tenet. Weldon will later write in his book Countdown to Terror: “Tenet appeared interested, even enthusiastic about evaluating Ali and establishing a working relationship with him. He agreed to send his top spy, Stephen Kappes, the deputy director of operations, along with me to Paris for another debriefing of Ali.… On the day of our scheduled second meeting with Ali in Paris, Kappes bowed out, claiming that ‘other commitments’ compelled him to cancel. Later, the CIA claimed to have met with Ali independently. But I discovered this to be untrue.… Incredibly, I learned that the CIA had apparently asked French intelligence to silence Ali.” Weldon is wrong; the CIA’s Paris station chief, Bill Murray, investigates the claims and finds Ghorbanifar (whom either he or the agency mistakenly believes to be “Ali”) to be what the agency calls a “fabricator.” Murray goes so far as to take either Ghorbanifar or Mahdavi to Iraq to have them retrace the route of the Iranian intelligence mission. “Ali” is unable to do so, and Murray learns that the entire story was concocted in hopes of a large payoff: “Soon it became apparent that Ali and his sources were fabricators and were trying to extract large sums of money,” one intelligence source will say. (Murray will later deny going to Iraq with either Ghorbanifar or Mahdavi, but will call “the source” “not credible.… The sensational charges that the source made could not be substantiated.” Weldon, not to be denied, takes his story to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who pressures the CIA to investigate further. One former CIA officer later says, “CIA reluctantly, after pressure from Rumsfeld, followed up by detaching one of their weapons experts from the team that was hunting WMD in Iraq.” Again, this effort proves that Ghorbanifar’s story is completely false. In 2006, reporter Larisa Alexandrovna will call Weldon an “innocent bystander taken in by an internationally known con man and the lure of spook-like activities than an inside player with an agenda or material participant in these events. The Ali composite seems to have used Weldon as a conduit by which to provide the CIA with information.” One intelligence official will observe, “If you were going to launder intel to make up a war, you could easily send some fool on an errand.” [Raw Story, 1/11/2006] Weldon will meet again with Mahdavi, and will write about a lurid Iranian terror plot, the “12th Imam” scheme, based on his tales (see June 8, 2005 and Mid-July 2005). He will claim that the CIA has “routinely” ignored “credible” information about these and other plots.
After being transferred from Afghanistan to Poland (see March 7 - Mid-April, 2003), alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) is repeatedly waterboarded by the CIA, a technique simulating drowning that international law classifies as torture. He is only one of about four high-ranking detainees waterboarded, according to media reports (see May 2002-2003). [New Yorker, 8/6/2007; MSNBC, 9/13/2007; New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] He will recall: “I would be strapped to a special bed, which could be rotated into a vertical position. A cloth would be placed over my face. Cold water from a bottle that had been kept in a fridge was then poured onto the cloth by one of the guards so that I could not breathe.… The cloth was then removed and the bed was put into a vertical position. The whole process was then repeated during about one hour. Injuries to my ankles and wrists also occurred during the waterboarding as I struggled in the panic of not being able to breathe. Female interrogators were also present… and a doctor was always present, standing out of sight behind the head of [the] bed, but I saw him when he came to fix a clip to my finger which was connected to a machine. I think it was to measure my pulse and oxygen content in my blood. So they could take me to [the] breaking point.” [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] Accounts about the use of waterboarding on KSM differ. He says he is waterboarded five times. [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] However, contradictory reports will later appear:
NBC News will claim that, according to multiple unnamed officials, KSM underwent at least two sessions of waterboarding and other extreme measures before talking. One former senior intelligence official will say, “KSM required, shall we say, re-dipping.” [MSNBC, 9/13/2007]
In 2005, former and current intelligence officers and supervisors will tell ABC News that KSM “won the admiration of interrogators when he was able to last between two and two-and-a-half minutes before begging to confess.” [ABC News, 11/18/2005] In 2007, a former CIA official familiar with KSM’s case will tell ABC News a sligntly different version of events: “KSM lasted the longest under waterboarding, about a minute and a half, but once he broke, it never had to be used again.” A senior CIA official will claim that KSM later admitted he only confessed because of the waterboarding. [ABC News, 9/14/2007] In November 2005, John Sifton of Human Rights Watch will say of waterboarding, “The person believes they are being killed, and as such, it really amounts to a mock execution, which is illegal under international law.” [ABC News, 11/18/2005]
The New York Times will claim that “KSM was subjected to intense and repeated torture techniques that, at the time, were specifically designated as illegal under US law.” Some claim that KSM gives useful information. “However, many of the officials interviewed say KSM provided a raft of false and exaggerated statements that did not bear close scrutiny—the usual result, experts say, of torture.” CIA officials stopped the “extreme interrogation” sessions after about two weeks, worrying that they might have exceeded their legal bounds. Apparently pressure to stop comes from Jack Goldsmith, head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, who is troubled about updates from KSM’s interrogations and raises legal questions. He is angrily opposed by the White House, particularly David Addington, a top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney. [New York Times, 10/4/2007]
The New Yorker will report that officials who have seen a classified Red Cross report say that KSM claims he was waterboarded five times. Further, he says he was waterboarded even after he started cooperating. But two former CIA officers will insist that he was waterboarded only once. One of them says that KSM “didn’t resist. He sang right away. He cracked real quick. A lot of them want to talk. Their egos are unimaginable. KSM was just a little doughboy.” [New Yorker, 8/6/2007]
A different ABC News account will claim that KSM was al-Qaeda’s toughest prisoner. CIA officers who subject themselves to waterboarding last only about 14 seconds, but KSM was able to last over two minutes. [ABC News, 11/18/2005]
In 2009, evidence will surface that indicates KSM was waterboarded up to 183 times (see April 16, 2009 and April 18, 2009).
The CIA intelligence report on former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s trip to Niger to find the reality of the allegation that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from that country (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) is disseminated within the government. In addition, some time around this date Vice President Dick Cheney asks his CIA briefer “for an update on the Niger uranium issue,” according to subsequent reports by the Senate Intelligence Committee. CIA officials ensure that the agency’s Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control bureau (WINPAC) receives a copy of the Wilson report. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 189]
CIA manager Alfreda Frances Bikowsky takes an unauthorized trip to see alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) being waterboarded in Poland (see After March 7, 2003). Based on information from “two well-informed agency sources,” author Jane Mayer will write that Bikowsky is “so excited” by KSM’s capture that she flies “at government expense to the black site where Mohammed was held so that she could personally watch him being waterboarded.” However, according to Mayer, she is not an interrogator and has “no legitimate reason to be present during Mohammed’s interrogation.” A former colleague will say she went because, “She thought it would be cool to be in the room.” Her presence during KSM’s torture seems “to anger and strengthen his resolve, helping him to hold out longer against the harsh tactics used against him.” Bikowsky will later be reprimanded for this, and, in Mayer’s words, “superiors at the CIA scold […] her for treating the painful interrogation as a show.” A former colleague will say: “She got in some trouble. They told her, ‘It’s not supposed to be entertainment.’” [Mayer, 2008, pp. 273] Bikowsky may be interviewed by the CIA inspector general’s probe into torture (see July 16, 2003) and will later be considered for the position of deputy station chief in Baghdad (see (March 23, 2007)).
A day after former ambassador Joseph Wilson appears on CNN questioning the validity of the administration’s claims about the Iraq-Niger uranium purchase (see March 8, 2003), Vice President Dick Cheney and Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley begin a campaign to discredit him. The information comes from senior sources within the State Department, the CIA, and the National Security Council (NSC), all with direct knowledge of the campaign, and from Wilson himself. The sources will say that they and other officials are directed to unearth or “invent” embarrassing information on Wilson that could be used against him in public. Aides in the Office of the Vice President and others, including the sources, prepare a “workup” on Wilson, including memos and classified material on him for Cheney and the NSC. Officials meet regularly in Cheney’s office to discuss the progress of the campaign with Cheney, Hadley, and other officials.
Visit to CIA Headquarters - According to an official in the CIA’s Counterproliferation Division (CPD), Cheney and Hadley visit the CIA the day after Wilson’s interview on CNN. Cheney’s original target for discrediting was not Wilson, but David Albright, the former UN weapons inspector who has also challenged the credibility of the Iraq-Niger claims and the rationale for invading Iraq (see March 8, 2003). Cheney asked several CIA officials to find “dirt” on Albright for use in discrediting him in the media. At the outset, the CIA official will say: “Vice President Cheney was more concerned with Mr. Albright. The international community had been saying that inspectors should have more time, that the US should not set a deadline. The vice president felt Mr. Albright’s remarks would fuel the debate.” The CIA will eventually send a “binder” to Cheney’s office containing information about Albright; it is not clear to what, if any, use that information is put.
Cheney 'Enraged' - But Wilson’s appearance on CNN and his public ridicule of the Iraq-Niger uranium claim enraged Cheney, who saw Wilson’s comments as a personal attack against him. Hadley also took an interest in Wilson’s remarks because he personally allowed the Iraq-Niger claim to remain in Bush’s State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) even after being informed that the documents the claim was based upon were forgeries. Both Cheney and Hadley view Wilson as a possible impediment to the public’s acceptance of the impending Iraq invasion. Cheney chairs a meeting in his office the day after Wilson’s appearance on CNN, attended by, among others, Hadley, White House political guru Karl Rove, Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Cheney’s deputy national security adviser John Hannah, and several officials from the CIA and State Department, including the officials who will later discuss the matter with the press. “The way I remember it,” says the CIA official, “is that the vice president was obsessed with Wilson. He called him an ‘_sshole,’ a son-of-a-b_tch. He took his comments very personally. He wanted us to do everything in our power to destroy his reputation and he wanted to be kept up to date about the progress.” Hadley says he will write an editorial about the Iraqi threat that should offset Wilson’s remarks; the State Department will redistribute a February 16, 2003 editorial by Hadley that appeared in the Chicago Tribune to newspaper editors around the country. Cheney will appear on NBC’s Meet the Press to refute the challenges to the Iraq-Niger claims (see March 16, 2003). [Truthout (.org), 2/9/2006] In 2004, Wilson will write: “I learned that a meeting right around the time of this particular CNN appearance (see March 8, 2003) led to the decision to produce a ‘workup’ on me for the Office of the Vice President. It was not made clear to me whether Dick Cheney himself attended this meeting, although I was told that senior members of his staff and quite possibly other senior Republicans, including former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, were present and that Gingrich actively participated in a strategy session, the objective of which was to figure out how to discredit me.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 326-327]
False Allegations of 'Womanizing,' Drug Use - Within days, officials in the CIA, NSC, and State Department pass on information to Cheney and Libby that purportedly shows Wilson is a “womanizer” who had occassionally used drugs in his youth; the sources later say that the allegations are entirely false. The sources will say that they are unsure the material was ever used to discredit Wilson, since after the war began on March 19, the media lost interest in Wilson’s warnings. [Truthout (.org), 2/9/2006] Wilson later writes that the meeting about him does “not include discussion of how the president and his senior staff might address the indisputable, if inconvenient, fact that the allegation I had made was true. In other words, from the very beginning, the strategy of the White House was to confront the issue as a ‘Wilson’ problem rather than as an issue of the lie that was in the State of the Union address.… The immediate effect of the workup, I am told by a member of the press, citing White House sources, was a long harangue against the two of us within the White House walls. Over a period of several months, Libby evidently seized opportunities to rail openly against me as an ‘assh_le playboy’ who went on a boondoggle ‘arranged by his CIA wife’—and was a Democratic Gore supporter to boot.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 441-442]
New Interest in Wilson - Cheney’s interest in Wilson will be renewed in May 2003 (see May 2003), when Wilson informs New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof that he was the special envoy who had gone to Niger in February 2002 to investigate the uranium claims (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002).
