The claim of an "intelligence failure" leading up to the war on Iraq is just another lie, part of the same campaign of deception as the claim Iraq had WMDs.
The George Washington University National Security Archive recently published a newly released CIA document from January 2006 titled “Misreading Intentions: Iraq’s Reaction to Inspection Created Picture of Deception”. The document, the Archive notes, “blames ‘analyst liabilities’ such as neglecting to examine Iraq’s deceptive behavior ‘through an Iraqi prism,’ for the failure to correctly assess the country’s virtually non-existent WMD capabilities.” Foreign Policy magazine describes it as a “remarkable CIA mea culpa”. But nothing could be further from the truth. Far from acknowledging the CIA’s true role, the document does not present any kind of serious analysis, but only politicized statements rehashing well-worn official claims designed to further the myth that there was an “intelligence failure” leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March of 2003.
There was no such “intelligence failure”. On the contrary, there was an extremely successful disinformation campaign coordinated by the CIA in furtherance of the government’s policy of seeking regime change in Iraq. The language of the document itself reveals a persistent dishonesty. It speaks of “deepened suspicions” that Iraq “had ongoing WMD programs” and “suspicions that Iraq continued to hide WMD.” Needless to say, however, the Iraq war was not sold to the public on the grounds that government officials and intelligence agencies had “suspicions” that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD). It was sold to the public with declarations that it was a known fact that Iraq had ongoing programs and stockpiles of WMD. The tacit acknowledgment that the actual evidence only supported “suspicions” that this was so by itself is proof of that the narrative of an “intelligence failure” is a fiction.
The report relies heavily upon the 1995 defection of Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law, Hussein Kamal (respectively spelled “Saddam Husayn” and “Husayn Kamil” in the document), arguing that the information he revealed bolstered suspicions that Iraq was concealing ongoing WMD programs and continued to possess stockpiles of WMD. It argues further that the regime’s behavior indicated he was hiding such weapons. Kamal, who returned to Iraq and was killed there in 1996, was the same individual Vice President Dick Cheney referred to in selling the administration’s case for war on August 26, 2002, when he said that “we now know that Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. Among other sources, we’ve gotten this from the firsthand testimony of defectors—including Saddam’s own son-in-law, who was subsequently murdered at Saddam’s direction.” But the fact is that Cheney was lying, and the CIA’s persistent adherence to essentially the same false narrative renders ridiculous the suggestion that this document is some kind of “mea culpa”.
The document states, “Analysts interpreted Iraq’s intransigence and ongoing deceptive practices as indicators of continued WMD programs or an intent to preserve WMD capabilities, reinforcing intelligence we were receiving at the time that Saddam Husayn continued to pursue WMD.” Yet the examples it lists of Iraq’s “intransigence” and deception do not support the CIA’s earlier judgments that Iraq had ongoing programs and WMD stockpiles. “In April 1991, for example,” the document says, “Iraq declared that it had neither a nuclear weapons program nor an enrichment program. Inspections in June and September 1991 proved that Iraq had lied on both counts, had explored multiple enrichment paths, and had a well-developed nuclear weapons program.” This is true. However, the document makes no mention of the fact that it was public knowledge that Iraq’s nuclear program was subsequently completely dismantled. As former Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohammed ElBaradei, pointed out, the Agency had “destroyed, removed or rendered harmless all Iraqi facilities and equipment component of Iraq’s nuclear programme” by 1992. The IAEA reported in 1998 that it was “confident that we had not missed any significant component of Iraq’s nuclear programme”.
The document states that in “March 1992, Iraq decided to declare the unilateral destruction of certain prohibited items to the Security Council, while continuing to conceal its biological warfare (BW) program and important aspects of the nuclear, chemical, and missile programs”. As worded, this implies that Iraq in 1992 was continuing these programs. This is disingenuous, because in fact Iraq was at that time trying conceal past programs that it had ended following the 1991 Gulf War. Iraq did not continue these programs, but dismantled them and unilaterally destroyed its WMD in order to hide the fact that it had had such programs in the past. As the document acknowledges in its “Key Findings” section, “in 1991, Iraq secretly destroyed or dismantled most undeclared items and records”. Yet the very next paragraph contradictorily and disingenuously states, “We now judge that the 1995 defection of Saddam’s son-in-law Husayn Kamil—a critical figure in Iraq’s WMD and denial and deception (D&D) activities—promoted Iraq to change strategic direction and cease efforts to retain WMD programs.” This again implies that Iraq had ongoing WMD programs at least until 1995, which is false, as the CIA knew perfectly well at the time this report was written.
