By Jim Lobe
- The administration of President George W Bush is
finding itself increasingly beleaguered by growing
charges by retired intelligence and foreign service
officers that administration hawks exaggerated the
threat posed by Iraq in order to press Washington into
The White House was forced to admit earlier
this week that Bush's assertion during his State of the
Union address in late January regarding Saddam Hussein's
alleged attempts to buy uranium in Africa for a supposed
nuclear arms program was based on flawed intelligence
and should have been omitted from the speech.
But a growing number of lawmakers and
independent analysts are suggesting that the uranium
report - which was actually based on crudely forged
documents supposedly provided by an Italian intelligence
agency - may be just the tip of the iceberg of an effort
by neo-conservative and right-wing hawks centered
primarily in the Pentagon and around Vice President Dick
Cheney to skew the intelligence to make their case for
"The Bush administration did not provide an
accurate picture of the military threat with respect to
Iraq," according to Gregory Thielmann, who served as the
director of the Strategic, Proliferation and Military
Affairs Office in the State Department's Bureau of
Intelligence and Research (INR), until last September.
Contrary to the repeated assertion by Bush and
other top officials, he said, "As of March, 2003, Iraq
posed no major military threat to the United States,"
Thielmann, a 25-year foreign service veteran, told a
standing-room only press conference at the National
He added that the administration's
public statements about Iraq's biological and chemical
weapons capabilities, stockpile of Scud missiles, and
ties to al-Qaeda were also misleading and often based on
distortions of what the intelligence community itself
His charges and the growing
attention being paid to them come on the heels of
similar charges by another retired foreign service
officer, ambassador Joseph Wilson, who had been sent by
the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to Niger to check
out the reports of Iraq's purchase of uranium
In a television interview, Wilson,
who was Washington's highest-ranking diplomat in Baghdad
during the first Gulf War in 1991, said that he was
stunned when Bush referred to it in his State of the
Union address and concluded that its mention was part of
a broader effort to influence public opinion. "It really
comes down to the administration misrepresenting the
facts on an issue that was a fundamental justification
for going to war," he told the Washington Post. "It begs
the question, what else are they lying about?"
These questions - which have been echoed by
other retired intelligence officers, such as the CIA's
former top counter-terrorism analyst, Vincent
Cannistraro - are clearly beginning to worry the
administration, particularly because of growing doubts
as well about the duration and dangers posed by the US
occupation of Iraq.
After the administration's
assurances that US troops would be greeted by Iraqis as
liberators, armed resistance to their presence appears
to be rising steadily, with the US Central Command
reporting an average of 13 armed attacks against forces
each day. Some 30 US soldiers have been killed since May
1, when Bush declared the war over, and officials are
actively studying the possibility of adding to the
145,000 troops there.
According to a new survey
of public opinion released on Wednesday, just 23 percent
of Americans say that the military effort in Iraq is
going very well, down from 61 percent in late April.
Doubts about the occupation naturally feed into concerns
about how the US got there.
"If the American
people conclude that American soldiers have died because
the administration has lied, it will be extremely
serious," according to Joseph Cirincione, an arms
control specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace. "American public opinion is clearly
shifting on this issue." He said that he didn't see how
the Republicans and the administration could avert a
Bush, who had hoped that
his "victory lap" around sub-Saharan Africa this week
would highlight his "compassionate conservatism" for the
folks back home, has been dogged by questions from
reporters about his State of the Union allegations since
he arrived at his first stop in Senegal.
joint press conference with South African President
Thabo Mbeki in Pretoria, he deflected a question about
it. "There is no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein
was a threat to the world peace and there is no doubt in
my mind the United States along with our allies and
friends did the right thing in removing him from power,"
he said, adding, "I'm confident that Saddam Hussein had
weapons of mass destruction."
Democratic lawmakers called for a full-scale
Congressional investigation, Pentagon chief Donald
Rumsfeld was also asked at a hearing of the Senate Armed
Services Committee whether the administration
exaggerated the threat. "The coalition did not act in
Iraq because we had discovered dramatic new evidence of
Iraq's pursuit [of weapons of mass destruction, or
WMD]," he said. "We acted because we saw the evidence in
a dramatic new light - through the prism of our
experience on 9-11 [September 11]."
Rumsfeld's statement only raised new questions for
analysts who have documented the administration's claims
about Baghdad's WMD capabilities. Cirincione described
Rumsfeld's latest assertion as "shocking".
"Administration officials repeatedly said that they had
new evidence [in the run-up to the war]."
Indeed, when he heard Bush's uranium reference,
Thielmann said he "wondered what new evidence had come
into the administration". But, when he realized that it
was based on the already-discredited Niger report, he
said he felt a "combination of surprise and disgust".
"This administration has a faith-based attitude to
intelligence," he said, which, simply stated, consisted
of, "We know the answers. Give us the evidence the
support those answers."
particularly dismissive of some Republican attempts to
defend the administration. The Majority Leader of the
House of Representatives, Tom DeLay, told reporters on
Tuesday in response to the White House admission that
the uranium story was false that it was "very easy to
pick one little flaw here and one little flaw there". "A
little flaw here, a little flaw there," said Thielmann,
"and pretty soon you've fostered a fundamentally flawed
view of reality".
Cirincione said that the
administration's failure to find any evidence of WMD or
Scud missiles despite scouring more than 200 priority
sites over the past three months made it clear that the
UN weapons inspectors, whose work was often mocked by
administration officials, actually fulfilled their
intended purpose quite well.
including even Secretary of State Colin Powell - who,
according to Thielmann shielded INR from political
influence - made increasingly specific claims about the
intelligence it said it had about Iraq's WMD in the
immediate approach to the war - in what Cirincione
described as a "conscious effort to discredit the
inspectors". "They had to eliminate the viable
alternative to going to war," he said.
said that in working-level discussions between analysts
from different agencies, consensus about the
intelligence would generally be achieved. But, as the
analyses made their way to higher levels, the consensus
would drop away, with the CIA and DIA tending to demur.
"I can only assume this was in response to [political]
pressure," he said.
(Inter Press Service)