August 11, 2003

Depiction of Threat Outgrew Supporting Evidence

(8/10/03) "Many in the US intelligence community, both active and retired, both on the record and off-the-record, have struggled heroically to get the facts about Iraq and 9/11 to the American people...Here is another extraordinary glimpse via the WASHPS (who seem to be slowly warming to the dangerous task at hand)..."The new information indicates a pattern in which President Bush, Vice President Cheney and their subordinates -- in public and behind the scenes -- made allegations depicting Iraq's nuclear weapons program as more active, more certain and more imminent in its threat than the data they had would support. On occasion administration advocates withheld evidence that did not conform to their views. The White House seldom corrected misstatements or acknowledged loss of confidence in information upon which it had previously relied..."

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A39500-2003Aug9.html

washingtonpost.com
Depiction of Threat Outgrew Supporting Evidence


By Barton Gellman and Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, August 10, 2003; Page A01


His name was Joe, from the U.S. government. He carried
40 classified slides and a message from the Bush
administration.

An engineer-turned-CIA analyst, Joe had helped build
the U.S. government case that Iraq posed a nuclear
threat. He landed in Vienna on Jan. 22 and drove to
the U.S. diplomatic mission downtown. In a conference
room 32 floors above the Danube River, he told United
Nations nuclear inspectors they were making a serious
mistake.

At issue was Iraq's efforts to buy high-strength
aluminum tubes. The U.S. government said those tubes
were for centrifuges to enrich uranium for a nuclear
bomb. But the IAEA, the world's nuclear watchdog, had
uncovered strong evidence that Iraq was using them for
conventional rockets.

Joe described the rocket story as a transparent Iraqi
lie. According to people familiar with his
presentation, which circulated before and afterward
among government and outside specialists, Joe said the
specialized aluminum in the tubes was "overspecified,"
"inappropriate" and "excessively strong." No one, he
told the inspectors, would waste the costly alloy on a
rocket.

In fact, there was just such a rocket. According to
knowledgeable U.S. and overseas sources, experts from
U.S. national laboratories reported in December to the
Energy Department and U.S. intelligence analysts that
Iraq was manufacturing copies of the Italian-made
Medusa 81. Not only the Medusa's alloy, but also its
dimensions, to the fraction of a millimeter, matched
the disputed aluminum tubes.

A CIA spokesman asked that Joe's last name be withheld
for his safety, and said he would not be made
available for an interview. The spokesman said the
tubes in question "are not the same as the Medusa 81"
but would not identify what distinguishes them. In an
interview, CIA Director George J. Tenet said several
different U.S. intelligence agencies believed the
tubes could be used to build gas centrifuges for a
uranium enrichment program.

The Vienna briefing was one among many private and
public forums in which the Bush administration
portrayed a menacing Iraqi nuclear threat, even as
important features of its evidence were being
undermined. There were other White House assertions
about forbidden weapons programs, including biological
and chemical arms, for which there was consensus among
analysts. But the danger of a nuclear-armed Saddam
Hussein, more potent as an argument for war, began
with weaker evidence and grew weaker still in the
three months before war.

This article is based on interviews with analysts and
policymakers inside and outside the U.S. government,
and access to internal documents and technical
evidence not previously made public.

The new information indicates a pattern in which
President Bush, Vice President Cheney and their
subordinates -- in public and behind the scenes --
made allegations depicting Iraq's nuclear weapons
program as more active, more certain and more imminent
in its threat than the data they had would support. On
occasion administration advocates withheld evidence
that did not conform to their views. The White House
seldom corrected misstatements or acknowledged loss of
confidence in information upon which it had previously
relied:

Bush and others often alleged that President Hussein
held numerous meetings with Iraqi nuclear scientists,
but did not disclose that the known work of the
scientists was largely benign. Iraq's three top gas
centrifuge experts, for example, ran a copper factory,
an operation to extract graphite from oil and a
mechanical engineering design center at Rashidiya.

The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) of October
2002 cited new construction at facilities once
associated with Iraq's nuclear program, but analysts
had no reliable information at the time about what was
happening under the roofs. By February, a month before
the war, U.S. government specialists on the ground in
Iraq had seen for themselves that there were no
forbidden activities at the sites.

