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January 17, 2005

Tragedy or Farce?


by Gordon Prather

Sometimes you don't know whether to laugh or cry.

Like when you heard President Bush tell ABC's Barbara Walters,

"I felt like we'd find weapons of mass destruction – like many here in the United States, many around the world. The United Nations thought he had weapons of mass destruction. So, therefore: one, we need to find out what went wrong in the intelligence gathering…."

The White House had just admitted that the Iraq Survey Group had failed to find any trace of (a) "weapons of mass destruction," (b) the makings thereof, and/or (c) the facilities for producing them.

Charles Duelfer – the man "Slam-Dunk" Tenet put in charge of the ISG a year ago to replace the thoroughly discouraged David Kay – had essentially verified the dozens of "null" reports made to the Security Council by UN inspectors up until the eve of the Bush-Blair "preemptive" invasion.

According to UN reports, all Saddam's WMD programs had been abandoned or destroyed either just before, or in the immediate aftermath, of the Gulf War. Furthermore, as of the eve of the Bush-Blair invasion, there were no indications that Saddam had ever made any attempt to resurrect them.

But Duelfer went even further than the UN inspectors, concluding that – after exhaustive interrogation of hundreds of former Iraqi officials and scientists, and examination of millions of captured Iraqi documents – "the former regime had no formal written strategy or plan for the revival of WMD" programs.

So, perhaps Bush did "feel" that we'd find WMD in Iraq back in 2002. Perhaps he really did believe Tenet's "National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq's Continuing Programs for Weapons of Mass Destruction." Even "felt" that way as late as Tenet's defense of that NIE in August 2003.

"We stand behind the judgments of the NIE as well as our analyses on Iraq's programs over the past decade. Those outside the process over the past 10 years and many of those commenting today do not know, or are misrepresenting, the facts. We have a solid, well-analyzed and carefully written account in the NIE and the numerous products before it.

"After David Kay and others finish their efforts – after we have exploited all the documents, people, and sites in Iraq – we should and will stand back to professionally review where we are – but not before.

"The history of our judgments on Iraq's weapons programs is clear and consistent. On biological weapons and missiles our data got stronger in recent years. We have had a solid historical foundation and new data that have allowed us to make judgments and attribute high confidence in specific areas. And we had numerous credible sources, including many who provided information after 1998.

"The National Intelligence Estimate remains the Intelligence Community's most authoritative product. The process by which we produce NIEs – including the one on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction – has been honed over nearly 30 years. It is a process that is designed to provide policymakers in both the executive and the legislative branches with our best judgments on the most crucial national security issues."

So now that Kay's successor – Duelfer – has "finished his efforts," coming up empty, it is understandable that Bush wants to "find out what went wrong in our intelligence gathering."

But what you don't know whether to laugh or cry about is Bush's assertion that other members of the UN Security Council also thought Saddam still had WMD.

Does Bush really believe that Russia, France, and China disbelieved the International Atomic Energy Agency report of March 7, 2003 – which refuted every one of Bush's prewar assertions about Iraqi nukes?

"After three months of intrusive inspections, we have to date found no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons program in Iraq....

"There is no indication of resumed nuclear activities in those buildings that were identified through the use of satellite imagery as being reconstructed or newly erected since 1998, nor any indication of nuclear-related prohibited activities at any inspected sites....

"There is no indication that Iraq has attempted to import uranium since 1990....

"There is no indication that Iraq has attempted to import aluminum tubes for use in centrifuge enrichment....

"[T]here is no indication to date that Iraq imported magnets for use in a centrifuge enrichment program."

When Walters asked President Bush if the war – which was essentially based upon false intelligence – was "worth it" – Bush responded, "Oh, absolutely. Saddam was dangerous, and the world is safer without him in power."


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Physicist James Gordon Prather has served as a policy implementing official for national security-related technical matters in the Federal Energy Agency, the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Department of Energy, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Department of the Army. Dr. Prather also served as legislative assistant for national security affairs to U.S. Sen. Henry Bellmon, R-Okla. -- ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and member of the Senate Energy Committee and Appropriations Committee. Dr. Prather had earlier worked as a nuclear weapons physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.

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