SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Issue 77, September 2003

Bush’s ‘murky intelligence’ problem

ON 14 JULY, George W Bush explained why the US invaded Iraq: "The larger point is, and the fundamental question is: Did Saddam Hussein have a weapons programme? And the answer is: Absolutely. And we gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn’t let them in [Unscom and Unmovic]. And therefore, after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power".

So far, however, no evidence of unconventional weapons has been found, and some of Bush’s henchmen are now singing a different tune. General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, tells us that "intelligence does not necessary mean something is true, it’s just, its intelligence, you know, it’s your best estimate of the situation".

"Intelligence is an art, not a science", says deputy defence secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, brazenly admitting that, by its very nature, intelligence on terrorism – and presumably WMDs – is ‘murky’.

In his victory speech on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier, Abraham Lincoln (1 May), Bush announced: "We’ve begun the search for hidden chemical and biological weapons and already know of hundreds of sites that will be investigated". True, at the end of the war troops of the 75th Exploitation Task Force had been dispatched to search for WMDs. But the poorly prepared task force, which included no professional weapons inspectors, was plagued by "chaos, disorganisation, inter-agency feuds, disputes within and among various military units, and shortages of everything from gasoline to soap…" (International Herald Tribune, 21 July)

In fact, early in May the Financial Times (2 May) reported that ‘a senior Bush administration official’ had told the paper, ‘on the condition of anonymity’, that "he would be ‘amazed if we found weapons-grade plutonium or uranium’ and it was unlikely large volumes of biological or chemical material would be discovered". Even Condoleezza Rice publicly admitted that Iraq’s weapons programme might only exist "in bits and pieces". (Sydney Morning Herald, 1 May) Much more frank than his political masters, Colonel Richard McFee, commander of the WMD-hunters, admitted: "Do I know where [the WMDs] are? I wish I did… But we will find them. Or not. I don’t know. I’m being honest here".

Subsequently, the Exploitation Task Force was replaced by the 1,400-strong Iraq Survey Group under General Keith Dayton. Despite promises of ‘surprises’ to come, they have not uncovered any authenticated evidence whatsoever of WMDs. This has undermined the main pretext on which the Bush regime invaded Iraq. If there was no imminent threat to the United States, or even to Iraq’s neighbours, why has the US been dragged into war and an increasingly costly occupation? Throughout the US, more and more people are asking: did Bush exaggerate the evidence on weapons, or even fabricate it?

The single most damaging blow to Bush’s credibility has been the discrediting of his claim, made in his State of the Union address (28 January), that Saddam had "recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa". This ‘fact’ was used to reinforce the impression that the Iraqi regime was on the verge of producing nuclear weapons. Subsequent exposure of the fact that Bush’s claim was based on forged documents and bogus intelligence has fuelled growing recognition in the US that so-called intelligence about WMDs was fabricated and manipulated to exaggerate the threat posed by Saddam’s regime.

The African uranium story, attributed by Bush to the British government, was immediately challenged by Joseph Wilson, a former US career diplomat who in 2002 was asked by the CIA to travel to Niger to investigate suspicions that Saddam had been trying purchase uranium from that country. Wilson concluded "that it was highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever taken place". (New York Times, 6 July) His view that documents produced as ‘evidence’ were crude forgeries was subsequently confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Wilson is certain that his conclusions were circulated at the highest level of the Bush government. He felt compelled to speak out publicly because, "if… the information [provided by Wilson] was ignored because it did not fit certain preconceptions about Iraq, then a legitimate argument can be made that we went to war under false pretences".

Later, Bush and Company were forced to admit that the Africa claim had been based on ‘unreliable’ intelligence. Bush’s spin doctor, Ari Fleischer, confessed that the Niger intelligence "did, indeed, turn out to be incorrect". (International Herald Tribune, 9 July) The White House blamed the CIA for not advising them appropriately. George Tenet, director of the CIA, publicly accepted blame for not vetting Bush’s speech (though he later told a congressional inquiry that he had not read the speech).

In a further attempt to shield Bush, his deputy national security advisor, Stephen Hadley, confessed that he had in fact received two CIA memos warning that the African uranium evidence was ‘unreliable’ and that he had failed to advise Bush to revise his speech. His boss, Condoleezza Rice, claimed that "if there were doubts about the underlying intelligence, those doubts were not communicated to the president, to the vice-president, or to me". (International Herald Tribune, 12 July) Rice’s name, however, was listed as a recipient of one of the CIA warnings also sent to Hadley. People who believe that Bush, Cheney, Rice, etc, were really unaware of CIA – and State Department – warnings about the Niger intelligence are becoming harder and harder to find.

By naming the ‘British government’ as the source of the information, Bush dropped Blair in it. Incredibly, the Blair government continues to assert that the Niger intelligence was sound. Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, said that he could not reveal his ‘independent’ sources because the information originated from ‘a third country’. It seems much more likely, however, that the Niger story was originally cooked up by some arm of US intelligence. "While Bush cited the British report, seemingly giving the account the credibility of coming from a non-American intelligence service, Britain itself relied in part on information provided by the CIA, American and British officials have said". (International Herald Tribune, 9 July)

In an interview with the magazine, Vanity Fair (9 May –, Paul Wolfowitz blatantly admitted: "For bureaucratic reasons, we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everybody could agree on". This is a blatant admission that the Bush regime mounted a WMD scare to whip up public support for a war against Iraq. But did Bush and Company have any real evidence or credible intelligence?