Gas centrifuge experts consulted by the U.S.
government said repeatedly for more than a year that
the aluminum tubes were not suitable or intended for
uranium enrichment. By December 2002, the experts said
new evidence had further undermined the government's
assertion. The Bush administration portrayed the
scientists as a minority and emphasized that the
experts did not describe the centrifuge theory as
impossible.

In the weeks and months following Joe's Vienna
briefing, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and
others continued to describe the use of such tubes for
rockets as an implausible hypothesis, even after U.S.
analysts collected and photographed in Iraq a
virtually identical tube marked with the logo of the
Medusa's Italian manufacturer and the words, in
English, "81mm rocket."

The escalation of nuclear rhetoric a year ago,
including the introduction of the term "mushroom
cloud" into the debate, coincided with the formation
of a White House Iraq Group, or WHIG, a task force
assigned to "educate the public" about the threat from
Hussein, as a participant put it.

Two senior policymakers, who supported the war, said
in unauthorized interviews that the administration
greatly overstated Iraq's near-term nuclear potential.

"I never cared about the 'imminent threat,' " said one
of the policymakers, with directly relevant
responsibilities. "The threat was there in [Hussein's]
presence in office. To me, just knowing what it takes
to have a nuclear weapons program, he needed a lot of
equipment. You can stare at the yellowcake [uranium
ore] all you want. You need to convert it to gas and
enrich it. That does not constitute an imminent
threat, and the people who were saying that, I think,
did not fully appreciate the difficulties and effort
involved in producing the nuclear material and the
physics package."

No White House, Pentagon or State Department
policymaker agreed to speak on the record for this
report about the administration's nuclear case.
Answering questions Thursday before the National
Association of Black Journalists, national security
adviser Condoleezza Rice said she is "certain to this
day that this regime was a threat, that it was
pursuing a nuclear weapon, that it had biological and
chemical weapons, that it had used them." White House
officials referred all questions of detail to Tenet.

In an interview and a four-page written statement,
Tenet defended the NIE prepared under his supervision
in October. In that estimate, U.S. intelligence
analysts judged that Hussein was intent on acquiring a
nuclear weapon and was trying to rebuild the
capability to make one.

"We stand behind the judgments of the NIE" based on
the evidence available at the time, Tenet said, and
"the soundness and integrity of our process." The
estimate was "the product of years of reporting and
intelligence collection, analyzed by numerous experts
in several different agencies."

Tenet said the time to "decide who was right and who
was wrong" about prewar intelligence will not come
until the Iraqi Survey Group, the CIA-directed, U.S.
military postwar study in Iraq of Hussein's weapons of
mass destruction programs is completed. The Bush
administration has said this will require months or
years.

Facts and Doubts


The possibility of a nuclear-armed Iraq loomed large
in the Bush administration's efforts to convince the
American public of the need for a preemptive strike.
Beginning last August, Cheney portrayed Hussein's
nuclear ambitions as a "mortal threat" to the United
States. In the fall and winter, Rice, then Bush,
marshaled the dreaded image of a "mushroom cloud."

By many accounts, including those of career officials
who did not support the war, there were good reasons
for concern that the Iraqi president might revive a
program to enrich uranium to weapons grade and
fabricate a working bomb. He had a well-demonstrated
aspiration for nuclear weapons, a proficient
scientific and engineering cadre, a history of covert
development and a domestic supply of unrefined uranium
ore. Iraq was generally believed to have kept the
technical documentation for two advanced German
centrifuge designs and the assembly diagrams for at
least one type of "implosion device," which detonates
a nuclear core.

What Hussein did not have was the principal
requirement for a nuclear weapon, a sufficient
quantity of highly enriched uranium or plutonium. And
the U.S. government, authoritative intelligence
officials said, had only circumstantial evidence that
Iraq was trying to obtain those materials.

But the Bush administration had reasons to imagine the
worst. The CIA had faced searing criticism for its
failures to foresee India's resumption of nuclear
testing in 1998 and to "connect the dots" pointing to
al Qaeda's attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Cheney, the
administration's most influential advocate of a
worst-case analysis, had been powerfully influenced by
his experience as defense secretary just after the
Persian Gulf War of 1991.

