WMDgate: Fixing Intelligence Around Policy - The Aluminum Tubes, Part 2A-5
This post is part of a series (see Introduction, Part 1, Part 2A-1, Part 2A-2, Part 2A-3, Part 2A-4) 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 Parts 2A-1 through 2A-4, I focused on reporting from the U.S. intelligence community (IC), prior to early September 2002, on the topic of Iraq's purchase and intended end use of aluminum tubes - and on how that reporting revealed the basic mendacity of the claims of Bush, Cheney and Rice. In this part, I extend my analysis to discuss what the intelligence agencies of foreign governments/organizations were saying prior to early September 2002, on this topic. After all, during this time period, the United States was receiving intel reports from the U.N. and other intelligence agencies on various issues including the aluminum tubes. So it is not unreasonable to expect that the White House asked about - and was informed about - the positions of those intelligence agencies.
A review of the foreign intelligence reporting on the aluminum tubes is extremely illuminating and it further shreds the Bush administration's claims. The discussion is divided into the following sections.
1. British Intelligence
2. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA, U.N.)
3. Australian Intelligence
1. British Intelligence
The British were never convinced that Iraq's purchase of aluminum tubes was intended for a nuclear end-application. Thus, even though Tony Blair worked with George Bush to diligently cook the intelligence books, on this particular topic the evidence that the tube purchases were ill-suited for uranium gas centrifuges was so glaring that even the friendly British could not ignore it.
So, it is worth taking a look at the Butler Report on this topic (p. 131-132; bold text is my emphasis):
534. In May 2001, the JIC reported:
- attempts to procure production scale quantities of aluminium pipes of specifications similar to those that can be used for a first generation centrifuge; . . .
More recent intelligence indicates efforts by Iraq since 1998 to procure items that could be used in a uranium enrichment programme using centrifuges. These include:
[JIC, 10 May 2001]
535. The intelligence on Iraq’s efforts to procure aluminium tubes was substantial. A series of reports in mid-2001 described the progress of the particular shipment of Chinese-origin tubes that was eventually seized, in part, in Jordan. The seizure did not deter the Iraqis who, if anything, increased their efforts to acquire the tubes from a wider network of potential suppliers and intermediaries around the world. By November 2001, there was intelligence that their requirement had increased to 100,000 tubes.
536. That Iraq wanted aluminium tubes was therefore never in doubt. Nor was it in doubt that they were made of a proscribed material. But the purpose for which the tubes were sought was not established. We were assured that advice was obtained not only from the Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS) but also from a world expert on nuclear technology who had formerly worked at British Nuclear Fuels Limited. Even so, this did not solve the puzzle. It was clear from an early date that, on the basis of the specifications of the tubes Iraq was seeking to acquire, they would have required substantial re-engineering to make them suitable for gas centrifuge use, including reducing them in length, and machining metal off the inside and outside. This was paradoxical, since Iraq had laid down very fine tolerances for the tubes.
537. The JIC, in March 2002, was careful in its description of the seized tubes:
A shipment stopped in Jordan was inspected by the IAEA, who accepted, that with some modifications, the aluminium would be suitable for use in centrifuges. But we have no definitive intelligence that the aluminium was destined for a nuclear programme.[JIC, 15 March 2002]
...540. There was, from the outset, an alternative explanation available for the aluminium tubes. Their potential for use as rocket motor casings was mentioned in intelligence reporting as early as summer 2001. One of the earliest intelligence reports recorded that Iraq had been seeking tubes of the same precise specification from Switzerland “probably for the Iraqi Air Force”. Other reports also suggested possible conventional military uses for the tubes. Combined with the known engineering obstacles to the use of the tubes as centrifuge rotors, this uncertainty contributed to the JIC’s unwillingness to conclude that the tubes had a definite nuclear application.
2. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA, U.N.)
Here is a relevant extract from 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 International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) agreed with DOE's assessment, concluding that the tubes were usable in a gas centrifuge application but that they were not directly suited to that use. 
This is the content of reference 33 (emphasis mine):
 Department of State, UNVIE Vienna 001337 (July 27, 2001) (cable from the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in Vienna describing IAEA conclusions regarding the aluminum tubes); see also UNVIE Vienna 001134 (July 25, 2002) (reiterating previous assessment).
Thus, the IAEA's position (almost from day one), based on a serious analysis of the tubes (unlike that of the CIA/WINPAC), was that the tubes were intended for conventional weapons and not nuclear centrifuges.
