One of the most outrageous assertions concerning the run-up to the Iraq war is that the US intelligence community made a series of honest mistakes and that in fact, most foreign intelligence agencies agreed that Iraq probably possessed weapons of mass destruction.
This is a pack of lies (incidentally, still perpetrated by talking heads on Sunday television.)
Left-wing magazine Mother Jones published an updated timeline of the events leading up to the war. The recurring theme: ALL the WMD evidence used to create support for the war was cherry-picked, uncorroborated, or outright fabricated, and this fact was KNOWN to the Bush White House. Indeed, it was known to many outside the White House, including laypeople like myself, who chose not to be blinded by the White House’s pro-war propaganda blitz.
Here is an excerpt from the Mother Jones timeline, focusing solely on the intelligence estimates and ignoring other data points (e.g., justifying torture, underestimating the cost of war, failing to plan for the occupation.)
- Chalabi-connected Iraqi defector “Curveball” – a convicted sex offender and low-level engineer who became the sole source for much of the case that Saddam had WMD, particularly mobile weapons labs – enters Munich seeking a German visa. German intelligence officers describe his information as highly suspect. US agents never debrief Curveball or perform background check. Nonetheless, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and CIA will pass raw intelligence on to senior policymakers. [Date the public knew: 11/20/05]
- Congress doubles funding for Iraqi opposition groups to more than $25 million; $18 million is earmarked for Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress, which then pays defectors for anti-Iraq tales.
- “Iraq is probably not a nuclear threat at the present time.” – Donald Rumsfeld
- Saddam “has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction.” – Colin Powell
- Lone CIA analyst known only as “Joe” tells top Bush brass that aluminum tubes bought by Iraq can only be for nuclear centrifuges. [Date the public knew: 8/10/03]
- Memo to CIA from Energy Department experts eviscerates “Joe’s” theory that aluminum tubes purchased by Iraq are for nuclear centrifuges. Memo given to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who later claims tubes are clear evidence of Iraqi nuke program. [Date the public knew: 5/1/04]
- Curveball granted German asylum, ceases cooperating. British spy agency MI6 has told CIA that “elements of [his] behavior strike us as typical of… fabricators.” [Date the public knew: 11/20/05]
- Minutes taken by a Rumsfeld aide five hours after the 9/11 attacks: “Best info fast. Judge whether good enough [to] hit SH [Saddam Hussein] @ same time. Not only UBL [Usama bin Laden].”
- Bush briefed by intelligence community that there is no evidence linking Saddam to 9/11. [Date the public knew: 11/22/05]
- Cherry-picking is now official policy: Rumsfeld sets up own intelligence unit to look for Iraqi links to terrorism. [Date the public knew: 10/24/04]
- Iraqi “general” later revealed as bogus Chalabi plant claims to have witnessed the Iraqi military training Arab fighters to hijack airplanes. [Date the public knew: 3/1/06]
- Cheney claims 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta met with Iraqi spy in Prague, a claim he’ll repeat long after CIA and Czechs disavow.
- Under torture in Egypt, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, top Al Qaeda paramilitary trainer, captured in Pakistan, invents tale of Al Qaeda operatives receiving chemical weapons training from Iraq. “This is the problem with using the waterboard. They get so desperate that they begin telling you what they think you want to hear,” a CIA source later tells ABC. [Date the public knew: 11/18/05]
- DIA intelligence summary notes that Libi’s “confession” lacks details and suggests that he is most likely telling interrogators what he thinks will “retain their interest.” Also states: “Saddam’s regime is intensely secular and is wary of Islamic revolutionary movements. Moreover, Baghdad is unlikely to provide assistance to a group it cannot control.” [Date the public knew: 10/26/05]
- Joe Wilson tells CIA there’s no indication that Iraq is buying yellowcake. [Date the public knew: 7/6/03]
- First of Downing Street memos prepared by Tony Blair’s top national security aides. “There is no greater threat now than in recent years that Saddam will use WMD.” British intel reports that there’s only “sporadic and patchy” evidence of Iraqi WMD. “There is no intelligence on any [biological weapons] production facilities.” [Date the public knew: 9/18/04]