Even more importantly, that the programs had been dismantled and the weapons destroyed is in fact precisely what Hussein Kamal actually told U.N. inspectors when he defected in 1995. The newly released document in fact points out, “He said that Saddam destroyed all WMD in secret” in 1991. Yet apart from that single buried admission, the document is full of statements implying that weapons programs continued. For example, it states that “Iraqi officials did not admit to weaponized BW agent after the defection of Husayn Kamil”, but fails to clarify that this was an admission of past and not ongoing activity. The document acknowledges that Kamal’s defection was “the key turning point in Iraq’s decision to cooperate more with inspections”, but then adds that his debriefing with U.N. inspectors “strengthened the West’s perception of Iraq as a successful and efficient deceiver.” Following Kamal’s defection, the document states, “the West”, meaning the U.S., judged that Iraq “was determined to retain WMD capabilities.” In other words, the U.S. continued to claim that Iraq had ongoing WMD programs and stockpiles, and supposedly based that assessment on Kamal’s information, even though Kamal in fact had confirmed that Iraq’s WMD had been destroyed and its programs dismantled in 1991.
The document similarly states, “We now judge that the Iraqis feared that Kamil … would reveal additional undisclosed information. Iraq decided that further widespread deception and attempts to hold onto extensive WMD programs while under UN sanctions was untenable and changed strategic direction by adopting a policy of disclosure and improved cooperation.” The wording here that Iraq was attempting in 1995 “to hold onto” such programs does not merely imply a falsehood, but is an outright lie. Once again, the CIA was perfectly well aware that until 1995, Iraq was attempting to conceal the existence of its past WMD programs, which it was not attempting “to hold onto” but had dismantled in 1991. This kind of dishonest use of language to suggest Iraq continued to have ongoing WMD programs, even while contradictorily acknowledging elsewhere in the report that this was not true, is illustrative not of a willingness by the CIA to come clean, but to continue to obfuscate the truth and to persist in the false narrative of “intelligence failure”. The CIA in the document even tries to spin its acknowledgment that Iraq’s programs were dismantled and its WMD destroyed in 1991 by saying that this unilateral action left Iraq “unable to provide convincing proof when it later tried to demonstrate compliance”—thus shifting the burden onto Iraq to prove that it didn’t have WMD and attempting to obfuscate the fact that U.S. government officials repeatedly lied by claiming that the intelligence community had proof that Iraq did have WMD.
In October 1991, Iraq admitted to the U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM) that its Al Atheer site had been built in order to conduct research into enriching uranium to build a nuclear weapon. On August 22, 1995, when Hussein Kamal was asked about the work that went on there, and whether it was continuing somewhere else, he replied, “yes, but not now, before the Gulf War.” That is to say, there were other sites involved in Iraq’s nuclear weapons program, but this program was ended by 1991. He also pointed out that the work done on enrichment “were only studies.” He noted that Iraq already “had highly enriched uranium from France but it was under the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] safeguards.” Iraq thus had worked on building its own centrifuges to enrich uranium, “but had never reached a point close to testing.”
The CIA document nevertheless states that Kamal’s defection “exposed the previously unknown 1991 crash program to develop nuclear weapons.” The program referred to would have entailed using enriched uranium from Iraq’s French-built reactor and enriching additional uranium obtained from Russia to weapons-grade in order to produce material for a bomb. The remarkable dishonesty of this statement is on full display when one compares it with the fact that, when this “crash program” was brought up in his UNSCOM debriefing, Kamal’s actual response was, “no, not true.” He acknowledged that “the decision was already there to use French uranium, but they were not ready with centrifuges.” In other words, the “crash program” was nothing more than a hypothetical contingency plan involving a scenario in which Iraq would make a final desperate effort to produce a nuclear weapon by kicking out U.N. and IAEA inspectors and enriching its own uranium to weapons-grade—a capability Iraq did not possess.
With regard to Iraq’s biological weapons programs, Kamal was asked during his debriefing, “[W]ere weapons and agents destroyed?” He answered, “[N]othing remained.” He added that the U.N. inspectors “have [an] important role in Iraq with this. You should not underestimate yourself. You are very effective in Iraq.” The unilateral destruction of WMD, Kamal said, “was done before you came in.” On the issue of chemical weapons, the discussion turned to Iraq’s development of VX nerve agent during the Iran-Iraq war. After the war, Kamal told his U.N. debriefers, “the factory was turned into civilian production.” He added, “Iran also had mustard and sarin and they used mustard [gas] in small quantities. Some of the chemical components came for the US to Iraq”—that the U.S. supplied precursors for Iraq’s WMD is well known. Kamal continued, “[W]e changed the factory into pesticide production. Part of the establishment started to produce medicine.” He also said, “We gave instructions not to produce chemical weapons…. All chemical weapons were destroyed. I ordered destruction of all chemical weapons. All weapons—biological, chemical, missile, nuclear were destroyed.” (He subsequently clarified, “in the nuclear area, there were no weapons”—he had meant that the nuclear program was dismantled.)
