GREG THIELMANN, FORMERLY OF THE STATE DEPARTMENT'S OFFICE OF STRATEGIC PROLIFERATION AND MILITARY AFFAIRS, BUREAU OF INTELLIGENCE AND RESEARCH (INR);
JOSEPH CIRINCIONE, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACE;
DARYL KIMBALL, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ARMS CONTROL ASSOCIATION
LOCATION: WASHINGTON, D.C.
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 3, 2004, 9:35 A.M. EST
(Note: The following is a prepared introduction. The Federal News Service transcription began approximately 4 minutes after the event began.)
MR. KIMBALL: Good morning and thank you for joining this morning's teleconference press briefing about the ongoing controversy surrounding the prewar intelligence assessments of Iraq's unconventional weapons capabilities and how senior administration officials portrayed those assessments in making their case for an invasion of Iraq.
I am Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. We have two very articulate and well-known experts on these issues. Greg Thielmann is the former director of the Office of Strategic, Proliferation, and Military Affairs in the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Greg is a new member of the ACA Board of Directors. Also with us is Joseph Cirincione, director of the Non-Proliferation Project of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Joe is a co-author of the new and very comprehensive Carnegie Endowment for International Peace report titled "WMD in Iraq: evidence and implications."
We scheduled this call to coincide with the one-year anniversary of Secretary of State Colin Powell's February 5, 2003 presentation on U.S. intelligence assessments to the United Nations Security Council. Little did we know that the former U.S. weapons inspector David Kay would over the past few day acknowledge publicly that he does not believe that those assessments were correct or that Iraq had any proscribed nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons stockpiles or the means to deliver them on the eve of the invasion last March. Nevertheless, Kay's remarks make our presentations and discussion here today all the more timely.
Joe will begin by providing us with an overview of Powell's statement, the sources of the intelligence assessments that he presented and how his charges stand up to the evidence today.
Greg will then describe how many of Powell's and other senior official's pre-war assertions about Iraqi WMD were known at that time to be based on dubious or discredited intelligence information and describe what the UN weapons inspectors had assessed to be the situation before the war and how inspections had contained Iraq's nuclear, chemical, biological, and missile programs.
(Note: This event was fed in progress at this point.)
MR. CIRINCIONE: (In progress)—but you know, within the intelligence community, there had been for some time suspicions about Saddam's chemical and biological weapons. And it all goes back, as does all of our intelligence estimates on Saddam—goes back to the unresolved questions from the UNSCOM inspections. At the end of that six-, seven-year period, UNSCOM had destroyed most of Saddam's arsenals, had destroyed most of the production capabilities. But there were several unresolved issues, really accounting issues, that had to do with tons of material that could be used for chemical weapons, but the inspectors did not know if it had been, and several thousand munitions that they knew had been built, but they couldn't account for their destruction. That was the basis, I think, of all intelligence that went on after that.
The intelligence community did take those unanswered questions, coupled them with past history and their assumptions about intent, and went on to start to make estimates, such as, "We believe it is likely that Saddam has restarted these programs. We believe it is probable that he retains stockpiles." And these estimates were picked up by experts, such as at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and repeated.
As recently as September 2002, the DIA was saying that there's no hard evidence of any stockpiles or production capabilities. And they went to pains to point that out.
[Secretary of State] Colin Powell in his testimony says exactly the opposite. Exactly the opposite when he says, "every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we are giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence."
I just want to look at one of these-and it was one of the most dramatic, and he opened up early on in his testimony with this-where he showed photos of a facility at Taji, where it had been known that Saddam had in the past stored chemical weapons. He pointed out with this dramatic series of circles and squares where he said that we know there are four chemical bunkers. And he pointed out the presence of sure signs that the bunkers are storing chemical munitions. One of those signs, he said, was a decontamination vehicle. Very dramatic testimony, very convincing for many people listening to this.
I happened to be up at the United Nations last week and I spoke to U.N. inspectors. I asked them how they felt when they saw that testimony.
They told me, "We knew he was wrong when he said it." They told me that they went to the Americans after the speech and said, "That's not a decontamination vehicle. We've been to that facility. We've seen that truck. That's a fire truck."
The Americans didn't believe them. I raise this because it gets to this issue of intelligence. There's been sort of a focus on the intelligence produced by the intelligence agencies. But we were getting a great deal of intelligence from the U.N. inspections as soon as they began back on November 27, 2002. Much of that 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.
On the eve of the war, [IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei] directly refuted some of the major claims that Powell also presented in his presentation on the nuclear systems. [The IAEA] had looked at the aluminum tubes and they found that they were not suitable for centrifuges. [The IAEA] had looked at the magnets that Iraq had imported and found that they were being used for other peaceful, civilian purposes. [The IAEA] examined the Niger claim, a claim that Powell did not include but the president did, and found that it was based on forged documents.
