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June 2, 2022
Intelligence and Arms Control Experts Analyze Powell's UN Speech, CIA Estimates on Iraqi Weapons One Year Later
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Press Contacts: Daryl Kimball, (202) 277-3478 x107

(Washington, D.C.)—On Feb. 5, 2003 Secretary of State Colin Powell went before the UN Security Council using U.S. intelligence to make the case that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in defiance of its UN disarmament obligations. Almost one year later and ten months after the United States launched an invasion to disarm Iraq, no WMD have been found and the head of the U.S.-led postwar weapons search, David Kay, has resigned, stating that he does not believe that Iraq had stockpiles of prohibited weapons prior to the invasion. This morning CIA Director George Tenet spoke at Georgetown University to defend his agency's performance.

On Tuesday, Feb. 3, the Arms Control Association (ACA) hosted a one hour conference call for reporters on these issues with Greg Thielmann, former director of the Office of Strategic, Proliferation, and Military Affairs in the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research; Joseph Cirincione, director of the Non-Proliferation Project of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; and ACA Executive Director Daryl Kimball. Thielmann is also a new member of the ACA Board of Directors.

The transcript of the event is now available at:

Key points made during the conference call include the following:


Cirincione and Thielmann noted that U.S. policymakers and intelligence agencies failed to take into consideration on-the-ground intelligence gathered after U.N. inspectors returned to Iraq on November 27, 2002 after a nearly four-year absence. The inspectors' findings should have led to a reconsideration of U.S. intelligence assessments made in the fall of 2002.

"Much of [the UN inspectors'] intelligence we simply ignored. The inspectors were making up for our lack of human intelligence. We had tremendous surveillance capabilities, but we didn't have people on the ground. Well, after November 27th, there were people on the ground. And these inspectors went to many of the facilities where there had been said there was suspicious activity, in the nuclear and chemical areas in particular, and they reported back that they found nothing. So we had new intelligence coming in, but it was ignored," said Cirincione.

Thielmann noted, "Within one month [of the return of UN inspectors], we were actually getting information which would resolve a lot of the prudent concerns that the intelligence community had about what was happening with new construction activity at sites previously associated with chemical weapons or nuclear weapons production. Almost without exception, those worst-case suspicions were found to be unfounded by taking a look at the equipment, by talking to people on the ground, by comparing things that the inspectors had seen before but had been blind to for a period of four years."

"So even at the time of the president's State of the Union address in January, there was already a lot of important information which we had acquired that would change the assessments that some of the intelligence professionals had been comfortable with in October," Thielmann added. He further stated, "There was no request in January, as far as I know, for the intelligence community to say, to itself and to the president, "What have we learned as a result of the return of the U.N. inspectors?"

"At the time of the president's speech, the IAEA had already delivered an interim judgment that the aluminum tubes account of the administration was incorrect. In February, a full month before the U.S. invasion, they arrived at a definitive judgment the aluminum tubes were not going into the nuclear weapons program," Thielmann noted. "We knew at that point, more than a month before the invasion, that the document on which the uranium in Africa was based was a forgery. The two most important legs, then, of the nuclear reconstitution theory had just collapsed," Thielmann said.


Thielmann and Cirincione noted that the intelligence community clearly made some errors in judgment, but senior Bush administration officials mischaracterized the intelligence assessments still further.

"The Bush administration did not provide an accurate picture to the
American people of the military threat posed to Iraq. I said that 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," charged Thielmann.

"The intelligence professionals made mistakes. There's no doubt about that. And that includes the intelligence professionals in my own office in the State Department's Intelligence Bureau. We made some assumptions based on the things that come as close to facts as exist in the intelligence world...," explained Thielmann.

However, Thielmann took issue with some of the characterizations in the October 2002 intelligence estimate, which were repeated by senior Bush officials before the war, and in today's speech by CIA Director George Tenet. Thielmann said, "I have a serious problem with a box in the [October 2002 National Intelligence] Estimate on confidence levels. That box says that there was only moderate confidence of the nuclear program status. It said that there was high confidence of the existence of biological and chemical weapon stocks. I cannot account for that statement of confidence on BW [biological weapons] and CW [chemical weapons] as being consistent with the detailed classified presentation, which is now part of the public record."

"It is the senior leadership of the CIA and the National Intelligence Council that has much to answer for in how they were characterizing the work of the intelligence professionals. They essentially slanted the intel to make the case against Iraq, to beef up the justification for a war against Iraq. There are a lot of examples ... from the detailed estimate to the summary statements in the estimate that show that many of the qualifications are already dropping away, the certainty level is rising, even going from the interior of the estimate to the key judgment summary," suggested Thielmann.

The ACA Web site includes important facts and analysis on Iraq's weapons programs, including:

-- A July 9, 2003 press conference transcript in which Thielmann, Cirincione, and former Vice Chair of the National Intelligence Council Gregory Treverton, discussed U.S. intelligence and Bush administration claims regarding Iraq's WMD capabilities

-- A September 2003 article, "What Happened to Saddam's Weapons of Mass Destruction" by former UN inspector Frank Ronald Cleminson on the lack of weapons finds in Iraq and the successful performance of the UNMOVIC and IAEA inspectors <http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2003_09/Cleminson_09.asp>

-- Detailed chronologies of UN inspections and their record in Iraq
<http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2003_07-08/inspectors_julaug03.asp>, as well as the administration's charges about Iraq's weapons programs

-- Commentary on the misjudgments on Iraq's proscribed weapons activities and the failure to pursue effective international inspections in Iraq <http://www.armscontrol.org/country/iraq/#editorial>

ACA's online Iraq resource section also contains additional authoritative "Arms Control Today" interviews with former weapons inspectors and detailed news reports on Iraq's weapons programs and disarmament dating back to 1997. All of these resources are available at:

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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. Established in 1971,the Association publishes the monthly journal, Arms Control Today.


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