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Chemical and biological weapons allegations - quotes: Aluminum tubes allegation

 
  

Project: Inquiry into the decision to invade Iraq

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October 7, 2002

       In a televised speech, Bush presents the administration's case that Saddam Hussein's regime is a threat to the security of the nation. The speech is widely criticized for including false and exaggerated statements.
Iraq has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes and other equipment needed for gas centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons - Bush claims that a shipment of 3,000 aluminum tubes to Iraq, which were intercepted in Jordan by US authorities in July of 2001 (see July 2001), had been destined for use in a uranium enrichment program. But by this time numerous experts and government scientists have already warned the administration against making this allegation. [White House, 10/7/02]
Three weeks before Bush's speech, The Washington Post ran a story on the aluminum tubes. The article summarized a study by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), disputing the administration's claim that the tubes were to be used for gas centrifuges. The report was authored by the institute's president and founder, David Albright, a respected nuclear physicist, who had investigated Iraq's nuclear weapons program after the First Gulf War as a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency's inspection team and who has spoken before Congress on numerous occasions. In his study, he concluded that Iraq's attempts to import the tubes “are not evidence that Iraq is in possession of, or close to possessing, nuclear weapons” and “do not provide evidence that Iraq has an operating centrifuge plant or when such a plant could be operational.” [Institute for Science and International Security, 10/9/03; Washington Post, 9/19/02; Guardian, 10/9/02; San Francisco Chronicle, 10/12/02] Soon after the speech, David Albright tells The Guardian newspaper that there is still no evidence to substantiate that interpretation. As one unnamed specialist at the US Department of Energy explains to the newspaper, “I would just say there is not much support for that [nuclear] theory around here.” [Guardian 10/9/02] The Washington Post article also reported that government experts on nuclear technology who disagreed with the White House view had told Mr. Albright that the administration expected them to remain silent. [Washington Post 9/19/02; Independent 9/22/02] Houston G. Wood III, a retired Oak Ridge physicist considered to be “among the most eminent living experts” on gas centrifuges reviewed the tube question in August 2001 (see July 2002) and concluded at that time that it was very unlikely that the tubes had been imported to be used for centrifuges in a uranium enrichment program. He later tells The Washington Post in mid-2003 that “it would have been extremely difficult to make these tubes into centrifuges,” adding that it stretched “the imagination to come up with a way.” He also says that other centrifuge experts whom he knew shared his assessment of the tubes. [Washington Post, 8/10/03 Sources: Houston G. Wood III] In addition to the several outside experts who criticized the tubes allegation, analysts within the US intelligence community also doubted the claim. Less than a week before Bush's speech, the Energy Department and the State Department's intelligence branch, the INR, had appended a statement to a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq disputing the theory (see October 1, 2002). [National Intelligence Estimate, 10/2002 Sources: David Albright]
Saddam Hussein ordered his nuclear program to continue in 1998 - Bush says that US intelligence has information that Saddam Hussein ordered his nuclear program to continue after inspectors left in 1998. “Before being barred from Iraq in 1998, the (UN) International Atomic Energy Agency dismantled extensive nuclear weapons-related facilities, including three uranium enrichment sites,” Bush charges. “That same year, information from a high-ranking Iraqi nuclear engineer who had defected revealed that despite his public promises, Saddam Hussein had ordered his nuclear program to continue.” [White House, 10/7/02; San Francisco Chronicle, 10/12/02]
But Bush's “high-ranking” source turns out to be Khidir Kamza, who is considered by many to be an unreliable source. David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security where Hamza worked as an analyst from 1997 to 1999, says that after Hamza defected “he went off the edge” and “started saying irresponsible things.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 10/12/02] And General Hussein Kamel, Saddam Hussein's son-in-law who was in charge of the dictator's former weapons program but who defected in 1995, told UNSCOM and IAEA inspectors, as well as US and British intelligence, that Khidhir Hamza was “a professional liar.” “He worked with us, but he was useless and always looking for promotions,” Kamel had explained. “He consulted with me but could not deliver anything. . . . He was even interrogated by a team before he left and was allowed to go.” [New Yorker, 5/5/03 Sources: UNSCOM report, S/1998/332, April 16, 1998]
Iraq is developing drones that could deploy chemical and biological weapons - The President claims that Iraq is developing drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which “could be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons across broad areas.” He goes so far as to say, “We're concerned that Iraq is exploring ways of using these UAVs for missions targeting the United States.” [White House, 10/7/02; Guardian, 10/9/02]