So we had new intelligence coming in, but it was ignored. One of the main purposes of Colin Powell's speech was not just to present the case for Saddam having large existing stockpiles and production capabilities, but it was to discredit the inspectors. If you go back and read his speech, he opens up his entire speech with a portrayal of an elaborate deception program that he says is designed to ensure that the inspectors will find absolutely nothing. So he had to discredit the findings that the inspectors were coming up with that there were no programs by portraying them as fools and portraying Saddam as engaged in an elaborate deception mechanism.
This view of the inspections largely prevailed in the United States. We now know that it was completely wrong. It's not just the intelligence on the stockpiles that was wrong, it was the administration's judgment of the value of the inspection process. We now know that the inspection process was working far better than the administration claimed, that they were finding what there was to find, and that if we had used them properly we could have put to rest many of the understandable suspicions we had about Saddam's programs.
Let me close there.
MR. KIMBALL: Thank you, Joe.
Let's turn to Greg. Just as another brief introduction for Greg, as you all recall, a few days ago David Kay said almost all of us were wrong. I think Greg needs to be put in the category of the almost because Greg's work when he was in government was part of or helped lead to the dissent that does appear in the National Intelligence Estimate, which apparently some senior officials in the Bush administration did not take note of. Specifically, the dissent regarding the allegations about the reconstitution of the nuclear program based on the uranium claim and the aluminum tubes claim. Perhaps Greg would like to describe a little bit about that further.
But, Greg, why don't you tell us a little bit more about what might have been known if officials might have taken a closer look at some of the caveats and the dissents, among other issues that you want to cover?
MR. THIELMAN: Thank you, Daryl.
I wanted to start out by repeating a couple of lines from the press conference that the Arms Control Association sponsored last July, in 2003, in which Joe Cirincione also participated. I made at that time three assertions. 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.
And at the risk of spraining my shoulder by patting myself on the back, I really think that we now have-months after me saying what I think a lot of people knew at the time-an acknowledgement about the first part. The administration is finally admitting it did not provide an accurate picture and so the real question is who is to blame. Right now the hot issue is how much blame the intelligence community bears on this. Of course, there are a number of people and organizations that are trying very hard to make sure none of the blame rubs off on the White House.
So where we are right now is that most people accept that the intelligence community is at least partly responsible for this inaccurate reading, but it's very much up in the air with the public at large whether senior officials misused the information. So my fearless forecast is that if a year from now we return to this subject, all three of those statements that I made back in last July will be vindicated by the facts.
And let me go into some specifics here. 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: the knowledge of what Iraq had done in the past in both the use of chemical weapons, the knowledge that [Saddam Hussein] was actively pursuing chemical and biological weapons research, that he had deceived U.N. inspectors in a number of important ways, and he had not resolved the accounting gaps problem in the 1990s when we were trying to close the books on the biological and chemical weapons issue.
And this was one of those intelligence community mistakes that I basically say was a mistake for mostly the right reasons. Because what the intelligence community said was that, based on all of these things, "we estimate," which is the intelligence community way of saying we're making a guess about something that we can't be certain of. As Daryl said, there were certainly people, like DIA, saying there's no hard evidence of any chemical weapon stocks. Even the classified details of the October National Intelligence Estimate admit that we do not know what chemicals the Iraqis might have. We do not know the amount of the chemicals that Iraq might have had. This is what the intelligence professionals were saying honestly about the evidence. One should not denigrate too completely what the intelligence professionals were doing.
I have a serious problem with a box in the [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.
This is a bad mistake of the intelligence community. I would like to know, and hopefully a future inquiry will reveal, was that box actually debated around the table during the coordination sessions of the estimate, or was it stuck in at the last minute by the National Intelligence Council? That is, to me, an important question. Because if in fact the intelligence professionals said that they had high confidence that Iraq had certain kinds of weapons, but they didn't know what weapons they were and they didn't know the amounts, that's an odd kind of conclusion.
Whatever the record, the intelligence community professionals-I wish that David Kay would have acknowledged that on the Iraqi missile program-in the detailed language of the estimates were very close to the mark about what Iraq was doing, and I think they can be proud of that. They also, in terms of what they said about the connection between Saddam and Al Qaeda, they were essentially correct, as far as we can tell. They were not the ones to create the impression of a close link here. That came from elsewhere.
So, moving up the chain here, 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 I won't take the time to get into right now, of moving 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.
To use an example right up front, the first paragraph of the key judgments starts out that "We judge that Iraq has continued its WMD programs." Which means, you know, our best guess is that they have continued the programs. But then the next statement says, "Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons." So what the intelligence experts would say is a judgment or an estimate has already, in the second sentence that has been summarized by the National Intelligence Council, become a certainty.
And that's just one little example of the ratcheting up of certainty and threat that has been done by the leadership of the CIA and the National Intelligence Council that in some respects betray the much more careful wording of the intelligence professionals.
