WMD? Where? “Where are Iraq’s WMDs?” – Newsweek

June 3, 2003 at 4:21 pm
Contributed by: Chris


This is a good one, a fairly complete survey of the supposed WMD evidence and its
debunking, point by point, along with the back-room dealings of the Bush
administration. Very interesting stuff.




Read the full article here: http://msnbc.com/news/919753.asp?0bl=-0 

” But rather than accept the CIA’s doubts, top officials in the Bush Defense Department set up
their own team of intelligence analysts, a small but powerful shop now called
the Office of Special Plans—and, half-jokingly, by its members, “the
        The Cabal was eager to find a link between Saddam and Al Qaeda, especially proof that Saddam played a role in the
9-11 attacks. The hard-liners at Defense seized on a report that Muhammad Atta,
the chief hijacker, met in Prague in early April 2001 with an Iraqi intelligence
official. Only one problem with that story, the FBI pointed out. Atta was
traveling at the time between Florida and Virginia Beach, Va. (The bureau had
his rental car and hotel receipts.)

No matter. The Iraq hawks at Defense and in
the office of Vice President Dick Cheney continued to push the idea that Saddam
had both stockpiles of WMD and links to terrorists who could deliver those
weapons to American cities.” 

Where are Iraq’s WMDs?

By Evan Thomas, Richard Wolffe and Michael Isikoff
June 1, 2003The message was plain: Saddams weapons of mass destruction made war
unavoidable. So where are they? Inside the administration’s civil war over intel.

George Tenet, the director of Central
Intelligence, was frustrated. For four days and nights last winter, some
of the most astute intelligence analysts in the U.S. government sat
around Tenets conference-room table in his wood-paneled office in
Langley, Va., trying to prove that Saddam Hussein posed an imminent
threat to America. The spooks were not having an easy time of it.

ON FEB. 5, Secretary of State Colin Powell was scheduled to go to
the United Nations and make the case that Saddam possessed an arsenal of
weapons of mass destruction. But the evidence was thinsketchy and
speculative, or uncorroborated, or just not credible. Finally, according
to a government official who was there, Tenet leaned back in his chair
and said, Everyone thinks were Tom Cruise. Were not. We cant look
into every bedroom and listen to every conversation. Hell, we cant even
listen to the new cell phones some of the terrorists are using.

Tenet was being truthful. Spying can help win wars (think of the
Allies cracking the Axis codes in World War II), but intelligence is
more often an incomplete puzzle (think of Pearl Harbor). Honest spies
appreciate their own limitations. Their political masters, however,
often prefer the Hollywood version. They want certainty and omniscience,
not hedges and ambiguity. Bush administration officials wanted to be
able to say, for certain, that Saddam Hussein possessed stockpiles of
chem-bio weapons; that he could make a nuclear bomb inside a year; that
he was conspiring with Al Qaeda to attack America.

Why Rumsfeld Is Wrong

And that is, by and large, what they did say. On close examination,
some of the statements about Saddam and his WMD made by President George
W. Bush and his top lieutenants in the months leading up to the Iraq war
included qualifiers or nuances. But the effectand the intentwas to
convince most Americans that Saddam presented a clear and present danger
and had to be removed by going to war.


No wonder, then, that many people are perplexed (or vexed) that
U.S. forces in Iraq have been unable to find any WMD. Administration
officials insist that eventually they will be able to prove that Saddam
was working on a dangerous weapons program. They say that two trailers
found in northern Iraq are in fact mobile bioweapon labs, capable of
brewing up enough anthrax in a weekend to snuff out a city. But some of
Bushs top men are beginning to sound a little defensive or unsure, and
congressional critics are starting to circle. Deputy Defense Secretary
Paul Wolfowitz caused a flap by telling Vanity Fair magazine that
removing Saddams WMD was a bureaucratic justification for going to
war (Wolfowitz says that he was quoted out of context). A recently
retired State Department intelligence analyst directly involved in
assessing the Iraqi threat, Greg Thielmann, flatly told NEWSWEEK that
inside the government, there is a lot of sorrow and anger at the way
intelligence was misused. You get a strong impression that the
administration didnt think the public would be enthusiastic about the
idea of war if you attached all those qualifiers.

The prospect of a serious inquiry hung uneasily over a small dinner
party of top intelligence officials, including Tenet, in Washington last
week. The guests were stressed and grumpy, reports a former CIA
official who was present. There was a lot of rolling of eyes and
groans about a coming wave of investigations. Tenet tried to reassure
his dinner partners that the second-guessing was premature. Well be
fine, he said. In an unusual move, the DCI two days later put out a
public statement defending the CIAs integrity and objectivity. The
job of the CIA director is, as the former agency official puts it, to
speak truth to power. The CIA is supposed to be an independent agency
that doesnt blow in the political wind.

