[.pdf] of the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States
Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction begins as follows:
"On the brink of war, and in front of the whole world, the United States
government asserted that Saddam Hussein had reconstituted his nuclear weapons
program, had biological weapons and mobile biological weapon production facilities,
and had stockpiled and was producing chemical weapons.
"All of this was based on the assessments of the U.S. Intelligence
Community. And not one bit of it could be confirmed when the war was over."
Apparently the assertions the Commission is referring to were those made –
on Feb. 6, 2003 – to the UN Security Council by Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Here are excerpts from Powell's
"Saddam Hussein already possesses two out of the three key components
needed to build a nuclear bomb. He has a cadre of nuclear scientists with the
expertise, and he has a bomb design.
"Since 1998, his efforts to reconstitute his nuclear program have been
focused on acquiring the third and last component, sufficient fissile material
to produce a nuclear explosion. To make the fissile material, he needs to develop
an ability to enrich uranium.
"Saddam Hussein is determined to get his hands on a nuclear bomb.
"He is so determined that he has made repeated covert attempts to acquire
high-specification aluminum tubes from 11 different countries, even after inspections
"People will continue to debate this issue, but there is no doubt in
my mind, these illicit procurement efforts show that Saddam Hussein is very
much focused on putting in place the key missing piece from his nuclear weapons
program, the ability to produce fissile material."
So Iraq's attempts "to acquire high-specification aluminum tubes"
had convinced Colin Powell that Saddam was close to getting his hands on a nuclear
But UN inspectors empowered by UN Security Council Resolution 1441 – enacted
at the urging of the United States the previous November – had been conducting
intrusive go-anywhere see-anything inspections in Iraq for several months.
Here are excerpts from an interim
report [.pdf], made to the Security Council on Jan. 27, 2003 – a week before
Powell's presentation – by Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general of the International
Atomic Energy Agency.
"Drawing from satellite imagery and other information available to
it, IAEA identified a number of sites, some of which had been associated with
Iraq's past nuclear activities, where modifications of possible relevance to
IAEA's mandate had been made, or new buildings constructed, between 1998 and
"Eight of these sites were identified by States as being locations
where nuclear activities were suspected of being conducted.
"All of these sites were inspected to ascertain whether there had been
developments in technical capabilities, organization, structure, facility boundaries
"The IAEA has found no signs of nuclear activity at any of these sites.
"Several other facilities which had never been inspected by IAEA or
by the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) in the past were inspected
in response to information that indicated the presence of large industrial capabilities
at those locations.
"None of these facilities has proven to be nuclear-related or to require
their declaration by Iraq."
So much for the sites "suspected" by our "intelligence community"
of being engaged in – or constructed for – "nuclear" activities.
But what about Powell's smoking gun?
"In response to IAEA questioning, the Iraqi authorities indicated that
unsuccessful attempts had been made between 2000 and 2002 to procure high-strength
aluminum tubes, but that the tubes had been intended for use in connection with
a program aimed at reverse engineering 81-millimeter rockets.
"The IAEA has conducted a series of inspections at sites involved in
the production and storage of reverse-engineered rockets, held discussions with
and interviewed Iraq personnel, taken samples of aluminum tubes, and begun a
review of the documentation provided by Iraq relating to contracts with the
"As a result of these inspection efforts, it has been possible to confirm
the existence of a program for producing 81-millimeter rockets.
"The IAEA's analysis to date indicates that the specifications of the
aluminum tubes recently sought by Iraq appear to be consistent with reverse
engineering of rockets.
"While it would be possible to modify such tubes for the manufacture
of centrifuges, they are not directly suitable for such use."
Thus, by the time Powell made his assertions, irrespective of what our intelligence
community had concluded, Saddam's nuclear weapons program smoking gun had, in
fact, turned out to be an 81-millimeter smoking rocket.