The CIA document repeats the standard refrain that Iraq viewed Iran and Israel as a threat and that this therefore “could explain why Iraq might have continued to give the impression that it was concealing WMD—to instill fear or at least uncertainty in their neighbors”. The propaganda claim that Iraq itself wished to give the impression that it had WMD has been repeated many times over the years. David Kay, who initially headed up the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), the CIA’s effort to find WMD in Iraq following the invasion, in order to explain why the search had turned up nothing, suggested that Saddam had “bluffed” about having WMD in order to deter Iran. In January 2008, the media was abuzz with the supposed revelation from Saddam’s interrogation confirming that he had “bluffed”. His interrogator, FBI agent George Piro, gave an interview with CBS’s 60 Minutes in which he recalled telling Saddam, “And in June 2000 you gave a speech in which you said Iraq would not disarm until others in the region did.” The 60 Minutes report then inserted the claim, “That June 2000 speech was about weapons of mass destruction.” Piro reinforced that claim when the interviewer asked him why Saddam would put his nation at risk “to maintain this charade” of having WMD, to which Piro replied, “It was very important for him to project that because that was what kept him, in his mind, in power. That capability kept the Iranians away. It kept them from reinvading Iraq.”
The Associated Press reported that Saddam’s interrogation confirmed that he “falsely allowed the world to believe Iraq has weapons of mass destruction”. USA Today claimed that Saddam “said he was bluffing publicly about having weapons of mass destruction because he feared showing weakness to Iran”. The headline in the Christian Science Monitor declared, “Why Saddam Hussein lied about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction”; the London Telegraph proclaimed, “Saddam Hussein ‘lied about WMDs to protect Iraq from Iran’”; and Reuters announced, “FBI: Saddam told us he lied about having nukes to deter Iran”. But in fact the only lie was the claim that Saddam had lied about having WMD. The simple fact of the matter is that he never once claimed that Iraq had WMD. On the contrary, he repeatedly, consistently, and honestly denied this (the CIA document acknowledges in one place that “what Iraq was saying by the end of 1995 was, for the most part, accurate”).
The entire relevant section from the released FBI summary of the June 11, 2004 interrogation Piro was referring to stated, “SSA Piro then asked Hussein if he wrote his own speeches and they come from the heart, then what was the meaning of his June 2000 speech. Hussein replied this speech was meant to serve a regional and operational purpose. Regionally, the speech was meant to respond to Iraq’s regional threat. Hussein believed that Iraq could not appear weak to its enemies, especially Iran. Iraq was being threatened by others in the region and must appear able to defend itself. Operationally, Hussein was demonstrating Iraq’s compliance with the United Nations (UN) in its destruction of its Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD).” That was very far from suggesting any kind of confession from Saddam that he had “bluffed” about having WMD.
Furthermore, the speech referred to, contrary to CBS’s false claim, was not about WMD. Saddam rather had spoken explicitly with reference to Iraq’s conventional arsenal of weapons. He spoke of how the U.S. had “used the United Nations as a cover” to pursue its own agenda and then added, “However, we must protect our country because we will not give them Iraq. We do not like to collect weapons for the sake of collecting weapons. But we consider the provision of the necessary means to protect our country an ethical and moral responsibility that every Iraqi man and woman must shoulder.” He was thus speaking specifically of Iraq’s right to self-defense and of maintaining a capability to exercise that right. He continued on to say that Iraq would be “most enthusiastic” to limit its weapons, so long as Israel—which had bombed Iraq in 1983, a watershed event that precipitated Saddam’s decision to try to develop a nuclear weapon to deter any further such attacks—did the same: “We told President Husni Mubarak: You can go ahead and announce that the Arabs are prepared to join any treaty to rid the region of the so-called weapons of mass destruction. We told him: This does not mean only ballistic missiles, which are no more than artillery of a longer range.” The condition for this proposed disarmament was “that the Zionist entity is the first to sign such a treaty.” And while Saddam had used the words “weapons of mass destruction”, he was explicitly referring to long-range ballistic missiles, which, although proscribed for Iraq under U.N. resolutions, were nevertheless conventional weapons—hence his description of them as “so-called” WMD. “If the world tells us to abandon all our weapons and keep only swords,” Saddam continued, “we will do that. We will destroy all the weapons, if they destroy their weapons. But if they keep a rifle and then tell me that I have the right to possess only a sword, then we would say no.”