It is doubtful that congressional investigators or reporters will
turn up evidence that anyone at the CIA or any other intelligence agency
flat-out lied or invented evidence. More likely, interviews with some of
the main players suggest, the facts will show that the agency was unable
to tell the Bush administration what it wanted to hear. Tenet might have
tried harder to keep the Bushies from leaping to unwarranted
conclusions. In fact, in one case, he aggressively pushed evidence about
an Iraqi nuclear program that was strongly challenged by nuclear-weapons
experts elsewhere in the government. But the agencys failure was more
elemental: the CIA was unable to penetrate Saddams closed world and
learn, with any real precision, his real capabilities and intentions.

That is truly disturbing news for the war on terror. If America has
entered a new age of pre-emptionwhen it must strike first because it
cannot afford to find out later if terrorists possess nuclear or
biological weaponsexact intelligence is critical. How will the United
States take out a mad despot or a nuclear bomb hidden in a cave if the
CIA cant say for sure where they are And how will Bush be able to
maintain support at home and abroad The story of how U.S. intelligence
tracked Iraqs WMD capability, pieced together by NEWSWEEK from
interviews with top administration and intelligence officials, is not


The case that Saddam possessed WMD was based, in large part, on
assumptions, not hard evidence. If Saddam did not possess a forbidden
arsenal, the reasoning went, why, then, would he put his country through
the agony of becoming an international pariah and ultimately risk his
regime Was he just bluffing in some fundamentally stupid way Earlier
U.N. weapons inspectors projected that Saddam kept stores of anthrax and
VX, but they had no proof. In recent years, the CIA detected some signs
of Saddams moving money around, building additions to suspected WMD
sites, and buying chemicals and equipment abroad that could be used to
make chem-bio weapons. But the spooks lacked any reliable spies, or
HUMINT (human intelligence), inside Iraq.

Then came the defectors. Former Iraqi officials fleeing the regime
told of underground bunkers and labs hiding vast stores of chemical and
biological weapons and nuclear materials. The CIA, at first, was
skeptical. Defectors in search of safe haven sometimes stretch or invent
the facts. The true believers in the Bush administration, on the other
hand, embraced the defectors and credited their stories. Many of the
defectors were sent to the Americans by Ahmed Chalabi, the politically
ambitious and controversial Iraqi exile. Chalabis chief patron is
Richard Perle, the former Reagan Defense Department official and charter
member of the so-called neocons, the hard-liners who occupy many top
jobs in the Bush national-security establishment.

The CIA was especially wary of Chalabi, whom they regarded as a con
man (Chalabi has been convicted of bank fraud in Jordan; he denies the
charges). But rather than accept the CIAs doubts, top officials in the
Bush Defense Department set up their own team of intelligence analysts,
a small but powerful shop now called the Office of Special Plansand,
half-jokingly, by its members, the Cabal.

The Cabal was eager to find a link between Saddam and Al Qaeda,
especially proof that Saddam played a role in the 9-11 attacks. The
hard-liners at Defense seized on a report that Muhammad Atta, the chief
hijacker, met in Prague in early April 2001 with an Iraqi intelligence
official. Only one problem with that story, the FBI pointed out. Atta
was traveling at the time between Florida and Virginia Beach, Va. (The
bureau had his rental car and hotel receipts.)


No matter. The Iraq hawks at Defense and in the office of Vice
President Dick Cheney continued to push the idea that Saddam had both
stockpiles of WMD and links to terrorists who could deliver those
weapons to American cities. Speeches and statements by Cheney, Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Bush himself repeated these claims
throughout the fall of 2002 and the winter of 2003. One persistent
theme: that Saddam was intent on building a nuke. On Oct. 7, for
instance, Bush predicted in a speech in Cincinnati that Saddam could
have a nuclear weapon in less than a year.

The evidence sometimes cited to support Saddams nuclear program
was shaky, however. On the morning after Bushs State of the Union
address in January, Greg Thielmann, who had recently resigned from the
State Departments Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR)whose
duties included tracking Iraqs WMD programread the text in the
newspaper. Bush had cited British intelligence reports that Saddam was
trying to purchase significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

Thielmann was floored. When I saw that, it really blew me away,
Thielmann told NEWSWEEK. Thielmann knew about the source of the
allegation. The CIA had come up with some documents purporting to show
Saddam had attempted to buy up to 500 tons of uranium oxide from the
African country of Niger. INR had concluded that the purchases were
implausibleand made that point clear to Powells office. As Thielmann
read that the president had relied on these documents to report to the
nation, he thought, Not that stupid piece of garbage. My thought was,
how did that get into the speech It later turned out that the
documents were a forgery, and a crude one at that, peddled to the
Italians by an entrepreneurial African diplomat. The Niger minister of
Foreign Affairs whose name was on the letterhead had been out of office
for more than 10 years. The most cursory checks would have exposed the

The strongest evidence that Saddam was building a nuke was the fact
that he was secretly importing aluminum tubes that could be used to help
make enriched uranium. At least it seemed that way. In early September,
just before Bush was scheduled to speak to the United Nations about the
Iraqi threat, the story was leaked to Judith Miller and Michael Gordon
of The New York Times, which put it on page one. That same Sunday (Sept.
8), Cheney and national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice went on the
talk shows to confirm the story.