David Albright at the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) wrote a detailed report that sheds more light on the deliberate fraud that the CIA WINPAC analyst Joe was perpetrating at the CIA despite what was revealed by the IAEA. Here are some extracts from his article (emphasis mine):
Members of the IAEA Action Team, responsible for inspections in Iraq under the UN Security Council, started to learn about the aluminum tubes early in the summer of 2001. The Action Team, now called the Iraq Nuclear Verification Office (INVO), became deeply skeptical of Joe’s assessment about the purpose of the tubes.
IAEA experts quickly realized that Iraq had imported in the 1980s large numbers of tubes with identical dimensions for use in short-range rocket motors in multiple rocket launch systems (MRLS). Inspectors had seen thousands of these tubes in the 1990s. In their files, the inspectors had extensive information about Iraqi procurement of these high strength tubes dating to the late 1980s.
The most important characteristics of the tubes are assembled in table 1, which compares an old Zippe-type and Beams centrifuge with a 81-millimeter rocket. Some of the characteristics of the tubes are compatible with a centrifuge use, but all of the characteristics fit a use in a rocket that Iraq was known to have produced or planned to produce indigenously. The tubes' length, wall thickness, and diameter in particular are identical to a use in this rocket.
In July 2001, Joe traveled to Vienna with a DOE expert and gave a presentation about his results to IAEA experts, according to a knowledgeable official. Joe made a case that after cutting each tube to the proper length and machining down the wall thickness, the resulting tube looked like it was part of an old Zippe centrifuge design. In particular, it had a similar mass.
DOE experts had earlier pointed out to Joe that he had failed to include the end caps and a baffle in his calculation of the rotor mass (see figures 1 and 2). These items are essential parts of a rotor assembly. With the two end caps and baffle, the assembled rotor had a mass greater than the mass of the rotor assembly in the particular Zippe-type design Joe concocted. Joe responded by adding the missing mass in the end caps, and he compensated by thinning the wall thickness from 3.3 millimeters to 1.0 millimeter. He had to reject his original assumption that the tubes could be used without significant modification other than reducing their length. The tubes could be used in a gas centrifuge, but Iraq would need to make major modifications to the tubes in order to do so.
Some of the participants in the meeting spent a considerable amount of time explaining to him the flaws in his analysis. The IAEA experts who interacted with Joe had worked for many years in Urenco, the European centrifuge consortium, and had built and operated successful aluminum Zippe-type centrifuges in the 1970s. Joe had worked in the US centrifuge program on a significantly different centrifuge design and technology and had no first hand knowledge of aluminum rotors in a Zippe-type machine. One knowledgeable expert complained to me later in the summer of 2001 that Joe’s analysis was “really bad.”
One official said that Joe was unaware of earlier Iraqi orders for tubes or their intended use in rockets, although that had been known as early as 1996 based on UNSCOM inspections. Joe also did not raise the issue about tightened tolerances that was to figure so prominently in the debates in 2002 and 2003.
Despite explaining their opposition to Joe’s analysis, the IAEA’s position appears to have been misrepresented back in Washington. Two senior IAEA officials told me in the summer of 2003 that they had learned that Joe after returning to Washington falsely reported that the IAEA was supportive of his conclusions about the tubes.
To one critical IAEA participant in the debate, Joe always came back with the “same answer, no matter what the objections were.” The IAEA’s critical comments were not welcomed and certainly not incorporated into a more rigorous analysis of the purpose of the tubes. Despite knowing little about the manner in which the tubes order was discovered and subsequently intercepted in Jordan, the IAEA was becoming aware that this debate was not a typical analysts’ disagreement.
Reading between the lines, the IAEA became quickly aware that the intelligence surrounding the aluminum tubes was being fraudulently interpreted by the CIA WINPAC analyst to come to the conclusion that the tubes were targeted towards nuclear centrifuges. At the same time, they were sending reports to the U.S. prior to September 2002, via the State Department, that challenged Joe's conclusions and showed that the tubes were intended for a conventional weapons application (rockets).
3. Australian Intelligence
Reader Alan pointed me to the Australian Parliamentary Report (PDF, html index page here) on Iraq's WMD dated December 2003. A review of this report is also illuminating. Here are some relevant extracts (emphasis mine):
1.44 The key factor which is evident in the review of the aluminium tubes issue is that from the outset, opinion among intelligence analysts as well as experts was divided on the intended use of the tubes. It is also apparent that the dissenting views, while continuing to increase during the latter part of 2002, were not appropriately considered by the CIA and the executive of the US administration as it did not support or add to the case for taking military action against Iraq over its protracted and intransigent refusal to comply with the requirements of the various United Nations Security Council resolutions on Iraq’s WMD. On the other hand however, the UK having also noted the issue, were more circumspect in their assessment of the intended use of the tubes.