The CIA document concludes that intelligence analysts had wrongly assessed Iraq’s WMD capabilities on the grounds that: “A liability of intelligence analysis is that once a party has been proven to be an effective deceiver, that knowledge becomes a heavy factor in the calculations of the analytical observer.” But, remarkably, while making vague judgments about the bias of analysts such as this one, the document does not address any of the actual intelligence underlying a single one of the claims made by government officials in their efforts to manufacture consent for the war on Iraq. An examination of the claims that were made and the actual intelligence underlying them reveals the fact that, for the most part, the intelligence community had not failed in its assessments of Iraq’s WMD capabilities. On the contrary, the top analysts in their respective area of expertise on numerous key claims from the Bush administration in making its case for war had correctly assessed that Iraq had no such WMD capabilities.
How the CIA Coordinated a Campaign of Disinformation
For instance, take the claims that Iraq had reconstituted its nuclear program, belied by open-source information from the IAEA that it had been completely dismantled and that there was no evidence that Iraq had attempted to restart it. The “evidence” cited to bolster these claims were founded primarily on alleged Iraqi attempts to procure yellowcake uranium from Niger and acquisition of aluminum tubes to manufacture centrifuges to enrich the uranium for a bomb. Yet both of these claims were false and were known to be false before the U.S. invaded. And in neither case did the intelligence community’s assessment support the claims made by administration officials.
President George W. Bush infamously proclaimed, for example, that “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” This was a lie. The British government hadn’t “learned” that; it merely claimed this was so with no credible evidence. In fact, the U.S. intelligence community regarded this claim as so dubious that the CIA had warned the British government against including it in the white paper Bush was referring to. In fact, the documents underlying the claim were forgeries. The documents were eventually handed over to the IAEA, and in his briefing to the U.N. Security Council on March 7, 2003, Mohammed ElBaradei announced, “Based on thorough analysis, the IAEA has concluded, with the concurrence of outside experts, that these documents—which formed the basis for the reports of recent uranium transactions between Iraq and Niger—are in fact not authentic.”
The role of the CIA in controlling the flow of information in the coordinated effort to deceive the public is best illustrated in the case of the aluminum tubes. Dick Cheney declared that Saddam Hussein “has reconstituted his nuclear program to develop a nuclear weapon…. [H]e now is trying, through his illicit procurement network, to acquire the equipment he needs to be able to enrich uranium to make the bombs…. Specifically aluminum tubes.” He added, “[W]e do know, with absolute certainty, that he is using his procurement system to acquire the equipment he needs in order to enrich uranium to build a nuclear weapon.” He went further, suggesting that Iraq may have already obtained a nuclear weapon. When asked to confirm that Iraq did not at that time have a nuclear weapon, Cheney replied, “I can’t say that.” National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice similarly lied, “We do know that he is actively pursuing a nuclear weapon. We do know that there have been shipments going … into Iraq, for instance, of aluminum tubes … that are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs.” President Bush also said, “Iraq has made several attempts to buy high-strength aluminum tubes used to enrich uranium for a nuclear weapon.” The same day, the State Department released a report titled “A Decade of Deception and Defiance” that stated, “Iraq has sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes which officials believe were intended as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium.” On October 7, 2002, Bush repeated, “The evidence indicates that Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program.” He cited as “evidence” of this the claim that “Iraq has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes and other equipment needed for gas centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons.” He added, “Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof—the smoking gun—that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.”
Turning to the actual assessments of the U.S.’s intelligence agencies, the first CIA assessment of the tubes was published on April 10, 2001, and stated that they “have little use other than for a uranium enrichment program.” Yet no explanation for how this conclusion was arrived at was provided, and the report also acknowledged that “using aluminum tubes in a centrifuge effort would be inefficient and a step backward from the specialty steel machines Iraq was poised to mass produce at the onset of the Gulf War.” The Department of Energy (DOE) issued their own far more detailed analysis of the tubes the following day, which stated that their “specifications are not consistent with a gas centrifuge end use.” Additionally, there was no evidence for “related procurement efforts” that would be also required to produce centrifuges, and if the tubes were intended for this purpose, it would be “a centrifuge design quite different from any Iraq is known to have.” The DOE report stated, “[W]e assess that the procurement activity more likely supports a different application, such as conventional ordnance production. For example, the tube specifications and quantity appear to be generally consistent with their use as launch tubes for man-held anti-armor rockets or as tactical rocket casings.” Additionally, the lax manner in which Iraq had handled its procurement of the tubes “seems to better match our expectations for a conventional Iraqi military buy than a major purchase for a clandestine weapons-of-mass destruction program.” After further research, the DOE issued another report on May 9 noting that “Iraq has purchased similar aluminum tubes previously to manufacture chambers (tubes) for a multiple rocket launcher.”
