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Saturday, September 11, 2004

The Chicken, or the Egg?

The past few weeks, I've been completing my paper for the October meeting of the Working Group on Preemptive and Preventive Military Intervention, which is under the auspices of the University of Pittsburgh's Ridgway Center for International Security Studies.

My paper directly examines the important question the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence decided to avoid: Did the Bush administration misuse the Iraq WMD intelligence available to them?

Supposedly, the Senate Intell Committee, along with the presidentially appointed bipartisan Robb-Silberman panel, will be reporting on this question in 2005.

I'm tentatively ready to report some results now.

Even though I focused on the nuclear intelligence (it's only a 30 page paper), it is fairly clear that the administration ignored caveats in the Iraq WMD data, distorted the meaning of some of the most critical intelligence, and outright lied (misspoke?) about several very specific points.

My paper should be available soon as a Working Paper at the Ridgway website.

In any event, while writing, I spent a lot of time thinking about a point made in the end material to the Senate Intell Report, by Democratic Senators John D. Rockefeller IV (Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee), Senator Carl Levin and Senator Richard Durbin.

Vice President Cheney was saying worrisome things about Iraq's WMD program in August 2002, Condi Rice warned about smoking gun mushroom clouds in early September, and President Bush spoke to the UN on the 12th of September -- but the intelligence community didn't start producing a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) until requested by members of Congress in mid-September 2002 and did not complete it until October 1, 2002. Moreover, if you really look, you can find some members of the Bush administration hyping Iraqi WMD throughout 2002.

The December 2001 NIE, which should have been dispositive at the time the political figures were speaking, was consistent with prior NIEs, which did not much worry about Iraqi WMD. This is why Colin Powell, for example, could dismiss Iraq WMD threats in 2001, before 9/11.

From 1998 through October 1, 2002, the intelligence community simply did not produce a comprehensive assessment saying that Iraq had reconstituted its nuclear program. However, look at the dates on these quotes, all of which are cited by Rockefeller, Levin and Durbin:
“[Saddam Hussein] is a dangerous man who possesses the world’s most dangerous weapons.” (President Bush, Press Conference, March 22, 2002)

“But we know that Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons…Many of us are convinced that Saddam will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon.” (Vice President Cheney, Speech to the VFW’s 103 rd National Convention, August 26, 2002)

“We do know that there have been shipments going… into Iraq, for instance, of aluminum tubes that really are only suited to – high-quality aluminum tools that are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs.” (National Security Advisor Rice, Late Edition, September 8, 2002)

“Very likely all they need to complete a weapon is fissile material – and they are, at this moment, seeking that material – both from foreign sources and the capability to produce it indigenously.” (Secretary Rumsfeld, Testimony Before the Senate Armed Services Committee, September 19, 2002)

“[Iraq] has weapons of mass destruction. And the battlefield has now shifted to America…” (President Bush, Remarks at OHS Complex, September 19, 2002)

"We know they have weapons of mass destruction. We know they have active programs. There isn’t any debate about it.” (Secretary Rumsfeld, DoD News Briefing, September 26, 2002)
Here's the Rockefeller, Levin and Durbin claim:
In the months before the production of the Intelligence Community’s October 2002 Estimate, Administration officials undertook a relentless public campaign which repeatedly characterized the Iraq weapons of mass destruction program in more ominous and threatening terms than the Intelligence Community analysis substantiated....

These high-profile statements in support of the Administration’s policy of regime change were made in advance of any meaningful intelligence analysis and created pressure on the Intelligence Community to conform to the certainty contained in the pronouncements.
Worse, it now seems apparent that the intelligence about the WMD programs really wasn't new, justifying a change. Instead, at the very moment the Bush administration was hyping intelligence that had not yet been collected into a NIE, the NIE in preparation was changing to reflect the overblown rhetoric:
As the Bush Administration prepared for war against Iraq in the fall of 2002, the Intelligence Community judgments on Iraq shifted significantly from many of the corresponding assessments contained in earlier analytical products.
The Senators conclude that intelligence analysts were both directly and indirectly pressured to produce a report that hyped the dubious intelligence.

I ignored the question of pressure and simply pointed out that the claims did not reflect the intelligence judgment at the time they were made -- and were also far more certain and misleading than the NIE that was produced.

It's a very good reason to dump Bush. Remind your skeptical friends. BTW, Sundance is running the documentary "Uncovered: The Whole Truth About the Iraq War." It'll be on TV Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, then again near the end of the month.

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