Entity Tags: Office of the Vice President, National Security Council, David Albright, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Joseph C. Wilson, John Hannah, Karl C. Rove, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, CNN, Central Intelligence Agency, US Department of State, Newt Gingrich, Stephen J. Hadley, Valerie Plame Wilson
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
In a response to a recent report from the International Atomic Energy Agency debunking the Iraq-Niger uranium claims (see March 7, 2003), and a report from the Defense Intelligence Agency that claims the allegations are true, a CIA senior-level report concludes, “We do not dispute the IAEA director general’s conclusion—last Friday before the UN Security Council—that documents on Iraq’s agreement to buy uranium from Niger are not authentic.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 4/3/2003 ; Central Intelligence Agency, 5/30/2003 ]
In 2007, Newsweek will claim that still-classified portions of a CIA cable reveal that some White House officials wanted to mention an alleged meeting between hijacker Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi agent in Prague in a speech President Bush was scheduled to give on March 14, 2003. But after learning of the proposed speech, the CIA station in Prague sent back a cable explaining why the CIA believed the meeting never took place. Accounts differ, but one source familiar with the cable will claim that the cable was “strident” and expressed dismay the White House would try to fit the dubious claim into Bush’s speech only days before the US begins a planned invasion of Iraq. There is no proof that Bush ever saw the cable and he ultimately does not mention the claim in his speech. A senior intelligence official at the time will later claim that the White House proposed on multiple occasions to mention the claim in speeches by Bush and Vice President Cheney. While Bush never mentioned it, Cheney did on several occasions before the Iraq war began. For instance, in December 2001, Cheney claimed, “It’s been pretty well confirmed, that [Atta] did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service…” (see December 9, 2001). [Newsweek, 9/13/2006]
A Moroccan named Yassir al-Jazeeri is captured in Lahore, Pakistan, by Pakistani police and the FBI. Al-Jazeeri is not on any wanted list and there is virtually no known public information about him before his arrest, but a Pakistani official will call him one of the seven top leaders of al-Qaeda. He is said to be linked to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in some way, who was arrested in Pakistan not long before (see February 29 or March 1, 2003). He is soon transferred into US custody. Witnesses see him at a CIA operated portion of the Bagram prison in Afghanistan in late 2003 through early 2004. One fellow detainee will later claim that al-Jazeeri told him he had been tortured and permanently injured, and forced to listen to loud music for four months straight. In 2007, Human Rights Watch will list him as a likely “ghost detainee” still being held by the US (see June 7, 2007). [Human Rights Watch, 6/7/2007]
The CIA’s Iraq Operations Group discusses several ideas for discrediting Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in the eyes of his people using fake videos. One video would purport to show Hussein having sex with a teenage boy, according to two former CIA officials familiar with the project. “It would look like it was taken by a hidden camera,” one of the former officials will say. “Very grainy, like it was a secret videotaping of a sex session.” The idea is to then “flood Iraq with the videos,” the former official will add. Another idea is to interrupt Iraqi television programming with a fake special news bulletin. An actor playing Hussein would announce that he is stepping down in favor of his son Uday, who is unpopular with the Iraqi people. “I’m sure you will throw your support behind His Excellency Uday,” the fake Hussein would say. The agency’s Office of Technical Services collaborates on the ideas, which also include inserting fake “crawls”—messages at the bottom of the screen—into Iraqi newscasts. At the same time as these discussions, the agency makes a video with an Osama bin Laden impersonator (see (2003)). According to another former officer, the projects grind to a halt as nobody can come to an agreement on them. In particular, they are opposed by Deputy Director for Operations James Pavitt and his deputy, Hugh Turner, who keeps “throwing darts at it.” The officer will say that the ideas are ridiculous and, “They came from people whose careers were spent in Latin America or East Asia,” and do not understand the cultural nuances of the region. “Saddam playing with boys would have no resonance in the Middle East—nobody cares,” a third former official will say. “Trying to mount such a campaign would show a total misunderstanding of the target. We always mistake our own taboos as universal when, in fact, they are just our taboos.” After the CIA abandons the projects, they are apparently revived by the military. “The military took them over,” one former official will say. “They had assets in psy-war down at Ft. Bragg,” at the Army’s Special Warfare Center. The projects will be revealed in the Washington Post in 2010. [Washington Post, 5/25/2010]
Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, gives a speech to the National Newspaper Association in which he discloses classified information about the impending US invasion of Iraq. Roberts tells the audience that he has “been in touch with our intelligence community,” and reveals that the CIA has informed President Bush and the National Security Council “of intelligence information from what we call human intelligence that indicated the location of Saddam Hussein and his leadership in a bunker in the suburbs of Baghdad.” Roberts then tells the audience that Bush, after conferring with his top military advisers, has “authorized a pre-emptive surgical strike with 40 Tomahawk Missiles launched by ship and submarines and so-called bunker bombs by F-117 stealth aircraft. I do not have a damage assessment. The Iraqis report 14 killed and one wounded and are reporting damage in residential areas.” The initial US strikes against an Iraqi governmental complex, Dora Park, missed Hussein. In 2006, four former intelligence officials tell a news reporter that Roberts’s disclosure hampered US efforts to capture Hussein. They will note that Roberts, who is a staunch defender of the Bush administration’s attempts to keep sensitive information out of the press, is never held accountable for what they term a serious security breach; there is no investigation, and his remarks are widely ignored by the press. According to the intelligence officials, Roberts’s disclosure alerts others, including hostile Iraqis, that the US has human intelligence sources close to Hussein. Roberts “had given up that we had a penetration of [Saddam’s] inner circle,” one official will say. “It was the worst thing you could ever do.” The officials will say it is unclear what effect, if any, Roberts’s disclosure has on Hussein’s efforts to escape the US. A Republican Congressional aide familiar with the incident will later call Roberts’s remarks “a mistake” and a “dumb act,” but not one “done with bad intent.” The aide will say that Roberts may have disclosed the information out of an urge for “self-aggrandizement.” [National Journal, 4/25/2006]
The New York Times reveals that CIA analysts acknowledge being pressured to shape their intelligence reports on Iraq to conform to Bush administration policies. In particular, they were pressured to find or create evidence that Iraq had links to al-Qaeda. [New York Times, 3/23/2003] In 2004, Times editor Daniel Okrent will admit that the story was “completed several days before the invasion (see March 19, 2003) and unaccountably held for a week,” not appearing until three days after the war began, when it “was interred on Page B10.” [New York Times, 5/30/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 192] For months, some CIA analysts have privately expressed concerns over the forcible shaping of their reports to colleagues and Congressional officials, but until now have not revealed those concerns to reporters. “A lot of analysts have been upset about the way the Iraq-al-Qaeda case has been handled,” a senior intelligence official says. The revelation that the claims of Iraq’s attempt to buy uranium from Niger were false (see March 7, 2003) sparked some analysts to come forward. One government official says, “The forgery heightened people’s feelings that they were being embarrassed by the way Iraqi intelligence has been handled.” The intelligence official says: “As we have become an integral component informing the debate for policy makers, we have been asked a lot of questions. I’m sure it does come across as a pressured environment for analysts. I think there is a sense of being overworked, a sense among analysts that they have already answered the same questions. But if you talk to analysts, they understand why people are asking, and why policy makers aren’t accepting a report at face value.” Other analysts have discussed leaving the agency over their frustration with the way intelligence is being manipulated by the Bush administration. Another government official says, “Several people have told me how distraught they have been about what has been going on.” A CIA official says no analysts have resigned in protest over the management of Iraqi intelligence. [New York Times, 3/23/2003]
The CIA drafts a report containing statements reportedly made by alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) under interrogation at a black site. According to the report, KSM says that 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar did not receive specialized training at a course for al-Qaeda operatives scheduled for inclusion in the 9/11 operation in late 1999 because he had already received the training from KSM. In later statements, KSM will deny this and say he gave Almihdhar no such training, adding that he assumed Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda military commander Mohammed Atef had excused Almihdhar from the training (see Early December 1999). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 157, 493] The report also states that KSM says he sent Zacarias Moussaoui to Malaysia (see September-October 2000), that Jemaah Islamiyah leader Hambali helped Moussaoui when he was in Malaysia, and that KSM recalled Moussaoui from Malaysia when he discovered he was behaving badly there. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 490, 520] The US is already aware that Moussaoui had been to Malaysia, that Hambali and KSM were linked, and that Moussaoui behaved badly in Malaysia. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/8/2006; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/8/2006] Details of the report will apparently be leaked to the media four days later (see March 28, 2003).
