months before the United States was dead-set on invading Iraq to rid
the country of its alleged weapons of mass destruction, experts in
the field of nuclear science warned officials in the Bush administration
that intelligence reports showing Iraq was stockpiling chemical and
biological weapons was unreliable and that the country did not pose
an imminent threat to its neighbors in the Middle East or the U.S.
But the dissenters were told to keep quiet by high-level administration
officials in the White House because the Bush administration had already
decided that military force would be used to overthrow the regime
of Iraq's President Saddam Hussein, interviews and documents have
The most vocal opponent to intelligence information supplied by the
CIA to the hawks in the Bush administration about the so-called Iraqi
threat to national security was David Albright, a former United Nations
weapons inspector and the president and founder of the Institute for
Science and International Security, a Washington, D.C. based group
that gathers information for the public and the White House on nuclear
With the likelihood of finding WMD in Iraq becoming increasingly remote,
new information, such as documents and interviews provided by Albright
and other weapons experts, prove that the White House did not suffer
so much from an intelligence failure on Iraq's WMD, but instead shows
how the Bush administration embellished reams of intelligence and
relied on murky intelligence in order to get Congress and the public
to back the war. That may explain why it is becoming so difficult
to find WMD: Because it's entirely likely that the weapons don't exist.
"A critical question is whether the Bush Administration has deliberately
misled the public and other governments in playing a 'nuclear card'
that it knew would strengthen public support for war," Albright
said in a March 10 assessment of the CIA's intelligence, which is
posted on the ISIS website.
John Dean, the former counsel to President Richard Nixon, wrote in
a column this week that if President Bush mislead the public in building
a case for war in Iraq, a case for impeachment could be made.
"Presidential statements, particularly on matters of national
security, are held to an expectation of the highest standard of truthfulness,"
Dean wrote this week. "A president cannot stretch, twist or distort
facts and get away with it. President Lyndon Johnson's distortions
of the truth about Vietnam forced him to stand down from reelection.
President Richard Nixon's false statements about Watergate forced
In September, USA Today reported that "the Bush administration
is expanding on and in some cases contradicting U.S. intelligence
reports in making the case for an invasion of Iraq, interviews with
administration and intelligence officials indicate."
"Administration officials accuse Iraq of having ties to al-Qaeda
terrorists and of amassing weapons of mass destruction despite uncertain
and sometimes contrary intelligence on these issues, according to
officials," the paper reported. "In some cases, top administration
officials disagree outright with what the CIA and other intelligence
agencies report. For example, they repeat accounts of al-Qaeda members
seeking refuge in Iraq and of terrorist operatives meeting with Iraqi
intelligence officials, even though U.S. intelligence reports raise
doubts about such links. On Iraqi weapons programs, administration
officials draw the most pessimistic conclusions from ambiguous evidence."
In secret intelligence briefings last September on the Iraqi threat,
House Minority Whip Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said administration officials
were presenting "embellishments" on information long known
A senior Bush administration official conceded privately that there
are large gaps in U.S. knowledge about Iraqi weapons programs, USA
The concerns jibe with warnings about the CIA's intelligence information
which Albright first raised last September, when the agency zeroed
in on high-strength aluminum tubes Iraq was trying to obtain as evidence
of the country's active near-complete nuclear weapons program.
The case of the aluminum tubes is significant because President Bush
identified it during a speech last year as evidence of Iraq's nuclear
weapons program and used it to rally the public and several U.N. countries
in supporting the war. But Albright said many officials in the intelligence
community knew the tubes weren't meant to build a nuclear weapon.
"The CIA has concluded that these tubes were specifically manufactured
for use in gas centrifuges to enrich uranium," Albright said.
"Many in the expert community both inside and outside government,
however, do not agree with this conclusion. The vast majority of gas
centrifuge experts in this country and abroad who are knowledgeable
about this case reject the CIA's case and do not believe that the
tubes are specifically designed for gas centrifuges. In addition,
International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors have consistently expressed
skepticism that the tubes are for centrifuges."
"After months of investigation, the administration has failed
to prove its claim that the tubes are intended for use in an Iraqi
gas centrifuge program," Albright added. "Despite being
presented with evidence countering this claim, the administration
persists in making misleading comments about the significance of the
Albright said he tried to voice his concerns about the intelligence
information to White House officials last year, but was rebuffed and
told to keep quiet.
"I first learned of this case a year and a half ago when I was
asked for information about past Iraqi procurements. My reaction at
the time was that the disagreement reflected the typical in-fighting
between US experts that often afflicts the intelligence community.
I was frankly surprised when the administration latched onto one side
of this debate in September 2002. I was told that this dispute had
not been mediated by a competent, impartial technical committee, as
it should have been, according to accepted practice," Albright
said. "I became dismayed when a knowledgeable government scientist
told me that the administration could say anything it wanted about
the tubes while government scientists who disagreed were expected
to remain quiet."
