Updated February 10, 2007
On Thursday May 29, 2003 Bush told Polish television. "We found the weapons of mass destruction.... We found biological laboratories. You remember when Colin Powell stood up in front of the world, and he said, Iraq has got laboratories, mobile labs to build biological weapons. They're illegal. They're against the United Nations resolutions, and we've so far discovered two. And we'll find more weapons as time goes on. But for those who say we haven't found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they're wrong. We found them." Bush's remark referred to two laboratories housed in trailers that had been initially identified by the CIA as "probably designed to product biological weapons." This week an official British investigation concluded that the units were not mobile germ warfare labs, but rather installations for filling artillery balloons with hydrogen, as Iraqis had stated. Questions about the administration's use of claims about Iraqi WMDs to justify the war made headlines in the mainstream media in early May after Defense Department Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told Vanity Fair magazine that "The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy, we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on, which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason."
On June 10, 2003, Lt. Col. Keith Harrington, who led a team in the unsuccesful search for WMD in Iraq, told the Associated Press. "It doesn't appear there are any more targets at this time.... We're hanging around with no missions in the foreseeable future."
Regular readers of alternative media might react to the current flurry of interest in Bush's misstatements concerning WMD with a big "so what." After all, there has been no shortage of questions about the tenuous "evidence" used to justify the war in Iraq. Even more-or-less mainstream publications like the Guardian and the Observer in the UK, and to a lesser extent the New York Times and the Washington Post in the US published stories in which claims by the Bush and Blair administrations were challenged, including the revelation that a key British document had been plagiarized from a student's thesis. But the recent round of questioning the WMD claims made its way onto mass media channels such as AM news radio stations. And the story has remained a staple of television political panel discussions for weeks.
He Said, We Said
With media already abuzz following leaks of Wolfowitz's May 9 Vanity Fair interview, questions about using WMD as a justification for the Iraq war gained momentum when the Guardian published the following, attributed to Wolfowitz:
Let's look at it simply. The most important difference between North Korea and Iraq is that economically, we just had no choice in Iraq. The country swims on a sea of oil.
The paper subsequently published a correction on their web site, and removed the original story. According to the Defense Department web site, Wolfowitz actually said:
Look, the primarily difference -- to put it a little too simply -- between North Korea and Iraq is that we had virtually no economic options with Iraq because the country floats on a sea of oil.
In context it is clear that Wolfowitz was distinguishing between options in confronting Korea, whose precarious economy might make it more responsive to economic and political pressure, vs. Iraq, whose oil economy could buffer the effects of similar measures. As the Nation's Matt Bivens quipped, "... it's a bit much to expect Wolfowitz, like a nervous criminal in the witness stand, to crack and start shouting, 'Yes! I did it! I lied! It was always about the oil! MOO-HA-HA-HA-HA! And I woulda got away with it too, if not for you meddling kids!'" Nonetheless, what resonated around the world was that Wolfowitz had used the phrase "sea of oil" in the same sentence with "Iraq."
On June 5 the Wall Street Journal, which has supported aspects of the war in Iraq from its editorial pages, published a story with the subtitle "Bush Team Bypassed Internal Disputes In Laying Out Evidence of Iraqi Weapons." The article documents discrepancies between intelligence reports on Iraqi weapons programs, and public statements by Bush and administration officials. Greg Thielmann, who was director of the strategic, proliferation and military issues office in the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research until he retired last fall, told the Journal, "Whole agencies ... were in disagreement" about a CIA report that concluded that Iraq had resumed attempts to obtain nuclear weapons. "The process was ... not intelligence informing policy, but policy makers going to the intelligence community to find ways to sell the policy that was predetermined," another intelligence analyst added.
Thielmann, who had access to classified intelligence while at the State Department, told the Associated Press that he believed Iraq could have posed an "imminent threat" to the US in two areas: nuclear weapons, and operational ties with al-Qaeda. Evidence to substantiate either possibility was lacking, however, he said, despite administration claims to the contrary. In particular, evidence of a nuclear program was exaggerated, according to Thielmann. "When the administration did talk about specific evidence — it was basically declassified, sensitive information — it did it in a way that was also not entirely honest," he said. Perhaps the most egregious misrepresentation was Bush's inclusion in his State of the Union address of the supposed Iraqi attempt to purchase radioactive materials from Africa. Thielmann believes that the source of the story had been discounted months earlier. "I was very surprised to hear that be announced to the United States and the entire world," he added.
