Iraq Intelligence Timeline

Brian Cook

The committee to investigate failures of U.S. intelligence about Iraq’s weapon capability is not due to report back until March 2005. The timing prevents damning disclosures to impact the November election and allows what is known about the administration’s manipulations to slide ever deeper down the memory hole. To stem that slide, here’s a brief recap:

1996

The CIA stops funneling millions of dollars to the Iraqi National Congress (INC), an Iraqi dissident group led by Ahmad Chalabi, because it regards the INC’s intelligence as unreliable. The INC has a track record of manipulating information because it has an agenda,” an ex-Middle East CIA station chief would tell the New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh. It’s a political unit — not an intelligence agency.”

September 2001

Days after 911, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Assistant Secretary of Defense Douglas Feith set up an independent intelligence committee called the Office of Special Plans (OSP). News reports indicate that OSP was created to find the missing evidence that would prove what Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz already believed: Saddam was in cahoots with al-Qaeda and had amassed chemical, biological and had even nuclear weapons. OSP analysts rely on discredited intelligence gathered by the INC. 

2002

Cheney, his chief-of-staff Lewis Libby and Pentagon consultant” Newt Gingrich make repeated trips to Langley to advocate a more forward-leaning” interpretation of the Iraqi threat. Cheney has close ties to the OSP, whose operations are overseen by William Luti, an ex-aide to Cheney.

February-March 2002

The vice president’s office asks the CIA to confirm a document showing that Niger sold yellowcake uranium to Iraq. The CIA sends former ambassador Joseph Wilson on a fact-finding mission. Upon his return, Wilson briefs CIA officers that the sale never took place.

August 2002

Reports that intelligence from the OSP was channeled to Cheney to be used in speeches appear to be substantiated by Cheney’s remarks at the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention: There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.”

October 2002

Deputy National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley receives two memos and a phone call from CIA Director George Tenet warning him to delete references to yellowcake uranium in Bush’s October 7 address.

December 2002

The State Department publishes a fact sheet that references the yellowcake sale.

January 2003

Bush remarks in his State of the Union address, The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”

February 2003

Preparing for his U.N. address, Powell removes dozens of pages of unsubstantiated evidence provided by OSP. A frustrated Powell yells, I’m not reading this. This is bullshit.”

March 2003

The United States attacks Iraq.

July 2003

During a Defense Appropriations session, Rep. David Obey (D‑Wisc.) asks committee members to examine the OSP: That office was charged with collecting, vetting and disseminating intelligence completely outside the normal intelligence apparatus … [which] was in some instances not even shared with the established intelligence agencies and in numerous instances was passed on to the National Security Council and the President without having been vetted with anyone other than [Secretary of Defense] political appointees.”

After publicly apologizing for Bush’s false remarks in his State of the Union address, Tenet reportedly tells three senators on the Intelligence Committee that CIA intelligence was rewritten by the OSP. These senators also claim that OSP members urged the president to use the uranium claim in his speech.

A week after Tenet’s apology, Hadley takes the blame for the uranium lie in Bush’s State of the Union, claiming he forgot” about Tenet’s two October memos and phone call.

September 2003

House Democrats abandon their efforts to investigate the Bush administration’s faulty intelligence gathering.

January 2004

A week after resigning from his position as chief weapons inspector in Iraq, David Kay tells a Senate committee U.S. intelligence was almost all wrong” about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs, but doesn’t see evidence that political pressure was to blame.

February 2004

Bush handpicks a committee to uncover the reasons behind intelligence failures, but limits its mandate to only examine intelligence on weapons of mass destruction,” and to compare pre-war intelligence estimates with post-war findings. Examining the roles of Cheney, the INC and the OSP are not included in the committee’s charge.

Brian Cook was an editor at In These Times from 2003 to 2009. He now works on the editorial staff of Playboy magazine.
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