President Bush signs Executive Order 13292 into effect. Innocuously titled “Further Amendment to Executive Order 12958,” and virtually ignored by the press, the order gives the vice president the power to unilaterally classify and declassify intelligence, a power heretofore reserved exclusively for the president. The order is an unprecedented expansion of the power of the vice president. Author Craig Unger will explain: “Since Cheney had scores of loyalists throughout the Pentagon, the State Department, and the National Security Council who reported to him, in operational terms, he was the man in charge of foreign policy. If Cheney wanted to keep something secret, he could classify it. If he wanted to leak information, or disinformation, to the New York Times or Washington Post, he could declassify it.” Moreover, Unger will write, the order grants “a measure of legitimacy to Cheney’s previous machinations with the national security apparatus, and in doing so it consolidate[s] the totality of his victories.” Combine the order with the disabled peer review procedures in the intelligence community, the banning of dissenting voices from critical policy deliberations and intelligence briefings, and the subversion of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002), and the nation has, Unger will write, an effective vice presidential coup over the nation’s intelligence apparatus. Cheney, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, and the administration neoconservatives now effectively run that apparatus. [White House, 3/25/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 298-299]
President Bush signs an executive order delaying the public release of millions of government documents, citing the need to more thoroughly review them first. The government faced an April 17 deadline for declassifying millions of documents at least 25 years old. [Reuters, 3/26/2003] The order countermands a 1995 executive order by then-President Bill Clinton, who mandated that government documents over 25 years old be automatically declassified unless there was “significant doubt” as to whether their release would damage national security. [New York Times, 3/21/2003] The order also treats all material sent to American officials from foreign governments, no matter how routine, as subject to classification. It expands the ability of the CIA to shield documents from declassification, giving the director the right to unilaterally block any declassification of agency documents. And for the first time, it gives the vice president the power to classify information. The New York Times says, “Offering that power to Vice President Dick Cheney, who has shown indifference to the public’s right to know what is going on inside the executive branch, seems a particularly worrying development.” [New York Times, 3/21/2003; New York Times, 3/28/2003] Historian Anna Nelson says of the decision: “This is in context with the way this administration has done the whole bit on secrecy. They have left a skeletal process.” But Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists is less harsh in his assessment, saying, “One might have expected a more aggressive, pro-secrecy policy than this draft.” Tom Blanton of the private National Security Archive says the provision to classify information from foreign governments is far too broad: “Making all foreign government information presumptively classified means we’re lowering our openness standard to the lowest common denominator of our ostensible allies.” [New York Times, 3/21/2003]
The first details of the interrogation of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) are leaked to the press and appear in the Washington Post. At least some of the information appears to come from a report on KSM’s interrogation drafted four days ago. According to the Post article, KSM claims that Zacarias Moussaoui, an al-Qaeda operative arrested in the US in August 2001 (see August 16, 2001), was not part of the 9/11 plot and was scheduled for a follow-up attack. He also says that Moussaoui was helped by Jemaah Islamiyah leader Hambali and Yazid Sufaat, one of Hambali’s associates. KSM reportedly says Sufaat attempted to develop biological weapons for al-Qaeda, but failed because he could not obtain a strain of anthrax that could be dispersed as a weapon. This information appears to be based on a CIA report of KSM’s interrogation drafted on March 24, which discussed KSM’s knowledge of Moussaoui’s stay in Malaysia, where he met both Hambali and Sufaat (see March 24, 2003). The Post notes that if KSM’s claim about Moussaoui were true, this could complicate the prosecution of Moussaoui. For example, it quotes former prosecutor Andrew McBride saying that “on the death penalty, it is quite helpful to Moussaoui.” [Washington Post, 3/28/2003] During the Moussaoui trial, the statement about Moussaoui’s non-involvement in the 9/11 operation will be submitted to the jury as a part of a substitution for testimony by KSM. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, 7/31/2006 ] Moussaoui will escape the death penalty by one vote (see May 3, 2006). During this month, KSM is in CIA custody and is waterboarded 183 times over five days (see After March 7, 2003 and April 18, 2009). The claim about Moussaoui is not the full truth, as a communications intercept between KSM and his associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh in July 2001 showed that KSM was considering Moussaoui for the 9/11 plot (see July 20, 2001).
An unnamed intelligence source tells reporter Thomas Ricks of the Washington Post, Defense Secretary Donald “Rumsfeld is in a death fight with [CIA Director George Tenet] to get control” of intelligence programs. Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone has reportedly created a single office overseeing the organization, planning, and execution of military intelligence missions. Cambone also oversees assets, including one program called “Gray Fox.” This is said to be a secret intelligence organization that specializes in large-scale “deep penetration” missions overseas. It is said to specialize in tapping communications and laying the groundwork for overt military operations. The Post reports that Rumsfeld appears to be winning the turf battle. [Washington Post, 4/20/2003, pp. A01]
The CIA sends the Senate Intelligence Committee a background paper titled “Purported Iraqi Attempt to Get Uranium from Niger.” The paper sums up the CIA’s knowledge of the supposed Iraq-Niger uranium deal to date. [Central Intelligence Agency, 4/3/2003 ]
Overhead photo of Salman Pak, with erroneous captioning. [Source: The Beasley Firm]US forces overrun the Iraqi military training facility at Salman Pak, just south of Baghdad. The facility has been identified by several Iraqi National Congress defectors as a training facility for foreign terrorists, possibly aligned with al-Qaeda (see November 6-8, 2001). [New Yorker, 5/12/2003; Knight Ridder, 11/2/2005] The day of the raid, Brigadier General Vincent Brooks attempts to give the impression that US forces have found evidence that the camp was used to train terrorists, telling reporters that the camp was hit “in response to information that had been gained by coalition forces from some foreign fighters that we encountered from other country, not Iraq, and we believe that this camp had been used to train these foreign fighters in terror tactics…. The nature of the work being done by some of those people that we captured, their inferences to the type of training that they received, all of these things give us the impression that there was terrorist training that was conducted at Salman Pak.” Brooks says that tanks, armored personnel carriers, buildings used for “command and control and… morale and welfare” were destroyed. “All of that when you roll it together, the reports, where they’re from, why they might be here tell us there’s a linkage between this regime and terrorism and that’s something that we want to break…. There’s no indications of specific organizations that I’m aware of inside of that. We may still find it as with all operations that we conduct into a place, we look for more information after the operation is complete. We’ll pull documents out of it and see what the documents say, if there’s any links or indications. We’ll look and see if there’s any persons that are recovered that may not be Iraqi.” [CNN, 4/6/2003] However, US forces find no evidence whatsoever of any terrorists training activities at the camp. The story had a sensational effect in the media, and helped feed the public impression that the regime of Saddam Hussein was connected in some way with the 9/11 terrorists, but others, from Iraqi spokespersons to former US intelligence officials, asserted before the March 2003 invation that the Salman Pak facility was built, not for training terrorists, but for training Iraqi special forces to combat passenger jet hijackers. The facility formerly housed an old fuselage, generally identified as being from a Boeing 707, used in the training, and has been used in counter-terrorism training since the mid-1980s. A former CIA station chief says the agency assisted the Iraqis in their training: “We were helping our allies everywhere we had a liaison.” The former station chief adds that it is unlikely that the Iraqis, or anyone else, would train for terrorist strikes in an open facility easily spotted by satellite surveillance and human observers. “That’s Hollywood rinky-dink stuff,” he says. “They train in basements. You don’t need a real airplane to practice hijacking. The 9/11 terrorists went to gyms. But to take one back you have to practice on the real thing.” The US forces comb through Salman Pak, and find nothing to indicate that the facility was used for anything except counter-terrorism training. [New Yorker, 5/12/2003; Knight Ridder, 11/2/2005] In 2004, a senior US official will say of the claims about Salman Pak as a terrorist training facility, “We certainly have found nothing to substantiate that.” [Knight Ridder, 3/15/2004] In 2006, the Senate Intelligence Committee will report similar findings (see ISeptember 8, 2006). The CIA doubted reports of Salman Pak being used as a terrorist training camp as early as 2003 (see January 2003). And former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter was debunking those stories in 2002 (see August 2002).
In 2007, CIA Director George Tenet will write in a book, “Once US forces reached Baghdad (see April 9, 2003), they discovered—stacked where they could easily find them—purported Iraqi intelligence service documents that showed much tighter links between Saddam [Hussein] and [Abu Musab] al-Zarqawi, and Saddam and al-Qaeda.” CIA analysts work with the Secret Service to check the paper and ink, plus to verify the details mentioned in the documents. But “time and again” the documents turn out to be forgeries. “It was obvious that someone was trying to mislead us. But these raw, unevaluated documents that painted a more nefarious picture of Iraq and al-Qaeda continued to show up in the hands of senior [Bush] administration officials without having gone through normal intelligence channels.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 356] For instance, one forged document found in December 2003 and reported on by the press will purport that 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta went to Iraq to be trained by Iraqi intelligence agents (see December 14, 2003). Tenet will not speculate who is behind the forgeries.
One of a group of 25 al-Qaeda members captured in Pakistan, Tawfiq bin Attash (see April 29, 2003), is taken into US custody and sent to a CIA-run detention facility in Afghanistan. Years later, after being transferred to Guantanamo, he will discuss his experiences and treatment with officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC—see October 6 - December 14, 2006), who will identify him as “Walid bin Attash” in their documents.
'Forced Standing' - Bin Attash will recall his introduction to detention in Afghanistan as follows: “On arrival at the place of detention in Afghanistan I was stripped naked. I remained naked for the next two weeks. I was put in a cell measuring approximately [3 1/2 by 6 1/2 feet]. I was kept in a standing position, feet flat on the floor, but with my arms above my head and fixed with handcuffs and a chain to a metal bar running across the width of the cell. The cell was dark with no light, artificial or natural. During the first two weeks I did not receive any food. I was only given Ensure [a liquid nutritional supplement] and water to drink. A guard would come and hold the bottle for me while I drank.… The toilet consisted of a bucket in the cell.… I was not allowed to clean myself after using the bucket. Loud music was playing 24 hours each day throughout the three weeks I was there.” Author Mark Danner, writing of the ICRC report in 2009 (see March 15, 2009), will note that the “forced standing” technique. with arms shackled above the head, was a favorite technique of the Soviets, who called it “stoika.” Bin Attash, who had lost a leg fighting in Afghanistan, found the technique particularly painful: “After some time being held in this position my stump began to hurt so I removed my artificial leg to relieve the pain. Of course my good leg then began to ache and soon started to give way so that I was left hanging with all my weight on my wrists. I shouted for help but at first nobody came. Finally, after about one hour a guard came and my artificial leg was given back to me and I was again placed in the standing position with my hands above my head. After that the interrogators sometimes deliberately removed my artificial leg in order to add extra stress to the position.” He is checked periodically by a doctor. The doctor does not object to the ‘forced standing,’ even though the treatment causes intense pain in bin Attash’s leg; neither does the doctor object to the suspension from shackles, even though the shackles cut and abrade his wrists.
Cold Water, Physical Beatings - Bin Attash will tell ICRC officials that he is “washed down with cold water every day.” Every day he is also subjected to beatings: “Every day for the first two weeks I was subjected to slaps to my face and punches to my body during interrogation. This was done by one interrogator wearing gloves.… Also on a daily basis during the first two weeks a collar was looped around my neck and then used to slam me against the walls of the interrogation room. It was also placed around my neck when being taken out of my cell for interrogation and was used to lead me along the corridor. It was also used to slam me against the walls of the corridor during such movements. Also on a daily basis during the first two weeks I was made to lie on a plastic sheet placed on the floor which would then be lifted at the edges. Cold water was then poured onto my body with buckets.… I would be kept wrapped inside the sheet with the cold water for several minutes. I would then be taken for interrogation.”
Moved to Second Facility - It remains unclear where bin Attash is moved to after his initial detention in Afghanistan, but he will tell ICRC officials that his captors there—also Americans—“were rather more sophisticated than in Afghanistan because they had a hose-pipe with which to pour the water over me.” Danner will later note that the methods used to interrogate and torture bin Attash are somewhat more refined than those used on an experimental basis with another al-Qaeda suspect, Abu Zubaida (see April - June 2002). For example, a towel was wrapped around Zubaida’s neck and used to slam him into walls, while bin Attash was given a plastic collar. [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009]
The CIA appoints a chief to its new station in Baghdad, Iraq. The officer, whose name is not known, had previously served at the station before the 1991 Gulf War and ran the CIA’s operations in Iraq from a neighboring country before the recent invasion. He is fluent in Arabic and experienced at setting up and running large intelligence operations. [Los Angeles Times, 2/20/2004] The officer will only remain in his position for a couple of months (see (June 2003)).