At the CIA, Tenet seems to have latched on to the tubes as a kind
of smoking gun. He brought one of the tubes to a closed Senate hearing
that same month. But from the beginning, other intelligence experts in
the government had their doubts. After canvassing experts at the
nations nuclear labs, the Department of Energy concluded that the tubes
were the wrong specification to be used in a centrifuge, the equipment
used to enrich uranium. The State Departments INR concluded that the
tubes were meant to be used for a multiple-rocket-launching system. (And
Saddam was not secretly buying them; the purchase order was posted on
the Internet.) In two reports to Powell, INR concluded there was no
reliable evidence that Iraq had restarted a nuclear program at all.
These were not weaselly worded, said Thielmann. They were as
definitive as these things go. These dissents were duly recorded in a
classified intelligence estimate. But they were largely dropped from the
declassified version made available to the public. U.N. inspectors say
they have found solid proof that Iraq bought the tubes to build small
rockets, not nukes.

The real test of the governments case against Saddam came in the
testimony by Secretary of State Powell delivered to the United Nations
on Feb. 5. Powell, the administrations in-house moderate, was very wary
of being set up for a fall by the administration hawks. Presented with a
script by the White House national-security staff, Powell suspected
that the hawks had been cherry-picking, looking for any intel that
supported their position and ignoring anything to the contrary.

Powell ordered his aides to check out every fact. And to make sure
he would not be left hanging if the intel case against Saddam somehow
proved to be full of holes, he gently but firmly informed Tenet that the
DCI should come up to New Yorkand take his place behind the secretary
of State at the U.N. General Assembly. (I dont think George looked too
comfortable sitting there, said a former top official, chuckling, in
41s administration.)

For four days and nights, Powell and Tenet, top aides and top
analysts and, from time to time, Rice, pored over the evidenceand
discarded much of it. Out went suggestions linking Saddam to 9-11. The
bogus Niger documents were dumped. Powell did keep a hedged endorsement
of the aluminum tubes and contended that Saddam harbored Al Qaeda
operatives. His most compelling offering to the United Nations was tape
recordings (picked up by spy satellites) of Iraqi officials who appeared
intent on hiding something from the U.N. arms inspectors. Just what they
were hiding was never quite clear.

The almost round-the-clock vetting process in Tenets conference
room at the CIA was tense and difficult, according to several
participants. The debate over whether to include the purported links
between Al Qaeda and Saddam went on right up to the eve of Powells


Powells presentation did not persuade the U.N. Security Council,
but it did help convince many Americans that Saddam was a real threat.
As the military began to gear up for an invasion, top planners at
Central Command tried to get a fix from the CIA on WMD sites they could
take out with bombs and missiles. After much badgering, says an informed
military source, the CIA allowed the CENTCOM planners to see what the
agency had on WMD sites. It was crap, said a CENTCOM planner. The
sites were mostly old friends, buildings bombed by the military back
in the 1991 gulf war, another source said. The CIA had satellite photos
of the buildings. What was inside the structures was another matter,
says the source. We asked, Well, what agents are in these buildings
Because we need to know. And the answer was, We dont know, the
CENTCOM planner recalled.

When the military visited these sites after the war, they found
nothing but rubble. No traces of WMD. Nor did Special Forces find any of
the 20 or so Scud missiles, possibly tipped with chem-bio warheads, that
were said by the CIA to be lurking somewhere in the Western Desert. The
search is not over. While CENTCOM is pulling out its initial teams of
WMD hunters, the Pentagon has created a whole new program to search
sites, looking for the elusive WMD. It is disheartening that the
military was unable to secure Saddams large nuclear-material storage
site at Al Tuwaitha before the looters got there. Materials for a dirty
bomb could have found their way by now into the hands of terrorists.

And so the searchingand guessinggoes on. So do the bureaucratic
wars: last week one of the founders in the Cabal had his security
clearance pulledby enemies in the intelligence community, his
associates suspected. The CIA has done a reasonably good job of tracking
down Al Qaeda chieftains, capturing about half of them so far. Despite
some reports of low morale (mostly from retired analysts), the agency is
well funded and well aware of its central role in the war on terror. The
spooks for the most part know the imprecise nature of their business. It
would be healthier if politicians and policymakers did, too. A little
realism would be a good thing, especially in an age of sneak attacks by
both sides, when the margin for error is just about zero.


1 Comment

  1. […] The New Yorker, Oct. 2003 Weapons of Mass Disappearance – Michael Duffy, TIME Magazine, Jun. 2003 Where are Iraq’s WMDs? – Michael Isikof, Newsweek, Jun. 2003 Every story essentially confirms the same thing… that […]

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