I'm afraid to say as a former representative of the State Department that Secretary Powell ratcheted things up further in moving from what the senior leadership of the intelligence community had written and what he was doing to present the case to the public a year ago before the U.N. And as has already been mentioned by Joe and Daryl, the secretary of state continually reassured his listeners that this is not simply best guessing and estimation, "these are things we know," "We have multiple sources." And again and again we heard "there is no doubt that," "it is clear," "we know." Many of the times that this language was used it simply was not true. We did not know. There were doubts. So there is no other way to describe the language used by Secretary Powell other than to say that it was misleading the public and other countries in the world about the extent of knowledge of the intelligence professionals on these issues.
To move from what Secretary Powell said to what the White House was consistently saying is to take another giant leap into the realm of a combination of fantasy, hype, and exaggeration to get to the portrait of Saddam that President Bush presented to the nation. It was an odd combination of the already-exaggerated packaging of the senior intelligence professionals, like [CIA Director] George Tenet, with the wildly unrealistic products of the Office of Special Plans in the Pentagon that was mostly cherry picking intelligence; choosing anything that would support the worst case against Saddam, no matter how much intelligence professionals disregarded it. And it was this combination of information produced by the cabal, by this rogue intelligence operation within the U.S. government, that the White House was obviously tolerating-in fact, Vice President Cheney, I believe, was the one leading it-that resulted in an America that is now fundamentally misinformed even to this day about, for example, the connection between Saddam Hussein and the perpetrators of 9/11.
So I will end this little introduction by saying that what is really most damning of the White House and the senior intelligence leadership-and I might even add to this the majority in the Congress-is what happened between November 2002 and the beginning of war in March 2003. This was the period in which the problem in the intelligence assessment of having no one on the ground was mitigated, if not resolved, by returning the U.N. inspectors to their previous activities.
I would note that a few days or one week after the U.N. inspectors hit the ground, the White House, other Cabinet members, the U.S. administration, were calling their mission a failure. They were denigrating the [inspectors'] competence. They were describing their efforts as feckless and doomed one week into the inspections.
Within one month, 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. 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.
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.
There was no effort, as far as I know, on the part of the White House or anyone else in the administration, to go to the intelligence community and say, "Before we invade this country on the assumption that the threat is as it was characterized several months earlier, how would we now characterize the threat?" One would think we would need to know, if only for the safety of the U.S. troops, let alone for the integrity of the decision to go to war. But it was not done. That, to me, is a very damning comment on whether or not this administration was trying to figure out what was going on in Iraq, or were they trying to build a case for war based on reasons other than weapons of mass destruction.
That's the end of my little comment.
MR. KIMBALL: I think it's very important that a lot of those points are being made. So much has happened, it's easy to forget important details.
Let me just open up the floor, so to speak, to questions for Greg or Joe. And if, when you ask your question, you can identify yourself. That would be helpful.
Q A basic question for Greg. This is Gary Thomas at VOA. I talked to David Kay actually a couple of days ago, and one thing he said struck me. He said that the intelligence was consistent. That is what was coming from allied agencies, such as the British and even the French, semi-allies I suppose, and the Germans that the intelligence was consistent. And that led him to believe, therefore, that it was a failure of intelligence, not an attempt at the political level to hype things up. Is that correct? Was the intelligence consistent? Why did they come to this conclusion if the intelligence coming from other allied sources was indeed the same or similar?
MR. THIELMANN: It's hard to know exactly what David Kay was talking about. I had the general impression from Kay that he is very BW/CW-centric. He doesn't really know the nuclear account as well.
On the nuclear account, the one that I'm most familiar with, I would just say that that is an inaccurate statement. When the aluminum tubes issue was being debated and we were consulting with URENCO, with the British and others, there was widespread support internationally for the U.S. Department of Energy and [the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research] interpretation that these aluminum tubes were not suitable for use in uranium centrifuge rotors.
MR. CIRINCIONE: May I just add three quick points?
If David Kay, in his most quoted statement says, "we were all wrong." If he means that those in the administration were completely wrong, that's true. If he means that all of us in assessing this threat were wrong, that is simply not true. It's useful to go back a year ago to the international press reaction to Powell's speech. Many, many capitals, either with posted editorials, interviewed officials who were not persuaded by Powell's speech, several U.N. ambassadors took to the floor immediately saying they weren't convinced of this. So it's not true that everyone thought this.
The second point, it's true that everyone had suspicions. Again, all our intelligence started from these unanswered questions left over from the UNSCOM inspections. So everyone had suspicions, but not everyone jumped to the conclusion that the U.K., U.S., and Israel did that these weapons posed a direct and immediate threat, and the only alternative was to go to war.
Third, I've spoken very recently to officials in the French government, for example, and the German government, and there were differences within their intelligence community, they said. They reminded me that all the Western intelligence services talk together and they all share a lot of information. Most of it comes from the superior intelligence capabilities of the U.S. But within those countries, people drew very different conclusions from the evidence that was presented.
