Not So Fast, Mr. Powell

This week I read an article by Rorbert Sheer, that said Colin Powell now says that he and his department’s top experts never believed that Iraq posed an imminent nuclear threat, but that Bush followed misleading advice from Dick Cheney and the CIA in making the claim.

To that I say, not so fast Mr Powell, the time to come clean has long passed. In fact, the window of truth-telling time for you ended when the first US soldier was killed in Iraq.

This admission proves that Colin knew the truth and could have stopped the freight train long before it made it to Iraq.

Picture this. The day before Congress is to vote on the resolution, Colin Powell, the only Bush administration official with any hands-on experience with war, schedules a public news conference on all the major television networks, and says:

“Saddam does not pose an imminent threat, I do not believe we need to go to war in Iraq, and I am quitting my job today because the administration is about to engage us in a war I cannot support.”

Think about that for a minute. And then think about how many members of Congress would have voted differently if Colin Powell had stepped up to the plate.

But no, he just kept right on lying. For whatever reason, it matters not.

Mr Sheer asked Colin about the Niger statement in Bush’s State of the Union speech.

“That was a big mistake,” Colin said. “It should never have been in the speech.”

“I didn’t need Wilson to tell me that there wasn’t a Niger connection,” he told Mr Sheer.

“He didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know,” Colin said. “I never believed it.”

When Mr Sheer asked why Bush played up the nuclear threat, he responded like a little kid tattling on another kid to save his own butt, and pointed the finger at the Vice President. “That was all Cheney,” he said.

That dog won’t hunt. The fact is, of the liars who worked the hardest at selling the case for war, Colin Powell holds the title for giving the longest sales pitch on record when it comes to the nuclear threat, and for that matter, for all WMDs in general.

Who among us can forget the tune Powell was singing when he took center stage at the UN on February 5, 2003, and started his speech by swearing to the truth of the evidence he was about to present.

“My colleagues,” he told the world on live TV, “every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources.”

“These are not assertions,” he continued.

“What we’re giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence,” he said, “I will cite some examples, and these are from human sources.”

Here’s where Colin tells us about a big find by intelligence officials in Iraq at the home of a nuclear scientist.

“When they searched the home of an Iraqi nuclear scientist,” he said, “they uncovered roughly 2,000 pages of documents.”

To prove this “fact” Colin pulled out a few visuals. “You see them here being brought out of the home and placed in U.N. hands,” he told the audience.

“Some of the material is classified and related to Iraq’s nuclear program,” he added.

Next, Colin presented a litany of “facts” about Saddam’s nuclear threat. “Let me turn now to nuclear weapons,” he said.

“We have no indication that Saddam Hussein has ever abandoned his nuclear weapons program,” he warned.

“On the contrary,” he continued, “we have more than a decade of proof that he remains determined to acquire nuclear weapons.”

“To fully appreciate the challenge that we face today,” he said, “remember that, in 1991, the inspectors searched Iraq’s primary nuclear weapons facilities for the first time.”

“And they found nothing to conclude that Iraq had a nuclear weapons program,” he added.

“But based on defector information in May of 1991,” he advised, “Saddam Hussein’s lie was exposed.”

The next comment is particularly amusing as Colin inserts the word “truth.”

“In truth,” he said, “Saddam Hussein had a massive clandestine nuclear weapons program that covered several different techniques to enrich uranium, including electromagnetic isotope separation, gas centrifuge, and gas diffusion.”

“Saddam Hussein already possesses two out of the three key components needed to build a nuclear bomb,” he said.

“He has a cadre of nuclear scientists with the expertise,” he added, “and he has a bomb design.”

“Since 1998, his efforts to reconstitute his nuclear program have been focused on acquiring the third and last component,” Colin said, “sufficient fissile material to produce a nuclear explosion.”

“To make the fissile material,” Colin explained, “he needs to develop an ability to enrich uranium.”

“Saddam Hussein is determined to get his hands on a nuclear bomb,” he said.

And here’s where Colin swings into the “aluminum tubes” fairy tale and briefly brushes up against the truth before getting back on message.

Saddam is so determined, he told the audience, “that he has made repeated covert attempts to acquire high-specification aluminum tubes from 11 different countries, even after inspections resumed.”

“By now,” Colin said, “just about everyone has heard of these tubes, and we all know that there are differences of opinion.”

“There is controversy about what these tubes are for,” he admitted.

“Most U.S. experts think they are intended to serve as rotors in centrifuges used to enrich uranium,” he said.

“Other experts and the Iraqis themselves,” he said, “argue that they are really to produce the rocket bodies for a conventional weapon, a multiple rocket launcher.”

“Let me tell you what is not controversial about these tubes,” Colin told the audience.

“First, all the experts who have analyzed the tubes in our possession agree that they can be adapted for centrifuge use,” he said.

“Second,” he continued, “Iraq had no business buying them for any purpose.

“They are banned for Iraq,” he said.