Former National Security Council official Richard A.
Clarke recalled how information from freshly seized
Iraqi documents disclosed the existence of a "crash
program" to build a bomb in 1991. The CIA had known
nothing of it.

"I can understand why that was a seminal experience
for Cheney," Clarke said. "And when the CIA says [in
2002], 'We don't have any evidence,' his reaction is .
. . 'We didn't have any evidence in 1991, either. Why
should I believe you now?' "

Some strategists, in and out of government, argued
that the uncertainty itself -- in the face of
circumstantial evidence -- was sufficient to justify
"regime change." But that was not what the Bush
administration usually said to the American people.

To gird a nation for the extraordinary step of
preemptive war -- and to obtain the minimum necessary
support from allies, Congress and the U.N. Security
Council -- the administration described a growing,
even imminent, nuclear threat from Iraq.

'Nuclear Blackmail'


The unveiling of that message began a year ago this
week.

Cheney raised the alarm about Iraq's nuclear menace
three times in August. He was far ahead of the
president's public line. Only Bush and Cheney know,
one senior policy official said, "whether Cheney was
trying to push the president or they had decided to
play good cop, bad cop."

On Aug. 7, Cheney volunteered in a question-and-answer
session at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco,
speaking of Hussein, that "left to his own devices,
it's the judgment of many of us that in the
not-too-distant future, he will acquire nuclear
weapons." On Aug. 26, he described Hussein as a "sworn
enemy of our country" who constituted a "mortal
threat" to the United States. He foresaw a time in
which Hussein could "subject the United States or any
other nation to nuclear blackmail."

"We now know that Saddam has resumed his efforts to
acquire nuclear weapons," he said. "Among other
sources, we've gotten this from firsthand testimony
from defectors, including Saddam's own son-in-law."

That was a reference to Hussein Kamel, who had managed
Iraq's special weapons programs before defecting in
1995 to Jordan. But Saddam Hussein lured Kamel back to
Iraq, and he was killed in February 1996, so Kamel
could not have sourced what U.S. officials "now know."

And Kamel's testimony, after defecting, was the
reverse of Cheney's description. In one of many
debriefings by U.S., Jordanian and U.N. officials,
Kamel said on Aug. 22, 1995, that Iraq's uranium
enrichment programs had not resumed after halting at
the start of the Gulf War in 1991. According to notes
typed for the record by U.N. arms inspector Nikita
Smidovich, Kamel acknowledged efforts to design three
different warheads, "but not now, before the Gulf
War."

'Educating the Public'


Systematic coordination began in August, when Chief of
Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. formed the White House Iraq
Group, or WHIG, to set strategy for each stage of the
confrontation with Baghdad. A senior official who
participated in its work called it "an internal
working group, like many formed for priority issues,
to make sure each part of the White House was
fulfilling its responsibilities."

In an interview with the New York Times published
Sept. 6, Card did not mention the WHIG but hinted at
its mission. "From a marketing point of view, you
don't introduce new products in August," he said.

The group met weekly in the Situation Room. Among the
regular participants were Karl Rove, the president's
senior political adviser; communications strategists
Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin and James R. Wilkinson;
legislative liaison Nicholas E. Calio; and policy
advisers led by Rice and her deputy, Stephen J.
Hadley, along with I. Lewis Libby, Cheney's chief of
staff.

The first days of September would bring some of the
most important decisions of the prewar period: what to
demand of the United Nations in the president's Sept.
12 address to the General Assembly, when to take the
issue to Congress, and how to frame the conflict with
Iraq in the midterm election campaign that began in
earnest after Labor Day.

A "strategic communications" task force under the WHIG
began to plan speeches and white papers. There were
many themes in the coming weeks, but Iraq's nuclear
menace was among the most prominent.

'A Mushroom Cloud'


The day after publication of Card's marketing remark,
Bush and nearly all his top advisers began to talk
about the dangers of an Iraqi nuclear bomb.

Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair conferred at Camp
David that Saturday, Sept. 7, and they each described
alarming new evidence. Blair said proof that the
threat is real came in "the report from the
International Atomic Energy Agency this morning,
showing what has been going on at the former nuclear
weapon sites." Bush said "a report came out of the . .
. IAEA, that they [Iraqis] were six months away from
developing a weapon. I don't know what more evidence
we need."