Analysts working for the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and other national security agencies compare prewar intelligence on suspected mobile biological weapons factories in Iraq with what has been learned about a recently discovered trailer. They conclude that the only plausible explanation for the trailer’s design is that the trailer was intended to produce biological weapons. [New York Times, 5/21/2003]
The CIA notifies the Italian military intelligence agency SISMI that Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, an Islamist radical the agencies kidnapped from Milan in February (see Noon February 17, 2003), is being interrogated in Cairo, Egypt. After Italian prosecutors begin investigating the kidnap, they will raid a SISMI safehouse in Rome, finding a document that confirms the notification. [Reuters, 11/4/2009] Nasr is actually tortured in Egypt (see Late February 2003 or Shortly After).
Vice President Dick Cheney’s interest in former ambassador and current Iraq whistleblower Joseph Wilson is renewed when Wilson informs New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof that he was the special envoy who went to Niger in February 2002 to investigate the uranium claims (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). When Kristof publishes the information (see May 6, 2003), according to a CIA official, “a request came in from Cheney that was passed to me that said ‘the vice president wants to know whether Joe Wilson went to Niger.’ I’m paraphrasing. But that’s more or less what I was asked to find out.” Cheney, of course, knew Wilson had gone to Niger (see (February 13, 2002)). The campaign to discredit and besmirch Wilson begins again (see March 9, 2003 and After), this time in a much more intensified manner. “Cheney and Libby made it clear that Wilson had to be shut down,” the CIA official will later say. “This wasn’t just about protecting the credibility of the White House. For the vice president, going after Wilson was purely personal, in my opinion.” Cheney is heavily involved in this second phase of the anti-Wilson campaign as well, pushing CIA officials to find out everything they can about Wilson. Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley also pressures State Department officials to send information they have on Wilson to his attention at the NSC. It is also at this time that Cheney and at least some members of his staff learn that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is a covert CIA officer. At least one meeting is held in the Office of the Vice President to discuss possible strategies to use against Wilson. According to a State Department official, Cheney is not at this particular meeting: “Libby [Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby] led the meeting. But he was just as upset about Wilson as Cheney was.” [USA Today, 4/29/2004; Truthout (.org), 2/9/2006] In a 2005 interview, Wilson will tell a reporter that he believes others in the White House’s communications and public relation staffs, including Karl Rove, Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin, and James Wilkinson, all become aware of Plame Wilson’s secret CIA status, as does Hadley, his boss, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and White House chief of staff Andrew Card. “That would be the natural group because they were constituted to spin the war, so they would be naturally the ones to try to deflect criticism,” Wilson will say. [Raw Story, 7/13/2005] In 2008, current White House deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will acknowledge that “Cheney and his staff were leading a White House effort to discredit Joe Wilson himself.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 171]
Entity Tags: Office of the Vice President, Karen Hughes, Joseph C. Wilson, James R. Wilkinson, Condoleezza Rice, Central Intelligence Agency, Andrew Card, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Nicholas Kristof, US Department of State, Valerie Plame Wilson, Scott McClellan, Mary Matalin, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Stephen J. Hadley
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
The CIA’s Office of the Inspector General reviews videotapes of the interrogation and custody of militant training camp facilitator Abu Zubaida. The tapes, made in 2002 (see Spring-Late 2002), show 83 applications of the waterboarding technique, most of which last for less than 10 seconds. However, 11 of the interrogation videos turn out to be blank, two others are blank except for one or two minutes, and two more are broken and cannot be reviewed. The Inspector General then compares the tapes to logs and cables about the interrogations and identifies a 21-hour period, including two waterboarding sessions, that is not captured on the tapes. [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 36-37 ]
Beginning on May 1, American nuclear physicist David Albright attempts to contact US defense officials to inform them that Mahdi Obeidi—the Iraqi nuclear scientist who once headed Iraq’s gas centrifuge program for uranium enrichment—has valuable information that he wants to share with the United States. But according to Albright, his inquiries are initially “rebuffed.” Finally, on May 7, he finds someone at the CIA who is interested. A little more than three weeks later, US authorities will investigate this lead (see June 2, 2003). [CNN, 6/26/2003; Newsweek, 8/8/2003; Washington Post, 10/26/2003]
On May 7, 2003, Leonie Brinkema, the judge in the Zacarias Moussaoui trial, asks the CIA if it has recordings of interrogations of detainees related to Moussaoui’s case. Two days later, the CIA replies that it does not, although it is actually in possession of some recordings. In 2002, the CIA secretly videotaped interrogations of high-ranking detainees Abu Zubaida and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see Spring-Late 2002) but it does not reveal this to anyone involved in the Moussaoui trial. In 2005, some of these videotapes will be destroyed (see November 2005), around the time the Brinkema makes a repeat request for the tapes (see November 3-14, 2005). However, other recordings—two videotapes and one audio tape—will survive and will finally be viewed by Moussaoui’s prosecutors in 2007, long after Moussaoui has been convicted (see September 19 and October 18, 2007). [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 10/25/2007 ; Reuters, 11/13/2007] Although the identity of the detainees in the recordings requested is not known, one of the prosecutors will later say, “Obviously the important witnesses included [Abu] Zubaidah, [Ramzi] bin al-Shibh, and KSM [Khalid Shaikh Mohammed]… those are the guys at the head of the witness list.” However, he will not specifically recall which tapes are requested. [Associated Press, 12/7/2007]
The CIA publicly releases a 6-page white paper titled “Iraqi Mobile Biological Warfare Agent Production Plants” concluding that the two trailers discovered in northern Iraq (see April 19, 2003)
(see May 9, 2003) were designed to produce biological weapons—directly contradicting the conclusion of a field report filed the previous day by biological weapons experts working in Iraq (see May 27, 2003). The report—the US government’s first formal assessment of the trailers—calls the discovery of the trailers the “strongest evidence to date that Iraq was hiding a biological warfare program.” It is based on a comparison of the trailers to descriptions that had been provided by Iraqi sources prior to the invasion. Though the report claims that there are no other plausible explanations for the trailers’ purpose, it does acknowledge that senior Iraqi officials at the al-Kindi research facility in Mosul, as well as a company that manufactured components for the trailers, say the trailers were built to make hydrogen for artillery weather balloons. The report calls this a “cover story.” [Central Intelligence Agency and Defense Intelligence Agency, 5/28/2003; New York Times, 6/7/2003; Los Angeles Times, 6/21/2003; New York Times, 6/26/2003] Though the report was authored by the CIA, there is a DIA logo printed on the paper to indicate that the DIA backs the report’s conclusions. But most DIA analysts do not. When the CIA was unable to convince DIA analysts to sign the paper, according to book Hubris, they contacted the one DIA analyst who did agree with their position, and got his approval to place the DIA logo on the white paper. “We were tricked,” one DIA analyst later explains. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 228] It is later learned that the report was completed before the investigation had run its full course. A week after the report’s release, laboratories in the Middle East and the United States were still analyzing more than 100 samples that had been taken from the trailers. A senior analyst tells the New York Times that the white paper “was a rushed job and looks political.” [New York Times, 6/7/2003] It is also discovered that the two agencies did not consult with other intelligence offices. Normally such reports are not finalized until there is a consensus among the government’s numerous intelligence agencies. “The exclusion of the State Department’s intelligence bureau [INR] and other agencies seemed unusual, several government officials said, because of the high-profile subject,” the New York Times will later report. Moreover, the State Department’s intelligence agency was not even informed that the report was being prepared. [New York Times, 6/26/2003] When INR analysts read the report, they go “ballistic.” INR intelligence chief Carl Ford Jr. will later say of the report’s authors, “It wasn’t just that it was wrong. They lied.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 228]
According to the subsequent investigation by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, calls the State Department to ask about the results of former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s trip to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Libby is particularly interested in learning who the “unnamed ambassador” was, and who sent Wilson to Niger. [Raw Story, 11/2/2005; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 216] According to the New York Times, Libby asks an undersecretary of state, presumably Marc Grossman (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003), for the information. [New York Times, 2006] Grossman later testifies that Libby did indeed contact him for the information (see January 23-24, 2007). Grossman is allegedly involved in a nuclear smuggling ring (see (1997-2002) and Summer 2001), and knows Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is investigating the ring (see Summer-Autumn 2001).
Libby Contacts Bolton? - However, according to a 2005 report by the news Web site Raw Story, Libby asks Undersecretary of State John Bolton for the information regarding Wilson’s mission to Niger. Bolton refers the query to Grossman, who directs the State Department’s intelligence arm, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), to prepare a report concerning Wilson and his trip (see June 10, 2003). Within days, Grossman informs Libby of Wilson’s identity. The INR memo is written as part of a work-up order orchestrated by the White House Iraq Group (WHIG—see August 2002). [Raw Story, 11/2/2005; CounterPunch, 11/9/2005]
CIA Tells Bolton of Plame Wilson's Identity - Bolton also learns that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is a CIA official. He learns this from his chief of staff, Frederick Fleitz, who also serves as a senior CIA Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control official. Bolton tells his aide David Wurmser, who is working concurrently in Cheney’s office. Wurmser passes the information along to another Cheney aide, John Hannah. Around June 11, Fleitz will inform Libby of Plame Wilson’s status (see (June 11, 2003)).
Bolton's Connections to CIA - According to Raw Story, Bolton has “his own connections to agents at the CIA who share… his political philosophy on Iraq.” Greg Thielmann, a former director at the State Department who was assigned to Bolton and entrusted with providing him with intelligence information, will later say of Bolton, “He surrounded himself with a hand-chosen group of loyalists, and found a way to get CIA information directly.” [Raw Story, 11/2/2005]
Entity Tags: US Department of State, Valerie Plame Wilson, White House Iraq Group, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Marc Grossman, Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control, Joseph C. Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Central Intelligence Agency, Frederick Fleitz, David Wurmser, John Hannah, John R. Bolton, Greg Thielmann
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
CIA officials ask for reauthorization of the controversial harsh interrogation methods (see April 2002 and After and August 1, 2002) that had been withdrawn (see December 2003-June 2004) after the revelation of abuse and torture at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison (see November 5, 2003). The CIA has captured a new al-Qaeda suspect in Asia, and top agency officials ask the National Security Council Principals Committee—Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, CIA Director George Tenet, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Attorney General John Ashcroft—for permission to use extreme methods of interrogation against the new detainee. Rice, who chairs the Principals Committee, says: “This is your baby. Go do it.” [ABC News, 4/9/2008] The name of the new suspect captured in Asia is not mentioned, but Hambali is captured in Thailand in August 2003 (see August 12, 2003), and he is the only prominent al-Qaeda figure arrested that summer. He is considered one of al-Qaeda’s most important leaders. There are some reports that he is one of only about four prisoners directly waterboarded by the US (see Shortly After August 12, 2003).
Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, George J. Tenet, John Ashcroft, Hambali, National Security Council, Donald Rumsfeld
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline
Lewis Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, provides classified information to author and reporter Bob Woodward for use in his upcoming book Plan of Attack, which will document the Bush administration’s push for war with Iraq. According to his own later testimony (see March 24, 2004), Libby is authorized to disclose this information to Woodward by President Bush. The information is from the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, which documented the purported WMD belonging to Iraq (see October 1, 2002). In 2006, other former senior officials in the Bush administration will add that Bush told others to cooperate with Woodward as well. One official will say: “There were people on the seventh floor [of the CIA] who were told by [CIA Director George] Tenet to cooperate because the president wanted it done. There were calls to people to by [White House communications director] Dan Bartlett that the president wanted it done, if you were not cooperating. And sometimes the president himself told people that they should cooperate.” It is unclear whether any other White House official provides Woodward with classified information. [National Journal, 4/6/2006] It is unclear whether Libby discloses this information to Woodward during two June 2003 meetings he has with the reporter (see June 23, 2003 and June 27, 2003), or at another, unreported meeting.
Kean (left) and Hamilton (right) of the 9/11 Commission. [Source: Doug Mills / New York Times]The 9/11 Commission does not receive video or audio recordings of interrogations of detainees thought to know something about the 9/11 plot (see Spring-Late 2002), even though it is unhappy with the amount and quality of information it is getting from detainees (see Summer 2003) and has a series of meetings with CIA officials to improve access (see November 5, 2003-January 2004). The CIA will indicate that the Commission never asks for the tapes, saying it “went to great lengths to meet the requests of the 9/11 Commission,” and that one of the reasons that the tapes are not destroyed until after the Commission releases its final report in 2004 is so that it could have the tapes, if it so desires. [New York Times, 12/8/2007] However, when the tapes’ destruction is revealed in late 2007 (see November 2005 and December 6, 2007), former 9/11 Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton will dispute this, saying that in hours of negotiations and discussions with the CIA and written requests they make it clear they want all material connected to the interrogations of the relevant detainees. [International Herald Tribune, 12/8/2007] Kean will say, “They knew what they had and they didn’t give it to us.” [ABC News, 12/7/2007] Hamilton will say, “The CIA certainly knew of our interest in getting all the information we could on the detainees, and they never indicated to us there were any videotapes… Did they obstruct our inquiry? The answer is clearly yes. Whether that amounts to a crime, others will have to judge.” [International Herald Tribune, 12/8/2007]
The CIA starts a course for officers it calls “debriefers,” who are to participate in detainee interrogations. (In the CIA’s terminology of this time, an “interrogator” is someone who applies the agency’s “enhanced interrogation techniques,” whereas a debriefer does not apply the techniques, but merely asks a detainee questions after an interrogator has designated a detainee as “compliant.”) The purpose of the course is to train the debriefers to collect actionable intelligence from high-value detainees in CIA custody. It is intended to familiarize them with key aspects of the CIA’s interrogation program, including its goals and legal authorities, the interrogation guidelines, and the roles and responsibilities of all who interact with high value detainees. [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 38 ] The agency began a course for interrogators the previous year (see November 2002).
The CIA appoints a new chief of its station in Kabul, Afghanistan. The chief, known only as “Peter,” will remain in the position for a year (see June 2004). [Washington Post, 10/22/2004]
Writing in 2007, CIA analyst Valerie Plame Wilson, who works with the issue of Iraq’s WMD, will recall that many of her colleagues now feel “bewilderment over why we weren’t finding any WMD caches at all.” As more and more evidence accumulates that Iraq never had the wide array of WMD stockpiles that the Bush administration has alleged for so long, she begins to experience “a sinking feeling in my stomach that Saddam [Hussein] had pulled off one of the greatest intelligence deceptions of all time: he had made the world believe he had significant stashes of WMD that he would use, if threatened, when in fact, he had nothing” (see January 28, 2004). [Wilson, 2007, pp. 153-154]
Babel TV facility, from which Curveball stole equipment. [Source: CBS News]Curveball, the Iraqi defector (see November 4, 2007) whose claims that Saddam Hussein has mobile bioweapons became an integral part of Secretary of State Colin Powell’s presentation to the UN (see February 5, 2003) “proving” the existence of Iraqi WMDs, continues to disintegrate as a reliable intelligence source. His fundamental claims of being a senior Iraqi chemical engineer working on the secret bioweapons project falls apart as both German intelligence analysts and the CIA gather more information on him. Veteran CIA bio-weapons analyst publicly identified only as “Jerry,” who before the war had championed Curveball’s claim that Iraq had mobile biological weapons laboratories, leads a unit of the Iraq Survey Group to Baghdad to investigate Curveball’s background. His team locates Curveball’s personnel file in an Iraqi government storeroom and learns that the Iraqi defector’s allegations consisted of a string of lies. Curveball came in last in his engineering class, not first, as he had told his debriefers (see 1994 and January 2000-September 2001). Nor was he a project chief or site manager, as he had claimed. Rather he was just a low-level trainee engineer. Dr. Basil al-Sa’ati, whom Curveball cited as his supervisor at the Djerf al Nadaf seed purification plant (Curveball claimed that the plant was a secret bioweapons production facility), confirmed that Curveball did indeed work for him at the plant, where al-Sa’ati was the head of production design. But Curveball only worked there a few months, while the facility was being built, and was fired in 1995, the very year that he presumably began working on the alleged program to convert trucks into biological weapons laboratories. The following years were not auspicious for Curveball: he was jailed for a sex crime, briefly drove a taxi in Baghdad, and worked for Iraq’s Babel television production company until he was charged with stealing equipment (the charges were dropped when he agreed to reimburse the company for his theft.) He even sold “homemade cosmetics,” according to his friend Dr. Hillal al Dulaimi. Curveball claimed to have witnessed a biological accident that killed 12 people at Djerf al Nadaf in 1998, but he wasn’t even in Iraq by that time. He had left the country, traveled around the Middle East, and wound up in Morocco. No trace exists of Curveball between that time and when he defected to Germany in 1999. Curveball’s former bosses at the engineering center tell CIA officers that they got duped, falling for “water cooler gossip” and “corridor conversations.” “The Iraqis were all laughing,” a member of the Iraq Survey Group will later recall. “They were saying, ‘This guy? You’ve got to be kidding.’” The team even interviews Curveball’s childhood friends who also corroborate what others have said about him. They say he was a “great liar,” a “con artist,” and “a real operator.” Everyone’s description of Curveball is the same: “People kept saying what a rat Curveball was.” Jerry and another CIA analyst, having heard enough, end the investigation and return to Washington. According to David Kay, by this time Jerry is close to having a nervous breakdown. “They had been true believers in Curveball,” Kay says. “They absolutely believed in him. They knew every detail in his file. But it was total hokum. There was no truth in it. They said they had to go home to explain how all this was all so wrong.” But the CIA doesn’t want to hear it. Jerry is accused of “making waves” and then transferred out of the weapons center. According to Michael Scheuer, another dissident CIA analyst, “Jerry had become kind of a nonperson. There was a tremendous amount of pressure on him not to say anything. Just to sit there and shut up.” [Los Angeles Times, 11/20/2005; CBS News, 11/4/2007]
Shortly after Nicholas Kristof’s New York Times op-ed appears, citing an anonymous source as accusing the Bush administration of ignoring evidence debunking the White House’s claim of Iraqi WMD (see May 6, 2003), Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus contacts Vice President Dick Cheney’s communications director, Cathie Martin, for comment on the controversy. Martin alerts Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, that Pincus is “sniffing around” for information. As White House deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will later write: “The vice president and Libby were quietly stepping up their efforts to counter the allegations of the anonymous envoy to Niger (see June 2003), and Pincus’s story was one opportunity for them to do just that. [Cheney] dictated talking points to Libby, who used them in responding to Pincus.” Pincus subsequently writes a June 12, 2003 story that hinges on Cheney’s assertion that the CIA had never shared its doubts about the existence of Iraqi WMD with the White House. The article helps spin the controversy, fueling speculation that the CIA, not the White House, is responsible for the “erroneous intelligence” on Iraq’s WMD. Pincus does quote a “senior CIA analyst” who says that in the run-up to war, “information not consistent with the administration agenda was discarded and information that was [consistent] was not seriously scrutinized.” The White House does not like either of these versions of events—either it used faulty intelligence to craft its argument for war, or it deliberately lied to the American people to send troops into Iraq. [Time, 7/31/2005; McClellan, 2008, pp. 166-167]
The 9/11 Commission becomes unhappy with the quality of information being provided by the CIA, FBI, and Pentagon about detainees in US custody who are being interrogated, because “the government’s investigators [are] not asking the detainees the kinds of questions [it wants] answered” - they are asking about future threats rather than the history of the 9/11 plot. The Commission is receiving detainee evidence “third-hand - passed from the detainee, to the interrogator, to the person who writes up the interrogation report, and finally to [its] staff in the form of reports, not even transcripts.” It can take up to six weeks for a report on an interrogation to be produced. Due to the absence of any interaction between Commission staff and detainees, they also have “no way of evaluating the credibility of detainee information.” [Kean and Hamilton, 2006, pp. 119-123] In at least one case, it seem possible that the 9/11 Commission was not given all the information from CIA interrogations that it needed. Counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna will later independently view some interrogation transcripts, and from them he will claim that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) confessed to attending a pivotal al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia where the 9/11 plot was discussed (see January 5-8, 2000). The CIA was in charge of monitoring this meeting, so their failure to notice the presence of KSM, a photographed and well-known terrorist mastermind with a $2 million bounty on his head at the time, would have been nearly inexplicable (see July 9, 2003). The Commission subsequently requests direct access to the detainees, but this request is not granted (see November 5, 2003-January 2004).
The White House sends a classified memo to the CIA. The contents of the memo remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Washington Post will later learn that the memo approves the use of “harsh tactics” by CIA interrogators in questioning suspected terrorists. The memo was requested by CIA Director George Tenet, who asked for legal cover for the torture and harsh interrogation methods employed by CIA interrogators. A lawyer in the CIA’s general counsel office, John Radsan, later says, “The question was whether we had enough ‘top cover.’” A senior intelligence official will later add: “The CIA believed then, and now, that the program was useful and helped save lives. But in the agency’s view, it was like this: ‘We don’t want to continue unless you tell us in writing that it’s not only legal but is the policy of the administration.’” A Bush administration official will later blame the CIA for pressuring the administration to approve harsh interrogations, saying: “The CIA had the White House boxed in. They were saying, ‘It’s the only way to get the information we needed, and—by the way—we think there’s another attack coming up.’ It left the principals in an extremely difficult position and put the decision-making on a very fast track.” But a CIA official will dispute that characterization. “The suggestion that someone from CIA came in and browbeat everybody is ridiculous,” the official will state. “The CIA understood that [the interrogation program] was controversial and would be widely criticized if it became public. But given the tenor of the times and the belief that more attacks were coming, they felt they had to do what they could to stop the attack.” [Washington Post, 10/15/2008; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ]
Michael DeLong. [Source: PBS]In a secret memo, Gen. George Casey, Jr., director of the US military’s Joint Staff, warns Gen. Michael DeLong at Central Command (Centcom) that the “CIA has advised that the techniques the military forces are using to interrogate high value detainees (HVDs)… are more aggressive than the techniques used by CIA who is [sic] interviewing the same HVDs.” DeLong replies to Casey that the techniques being used are “doctrinally appropriate techniques” in line with Army regulations and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s direction. [New Yorker, 6/17/2007] It will later come out that the CIA was using techniques on these detainees widely considered to be torture, such as waterboarding. But little is known about military treatment of these detainees or the techniques they used.
