Wednesday :: Nov 16, 2005

WMDgate: Fixing Intelligence Around Policy - The Aluminum Tubes, Part 1

by eriposte

This post is part of a series I previously introduced, focused on building a case to demonstrate the Bush White House's intelligence manipulation, fixing and misrepresentation, mostly using published Congressional reports like the Phase I Senate (SSCI) Report, the Robb-Silberman WMD Commission Report, etc. While it is clear that even without the use of Congressional reports, the case against the Bush White House is pretty solid - see here and here for example - I want to demonstrate that the parliamentary reports, rather than make the case against the White House weaker, actually makes it stronger. [Note: All extracts from published reports may have lost some original formatting (in particular, italics). This is unintentional, but it does not change their meaning or implications in any way.]

Two crucial issues in the march up to the Iraq war epitomized the intelligence "fixing" that occurred - one of which was the fake uranium from Africa claim, and the other being the aluminum-tubes-for-nuclear-centrifuges hoax. Since I have discussed the former in some depth, I am going to use the latter issue as the main test case for this series. (If time permits I will include other topics in this series).

Somewhat analogous to the issue of uranium from Africa (pre- and post-late September 2002), the aluminum tubes topic is best examined by considering two phases of the campaign - the period on or before September 12, 2002, and the period on or after September 13, 2002. The reason for this separation is that the first public reporting on a debate on the possible uses of the aluminum tubes seems to have occurred on September 13, 2002 in the New York Times [PDF]. Many of the claims made by the Bush administration in the context of the aluminum tubes have been catalogued by Tim Dickinson at Mother Jones and I make use of his article to capture some of those claims below.

Time Period A: On or before September 12, 2002

Here are some key claims made by the Bush administration in this time period (which followed a Michael Gordon/Judith Miller NYT article claiming that the aluminum tubes were part of a nuclear reconstitution effort):

[Saddam] now is trying, through his illicit procurement network, to acquire the equipment he needs to be able to enrich uranium -- specifically, aluminum tubes. - Dick Cheney, September 8, 2002

We do know that there have been shipments going into...Iraq, for instance, of aluminum tubes that really are only suited to -- high-quality aluminum tubes* that are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs. - Condoleezza Rice, September 8, 2002

Iraq has made several attempts to buy high-strength aluminum tubes used to enrich uranium for a nuclear weapon. - George Bush, September 12, 2002

[*NOTE: The transcript says "tools" but it refers to the tubes - which is what other quotes of Rice seem to indicate. I'm not sure what exactly was stated but I'm using the term "tubes" throughout.]

Time Period B: On or after September 13, 2002

Here are some key claims made by the Bush administration in this time period:

Iraq has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes and other equipment needed for gas centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons. - George Bush, October 7, 2002

I will say this is something that the President has said publicly, that Iraq did, in fact, seek to buy these tubes for the purpose of producing, not as Iraq now claims conventional forces, but for the purpose of trying to produce nuclear weapons. And so it's, on the one hand, mildly encouraging that Iraq would now admit to what it's been doing. But on the other hand, a lie is still a lie, because these -- they sought to produce these for the purpose of production of nuclear weapons, not conventional. - Ari Fleischer, December 2, 2002

Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production. Saddam Hussein has not credibly explained these activities. He clearly has much to hide. - George Bush, January 28, 2003

Are we convinced that those tubes were designed and were intended for enrichment of uranium? The answer is definitely, yes. - John Negroponte, January 29, 2003

There are a number of ways to assess the veracity of these claims, but what caught my attention was a recent Walter Pincus article in the Washington Post (emphasis mine) which suggested how the GOP Senate leadership might allow the Bush White House to maintain their cover-up:

For example, in a Sept. 8, 2002, appearance on CNN, Condoleezza Rice said Iraq was receiving "high-quality aluminum tubes that are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs." At the time, there were serious disagreements within the intelligence community over whether those tubes were meant for centrifuges -- which can be used to extract weapons-grade uranium -- or whether they were meant for anti-aircraft rockets, which proved to be the case. If it could be shown that there was at least one intelligence report that substantiated Rice's statement, that might be enough to justify her statement under terms of the panel's earlier agreement.

As one senior committee staff member put it, "This study will not punish 'cherry-picking' intelligence, whether by the administration or by Democrats."

Under Rockefeller's desired approach, Rice could be interviewed to ask her what intelligence she based her statements on, and whether she was aware of the contrary views.

Of course, Sen. Rockefeller's "desired approach" is closer to the one that normal human beings would find meaningful, considering that it does not matter if one report made the (fake) claim that Rice did if she had also seen another report that stated a different view. So, that specific aspect - what reports offered alternative scenarios on the aluminum tubes - will be the focus of my next few posts.

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