Thielmann cites a February 11 statement by CIA Director George Tenet to the Senate Intelligence committee as an example of distortion. Tenet told the committee that Iraq "retains in violation of U.N. resolutions a small number of Scud missiles that it produced before the Gulf War." The underlying intelligence, however, according to Thielmann, is the less definitive fact that not all of the missiles known to have been in Iraqi possession prior to the first Gulf War could be accounted for.
A measure of the seriousness with which the administration regarded the controversy was a rare press conference by the reclusive Douglas Feith, undersecretary for defense policy, whose office had reportedly established an intelligence group to "check" the CIA's work. Feith disputed allegations that the Pentagon had pressured CIA or other analysts to provide information that supported the administration position concerning the threat posed by Iraq. "This suggestion that we said to them, 'This is what we're looking for, go find it,' is precisely the inaccuracy that we are here to rebut," he said.
Intelligence officials speaking to the Journal insisted that they were careful to include any conflicting evidence or agency disagreements in their reports. These officials maintain that this was consistent with the directives of CIA Director George Tenet, who has been particularly sensitive to the potential for criticism of US intelligence since the events of September 11, 2001.
We've noted previously in The Dubya Report statements about Iraq by Bush and others that went beyond intelligence reports. Some of these inconsistencies were restated recently in the Wall Street Journal and in John Dean's essay for FindLaw's Writ, subtitled "Is Lying About The Reason For War An Impeachable Offense?."
|Date||Bush statement||Intelligence analysis|
|September 12, 2002||Right now, Iraq is expanding and improving facilities that were used for the production of biological weapons.||Iraq had produced and used chemical agents in the 1980s and early 1990s, but there was no direct evidence that it still had stockpiles. Similarly, Iraq had not accounted for biological agents that it produced during the same period, but it was not clear that it still possessed them.|
|October 5, 2002||We have sources that tell us that Saddam Hussein recently authorized Iraqi field commanders to use chemical weapons -- the very weapons the dictator tells us he does not have.|
|October 7, 2002||Iraq has 'a massive stockpile of biological weapons that has never been accounted for…capable of killing millions.|
|October 7, 2002||We know that the regime has produced thousands of tons of chemical agents, including mustard gas, sarin nerve gas, VX nerve gas.|
|January 28, 2003||Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production.||CIA weapons experts argued that the tubes could be used in centrifuges to enrich uranium, but State and Energy Department officials disagreed. Citing an anticorrosive coating, the Energy Department analysts deemed the tubes inappropriate for use in centrifuges, and suggested they were more likely intended for use in rocket construction. A similar analysis was published by former IAEA inspector David Albright, currently president of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), "The CIA's Aluminum Tubes' Assessment: Is the Nuclear Case Going Down the Tubes?" ISIS Issue Brief. March 10, 2003.|
|January 28, 2003||The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Jan. 28, 2003||The CIA had doubts about the report beginning in 2002, and later concluded the British had been fooled by forged documents. Secretary of State Powell decided not to mention the allegations in his February 7 presentation to the UN Security Council. On July 6, 2003, State Department official John C. Wilson, IV, who was sent by the CIA to Africa to determine the validity of the reported uranium sale, wrote in a NY Times op-ed piece "that it was highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever taken place." Disputing the administration's claim that his report never reached top administration officials, Wilson told NBC's "Meet the Press" that "The office of the vice president, I am absolutely convinced, received a very specific response...."|
|March 17, 2003||Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.|
On June 8 the Telegraph (UK) reported that Alastair Campbell, director of strategy and communications for the Blair administration, apologized in writing for the dossier Powell referred to in his February presentation to the UN Security Council. In a letter to Sir Richard Dearlove, the chief of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Campbell apologized for discrediting the service by releasing to reporters a document assembled by the "coalition information center," which included a compilation of publicly available materials along with MI6 intelligence reports. The compiled materials included material "plagiarized and manipulated" from a 12-year-old graduate thesis, according to the thesis author Ibrahim al-Marashi. Marashi's paper asserted that Iraq was "aiding opposition groups in hostile regimes." The British dossier stated that Iraq was "supporting terrorist groups in hostile regimes." "By changing these few words, the February 2003 dossier attempts to convince the reader that the Iraqis had the infrastructure to support groups such as al-Qa'eda," Marashi wrote in the Telegraph (UK) in June. The information was also not put through the normal review for intelligence materials intended for publication, which includes approval by the Joint Intelligence Committee. At the time of its release, one senior intelligence officer disavowed any connection to it, saying "We are not responsible for this bastard offspring."
