I remember seeing satellite photos of Russian trucks, over 1400 in one convoy alone, heading out of Iraq and into Syria weeks prior to the invasion. Now, those photos are nowhere to be found. Similarly, there was an article in the local Chattanooga newspaper that said 4000 tons of partially enriched uranium was shipped out of Iraq to the Oakridge Y-12 plant. The Oakridge employee who leaked the information was reportedly dismissed. Now, that article is nowhere to be found, although other FReepers in the Chattanooga area also remember reading the article. The banking collapse and sub-prime mess should have been hung around Barney Frank's neck, especially with various statements Frank made in the years prior about Fannie and Freddie "not being in crisis". This entire thing stinks to high heaven if you axe me. WT*, indeed!
Orwell's 1984 "memory holes" are alive and well and used religiously by the leftist media.
Posted 2/4/2004 12:13 AM Updated 2/4/2004 12:14 AM
A desert mirage: How U.S. misjudged Iraq’s arsenal
By John Diamond, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON One year before President Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq, a U.S. spy satellite over the western Iraqi desert photographed trailer trucks lined up beside a military bunker. Canvas shrouded the trucks’ cargo.
Through a system of relays, the satellite beamed digitized images to Fort Belvoir in Virginia, south of Washington. Within hours, analysts a few miles away at CIA headquarters had the pictures on high-definition computer screens. The photos would play a critical role in an assessment that now appears to have been wrong that Iraq had stockpiled weapons of mass destruction.
The way analysts interpreted the truck convoy photographed on March 17, 2002 and seven others like it spotted over the next two months is perhaps the single most important example of how U.S. intelligence went astray in its assessment of Saddam Hussein’s arsenal. Analysts made logical interpretations of the evidence but based their conclusions more on supposition than fact.
The eight convoys stood out from normal Iraqi military movements. They appeared to have extra security provided by Saddam’s most trusted officers, and they were accompanied by what analysts identified as tankers for decontaminating people and equipment exposed to chemical agents.
But the CIA had a problem: Once-a-day snapshots from the KH-11 spy satellite didn’t show where the convoys were going. “We couldn’t get a destination,” a top intelligence official recalled. “We tried and tried and tried. We never could figure that out.”
As far as U.S. intelligence was concerned, the convoys may as well have disappeared, like a mirage, into the Iraqi desert. Nearly a year after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Saddam’s supposed arsenal remains a mirage.
The convoy photos, described in detail for the first time by four high-ranking intelligence officials in extensive joint interviews, were decisive in a crucial shift by U.S. intelligence: from saying Iraq might have illegal weapons to saying that Iraq definitely had them.
The assertion that Saddam had chemical and biological weapons and the ability to use them against his neighbors and even the United States was expressed in an Oct. 1, 2002, document called a National Intelligence Estimate. The estimate didn’t trigger President Bush’s determination to oust Saddam. But it weighed heavily on members of Congress as they decided to authorize force against Iraq, and it was central to Secretary of State Colin Powell’s presentation to the United Nations Security Council a year ago this week.
Powell argued that Saddam had violated U.N. resolutions, agreed to after the 1991 Gulf War, requiring Iraq to disarm. But David Kay, the former head of the CIA-directed team searching for Saddam’s weapons, now says that Iraq got rid of most of its banned weapons about six months after the 1991 war and that, unknown to the CIA, Iraq’s weapons research was in disarray over the past four years.
The failure to find biological or chemical weapons in Iraq has undercut the Bush administration’s main justification for invading Iraq. And it has raised concerns that the United States is conducting a policy of pre-empting foreign threats with an intelligence system that is fundamentally flawed.
An independent commission, reluctantly backed by the Bush administration, will be established to find out what went wrong. Such a panel is sure to explore whether, like thirsty travelers seeking an oasis, the U.S. analysts were looking so hard for evidence of banned Iraqi weapons that they “saw” things that turned out to be illusions.
How could the nation’s $40 billion-a-year intelligence apparatus, focused on Saddam’s regime for more than a decade, have been so wrong? A three-month examination by USA TODAY of prewar intelligence on Iraq, involving more than 50 interviews and examination of thousands of pages of documents, found that:
Volumes of intelligence suggested illegal Iraqi weapons activity but did not prove Iraq had such weapons. The evidence was intriguing but inconclusive. Spy satellites photographed convoys but couldn’t determine where they were going. Human sources told of Iraqi attempts to buy banned equipment but didn’t say whether the deals went through. Electronic intercepts exposed Iraqi concealment but didn’t explain what was being hidden.
Despite the lack of proof, CIA Director George Tenet and his top advisers decided to reach a definitive finding. Based on experience with Iraq and with the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in mind they were far more worried about underestimating the Iraqi threat than overestimating it.