There was no new IAEA report. Blair appeared to be
referring to news reports describing curiosity at the
nuclear agency about repairs at sites of Iraq's former
nuclear program. Bush cast as present evidence the
contents of a report from 1996, updated in 1998 and
1999. In those accounts, the IAEA described the
history of an Iraqi nuclear weapons program that arms
inspectors had systematically destroyed.

A White House spokesman later acknowledged that Bush
"was imprecise" on his source but stood by the crux of
his charge. The spokesman said U.S. intelligence, not
the IAEA, had given Bush his information.

That, too, was garbled at best. U.S. intelligence
reports had only one scenario for an Iraqi bomb in six
months to a year, premised on Iraq's immediate
acquisition of enough plutonium or enriched uranium
from a foreign source.

"That is just about the same thing as saying that if
Iraq gets a bomb, it will have a bomb," said a U.S.
intelligence analyst who covers the subject. "We had
no evidence for it."

Two debuts took place on Sept. 8: the aluminum tubes
and the image of "a mushroom cloud." A Sunday New York
Times story quoted anonymous officials as saying the
"diameter, thickness and other technical
specifications" of the tubes -- precisely the grounds
for skepticism among nuclear enrichment experts --
showed that they were "intended as components of
centrifuges."

No one knows when Iraq will have its weapon, the story
said, but "the first sign of a 'smoking gun,' they
argue, may be a mushroom cloud."

Top officials made the rounds of Sunday talk shows
that morning. Rice's remarks echoed the newspaper
story. She said on CNN's "Late Edition" that Hussein
was "actively pursuing a nuclear weapon" and that the
tubes -- described repeatedly in U.S. intelligence
reports as "dual-use" items -- were "only really
suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge
programs."

"There will always be some uncertainty about how
quickly he can acquire nuclear weapons," Rice added,
"but we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom
cloud."

Anna Perez, a communications adviser to Rice, said
Rice did not come looking for an opportunity to say
that. "There was nothing in her mind that said, 'I
have to push the nuclear issue,' " Perez said, "but
Wolf [Blitzer] asked the question."

Powell, a confidant said, found it "disquieting when
people say things like mushroom clouds." But he
contributed in other ways to the message. When asked
about biological and chemical arms on Fox News, he
brought up nuclear weapons and cited the "specialized
aluminum tubing" that "we saw in reporting just this
morning."

Cheney, on NBC's "Meet the Press," also mentioned the
tubes and said "increasingly, we believe the United
States will become the target" of an Iraqi nuclear
weapon. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, on CBS's
"Face the Nation," asked listeners to "imagine a
September 11th with weapons of mass destruction,"
which would kill "tens of thousands of innocent men,
women and children."

Bush evoked the mushroom cloud on Oct. 7, and on Nov.
12 Gen. Tommy R. Franks, chief of U.S. Central
Command, said inaction might bring "the sight of the
first mushroom cloud on one of the major population
centers on this planet."

'Literary License'


In its initial meetings, Card's Iraq task force
ordered a series of white papers. After a general
survey of Iraqi arms violations, the first of the
single-subject papers -- never published -- was "A
Grave and Gathering Danger: Saddam Hussein's Quest for
Nuclear Weapons."

Wilkinson, at the time White House deputy director of
communications for planning, gathered a yard-high
stack of intelligence reports and press clippings.

Wilkinson said he conferred with experts from the
National Security Council and Cheney's office. Other
officials said Will Tobey and Susan Cook, working
under senior director for counterproliferation Robert
Joseph, made revisions and circulated some of the
drafts. Under the standard NSC review process, they
checked the facts.

In its later stages, the draft white paper coincided
with production of a National Intelligence Estimate
and its unclassified summary. But the WHIG, according
to three officials who followed the white paper's
progress, wanted gripping images and stories not
available in the hedged and austere language of
intelligence.

The fifth draft of the paper was obtained by The
Washington Post. White House spokesmen dismissed the
draft as irrelevant because Rice decided not to
publish it. Wilkinson said Rice and Joseph felt the
paper "was not strong enough."

