November 15, 2005
President 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 East.
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 early 2001.
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 own people.
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 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."
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 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 Feb.
12, 2001 interview with the Fox News Channel, Rumsfeld said,
"Iraq is probably not a nuclear threat at the present time."
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
"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
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
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 solid.
"It comes to us from credible
and reliable sources," Tenet said during a
2003 CIA briefing. "Much of it is corroborated by multiple
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 Friday, 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.
Jason 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 at www.jasonleopold.com