- Downing Street memo: “US scrambling to establish a link between Iraq and Al Qaida is so far frankly unconvincing…We are still left with a problem of bringing public opinion to accept the imminence of a threat from Iraq…Regime change does not stack up. It sounds like a grudge between Bush and Saddam.” [Date the public knew: 9/18/04]
- Saddam “is actively pursuing nuclear weapons at this time.” – Cheney on CNN
- Downing Street memo: “There has been no credible evidence to link Iraq with Al Qaida…In the documents so far presented it has been hard to glean whether the threat from Iraq is so significantly different from that of Iran or North Korea as to justify action.” [Date the public knew: 9/18/04]
- Pakistani forces capture Al Qaeda “operations chief ” Abu Zubaydah and CIA ferrets him away to underground interrogation facility in Thailand. Bush told he’s mentally unstable and really only Al Qaeda’s travel agent. [Date the public knew: 11/2/05]
- Bush calls Zubaydah one of “top operating officials of Al Qaeda, plotting…murder.” Later asks Tenet, “I said he was important; you’re not going to let me lose face on this are you?…Do some of those harsh methods really work?” Zubaydah is then tortured and speaks of all variety of plots. [Date the public knew: 6/20/06]
- Primary corroborator of Curveball’s claims that Iraq has mobile weapons labs is judged a liar and Chalabi plant by DIA. A fabricator warning is posted in US intelligence databases. [Date the public knew: 3/28/04]
- Based on statements made by Zubaydah, FBI warns of attacks against railroads, Brooklyn Bridge, Statue of Liberty, and rushes agents to sites. [Date the public knew: 6/20/06]
- French debunk yellowcake theory: “We told the Americans, ‘Bullshit. It doesn’t make any sense,'” says French official. [Date the public knew: 12/11/05]
- To a deputy raising doubts about Iraq war, Rice says: “Save your breath. The president has already made up his mind.” [Date the public knew: 1/7/04]
- “We may or may not attack. I have no idea yet.” – Bush. “There are Al Qaeda in Iraq…There are.” – Rumsfeld. “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…and against us.” – Cheney
- Tyler Drumheller, CIA’s European operations chief, calls German Embassy in Washington seeking access to Curveball. Germans warn he’s “crazy” and “probably a fabricator.” [Date the public knew: 11/20/05]
- “From a marketing point of view you don’t introduce new products in August.” – White House Chief of Staff Andy Card on rollout of the war
- Bush claims a new UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report states Iraq is six months from developing a nuclear weapon. There is no such report.
- Page 1 Times story by Judith Miller and Michael Gordon cites anonymous administration officials saying Saddam has repeatedly tried to acquire aluminum tubes “specially designed” to enrich uranium. “The first sign of a ‘smoking gun,’ they argue, may be a mushroom cloud.”
- Tubes “are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs…we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” – Rice on CNN
- “We 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.” – Cheney on Meet the Press
- Bush repeats aluminum-tube claim before UN General Assembly.
- Cheney tells Rush Limbaugh: “What’s happening, of course, is we’re getting additional information that, in fact, Hussein is reconstituting his biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons programs.” There is no such new intel.
- American relatives of Iraqis sent as CIA moles return from Iraq. All 30 report Saddam has abandoned WMD programs. Intel buried in the CIA bureaucracy. President Bush never briefed. [Date the public knew: 1/3/06]
- Rumsfeld tells Congress that Saddam “has amassed large, clandestine stockpiles of chemical weapons, including VX, sarin, and mustard gas.”
- Classified UK memo notes there’s “no definitive intelligence that [the aluminum tubes are] destined for a nuclear programme.” [Date the public knew: 9/24/02]
- Institute for Science and International Security releases report calling the aluminum- tube intelligence ambiguous and warning that “U.S. nuclear experts who dissent from the Administration’s position are expected to remain silent. ‘The President has said what he has said, end of story,’ one knowledgeable expert said.”
- Britain releases dossier to public saying Iraq could launch biological or chemical attack within 45 minutes. Dossier later determined to be “sexed up.”
- “You can’t distinguish between Al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror.” – Bush
- Citing Libi intel, Rice says: “High-ranking detainees have said that Iraq provided some training to Al Qaeda in chemical weapons development.”
- Classified DIA assessment of Iraq’s chemical weapons concludes there is “no reliable information on whether Iraq is producing and stockpiling chemical weapons.” [Date the public knew: 5/30/03]
- In a Rose Garden speech, Bush says: “The Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons.”
