Weapons of Mass
By Michelle Mairesse
| "It is not merely that speeches, statistics, and records of every kind must be constantly brought up to date in order to show that the predictions of the Party were in all cases right. It is also that no change of doctrine or in political alignment can ever be admitted."|
The Bush administration's commitment to Orwellian Doublethink and Doublespeak intensifies with every new disclosure of the deceit and trumped-up intelligence that fueled our invasion of Iraq. They promised us smoking guns but produced smoke screens.
Behind a series of smoke screens, the administration plotted the "preemptive" attack on a nation that presented no credible threat to the United States.
Although neoconservatives in the current Bush administration had urged Clinton to attack Iraq as early as 1998, the American public only got the first inkling of the neocon plan when Vice President Cheney began making incendiary speeches in 2002. Speaking at a Veterans of Foreign Wars Convention in late August, he unequivocally declared, "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us."
The source for much of Cheney's information was Iraqi defector and former head of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs, Lt. Gen. Hussein Kamel. Cheney remarked that Kamel's story "should serve as a reminder to all that we often learned more as the result of defections than we learned from the inspection regime itself."
Cheney and his war party were dissatisfied with the intelligence provided by the established agencies. For one thing, the CIA refused to credit the neocon claim that Saddam Hussein had been involved in the 9/11 attack. Shortly after the World Trade Center went up in flames, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld set up a new intelligence agency, the Office of Special Plans, headed by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. It would be independent of both the CIA and Pentagon and accountable only to Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld. Critics would accuse the Office of Special Plans of cherry-picking intelligence reports by suppressing information that undermined the war party agenda.
Seymour Hersh details the agency's evolution in the New Yorker (May 12, 2003). He quotes a former intelligence official's assessment of the Office of Special Plans.
"'One of the reasons I left was my sense that they were using the intelligence from the C.I.A. and other agencies only when it fit their agenda. They didn't like the intelligence they were getting, and so they brought in people to write the stuff. They were so crazed and so far out and so difficult to reason with -- to the point of being bizarre. Dogmatic, as if they were on a mission from God.' He added, 'If it doesn't fit their theory, they don't want to accept it.'"
Their agenda was to topple Saddam, occupy Iraq, and control Iraq's oil reserves and the Caspian Basin. [See What's Behind Bush's War With Iraq?]
To justify an American attack on Iraq, Bush administration officials insisted that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that were hidden from the United Nations weapons inspection team. The inspection team was moving so slowly, they argued, that Iraq could deploy its weapons at a moment's notice. By January, Wolfowitz was informing the Council on Foreign Relations that the U.S. should move swiftly to prevent Saddam Hussein from using his weapons of mass destruction. "We don't have a lot of time. Time is running out," he said.
In October, President Bush told a Cincinnati audience that Iraq possessed and was producing biological weapons and was seeking nuclear weapons. "We know that the regime has produced thousands of tons of chemical agents, including mustard gas, sarin nerve gas, VX nerve gas." He alluded to Iraq's alleged fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles poised to disperse chemical or biological weapons over the United States. He repeated his claim that Iraq was going nuclear.
"The evidence indicates that Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program. Saddam Hussein has held numerous meetings with Iraqi nuclear scientists, a group he calls his 'nuclear mujahideen'-- his nuclear holy warriors. Satellite photographs reveal that Iraq is rebuilding facilities at sites that have been part of its nuclear program in the past. 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."
Bush, too, relied on Kamel's testimony. He stated as much.
"In 1995, after several years of deceit by the Iraqi regime, the head of Iraq's military industries defected. It was then that the regime was forced to admit that it had produced more than 30,000 liters of anthrax and other deadly biological agents. The inspectors, however, concluded that Iraq had likely produced two to four times that amount. This is a massive stockpile of biological weapons that has never been accounted for, and capable of killing millions."
On February 5, Secretary of State Colin Powell testified at length before the United Nations Security Council. He asserted that"It took years for Iraq to finally admit that it had produced four tons of the deadly nerve agent, VX. A single drop of VX on the skin will kill in minutes. Four tons. The admission only came out after inspectors collected documentation as a result of the defection of Hussein Kamel, Saddam Hussein's late son-in-law."
The Kamel testimony, rather than bolstering the administration's case, demolished it. Among Kamel's interviewers were the former executive chairman of Unscom, a deputy director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and head of the inspections team in Iraq, and the former deputy director for operations of Unscom. The interview transcript contains these statements:"I ordered destruction of all chemical weapons. All weapons--biological, chemical, missile, nuclear were destroyed."When asked if he had restarted VX production after the Iran-Iraq war, Kamel replied,"We changed the factory into pesticide production. Part of the establishment started to produce medicine [...] We gave insturctions [sic] not to produce chemical weapons." (Original Article)
According to Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), the above quotes from Bush and Powell "refer to anthrax and VX produced by Iraq before the 1991 Gulf War. The administration has cited various quantities of chemical and biological weapons on many other occasions--weapons that Iraq produced but which remain unaccounted for. All of these claims refer to weapons produced before 1991.
