Director George Tenet testified before Congress in February 2001 that
Iraq posed no immediate threat to the United States or to other
countries in the Middle East.
But immediately after the terrorist attacks on 9-11,
which the Bush administration has said Iraq is partially responsible
for, the President and his advisers were already making a case for war
against Iraq without so much as providing a shred of evidence to back up
their allegations that Iraq and its former President, Saddam Hussein,
helped al-Qaida hijackers plan the catastrophe.
It was then, after the 9-11 attacks, that
intelligence reports from the CIA radically changed from previous
months, which said Iraq posed no immediate threat to the U.S., to now
show Iraq had a stockpile of chemical and biological weapons and was in
hot pursuit of a nuclear bomb. The Bush administration seized upon the
reports to build public support for the war and used the information to
eventually justify a preemptive strike against the country last March.
Lawmakers in Washington, D.C. are now investigating
whether the intelligence information gathered by the CIA was accurate or
whether the Bush administration manipulated and or exaggerated the
intelligence to make a case for war.
In just seven short months, beginning as early as
February 2001, Bush administration officials said Iraq went from being a
threat only to its own people to posing an imminent threat to the world.
Indeed, in a Feb. 12, 2001 interview with the Fox News Channel Secretary
of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said: “Iraq is probably not a nuclear threat
at the present time.”
But Rumsfeld testified before the House Armed
Services Committee on Sept. 18, 2002 that Iraq is close to acquiring the
materials needed to build a nuclear bomb.
“Some have argued that the nuclear threat from Iraq
is not imminent -- that Saddam is at least 5-7 years away from having
nuclear weapons,” Rumsfeld testified before the committee, a transcript
of which can be found
"I would not be so certain… He has, at this moment, stockpiles chemical
and biological weapons, and is pursuing nuclear weapons."
Rumsfeld never offered any evidence to support his
claims, but his dire warnings of a nuclear catastrophe caused by Saddam
Hussein was enough to convince most lawmakers, both Democrat and
Republican, that Saddam’s Iraq was doomed. Shortly after his remarks
before the House Armed Services Committee, Congress passed a resolution
authorizing President Bush to use “all appropriate means” to remove
Saddam from power.
However, intelligence reports released by the CIA in
2001 and 2002 and more than 100 interviews top officials in the Bush
administration, such as Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz,
gave to various Senate and Congressional committees and media outlets
prior to 9-11 show that the U.S. never believed Saddam Hussein to be an
imminent threat other than to his own people. Moreover, the CIA reported
in February 2001 that Iraq was “probably” pursuing chemical and
biological weapons programs but that it had no direct evidence that Iraq
actually had actually obtained such weapons.
“We do not have any direct evidence that Iraq has
used the period since (Operation) Desert Fox to reconstitute its WMD
programs, although given its past behavior, this type of activity must
be regarded as likely,” CIA director Tenet said in a
agency report to Congress on Feb 7, 2001
“We assess that since the suspension of (United
Nations) inspections in December of 1998, Baghdad has had the capability
to reinitiate both its (chemical and biological weapons) programs…
without an inspection monitoring program, however, it is more difficult
to determine if Iraq has done so.”
“Moreover, the automated video monitoring systems
installed by the UN at known and suspect WMD facilities in Iraq are
still not operating,” according to the 2001 CIA report. “Having lost
this on-the-ground access, it is more difficult for the UN or the US to
accurately assess the current state of Iraq’s WMD programs.”
Ironically, in the February 2001 report, Tenet said
Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida terrorist network remain the single
greatest threat to U.S. interests here and abroad. Tenet eerily
describes in the report a scenario that six months later would become a
“Terrorists are also becoming more operationally
adept and more technically sophisticated in order to defeat
counter-terrorism measures. For example, as we have increased security
around government and military facilities, terrorists are seeking out
"softer" targets that provide opportunities for mass casualties.
Employing increasingly advanced devices and using strategies such as
simultaneous attacks, the number of people killed … Usama bin Ladin and
his global network of lieutenants and associates remain the most
immediate and serious threat. Since 1998, Bin Ladin has declared all
U.S. citizens legitimate targets of attack. As shown by the bombing of
our embassies in Africa in 1998 and his Millennium plots last year, he
is capable of planning multiple attacks with little or no warning,”
However, Tenet only briefly discussed the al-Qaida
threat and devoted the bulk of his testimony on how to deal with the
threat of rogue countries such as North Korea, Syria, Iran and Iraq. Six
months later, Bin Laden was identified as the mastermind behind 9-11.
Between 1998 and early 2002, the CIA’s reports on the
so-called terror threat offered no details on what types of chemical and
biological weapons that Iraq obtained.
But that changed dramatically in October 2002 when
the CIA issued
another report that this time included details of Iraq’s alleged
vast chemical and biological weapons.
The October 2002 CIA report into Iraq’s WMD
identifies sarin, mustard gas, VX and numerous other chemical weapons
that the CIA claims Iraq had been stockpiling over the years, in stark
contrast to earlier reports by Tenet that said the agency had no
evidence to support such claims. And unlike testimony Tenet gave a year
earlier, in which he said the CIA had no direct evidence of Iraq’s WMD
programs, the intelligence information in the 2002 report, Tenet said,
is rock solid.
“This information is based on a solid foundation of
intelligence,” Tenet said during a
CIA briefing in February.
“It comes to us from credible and reliable sources.
Much of it is corroborated by multiple sources.”
The CIA would not comment on the differing reports
between 2001 and 2002 or how the agency was able to obtain such
intelligence information and corroborate it so quickly.
Still, in early 2001, while hardliners in the Bush
administration were privately discussing ways to remove Saddam Hussein
from power, Secretary of State Powell said the U.S. successfully
“contained” Iraq in the years since the first Gulf War and that because
of economic sanctions placed on the country Iraq was unable to obtain
“We have been able to keep weapons from going into
Iraq,” Powell said during a Feb 11, 2001 interview with “Face the
Nation. “We have been able to keep the sanctions in place to the extent
that items that might support weapons of mass destruction development
have had some controls on them… it's been quite a success for ten
Moreover, during a meeting with Joschka Fischer, the
German Foreign Minister, in February 2001 on how to deal with Iraq,
Powell said the U.N., the U.S. and its allies “have succeeded in
containing Saddam Hussein and his ambitions.”
Saddam’s “forces are about one-third their original
size. They don't really possess the capability to attack their neighbors
the way they did ten years ago,” Powell said during
the meeting with Fischer.
“Containment has been a successful policy, and I
think we should make sure that we continue it until such time as Saddam
Hussein comes into compliance with the agreements he made at the end of
the (Gulf) war.”
Powell added that Iraq is “not threatening America.”