The apology from Campbell came at a time when Blair administration officials were facing multiple inquiries from members of parliament into political use of intelligence reports. Campbell has not publicly acknowledged that he participated in preparation of the January document. Members of the opposition Tory party have called for a judicial investigation into claims that he misled his country. Both the foreign affairs select committee and the Intelligence and Security committee (ISC) are conducting inquiries. Blair has resisted cooperating with either inquiry until recently. "We asked him in early May to co-operate. He has only replied now because of the pressure," said a member of the ISC told the Telegraph.
The day after the report of the Campbell apology, US News & World Report revealed the existence of a Defense Intelligence Agency report from September 2002 that concluded "There is no reliable information on whether Iraq is producing and stockpiling chemical weapons...." The article in which the report was mentioned described the frantic preparations in February 2003 for Secretary of State Powell's presentation to the UN Security Council. According to US News, representatives of the NSC and the Defense Department pressured Powell to include incompletely substantiated allegations about Iraqi capabilities. At one point Powell reportedly threw some papers in the air and declared "I'm not reading this. This is bulls- - -." Patrick Lang, a former government intelligence analyst on Iraq observed, "What we have here is advocacy, not intelligence work. I don't think [administration officials] were lying; I just think they did a poor job. It's not the intelligence community. It's these guys in the Office of the Secretary of Defense who were playing the intelligence community."
Shortly after the existence of the report was revealed, DIA Director Vice Admiral Lowell Jacoby emerged to deny that it was inconsistent with administration's warnings of an imminent threat from Iraqi WMD. Jacoby asserted that the report was not "intended to portray the fact that we had doubts that any program existed, that such a program was active, or that such a program was part of the Iraqi WMD infrastructure." An unidentified administration official complained to the Sunday Morning Herald (Scotland), "Look, we are not the only people who claimed Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. The rest of the world, including the UN Security Council, believed it too. The only person who claimed that Saddam didn't have weapons was Saddam."
Yet, as ISIS's David Albright has noted recently, US allies did not agree with the US assessment of Iraq's WMD capabilities. French intelligence services labeled US claims of an Iraqi nuclear capability a "phony threat" in September 2002, stating "According to secret agents at the DGSE, Saddam's Iraq does not represent any kind of nuclear threat at this time.... It [the French assessment] contradicts the CIA's analysis...." On October 12, 2002, Russian president Putin told the Guardian (UK) "Russia does not have in its possession any trustworthy data that supports the existence of nuclear weapons or any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and we have not received any such information from our partners yet. This fact has also been supported by the information sent by the CIA to the US Congress."
Heading into the fall of 2002, administration claims about Iraqi weapons varied. In a speech to the VFW in Nashville on August 26, 2002, Vice President Cheney stated unequivocally that "there's no doubt that [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction." But in his September 12 speech to the UN Bush claimed only that "Iraq likely maintains stockpiles of VX, mustard and other chemical agents." By September 26, however, (about the time that the DIA report was circulated within the administration) Bush state in a speech from the Rose Garden, "The Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons."
It is unclear whether intelligence reports reflected or affected the administration's statements. For instance, a CIA "white paper" issued on October 1, 2002, asserted in its summary that "Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons, and "Baghdad has begun renewed production of chemical warfare agents, probably including mustard, sarin, cyclosarin and VX." But the summary statements were not substantiated in the paper' supporting material. The body of the document stated only that "gaps in Iraqi accounting and current production capabilities strongly suggest Iraq has the ability to produce chemical warfare agents within its chemical industry," and that Iraq "has the ability to produce chemical warfare agents."
Still, on October 7, 2002, Bush stated without qualification that Iraq "possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons." He elaborated further, that "Saddam Hussein has chosen to build and keep these weapons despite international sanctions, U.N. demands, and isolation from the civilized world."