The document offers insight into the Bush
administration's priorities and methods in shaping a
nuclear message. The white paper was assembled by some
of the same team, and at the same time, as the
speeches and talking points prepared for the president
and top officials. A senior intelligence official said
last October that the president's speechwriters took
"literary license" with intelligence, a phrase
applicable to language used by administration
officials in some of the white paper's most emotive
and misleading assertions elsewhere.

The draft white paper precedes other known instances
in which the Bush administration considered the
now-discredited claim that Iraq "sought uranium oxide,
an essential ingredient in the enrichment process,
from Africa." For a speechwriter, uranium was valuable
as an image because anyone could see its connection to
an atomic bomb. Despite warnings from intelligence
analysts, the uranium would return again and again,
including the Jan. 28 State of the Union address and
three other Bush administration statements that month.

Other errors and exaggerations in public White House
claims were repeated, or had their first mention, in
the white paper.

Much as Blair did at Camp David, the paper attributed
to U.N. arms inspectors a statement that satellite
photographs show "many signs of the reconstruction and
acceleration of the Iraqi nuclear program." Inspectors
did not say that. The paper also quoted the first half
of a sentence from a Time magazine interview with U.N.
chief weapons inspector Hans Blix: "You can see
hundreds of new roofs in these photos." The second
half of the sentence, not quoted, was: "but you don't
know what's under them."

As Bush did, the white paper cited the IAEA's
description of Iraq's defunct nuclear program in
language that appeared to be current. The draft said,
for example, that "since the beginning of the
nineties, Saddam has launched a crash program to
divert nuclear reactor fuel for . . . nuclear
weapons." The crash program began in late 1990 and
ended with the war in January 1991. The reactor fuel,
save for waste products, is gone.

'Footnotes and Disclaimers'


A senior intelligence official said the White House
preferred to avoid a National Intelligence Estimate, a
formal review of competing evidence and judgments,
because it knew "there were disagreements over details
in almost every aspect of the administration's case
against Iraq." The president's advisers, the official
said, did not want "a lot of footnotes and
disclaimers."

But Bush needed bipartisan support for war-making
authority in Congress. In early September, members of
the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence began
asking why there had been no authoritative estimate of
the danger posed by Iraq. Sen. Richard J. Durbin
(D-Ill.) wrote Sept. 9 of his "concern that the views
of the U.S. intelligence community are not receiving
adequate attention by policymakers in both Congress
and the executive branch." When Sen. Bob Graham
(D-Fla.), then committee chairman, insisted on an NIE
in a classified letter two days later, Tenet agreed.

Explicitly intended to assist Congress in deciding
whether to authorize war, the estimate was produced in
two weeks, an extraordinary deadline for a document
that usually takes months. Tenet said in an interview
that "we had covered parts of all those programs over
10 years through NIEs and other reports, and we had a
ton of community product on all these issues."

Even so, the intelligence community was now in a
position of giving its first coordinated answer to a
question that every top national security official had
already answered. "No one outside the intelligence
community told us what to say or not to say," Tenet
wrote in reply to questions for this article.

The U.S. government possessed no specific information
on Iraqi efforts to acquire enriched uranium,
according to six people who participated in preparing
for the estimate. It knew only that Iraq sought to buy
equipment of the sort that years of intelligence
reports had said "may be" intended for or "could be"
used in uranium enrichment.

Richard J. Kerr, a former CIA deputy director now
leading a review of the agency's intelligence analysis
about Iraq, said in an interview that the CIA
collected almost no hard information about Iraq's
weapons programs after the departure of IAEA and U.N.
Special Commission, or UNSCOM, arms inspectors during
the Clinton administration. He said that was because
of a lack of spies inside Iraq.

Tenet took issue with that view, saying in an
interview, "When inspectors were pushed out in 1998,
we did not sit back. . . . The fact is we made
significant professional progress." In his written
statement, he cited new evidence on biological and
missile programs, but did not mention Hussein's
nuclear pursuits.

The estimate's "Key Judgment" said: "Although we
assess that Saddam does not yet have nuclear weapons
or sufficient material to make any, he remains intent
on acquiring them. Most agencies assess that Baghdad
started reconstituting its nuclear program about the
time that UNSCOM inspectors departed -- December
1998."

According to Kerr, the analysts had good reasons to
say that, but the reasons were largely "inferential."

Hussein was known to have met with some weapons
physicists, and praised them as "nuclear mujaheddin."
But the CIA had "reasonably good intelligence in terms
of the general activities and whereabouts" of those
scientists, said another analyst with the relevant
clearances, and knew they had generally not
reassembled into working groups. In a report to
Congress in 2001, the agency could conclude only that
some of the scientists "probably" had "continued at
least low-level theoretical R&D [research and
development] associated with its nuclear program."

Analysts knew Iraq had tried recently to buy magnets,
high-speed balancing machines, machine tools and other
equipment that had some potential for use in uranium
enrichment, though no less for conventional industry.
Even assuming the intention, the parts could not all
be made to fit a coherent centrifuge model. The
estimate acknowledged that "we lack specific
information on many key aspects" of the program, and
analysts presumed they were seeing only the tip of the
iceberg.

'He Made a Name'


According to outside scientists and intelligence
officials, the most important factor in the CIA's
nuclear judgment was Iraq's attempt to buy
high-strength aluminum tubes. The tubes were the core
evidence for a centrifuge program tied to building a
nuclear bomb. Even circumstantially, the CIA reported
no indication of uranium enrichment using anything but
centrifuges.

That interpretation of the tubes was a victory for the
man named Joe, who made the issue his personal
crusade. He worked in the gas centrifuge program at
Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the early 1980s. He
is not, associates said, a nuclear physicist, but an
engineer whose work involved the platform upon which
centrifuges were mounted.

At some point he joined the CIA. By the end of the
1990s, according to people who know him casually, he
worked in export controls.

Joe played an important role in discovering Iraq's
plans to buy aluminum tubes from China in 2000, with
an Australian intermediary. U.N. sanctions forbade
Iraq to buy anything with potential military
applications, and members of the Nuclear Suppliers
Group, a voluntary alliance, include some forms of
aluminum tubing on their list of equipment that could
be used for uranium enrichment.

Joe saw the tubes as centrifuge rotors that could be
used to process uranium into weapons-grade material.
In a gas centrifuge, the rotor is a thin-walled
cylinder, open at both ends, that spins at high speed
under a magnet. The device extracts the material used
in a weapon from a gaseous form of uranium.

In July 2001, about 3,000 tubes were intercepted in
Jordan on their way to Iraq, a big step forward in the
agency's efforts to understand what Iraq was trying to
do. The CIA gave Joe an award for exceptional
performance, throwing its early support to an analysis
that helped change the agency's mind about Iraq's
pursuit of nuclear ambitions.

"He grabbed that information early on, and he made a
name for himself," a career U.S. government nuclear
expert said.

'Stretches the Imagination'


Doubts about Joe's theory emerged quickly among the
government's centrifuge physicists. The intercepted
tubes were too narrow, long and thick-walled to fit a
known centrifuge design. Aluminum had not been used
for rotors since the 1950s. Iraq had two centrifuge
blueprints, stolen in Europe, that were far more
efficient and already known to work. One used maraging
steel, a hard steel alloy, for the rotors, the other
carbon fiber.

Joe and his supporters said the apparent drawbacks
were part of Iraq's concealment plan. Hussein's
history of covert weapons development, Tenet said in
his written statement, included "built-in cover
stories."

"This is a case where different people had honorable
and different interpretations of intentions," said an
Energy Department analyst who has reviewed the raw
data. "If you go to a nuclear [counterproliferation
official] and say I've got these aluminum tubes, and
it's about Iraq, his first inclination is to say it's
for nuclear use."

But the government's centrifuge scientists -- at the
Energy Department's Oak Ridge National Laboratory and
its sister institutions -- unanimously regarded this
possibility as implausible.

In late 2001, experts at Oak Ridge asked an alumnus,
Houston G. Wood III, to review the controversy. Wood,
founder of the Oak Ridge centrifuge physics
department, is widely acknowledged to be among the
most eminent living experts.

Speaking publicly for the first time, Wood said in an
interview that "it would have been extremely difficult
to make these tubes into centrifuges. It stretches the
imagination to come up with a way. I do not know any
real centrifuge experts that feel differently."