Vice President Dick Cheney’s National Security Adviser, John Hannah, sends Cheney a copy of an April 3 CIA report (see April 3, 2003). The report summarized the CIA’s knowledge of the supposed Iraq-Niger uranium deal through early April. [US Department of Justice, 2/2007 ]
According to the investigation by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, the CIA faxes Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, classified documents concerning Joseph Wilson’s trip to Niger (see March 4-5, 2002, (March 6, 2002) and March 8, 2002), in response to a recent op-ed by Wilson (see July 6, 2003). Although the documents do not mention Wilson by name, the words “Wilson” and “Joe Wilson,” in Libby’s handwriting, are later found written on one of them. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/28/2005 ; Marcy Wheeler, 11/1/2005; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 216; National Journal, 6/14/2006; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 9/22/2006 ] Another, unidentified White House official also receives the documents. [New York Times, 2006] He is most likely Cheney’s national security adviser, John Hannah. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/28/2005 ] Reporter Murray Waas will write, “It is unclear if one of the documents in question, or the one with Wilson’s name handwritten on it by someone in the vice president’s office, was the March 2002 CIA report (see July 12, 2003), but the fact that it did not mention Wilson by name suggests that it possibly was indeed the one with the handwriting.” [National Journal, 6/14/2006]
Marc Grossman, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, prepares a memo about former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s trip to Niger to ascertain the truth or falsity of claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from that nation (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). The memo refers explicitly to Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, as a CIA official and identifies her as Wilson’s wife, using the name “Valerie Wilson.” The second paragraph of the memo is marked with an “S,” denoting that Wilson is a covert operative for the agency. [New York Times, 7/16/2005; Rich, 2006, pp. 180]
Memo Based on Information from State Department's Intelligence Bureau - Grossman prepares his memo based on information he receives from Carl Ford of the State Department’s in-house intelligence agency, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR). Ford, in a paragraph marked SNF for “secret, not foreign,” cites “Valerie Wilson, a CIA WMD manager and the wife of Joe Wilson.” [US Department of State, 6/10/2003 ; Washington Post, 7/21/2005]
INR: Wilson a 'Walk On' - The INR report calls Wilson a “walk on,” and goes on to note: “From what we can find in our records, Joe Wilson played only a walk-on part in the Niger/Iraq uranium story. In a February 19, 2002 meeting convened by Valerie Wilson (see February 19, 2002), [a] CIA WMD manager and the wife of Joe Wilson, he previewed his plans and rationale for going to Niger but said he would only go if the department thought his trip made sense.” [US Department of State, 6/10/2003 ; ABC News, 1/24/2007]
Libby Originated Request for Information on Wilsons; Memo Contains Erroneous Material - The memo is prepared by Grossman at the request of the INR; the INR in turn responded to a request from Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the vice president’s chief of staff. The memo claims that Plame Wilson “apparently convened” the CIA meeting that resulted in her husband’s selection for the investigative journey to Niger, a claim that Plame Wilson will later note is erroneous. According to Plame Wilson, Doug Rohn, the INR official who joined the February 2002 CIA meeting about Wilson’s proposed trip (see February 13, 2002), was late to the meeting and was not sure about Plame Wilson’s role. She had already left the meeting by the time Rohn arrived. When Grossman wrote his memo in June 2003, Rohn had left Washington to become the consul general in Karachi, Pakistan. Another analyst, Neil Silver, actually writes the memo for Grossman using Rohn’s old notes. Silver states as a fact that Plame Wilson convened the meeting. Authors Michael Isikoff and David Corn will later write: “Inadvertently, Rohn’s uninformed impression was now portrayed as a hard-and-fast truth. It would soon become, in the hands of White House spinners, a political charge.” The rest of the memo is fairly accurate, Plame Wilson will observe, and notes that, as the INR memo says: “Joe Wilson played only a walk-on part in the Niger-Iraq uranium story.… [H]e previewed his plans and rationale for going to Niger, but said he would only go if the [State] Department thought that his trip made sense.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 261-262]
John Kiriakou, an executive assistant to the CIA’s Iraq mission manager Robert Grenier, sends out an email asking other CIA officers for information about Ambassador Joe Wilson’s trip to Niger concerning allegations Iraq purchased yellowcake uranium there. The e-mail is sent out in response to a request from Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin for information Vice President Dick Cheney will want at a meeting scheduled for tomorrow, and is sent “on behalf of the vice president.” The questions concern Wilson’s trip, what the CIA knew of it, and President Bush’s State of the Union address that mentioned the allegations. According to journalist Laura Rozen, “The email makes clear that senior CIA officials, including Kiriakou’s boss [Grenier] and the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence [McLaughlin], did not know who Valerie Wilson was at the time.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 6/10/2003 ; Mother Jones, 12/21/2007] After resigning from the agency, Kiriakou will come to national attention when he makes a crucial intervention in the US debate on the ethics of waterboarding (see December 10, 2007).
CIA spokesman Bill Harlow speaks twice to Vice President Dick Cheney’s communications director, Cathie Martin. Harlow may divulge the fact that Valerie Plame Wilson is a CIA official to Martin during these conversations. [Office of the Vice President, 6/12/2003 ] Harlow is one of the government officials who will ask, fruitlessly, that columnist Robert Novak not make Plame Wilson’s CIA status public (see (July 11, 2003)).
According to the investigation by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, learns from Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman that former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is an undercover CIA agent (see June 10, 2003). Grossman tells Libby that “Joe Wilson’s wife works for the CIA,” and that State Department personnel are saying that Wilson’s wife was involved in planning Wilson’s trip to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 216; Marcy Wheeler, 1/23/2007] Plame Wilson was working on counterproliferation issues for the CIA, and Grossman is allegedly involved in a nuclear smuggling ring (see (1997-2002) and Summer 2001). Grossman tipped the ring off to Plame Wilson’s attempts to penetrate it in the summer of 2001 (see Summer-Autumn 2001). Libby also receives the same information from an unnamed senior CIA official. [MSNBC, 2/21/2007] According to Libby’s 2005 indictment for perjury and obstruction of justice (see October 28, 2005), “Libby spoke with a senior officer of the CIA to ask about the origin and circumstances of Wilson’s trip (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), and was advised by the CIA officer that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA and was believed to be responsible for sending Wilson on the trip.” The next day, according to the indictment, Cheney will tell Libby that Plame Wilson works for the CIA’s counterproliferation division (see (June 12, 2003)). [National Journal, 2/2/2006]
Lewis “Scooter” Libby, chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, phones senior CIA official Robert Grenier to ask about a recent trip to Niger by former ambassador Joseph Wilson (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Libby has just left a meeting with Cheney and Cheney’s press secretary, Cathie Martin. According to later testimony by Grenier (see January 24, 2007), Libby is “anxious” to learn about the trip, and obviously annoyed by Wilson’s claims that he was sent to Niger at the behest of Cheney. Grenier, the official in charge of the CIA’s actions as relating to Iraq, promises to look into the matter, but before he can speak again to Libby, the chief of staff pulls him out of a meeting with CIA Director George Tenet to ask him about Wilson. [Office of the Vice President, 6/11/2003 ; New York Times, 2/4/2007; MSNBC, 2/21/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 6/6/2007]
Libby Discusses Feasibility of Leaking Wilson Info - Grenier will later testify that he had never been pulled out of a meeting with Tenet before. Libby had already asked about Wilson, who was, according to Libby, “going around town and speaking to people in the press” about a mission he’d been sent on by the agency to investigate claims that Iraq had sought to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Libby tells Grenier to check out Wilson’s story, and find out if Wilson’s claim that his mission was prompted by the Office of the Vice President is true (see (February 13, 2002)). “He sounded a little bit aggrieved,” Grenier will later testify. “There was a slightly accusatory tone in his voice.” This tone suggests to Grenier that Libby “would need this information sooner than later, so he could potentially get out in front of this story.” Later that day, Grenier receives a call from the CIA’s counterproliferation division—Valerie Plame Wilson’s bureau—confirming that Wilson had been sent to Niger by the agency (see Shortly after February 13, 2002). Grenier calls Libby back and relays that information. The State Department and Pentagon were also interested in the results of Wilson’s investigation, Grenier tells Libby. Grenier also tells Libby that Wilson’s wife works in the same CIA unit as the one that sent Wilson to Niger. The information about Wilson and his wife seems to please Libby, Grenier will later recall. Libby speculates as to the feasibility of leaking that information to the press. Grenier contacts CIA public affairs official Bill Harlow and tells Libby, “We can work something out.” Libby then tells Grenier that Martin will coordinate the effort with Harlow and the CIA public affairs office (see 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003). [Marcy Wheeler, 1/24/2007; ABC News, 1/24/2007; Mother Jones, 1/25/2007]
Grenier Wonders if He Revealed Identity of Agency Official - After hanging up, Grenier will later testify, he feels somewhat guilty, “as if I had said too much.” In particular, he worries that he may have “revealed the identity of an agency officer.” He will testify that such information is something “we normally guard pretty closely. In the CIA our habit is that if we don’t need to say something, we generally don’t.” But, he later says he told himself, “look—this is a senior government official, he probably has every security clearance known to man.” [Marcy Wheeler, 1/24/2007; Mother Jones, 1/25/2007]
After CIA official Robert Grenier calls Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, with the news that the agency sent former ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger (see Shortly after February 13, 2002), and Wilson’s wife is a CIA official (see 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003), CIA spokesman Bill Harlow calls Cheney’s communications director Cathie Martin. In the course of the conversation, Harlow tells Martin that Wilson’s wife works for the CIA. Martin then tells Cheney and Libby about Wilson and Wilson’s wife. [Office of the Vice President, 6/11/2003 ; Marcy Wheeler, 1/24/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 1/25/2007]
Portion of Libby’s notes indicating the approximated date of June 12, 2003. [Source: Office of the Vice President / The Next Hurrah]Vice President Cheney informs his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, that Valerie Plame Wilson is a senior official for the CIA’s counterproliferation division. Cheney tells Libby that he has learned that information from CIA Director George Tenet (see June 11 or 12, 2003). Cheney’s conversation with Libby is made public over two years later, when Libby is indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice in regards to the investigation of White House officials leaking Plame Wilson’s identity to the press (see October 28, 2005). According to the indictment: “On or about June 12, 2003, Libby was advised by the vice president of the United States that [former ambassador Joseph] Wilson’s wife worked at the Central Intelligence Agency in the counterproliferation division. Libby understood that the vice president had learned this information from the CIA.” Cheney was within the law to inform Libby of Plame Wilson’s CIA employment, as he could with any government official with the proper security clearance. [Office of the Vice President, 6/12/2003 ; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 216; New York Times, 2006; National Journal, 2/2/2006; MSNBC, 2/21/2007] Libby has also learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from Marc Grossman of the State Department (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003).