Few officials in U.S. intelligence, Congress or the executive branch seriously considered Iraq’s claim that it had gotten rid of its weapons. Scarcity of evidence, intelligence officials said, stemmed not from innocence but from Iraqi concealment and lies.
The five men who put together the October 2002 intelligence estimate insist that the White House didn’t pressure them into elevating the assessment of the Iraqi threat. But they were haunted by past failures and the fear of the worst-case scenario. Tenet, who declined to be interviewed for this article, pushed them to avoid wishy-washy conclusions. And they were aware that any finding exonerating Iraq would put them into conflict with top administration officials.
Now these analysts face another kind of worst-case scenario in which a war was premised on faulty analysis and their judgments are no longer trusted.
U.S. intelligence analysts were reluctant to give Iraq the benefit of the doubt because Saddam had fooled them before.
After the 1991 war, U.N. weapons inspectors, tipped off by an Iraqi defector, uncovered a much more extensive program to develop nuclear weapons than the CIA had estimated. It happened again in 1995 when Iraq admitted to a biological weapons program undetected by U.S. intelligence.
“The lesson of ‘91 was that (Saddam) was much more effective at denial and deception than we understood, and consequently he was a lot further along than we understood,” Stuart Cohen, vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council, a senior advisory board, said in an interview.
Virtually all of the CIA’s recent, painful lessons revolved around the failure to detect and warn of a threat. These included a bombing at the Khobar Towers military barracks in Saudi Arabia in 1996; nuclear tests by India and Pakistan in 1998; the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000; and, most traumatically, the Sept. 11 attacks.
In July 1998, a commission led by Donald Rumsfeld, who would become Bush’s Defense secretary, cautioned that U.S. intelligence might not be able to warn of emerging ballistic-missile threats from states such as North Korea, Iran and Iraq. The solution, the panel advised, was a new kind of analysis to “extrapolate a program’s scope, scale, pace and direction beyond what the hard evidence at hand unequivocally supports.”
As Defense secretary, Rumsfeld would insist that war in Iraq was waged on solid intelligence. Increasingly, however, it appears that U.S. intelligence followed the course set by Rumsfeld’s 1998 panel in extrapolating the scope of the Iraqi threat “beyond ... the hard evidence at hand.”
Decisive convoy photos
Of all the Bush administration accusations about Iraq, none was more important than the charge that Saddam possessed chemical and biological weapons capable of killing millions of people. And no evidence was more important to making that charge than the convoy photographs taken in March, April and May 2002.
The story of the suspicious convoys in the Iraqi desert illustrates how the CIA turned tantalizing evidence of Iraqi weapons into conclusions that went beyond the available facts. It also underscores the limits of technical intelligence. Orbiting U.S. spy satellites provide periodic snapshots but, because they don’t hover over a spot on Earth, they can’t send back motion pictures of what’s going on.
The eight suspicious convoys bore a striking resemblance to known chemical-weapons convoys that had been picked up by spy satellite photos in 1988. Briefing top officials at CIA headquarters, analysts placed examples of the old and new photos side by side on poster board. They also contrasted the eight suspicious convoys with more than 100 conventional Iraqi military shipments also photographed during the spring of 2002. They showed them on posters labeled “Normal Activity” and “Unusual Activity.”
“There’s some stunningly good evidence about what I would call chemical weapons munition trans-shipment activity,” said Cohen, who played a key role in producing the Iraq intelligence estimate. Cohen said the evidence “was certainly subject to alternative interpretations, but there were very sensitive signatures involved that would have led any reasonable person to the same conclusion that we came up with.”
Another high-ranking intelligence official called the convoy images “an extraordinarily important piece. It’s one of those ‘dots’ without which we could not have reached that judgment that Saddam had restarted chemical weapons production.”
By September, after intense debate, opinion solidified, and senior analysts preparing the intelligence estimate judged with “high confidence” that the convoys carried chemical weapons. Their conclusion was timely because Bush was just then ratcheting up his case against Iraq to the U.N. and Congress. Between October 2002 and the U.S.-led invasion the following March, satellite images showed three more convoys bearing what appeared to be the special signatures of chemical weapons.
Weeks before the invasion, however, there were signs that the CIA might be mistaken. U.N. inspectors visited the sites where the convoy photos were taken and scores of other locations, but they found no trace of chemical or biological weapons. At the CIA’s prodding, the inspectors looked for decontamination trucks but reported finding standard water tankers with no evidence of decontamination gear.
Since the war, no decontamination vehicle has been found, the four intelligence officials said. U.S. interrogators have questioned scores of Iraqi military truck drivers. They either say they know nothing or tell stories that don’t check out, according to a Pentagon official with knowledge of the search effort.
