For Immediate Release: July 9, 2004
(Washington, D.C.): Intelligence and arms control experts said today that new findings detailing the past errors in assessing Iraq's weapons capabilities do not exonerate the Bush administration, which bears ultimate responsibility for exaggerating the Iraqi threat and for discarding the UN inspections that had effectively contained Saddam Hussein's unconventional weapons programs.
"The erroneous judgments delivered by the CIA and other intelligence agencies about Iraq's alleged nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons programs do not excuse the president and senior administration officials for misrepresenting U.S. intelligence and for ignoring contrary findings by UN weapons inspectors in order to justify toppling the Iraqi dictator," said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association.
"The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report released today does not adequately address senior Bush administration officials' handling of the intelligence information they received, reports that raw intelligence from unreliable sources was fed to the White House, or why the president and his advisors ignored evidence contradicting the worst-case assessments of Iraq's weapons capabilities," Kimball charged.
"According to the Senate Committee on Intelligence findings, the intelligence community knew as early as October 2002 that the document on which the claim that Iraq had tried to acquire uranium from Africa was based on a forgery," Kimball said. "The State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research and the Department of Energy registered their strong objection to the claim in the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate that Iraq had obtained aluminum tubes for the purpose of enriching uranium, but the president and his advisors failed to heed these clear warnings that the worst-case assessments were wrong."
"U.S. policymakers and intelligence agencies also failed to take into consideration on-the-ground intelligence gathered after UN 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, but they didn't," said Kimball.
"Within one month of the return of UN inspectors in November 2002, we were actually getting information which resolved a lot of the prudent concerns that the intelligence community had about activity at sites previously associated with chemical weapons or nuclear weapons production," Greg Thielmann noted in an ACA press briefing earlier this year. Thielmann retired in September 2002 as director of the Strategic, Proliferation, and Military Affairs Office in the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research.
Thielmann added: "Almost without exception, those worst-case suspicions were found to be in error 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."
In the lead-up to the March 2003 invasion, UN weapons inspectors could not find evidence of either active weapons programs or stockpiles of prohibited chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons and were dismantling ballistic missiles that exceeded UN-mandated range limits. Although the inspectors could not account for discrepancies in Iraq's declaration of its previous programs and stockpiles, chief inspector Hans Blix warned in February 2003 against equating unaccounted-for stockpiles with existing weapons.
"By the end of January 2003, the International Atomic Energy Agency 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, and that documents alleging that Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from Niger 'were not authentic,'" Thielmann noted.
"In addition, by the beginning of February, just after Colin Powell's presentation to the UN, Blix contested other U.S. charges concerning chemical and biological weapons, but U.S. officials ignored the information," noted Kimball.
Though the major U.S. claims were clearly in doubt, President George W. Bush told the American people on March 17, 2003 that: "Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised."
"Since the war, Bush administration officials have claimed that the invasion was necessary because Saddam Hussein could have quickly reconstituted his illegal weapons programs. This assertion ignores the fact that UN-mandated weapons inspections had already effectively contained Iraq's nuclear, chemical, biological, and missile capabilities and would have continued to do so if the president had not prematurely ended them," Kimball said.
As Hans Blix said in an interview published in the July issue of Arms Control Today, "If inspections had continued...[UN inspectors] would have been able to go to all sites suggested to us by intelligence...and since there weren't any weapons, we wouldn't have found any...and I think that ought to have shaken the intelligence agencies...to say 'Sorry, but...our sources were bad.'"
"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 said.
"Intelligence is meant to inform government decision-making, not to be invoked or discarded selectively to justify predetermined political decisions. The unjustified claims of the Bush administration on Iraq's illicit weapons capabilities have severely damaged the credibility of the U.S. government and the U.S. intelligence community," said Kimball.
# # #
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.