US News revealed the existence of the September DIA report, on June 9, 2003. The same day the New York Times published a story that appeared to further damage the credibility of the administration's justifications for war. The Times reported that two key al-Qaeda operatives in US custody independently told their interrogators that al-Qaeda did not work with Iraq. Abu Zubaydah, an al-Qaeda recruiter an planner prior to his capture in 2002, reported that the possibility of a relationship with Iraq had been discussed, but that Osama bin Laden rejected the idea. The report of Zubaydah's debriefing was circulated by the CIA within the intelligence community. Independently, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who served as al-Qaeda's chief of operations until he was captured in March 2003, told his interrogators that al-Qaeda did not work with Iraq. Although the administration has made frequent public reference to intelligence reports that supported their claims of a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq, they did not include information from the Zubaydah or Mohammed debriefings in their public discussions.
On June 17, 2003, Robin Cook and Clare Short, two former members of the British cabinet who resigned in protest of the Blair government's Iraq policy, told a committee of the House of Commons that the justification for going to war had been based on selective use of intelligence. Cook had served as foreign secretary, and Short was formerly secretary of international development. Both former officials told the committee that they had been briefed privately by intelligence officials, but that the briefings did not indicate any immediate threat from Iraqi WMD, as had been claimed by Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. "I think that is where the falsity lies, the exaggeration of immediacy," Short told the House foreign affairs committee.
What the Meaning of WMD Is
As the controversy grew, administration rhetoric shifted, possibly in anticipation of congressional inquiries and continuing questions from the press. Appearing on NBC News Meet the Press, National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice highlighted the October 2002 CIA report as the basis of administration claims that Iraq possessed WMD. Her appearance seemed to be an effort to change the focus of the discussion from whether the administration had manipulated intelligence reports in the pursuit of policy objectives, to what the CIA said in its October report. Bush himself had already moved away from earlier pronouncements. In a speech to troops at the US Central Command in Qatar on June 5 the same mobile labs that on May 29 had represented "the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons" that the US had "found," he now referred to as "capable" of producing biological weapons. As noted above, the official British government report identified the trailers as installations for filling artillery balloons with hydrogen. Moreover, the units had been sold to Iraq by the British company Marconi Command and Control.
Among those at least initially concerned about the discrepancy between the level of certainty voiced in the intelligence reports that have recently come to light, and that in the public pronouncements of Bush and administration officials, is Sen. John Warner, Republican of Virginia, and chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee. During committee hearings leading up to the Iraq war Warner repeatedly asked officials whether they were certain they would find WMD if the regime in Iraq was overthrown. Warner's committee and the Senate and House intelligence committees considered conducting and independent investigation of the administration's handling of intelligence concerning Iraq, but announced on June 11 that they would limit any inquiry to closed-door hearings.
Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, of West Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence committee called the planned hearings "entirely inadequate and slow-paced." "Iraqi WMD and links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda were the primary justification offered for the war in Iraq," he said. "Even while the search for WMD continues, the American people need and want to know whether our government was accurate and forthcoming in its prewar assessments." Sen. Joseph Biden, Democrat of Delaware accused the administration of "hyping" its intelligence. "What I'm accusing them of doing is hyping it. They created a false sense of urgency," he said, adding that the administration presented "a questionable and hard-to-sustain tie with terrorist organizations." Biden also accused the administration of exaggerating Iraq's capacity to use illegal weapons against U.S. troops, and how near the Iraqis were to building nuclear weapons.
With many of the doubts that are now finding broad media exposure having been expressed in some quarters for many months, the question arises, as Marion McKeone of the Sunday Morning Herald (Scotland) put it "Why America is Waking Up to the Truth About WMD." The participation of the US and British intelligence communities in the debate is undoubtedly one factor. The recent leaking of key documents and information, such as the DIA report, and details of the interrogations of al-Qaeda operatives, are regarded by some observers as a backlash from within the intelligence establishment against the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans, a small group conceived by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz in the aftermath of September 11, 2001 that became over the last year Bush's principal source of information on the two key matters used to justify the war in Iraq: WMD and the alleged Iraqi link to al-Qaeda.
Another reason for the resilience of the WMD controversy may be the complicity of mainstream media in promoting the bogus justifications to begin with. For example, on April 26 ABC News in what it termed an "exclusive" claimed that "U.S. troops discover chemical agents, missiles, and what could be a mobile laboratory in Iraq." For two days ABC broadcast the news that preliminary tests were positive for the presence of chemical weapons. When the Mobile Exploitation Team (MET), the military units with the special training and equipment necessary to make accurate determinations concerning chemical or biological weapons, concluded on April 28 that "the earlier reports were wrong," and that the site did not contain WMD, ABC quietly let the story die.
