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Bush, the CIA, and WMDs
P resident George W. Bush’s attempts in November to silence critics on Iraq were undercut by congressional testimony from February 2001 by former CIA Director George Tenet (also made public in November), who said that Iraq posed no immediate threat to the United States or other countries in the Middle East.
Since a criminal indictment was handed down in October against Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby—for his role in allegedly leaking the name of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson to reporters—questions have resurfaced in Congress about whether the president and his close advisers manipulated intelligence in an effort to dupe lawmakers and the public into believing Saddam Hussein was a grave threat.
As a bipartisan investigation into prewar intelligence heats up, some key Democratic lawmakers, including Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), have unearthed unreported evidence indicating that Congress was misled. This evidence includes Tenet’s testimony before Congress, dissenting views from the scientific community, and statements from members of the Administration in early 2001.
Tenet told Congress (reported at www.fas.org) in 2001 that Iraq was “probably” pursuing chemical and biological weapons programs, but that the CIA had no direct evidence that Iraq had actually obtained such weapons. Such caveats as “may” and “probably” were removed from intelligence reports by key members of the Bush administration immediately after 9/11.
“We do not have any direct evidence that Iraq has used the period since (Operation) Desert Fox to reconstitute its WMD programs,” Tenet said in his 2001 agency report. “Moreover, the automated video monitoring systems installed by the UN at known and suspect WMD facilities in Iraq are still not operating. Having lost this on-theground access, it is more difficult for the UN or the U.S. to accurately assess the current state of Iraq’s WMD programs.”
Prior to 9/11 more than two dozen pieces of testimony and interviews of top officials in the Bush administration—including those by former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz—show that the U.S. never believed Saddam Hussein was a threat to anyone other than his own people.
Powell said the U.S. had successfully “contained” Iraq
in the years since the first Gulf War. Further, that because of
economic sanctions, Iraq was unable to obtain WMD. “We have
been able to keep weapons from going into Iraq,” Powell said
during a February 11, 2001 interview with “Face the Nation.”
“We have been able to keep the sanctions in place to the extent
that items that might support weapons of mass destruction development
have had some controls.”
“It’s been quite a success for ten years,” he added.
During a meeting with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer in February 2001, Powell said the UN, the U.S., and its allies “have succeeded in containing Saddam Hussein and his ambitions.” Iraq’s “forces are about one-third their original size. They don’t really possess the capability to attack their neighbors the way they did ten years ago,” Powell said. Powell added that Iraq was “not threatening America.”
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld seemed to agree with Powell’s assessment. In a February 12, 2001 interview with “Fox News,” Rumsfeld said, “Iraq is probably not a nuclear threat at the present time.”
Ironically, just five days before Rumsfeld’s interview, Tenet told Congress that bin Laden and his terrorist network were the greatest threat to U.S. interests. Tenet describes a scenario that six months later would become a grim reality. “Terrorists are also becoming more operationally adept and more technically sophisticated in order to defeat counter-terrorism measures,” the former CIA director said. “For example, as we have increased security around government and military facilities, terrorists are seeking out ‘softer’ targets that provide opportunities for mass casualties.”
Between 1998 and early 2002, CIA reports offered no details on what types of chemical and biological weapons Iraq had obtained. After 9/11, these reports changed. In October 2002 the agency issued another report (www.fas.org), alleging that Iraq had vast supplies of chemical and biological weapons. Much of that information turned out to be based on forged documents and unreliable Iraqi exiles.
The October 2002 CIA report stated that Iraq had been stockpiling sarin, mustard gas, VX, and numerous other chemical weapons. This was in contrast to Tenet’s earlier reports, in which he said the CIA had no direct evidence of Iraq’s WMD programs. Tenet said the new intelligence information in the 2002 report was rock solid. “It comes to us from credible and reliable sources,” Tenet said during a 2003 CIA briefing. “Much of it is corroborated by multiple sources.”
The intelligence sources turned out to be Iraqi exiles supplied by then head of the Iraqi National Congress, Ahmed Chalabi, who was paid $330,000 a month by the Pentagon to provide intelligence on Iraq. The exiles’ credibility and the veracity of their reports came under CIA scrutiny, but these reports were championed as smoking gun proof by President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and other members of the Bush administration.
Unanswered questions remain. Democrats are increasingly suggesting that the Administration may have known their intelligence was bad. Senator Levin released a newly declassified report from the Defense Intelligence Agency to back up his allegations that the Bush administration misled the public. “The CIA’s unclassified statement at the time was that the reporting was ‘credible,’ a statement the Administration used repeatedly,” he said. “What the Administration omitted was the second half of the CIA statement: that the source was not in a position to know whether any training had taken place.”
That issue, along with other reports, is the cornerstone of the bipartisan investigation into prewar intelligence. Levin’s office said he is going to provide the committee with reports from experts who warned Bush administration officials before the Iraq war that its intelligence reports were unreliable.
Jason Leopold is author of the memoir, News Junkie, to be released in the spring of 2006 by Process/Feral House Books.
Z Magazine Archive
CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
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BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
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LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
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ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
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CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
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IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
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