Questions about prewar Iraq intelligence have been raised once again following the publication of a scathing report by a Senate committee last week week that concluded President Bush,
Vice President Dick Cheney and other senior administration officials knowingly lied about the threat Iraq post to win support for a military strike against the country.
Regime change in Iraq became a policy issue immediately following 9/11, but there have been allegations made by former White House officials that Iraq was a target of the Bush White House long before 9/11. The White House has vehemently denied suggestions that it was planning military action against Iraq before 9/11.
But in January of 2000, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice wrote an article for Foreign Affairs magazine titled Campaign 2000 — Promoting the National Interest in which she called for regime change. Many of the policy suggestions in the article were later adopted when the Bush administration took office.
“As history marches toward markets and democracy, some states have been left by the side of the road. Iraq is the prototype. Saddam Hussein’s regime is isolated, his conventional military power has been severely weakened, his people live in poverty and terror, and he has no useful place in international politics. He is therefore determined to develop WMD. Nothing will change until Saddam is gone, so the United States must mobilize whatever resources it can, including support from his opposition, to remove him. These regimes are living on borrowed time, so there need be no sense of panic about them. She echoed that line in August 2000, during an interview with the Council on Foreign Relations, where Rice said Iraq posed the gravest threat to the U.S and the world.
“The containment of Iraq should be aimed ultimately at regime change because as long as Saddam is there no one in the region is safe — most especially his own people,” she said during the Aug. 9, 2000 interview. “If Saddam gives you a reason to use force against him, then use decisive force, not just a pinprick.”
On July 29, 2001, Rice was interviewed by a CNN reporter. She was asked how the United States would respond to missiles Iraq fired at U.S. war planes patrolling the no-fly zones. She didn’t mince words with her answer.
“Well, the president has made very clear that he considers Saddam Hussein to be a threat to his neighbors, a threat to security in the region, in fact a threat to international security more broadly,” Rice said. “And he has reserved the right to respond when that threat becomes one that he wishes no longer to tolerate.”
“But I can be certain of this, and the world can be certain of this: Saddam Hussein is on the radar screen for the administration. The administration is working hard with a number of our friends and allies to have a policy that is broad; that does look at the sanctions as something that should be restructured so that we have smart sanctions that go after the regime, not after the Iraqi people; that does look at the role of opposition in creating an environment and a regime in Baghdad that the people of Iraq deserve, rather than the one that they have; and one that looks at use of military force in a more resolute manner, and not just a manner of tit-for-tat with him every day.”
A January 11, 2001 article in the New York Times also lends credibility to assertions that the administration was determined to strike Iraq.
“George W. Bush, the nation’s commander in chief to be, went to the Pentagon today for a top-secret session with the Joint Chiefs of Staff to review hot spots around the world where he might have to send American forces into harm’s way,” reads the first paragraph of the Times article: “Iraq Is Focal Point as Bush Meets With Joint Chiefs.”
Bush was joined at the Pentagon meeting by Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, and Rice.
The Times reported that, “about half of the 75-minute meeting focused on a discussion about Iraq and the Persian Gulf, two participants said. Iraq was the first topic briefed because “it’s the most visible and most risky area” Mr. Bush will confront after he takes office, one senior officer said.”
“Iraqi policy is very much on his mind,” one senior Pentagon official told the Times. “Saddam was clearly a discussion point.”
On June 22, 2001, President Bush spoke briefly about terrorism during a speech in Alabama, and, like Rice, argued for regime change in Iraq.
“It’s time to come together and to think about a new security arrangement that addresses the threats of the 21st century,” according to a transcript of Bush’s remarks.
“And the threats of the 21st century will be terrorist in nature, terror when it comes to weaponry. What we must do — freedom-loving people must be willing to think differently and develop anti-ballistic missile systems that will say to rogue nations and leaders who cannot stand America, or what we stand for: you will not blackmail us, nor will you blackmail our allies.”
White House Iraq Group
When it came to market and sell the Iraq war, Rice participated in meetings of The White House Iraq Group (WHIG), created in August 2002 by Bush’s former Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr.
WHIG operated virtually unknown until January 2004, when Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald subpoenaed the groups notes, email and attendance records to determine if the group or its members played a role in the leak of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame.
“A senior official who participated in its work called it “an internal working group, like many formed for priority issues, to make sure each part of the White House was fulfilling its responsibilities, “according to an Aug. 10, 2003, Washington Post investigative report on the group’s inner workings.
The group relied heavily on New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who, after meeting with several of the organization’s members in August 2002, wrote an explosive story that many critics of the war believe laid the groundwork for military action against Iraq.
On Sunday, Sept. 8, 2002, Miller wrote a story for the Times quoting anonymous officials who said aluminium tubes found in Iraq were to be used as centrifuges. Her report said the “diameter, thickness and other technical specifications” of the tubes — precisely the grounds for scepticism among nuclear enrichment experts — showed that they were “intended as components of centrifuges.”
She closed her piece by quoting then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice who said the United States would not sit by and wait to find a smoking gun to prove its case, possibly in the form of a “a mushroom cloud.”
After Miller’s piece was published, administration officials pursued their case on Sunday talk shows using Miller’s piece as evidence that Iraq was pursuing a nuclear bomb, even though those officials were the ones who supplied Miller with the story and were quoted anonymously.
Rice’s comments on CNN’s “Late Edition” reaffirmed Miller’s story. Rice said that Saddam Hussein was “actively pursuing a nuclear weapon” and that the tubes — described repeatedly in U.S. intelligence reports as “dual-use” items — were “only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs.”
Cheney, on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” also mentioned the aluminum tubes story in the Times and said “increasingly, we believe the United States will become the target” of an Iraqi atomic bomb. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” asked viewers to “imagine a September 11th with weapons of mass destruction.”
President Bush reiterated the image of Rice’s mushroom cloud comment in his Oct. 7, 2002 speech.
The International Atomic Energy Agency later revealed that Iraq’s aluminum tubes were never designed to enrich uranium.
In February of 2003, WHIG allegedly scripted the speech Powell made to the United Nations presenting the United States’ case for war.
Powell’s speech to the UN, United Press International reported, “was handled by the White House Iraq Group, which… provided Powell with a script for his speech, using information developed by [Douglas] Feith’s group [The Office Of Strategic Plans (OSP) in the Pentagon]. Much of it was unsourced material fed to newspapers by the OSP. Realizing this, Powell’s team turned to the now-discredited National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq. But some of Feith’s handiwork ended up in Powell’s mouth anyway.”
During its very first meetings, Card’s Iraq group ordered a series of white papers showing Iraq’s arms violations. The first paper, “A Grave and Gathering Danger: Saddam Hussein’s Quest for Nuclear Weapons,” was never published. However, the paper was drafted with the assistance of experts from the National Security Council and Cheney’s office.
“In its later stages, the draft white paper coincided with production of a National Intelligence Estimate and its unclassified summary. “But the WHIG, according to three officials who followed the white paper’s progress, wanted gripping images and stories not available in the hedged and austere language of intelligence,” according to the Post.
Eight months later, Ambassador joseph Wilson began to question the veracity of the Bush administration’s pre-war intelligence in private conversations with reporters. His accusations undercut the administration’s successful marketing campaign and threatened to expose the administration’s use of flawed intelligence that was used to support a U.S.-led invasion.