Saturday :: Nov 19, 2005

WMDgate: Fixing Intelligence Around Policy - The Aluminum Tubes, Part 2A-3

by eriposte

This post is part of a series (see Introduction, Part 1, Part 2A-1, Part 2A-2) 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 wanted to demonstrate that the parliamentary reports, rather than make the case against the White House weaker, actually make 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 the meaning or content in any way.]

In Part 2A-1, I showed that an examination of CIA reports on the aluminum tubes prior to early September 2002 made it clear that the Bush administration's "ignorance" defense (that the CIA never told them that alternative uses were possible for the tubes) was false. In Part 2A-2, I extended the analysis to the DIA (and to a lesser extent NGIC) reports. The CIA and DIA were the two prominent agencies trying to push the view that the aluminum tubes were more likely intended for uranium centrifuges, but they both repeatedly acknowledged that alternative uses for the tubes were possible (in contradiction to the claims of Bush, Cheney and Rice).

That said, CIA and DIA reports were not the only reports in the IC at the time. There were other top agencies like DOE and INR that had reached a very different conclusion on the end use of the aluminum tubes. These agencies were also submitting intelligence reports on the aluminum tubes and it is reasonable to assume that at least some of these must have been sent to the White House. So, it is important to understand what these agency reports were saying in the pre-Sep-2002 timeframe on the topic of aluminum tubes, and whether these reports mentioned the possible alternative uses for the aluminum tubes.

In this post the focus is on the Department of Energy (DOE). So, Part 2A-3 focuses on the following question:

Which DOE intelligence reports would Rice, Cheney, and Bush would have to have not read in order to make the claim(s) in early September 2002, that Iraq was buying aluminum tubes specifically to enrich uranium in centrifuges?

The discussion is divided into the following sections.

1. Senate (SSCI) Report
2. Robb-Silberman WMD Commission Report
3. White House Awareness and Misrepresentation of DOE position
4. Conclusions

1. Senate (SSCI) Report

There is quite a bit of discussion on the DOE reporting in the Senate Report. I am reproducing some relevant passages relating to DOE reports prior to early September 2002 (bold text is my emphasis):

One day after the CIA published its assessment [i.e., on April 11, 2001], the DOE published their own analysis of the aluminum tube procurement. The DOE paper provided a more detailed analysis of the aluminum tubes and their applicability to a uranium centrifuge enrichment program. The assessment said:

Based on the reported specifications, the tubes could be used to manufacture gas centrifuge rotor cylinders for uranium enrichment. However, our analysis indicates that the specified tube diameter, which is half that of the centrifuge machine Iraq successfully tested in 1990, is only marginally large enough for practical centrifuge applications, and other specifications are not consistent with a gas centrifuge end use. Moreover, the quantity being sought suggests preparations for large scale production of centrifuge machines, for which we have not seen related procurement efforts - and the tubes' specifications suggest a centrifuge design quite different from any Iraq is known to have. Thus, we assess that this procurement activity more likely supports a different application. Regardless of end use, the delivery of aluminum tubes with the reported specifications to Iraq would be prohibited under Annex III of UNSCR 687 and 707.

(U) DOE's assessment concluded that:

While the gas centrifuge application cannot be ruled out, we assess that the procurement activity more likely supports a different application, such as conventional ordnance production. For example, the tube specifications and quantity appear to be generally consistent with their use as launch tubes for man-held anti-armor rockets or as tactical rocket casings. Also, the manner in which the procurement is being handled (multiple procurement agents, quotes obtained from multiple suppliers in diverse locations, and price haggling) seems to better match our expectations for a conventional Iraqi military buy than a major purchase for a clandestine weapons-of-mass destruction program. However, we have not identified an Iraq-specific, military, or other noncentrifuge application that precisely matches the tube specifications. (Daily Intelligence Highlight, Iraq: High Strength Aluminum Tube Procurement)

