What the Pre-War Intelligence Reports
Won't Tell You About Iraq's Nukes
May 4, 2005
By Ken Sanders
the reports of, first, the Senate Intelligence Committee and, most
recently, the Commission on Intelligence Capabilities of the U.S.
regarding Iraq's WMD, it is by now well-known that the intelligence
community is solely to blame for the false promise that Iraq possessed
chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. According to both reports,
the key judgments of the intelligence community regarding Iraq's
WMD capabilities were either overstated or unsupported. It was on
this intelligence that George W. Bush purportedly relied when he
decided to invade Iraq.
Both reports would have us believe that President Bush was merely
a patsy who was duped by an incompetent and politically-motivated
intelligence community. Even if that were true, it would not paint
a particularly flattering picture of our beloved President.
In any event, the shared conclusion of the two reports is not
true. Not entirely, anyway. It may even be that the conclusion about
Bush being misled by intelligence will turn out to be entirely false.
Proving that, however, would require access to confidential information
which the government is not likely to disclose.* Be that as it may,
it is possible to prove from the public record that, at least with
respect to Iraq's nuclear capabilities, Bush exaggerated the threat
all on his own.
As a threshold matter, it should be noted that neither the Senate
Intelligence Committee nor the Commission on Intelligence Capabilities
were ever interested or inclined to find fault with the White House.
As the Commission candidly acknowledged in its report, "we were
not authorized to investigate how policymakers used the intelligence
assessments they received from the Intelligence Community." In other
words, the Committee was established to blame those who provided
the information, "not to review how policymakers subsequently used
As for the Senate Intelligence Committee, it too was concerned
only with finding fault with the intelligence community. The issue
of how the Bush administration used the intelligence regarding Iraq's
WMD was relegated to a "second phase" of the investigation. The
likelihood that the purported "second phase" will ever come to fruition
grows increasingly unlikely under a Republican-controlled Senate
and with the continued passage of time.
Be that as it may, with respect to Iraq's alleged nuclear threat
to the U.S. and the world, Bush cannot hide behind either of the
reports' whitewash jobs. He can't even hide behind the White House's
ever-expanding definition of classified information. His own words
do him in.
In the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, the consensus among the
various intelligence agencies was that Iraq was "reconstituting"
its nuclear weapons program. According to the Commission's report,
the term "reconstituting," for the purposes of the intelligence
community, meant that Iraq was in the process of restoring its ability
to enrich uranium. According to both reports, the intelligence community's
"moderately confident" assessment was that Iraq, if left unchecked,
would not be able to develop a nuclear weapon until 2007 or 2009,
five to seven years later.
Based upon the findings of both the Intelligence Committee and
the Commission, it turns out that Iraq was actually much farther
away from developing a nuclear weapon than was estimated by the
intelligence community. Nonetheless, even if the estimate was correct,
President Bush exaggerated that estimate to misrepresent Iraq's
nuclear threat to the American public.
On October 7, 2002, five days after he received and was briefed
upon the National Intelligence Estimate, entitled "Iraq's Continuing
Programs for Weapons of Mass Destruction," President Bush addressed
a crowd at the Cincinnati Museum Center. In his remarks, Bush warned
that "Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program." That
was technically true. More ominously, however, Bush also cautioned
that if Iraq was "able to produce, buy, or steal an amount of highly
enriched uranium a little larger than a single softball, it could
have a nuclear weapon in less than a year." Wrong. According to
the Intelligence Committee's review of the pre-war intelligence,
even with foreign assistance, it would have still taken Iraq five
to seven years to develop a nuclear weapon.
At a rally held on November 4, 2002, in St. Charles, Missouri,
President Bush said, "We don't know how close he is today, but a
Saddam Hussein with a nuclear weapon is a true threat to America
and our friends and allies." Three days later, on November 7, 2002,
President Bush told the press, "And by the way, we don't know how
close he [Saddam Hussein] is to a nuclear weapon right now.... We
know he was close to one at one point in time; we have no idea today."
In point of fact, based upon the intelligence he was provided, Bush
did know how close Iraq was to a nuclear weapon – five to seven
Similarly, during a press conference on December 31, 2002, President
Bush said, "We don't know whether or nor he [Hussein] has a nuclear
weapon." False. Based upon the pre-war consensus of the intelligence
community, Bush knew full well that Iraq did not have any nuclear
weapons. He also knew that, at best, Iraq was five to seven years
away from developing a nuclear weapon.
On no fewer than four separate occasions, Bush flat-out lied about
Iraq's nuclear capabilities. Bush took already exaggerated estimations
about Iraq's alleged nuclear threat to the U.S. and stretched them
even further. The intelligence community, as wrong and as biased
as it might have been, told Bush that as of 2002 Iraq was at least
five to seven years away from developing a nuclear weapon. Bush
looked at that information, deemed it insufficient to scare the
nation into supporting his war, and then knowingly and deliberately
lied about America's vulnerability to Iraq's nuclear terror.
Long before David Kay and Charles Duelfer confirmed what many
of us already suspected, Bush knew there wouldn't be mushroom clouds
in Manhattan if Iraq weren't invaded. I'm just not sure what's more
appalling: that Bush lied to take us to war or that two separate
investigative bodies were so blatantly willing to cover for him.
released British documents indicate that the Bush administration
did in fact bend intelligence data to fit war policy.