Date of Conversation Unclear - The exact date of the Cheney-Libby conversation is somewhat unclear. Libby’s note on the conversation is dated June 12, but Libby later admits that he wrote the date and the description of the conversation—“telephone VP re ‘Uranium in Iraq’—Kristof NYT article”—after the fact, and then changed the date at an even later time. [Office of the Vice President, 6/12/2003 ; Marcy Wheeler, 2/3/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 6/6/2007] Libby will later testify that the date of the conversation might have been before June 12. [US Department of Justice, 3/5/2004 ] He will also testify that Cheney tells him about Plame Wilson “in an off sort of, curiosity sort of, fashion,” according to other court documents later made public. [National Journal, 2/6/2006] Libby will soon inform a reporter of Plame Wilson’s CIA status (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). He is aware of Plame Wilson’s covert status (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003).
Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus publishes an article noting that President Bush’s claim of an active Iraqi nuclear weapons program, and his allegation that Iraq tried to buy enriched uranium (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), was called into question by what Pincus calls “a CIA-directed mission to the central African nation in early 2002.” The story has caused some consternation in the Office of the Vice President, which became suspicious of Pincus’s questioning of White House officials about the matter (see Early June 2003 and June 3, 2003). The “senior administration officials” Pincus quotes, likely either Vice President Cheney’s communications director Cathie Martin or Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby (see March 5, 2004), told Pincus that the CIA never told the White House the details of its investigation, and Pincus uses that in his story. Pincus quotes a “senior intelligence official” as saying that the CIA’s failure to inform the White House of its doubts regarding the Iraq-Niger claim was “extremely sloppy” handling of a key piece of evidence against Iraq. The official continued: “It is only one fact and not the reason we went to war. There was a lot more.” The failure, said a CIA analyst, “is indicative of larger problems” involving the handling of intelligence about Iraq’s alleged chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons programs and its links to al-Qaeda, which the administration cited as justification for war. “Information not consistent with the administration agenda was discarded and information that was [consistent] was not seriously scrutinized,” the analyst said. Pincus notes that a “retired US ambassador” went to Niger in February 2002 to investigate the uranium claims; Pincus is referring to the trip by former ambassador Joseph Wilson (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), though he writes that his sources—current and former government officials—“spoke on condition of anonymity and on condition that the name of the former ambassador not be disclosed.” Pincus’s sources told him that the CIA did not inform the White House of the details of Wilson’s trip (see March 5, 2002 and March 8, 2002). One of Pincus’s sources, a “senior intelligence official,” said of Wilson’s trip: “This gent made a visit to the region and chatted up his friends. He relayed back to us that they said it was not true and that he believed them.” Pincus does note that the International Atomic Energy Agency reached the same conclusion as Wilson—that the Iraq-Niger uranium claims were false (see March 7, 2003). Pincus also reports that Cheney’s staff did not know about the mission until well after its conclusion, when a New York Times article alluded to it (see May 6, 2003). [Washington Post, 6/12/2003 ] This claim is false (see March 5, 2002 and March 9, 2003 and After), though Pincus does not know it. Pincus’s article will later be used as a basis for questioning Libby in the Plame Wilson leak investigation. Libby will claim not to remember if he was one of Pincus’s sources, though he will testify that he did not divulge Plame Wilson’s CIA status to the reporter (see March 5, 2004).
After the morning publication of a Washington Post article by reporter Walter Pincus questioning the validity of the Iraq WMD claims (see June 12, 2003), members of the National Security Council, along with White House and State Department staffers, discuss the story. Among the information exchanged is the knowledge that the wife of former ambassador Joseph Wilson, whose trip to Niger helped spark the Post article’s questions about Iraqi WMD (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), is a CIA official. “After Pincus,” a former intelligence later officer says, “there was general discussion with the National Security Council and the White House and State Department and others” about Wilson’s trip and its origins. According to a report by Time magazine, neither Secretary of State Colin Powell nor his deputy, Richard Armitage, speak to anyone at the White House about Wilson’s trip or Plame Wilson’s identity until after July 6, but this claim, sourced by someone “familiar with the [Wilson] memo” (see March 8, 2002), is false; Armitage will inform Post reporter Bob Woodward about Plame Wilson’s identity the day after the Pincus article (see June 13, 2003). Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin will later say that the White House asks about the Wilson trip around this time, but cannot remember when that information was requested (see May 29, 2003, June 2003, June 9, 2003, June 9, 2003, 4:30 p.m. June 10, 2003, 5:25 p.m. June 10, 2003, 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003, and 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003). McLaughlin will say that “we looked into it and found the facts of it, and passed it on.” [Time, 7/31/2005]
Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, Bush administration (43), Bob Woodward, Central Intelligence Agency, John E. McLaughlin, National Security Council, Walter Pincus, Colin Powell, Richard Armitage, US Department of State, Valerie Plame Wilson, Washington Post
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward meets with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who informs him that Valerie Plame Wilson is a CIA officer working on the issue of WMD in the Middle East. Plame Wilson is the wife of Joseph Wilson, who was sent to Niger to determine the truth behind the Iraq-Niger uranium claims (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and July 6, 2003). [Washington Post, 11/16/2005; New York Times, 8/23/2006; MSNBC, 2/21/2007] Armitage has just received the information from State Department intelligence officers, who forwarded him a memo marked “Secret” that included information about Wilson’s trip, his findings, and the fact that his wife is a CIA agent (see June 10, 2003). [Los Angeles Times, 8/25/2005]
Revealing Plame Wilson's Identity - Woodward asks Armitage why the CIA would send Wilson to Niger. “It was Joe Wilson who was sent by the agency,” Woodward says, according to an audiotape Woodward plays for the court during the Lewis Libby trial (see February 12, 2007). “I mean, that’s just—” Armitage answers, “His wife works in the agency.” The two then have the following exchange:
Woodward: “Why doesn’t that come out? Why does—”
Armitage: “Everyone knows it.” (It is unclear who or what Armitage is referring to. Columnist Byron York will later write that Armitage is referring to Wilson being the anonymous foreign ambassador criticizing Bush in the press.)
Woodward: “That have to be a big secret? Everyone knows.”
Armitage: “Yeah. And I know [expletive deleted] Joe Wilson’s been calling everybody. He’s pissed off because he was designated as a low-level guy, went out to look at it. So, he’s all pissed off.”
Woodward: “But why would they send him?”
Armitage: “Because his wife’s a [expletive deleted] analyst at the agency.”
Woodward: “It’s still weird.”
Armitage: “It’s perfect. This is what she does—she is a WMD analyst out there.”
Woodward: “Oh, she is.”
Woodward: “Oh, I see.”
Armitage: “[Expletive deleted] look at it.”
Woodward: “Oh, I see. I didn’t [expletive deleted].”
Armitage: “Yeah, see?”
Woodward: “Oh, she’s the chief WMD?” (asking if Plame Wilson is the head of the Iraqi WMD bureau within the agency—see April 2001 and After).
Armitage: “No, she isn’t the chief, no.”
Woodward: “But high enough up that she can say, ‘Oh yeah, hubby will go?” (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, October 17, 2003, and July 20, 2005).
Armitage: “Yeah, he knows Africa.”
Woodward: “Was she out there with him?”
Woodward: “When he was an ambassador?”
Armitage: “Not to my knowledge. I don’t know. I don’t know if she was out there or not. But his wife is in the agency and is a WMD analyst. How about that [expletive deleted]?” [New York Sun, 6/13/2003; Associated Press, 2/12/2007; National Review, 2/13/2007]
Woodward Does Not Report Plame Wilson's Identity - Woodward does not report this information. But Armitage’s divulgence may be the first time an administration official outs Plame Wilson, an undercover CIA agent, to a journalist. Woodward will later call the disclosure “casual and offhand,” and say the disclosure “did not appear to me to be either classified or sensitive.” He will note that “an analyst in the CIA is not normally an undercover position.” Woodward tells fellow Post reporter Walter Pincus that Plame Wilson is a CIA agent, but Pincus will say he does not recall the conversation. Woodward will note that on June 20, he will interview a “second administration official” with a notation to ask about “Joe Wilson’s wife,” but according to the recording of their conversation, the subject never comes up. Woodward enjoys extraordinary access to the White House for preparation of his second book on the Bush administration, Plan of Attack. [Washington Post, 11/16/2005; New York Times, 8/23/2006; Unger, 2007, pp. 310; MSNBC, 2/21/2007]
According to the investigation by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, discusses former ambassador Joseph Wilson (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) and his wife, CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003 and (June 12, 2003)), with his CIA briefer, Craig Schmall. According to Schmall’s later testimony (see January 24-25, 2007), Libby is annoyed over Wilson’s 2002 trip to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 216; MSNBC, 2/21/2007] Libby asks Schmall why Wilson was told the trip originated from questions emanating from Cheney. Schmall’s handwritten notes indicate that Libby refers to “Joe Wilson” and “Valerie Wilson.” [Marcy Wheeler, 1/24/2007; New York Times, 2/4/2007]
An internal CIA memorandum addressed to CIA Director George Tenet states that the agency no longer believes allegations that Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from Niger. The highly classified memo, titled “In Response to Your Questions for Our Current Assessment and Additional Details on Iraq’s Alleged Pursuits of Uranium from Abroad,” reads in part, “[S]ince learning that the Iraq-Niger uranium deal was based on false documents earlier this spring we no longer believe that there is sufficient other reporting to conclude that Iraq pursued uranium from abroad.” Tenet asked for the assessment in part because of repeated inquiries from Vice President Dick Cheney and his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, regarding the Iraq-Niger matter and the mission by Joseph Wilson to determine the likelihood of such a purchase (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and May 29, 2003). However, neither Cheney nor Libby asked for the review. In addition, Tenet wanted the assessment because of the media attention being paid to Wilson’s trip to Niger, and his worry that Congress or the press might raise additional questions about the matter. Soon afterwards, Cheney and Libby are briefed on the memo, but both continue to question the veracity and loyalty of Wilson, and continue to insist that Iraq did, indeed, attempt to purchase Nigerien uranium. Libby is adamant that the CIA is trying to “whitewash” the “truth” behind the Iraq-Niger uranium allegations, and insists that the CIA’s WINPAC (Center for Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control) is primarily responsible for the CIA’s “whitewashing.” He mistakenly believes that Valerie Plame Wilson, Wilson’s wife, works in WINPAC, and has already informed a reporter of his belief (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003). Cheney and others in the Office of the Vice President also apparently believe that Plame Wilson works for WINPAC, though they have already been informed that she is a senior official for the CIA’s counterproliferation division (see (June 12, 2003)) and a covert agent (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003). [The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction (aka 'Robb-Silberman Commission'), 3/31/2005; National Journal, 2/2/2006]
Entity Tags: Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George J. Tenet, Joseph C. Wilson, Valerie Plame Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Central Intelligence Agency, Counterproliferation Division
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
The CIA, the RAND Corporation, and the American Psychological Association host a two-day workshop entitled, “Science of Deception: Integration of Practice and Theory.” One session, “Law Enforcement Interrogation and Debriefing,” explores the question, “What pharmacological agents are known to affect apparent truth-telling behavior?” [American Psychological Association, 6/18/2003; Congressional Quarterly, 4/4/2008] This question becomes more relevant in light of evidence that mind-altering drugs may be used by US interrogators against terror suspects (see April 4, 2008).
