Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense, was so eager to see the United States launch a preemptive strike against Iraq in early 2002, that he ordered the CIA to investigate the past work of Hans Blix, the chief United Nations weapons inspector, who in February 2002, was asked to lead a team of U.N. weapons inspectors into Iraq to search for weapons of mass destruction, in an attempt to undermine the scientist.
The unusual move by Wolfowitz underscores the steps the Bush administration was willing to take a year before the U.S. invaded Iraq to manipulate and or exaggerate intelligence information to support it’s claims that Iraq posed an immediate threat to the United States and that the only solution to quell the problem was the use of military force.
U.S. military forces in Iraq have yet to find any evidence of WMD. Some U.S. lawmakers have accused the Bush administration of distorting intelligence information, which claimed Iraq possessed tons of chemical and biological agents, to justify the attack to overthrow Iraq’s President Saddam Hussein. Although the Bush administration continues to deny the accusations, evidence, such as the secret report Wolfowitz asked the CIA in January 2002 to produce on Blix, prove that the administration had already decided that removing Saddam from power would require military force and it would do so regardless of the U.N..
Earlier this month, Blix accused the Bush administration of launching a smear campaign against him because he could not find evidence of WMD in Iraq and, he said, he refused to pump up his reports to the U.N. about Iraq’s WMD programs, which would have given the U.S. the evidence it needed to get a majority of U.N. member countries to support a war against Iraq. Instead, Blix said the U.N. inspectors should be allowed more time to conduct searches in Iraq for WMD.
In a June 11 interview with the London Guardian newspaper, Blix said “U.S. officials pressured him to use more damning language when reporting on Iraq’s alleged weapons programs.”
“By and large my relations with the U.S. were good,” Blix told the Guardian. “But toward the end the (Bush) administration leaned on us.'”
Tensions between Blix and the hawks in the Bush administration, such as Wolfowitz, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney, go back at least two years, when President Bush, at the urging of Secretary of State Colin Powell, said he wanted the U.N. to resurrect U.N. arms inspections for Iraq.
The move angered some in the administration, such as Wolfowitz, who, according to an April 15 report in the Washington Post, wanted to see military action against Iraq sooner rather than later.
When the U.N. said privately in January 2002 that Blix would lead an inspections team into Iraq, Wolfowitz contacted the CIA to produce a report on why Blix, as chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency during the 1980s and 1990s, failed to detect Iraqi nuclear activity.
But, according to the Washington Post’s April 15, 2002 story, the CIA report said Blix “had conducted inspections of Iraq’s declared nuclear power plants fully within the parameters he could operate as chief of the Vienna-based agency between 1981 and 1997.”
Wolfowitz, according to the Post, quoting a former State Department official familiar with the report, “hit the ceiling” because it failed to provide sufficient ammunition to undermine Blix and, by association, the new U.N. weapons inspection program.”
“The request for a CIA investigation underscored the degree of concern by Wolfowitz and his civilian colleagues in the Pentagon that new inspections — or protracted negotiations over them — could torpedo their plans for military action to remove Hussein from power,” the Post reported.
Soon after the CIA issued its report, the administration began exaggerating intelligence information of Iraq’s weapons programs and, in some cases, forcing intelligence officials to “cook” up information to support a war, according to a Nov. 19, 2002 story in the London Guardian newspaper.
For example, last August, Cheney said Iraq would have nuclear weapons “fairly soon” – in direct contradiction of CIA reports that said it would take at least five more years.
Rumsfeld, in public comments last year, accused Saddam Hussein of providing sanctuary to al-Qaida operatives fleeing Afghanistan – although they had actually traveled to Iraqi Kurdistan, which is outside Saddam’s control, the Guardian reported.
On Feb. 12, 2002, a week or so after the CIA issued its report to Wolfowitz on Blix, reporters questioned Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld about the accuracy of the Bush administration’s claim that Iraq was harboring al-Qaida terrorists and the countries alleged stockpile of WMD, which some news reports said was not true.
Rumsfeld’s response to the reporters’ questions about the accuracy of the information proves that the Defense Secretary cares little about providing the public with thoughtful, intelligent analysis.
“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know,” Rumsfeld said.
But on Wednesday, Rumsfeld and Gen Richard Myers, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, radically changed their stance on the accuracy of such intelligence The officials said at a news conference that intelligence information the U.S. gathered leading up to the war in Iraq that concluded the country possessed WMD may have been wrong.
“Intelligence doesn’t necessarily mean something is true,” Myers said “It’s just — it’s intelligence. You know, it’s your best estimate of the situation. It doesn’t mean it’s a fact. I mean, that’s not what intelligence is. It’s not — they’re — and so you make judgments.”
JASON LEOPOLD can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org