“I am no expert on centrifuge tubes,” Colin said, “but just as an old Army trooper, I can tell you a couple of things: First, it strikes me as quite odd that these tubes are manufactured to a tolerance that far exceeds U.S. requirements for comparable rockets,” he said.

“Maybe Iraqis just manufacture their conventional weapons to a higher standard than we do,” he advised, “but I don’t think so,” he added.

“Second,” Colin continued, “we actually have examined tubes from several different batches that were seized clandestinely before they reached Baghdad.”

“What we notice,” he said, “in these different batches is a progression to higher and higher levels of specification, including, in the latest batch, an anodized coating on extremely smooth inner and outer surfaces.”

“Why would they continue refining the specifications,” he asked, “go to all that trouble for something that, if it was a rocket, would soon be blown into shrapnel when it went off?”

And here once again, it gets worse as he goes along, because the high tolerance aluminum tubes are only part of the story, according to Colin.

“We also have intelligence from multiple sources that Iraq is attempting to acquire magnets and high-speed balancing machines;” he said, “both items can be used in a gas centrifuge program to enrich uranium.”

“In 1999 and 2000,” he noted, “Iraqi officials negotiated with firms in Romania, India, Russia and Slovenia for the purchase of a magnet production plant.”

“Iraq wanted the plant,” he said, “to produce magnets weighing 20 to 30 grams.”

“That’s the same weight as the magnets used in Iraq’s gas centrifuge program before the Gulf War,” he explained.

“This incident linked with the tubes,” he warned, “is another indicator of Iraq’s attempt to reconstitute its nuclear weapons program.”

“Intercepted communications from mid-2000 through last summer,” Colin said, “show that Iraq front companies sought to buy machines that can be used to balance gas centrifuge rotors.”

“One of these companies also had been involved in a failed effort in 2001,” he said, “to smuggle aluminum tubes into Iraq.”

Now correct me if I am wrong, but the next statement does not indicate to me that Colin never believed Saddam posed a nuclear threat.

“People will continue to debate this issue,” he said, “but there is no doubt in my mind, these elicit procurement efforts show that Saddam Hussein is very much focused on putting in place the key missing piece from his nuclear weapons program, the ability to produce fissile material.”

“He also has been busy trying to maintain the other key parts of his nuclear program,” he advised, “particularly his cadre of key nuclear scientists,” he said

“It is noteworthy that, over the last 18 months,” Colin continued, “Saddam Hussein has paid increasing personal attention to Iraqi’s top nuclear scientists, a group that the governmental-controlled press calls openly, his nuclear mujahedeen.”

“He regularly exhorts them and praises their progress,” he added, “Progress toward what end?” He noted.

And then there is the little matter of the infamous trailers. Colin had a lot to say on this topic during his presentation at the UN.

“One of the most worrisome things that emerges from the thick intelligence file we have on Iraq’s biological weapons,” he said, “is the existence of mobile production facilities used to make biological agents.”

Next, he went on to share what they had learned about the trailers from “eye witness accounts.”

“We have firsthand descriptions of biological weapons factories on wheels and on rails,” he advised.

“The trucks and train cars are easily moved,” he said, “and are designed to evade detection by inspectors.”

“In a matter of months,” he explained, “they can produce a quantity of biological poison equal to the entire amount that Iraq claimed to have produced in the years prior to the Gulf War.”

Had I been watching this speech live, I know I would have thought, “Wow.”

According to Colin, four eye-witness sources confirmed that Saddam had these mobile biological research laboratories.

Here he used the word “know” again.

“We know,” he said, “that Iraq has at lest seven of these mobile biological agent factories.”

“The truck-mounted ones have at least two or three trucks each,” he said. “That means that the mobile production facilities are very few, perhaps 18 trucks that we know of–there may be more–but perhaps 18 that we know of,” he advised.

A month after the war began, the administration announced that two weapons vans had been found in Iraq.

On May 21, 2003, in remarks after a meeting with Bahrain’s Crown Prince Shaikh Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa, Colin was still rambling on about the damn trailers.

“The intelligence community has really looked hard at these vans,” he said, “and we can find no other purpose for them.”

“Although you can’t find actual germs on them,” he continued, “they have been cleaned and we don’t know whether they have been used for that purpose or not, but they were certainly designed and constructed for that purpose,” he assured his audience.

“And we have taken our time on this one because we wanted to make sure we got it right,” he said.

“And the intelligence community, I think,” he said, “is convinced now that that’s the purpose they served.”

The next day, during an Interview with French Television on May 22, 2003, Colin elaborated further on the great discovery of the “weapons vans.”

“So far,” he said, “we have found the biological weapons vans that I spoke about when I presented the case to the United Nations on the 5th of February, and there is no doubt in our minds,” he said, “that those vans were designed for only one purpose, and that was to make biological weapons.”

Remember that, there was no doubt in Colin’s mind when it came to the trailers.

And who can forget Bush’s remarks to Polish television on May 30, 2003, when he said:

“You remember when Colin Powell stood up in front of the world, and he said Iraq has got laboratories, mobile labs to build biological weapons,” he said. Bush said in an interview before leaving today on a seven-day trip to Europe and the Middle East.

