For Immediate Release: July 11, 2003
Press Contacts: Daryl Kimball, Executive Director, (202) 463-8270 x107;
Wade Boese, Research Director, (202) 463-8270 x104
(Washington, D.C.): Intelligence and arms control experts charged Wednesday that the Bush administration exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein and derided the UN arms inspections process in order to justify toppling the Iraqi dictator. Appearing at a press conference sponsored by the non-profit, non-partisan Arms Control Association, the speakers said the Bush administration made its case for going to war by misrepresenting intelligence findings, as well as citing discredited information, about the status of Iraq's chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons programs and ties to terrorists.
The experts did not dispute that Iraq at one time possessed chemical and biological weapons, pursued nuclear weapons, violated its disarmament commitments, and did not fully cooperate with arms inspectors. Instead, they took issue with the Bush administration's dire description of Iraq as an immediate threat to U.S. and world security that required U.S. military action.
Greg Thielmann, who served as director of the office of Strategic, Proliferation, and Military Affairs in the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research until September 2002, said, "I believe the Bush administration did not provide an accurate picture to the American people of the military threat posed by Iraq. 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."
Thielmann highlighted the administration's characterization of the Iraqi nuclear threat as being the most misleading. "Going down the list of administration deficiencies, or distortions, one has to talk about, first and foremost, the nuclear threat being hyped," he said. In particular, Thielmann said he believed "something was seriously amiss" about President George W. Bush's reference in his State of the Union speech to a report that Iraq was trying to procure uranium from Africa. Thielmann's office had concluded previously that this was "bad information." This assessment was delivered to Secretary of State Colin Powell in March 2002.
But the Bush administration's distorted portrait of the Iraqi threat was not confined to just one wrong allegation. The panelists also discussed other overblown claims by the Bush administration, including its contention that aluminum tubes bought by Iraq were for a nuclear weapons program even though the International Atomic Energy Agency and some analysts in the U.S. government disputed that conclusion.
Thielmann argued that it appeared that senior administration officials had already made up their minds about the U.S. course of action on Iraq and then selectively used intelligence to support preconceived conclusions. "This administration has had a faith-based intelligence attitude. It's top-down use of intelligence; 'we know the answers, give us the intelligence to support those answers.'"
Gregory Treverton, a former vice chair of the National Intelligence Council, explained that intelligence is not straightforward so "you do get a lot of probablys/may-haves that are susceptible to very different interpretations." In the case of Iraq, he said the question is not the intelligence but "whether the administration improperly characterized that intelligence in making a public case for war in Iraq."
Testifying before the Senate Armed Service Committee July 9, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said that the United States did not go to war with Iraq because of new intelligence but because "we saw the evidence in a dramatic new light, through the prism of our experience of 9/11."
Joseph Cirincione, director of the Non-Proliferation Project of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, described Rumsfeld's admission as "shocking." Cirincione noted that the Bush administration "repeatedly gave the impression, and in fact said, that they had new evidence."
Cirincione further stated that administration descriptions of U.S. intelligence findings often were at odds with the actual intelligence reports. He said, "The public statements went far beyond the now-unclassified and publicly available intelligence assessments. All the 'could-be' and 'may-have' and 'possibly' were dropped from the public statements, and they became 'is, 'has' and 'definitely.'"
Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, added that the Bush administration often skewed the fact the inspectors could not account for previously reported Iraqi weapons as evidence that Baghdad was hiding them. Kimball noted that Hans Blix, the head of the UN arms inspection team in Iraq, warned many times that "one should not equate not accounted-for with existing."
The Bush administration never had much enthusiasm for the inspection process and publicly doubted it could be effective. Cirincione asserted the administration did not want the inspectors to have success. "In order to build their case for war, the administration had to discredit the inspection process," he said.
Thielmann said that the misuse of U.S. intelligence could have serious consequences. "A little flaw in presentation here and a little flaw there and pretty soon you have fostered a fundamentally flawed view of reality, seriously eroding the credibility of the U.S. government in the process," Thielmann cautioned.
Kimball warned that lingering questions about U.S. credibility could undermine efforts to deal with greater proliferation dangers than Iraq, such as North Korea and Iran. He said, "It is going to become harder and harder for the United States to mobilize international action to deal with other threats…unless there is some clarity about how [the Iraq] episode played out and how it can be fixed in the future."
Kimball and Cirincione both pointed out that the lack of dramatic weapons finds in Iraq so far underscores the value of international arms inspections in stymieing the development of militarily significant stockpiles of weapons or major weapons programs.
"It is now fair to say that the U.N. inspection process was working and-if given the time and resources necessary-could have had a good chance of both preventing any ongoing programs; discovering any activities that were underway; ending a good deal of this low-level activity, such as the hiding of critical blueprints and parts recently unearthed in the backyard of an Iraqi scientist who came forward; and preventing the restart of any of these programs as long as [inspections] had been allowed to continue," Cirincione concluded.
A full transcript of the press conference is available at the Arms Control Association's Web site at www.armscontrol.org. In addition, the Association has collected a selection of Bush administration statements on the threat posed by Iraq, which is also available at the Arms Control Association's Web site.
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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 to address security threats posed by nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, as well as conventional arms.