But this claim comes shortly after US intelligence agencies completed a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, in which Air Force intelligence had disputed the drone allegation (see October 1, 2002). Bush's drone allegation is quickly derided by experts and other sources. The Guardian of London reports two days later that according to US military experts, “Iraq had been converting eastern European trainer jets, known as L-29s, into drones, but ... that with a maximum range of a few hundred miles they were no threat to targets in the US.” [Guardian, 10/9/02 Sources: Unnamed military experts] And the San Francisco Chronicle will cite experts who say that “slow-moving unmanned aerial vehicles would likely be shot down as soon as they crossed Iraq's borders” because “Iraqi airspace is closely monitored by US and British planes and radar systems” . The report will also note, “It's also unclear how the vehicles would reach the US mainland—the nearest point is Maine, almost 5, 500 miles away—without being intercepted.” [San Francisco Chronicle 10/12/02 Sources: Unnamed experts] Anthony Cordesman, a security analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, will say he believes the drone allegation is unrealistic. In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, he says, “As a guesstimate, Iraq's present holdings of delivery systems and chemical and biological weapons seem most likely to be so limited in technology and operational lethality that they do not constrain US freedom of action or do much to intimidate Iraq's neighbors.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 10/12/02 Sources: Anthony Cordesman] These criticisms of Bush's claim are validated after the US invasion of Iraq. Two US government scientists involved in the post-invasion hunt for weapons of mass destruction will tell the Associated Press in August 2003 that they inspected the drones and concluded that they were never a threat to the US. “We just looked at the UAVs and said, ‘There's nothing here. There's no room to put anything in here,’ ” one of the scientists will say. “The US scientists, weapons experts who spoke on condition of anonymity, reached their conclusions after studying the small aircraft and interviewing Iraqi missile experts, system designers and Gen. Ibrahim Hussein Ismail, the Iraqi head of the military facility where the UAVs were designed,” the Associated Press will explain in its report. [Associated Press, 8/24/03 Sources: Unnamed US government scientists]
Saddam Hussein could give terrorists weapons of mass destruction - Bush asserts, “Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists.” [White House, 10/7/02]
But not only have numerous experts and inside sources disputed this theory (see July 2002-March 19, 2003), US intelligence's National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq—completed just one week before—concluded that this is an unlikely scenario (see October 1, 2002). “Baghdad, for now, appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks with conventional or CBW against the United States,” the document clearly stated. “Should Saddam conclude that a US-led attack could no longer be deterred he probably would become much less constrained in adopting terrorist actions.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 9/12/03]
Iraq rebuilding facilities associated with production of biological and chemical weapons - Bush claims that surveillance photos indicate that Iraq “is rebuilding facilities that it had used to produce chemical and biological weapons.” [White House, 10/7/02]
On the following day, photos are published on the White House website showing that Iraq had repaired three sites damaged by US bombs—the Al Furat Manufacturing Facility, the Nassr Engineering Establishment Manufacturing Facility, and Fallujah II. [White House, 10/8/02] But no evidence is provided by the White House demonstrating that these sites have resumed activities related to the production of weapons of mass destruction. Iraqi authorities will give reporters a tour of the facilities on October 10 (see October 10, 2002).
Iraq has trained al-Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases - Bush alleges that Iraq has trained al-Qaeda operatives “in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases.” [White House, 10/7/02]
The claim is based on a September 2002 CIA document which had warned that its sources were of “varying reliability” and that the claim had not yet been substantiated (see September 2002). The report's main source, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an al-Qaeda operative who offered the information to CIA interrogators while in custody, later recounts the claim (see February 14, 2003). [CNN, 9/26/02; Newsweek, 7/5/2004; The New York Times, 7/31/2004 Sources: Unnamed administration official] And earlier in the month, US intelligence services had concluded in their National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq that this allegation could not be confirmed. [Newsday, 10/10/02; San Francisco Chronicle, 10/12/02; Washington Post, 6/22/03; CNN, 9/26/02]
A very senior al-Qaeda leader received medical treatment in Baghdad - Bush claims: “Some al-Qaeda leaders who fled Afghanistan went to Iraq. These include one very senior al-Qaeda leader who received medical treatment in Baghdad this year, and who has been associated with planning for chemical and biological attacks.” The allegation refers to Abu Mussab Al Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born Palestinian who is the founder of al-Tawhid, an organization whose aim is to kill Jews and install an Islamic regime in Jordan. No evidence ever surfaces to suggest that the group works with al-Qaeda. The allegation is partly based on intercepted telephone calls in which Al Zarqawi was overheard calling friends or relatives (see Late 2001-May 2002). But Knight Ridder Newspapers reports that according to US intelligence officials, “The intercepts provide no evidence that the suspected terrorist was working with the Iraqi regime or that he was working on a terrorist operation while he was in Iraq.” [White House, 10/7/02; Knight Ridder Newspapers, 10/7/02 Sources: Umnamed US intelligence officials]

People and organizations involved: Houston G. Wood III, George W. Bush, David Albright, Abu Mussab Al Zarqawi  Additional Info 
          


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