One of the chief arguments used by the Bush administration to justify the U.S.-led March 2003 invasion of Iraq was that Saddam Hussein's Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program. For instance, only three days before U.S.-led coalition forces invaded Iraq Vice President Dick Cheney claimed that Iraq had "reconstituted nuclear weapons." Central to the administration's argument were erroneous claims that Iraq had recently attempted to obtain lightly-processed uranium, or "yellowcake," from Africa and that it had attempted to acquire specialized aluminum tubes as part of a uranium enrichment program to produce fissile material, which is necessary for making nuclear weapons.
The claim regarding the uranium deal remains contentious to this day because President George W. Bush cited it in his January 28, 2003 State of the Union Address and because officials in the White House and the Office of Vice President Cheney waged a public campaign to discredit former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who publicly challenged the uranium claim in the summer of 2003.
Contrary to White House assertions that the "intelligence was all wrong," as early as a year before the invasion U.S. intelligence assessments and senior U.S. officials disagreed about the reliability of the information supporting the main nuclear weapons-related claims.
Furthermore, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors working on the ground in Iraq from November 2002 until March of 2003 found no evidence that Baghdad had reconstituted its nuclear weapons program. The evidence from the field should have made it clear that UN inspections and sanctions had constrained Saddam's unconventional arsenal and led the administration to reevaluate its own intelligence assessment. But it did not.
The chronology of events involving the internal intelligence assessments and international inspections (see <http://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/IraqUraniumClaim.asp>) clearly demonstrates that senior Bush administration officials disregarded intelligence assessments that did not support the claim that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program and that the administration did not provide an accurate picture of the military threat posed by Saddam Hussein's Iraq to Congress or to the American people.
As Greg Thielmann, a former senior official in the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, described the situation at a July 2003 ACA press briefing, "Some of the fault lies with the performance of the intelligence community, but most of it lies with the way senior officials misused the information they were provided."
Now, the administration's handling of the uranium and other pre-war intelligence regarding Iraq is the subject of the delayed, "second phase" investigation by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI).
"Among other issues, the SSCI investigation should examine who in the White House and other agencies chose to put forward dubious claims about Iraqi attempts to secure uranium from Africa despite clear warnings from the CIA Director and other members of the intelligence community that such claims were not reliable," said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association.
"It is also essential that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence investigate why Bush administration officials also failed to take into consideration the weapons intelligence findings and assessments of the IAEA and UN inspectors working in Iraq, which strongly repudiated the nuclear program reconstitution claim, as well as the Bush administration's faulty claim that Iraq had mobile biological weapons labs," Kimball urged.
Prior to the March 2003 invasion, ACA publicly argued that "continued, tough inspections can provide the necessary confidence that Iraq cannot reconstitute militarily significant chemical, biological, or nuclear capabilities and help produce more definitive findings to help Security Council members bridge their differences" about military action.
"Intelligence is meant to inform government decision-making, not to be invoked or discarded selectively to justify predetermined political decisions," Kimball concluded.
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The Arms Control Association is an independent, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to promoting public understanding of and support for effective arms control policies.