(  ) By the next month, the DOE had done further research on the tubes and had identified a noncentrifuge end use that did match the tube specifications. On May 9, 2001, DOE published another Daily Intelligence Highlight, [DELETED]/Iraq: Aluminum Alloy Tube Purchase, which said, "The Intelligence Community's original analysis of these tubes focused on their possible use in developing gas centrifuges for the enrichment of uranium. Further investigation reveals, however, Iraq has purchased similar aluminum tubes previously to manufacture chambers (tubes) for a multiple rocket launcher." The assessment noted that the IAEA had learned that tubes found at the Nasser metal fabrication facility in Baghdad that were 800 mm in length, 81 mm in diameter and had a wall thickness of 3.3 mm, [SENTENCE DELETED]. The DOE assessment noted that Nasser officials said the tubes were used for manufacturing the chambers of 81-mm rockets and that the high strength tubes had previously been purchased in large quantities. Iraq had 160,000 tubes on hand in 1989 and 66,737 in 1996.
On August 17, 2001, DOE published a Technical Intelligence Note (TIN), Iraq's Gas Centrifuge Program: Is Reconstitution Underway? (TIN000064) which contained an extensive eight page analysis of whether the aluminum tubes were intended for a rocket or a centrifuge program. The assessment [SENTENCE DELETED] noted that the Iraqis had declared to the IAEA that the Nasser State Establishment obtained and used large numbers of high strength aluminum tubes to manufacture 81-mm rockets dating back to at least 1989. The tubes were declared to be made of 7075-T6 aluminum with an 81 mm outer diameter, 74.4 mm inner diameter, and 900 mm length - the same specifications of the tubes Iraq was trying to acquire in 2001. The assessment also noted that the IAEA [DELETED] found large numbers of tubes stores in various locations around the site. As mentioned in an earlier DOE assessment, the IAEA [SENTENCE DELETED] Iraq did, in fact, have an 81 mm-rocket in its arsenal that was produced at the Nasser State Establishment.

(U) Regarding the tubes' utility in a gas centrifuge program, the DOE assessed that the tubes could have been used to manufacture centrifuge rotors, but were not well suited for that purpose. The DOE assessed that 7075-T6 aluminum "provides performance roughly half that of the materials Iraq previously pursued." Prior to the Gulf War, Iraq had pursued rotors made from maraging steel and carbon fiber composites, which both offer better uranium reparative capacity. If Iraq were to pursue a rotor of 7075-T6 aluminum instead, it would need twice as many rotors, as well as twice as many other centrifuge components, such as end caps, bearings, and outer casings.

(  ) According to the DOE assessment, the tube diameter was smaller than that of any known deployed centrifuge machine and was about half the diameter of Iraq's pre-Gulf War prototype machine. DOE noted that a small diameter would have presented "various design and operational problems that veteran engineers of Iraq's prior program should readily understand." In addition, "the tubes are too thick for favorable use as rotor tubes, exceeding the nominal 1-mm thickness of known aluminum rotor tubes by more than a factor of three . . . . Additionally, various tolerances specified in contract documents . . . are looser than the expected precision call-outs for an aluminum rotor tube by factors of two to five." The DOE also noted that the anodized surface, requested by Iraq in its tube procurements, ". . . is not consistent with a gas centrifuge application. [SENTENCE DELETED].

(U) According to the DOE's assessment, "A centrifuge machine using 81-mm aluminum rotors is different from any known centrifuge machine deployed in a production environment .... In our judgment, Iraq would need to undertake its development program all over again and address each aspect of centrifuge engineering anew at the reduced diameter and using the different rotor material." DOE concluded that "... a gas centrifuge application is credible but unlikely and a rocket production application is the more likely end use for these tubes."

So, prior to September 2002, the DOE, who were the IC experts on this matter, published at least three intelligence reports challenging the CIA claim and pointing out that the tubes, while possibly targeted towards centrifuges, were not well suited for a centrifuge application and most likely intended for a conventional weapons application like rockets. The dates of these reports were:

  • April 11, 2001
  • May 9, 2001
  • August 17, 2001

In fact, every DOE report from day one was pointing out the same thing - that the tubes were intended not for centrifuges but for conventional weapons.

There are a couple of other points that needs to be emphasized. As the Senate Report points out:

From July 2001 to July 2002, the CIA produced at least nine additional intelligence [DELETED] discussing Iraq's aluminum tube procurement efforts. None of these assessments provided any additional information to support the CIA's analysis that the tubes were probably intended for Iraq's nuclear program, other than what was stated in the July 2001 assessment; the tubes matched the 1950s Zippe centrifuge design and the tubes' specifications far exceeded those for any known conventional weapons application. Most of the assessments were disseminated in limited channels, only to high-level policymakers and were not available to intelligence analysts from other agencies.
On August 1, 2002, the CIA published its first detailed paper explaining its assessment that the aluminum tubes were destined for Iraq's nuclear program.