Slate's Jack Shafer and the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz have written about the New York Times's Judith Miller's reporting on the dangers of WMD. Miller's reports often mirrored the Bush administration position -- unusual for the Times. Kurtz cites internal Times communications that appear to demonstrate that Miller's chief source on WMD matters was INC leader Ahmad Chalabi. As we've noted elsewhere in The Dubya Report, Chalabi's INC has received substantial funding from the CIA in the past, and Chalabi himself, convicted of bank fraud in Jordan, is closely allied with the Defense Department's Office of Special Plans, who favor him for a leading role in the administration of postwar Iraq.
That Miller's reporting appeared in the Times, a publication frequently critical of the Bush administration, may have lent credence to her stories. As Slate's Shafer notes, however, from September through December 2002 Miller wrote about Iraqi dissidents and other incompletely identified sources, who claimed to be able to identify locations of Iraqi weapons or related installations. As of May of this year, the alleged weapons have not been found in any of these sites. In a related story, Miller wrote on April 21 that a leading Iraqi scientist claimed Iraq had destroyed chemical and biological weapons shortly before the war began. Miller subsequently revealed, however, that she had not been allowed to "interview the scientist or visit his home. Nor was she permitted to write about the discovery of the scientist for three days, and the copy was then submitted for a check by military officials. Those officials asked that details of what chemicals were uncovered be deleted."
Almost a month after the report ran, no evidence in support of the scientist's claims has been uncovered, and the unit with which Miller was embedded is preparing to leave Iraq. While Miller's case has received considerable publicity, it is unlikely that her situation is unique. According to the Post's Kurtz, "Chalabi may have been feeding the Times, and other news organizations, the same disputed information." And Times assistant managing editor for foreign news, Andrew Rosenthal, insists that constraints on Miller's reporting was no different that those on any embedded reporter. "We didn't feel this amounted to censorship," he told Kurtz. "We thought the added burden of the rules was justified by the access we got to what would have been secret operations."
With congressional inquiries taking place behind closed doors, it remains to be seen whether the administration will be called to account for manipulating intelligence reports and misleading the public. As the Sunday Morning Herald's McKeone put it:
... was Bush was duped himself, or did he dupe the people into believing war was necessary?
Or as John Dean wrote in his FindLaw column:
There are two main possibilities. One that something is seriously wrong within the Bush White House's national security operations. That seems difficult to believe. The other is that the President has deliberately misled the nation, and the world.
The independent intelligence firm Stratfor, LLC, suggests that there are three components to the issue. First, the main reason the US invaded Iraq was strategic (to improve US ability to pressure Saudi Arabia, Syria, and others in the region into suppressing al-Qaeda in their countries), and not about WMD. Second, the WMD argument was used primarily to justify the attack to coalition partners. And third, using WMD rather than the strategic reasons to justify the war "would ultimately create massive confusion as to the nature of the war the United States was fighting." Since Iraq had used chemical weapons in the past, Stratfor argues, it was reasonable to assume that Iraq possessed them. France and Russia were not interested in helping the US improve its strategic position in the Middle East.
US planners assumed that the idea of WMD controlled by Saddam Hussein would be sufficiently scary that France, Germany, Russia, and others would accept the idea of war that would destroy his weapons. This, however, was a miscalculation, as these countries saw US intentions for what they were, and turned around the WMD justification to argue for continued UN weapons inspections. The Bush administration assumed that all would be well once US forces were on the ground in Iraq. WMD would be found, the public justification for the war would be validated, and the (secret) strategic objective achieved. In Stratfor's view, the location of WMD, and whether the CIA or the Defense department shaded their reports in the interest of policy objectives are important questions, but secondary to the issue that the "American public had one perception of the reason for the war while the war's planners had another. In a democratic society engaged in a war that will last for many years, this is a dangerous situation to have created."
Former Democratic Senator Bob Kerrey, now president of the New School University in New York, offered a different opinion to The New Yorker's Seymour Hersh. Kerrey, who once served on the Senate Intelligence committee supported Bush's efforts to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Yet, while Kerrey believes that the establishment of a secular democratic state in Iraq will justify the war, he believes administration hawks have "taken the intelligence on weapons and expanded it beyond what was justified."It appeared that they understood that to get the American people on their side they needed to come up with something more to say than 'We've liberated Iraq and got rid of a tyrant.' So they had to find some ties to weapons of mass destruction and were willing to allow a majority of Americans to incorrectly conclude that the invasion of Iraq had something to do with the World Trade Center. Overemphasizing the national-security threat made it more difficult to get the rest of the world on our side. It was the weakest and most misleading argument we could use." "It appears that they have the intelligence.," Kerrey added. "The problem is, they didn’t like the conclusions."