- Rumsfeld calls link between Iraq and Al Qaeda “accurate and not debatable.”
- Bush’s address to nation: “The Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons, is rebuilding the facilities to make more, and, according to the British government, could launch a biological or chemical attack in as little as 45 minutes after the order is given.”
- National Intelligence Estimate produced. It warns that Iraq “is reconstituting its nuclear program” and “has now established large-scale, redundant and concealed BW agent production capabilities” – an assessment based largely on Curveball’s statements. But NIE also notes that the State Department has assigned “low confidence” to the notion of “whether in desperation Saddam would share chemical or biological weapons with Al Qaeda.” Cites State Department experts who concluded that “the tubes are not intended for use in Iraq’s nuclear weapons program.” Also says “claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa” are “highly dubious.” Only six senators bother to read all 92 pages. [Date the public knew: 7/18/03]
- Administration decides not to take out Abu Musab al-Zarqawi because, though he is not yet working with Al Qaeda, any terrorist in Iraq helps case for war. “People were more obsessed with developing the coalition to overthrow Saddam than to execute the president’s policy of preemption against terrorists,” a former NSC member later says. [Date the public knew: 3/2/04]
- Asked by Sen. Graham to make gist of NIE public, Tenet produces 25-page document titled “Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs.” It says Saddam has them and omits dissenting views contained in the classified NIE.
- Knight Ridder reports: “Several senior administration officials and intelligence officers, all of whom spoke only on the condition of anonymity, charged that the decision to publicize one analysis of the aluminum tubes and ignore the contrary one is typical of the way the administration has been handling intelligence about Iraq.”
- NSC memo to White House warning of the Niger uranium claim: “The evidence is weak…the Africa story is overblown.” [Date the public knew: 4/23/06]
- Bush delivers a speech in which he says, “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.” Also says Iraq is exploring ways of using drones to target the US, although Iraq’s drones have a reach of only 300 miles.
- CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin, writing for Tenet, sends a letter to Congress declaring that the likelihood of Saddam using WMD unless attacked is “very low.”
- Knight Ridder reports: “[…] officials charge that administration hawks have exaggerated evidence of the threat that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein poses… ‘Analysts […] are feeling very strong pressure […] to cook the intelligence books,’ said one official”
- Iraq submits a 12,200-page declaration to the UN documenting all its unconventional arms. US discredits the report because it does not mention the tubes or the Niger uranium.
- Asked by Bush if there’s any reason to doubt existence of WMD, Tenet says: “It’s a slam-dunk case.” [Date the public knew: 4/17/04]
- CIA balks at being made to bolster weak WMD intel. In a heated conversation with Scooter Libby, CIA’s McLaughlin says: “I’m not going back to the well on this. We’ve done our work.” [Date the public knew: 10/3/05]
- “The Iraqi regime is a threat to any American.” – Bush
- After nearly two months, UN’s Hans Blix says his inspectors have not found any “smoking guns” in Iraq.
- IAEA tells Washington Post, “It may be technically possible that the tubes could be used to enrich uranium, but you’d have to believe that Iraq deliberately ordered the wrong stock and intended to spend a great deal of time and money reworking each piece.”
- UN press release: “It would appear… Iraq had decided in principle to… bring the disarmament task to completion through the peaceful process of inspection.” Weapons inspectors have examined 106 locations and found “no evidence that Iraq had revived its nuclear weapons programme.”
- In State of the Union, Bush says “the 16 words”: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” Bush adds Saddam has “tried to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production” and has “mobile biological weapons labs.”