So it's incorrect to say we were all mistaken, therefore we were all to blame for this misperception of the threat. It simply isn't correct.
MR. THIELMANN: I would just add to that, if you look now at what Robin Cook and Clare Short, the two British ministers that resigned in principle over Blair's conduct of this matter, they really gave the impression they were not convinced that the threat was the way that the U.S. was representing it, or even the way that their own prime minister was representing it. They were so upset at the discrepancy, in fact, that was one of the principal reasons that they resigned. And we have others, like Andrew Wilkie of Australia, who also resigned in principle, upset at the way the Australian prime minister was joining the U.S. political leadership's interpretation of the intelligence. So there is contrary evidence to what Kay has said.
MR. KIMBALL: One other quick, very quick point. Even within the U.S. intelligence community there was disagreement, as was mentioned, on the aluminum tubes, the uranium in Africa.
One issue that has come up again in the press in the past few days is the UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles]. Even on that point, the administration charged that the unmanned aircraft probably were intended to deliver biological warfare agent. Powell said in his speech [they] could be used to carry out attacks in the U.S. The Air Force intelligence office had disagreed, saying that the UAVs were for reconnaissance. And that has proven to be correct afterwards, also. So there were doubts about that issue, the capability of delivery.
I'm sorry, there was a question that was about to be asked.
Q Yes, it's Ted Alden from the Financial Times. I have a question along similar lines for Greg Thielman.
The White House is also making the claim that this intelligence was also shared during the Clinton administration, that it was the same information. I mean, if you look at the public documents that doesn't appear to be the case. There does appear to have been a change.
I want your sense of whether there was a change in the intelligence from the Clinton years to the early part of the Bush administration, and also, if there was, was there new evidence that came in 2001 or early in 2002? Did we learn things about Saddam's programs that were not known, say, in 1998 or 1999 or 2000?
MR. THIELMANN: I will turn this over to Joe because I think his work and the Carnegie Endowment have done a lot of very close reading of the change between Clinton administration intel and Bush administration intel.
What I would say is that you have this very curious statement by Secretary Rumsfeld saying there really was no significant new intelligence information in the two years leading up to the war, which is quite an admission. There were some significant allegations: the alleged huge uranium acquisitions from Africa, and the aluminum tubes allegation. Had they been correct [they] would have been important, significant new intelligence.
But with those exceptions, what we really have is another couple years of not having people on the ground, allowing people to spin out more scary alternative scenarios for some of the things that one was seeing and a much greater credence attached, not necessarily by the intelligence professionals, but by the Cheneys and Rumsfelds that were using this rogue intelligence group, the credence attached to defector reports, many of which came from the Iraqi National Congress.
So that's really what the change in the actual hard intelligence was. For the whole four years that I was in the [INR Bureau], our conclusion was that there was not a dramatic change over those four years from the evidence we had available.
MR. CIRINCIONE: I would just quickly agree with that. In our review of the pre-2002 intelligence community reports-these are the declassified assessments that are presented to Congress every six months-we found that there was a consensus around four points. [One,]that most of Saddam's chemical, biological, nuclear and long-range missile capability had been destroyed. Two, there was no direct evidence that any chemical or biological weapons remained in Iraq, but they judged, this was a judgment, that some stocks could still remain and that production could be renewed, so these were caveated judgments. Three, that as Iraq rebuilt its facilities, some of this rebuilding for civilian purposes could be used to manufacture chemical and biological weapons. And the fourth was actually key, without an inspection regime, it was very difficult to determine the status of these programs.
So concern, absolutely. Worries, yes. Did some officials draw from that the conclusion that [Saddam] had those programs? Yes. I know this. I have talked with past officials. But that's not because they were told that by the intelligence agencies. Senior policymakers, including the president-and he said this-came to the conclusion that Saddam had these weapons, but it wasn't because of solid evidence that he had it. The intelligence agencies, as far as we can see from a review of the declassified information, never said that he had these weapons.
MR. KIMBALL: If I could just add one point. Greg Thielmann mentioned the Rumsfeld statement about there not being new evidence. I think the other part of that statement went something like, "but in light of 9/11 we looked at the evidence differently." So I think that everyone can read what they want into that. I think that's somewhat telling.
We have mentioned the inspectors a couple of times. Let me bring you back to something that Hans Blix said before, and then he said after the war, that I think is also important, which is that he warns that you should not equate not accounted for with existing; that is, you should not equate the questions about unaccounted for stockpiles or program dismantlement with the existence of those weapons or those programs. So this is, in my view, exactly what the senior officials did and some in the intelligence community did when looking at the evidence that was available.
Q This is Bill Nichols with USA Today, for anyone. Other than on missiles, did Powell get anything right in what he said at the U.N.?