Times columnist Paul Krugman has turned one of the administration's buzzwords against it, writing that it is "long past time for this administration to be held accountable." "The public was told that Saddam posed an imminent threat. If that claim was fraudulent the selling of the war is arguably the worst scandal in American political history - worse than Watergate, worse than Iran-contra."
In his FindLaw column, John Dean declares
To put it bluntly, if Bush has taken Congress and the nation into war based on bogus information, he is cooked. Manipulation or deliberate misuse of national security intelligence data, if proven, could be "a high crime" under the Constitution's impeachment clause. It would also be a violation of federal criminal law, including the broad federal anti-conspiracy statute, which renders it a felony "to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose."
It's important to recall that when Richard Nixon resigned, he was about to be impeached by the House of Representatives for misusing the CIA and FBI. After Watergate, all presidents are on notice that manipulating or misusing any agency of the executive branch improperly is a serious abuse of presidential power.
Nixon claimed that his misuses of the federal agencies for his political purposes were in the interest of national security. The same kind of thinking might lead a President to manipulate and misuse national security agencies or their intelligence to create a phony reason to lead the nation into a politically desirable war.
The Right Questions
A recent poll by the Pew center suggests that so far Bush's standing with the public has not suffered significantly. While 38% of those polled in March said that war could be justified without finding WMD, a month later that number jumped to 58%. But Pew center director Andrew Kohut said that Bush could find himself in political trouble if it becomes clear that the White House manufactured evidence or pressured analysts to skew their reports. But whether or not the issue reaches the scope of a Watergate, it is likely to be an issue in one form or another in the 2004 presidential campaign. Speaking in Iowa earlier this month, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean said, "This is a very serious matter. The president's credibility is at stake and unfortunately, the question becomes, 'What did the president know and when did he know it?'"
Sen. John Kerry's campaign has an insider's perspective on that question in the person of Rand Beers, a former counterterrorism official who served in the administration of four presidents but resigned five weeks before the war in Iraq began. It was Beers who replace Oliver North as director of counterterrorism in the Reagan administration. Yet two months after leaving the White House Beers volunteered his services as a national security adviser to Kerry. Speaking recently to the Washington Post, Beers said "The administration wasn't matching its deeds to its words in the war on terrorism. They're making us less secure, not more secure. As an insider, I saw the things that weren't being done. And the longer I sat and watched, the more concerned I became, until I got up and walked out." "Counterterrorism is like a team sport," he continued. "The game is deadly. There has to be offense and defense. The Bush administration is primarily offense, and not into teamwork." A comment from Beers's wife in the Post interview offers insight into the debate over the use and misuse of intelligence reports. "This is an administration that determines what it thinks and then sets about to prove it," Bonnie Beers told the Post. "There's almost a religious kind of certainty. There's no curiosity about opposing points of view. It's very scary. There's kind of a ghost agenda."
Yet, among the Democratic political hopefuls Senator Bob Graham may be best positioned to confront Bush on the issue of manipulating intelligence reports. Graham served on the Senate Intelligence Committee for ten years, and voted against the congressional resolution authorizing force in Iraq. Speaking in Iowa on June 8 he told his audience that the administration had "lied, in the sense that it didn't tell the whole truth." Graham opposed the war because he thought it would divert attention from what he regarded as the more important issue: the war on terrorism.
Here Graham may have found an issue with staying power. In a recent column for MSNBC.com Newsweek's Howard Fineman reminded readers that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein was, essentially, self-defense, and that the US is safer and more secure. The problem, though, is that there is little evidence that this is actually the case.
In early May, Army Col. Richard McPhee, who led a task force charged with investigating WMD sites, told the Washington Post that looters were systematically stripping sites before he could reach them. Fast moving "maneuver units" were unable to secure sites they uncovered, while pushing toward Baghdad. "By the time we got there, a lot of things were gone," he said. "You've got two corps commanders being told, 'Get to Baghdad,' and, oh, by the way, 'When you run across sensitive sites, you have to secure them,'" McPhee complained. "Do you secure all those sites, or do you get to Baghdad? You've got limited force structure and you've got 20 missions." Looters even stripped and set fire to a munitions factory that McPhee intended to use as his headquarters.