The day after CIA Director George Tenet received a CIA assessment finding the Iraq-Niger uranium claims specious (see June 17, 2003), CIA official Robert Walpole, the national intelligence officer for strategic and nuclear programs, briefs members of the Senate Intelligence Committee on the assessment. The next day, Walpole briefs members of the House Intelligence Committee. [National Journal, 2/2/2006]
Lewis “Scooter” Libby, chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, “outs” a covert CIA agent to a reporter. Libby tells New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who has been a reliable outlet for administration leaks and disinformation (see December 20, 2001, August 2002, and May 1, 2003), that Valerie Plame Wilson is a CIA official. Plame Wilson is a covert CIA officer currently working at CIA headquarters on WMD issues in the Middle East. More importantly for Libby, she is the husband of former US ambassador Joseph Wilson, who went to Niger to verify the administration’s claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium there (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), and who has become an outspoken critic of the administration’s war policies both on television and in print (see July 6, 2003).
Libby Blames CIA for 'Slanted Intell' - Miller meets Libby at the Old Executive Building. Her focus is, as she has written in her notebook, “Was the intell slanted?” meaning the intelligence used to propel the US into war with Iraq. Libby is “displeased,” she notes, by what he calls the “selective leaking” of information to the press by the CIA. He calls it a “hedging strategy,” and Miller quotes him in her notes: “If we find it, fine, if not, we hedged.” Miller feels that Libby is trying to use the interview to set up a conflict between the White House and the CIA. He says that reports suggesting senior administration officials may have selectively used some intelligence reports to bolster their claims about Iraq while ignoring others are “highly distorted.” The thrust of his conversation, Miller will later testify (see September 30, 2005), is to try to blame the CIA for the intelligence failures leading up to the Iraq invasion. The CIA is now trying to “hedge” its earlier assessments, Libby says. He accuses it of waging what he calls a “perverted war” against the White House over the issue, and is clearly angry that it failed to, in his view, share its “doubts about Iraq intelligence.” He tells Miller, “No briefer came in [after the State of the Union address] and said, ‘You got it wrong, Mr. President.’”
Joseph Wilson and 'Valerie Flame' - Libby refers to “a clandestine guy,” meaning Wilson, and tells Miller that Cheney “didn’t know” about him, attempting to disassociate Cheney from any responsibility for Wilson’s trip. In her notes, Miller writes, “wife works in bureau?” and she will later testify that she is sure Libby is referring to the CIA. In her notes, she also writes the words “Valerie Flame,” a misspelled reference to Wilson’s wife. [New York Times, 10/16/2005; Vanity Fair, 4/2006; Unger, 2007, pp. 310; MSNBC, 2/21/2007]
No Story from Interview - Miller does not write a story based on the conversation with Libby. [New York Times, 10/16/2005; New York Times, 10/16/2005]
Libby a 'Good-Faith Source' - Miller will later recall Libby as being “a good-faith source who was usually straight with me.” [New York Times, 10/16/2005] She will note that she was not accustomed to interviewing high-level White House officials such as him. For Miller, Libby was “a major figure” and “one of the most senior people I interviewed,” she will say. “I never interviewed the vice president, never met the president, and have met Karl Rove only once. I operated at the wonk level. That is why all of this stuff that came later about my White House spin is such bullsh_t. I did not talk to these people.… Libby was not a social friend, like Richard Perle.” [Vanity Fair, 4/2006]
Initial Incorrect Dating by Times - In October, the New York Times will initially, and incorrectly, identify the date of this conversation as June 25. [New York Times, 10/8/2005]
President Bush issues a proclamation to mark the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. Bush states that the US is “committed to the worldwide elimination of torture and we are leading this fight by example.” He vows to prosecute torture and to prevent any “other cruel and unusual punishment.” The CIA’s chief lawyer, Scott Muller, complains to the White House that Bush’s statement could cause CIA interrogators, authorized by Bush to torture suspected al-Qaeda members (see February 7, 2002), to fear that they could be used as scapegoats by the administration. White House officials reassure Muller that despite Bush’s words, the administration still supports the CIA’s torture of prisoners. [New York Times, 5/3/2009]
Syndicated columnist Robert Novak, a well-established Washington conservative, lands an interview with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. Novak has been trying for some time to schedule an interview with Armitage without success, but Armitage calls him virtually out of nowhere and offers an interview. They agree to meet soon after the 4th of July holiday. It is at this meeting that Armitage will tell Novak that administration critic Joseph Wilson’s wife is a covert CIA agent (see July 8, 2003), just as he has previously told Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward (see June 13, 2003). [Unger, 2007, pp. 310]
US intelligence has long suspected the Al-Rajhi Bank for supporting radical militant causes. However, the US has not acted overtly against the Saudi bank because it is so large and influential, with an estimated $26 billion in assets and yearly profits of almost $2 billion in 2006. In mid-2003, a new CIA report details linkages between the bank and militants (see Before September 11, 2001), and suggests that the owners of the bank are aware of these links and have an extremist agenda (see Mid-2003). The US begins to rethink the quiet diplomacy approach. Deputies from the CIA, National Security Council, Treasury and State departments meet to discuss the problem. They debate officially listing the bank as a supporter of terrorism. They also consider the possibility of covert operations against the bank, such as interfering with the bank’s internal operations. Another possibility is working with other countries for more scrutiny and regulatory action against the bank. But ultimately, the Bush administration decides against all these options and chooses merely to continue privately exerting pressure on the Saudi government in hopes that the Saudis will do something. [Wall Street Journal, 7/26/2007] In late 2004, Homeland Security Adviser Frances Townsend will make a secret visit to Saudi Arabia to put more pressure on the government to do something about the bank. [Wall Street Journal, 10/1/2004] What the US has done regarding the bank since that time is unknown. The bank denies any ties to Islamic militancy.
Sulaiman Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi. [Source: Nadec]A CIA report strongly suggests that the Al-Rajhi Bank is being used to finance militants. The bank is one of the biggest in Saudi Arabia, with an estimated $26 billion in assets in 2006. The report states, “Islamic extremists have used Al-Rajhi Banking and Investment Corporation since at least the mid-1990s as a conduit for terrorist transactions… Senior al-Rajhi family members have long supported Islamic extremists and probably know that terrorists use their bank. Reporting indicates that senior al-Rajhi family members control the bank’s most important decisions and that [their] principal managers answer directly to Sulaiman [Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi]. The al-Rajhis know they are under scrutiny and have moved to conceal their activities from financial regulatory authorities.” It adds that in 2002, Sulaiman ordered the bank’s board “to explore financial instruments that would allow the bank’s charitable contributions to avoid official Saudi scrutiny.” US intelligence have extensive circumstantial evidence but no direct proof that bank managers knowingly support terrorism. For instance, the report says that in December 1998, Sulaiman and his brother Salah sent $4 million to Germany and Pakistan using “a unique computer code to send funds at regular intervals to unspecified recipients, suggesting they were trying to conceal the transactions and that the money may have been intended for illegitimate ends.” Islamist operatives in many countries have used the bank, including at least some al-Qaeda leaders and 9/11 hijackers (see Before September 11, 2001). In 1997, US investigators recovered the address book of al-Qaeda financier Wadih El-Hage, and discovered Salah al-Rajhi’s phone number in it (see Shortly After August 21, 1997). Salah is Sulaiman’s brother and co-owner of the bank. In 2002, the US will raid the SAAR Network, a collection of linked financial entities in the US suspected of funding militants. SAAR stands for Sulaiman Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi, and the network was founded and funded by him (see March 20, 2002). [Wall Street Journal, 7/26/2007; Wall Street Journal, 7/26/2007] The US government will subsequently consider taking overt action against the bank, but will ultimately decide against it (see Mid-2003). The bank continues to deny any links to Islamic militancy.
Officials at the CIA station in Baghdad ask agency managers at headquarters for information and training on detainee interrogations, but receive little in response. After the station agrees to interrogate the most important detainees in order to gain information about the growing insurgency, it asks headquarters for training for its officers, so that they can perform the interrogations correctly. It also requests written guidelines in July. However, headquarters does nothing and this refusal to act leads to heated arguments between Baghdad station and headquarters. For example, in one videoconference in the fall the deputy station chief begins yelling at headquarters staffers, demanding that they provide the written guidelines. The response of the agency’s Near East division chief is to tell Baghdad station boss Gerry Meyer (see May 18, 2006) that his deputy is becoming “too strident.” No guidelines will arrive before the Abu Ghraib scandal breaks (see April 28, 2004). Neither does headquarters send a lawyer to the Baghdad station for some time. Initially, the station gets its legal advice on an informal basis from CIA or military lawyers who happen to be passing through Baghdad. No agency lawyer is stationed in Baghdad until January 2004. [Risen, 2006, pp. 144-145]
Andreas von Bulow, a former German government minister, releases a book called “Die CIA und der 11. September” (The CIA and September 11), in which he alleges US government complicity in 9/11. Von Bulow was Federal Minister of Research and Technology under Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, and before that was high up in Germany’s Ministry of Defense. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 9/8/2003] He argues that 9/11 was a covert operation in which the CIA and the Israeli Mossad played a role. He suggests remote control could have been used to direct the hijacked planes into their targets; that the WTC towers collapsed due to explosives; that no planes crashed into the Pentagon or in Pennsylvania; and that the CIA had faked mobile phone calls from Flight 93 passengers. [Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Frankfurt), 9/9/2003; International Herald Tribune, 10/1/2003; Daily Telegraph, 11/20/2003] Von Bulow tells the Daily Telegraph, “If what I say is right, the whole US government should end up behind bars.” The book is a bestseller in Germany, selling over 100,000 copies. [Daily Telegraph, 11/20/2003] He previewed some of his theories in a January 2002 interview (see January 13, 2002). [Daily Telegraph, 11/20/2003]
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