Bush, the CIA, and WMDs


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.

Leopold is author of the memoir,

News Junkie,

to be released in the spring of 2006 by Process/Feral House Books.