Albright said the Department of Energy, which analyzed the intelligence
information on the aluminum tubes and rejected the CIA's intelligence
analysis, is the only government agency in the U.S. that can provide
expert opinions on gas centrifuges (what the CIA alleged the tubes
were being used for) and nuclear weapons programs.
"For over a year and a half, an analyst at the CIA has been pushing
the aluminum tube story, despite consistent disagreement by a wide
range of experts in the United States and abroad," Albright said.
"His opinion, however, obtained traction in the summer of 2002
with senior members of the Bush Administration, including the President.
The administration was forced to admit publicly that dissenters exist,
particularly at the Department of Energy and its national laboratories."
But Albright said the White House launched an attack against experts
who spoke critically of the intelligence.
"Administration officials try to minimize the number and significance
of the dissenters or unfairly attack them," Albright said. "For
example, when Secretary Powell mentioned the dissent in his Security
Council speech, he said: "Other experts, and the Iraqis themselves,
argue that they are really to produce the rocket bodies for a conventional
weapon, a multiple rocket launcher." Not surprisingly, an effort
by those at the Energy Department to change Powell's comments before
his appearance was rebuffed by the administration."
Moreover, former scientists who worked on Iraq's nuclear weapons program
and escaped the country also disputed the CIA's intelligence of the
country's existing nuclear weapons program, saying it ended in 1991
after the first Gulf War. However, some Iraq scientists who supplied
the Pentagon with information claim that Iraq's nuclear weapons program
continues, but none of these Iraqis have any direct knowledge of any
current banned nuclear programs. They appear to all carry political
baggage and biases about going to war or overthrowing Saddam Hussein,
and these biases seem to drive their judgments about nuclear issues,
rendering their statements about current Iraqi nuclear activities
suspect, according to Albright, who said he was privy to much of the
information being supplied to the Bush administration and the CIA.
Another example of disputed intelligence used by the Bush administration
to build its case for war is Iraq's attempts to obtain uranium from
Niger as evidence of another secret nuclear weapons program. Bush,
in his State of the Union Speech in January, used this information
as an example of a "smoking gun" and the imminent threat
Iraq posed to the U.S. But the information has since been widely discounted.
"One person who heard a classified briefing on Iraq in late 2002
said that there was laughter in the room when the uranium evidence
was presented," Albright said. "One of (the) most dramatic
findings, revealed on March 7, was that the documents which form the
basis for the reports of recent uranium transactions between Niger
and Iraq are not authentic."
Iraq's attempts to acquire a magnet production plant are likewise
ambiguous. Secretary of State Colin Powell stated to the UN Security
Council on February 5, 2003 that this plant would produce magnets
with a mass of 20 to 30 grams. He added: "That's the same weight
as the magnets used in Iraq's gas centrifuge program before the Gulf
War." One US official said that because the pieces are so small,
many end uses are possible, making it impossible to link the attempted
acquisition to an Iraqi centrifuge program."
One piece of intelligence information that seemed to go unnoticed
by the media was satellite photographs released by the White House
last October of a facility in Iraq called Al Furat to support Bush's
assertion that Iraq was making nuclear weapons there.
But Albright said that Iraq already admitted making such weapons at
Al Furat before the Gulf War and that the site had long been dismantled.
In addition to Albright, other military experts also were skeptical
of the intelligence information gathered by the CIA.
"Basically, cooked information is working its way into high-level
pronouncements and there's a lot of unhappiness about it in intelligence,
especially among analysts at the CIA," said Vincent Cannistraro,
the CIA's former head of counter-intelligence, in an interview with
London's Guardian newspaper last October.
Cannistraro told the Guardian that hawks at the Pentagon had
deliberately skewed the flow of intelligence to the top levels of
Last October, Bush said the Iraqi regime was developing unmanned aerial
vehicles, which "could be used to disperse chemical or biological
weapons across broad areas."
"We're concerned that Iraq is exploring ways of using these UAVs
for missions targeting the United States," Bush said.
U.S. military experts had confirmed that Iraq had been converting
eastern European trainer jets into UAV's, but with a maximum range
of a few hundred miles they were no threat to targets in the U.S.
"It doesn't make any sense to me if he meant United States territory,"
said Stephen Baker, a retired US navy rear admiral who assesses Iraqi
military capabilities at the Washington-based Center for Defense Information,
also in an interview with the Guardian last October.
In true Bush fashion, however, the administration had long believed
it was better to strike first and ask questions later.
When Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-California, who sits on the intelligence
committee, sent Bush a letter Sept. 17, 2002 requesting he urge the
CIA to produce a National Intelligence Estimate, a report that would
have showed exactly how much of a threat Iraq posed, Condoleeza Rice,
the National Security Adviser, said in the post 9-11 world the U.S.
cannot wait for intelligence because the Iraq is too much of a threat
to the U.S.
"We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud,"
Leopold is the former Los Angeles bureau chief of Dow Jones Newswires.
He is currently finishing a book on the California energy crisis.