Recent press reports, based on unofficial briefings, show that, after the Unscom weapons inspectors had been withdrawn in 1998, the US intelligence agencies managed to collect little or no reliable information about Iraq’s weapons capacity. "An internal CIA review of pre-war intelligence on Iraq found that the evidence collected by the CIA and other intelligence agencies after 1998 was mostly fragmentary and often inconclusive… In hindsight, it is now clear just how dependent the US was on the UN weapons inspection process". (New York Times, Sketchy Data… 20 July)

This assessment starkly contrasts with the Bush regime’s hostile criticism of the UN weapons inspectors. Last August, when the US was trying to discredit the idea of further weapons inspections, vice-president Dick Cheney claimed the US had far better intelligence than the UN and that "the inspectors missed a great deal".

Yet "in a series of interviews", reports the New York Times, "intelligence and other officials describe the Central Intelligence Agency and the White House as essentially blinded after the UN inspectors were withdrawn in 1998. They were left grasping for whatever slivers they could obtain…"

Richard Kerr, head of the team which reviewed the CIA’s pre-war intelligence, said: "There were pieces of new information, but not a lot of hard information, and so the products that dealt with WMD were based heavily on analysis drawn out of that earlier period".

What, in fact, was Unscom’s assessment? The UN weapons inspectors confirmed that the Iraqi regime "undertook extensive, unilateral and secret destruction of large quantities of proscribed weapons" following the first Gulf war (Unscom report, 29 January 1999). The lack of documentation, however, and Saddam’s secrecy about pre-1991 weapons programmes, left open the possibility, according to Unscom, that some chemical and biological weapons remained hidden. In August 1995, however, Unscom inspectors were able to interview Saddam’s former chief of weapons production, General Hussein Kamel, who had defected from the regime. He told the inspectors that all Saddam’s non-conventional weapons had been destroyed. (Unscom/IAEA minutes, available at

Former head of Unscom, Rolf Ekeus, told a Harvard University meeting in 2000 that "we felt that in all areas we have eliminated Iraq’s [WMD] capabilities fundamentally". (Associated Press, 16 August 2000) By 1996, Unscom teams had destroyed Iraq’s last remaining weapon-producing (and so-called ‘dual-use’) equipment, making it impossible for Saddam’s regime to manufacture new weapons.

Even under conditions of US military occupation, with massive military search teams scouring the country, the US has not been able to refute the conclusions of Unscom. They preferred, however, to rely on ‘information’ from the Pentagon’s in-house intelligence agency, the Office of Special Plans. In reality, the OSP simply channelled information unquestioned from Hamad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress to Rumsfeld and the White House. Reservations from the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency were unceremoniously brushed aside.

Unscom’s reports were the last thing the Bush regime wanted to hear. The Republican hawks now dominating the White House and the Pentagon were determined to invade Iraq in order to bolster the military power, economic dominance, and strategic influence of US imperialism. One of the former US members of the Unscom inspection team, Charles Duelfer, a former state department functionary, spelled it out: "I think it would be a mistake to focus on the issue of weapons of mass destruction. To do so ignores the larger issue of whether or not we want this dictator to have control over a nation capable of producing six billion barrels of oil per day… If you focus on the weapons issue, the first thing you know, Iraq will be given a clean bill of health".

The Bush regime mounted a campaign of state-sponsored lies to prepare the way for a US invasion of Iraq.

Under pressure from growing public questioning of Bush’s WMD claims – the main public justification for war – congressional committees are beginning to probe more deeply into the Bush regime’s ‘murky’ intelligence. Both the Senate and House intelligence select committees are conducting ‘reviews’ behind closed doors. Earlier, the chair of the Senate committee, Republican Pat Roberts (Kansas), was using his position to protect Bush from serious investigation. Since the ‘African uranium’ issue blew up, however, Roberts has been singing a different tune, saying "we will take this where it leads us; we’ll let the chips fall where they may". (Thomas Oliphant, Congress Starts Asking Questions, International Herald Tribune, 23 July)

At the same time, Democrats who cravenly supported the war, have now begun to push for a thorough inquiry. Jane Harman, a Democratic congresswoman from California, complains that Americans have been the victims of "the biggest cover-up manoeuvre of all time".

There is clearly much, much more to be revealed. The truth about the Bush administration’s WMDs – weapons of mass deception – in the context of US forces becoming increasingly mired in a protracted conflict in Iraq, will swell opposition to Bush on the war and issues of security. Recent opinion polls show that a clear majority now believe that the Bush administration exaggerated Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. In Cincinnati, in the Mid-West, a Republican supporter said: "I’d like to know whether there was any deliberate attempt to deceive… It’s painful to say, but I don’t like where this is coming down". (Among the Bush Faithful, Doubts Rise Over Use of False Data, International Herald Tribune, 18 July) A Democrat-voting truck driver said: "I think [Bush’s] popularity is falling, and once people find out the truth about this it’s really going to drop". A young business consultant commented: "When you are taking lives, it should be nothing but the truth. We rushed in there".

The report referred to "dark political clouds for Bush in this largely socially conservative region…", forming around Republican voters who supported the war but now are increasingly uncomfortable with reports that the president might have used inaccurate intelligence to justify it.

Lynn Walsh


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