MR. CIRINCIONE: Not that I can see. Secretary Powell was wrong on all his core assertions at the U.N. There isn't any major claim that has held up after over a year of searching Iraq. And even on the missiles, we knew at the time that Saddam had created missiles that were slightly over the 150-kilometer range; that is, they were going to 180-kilometer range. But how far along these programs were? We still don't have a good feel for that. An intention to develop them, certainly. But not a growing fleet of missiles and UAVs, as the secretary alleged. So I've gone through this and I've been looking at this very carefully, and I would say all of his major assertions we now know to be incorrect.
MR. THIELMANN: Let me just add one thing to what Joe said. I would still be a little bit more laudatory about the intelligence community on the missiles. We not only detected the testing of the Al-Samoud and the solid-fuel missile in ranges slightly in excess of U.N. allowances, but we also saw engine test stands being built that were suitable for testing significantly longer-range missiles. We saw mixers and other equipment being procured that would be appropriate for significantly longer-range missiles. And that was the one exception to the assessment that there were no weapons across the board. There was more activity and more official sponsorship of an active missile effort than in these other categories of WMD.
The worst part about the missile was that even though the intelligence community was very careful to point out the difference between what we cannot confirm that had been destroyed and something that actually exists, on the Scuds both Secretary Powell and George Tenet went beyond what I think most of the missile intelligence people would have said. They relied heavily on some defector reports to say they believed there may be up to a few dozen Scud-range missiles when the accounting problem would suggest there were only a couple of missiles of the 819 that we couldn't account for. So the intelligence community prudently and correctly said we can not ensure that there might not be a few Scud missiles. Secretary Powell and George Tenet said Saddam has up to a few dozen Scud missiles.
MR. CIRINCIONE: Yeah. And this is the way he starts his missile discussion; remember that Saddam wanted to strike not only his neighbors, but nations far beyond his borders. He then makes the claim of numerous intelligence reports and indicates-or he's careful here-but numerous intelligence reports indicate that Saddam retains a covert force of up to a few dozen Scud-variant ballistic missiles.
After that, he then goes into the details that the UNMOVIC inspectors were then uncovering and verifying that [Saddam] had an 180-kilometer range [missile]. He just says that they were over 150. He never gives you the information that they're 30 kilometers over 150, and that clearly, these are not missiles that can fly beyond the border. The fact was that at the time, UNMOVIC inspectors were in the process of uncovering this and starting a program to destroy those illegal missiles.
Q This is Mark Matthews for the Baltimore Sun. I have a question for Mr. Thielmann about intent. The prevailing view seems to have been that because Saddam had kicked out the inspectors, preferred to withstand sanctions, and had a history of cheating and deceiving, he must have had a strong intent to continue to produce weapons of mass destruction. Was there dissent from that prevailing view within the intelligence community? How strong was it? What alternative intentions were suggested?
MR. THIELMANN: I'm still convinced that Saddam had the intention to pursue some of these programs if the coast was clear. The point was, though, of course, with international scrutiny, the arms embargo, and then the return of inspectors, the coast wasn't clear at all, and that Saddam knew when he didn't have choices and options.
I would say that this is one thing about the Powell speech that was at least mostly correct, that is Saddam did have the intention of exploiting any opportunities the future might hold to pursue some of these programs. The point was, though, what was he doing at that time? He basically wasn't doing very much at that time, with the sole exception of the missile program.
But the interesting question is why, then, did he not cooperate more in demonstrating that he had actually destroyed the pieces of equipment? I have to concede that it was never seriously entertained by the intelligence community that he might be playing a double game, which is my leading hypothesis now; that is that he deliberately wanted both Western intelligence agencies and his own people to think that he was more active in unconventional weapons program than he actually was. In the case of his own population, he wanted to show that he wasn't being pushed around by the West, that Iraq had a proud and powerful future. And in the case of the West, with all of the banging of the drums about how much the world should fear biological and chemical weapons, it was apparently irresistible for Saddam to insinuate that he had those weapons, in order to deter U.S. military action.
MR. KIMBALL: This is Daryl Kimball.
Let me just jump in and note that, I mean, intentions, of course, are hard to measure. But regardless of intentions, there was an alternative to what ultimately happened and it's hard to assess now what would have happened if the weapons inspectors stayed in. But I think that a very strong case could have been made before the war, and even stronger case today, that with the kinds of inspections that were in place under UNMOVIC and with the stronger inspections that some of us were proposing-the Carnegie Endowment proposed an even tougher inspections regime-it is extremely probable that Iraq would not have been able to reconstitute these programs as Greg is suggesting. But that option was not pursued.
As we discussed earlier, the administration was within days of the UNMOVIC inspectors hitting the ground, was undercutting their capabilities by criticizing them in open. I think there are several examples of where we can point to where the U.S. was not fully working with UNMOVIC to help UNMOVIC do its job. So I think that another important point coming out of this whole experience is that international weapons inspectors in Iraq worked much better than anyone believed before the war, and that this is an approach that the United States needs to take another look at and think about how we can bolster international weapons inspections in other problem areas around the world, whether they be Libya, Iran, North Korea.