“They’re illegal,” he advised.

“They’re against the United Nations resolutions,” he continued, “and we’ve so far discovered two.”

“And we’ll find more weapons as time goes on,” he said on live TV.

“But for those who say we haven’t found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons,” he claimed, “they’re wrong.

“We found them,” he announced.

Throughout the summer of 2003, the Bush administration held up the trailers as trophies and called them “mobile biological laboratories.” In late June 2003, Colin declared that the “confidence level is increasing” that the trailers were intended for biowarfare.

However, in the end, the “truth” emerged when the Iraqi Survey Group, which conducted the fruitless search for WMDs, issued a report in September 2004, that said the trailers were “impractical for biological agent production,” lacking 11 components that would be crucial for making bioweapons. Instead, the report said, the trailers were “almost certainly designed and built for the generation of hydrogen.”

But here come to find out, the administration knew the trailer tale was a big lie, and Bush knew it while he was running his mouth in Poland.

On April 12, 2006, the Washington Post reported that a “secret fact-finding mission to Iraq — not made public until now — had already concluded that the trailers had nothing to do with biological weapons.”

“Leaders of the Pentagon-sponsored mission,” the Post said, “transmitted their unanimous findings to Washington in a field report on May 27, 2003, two days before the president’s statement.”

But getting back to Colin’s speech at the UN, when trying to sell the war, Colin went so far as to tell the world exactly what Saddam was up to with the “weapons vans.”

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he told the audience, “these are sophisticated facilities.”

They can produce anthrax and botulinum toxin, he said. “In fact,” he advised, “they can produce enough dry biological agent in a single month to kill thousands upon thousands of people.”

“We know from Iraq’s past admissions,” he said, “that it has successfully weaponized not only anthrax, but also other biological agents, including botulinum toxin, aflatoxin and ricin.”

But Iraq’s research efforts did not stop there, Colin warned the world.

“Saddam Hussein has investigated dozens of biological agents,” he said, “causing diseases such as gas gangrene, plague, typhus (ph), tetanus, cholera, camelpox and hemorrhagic fever, and he also has the wherewithal to develop smallpox.”

As it turns out, the next line was a big selling point according to some members of Congress.

“The Iraqi regime has also developed ways to disburse lethal biological agents,” he warned, “widely and discriminately into the water supply, into the air.”

“For example,” he said, “Iraq had a program to modify aerial fuel tanks for Mirage jets.”

And he even had a video of an Iraqi test flight obtained by UNSCOM some years ago, he said, that showed an Iraqi F-1 Mirage jet aircraft.

“Note the spray coming from beneath the Mirage;” he pointed out, “that is 2,000 liters of simulated anthrax that a jet is spraying.”

“There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons,” he said, “and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more.”

“And,” Colin warned, “he has the ability to dispense these lethal poisons and diseases in ways that can cause massive death and destruction.”

The next line was another hit with the crowd, when it came to selling the war.

“If biological weapons seem too terrible to contemplate,” Colin said, “chemical weapons are equally chilling.”

He said, “Saddam Hussein has never accounted for vast amounts of chemical weaponry: 550 artillery shells with mustard, 30,000 empty munitions and enough precursors to increase his stockpile to as much as 500 tons of chemical agents.”

Colin then pulled out photos and said, “I’m going to show you a small part of a chemical complex called al-Moussaid (ph), a site that Iraq has used for at least three years to transship chemical weapons from production facilities out to the field.”

“In May 2002,” he said, “our satellites photographed the unusual activity in this picture.”

“Here we see cargo vehicles are again,” he pointed out, “at this transshipment point, and we can see that they are accompanied by a decontamination vehicle associated with biological or chemical weapons activity.”

“What makes this picture significant,” he explained, “is that we have a human source who has corroborated that movement of chemical weapons occurred at this site at that time.”

“So it’s not just the photo,” he said, “and it’s not an individual seeing the photo.”

“It’s the photo and then the knowledge of an individual being brought together to make the case,” he advised.

I have to admit that this story sounds believable, and it would be easy to prove as well. Colin can simply produce the photographer and then follow up with the “human source.”

Next he told the world about all the chemical weapons that Saddam was hoarding.

“Our conservative estimate,” Colin said, “is that Iraq today has a stockpile of between 100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons agent.”

“That is enough agent to fill 16,000 battlefield rockets,” he advised.

“Even the low end of 100 tons of agent,” he continued, “would enable Saddam Hussein to cause mass casualties across more than 100 square miles of territory, an area nearly 5 times the size of Manhattan.”

And on top of that, Colin said, “we have sources who tell us that he recently has authorized his field commanders to use them.”

“He wouldn’t be passing out the orders,” he informed the world, “if he didn’t have the weapons or the intent to use them.”

A thought just occurred to me, I wonder if Saddam was watching this dog and pony show live as Colin was performing. If he was, he no doubt told anybody within ear shot, that the Bush administration sure had a lot of gall calling him a liar.

Evelyn Pringle can be reached at: