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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