Deceived into War, Reflections of a Former CIA Analyst

When FOX TV asked me to present my views Sunday on the ongoing quest for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the first thing the anchor asked was why I should care about the phantom wmds when the vast majority of Americans don’t.

I responded, somewhat indecorously, that this was largely the fault of FOX news and other media that have kept Americans malnourished on small issues like why our country launched a “preemptive” war. I was dyspeptic on Sunday after watching Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell blow still more smoke at these key issues and disparage those with altogether legitimate questions.

Powell said it was “nonsense” to brand as “bogus” the intelligence adduced to justify making war on Iraq. But, sadly, “bogus” is precisely the correct word to apply to the key piece of “evidence” used to deceive our representatives and senators into voting to give President Bush permission to launch an unprovoked war on Iraq.

However strong a word, “bogus” pales in comparison with the seven-letter F-word to which Powell and Rice showed themselves allergic: F for forgery.

Yes, forgery. Had FOX and other news outlets adequately reported on what both Powell had already conceded was a forgery, the American people might have a better appreciation as to why they should care.

I refer to the bogus story that Iraq was attempting to acquire uranium from Niger to develop nuclear weapons. Those who followed developments at the UN have known since February that that story was based on a crude forgery. What is little known is that the Bush administration knew it was bogus a full year earlier. (Those who find themselves wondering why Powell and Rice have conceded the point need only to remember that the UN now has the forged documents.)

To his credit, early last year Vice President Dick Cheney sent to Niger a former US ambassador in Africa to investigate the story. The latter brought back word that the documents were not authentic. But this did not prevent senior administration officials from using them in the critical run-up to Congress’ vote to give the president the authority to make war.

Indeed, President Bush included the forged “evidence” in his state-of-the-union address on January 28-something Dr. Rice, when asked about it by George Stephanopoulos on Sunday, was at a loss to explain satisfactorily. Now “senior administration officials” are telling gullible reporters that Cheney was never informed of the outcome of the investigation he ordered. I’m not making this up.

Recent press reports of a Defense Intelligence Agency study of Sept. 2002 that found “no definitive, reliable information” that Iraq was producing or stockpiling chemical or biological weapons has helped me connect the dots, so to speak.

Last fall’s full-court press to get Congress to vote for war required proof that Iraq posed a clear and present danger. As Bush’s strategists reviewed the bidding, it became painfully clear that allegations of a confirmed chemical and biological threat would run too great a risk of being undermined by uncooperative analysts in the DIA.

At that point the White House decided to present evidence raising the specter of nuclear weapons in the hands of Saddam Hussein and play up the danger of a “mushroom cloud.” Former UN nuclear inspector David Albright said Sunday that he was “deeply troubled by the selective use of information to basically scare people. People are scared by nuclear weapons. And it’s a button.”

But where was the evidence? It is now clear that the only thing available at that time was the so-called argument from aluminum tubes. There had been reports of Iraq trying to procure them from abroad, and those eager to please the White House offered instant “analysis” that the tubes were for Iraq’s “nuclear program.” Thus, Dr. Rice on Sept. 8, 2002 told Wolf Blitzer that “Saddam Hussein is actively pursuing a nuclear weapon. We do know that there have been shipments into Iraq of aluminum tubes that really are only suited to nuclear weapons programs.”

But when the engineers and scientists at US nuclear labs were consulted, their virtually unanimous conclusion was that the tubes were not suitable for a nuclear application. So that line of argument turned out to be as weak as the chemical and biological weapons evidence about which DIA analysts were so suspicious.

What was left? Someone remembered the forged correspondence between Iraq and Niger, decided that it could be used to win the vote in Congress, to win the war in Iraq, and in the afterglow of victory, no one would care that the evidence was bogus.

It worked.

Small wonder that Rep. Henry Waxman (D, CA), in a March 17 letter to the president, expressed outrage at having been deceived into voting for war, since “the evidence cited regarding Iraq’s efforts to obtain nuclear weapons is a hoax.”

Ray McGovern, a CIA analyst for 27 years, is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. His day job is co-director of the Servant Leadership School, an inner-city outreach ministry in Washington, DC. He can be reached at:

Ray McGovern was an Army officer and CIA analyst for almost 30 year. He now serves on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). He can be reached at: A version of this article first appeared on