- “Iraq poses a serious and mounting threat to our country.” – Rumsfeld
- Notes of meeting between Bush and Blair make clear Bush intends to invade Iraq even if UN inspectors found no evidence of WMD. Bush told Blair he’d considered “flying U2 reconnaissance planes…over Iraq, painted in UN colours” to tempt Iraqi forces to fire on them, which would constitute a breach of UN resolutions. [Date the public knew: 2/3/06]
- During UN speech rehearsal, Powell throws draft written by Libby into the air and says: “I’m not reading this. This is bullshit.” [Date the public knew: 6/9/03]
- After reading draft of Powell’s speech, CIA agent emails his superior with concerns about “the validity of the information based on ‘CURVE BALL.'” Noting he’s the only US agent to have ever met Curveball (who was hung over at the time), the agent asks: “We sure didn’t give much credence to this report when it came out. Why now?” Deputy head of CIA’s Iraqi Task Force responds: “Let’s keep in mind the fact that this war’s going to happen regardless of what Curveball said or didn’t say…the Powers That Be probably aren’t terribly interested in whether Curveball knows what he’s talking about.” [Date the public knew: 7/9/04]
- CIA’s Drumheller makes personal appeal to Tenet to delete Curveball’s intel from UN speech. [Date the public knew: 6/25/06]
- Powell asks Tenet to personally assure intel for speech is good. Tenet does. [Date the public knew: 6/25/06]
- In UN speech, Powell says, “Every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we’re giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.” Cites Libi’s claims and Curveball’s “eyewitness” accounts of mobile weapons labs. (German officer who supervised Curveball’s handler will later recall thinking, “Mein Gott!”) Powell also claims that Saddam’s son Qusay has ordered WMD removed from palace complexes; that key WMD files are being driven around Iraq by intelligence agents; that bioweapons warheads have been hidden in palm groves; that a water truck at an Iraqi military installation is a “decontamination vehicle” for chemical weapons; that Iraq has drones it can use for bioweapons attacks; and that WMD experts have been corralled into one of Saddam’s guest houses. All but the last of those claims had been flagged by the State Department’s own intelligence unit as “WEAK.” [Date the public knew: 7/18/03]
- Reiterating Powell’s claim, Bush says an Iraqi drone loaded with bioweapons could strike US mainland. The US Air Force is on the record as saying that “the small size of Iraq’s new UAV strongly suggests a primary role of reconnaissance.” [Date the public knew: 9/26/03]
- UN’s Team Bravo, led by American bioweapons experts, searches Curveball’s former work site in Iraq and disproves many of his claims. [Date the public knew: 11/20/05]
- In radio address to the nation, Bush warns that “firsthand witnesses [read: Curveball] have informed us that Iraq has at least seven mobile factories” for germ warfare.
- Blix again tells UN Security Council that Iraq appears to be cooperating with inspectors.
- “UN weapons inspectors are being seriously deceived… It reminds me of the way the Nazis hoodwinked Red Cross officials.” – Perle
- US diplomat John Brady Kiesling resigns, citing the “distortion of intelligence” and “systematic manipulation of American opinion.”
- IAEA official tells US that the Niger uranium documents were forgeries so error-filled that “they could be spotted by someone using Google.”
- Blix tells UN Security Council that there’s “no evidence” of mobile bioweapons facilities in Iraq.
- “After three months of intrusive inspections, we have to date found no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapon program in Iraq.”—IAEA’s ElBaradei
- On CNN, Joe Wilson says, “I think it’s safe to say that the US government should have or did know that [the Niger documents were] fake before Dr. ElBaradei mentioned it in his report at the UN yesterday.” Decision to discredit Wilson made at a meeting within the Office of the Vice President. [Date the public knew: 5/3/04]
- “We are doing everything we can to avoid war in Iraq.” – Bush
- Cheney on Meet the Press: “We believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.” (Cheney later claims he misspoke.)
- Washington Post article headlined “Bush Clings to Dubious Allegations About Iraq” notes, “As the Bush administration prepares to attack Iraq this week, it is doing so on the basis of a number of allegations against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein that have been challenged – and in some cases disproved – by the United Nations, European governments and even U.S. intelligence reports.” Story is buried on Page A13.
- War begins.
So that’s it. I don’t think there is much doubt here. The case for the war on Iraq was based on trumped up evidence, purposeful misuse of intelligence data, the silencing of detractors, lies, intentional fabrications, dubious confessions obtained using torture, and purposefully ignoring expert contrary opinions both within the US intelligence community and from abroad.
Later rationalizations shifted the picture slightly, trying to pretend that the war was based on the fact that the possibility that Iraq had WMDs could not be excluded with absolute certainty, and that Hussein himself was interested in creating ambiguity. This may be technically true but it misses the point: Iraq was not attacked on the premise that they may have a few leftover chemical shells filled with mustard gas or that they may, at some unspecified future date, restart WMD programs. Iraq was attacked on the premise that Hussein’s active, reconstituted nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs represent a clear and imminent threat to the security of the United States.
It was bullshit then, and it is bullshit today.