The Pentagon and Bush administration ignored concerns from both Secretary of State Colin Powell and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and forced both to use questionable, unproven and fabricated intelligence to justify the war against Iraq.
The two discussed their concern that intelligence on Iraq’s weapons program could not be proved. This was at a private meeting in New York, just before a crucial Security Council session on February 5.
- The former head of worldwide intelligence gathering for the US Defense Intelligence Agency, Patrick Lang, said the organization had been “exploited and abused and bypassed” in the process of making the case for war in Iraq based on the presence of weapons of mass destruction.
- The top US Marine Corps officer in Iraq, Lieutenant-General James Conway, said US intelligence was “simply wrong” in leading commanders to fear attacks with chemical weapons during the March invasion.
- Deputy US Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz admitted in a magazine article that “for bureaucratic reasons, we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one . . . everyone could agree on” to publicly justify the war.
- Vince Cannistraro, a former CIA chief of counterterrorist operations, said he knew of serving intelligence officers who believed it was a scandal that the Pentagon played up “fraudulent” intelligence.
A Pentagon transcript of the 10-minute discussion between Straw and Powell at the Waldorf Hotel clearly shows both expressed concerns that intelligence reports were mainly assumptions and assessments not supported by hard facts or other sources.
Powell come away from briefings by the Pentagon’s office of special plans, set up by Mr Wolfowitz, “apprehensive” about what he called, at best, circumstantial evidence tilted in favour of assessments drawn from the office itself, rather than actual raw intelligence.
Powell at one point labeled the information “bullshit” and balked at presenting the so-called “evidence” to the UN Security Council.
Mr Powell told the British Foreign Secretary he hoped the facts, when they came out, would not “explode in their faces”.
The “Waldorf transcripts” are being circulated within NATO and had been leaked by diplomats who had supported the war against Iraq, but now believe they had been lied to.
A British Foreign Office spokesman quickly denied the report. “No such meeting took place,” he said. “The Foreign Secretary has always been clear of the strength of the evidence against Iraq in respect of its weapons of mass destruction – much of it from UN sources.”
A US State Department spokesman declined to comment.
Australian Defense Minister Robert Hill said Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction were never in dispute. “What was in dispute was the extent to which their weapons program was further developed since 1991 and the extent to which their previously acknowledged weapons of mass destruction were still being maintained.
“We still don’t know the answers to those questions in absolute terms,” he said.
General Conway said he had been convinced that at least some Iraqi Republican Guard units had chemical weapons.
“It was a surprise to me then – it remains a surprise to me now – that we have not uncovered weapons . . . in some of the forward dispersal sites,” he said during a teleconference from southern Iraq .The former senior Defense Intelligence Agency official, Lang, said the Pentagon’s office of special plans “cherry-picked the intelligence stream” to portray Iraq as an imminent threat. He said the CIA had “no guts at all” to resist the deliberate skewing of intelligence by the Pentagon.
Cannistraro said some intelligence officers blamed the Pentagon for playing up “fraudulent” intelligence, “a lot of it sourced from the Iraqi National Congress of Ahmad Chalabi”, an organisation of Iraqi exiles.
“There are current intelligence officials who believe it is a scandal,” he said.
Wolfowitz cited bureaucratic reasons for focusing on weapons of mass destruction, and said the war had enabled Washington to withdraw its troops from Saudi Arabia.
“The truth is, that for reasons that have a lot to do with the US Government bureaucracy, we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on, which was weapons of mass destruction, as the core reason,” Mr Wolfowitz said in an interview for the next issue of Vanity Fair.
“There have always been three fundamental concerns,” he said. “One is weapons of mass destruction, the second is support for terrorism, the third is the criminal treatment of the Iraqi people.” A fourth, he added, was the removal of a “cause of instability” in the Middle East.
Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, visibly irritated by the Wolfowitz comments, responded: “I can assure you that this war was not waged under any false pretext”.
President Bush, citing two trailers that US intelligence agencies have called probable biological weapons laboratories, said US forces had “found the weapons of mass destruction” that were the prime justification for going to war.
Extensive testing of the trailers, however, have failed to produce any trace of such weapons.