So, it wasn't until August 2002 that the CIA got around to providing a detailed justification for the tubes-for-centrifuges fakery. In contrast, from day one, the DOE was providing detailed analysis showing why the CIA claims (i.e., the claims of CIA's centrifuge WINPAC analyst Joe) were basically bunk.

Second, note the fact that unlike DOE that was sharing its assessments with the IC, the CIA (WINPAC) was hiding their intel reports from the broader IC. This is an important point that I will return to in a future post.

2. Robb-Silberman WMD Commission Report

Let's also make a brief note of the Robb-Silberman WMD Commission report (emphasis mine):

The Department of Energy (DOE), the U.S. government's primary repository of expertise on nuclear matters, assessed that the tubes--although they "could be used to manufacture centrifuge rotors"--were "not well-suited for a centrifuge application" and were more likely intended for use in Iraq's Nasser 81 millimeter Multiple Rocket Launcher (MRL) program.

The Robb-Silberman report makes it clear that DOE was consistently arguing that the tubes were more likely intended for a conventional weapons program like rockets.

3. White House Awareness and Misrepresentation of DOE position

One of the obvious questions in this whole affair is whether the DOE's intel reports were accessible to the White House and whether the information in their reports was discussed with senior White House officials. Since the Senate (SSCI) Report and Robb-Silberman Report did not really study this issue, we have to rely on some published news reports to answer this question. News reports make it clear that DOE's intel reports were themselves classified (secret) and made available to the White House (and of course to the IC as a whole). DOE also briefed senior policymakers directly.

For instance, this October 2004 NYT article points out (emphasis mine):

That finding was published May 9, 2001, in the Daily Intelligence Highlight, a secret Energy Department newsletter published on Intelink, a Web site for the intelligence community and the White House.
At the Energy Department, those examining the tubes included scientists who had spent decades designing and working on centrifuges, and intelligence officers steeped in the tricky business of tracking the nuclear ambitions of America's enemies. They included Dr. Jon A. Kreykes, head of Oak Ridge's national security advanced technology group; Dr. Duane F. Starr, an expert on nuclear proliferation threats; and Dr. Edward Von Halle, a retired Oak Ridge nuclear expert. Dr. Houston G. Wood III, a professor of engineering at the University of Virginia who had helped design the 40-foot American centrifuge, advised the team and consulted with Dr. Zippe.

On questions about nuclear centrifuges, this was unambiguously the A-Team of the intelligence community, many experts say.

On Aug. 17, 2001, weeks before the twin towers fell, the team published a secret Technical Intelligence Note, a detailed analysis that laid out its doubts about the tubes' suitability for centrifuges.

First, in size and material, the tubes were very different from those Iraq had used in its centrifuge prototypes before the first gulf war. Those models used tubes that were nearly twice as wide and made of exotic materials that performed far better than aluminum. ''Aluminum was a huge step backwards,'' Dr. Wood recalled.

In fact, the team could find no centrifuge machines ''deployed in a production environment'' that used such narrow tubes. Their walls were three times too thick for ''favorable use'' in a centrifuge, the team wrote. They were also anodized, meaning they had a special coating to protect them from weather. Anodized tubes, the team pointed out, are ''not consistent'' with a uranium centrifuge because the coating can produce bad reactions with uranium gas.

In other words, if Joe and his Winpac colleagues were right, it meant that Iraq had chosen to forsake years of promising centrifuge work and instead start from scratch, with inferior material built to less-than-optimal dimensions.

The Energy Department experts did not think that made much sense. They concluded that using the tubes in centrifuges ''is credible but unlikely, and a rocket production is the much more likely end use for these tubes.''
By year's end, Energy Department analysts published a classified report that even more firmly rejected the theory that the tubes could work as rotors in a 1950's Zippe centrifuge.

The point of the above extract is to emphasize the fact that these were intel reports were highly classified and were meant for senior IC members as well as the White House. It would be unbelievable to claim that no one in the the White House read any of the DOE reports. In fact, as the NYT article also points out (emphasis mine):

The Senate report provides only a partial picture of the agency's communications with the White House. In an arrangement endorsed by both parties, the Intelligence Committee agreed to delay an examination of whether White House descriptions of Iraq's military capabilities were ''substantiated by intelligence information.'' As a result, Senate investigators were not permitted to interview White House officials about what they knew of the tubes debate and when they knew it.

But in interviews, C.I.A. and administration officials disclosed that the dissenting views were repeatedly discussed in meetings and telephone calls.