"But according to Kamel's transcript, Iraq destroyed all of these weapons in 1991. According to Newsweek, Kamel told the same story to CIA analysts in August 1995. If that is true, all of these U.S. officials have had access to Kamel's statements that the weapons were destroyed. Their repeated citations of his testimony-- without revealing that he also said the weapons no longer exist-- suggests that the administration might be withholding critical evidence. In particular, it casts doubt on the credibility of Powell's February 5 presentation to the United Nations, which was widely hailed at the time for its persuasiveness. To clear up the issue, journalists might ask the CIA to release the transcripts of its own conversations with Kamel."
Fair's Press Release
On September 7, President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair, televised live from Camp David, announced that the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had issued a new report saying that Iraq was six months away from building a nuclear weapon. The president declared, "I don't know what more evidence we need."
But they would need a lot more evidence. What they had was bogus. Washington Times reporter Joseph Curl revealed on September 27 that there was no report of any kind from the IAEA saying Saddam was six months away from a nuclear weapon. On the contrary, a spokesman for the IAEA told Curl that when the inspectors withdrew from Iraq in 1998, "We had concluded that we had neutralized their nuclear-weapons program. We had confiscated their fissile material. We had destroyed all their key buildings and equipment."
Washington and London stopped referring to the non-existent IAEA document and began to tout other and equally bogus documentation for the claims that Saddam Hussein was armed to the teeth. Their next caper sounds like something out of a comic spy novel.
In September, the United States and Britain began referring to certain documents they had passed on to the United Nations. The documents, a series of letters exchanged between officials in Iraq and Niger, allegedly proved Iraq had attempted to buy significant amounts of uranium from Africa two years earlier. After independent experts had examined the documents, Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told the Security Council on March 7 that the documents were "not authentic." Among other defects, the forgeries included names and titles that did not match those of the individuals in office on the dates the letters were written.
On June 12, 2003, rather late in the game, we learn from a "senior intelligence official" that the CIA had investigated the documents early in 2002 and concluded they were phony, but had not revealed detailed results of its investigation to the White House or other government agencies. The "senior intelligence official" attributed this oversight to "extremely sloppy" handling of evidence.
This is doubtless the war party version of events, because the anonymous official adds, "It is only one fact and not the reason we went to war. There was a lot more."
If there was a lot more, why is President Bush backing away from his earlier declarations that Iraq was bristling with weapons of mass destruction? These days he alludes only to programs for weapons of mass destruction--programs, not actual weapons.
After presenting the neocon-hawk version of the phony letter caper, The Washington Post account continues with the CIA version of events:"However, a senior CIA analyst said the case 'is indicative of larger problems' involving the handling of intelligence about Iraq's alleged chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs and its links to al Qaeda, which the administration cited as justification for war. 'Information not consistent with the administration agenda was discarded and information that was [consistent] was not seriously scrutinized,' the analyst said."
The document most damaging to the war party's case was first leaked June 6, 2003. The Defense Intelligence Agency report, titled "Iraq: Key Weapons Facilities--An Operational Support Study" and dated September 2002, states that"There is no reliable information on whether Iraq is stockpiling chemical weapons, or whether Iraq has--or will--establish its chemical warfare agent-production facilities."In other words, the D.I.A. had no evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or posed an imminent threat to the United States.
The war party continued to beat the drums.
Both President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell cited evidence that Iraq had tried to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes, which it would then use to produce enriched uranium--proof positive that Saddam was proceeding with a nuclear weapons program. Not only did Director General of the IAEA ElBaradei report that his United Nations team, using advanced radiation detectors, had found no evidence of banned weapons or nuclear material, but also other experts denied that the aluminum tubes were suitable for weapons production.
David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, said he had briefed Powell's staff on his institute's findings about the tubes before Powell brought the issue to the Security Council."Despite being presented with the falseness of this claim, the administration persists in making misleading arguments about the significance of the tubes," Albright said.
Secretary of State Powell's February 5, 2003 presentation before the Security Council included references to an "updated" intelligence dossier. Two days later, the updated intelligence dossier self-destructed. Embarrassed British officials admitted that the bulk of the dossier had plagiarized published sources, including Jane's Intelligence Review and a graduate student thesis assessing Iraq's weapons capability in 1991.
Prime Minister Tony Blair barely acknowledged the annihilation of yet another fake document as he pointed to a new report and announced that Iraq was able to activate its chemical and biological weapons within 45 minutes. Anonymous officials revealed that Blair had pressured the heads of security services six times to come up with "harder" information.
Based on that hardened information, British troops served alongside American troops in Iraq when the "Coalition of the Willing" invaded Iraq. Now critics are asking Blair why no chemical or biological weapons have been found.
