Saturday, October 02, 2004

Axis of Evildoers

Axis of Evildoers

The New York Times - The Nuclear Card: Skewed Intelligence Data in March to War in Iraq:

File this one under, "Because He Says So," and the facts prove once again the level of incompetence and agenda that border on criminality. Throwing out the phrases "War Criminals" and "Axis of Evildoers" may be over the top, but "colossal failure" certainly describes the chain of events.

"The case of Saddam Hussein, a sworn enemy of our country, requires a candid appraisal of the facts," Mr. Cheney said on Aug. 26, 2002, at the outset of an address to the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention in Nashville. Warning against 'wishful thinking or willful blindness,'' Mr. Cheney used the speech to lay out a rationale for pre-emptive action against Iraq. Simply resuming United Nations inspections, he argued, could give 'false comfort' that Mr. Hussein was contained.

"We now know Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons,'' he declared, words that quickly made headlines worldwide. "Many of us are convinced that Saddam will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon. Just how soon, we cannot really gauge. Intelligence is an uncertain business, even in the best of circumstances. Armed with an arsenal of these weapons of terror, and seated atop 10 percent of the world's oil reserves, Saddam Hussein could then be expected to seek domination of the entire Middle East, take control of a great portion of the world's energy supplies, directly threaten America's friends throughout the region, and subject the United States or any other nation to nuclear blackmail."

By now, the Vice President and the neo-con civilian leadership in the Pentagon were already cooking the books on the next intelligence estimate.

In his Nashville speech, Mr. Cheney had not mentioned the aluminum tubes or any other fresh intelligence. The one specific source he did cite was Hussein Kamel al-Majid, a son-in-law of Mr. Hussein's who defected in 1994 after running Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs. But Mr. Majid told American intelligence officials in 1995 that Iraq's nuclear program had been dismantled. What's more, Mr. Majid could not have had any insight into Mr. Hussein's current nuclear activities: he was assassinated in 1996 on his return to Iraq.

The day after President Bush announced he was seeking Congressional authorization, Mr. Cheney and George J. Tenet, director of the C.I.A., traveled to Capitol Hill to brief the four top Congressional leaders. After the 90-minute session, J. Dennis Hastert, the House speaker, told Fox News that Mr. Cheney had provided new information about unconventional weapons, and Fox went on to report that one source said the new intelligence described "just how dangerously close Saddam Hussein has come to developing a nuclear bomb."

Tom Daschle, the South Dakota Democrat and Senate majority leader, was more cautious. "What has changed over the course of the last 10 years, that brings this country to the belief that it has to act in a pre-emptive fashion in invading Iraq?'' he asked.

A few days later, on Sept. 8., the lead article in The New York Times provided a detailed account of the aluminum tubes. The article cited unnamed administration officials who insisted that the dimensions, specifications and numbers of tubes sought showed that they were intended for a nuclear weapons program.

The article never mentioned the ongoing debate over the tubes themselves.

The White House did much to increase the impact of The Times' article. The morning the article was published, Mr. Cheney went on the NBC News program "Meet the Press" and confirmed when asked that the tubes were the most alarming evidence behind the administration's view that Iraq had resumed its nuclear weapons program. The tubes, he said, had "raised our level of concern.'' Ms. Rice, the national security adviser, went on CNN the same day and said the tubes "are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs.''

But neither Cheney nor Condi mentioned that top nuclear design experts believed overwhelmingly that the tubes were poorly suited for centrifuges. Still the Vice President was certain that Hussein had "reconstituted his nuclear program," while a Gallup poll showing that 58 percent of Americans did not believe that the Preznut had done enough to explain why the United States should take military action against Iraq.

But in the C.I.A. reports, evidence "suggested'' or "could mean'' or "indicates" - a word used widely in a report issued just weeks earlier. Little if anything was asserted with absolute certainty. The intelligence community had not yet concluded that Iraq had indeed reconstituted its nuclear program.

The C.I.A. routinely checks presidential speeches that draw on intelligence reports. This is how intelligence professionals pull politicians back from factual errors. One such opportunity came soon after Mr. Cheney's appearance on "Meet the Press." On Sept. 11, 2002, the White House asked the agency to clear for possible presidential use a passage on Iraq's nuclear program. The passage included this sentence: "Iraq has made several attempts to buy high-strength aluminum tubes used in centrifuges to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons.''

The agency did not ask speechwriters to make clear that centrifuges were but one possible use, that intelligence experts were divided and that the tubes also matched those used in Iraqi rockets. In fact, according to the Senate's investigation, the agency suggested no changes at all.

The next day President Bush used virtually identical language when he cited the aluminum tubes in an address to the United Nations General Assembly.

If Edwards doesn't come prepared to discuss these inconsistencies on Tuesday night, we might be looking at four more years of neo-con agenda. The New York Times accounts for the faulty intelligence that went into the case for a pre-emptive strike against Iraq, and to say that the analysis was lacking would be a positive spin on the subject.

Colossal failure, again, is about the right way to put this.

At the Democratic convention in Boston this summer, Senator John Kerry pledged that should he be elected president, "I will ask hard questions and demand hard evidence.'' But in October 2002, when the Senate voted on Iraq, Mr. Kerry had not read the National Intelligence Estimate, but instead had relied on a briefing from Mr. Tenet, a spokeswoman said. "According to the C.I.A.'s report, all U.S. intelligence experts agree that Iraq is seeking nuclear weapons,'' Mr. Kerry said then, explaining his vote. "There is little question that Saddam Hussein wants to develop nuclear weapons."

The report cited by Mr. Kerry, an unclassified white paper, said nothing about the tubes debate except that "some'' intelligence analysts believed that the tubes were "probably intended'' for conventional weapons.

On Dec. 7, 2002, Iraq submitted a 12,200-page declaration about unconventional arms to the United Nations that made no mention of the tubes. Soon after, Winpac analysts at the C.I.A. assessed the declaration for President Bush. The analysts criticized Iraq for failing to acknowledge or explain why it sought tubes "we believe suitable for use in a gas centrifuge uranium effort.'' Nor, they said, did it "acknowledge efforts to procure uranium from Niger.''

Neither Energy Department nor State Department intelligence experts were given a chance to review the Winpac assessment, prompting complaints that dissenting views were being withheld from policy makers.

"It is most disturbing that Winpac is essentially directing foreign policy in this matter,'' one Energy Department official wrote in an e-mail message. "There are some very strong points to be made in respect to Iraq's arrogant noncompliance with U.N. sanctions. However, when individuals attempt to convert those 'strong statements' into the 'knock out' punch, the Administration will ultimately look foolish - i.e., the tubes and Niger!''

So Kerry has been criticized as a "flip flopper" for most of the campaign; these guys cooked the intelligence with an "Enron-sized appreciation of the facts" for sure. Heck, Ken Lay was small time next to the Administration. Create fiction inside the Intelligence Community for a case to go to war, and then dish out the no-bid contracts to Halliburton to clean up the mess.

Senator Edwards, the tired eyes of your country await you. Hammer the stake through the beast's heart.


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