The CIA responded with a report on June 14 acknowledging the error of its initial assessment. It admitted that the tubes “could be used as rocket bodies for multiple rocket launchers”, but nevertheless clung to its false claim that their specifications “are suitable for uranium enrichment gas centrifuge rotors” and that a conventional use was “less likely”. Once again, no rationale was offered for its differing assessment from the nation’s top experts on centrifuges at the DOE. The CIA issued another report on July 2 falsely claiming that they “are constructed from high strength aluminum (7075-T6) and are manufactured to the tight tolerances necessary for gas centrifuges. The dimensions of the tubes match those of a publicly available gas centrifuge design from the 1950s, known as the Zippe centrifuge.” It falsely stated that “the specifications for the tubes far exceed any known conventional weapons application, including rocket motor casings for 81-mm multiple rocket launchers.”
The IAEA first became alerted to the tubes issue in the summer of 2001, and immediately recognized that Iraq had previously used tubes with identical dimensions in a conventional rocket program, for which there was extensive documentation. A CIA analyst from the Center for Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control (WINPAC) identified simply as “Joe”, was largely responsible for creating and propagating the argument that the tubes were intended for a centrifuge program. He travelled to Vienna in July to try to convince the IAEA experts of his position, arguing that after cutting the tubes and machining down the thickness, they could be used in a centrifuge that would then have the same mass as rotors in a Zippe centrifuge design (named after Soviet scientist Gernot Zippe). The IAEA experts pointed out to him that there were numerous flaws in his analysis, such as the fact that he had failed to calculate the mass of end caps and other components of such a design.
As the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Report on the U.S. Intelligence Community’s Prewar Intelligence Assessment on Iraq would later observe, nine additional intelligence reports were produced over the next year discussing the aluminum tubes, but “[n]one of these assessments provided any additional information to support the CIA’s analysis”. The Senate Committee’s report offered useful insight into how the CIA was controlling the flow of information on the tubes, revealing how “Most of the assessments were disseminated in limited channels, only to high-level policymakers and were not available to intelligence analysts from other agencies.” When asked by the Committee why this was so, CIA officials replied that they were written as responses to specific questions and intended for the President. Apparently relying on the CIA’s false claim that the tubes were a “match” to the Zippe design and being out of the loop about the DOE’s contrary assessment, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) produced a report on August 2, 2001 embracing the CIA’s case with the comment that “DIA analysts found the CIA WINPAC presentation to be very compelling.”
On August 17, the DOE released an additional extensive analysis, once again observing, as had the IAEA, that Iraq had previously used tubes with “the same specifications” to manufacture rockets. The DOE reiterated that the tubes were not well suited for a centrifuge and that the aluminum used “provides performance roughly half that of the materials Iraq previously pursued.” Furthermore, the diameter of the tubes was smaller than any known centrifuge and “too thick for favorable use as rotor tubes, exceeding the nominal 1-mm thickness of known aluminum rotor tubes by more than a factor of three.” In other words, as the Senate Committee later noted, “The dimensions of the tubes seized do not ‘match’ the dimensions of any of Zippe’s centrifuge designs.” Moreover, the DOE also noted, the anodized surface “is not consistent with a gas centrifuge application”, which was “unlikely”. Rather, “a rocket production application is the more likely end use for these tubes.”
Apparently still relying entirely upon the CIA’s assessment, the DIA issued a report in November acknowledging that “alternative uses for the tubes are possible, such as rocket motor cases or rocket launch tubes” but parroting once again the false claim that “the specifications are consistent with earlier Iraqi gas centrifuge rotor designs.” The DOE tried to set the record straight yet again in a report in December that stated, “The wall thickness is three times greater than that for metal rotor designs used in high-speed centrifuges”—including the Zippe design. The DOE’s experts pointed out the inefficiency of any centrifuge built using these tubes, concluding, “In short, we judge it unlikely that anyone could deploy an enrichment facility capable of producing weapons significant quantities of HEU [highly-enriched uranium] based on these tubes.” One analyst later expressed his view to the Senate Committee that if Iraq truly intended these tubes for use in a centrifuge, then “we should just give them the tubes.”
The CIA was undeterred, publishing another report on August 1, 2002 ignoring the DOE assessment and claiming that the tubes’ supposed high tolerances, high cost, and secrecy in procurement were evidence that they were intended for centrifuges. The DIA the following month once again repeated the false claim that alternative uses were “possible” but “less likely because the specifications are consistent with late-1980s Iraqi gas centrifuge rotor designs.” Again in September, the CIA repeated as evidence for an intended centrifuge application its false claims of secrecy in procurement, high cost, tight tolerances, the anodized coating, and that the tubes “matched” known centrifuge specifications. It concluded that it was “unlikely” they were intended for a rocket program.