What were the convoys doing if they weren’t moving chemical weapons? The tanker trucks might have been carrying water in case munitions exploded, or fuel to keep a long-distance convoy moving. The trailer trucks might have been loaded with conventional rockets or shells, which would be hard to distinguish from chemical munitions. U.S. intelligence did not know for sure, and still does not know, where the convoys were going or what they were carrying.
Other critical parts of the case against Iraq were also based on deductive reasoning.
Once Iraq showed it knew how to make chemical weapons in the 1980s, U.S. intelligence assumed it held on to the recipe. “Iraq’s knowledge base is absolutely critical,” Cohen said. “Knowledge is not something you lose.”
Beginning in 1999, spy satellite photographs taken based on tips by human sources showed that Iraq was expanding a chemical plant near Fallujah called Habaniyya II that could produce phenol and chlorine, ingredients for chemical weapons. The CIA had information from 15 people over four years saying that Iraq was reviving its weapons production capability at Habaniyya and other plants. But the CIA rated the five best of those sources as having only “moderate reliability.”
Electronic intercepts and reports from human sources showed that senior officers at some of these facilities were the same people known to have been involved in Iraqi chemical weapons production in the 1980s.
Chlorine can be used for civilian purposes such as water purification. But CIA analysts remained suspicious because of reports that Iraq had a surplus of chlorine at its water treatment plants. Why expand a chlorine plant if there was a surplus, they asked, unless it was to make weapons?
The CIA detected efforts by shadowy middlemen, negotiating with foreign governments and businesses, to buy equipment and chemicals useful in making weapons of mass destruction. Without hard evidence, U.S. intelligence decided it had to assume that some illegal material was getting through, the four high-ranking intelligence officials said.
Analysts made similar assumptions from U.N. reports. U.N. inspectors, for example, said Iraq could not account for about 3,000 tons of chemicals that could be used to make weapons. CIA weapons experts said Iraq could use those chemicals to make 100 to 500 tons of chemical agent, a figure used repeatedly by administration officials. The U.N. also said that Iraq had failed to account for growth media sufficient to make up to 25,000 liters of the biological agent anthrax and that there was a “strong presumption” that 10,000 liters of anthrax Iraq had in 1991 still existed.
U.S. intelligence merged debatable intelligence about chemical and biological agents with equally debatable intelligence about weapons delivery systems. Iraq, the CIA said, still had 20 Scud missiles and was developing drone aircraft that might be launched, possibly off a merchant ship, to strike the United States.
Bush administration officials then translated the CIA’s worst-case calculations into potential mass casualties. In his 2003 State of the Union address, Bush cited the U.N. figures in saying that the anthrax would be enough “to kill several million people” and that the chemical weapons could “kill untold thousands.”
Powell, in his presentation last year to the U.N. Security Council, said even a conservative estimate would give Saddam enough chemical agent to attack “an area five times the size of Manhattan.”
Since the war, no Scud missiles have been found. The drone aircraft U.S. search teams have found in Iraq were too small to deliver chemical or biological weapons.
‘Mountain’ of evidence
It is only beginning to become clear that information about Iraqi weapons was scarce because the weapons didn’t exist. Aris Pappas, a former CIA analyst, said in an interview that U.S. intelligence had essentially “gone blind for three years” in Iraq after U.N. inspectors left at the end of 1998. Based on the available evidence, analysts probably made sound judgments, said Pappas, a member of an Iraq intelligence review panel established by Tenet. But they overlooked alternative explanations and paid too little heed to the weakness of their raw data.
“They keep referring to a ‘mountain’ of evidence. ... But it was corroborative evidence,” Pappas said, meaning evidence that supported allegations of an illegal arsenal without proving its existence.
The Bush and Clinton administrations, foreign intelligence services, and Republicans and Democrats in Congress all took it as a given that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons.
“If we were massively wrong,” said Robert Einhorn, who worked on proliferation issues at the State Department in the Clinton and Bush administrations, “we were all massively wrong. Everybody.”
Bush didn’t believe that U.N. inspectors had forced Iraq to get rid of its banned weapons after the 1991 war. Indeed, Bush’s policy assumed that U.N. inspections couldn’t work. After the Sept. 11 attacks, the watchwords at the White House and CIA headquarters were, assume the worst.
“We put the analysts under tremendous pressure,” said Kay, the former head of the post-war weapons search. “There is a point where an analyst simply needs to tell people: ‘I can’t draw a conclusion. I don’t have enough data. Go get me more data.’ But in the wake of 9/11, believe me, that is difficult to do.”
Sept. 11 showed the consequences of failing to warn of an imminent threat. Now U.S. intelligence is grappling with the consequences of perceiving a threat that was not there.