2.10 Specific reference to Iraq‘s attempts to rebuild its nuclear capacity is seen in the ONA [Office of National Assessments] assessment of 8 Feb 2002. ‘The reports pointed to …attempts to acquire aluminium pipes believed to be for gas centrifuges to make weapons grade uranium.’ This view is qualified in the 19 July  joint assessment which notes:
All known weapons-grade fissile material was removed from the country after the Gulf War. … Iraq’s attempts over the past two years to buy dual-use items suggest a covert effort to make weapons grade uranium in gas centrifuges, but the evidence is patchy and inconclusive. … US agencies differ on whether aluminium pipes, a dual use item sought by Iraq, were meant for gas centrifuges. … Iraq is likely to have a nuclear programme … though it is unlikely to be far advanced.
4.16 Iraq’s attempts to buy aluminium tubes was an issue just as fraught with uncertainty. In February 2002, ONA raised the matter of ‘attempts to acquire aluminium tubes’ as an indication of Iraq’s attempts to rebuild its nuclear capacity. By July 2002, ONA and DIO [Defence Intelligence Organization] reported on the dispute within US agencies on the purpose of the tubes. In fact, by the middle of 2002, US expert on centrifuge nuclear production, Professor Houston Wood, had rejected the idea that the aluminium tubes could be used for centrifuges. DIO did not revisit the aluminium tubes in any of its later assessments provided to the Committee. However, at the hearing DIO reported that there was a variety of views on the tubes.
The report from ISIS' David Albright also has some information on the position of Australian intelligence prior to early September 2002. Here is a passage from his article (emphasis mine):
Four Corners [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Spinning the Tubes, October 27, 2003] reported that CIA officials came to Australia in late 2001 to make a case that the tubes were for centrifuges. After the seizure in Jordan, Australian officials secretly discussed the purpose of the tubes, and skeptics emerged. In addition, the IAEA’s views spread that the tubes were unlikely centrifuge rotors. The CIA officials were sent to firm up support for its case among Australian intelligence agencies and political leaders. The CIA officials made what was described as a compelling case. Although they acknowledged that the tubes could be used in rockets, they said that the specifications sought by Iraq were far greater than it would need for rockets. Nonetheless, Australian government nuclear scientists later obtained samples of the tubes seized in Jordan, and they became skeptical of the CIA’s claim.
Let's understand the significance of this. Australian intelligence was not convinced by the CIA view prior to September 2002. Additionally, even though then-DCI George Tenet and the Bush administration were pleading ignorance about the substance of the debate on the aluminum tubes, the dispute on the tubes' purported end use within the U.S. IC was so strong and prominent that even Australian intelligence officials were aware of it prior to September 2002! Does anyone outside the GOP really believe Tenet's and the White House's fraudulent claims about their own ignorance of the substance of the debate?
British and Australian intelligence were not in the least bit convinced prior to early September 2002 that aluminum tubes were intended for nuclear centrifuges. Both of them strongly acknowledged the possibility that the tubes were intended for an alternative application (conventional weapons/rockets). By all accounts, both of them (especially the Australians) were also keenly aware of the strong debate within the U.S. intelligence community regarding the end use of the tubes. This makes the ignorance defense of George Tenet and the Bush administration (on the existing debate) look even more fraudulent than it already was.
The IAEA, from day one, made it clear that their position - based on a serious analysis - was that the tubes were most likely intended for rockets. This was communicated directly to the CIA and to the specific WINPAC analyst in the CIA (Joe) who was fabricating the tubes-for-centrifuges story.
In a nutshell, prior to early September 2002:
- There was no certainty within the U.S. IC (including the CIA and DIA) regarding the intended end use of the tubes
- The U.S. IC's nuclear experts (DOE) had reported that the tubes were likely intended for rockets and not centrifuges (a view backed up by INR)
- Foreign intelligence agencies that were consulted by the U.S. IC were very clear that the tubes could be used for rockets and were unconvinced that they were for centrifuges
Yet, George Bush, Dick Cheney and Condi Rice made intentionally deceptive or demonstrably false statements in early September 2002 about the intended end use of the tubes. Statements like these:
[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
In the next part, I turn my attention to Bush administration statements in the period beyond September 12, 2002.