While administration officials stated as fact that the tubes were intended for centrifuges and that they couldn’t be used for any other purpose, that the nation’s top experts on centrifuges at the DOE disagreed became public information long before the invasion of Iraq. David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) released a report on September 23, 2002 that noted, “In fact, the intelligence community is deeply divided about the purpose of the tubing, with a significant number of experts knowledgeable about gas centrifuges dissenting from the CIA view.” Furthermore, Albright wrote, “ISIS has learned that U.S. nuclear experts who dissent from the Administration’s position are expected to remain silent.” In a second later report, Albright relayed that one expert “said that people in the administration can ‘release whatever they like, and they expect us to be silent.’” The New York Times similarly later reported that on September 13, after the administration had leaked information about the tubes to the press and made their rounds on the talk shows touting their claims, “the Energy Department sent a directive forbidding employees from discussing the subject with reporters.” Albright also made publicly known that the tubes would have to be modified significantly in order to be used for centrifuges, and also that UNSCOM had seen thousands of similar tubes in Iraq—for use in its rocket program. Further public information contradicting the U.S. government’s claims came when the British government released a dossier on September 24, 2002 admitting that “there is no definitive intelligence that it is destined for a nuclear programme.”
The CIA released an unclassified version of its National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraqi WMD in October 2002, which stated that the tubes “could be used in a centrifuge enrichment program. Most intelligence specialists assess this to be to be the intended use, but some believe that these tubes are probably intended for conventional weapons programs.” Thus “most intelligence specialists” included “Joe” and a number of analysts within the CIA and DIA, while excluding the nation’s top experts on centrifuges who had repeatedly pointed out that the CIA and DIA assessments were relying on false information.
By contrast, the classified version of the NIE noted that the DOE “assesses that the tubes probably are not part of” a nuclear weapons program. The State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), it also noted, “accepts the judgment of technical experts at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) who have concluded that the tubes Iraq seeks to acquire are poorly suited for use in gas centrifuges to be used for uranium enrichment and finds unpersuasive the arguments advanced by others to make the case that they are intended for that purpose. INR considers it far more likely that the tubes are intended for another purpose, most likely the production of artillery rockets. The very large quantities being sought, the way the tubes were tested by the Iraqis, and the atypical lack of attention to operational security in the procurement efforts are among the factors, in addition to the DOE assessment, that lead INR to conclude that the tubes are not intended for use in Iraq’s nuclear weapon program.”
The NIE included an assessment from the Army National Ground Intelligence Center (NGIC) that, due to the tubes’ specifications, they were “highly unlikely to be intended for rocket motor cases.” Yet the IAEA had confirmed that the Iraqis were attempting to reverse engineer an Italian rocket, the Medusa, which used the same material, 7075-T6 aluminum tubes with the same dimensions. Furthermore, in a written response to the Senate Committee, the NGIC acknowledged that “lightweight rockets, such as those originally developed for air-to-ground systems, typically use 7075-T6 aluminum for the motor casing because of its strength and weight”. The NGIC additionally acknowledged that “it is not unusual to use the aluminum alloy specified by Iraq for casings of unguided rockets.” The apparent explanation for the contradiction was once again the CIA’s control of information. One expert told David Albright “that he did not believe the CIA analysts presented NGIC with complete information about the case” prior to the publication of the NIE. The Department of Defense (DOD) similarly confirmed that the information its analysts had relied upon had been provided by the CIA. One engineer from the DOD told the Senate Committee that it became clear to him that the CIA “had an agenda” and was trying “to bias us, to encourage us to come up with [the] answer” that agreed with their own assessment.
With regard to the claim that the tubes were “excessively tightly toleranced” for use in rockets, a DOD rocket design engineer told the Committee that this could be explained because Iraqi engineers, who “don’t have 40 years of rocket manufacture [experience] like we have”, would “tend to err on the conservative side.” Another engineer agreed, “If you were starting from scratch, you would tend to go for a straighter, more tightly-toleranced product.” The DOE observed that this was common practice for inexperienced engineers trying to reverse engineer equipment, and the IAEA also confirmed this explanation. Further illustrating the dishonesty of the CIA’s assessment, the DOE explained that the tubes used in the U.S. Mark-66 rocket in fact had tolerances that exceeded those of the tubes procured by the Iraqis. As for the supposed “high cost” of the tubes, DOD design engineers responsible for U.S. rocket systems told the Senate Committee that this was “not correct at all”. On the contrary, high-strength aluminum is “around the world the material of choice for low cost rocket systems” and “one of the cheapest materials to make rocket motor cases.”
The CIA claimed in the NIE that it had successfully spun one of the tubes and that its test showed that it was “suitable as a centrifuge rotor”, even though the DOE had written an analysis of the spin test stating that it actually “would have precluded their use in a centrifuge.” The NIE did not repeat the false claim that the tubes were a “match” to the Zippe design, but did claim their dimensions were “similar”, and it omitted the fact that they were not consistent with Iraq’s previous centrifuge designs and the fact that the tubes’ specifications matched perfectly those used in Iraq’s existing rocket program.