The Los Angeles Times reported on May 24, 2003 that "Coalition troops have been neither willing nor able to keep looters out" of the Tuwaitha nuclear complex, south of Baghdad, which housed "at least 13 metric tons of natural uranium," along with other radioactive isotopes of the variety needed to make a so-called "dirty bomb." In April the New York Times reported finding manuals and packaging for two drying ovens from Germany that could be used for processing materials for biological weapons. The ovens themselves had been looted. Not to mention the estimated 10,000 liters of anthrax, 4 tons of nerve gas, 3,000 tons of other chemical weapons, and 31,000 chemical munitions, all previously identified by UN weapons inspectors, whose current whereabouts are unknown.
So the question, says Fineman, is not "What did the president know and when did he know it?" but "Are we safer than we were on 9/11?"
Milbank, Dana "Bush Remarks Confirm Shift in Justifying War" Washington Post 1 Jun. 2003
Wolfowitz, Paul "Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview with Sam Tannenhaus, Vanity Fair"
Transcript. US Department of Defense. 9 May 2003.
Wolfowitz, Paul. Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Q&A following IISS Asia Security Conference Transcript. US Department of Defense. 31 May 2003.
Bivens, Matt "The Daily Outrage: On to Pyongyang" The Nation 5 Jun. 2003
Cloud, David S. "The Case for War Relied On Selective Intelligence" Wall Street Journal 5 Jun. 2003
"U.S. Allies Were Not Persuaded By U.S. Assertions on Iraq WMD" Issue Brief. ISIS. 9 Jun. 2003
Albright, David "The CIA's Aluminum Tubes' Assessment: Is the Nuclear Case Going Down the Tubes?" Issue Brief. ISIS. 10 Mar. 2003
Brown, Colin and Francis Elliott "No 10 says sorry to MI6 for 'dodgy' Iraq dossier" Telegraph 8 Jun. 2003
Jones, George and Sean O'Neill "Labour 'doctored' second dossier on WMDs" Telegraph 5 Jun. 2003
Lumpkin, John J. "Ex-Official: Evidence Distorted for War" Associated Press. 7 Jun. 2003
Auster, Bruce B. et al. "Truth and consequences" US News & World Report 9 Jun. 2003
Priest, Dana and Walter Pincus "Bush Certainty On Iraq Arms Went Beyond Analysts' Views" Washington Post 7 Jun. 2003
Dewar, Helen and Peter Slevin "Hill GOP Rejects Wider Iraq Intelligence Probe" Washington Post 12 Jun. 2003
Risen, James "Captives Deny Qaeda Worked With Baghdad" New York Times 9 Jun. 2003
Sanger, David E. "Bush Aides Deny Effort to Slant Data on Iraq Arms" New York Times 9 Jun. 2003
Beaumont, Peter, et al. "Iraqi mobile labs nothing to do with germ warfare, report finds" Observer 15 Jun. 2003
Kurtz, Howard "Intra-Times Battle Over Iraqi Weapons" Washington Post 26 May 2003
"ABC's Weapons "Scoop" Turns Up Empty" FAIR 29 Apr. 2003
"WMD" Stratfor. 5 Jun. 2003
Dean, John. "Missing Weapons Of Mass Destruction: Is Lying About The Reason For War An Impeachable Offense?" FindLaw's Writ 6 Jun. 2003.
Cummings, Jeanne "Public Support Aids Bush Effort To Deflect Flak Over Iraq WMD" Wall Street Journal. 13 Jun. 2003
Neal, Terry M. "Missing Weapons May Become Election Issue" Washington Post 11 Jun. 2003
Gellman, Barton "Frustrated, U.S. Arms Team to Leave Iraq " Washington Post 11 May 2003.
Shafer, Jack "Reassessing Miller" Slate 29 May 2003
Lincy, Valerie and Kelly Motz "We Still Face the Menace of Iraq’s Hidden Horrors" Los Angeles Times 24 May 2003
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Fineman, Howard "Are Demos asking the right question?" MSNBC.com. 11 Jun. 2003
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Gerstenzang, James "White House on Defensive Over Intelligence" LA Times 9 Jul. 2003
- Russ Baker's "All Spin All The Time" from TomPaine.com, and the Guardian (UK)'s "White House 'lied about Saddam threat'".
- Inquiry on Intelligence Gaps May Reach to White House (New York Times, February 9, 2007)