As an academic, Wood said, he would not describe
"anything that you absolutely could not do." But he
said he would "like to see, if they're going to make
that claim, that they have some explanation of how you
do that. Because I don't see how you do it."

A CIA spokesman said the agency does have support for
its view from centrifuge experts. He declined to
elaborate.

In the last week of September, the development of the
NIE required a resolution of the running disagreement
over the significance of the tubes. The Energy
Department had one vote. Four agencies -- with
specialties including eavesdropping, maps and foreign
military forces -- judged that the tubes were part of
a centrifuge program that could be used for nuclear
weapons. Only the State Department's Bureau of
Intelligence and Research joined the judgment of the
Energy Department. The estimate, as published, said
that "most analysts" believed the tubes were suitable
and intended for a centrifuge cascade.

Majority votes make poor science, said Peter D.
Zimmerman, a former chief scientist at the Arms
Control and Disarmament Agency.

"In this case, the experts were at Z Division at
Livermore [Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory] and
in DOE intelligence here in town, and they were
convinced that no way in hell were these likely to be
centrifuge tubes," he said.

Tenet said the Department of Energy was not the only
agency with experts on the issue; the CIA consulted
military battlefield rocket experts, as well as its
own centrifuge experts.

Unravelings


On Feb. 5, two weeks after Joe's Vienna briefing,
Powell gave what remains the government's most
extensive account of the aluminum tubes, in an address
to the U.N. Security Council. He did not mention the
existence of the Medusa rocket or its Iraqi
equivalent, though he acknowledged disagreement among
U.S. intelligence analysts about the use of the tubes.

Powell's CIA briefers, using data originating with
Joe, told him that Iraq had "overspecified"
requirements for the tubes, increasing expense without
making them more useful to rockets. That helped
persuade Powell, a confidant said, that Iraq had some
other purpose for the tubes.

"Maybe Iraqis just manufacture their conventional
weapons to a higher standard than we do, but I don't
think so," Powell said in his speech. He said
different batches "seized clandestinely before they
reached Iraq" showed 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 specification, go to all that
trouble for something that, if it was a rocket, would
soon be blown into shrapnel when it went off?"

An anodized coating is actually a strong argument for
use in rockets, according to several scientists in and
out of government. It resists corrosion of the sort
that ruined Iraq's previous rocket supply. To use the
tubes in a centrifuge, experts told the government,
Iraq would have to remove the anodized coating.

Iraq did change some specifications from order to
order, the procurement records show, but there is not
a clear progression to higher precision. One tube
sample was rejected because its interior was
unfinished, too uneven to be used in a rocket body.
After one of Iraq's old tubes got stuck in a launcher
and exploded, Baghdad's subsequent orders asked for
more precision in roundness.

U.S. and European analysts said they had obtained
records showing that Italy's Medusa rocket has had its
specifications improved 10 times since 1978.
Centrifuge experts said in interviews that the
variations had little or no significance for uranium
enrichment, especially because the CIA's theory
supposes Iraq would do extensive machining to adapt
the tubes as rotors.

For rockets, however, the tubes fit perfectly. Experts
from U.S. national labs, working temporarily with U.N.
inspectors in Iraq, observed production lines for the
rockets at the Nasser factory north of Baghdad. Iraq
had run out of body casings at about the time it
ordered the aluminum tubes, according to officials
familiar with the experts' reports. Thousands of
warheads, motors and fins were crated at the assembly
lines, awaiting the arrival of tubes.

"Most U.S. experts," Powell asserted, "think they are
intended to serve as rotors in centrifuges used to
enrich uranium." He said "other experts, and the
Iraqis themselves," said the tubes were really for
rockets.

Wood, the centrifuge physicist, said "that was a
personal slam at everybody in DOE," the Energy
Department. "I've been grouped with the Iraqis, is
what it amounts to. I just felt that the wording of
that was probably intentional, but it was also not
very kind. It did not recognize that dissent can
exist."

Staff writers Glenn Kessler, Dana Priest and Richard
Morin and staff researchers Lucy Shackelford, Madonna
Lebling and Robert Thomason contributed to this
report.

2003 The Washington Post Company



Posted by richard at August 11, 2003 08:00 AM