After U.N. inspectors returned to Iraq under the Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), chief inspector Hans Blix reported in December 2002 that while it was still investigating the administration’s claims, “Iraq has also provided information on a short-range rocket that is manufactured using 81 mm aluminum tubes”, which was “not a new disclosure”. In January 2003, Mohamed ElBaradei briefed the Security Council that Iraq had explained its attempts to acquire the tubes “in connection with a programme aimed at reverse engineering 81-millimetre rockets.” In order to verify the Iraqi explanation, the IAEA had conducted an extensive investigation finding that “the specifications of the aluminum tubes sought by Iraq … appear to be consistent with reverse engineering of rockets. While it would be possible to modify such tubes for the manufacture of centrifuges, they are not directly suitable for it.” The assessment of the DOE, as already noted, had already been made public, and the INR’s agreement with the DOE was also reported by the New York Times in January. On January 27, ElBaradei briefed the Council again that after extensive investigation, the IAEA had concluded that “the aluminum tubes would be consistent with the purpose stated by Iraq and, unless modified, would not be suitable for manufacturing centrifuges”. He added that “we have to date found no evidence that Iraq has revived its nuclear weapons programme since the elimination of the programme in the 1990s”.
President Bush nevertheless claimed two days later that Saddam Hussein “has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production” and that he “has not credibly explained these activities.” Secretary of State Colin Powell repeated the administration’s case at the Security Council on February 5, declaring that “Saddam Hussein is determined to get his hands on a nuclear bomb. He is so determined that he has made repeated covert attempts to acquire high-specification aluminum tubes”. While acknowledging that there “are differences of opinion” about the tubes, Powell claimed that “Most U.S. experts think they are intended to serve as rotors in centrifuges used to enrich uranium.” The truth was that, as David Albright later observed, “The vast majority of gas centrifuge experts in this country and abroad who are knowledgeable about this case reject the CIA’s case”, including the nation’s top experts at the DOE who had “virtually the only expertise on gas centrifuges and nuclear weapons programs in the United States government”, as well as the intelligence branch of Powell’s own State Department.
Powell disingenuously and meaninglessly declared that “all the experts who have analyzed the tubes in our possession agree that they can be adapted for centrifuge use”. As one DOE analyst would later explain to the Senate Committee, you could also theoretically “turn your new Yugo into a Cadillac”. Retired Oak Ridge nuclear scientist Dr. Houston G. Wood, one of the top experts in the world on centrifuges, similarly explained that “it would have been extremely difficult to make these tubes into centrifuges. It stretches the imagination to come up with a way. I do not know any real centrifuge experts that feel differently.”
Powell lied that the tubes “are manufactured to a tolerance that far exceeds U.S. requirements for comparable rockets”, even though his own department’s intelligence agency had sent him a memo identifying this claim as a key concern and stating, “In fact, the most comparable US system is a tactical rocket—the US Mark 66 air-launched 70mm rocket—that uses the same, high-grade (7075-T6) aluminum, and that has specifications with similar tolerances.” He cited the anodized coating as evidence, asking why Iraq would “go to all that trouble for something that, if it was a rocket, would soon be blown into shrapnel when it went off?” In fact, the anodized coating was a clear indication the tubes were intended for rockets, the coating being to protect the tubes from the weather; and since the tubes would require machining to modify them for use in centrifuges, Powell, if he was honest, should have asked why the Iraqis would go to all that trouble if the coating would soon be removed to make centrifuges anyways.
Mohammed ElBaradei refuted Powell’s lies again in March, saying that “Extensive field investigation and document analysis have failed to uncover any evidence that Iraq intended to use these 81mm tubes for any project other than the reverse engineering of rockets…. Based on available evidence, the IAEA team has concluded that Iraq’s efforts to import these aluminum tubes were not likely to have been related to the manufacture of centrifuges and, moreover, that it was highly unlikely that Iraq could have achieved the considerable re-design needed to use them in a revived centrifuge programme.”
Thus, even before the U.S. launched its invasion of Iraq ostensibly to rid it of WMD because the world could not wait for the proof of Iraq’s possession of nuclear weapons to come “in the form of a mushroom cloud”, it was public knowledge that the British government, the IAEA, the top U.S. experts on centrifuges at the DOE, and the INR all agreed that the evidence did not indicate that the tubes were intended for use in a nuclear weapons program. On July 9, 2004, the Senate Committee published its report on pre-war intelligence. It concluded that “the judgment in the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program, was not supported by the intelligence” and, furthermore, that “the information available to the Intelligence Community indicated that these tubes were intended to be used for an Iraqi conventional rocket program and not a nuclear program.” In the CIA’s final report on the findings of the ISG in September 2004, the agency reluctantly admitted that “Iraqi interest in aluminum tubes appears to have come from efforts to produce 81-mm rockets, rather than a nuclear end use.”
