CIA 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
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
“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 .
”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
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
“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 reality.
“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,” Tenet said.
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
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 WMD.
“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 years…”
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
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.”
Jason Leopold is the author of the explosive memoir, News Junkie, to be
released in the spring of 2006 by Process/Feral House Books. Visit Leopold's
website at http://www.jasonleopold.com/
(C) 2005 Jason Leopold