George W. Bush's attempt Friday to silence critics who say his administration
manipulated prewar intelligence on Iraq is undercut by congressional testimony
given in February 2001 by former CIA Director George Tenet, who said that Iraq
posed no immediate threat to the United States or other countries in the Middle
Details of Tenet's testimony have not been reported before.
Since a criminal indictment was handed up last month 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 in an attempt to muzzle criticism
of the administration's rationale for war, questions have resurfaced in the
halls of Congress about whether the president and his close advisers
manipulated intelligence in an effort to dupe lawmakers and the American public
into believing Saddam Hussein was a grave threat.
The White House insists that such a suggestion is ludicrous
and wholly political. It has launched a full-scale public relations effort to
restate its case for war by saying Democrats saw the same intelligence as their
Republican counterparts prior to the March 2003 invasion.
But as a bipartisan investigation into prewar intelligence
heats up, some key Democratic lawmakers, including Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), have
unearthed unreported evidence that indicates Congress was misled. This evidence
includes Tenet's testimony before Congress, dissenting views from the
scientific community and statements made by members of the administration in
Tenet told Congress in February 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.
However, such caveats as "may" and "probably" were removed
from intelligence reports by key members of the Bush administration immediately
after 9/11 when discussing Iraq.
"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 an agency report to Congress Feb. 7, 2001. "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-the-ground
access, it is more difficult for the UN or the U.S. to accurately assess the
current state of Iraq's WMD programs."
In fact, more than two dozen pieces of testimony and
interviews of top officials in the Bush administration, including those given
by former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz prior to 9-11, show that the U.S.
never believed Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat to anyone other than his
Powell said the U.S. had successfully "contained"
Iraq in the years since the first Gulf War. Further, he said 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 Feb. 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
"It's been quite a success for 10 years," he
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."
Saddam's "forces are about one-third their original
size. They don't really possess the capability to attack their neighbors the
way they did 10 years ago," Powell said.
Powell added that Iraq was "not threatening
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld seemed to agree with
Powell's assessment. In a Feb. 12, 2001, interview with the Fox News Channel,
Rumsfeld said, "Iraq is probably not a nuclear threat at the present
Ironically, just five days before Rumsfeld's Fox News interview, Tenet
told Congress that Osama bin Laden and his al-Qa'ida terrorist network remained
the single greatest threat to U.S. interests. Tenet eerily describes in the
report 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
"Osama bin Laden and his global network of lieutenants
and associates remain the most immediate and serious threat," he added.
Between 1998 and early 2002, the CIA's reports on the
so-called terror threat offered no details on what types of chemical and
biological weapons Iraq had obtained. After 9/11, however, these reports
radically changed. In October 2002, the agency issued another report,
this time alleging Iraq had vast supply 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 stark contrast to Tenet's earlier reports which said the agency had no
evidence to support such claims. And unlike testimony Tenet gave a year
earlier, in which he said the CIA had no direct evidence of Iraq's WMD
programs, Tenet said the intelligence information in the 2002 report was rock
"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 scrutiny by
the CIA but these reports were championed as smoking gun proof by President
Bush, Vice President Dick 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.
Sen. Levin's office directed RAW
STORY to a statement
the senator released last Thursday, claiming that the administration's
assertion that al-Qaeda was providing Iraq with chemical and biological weapons
training was based on bogus evidence and a source who knowingly lied about
al-Qaeda's ties to Iraq. The Michigan Democrat also 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 now the cornerstone
of the bipartisan investigation into prewar intelligence.
Levin's office said the senator is going to provide the
committee investigating prewar intelligence with reports from experts who
warned officials in the Bush administration before the Iraq war that
intelligence reports showing Iraq was stockpiling chemical and biological
weapons were unreliable.
Leopold has written about corporate malfeasance for The Wall Street Journal,
The Financial Times, The Nation, The San Francisco Chronicle, and numerous
other national and international publications. He is the author of the
explosive memoir, "News Junkie," to be released in the spring of 2006
by Process/Feral House Books. Visit Leopold's
website for updates.