One senior official at the agency said its ''fundamental approach'' was to tell policy makers about dissenting views. Another senior official acknowledged that some of their agency's reports ''weren't as well caveated as, in retrospect, they should have been.'' But he added, ''There was certainly nothing that was hidden.''

Four agency officials insisted that Winpac analysts repeatedly explained the contrasting assessments during briefings with senior National Security Council officials who dealt with nuclear proliferation issues. ''We think we were reasonably clear about this,'' a senior C.I.A. official said.

A senior administration official confirmed that Winpac was indeed candid about the differing views. The official, who recalled at least a half dozen C.I.A. briefings on tubes, said he knew by late 2001 that there were differing views on the tubes. ''To the best of my knowledge, he never hid anything from me,'' the official said of his counterpart at Winpac.

This official said he also spoke to senior officials at the Department of Energy about the tubes, and a spokeswoman for the department said in a written statement that the agency ''strongly conveyed its viewpoint to senior policy makers.''

[Let's not forget that at least one of the DIA intel reports on the aluminum tubes explicitly mentioned DOE's dissent from the tubes-for-centrifuges hoax and it is quite likely that other reports did too.]

Yet, a Bush administration official made a false claim regarding the position of scientists at Oak Ridge National Labs (part of DOE), as the NYT article points out (bold text is my emphasis):

Yet so far, Senate investigators say, they have found little evidence the White House tried to find out why so many experts disputed the C.I.A. tubes theory. If anything, administration officials minimized the divide.

On Sept. 13 [2002], The Times made the first public mention of the tubes debate in the sixth paragraph of an article on Page A13. In it an unidentified senior administration official dismissed the debate as a ''footnote, not a split.'' Citing another unidentified administration official, the story reported that the ''best technical experts and nuclear scientists at laboratories like Oak Ridge supported the C.I.A. assessments.''

As a senior Oak Ridge official pointed out to the Intelligence Committee, ''the vast majority of scientists and nuclear experts'' in the Energy Department's laboratories in fact disagreed with the agency.

The Senate Report also mentions the fake claim (emphasis mine):

A September 13, 2002 New York Times article which discussed the IC debate about the aluminum tubes, noted that an administration official said, "... the best technical experts and nuclear scientists at laboratories like Oak Ridge supported the CIA assessments."...DOE officials, including the Director of the Oak Ridge Field Intelligence Element, told Committee staff that the vast majority of scientists and nuclear experts at the DOE and the National Labs did not agree with the CIA's analysis.

The kicker, of course, is how the DOE was forced to react publicly after the dissent became public. As the NYT article points out (bold text is my emphasis):

But on Sept. 13, the day the article appeared, the Energy Department sent a directive forbidding employees from discussing the subject with reporters.

The Energy Department, in a written statement, said that it was ''completely appropriate'' to remind employees of the need to protect nuclear secrets and that it had made no effort ''to quash dissent.''

Right, just as the sun rises in the west.

4. Conclusions

Prior to September 2002, the DOE, who were the "IC's nuclear experts" [SSCI Report] and "U.S. government's primary repository of expertise on nuclear matters" [Robb-Silberman report], published at least three intelligence reports challenging the CIA claim on the end use of the alumnium tubes, pointing out that the tubes, while possibly targeted towards centrifuges, were not well suited for a centrifuge application and most likely intended for a conventional weapons application like rockets. The dates of these reports were:

  • April 11, 2001
  • May 9, 2001
  • August 17, 2001

In fact, every DOE report from day one was pointing out the same thing - that the tubes were intended not for centrifuges but for conventional weapons. As I have discussed above, there is significant evidence that the broader intelligence community was well aware of the DOE's dissent in this time period. For example, at least one of the DIA reports explicitly mentioned the DOE dissent, while most (if not all) IC reports mentioned the possibility of alternative uses of the tubes even if they did not explicitly call out DOE as the proponent of those views. There is also significant evidence that the dissenting views of the DOE were shared with the White House prior to early September 2002. Therefore, the already untenable justification for the White House's claims (which becomes apparent based on an analysis of the CIA and DIA reports), is shredded completely by the fact that the IC's top experts on nuclear issues had communicated to the White House that the aluminum tubes were intended not for centrifuges but most likely for conventional weapons.

Let me also add a crucial point, which I have not even brought into the discussion so far. The DOE's position on this matter was actually unassailable, as becomes apparent by a reading of their actual report(s). I will focus on this in a future post.

eriposte :: 12:45 PM :: Comments (6) :: TrackBack (0) :: Spotlight :: Digg It!