Robin Cook, former foreign minister of Britain and a Cabinet member before resigning over the decision to go to war with Iraq, answered that question in the Los Angeles Times ( June 6, 2003)."The least plausible explanation is that Hussein destroyed his means of defense on the eve of an invasion. The more plausible explanation is that he did not have any large stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction."Cook continues, "There was no hard intelligence of a current weapons program that would represent a new and compelling threat to our interests. Nor did the dossier at any stage admit the basic scientific fact that biological and chemical agents have a finite shelf life --a principle understood by every pharmacist. Go to your medicine chest and check out the existence of an expiration date on nearly everything you possess. Nerve agents of good quality have a shelf life of about five years and anthrax in liquid solution of about three years. Hussein's stocks were not of good quality. The Pentagon itself concluded that Iraqi chemical munitions were of such poor standard that they were usable for only a few weeks.
"Even if Hussein had destroyed none of his arsenal from 1991, it would long ago have become useless."
Coalition troops advanced to Baghdad but found no weapons of mass destruction. They were taken aback. On June 6, 2003 the Los Angeles Times asked Lt. General James Conway, commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, about the weapons of mass destruction U.S. intelligence had described. He said,"We were simply wrong. It was a surprise to me then, it remains a surprise to me now, that we have not uncovered weapons in Iraq. Believe me, it's not for lack of trying. We've been to virtually every ammunition supply point between the Kuwait border and Baghdad, but they're simply not there."
The war parties in Washington and London continued to hope. When troops found two mobile laboratory trailer-trucks, there was jubilation in the Bush and Blair camps. Powell had apprised the Security Council that 18 such weapon-laden vans were cruising around Iraq. Now President Bush prematurely announced the discovery of the smoking gun. Blair concurred.
An official British investigation of the two trailers of mass destruction concluded that they are not mobile germ warfare labs but were actually used to produce hydrogen for artillery balloons (The Observer, June 15, 2003).
As the war party's desperation grows, we can expect more episodes like this, and their self-serving orations will be met with cool skepticism.
The mood in America is changing. Representative Henry Waxman wants to know how the president could have referenced the forged uranium letters in his State of the Union Speech. He told Salon,"The most powerful argument that President Bush made to take the country to war was that Iraq was soon to become a nuclear power and that would change things dramatically--- Saddam Hussein would have the ability to blackmail other countries in the region and it also meant that any other kind of military action we might have to take against them in the future would be far more serious. It was the reason, quite frankly, that brought me to vote for the resolution."
Eric Margolis writes in his June 8 Toronto Star column that he has been contacted by individuals and groups of angry retired intelligence officers."According to intelligence sources outraged by the corruption and perversion of the national intelligence function for political reasons, the main source of lies and distortions about Iraq was Iraqi exiles, many on the payroll of the U.S. government.
"These anti-Saddam exiles fed the Pentagon and New York Times a stream of phony claims about Iraqi WMD. Though scorned by the CIA, they were closely linked to American neo-conservatives in key positions within the Bush administration.
"When the CIA couldn't find hard evidence of Iraqi WMD a new intelligence unit, the Office of Special Plans, was created.
"Intelligence community protests over this blatant politicization of national security were ignored. In fact, two more anti-Iraq intel teams, led by Pentagon neo-cons, were set up and all three reportedly fed exaggerated information to Bush and Blair. Similar reports came to Powell."
Vincent Cannistraro, a former director of counterrorism at the CIA, described to Sify News (June 3) the "very big disconnect" existing "between the intelligence as reflected by open statements by the administration before the invasion of Iraq and what they've found on the ground."
"Any kind of proof seen today is 'a far cry from the report put out in October 2002 when the Central Intelligence Agency estimated that there were several hundred tons of biological and chemical agents stockpiled in the hands of Saddam Hussein.'
"They haven't found anything like that at all, and certainly nothing that has been weaponized. Clearly there is a lot of accounting to be done and this is certainly an embarrassment to the administration."
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman believes that anyone who talks about an intelligence failure is missing the point."The problem lay not with intelligence professionals, but with the Bush and Blair administrations. They wanted a war, so they demanded reports supporting their case, while dismissing contrary evidence. . ."
"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."
Krugman got it right. Let the investigations begin.
- 9/7/2013: America's Empire Has No Clothes
- 7/13/2010: Iraq inquiry: Government 'intentionally and substantially' exaggerated WMD threat
- 2/19/09: Helicopters, Cover-ups and War Crimes
- 9/6/07: Bush KNEW There Were No WMDs
- 2/17/05: Niger Uranium Rumors Wouldn't Die
- 8/11/05: Senate Intelligence chairman quietly 'fixed' intelligence, and diverted blame from White House over Iraq
- 8/1/05: Uranium and Senate Report
- 5/6/05: Bush/Blair Smoking Gun
- 10/7/04: Bush's case for war in ruins
- 2/17/04: The WMD Lie Factory
- 9/10/03: Powell's UN Battle Cry Fails Test of Time
- 6/27/03: Michael Moore to Bush: I never promised you a ruse garden
- 6/21/03: Former General Wesley Clark says White House pushed Saddam link without evidence
- 6/21/03: Weapons of mass destruction in Iraq: Bush's "big lie" and the crisis of American imperialism
- 6/19/03: The Selling of the Iraq War
- 6/19/03: The Selling of the Iraq War
- 6/18/03: Reason to Deceive: WMD Lies Could Be the New Watergate