Q This is Gary Thomas again. I wanted to know from Greg and perhaps others of you who have talked to people still active inside the community, what is the reaction inside the community to the Kay assertions and to the commission that's going to be set up to determine what went on? Is there resentment? Is there any feeling that they're going to be scapegoated? What's the general sentiment about what's going on about this whole imbroglio?
MR. THIELMAN: I'm afraid you really need to get someone who's in closer touch with the CIA and DIA. I think that that's where the real anger is about the scapegoating the intelligence community. My own agency I think is less worried about that because it obviously had a better track record than the other agencies in terms of the official positions that were subscribed to. But I'm afraid I can't give a lot of firsthand witness on how individuals who are still serving are reacting.
Q This is Bill Nichols of USA Today again, for anyone who wants to answer. How much does this hurt Powell personally, his reputation as sort of the one reasonable, responsible member of the U.S. senior leadership during the run up to the war?
MR. CIRINCIONE: Well, Bill, I was just thinking about that today as I was reading the interview in The Washington Post. The longer Powell defends the administration's prewar position on Iraq, the more he tries to sort of excuse his mistakes, the more damage he's doing to his own reputation. And I was particularly struck by his end. I mean, he's still saying at the end of this Washington Post interview that his information was multi-sourced, it reflected the best judgments of all of the intelligence agencies that spent that four days out there with me-a little caveat there-there wasn't a word that was in that presentation that was put in that was not totally cleared by the intelligence community.
That statement is, at best, misleading. That's an example of what I mean; that the secretary of State, the individual with probably the most national, international respect of any figure in this administration, is doing a great deal of damage to his own credibility and reputation by not admitting the mistakes that were made, and by continuing to present his testimony, his past statements, as being completely backed by the intelligence agencies when we know that they were not.
MR. KIMBALL: We're focusing in this discussion on what happened a year ago. But let me just make it clear that I think I speak for Greg and Joe when I say that we think it's important to look at this because of what is going to be coming in the future, and it's important to look at the process and the intelligence-gathering process in order to do a much better job in the future.
One question that came to me when I read one of the press accounts about Powell's work at Langley in preparing his speech was who was in the room with him? Who was there? Were there people from all of the key agencies? Were there people from just one or two intelligence agencies? Colin Powell was going through tons of material. He alone, without help, could easily have made mistakes. But the key thing is who might have been there to help him look at this much more carefully.
Again, there were some other mistakes that the State Department made weeks earlier with respect to some of these facts. And I just want to remind you all of one little point that has been lost in all this, which is quite interesting. The first time the uranium in Africa charge was made publicly by the administration was not in the president's State of the Union address, but it was in a State Department fact sheet released on December 16th, 2002.
We at ACA have done some minor investigating on this. We have checked with Richard Boucher's office. The explanation that we got was that that was in there as a result of a draft speech that Ambassador Negroponte was preparing to deliver at the U.N. in response to the Iraqi declaration on their weapons program. The draft speech was changed in such a way as to delete that uranium in Africa reference. You'll recall George Tenet had already urged the president to take this out of his October 7th speech in Cincinnati. But it remained in the State Department fact sheet.
Here, we have an example of either sloppiness or someone somewhere in the chain trying to get this into a public document because it is a damaging allegation.
There are other examples of how the process was broken or misused that led to these dubious or discredited charges appearing in the senior-most officials' and agencies' statements and documents.
MR. THIELMANN: I just want to make sure that everyone understands that that December statement was not cleared or shown to the State Department's Intelligence Bureau, which was procedurally sort of incomprehensible-that the Public Affairs Office, addressing intelligence issues, would not check with the Intelligence Bureau in the department just to make sure that they were not releasing classified information. It certainly cries out for further investigation about why that was not done and who actually wrote those words.
I also wanted to underscore the importance of Daryl's question about how Secretary Powell was served in preparing the speech, because as an office director in INR, we were told that Powell said he wanted a J-2 or an intelligence officer at the hand of every senior State Department decision-maker at critical times. And here is the secretary of state, giving a speech all about intelligence, and as far as I know, he never had anyone from INR with him for any of these long discussions about what language to put in and what not to put in. Was he then saying that the CIA, in its Directorate of Central Intelligence role, was speaking for the entire intelligence community? That seems to be what he was saying, but it's very odd. One would like to see Powell questioned much more about why he wanted to cut himself off from his own intelligence apparatus.
Q This is Laura Iiyama. I work for Feature Story News. If we look at the difference between what happened in Powell preparing his speech, how much of the information was because he stripped out the caveats, and how much of it was because he was relying on Iraqi exile sources?
MR. CIRINCIONE: Let me give one example, which is really quite striking as we go back and look at this. It's this key issue, very dramatically presented, of the mobile production programs. This seems to be based almost exclusively on Iraqi defectors. He cites very carefully his sources for this, and this is what he says, "Although Iraq's mobile production program began in the mid-1990s, U.N. inspectors at the time had only vague hints. Confirmation came later, in the year 2000."
Again, he's showing U.N. inspectors completely missed this. We know it's happened. How do we know this? An Iraqi chemical engineer supervised one of these facilities. He was actually present during biological agent production runs. He was also at the site when an accident occurred in 1998. Twelve technicians died from exposure to biological agent. Very dramatic testimony, and as far as we know, completely untrue. There was no evidence whatsoever that there was an accident in 1998, that there were biological agent production runs, that 12 technicians died from exposure to biological agent.
But you have to understand what he's saying. He's saying in 1998 they had biological agents. They were producing them. How do we know? This guy told us. And he has a second source, another Iraqi civilian engineer, confirm the existence of these facilities. Then a third reported in summer 2002 that Iraq had manufactured mobile production systems mounted on road-trailer units on rail cars. Completely untrue. This is the basis for his information. As far as I know, there is no independent confirmation, other [than] the defector sources. This is a classic intelligence mistake.
I don't want to trample on Greg's territory here, but if you get defector information, you want to verify it by some means that you have confidence in. Instead, they verified it by other defectors. Now, I would want to be investigating, who were these guys? Where did they come from? What are we doing about this? How could we let something like this happen? Did this all come from the Iraqi National Congress? Who else provided us with these sources?
Instead, we have people going around town who were funneling these defectors with their false information to the White House and who are trying to avoid any responsibility for the massive disinformation that led this country to go to war. That's my quick answer to your question.
MR. THIELMANN: I very much agree with what Joe said. When I listened to Powell's speech for the first time I had been retired for several months. I really didn't know what he was talking about a lot of the times when he was talking about the defectors. At least for the State Department's intelligence unit, we would look very skeptical about human intelligence coming from groups that were hostile to Saddam for obvious reasons of motivation.
These are people often getting paid to say bad things about Saddam, which is exactly what their own political and personal interests would have them do. To the extent that we could, we were always pressing the CIA to say, "Who is this guy? What has he said previously? Did that person have access?" And so forth. As manager of the office, I didn't often do this sort of individual assessment of contributors. But some of my guys were very knowledgeable about where this stuff was coming from and so I trusted them when they dismissed things as not being reliable or credible. Much of the reporting that Powell used was in that category of very shaky stuff.
MR. KIMBALL: In the Carnegie report-I'm glad you guys found this reference, Joe, I've been looking for this-you note that an assessment by the DIA, I think it was a 2001 assessment, that says "most of the information given about Iraqi defectors was of little value, much invented and exaggerated." That was reported by the L.A. Times and New York Times in August and September of 2003. INR wasn't the only intelligence agency that took this skeptical view of defector information.
Are there any other questions out there for Greg or Joe? If so, we can continue with maybe one or so more, but I want to close out if we've exhausted your questions.
Q One final question. I'd like to ask you what level of confidence you have that the inquiry is going to be indeed nonpartisan and fair in being able to judge what went on here?
MR. CIRINCIONE: So far I would say we can have very low confidence that this is actually going to be an independent investigation of what went wrong with the intelligence on Iraq's weapons programs. There are several reasons for that. Apparently, the president has realized or acknowledged that he is one of the targets of this inquiry.
MR. KIMBALL: Or he should be, Joe. It's another issue; what is the scope of it?
MR. CIRINCIONE: Well, you have an inherent problem when the vice president, whose office was involved heavily in shaping, collecting, and disseminating intelligence, is the person who over the weekend was organizing the scope and the mandate for this inquiry.
Any official who has been involved in the collection, dissemination, and use of this intelligence should immediately remove themselves from anything to do with the formation of this commission. That's sort of common sense. It's as if Enron was able to pick the inquiry or to pick the people who would look into its business practices. You really do have to have an independent commission to do that, and so far, we don't have that.
Second, it's a mistake to make the scope of this commission so broad that it takes resources and attention away from the main problem. It sounds like the president is talking about a commission that would sort of investigate the role of intelligence in the 21st century, which is a good thing to do. But what we need is an inquiry into the failure of the intelligence on Iraq's weapons programs. That's a very different inquiry, very different mandate.
Third, the timing of this. You would think if you were the president you would be hopping mad about the intelligence you were given. You would think if you were the secretary of state you'd be firing a lot of those people who were in that room with you in New York. But we have no sense of outrage, no sense of urgency. I think we've got to find ways to make this as apolitical as possible, but we shouldn't, as part of that, delay the lessons or the information that we can get from such inquiry. Our enemies aren't waiting out there for the election to be over. We need to know what went wrong with this, how to fix it, and how to start getting better intelligence as soon as possible.
So those are my concerns about the way this inquiry is being handled so far.
Q Joe, are you saying the vice president has a conflict of interest?
