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What the Pre-War Intelligence Reports Won't Tell You About Iraq's Nukes

May 4, 2005
By Ken Sanders

Following 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 that information."

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 years.

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.

* Recently released British documents indicate that the Bush administration did in fact bend intelligence data to fit war policy.

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