Needless to say, given the actual facts, the narrative that the admittedly false claims that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program were the product of an “intelligence failure” cannot withstand the slightest scrutiny. This claim is completely fictional. Simply stated, the fact of the matter is that the government lied, and no attempt by individuals or agencies responsible for these lies seeking to obfuscate and deny that fact could possibly be considered a “mea culpa” by any serious and honest analyst. The failure of journalists to objectively state the obvious fact that government officials lied and the near universal willingness to repeat the official fictional narrative of “intelligence failure” following the invasion is a further reflection of the same intellectual culture in the U.S. that was witnessed prior to the war, when the mainstream media uncritically parroted the government’s claims and reported lies and deceptions as fact.
A Counterintelligence Success
One may similarly examine virtually every other aspect of the case for war and see the same repetition of official deception. On February 24, 2001, Colin Powell stated that Saddam Hussein “has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction.” When he went before the Security Council two years later to present the administration’s case for war, he knew he was lying. He knew that the claims he was making were not supported by the available evidence. He knew that his claims were contradicted by the available intelligence assessments of the nation’s top experts in their respective fields.
Another example of this was the claim that Iraq’s unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) were intended to deliver chemical and biological weapons. On October 7, 2002, President Bush declared, “We’ve also discovered through intelligence that Iraq has a growing fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons across broad areas. We’re concerned that Iraq is exploring ways of using these UAVs for missions targeting the United States.” According to Senator Bill Nelson, prior to the Congressional vote on the resolution granting the President the authority to enforce U.N. resolutions through the Security Council—(contrary to popular belief, the invasion of Iraq was a violation of the U.S. Constitution as well as international law)—members of Congress were told that Iraq could deliver anthrax to U.S. cities using UAVs. He testified, “I was told that not only did he have the weapons of mass destruction and that he had the means to deliver them through unmanned aerial vehicles, but that he had the capability of transporting those UAVs outside of Iraq and threatening the homeland here in America, specifically by putting them on ships off the eastern seaboard of which they would then drop their WMD on eastern seaboard cities. You can see all the more why I thought there was an imminent threat.”
In his February 5 presentation before the Security Council, Colin Powell showed a picture of an Iraqi Mirage jet aircraft that he claimed was spraying “simulated anthrax”. He claimed that spray tanks capable of dispersing chemical or biological weapons were “intended to be mounted on a MiG-21 that had been converted into an unmanned aerial vehicle, or a UAV.” He added that “UAVs outfitted with spray tanks constitute an ideal method for launching a terrorist attack using biological weapons.” After making these allegations, he turned his attention to Iraq’s actual known UAVs, which were smaller and lighter than a jet aircraft. These, he said, “are well suited for dispensing chemical and biological weapons. There is ample evidence that Iraq has dedicated much effort to developing and testing spray devices that could be adapted for UAVs.” He argued that, “According to Iraq’s December 7 declaration, its UAVs have a range of only 80 kilometers. But we detected one of Iraq’s newest UAVs in a test flight that went 500 kilometers nonstop on autopilot” in a “race track pattern”—that is to say, it “was flown around and around and around in a circle.” For this argument, Powell was relying on the ignorance of his audience. He could not have been unaware that Iraq’s UAVs necessarily functioned by use of a guiding signal that had a limited range. Thus, while the UAVs were shown to be able to carry enough fuel to fly a distance of 500 km, Powell in fact offered no evidence to contradict Iraq’s declaration that its UAVs had a range of 80 km. This was deliberate sleight-of-hand, a blatant effort to deceive. He further stated that “Iraq could use these small UAVs which have a wingspan of only a few meters to deliver biological agents to its neighbors or if transported, to other countries, including the United States.”
The U.N. inspectors, however, had not arrived at the same conclusions. In his report to the Security Council on March 7, Hans Blix only briefly mentioned Iraq’s UAVs, saying, “Inspectors are also engaged in examining Iraq’s programme for Remotely Piloted Vehicles (RPVs). A number of sites have been inspected with data being collected to assess the range and other capabilities of the various models found. Inspections are continuing in this area.” In summing up the matter of Iraq’s UAV’s in the book he later wrote on the inspections process, Blix wrote, “The U.S. administration had concluded—almost certainly wrongly, it now appears—that the drone was a violation of the Security Council’s resolution. At UNMOVIC we were not ready to make that assessment. This angered Washington, despite the fact that it must have been known that the U.S. Air Force itself did not believe the Iraqi drones were for the delivery of biological and chemical agents.” And, as Blix also noted, the Air Force was “the greatest repository of U.S. expertise on drones”.