MR. CIRINCIONE: Both the vice president and the president have a conflict of interest here. They should not be involved in shaping this panel. The president's got to find a truly independent, hands-off source that can pull together this panel to make it crystal clear that it's going to be a thorough, no-holds-barred investigation. If the president handles this right, this commission could greatly help him with the credibility problem he's now suffering internationally and nationally. If he handles it wrong, it could blow up in his face and make the problem much, much worse.
MR. THIELMAN: I would just echo many of the things that Joe has said. If the fault belongs entirely to the intelligence community, President Bush should be the angriest man in town and someone who, not today but back in the fall when David Kay delivered his interim report, would have demanded immediate explanation of how this could have happened. But instead the president of the United States has said in interviews a big whatever. It doesn't matter whether it's actually weapons of mass destruction-related program activities or weapons that are on the verge of attacking American cities. The same thing is what Bush has essentially said. If someone has that attitude then there's obviously going to be no urgency in the work of a commission or any real desire to get at the roots of what happened.
I would also echo what Joe said about the critical national security urgency here. We are in a crisis situation with regard to North Korea. We're at a very delicate point with Iran. [In the former Soviet Union] a huge unconventional weapons stockpile issue still looms. There is not a minute to waste, really, in trying to restore the credibility of the U.S. intelligence community and to improve a system of intelligence that is absolutely essential to the nation defending itself. It has to be done urgently.
I agree that it should be more narrowly focused in order to get something to the public in time for the election. Some of the allegations made about the way that intelligence information was used are impeachable offenses. Why should this be delayed until after the democratic mechanism we have for making assessments of whether or not the political leadership's guilty of criminal malfeasance?
Q I have two questions. Dimitri Sidorov, Kommersant. The first question is some intelligence experts I talked to two days ago said that this independent commission is that professionals should be on board much more than political figures. Should the problem with U.S. intelligence be resolved within the intelligence community and not coming out of the political circle? This is the first thing. The question is how do you feel about that?
And the second question is if Mr. Tenet is capable of reforming the CIA? If not, why?
MR. KIMBALL: Let me take an indirect shot at that because I think it comes back to a point I just wanted to make to add to what Joe and Greg said. I agree with all the points that Joe and Greg made about the type of commission, the scope, et cetera. There's one other point that needs to be underscored, which is implied by what Joe said, which is that the scope of this investigation, while it needs to be narrowed and not so broad that it looks at every intelligence issue, it does need to be a little broader than what the president has outlined, in that it should not, in my view, simply be limited to how the intelligence community gathered this information and assessed, but also how his administration, the political figures, communicated that information to the public and to the world. That's clearly a part of this.
That's what I think Joe is saying when he says that the vice president was involved here, the president was involved. They were communicating this information. For that reason, it needs to be broader than what the president has suggested.
Another important point that I hope you all will raise in the days ahead about this commission is based on my experience with secrecy issues at the Department of Energy and U.S. national security questions. It is very important for these kinds of investigations to take place in the open, in the sense that the public needs to understand what the process is, what the questions are that are being asked. If you take this behind closed doors, come out a year later with findings, the credibility level of the process I think is going to be much lower. The intelligence community can be protected in an open type of investigation. But I think this needs to be an open type of investigation in order to restore the credibility that so clearly has been lost through this process.
MR. CIRINCIONE: I certainly agree, Daryl, that it should extend beyond the intelligence community.
MR. THIELMANN: This has to do with whether or not this should be done by the intelligence community inside. The intelligence community had its chance. They would have known within weeks of going into Iraq that very serious mistakes were made.
What they did instead-or maybe it was the president; I don't remember who ordered it-they established the Kerr commission. This is a group of, as far as I know, exclusively ex-CIA officers, many of whom are still on the agency payroll as consultants, assessing whether or not the CIA, which made more mistakes than any other of the intelligence agencies, did everything okay or not. If they really wanted the intelligence community to do an assessment of itself, then at the very least they should have had a commission that would include members of other intelligence agencies or people from the outside that had some intelligence experience. But that's not the approach they took.
Q Okay. And how about Mr. Tenet, if he has a chance to reform the CIA, or should he step down?
MR. THIELMANN: That's a political judgment anyone can make.
MR. CIRINCIONE: I think clearly there are many in this town who are trying to blame George Tenet for this, exclusively. Some have cast Tenet in the John Dean role.
We don't need a fall guy here. We need answers. Tenet clearly has failed to maintain the integrity of his agency in what appears to many to be a tremendous amount of pressure to produce an intelligence assessment that conformed with administration policies.
But he was not alone in this. There's no evidence at all that he was solely or primarily responsible for the intelligence failure. I would think that the issue of resignations is premature until we get a complete picture of what happened here and who was responsible for it.
MR. KIMBALL: All right. Thank you, everyone.
To close out, let me just recommend, mention Joe's organization's website, www.ceip.org, for their reports; also, www.armscontrol.org, where we have our July press conference and other information on this subject.
# # #
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.