Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Intel on Iraqi Mobile Bioweapons Labs Was Misrepresented By White House

Something worse than wishful thinking was at the heart of the administration's repeated claims to have found mobile bioweapons labs in the aftermath of the defeat of Saddam Hussein's army.

It was willful misrepresentation of intelligence information. Sounds like a broken record, does it not?

The claim, repeated by top administration officials for months afterward, was hailed at the time as a vindication of the decision to go to war. But even as Bush spoke, U.S. intelligence officials possessed powerful evidence that it was not true.

A secret fact-finding mission to Iraq -- not made public until now -- had ... concluded that the trailers had nothing to do with biological weapons. Leaders of the Pentagon-sponsored mission transmitted their unanimous findings to Washington in a field report on May 27, 2003, two days before the president's statement.

The three-page field report and a 122-page final report three weeks later were stamped "secret" and shelved. Meanwhile, for nearly a year, administration and intelligence officials continued to publicly assert that the trailers were weapons factories...

The contents of the final report, "Final Technical Engineering Exploitation Report on Iraqi Suspected Biological Weapons-Associated Trailers," remain classified. But interviews reveal that the technical team was unequivocal in its conclusion that the trailers were not intended to manufacture biological weapons. Those interviewed took care not to discuss the classified portions of their work...

The trailers -- along with aluminum tubes acquired by Iraq for what was claimed to be a nuclear weapons program -- were primary pieces of evidence offered by the Bush administration before the war to support its contention that Iraq was making weapons of mass destruction.

The bullshittery continued even after U.S. forces discovered the trailers--by then famous from Powell's U.N. presentation--in Iraq.

"Within the first four hours," said one team member, who like the others spoke on the condition he not be named, "it was clear to everyone that these were not biological labs."

News of the team's early impressions leaped across the Atlantic well ahead of the technical report. Over the next two days, a stream of anxious e-mails and phone calls from Washington pressed for details and clarifications.

The reason for the nervousness was soon obvious: In Washington, a CIA analyst had written a draft white paper on the trailers, an official assessment that would also reflect the views of the DIA. The white paper described the trailers as "the strongest evidence to date that Iraq was hiding a biological warfare program." It also explicitly rejected an explanation by Iraqi officials, described in a New York Times article a few days earlier, that the trailers might be mobile units for producing hydrogen (for balloons).

But the technical team's preliminary report, written in a tent in Baghdad and approved by each team member, reached a conclusion opposite from that of the white paper...

After team members returned to Washington, they began work on a final report. At several points, members were questioned about revising their conclusions, according to sources knowledgeable about the conversations. The questioners generally wanted to know the same thing: Could the report's conclusions be softened, to leave open a possibility that the trailers might have been intended for weapons?


It is so fine that reports of these manipulations of Iraq intelligence data are emerging at precisely the time when the White House needs the American public and the world to have confidence in our information about Iran's WMD.

An atmosphere of incredulity is not the most welcoming environment in which to sell a geopolitically iffy proposition such as war with yet another oil-rich Muslim nation.


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