WASHINGTON - For many months, the propaganda line that explosively formed
projectiles (EFPs) that could penetrate United States armored vehicles were
coming straight from Iran has been embraced publicly by the entire George W
Bush administration. But when that argument was proposed internally by military
officials in January 2007, it was attacked by key administration officials as
unsupported by the facts.
Vice President Dick Cheney was able to get around those objections and get his
Iranian EFP line accepted only because of arrangements he and Bush made with
General David Petraeus before he took command of US forces in Iraq.
The initial draft of the proposed military briefing on the issue of
EFPs, which asserted flatly that EFPs were being manufactured and smuggled to
Iraqi Shi'ite groups directly by the Iranian regime, was met with unanimous
objection from the State Department, Defense Department and National Security
Council staff, as administration officials themselves stated publicly.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and
National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley tried to push back against Cheney's
proposed line because they recognized it as an effort to go well beyond the
compromise policy toward Iran that had been worked out in December and early
January. The compromise policy had been to focus on networks working on
procuring EFPs within Iraq and not to target Iran as directly responsible.
At his regular press briefing on January 24, 2007, Assistant Secretary of State
for Public Affairs and Department spokesman Sean McCormack revealed the primary
basis for the State, Defense and NSC opposition to the Cheney line on EFPs.
Asked whether the US government had any evidence that EFPs were manufactured in
Iran, McCormack did not answer directly but said, "You don't necessarily have
to construct something in Iran in order for it to be a threat to the US or
British troops from the Iranian regime. There are lots of different ways you
can do that. You can bring the know-how. You can train other people in Iraq to
McCormack thus revealed that the State Department wasn't buying the accusation
that Iran was manufacturing EFPs and sending them to the Shi'ite forces of
Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army fighting against US forces.
On February 2, while briefing the news media on the new National Intelligence
Estimate on Iraq, Hadley asserted bluntly that the draft military briefing that
had been circulated in Washington had not been based on evidence.
"The truth is, quite frankly, we thought the briefing was overstated," said
Hadley. "We sent it back to get it narrowed and focused on the facts."
Hadley did not tell reporters which points in the draft briefing paper had not
been based on the evidence, but the remarks by McCormack and Gates were clear
indications that the briefing had made claims of Iranian manufacturing of
weapons and smuggling them into Iraq that could not be supported.
Hadley further revealed that he, Gates and Rice had tried to use the imminence
of a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE)on Iraq to force the issue of the
briefing's exaggerated claims. The briefing, he said was "an attempt to ...
address some of the issues in the NIE in a briefing on intelligence of Iranian
activity in Iraq. And we thought, hey, why are we doing this?"
He said he and his associates wanted a briefing that "we're confident everyone
can stand behind". The national security adviser was implying that the proposed
briefing was not supported by the NIE on Iraq, and that the drafters would
therefore have to redraft it so that the intelligence community could support
Hadley didn't say who he meant by "we", but Gates told reporters the same day
that he and Rice had joined Hadley in ensuring that the planned briefing "is
dominated by facts".
The declassified version of the NIE's main conclusions indicated that it did
not support the claim that Iran was exporting EFPs to the Mahdi Army. The only
sentence that related to the issue was, "Iranian lethal support for select
groups of Iraqi Shi'ite militants clearly intensifies the conflict in Iraq."
But in the absence of any language alleging Iranian EFP manufacture and export
to Iraq, that phrase appears to be a reference to training of Mahdi Army
Hadley, Rice and Gates thus appeared to believe that the briefing would have to
reflect the NIE, and that they would be able to review the revised version
before it was presented to the press. On February 9, McCormack said, "[W]hen
the working-level folks at the deputies level ... produce a presentation that
they are comfortable with, I am sure that they'll share it with Secretary Rice,
Secretary Gates and Steve Hadley over at the NSC just for review."
But Cheney had a surprise for the opponents of his hard line on Iran. When
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino was asked on February 9 about when the
briefing would be held, she replied, "Decisions on that are being made out in
That announcement came just as General George W Casey was to be replaced by
Petraeus as the new commander. Petraeus had only arrived in Iraq the day before
and the changeover ceremony came on February 10.
The day after the ceremony, three military officers presented a briefing to the
press which not only asserted that the EFPs could only have been manufactured
in Iran but that Iran's Quds Force was behind the smuggling of those weapons
into Iraq. They strongly suggested, moreover, that the Iranian government knew
about the smuggling.
Cheney had used the compliant Petraeus to do an end-run around the national
security bureaucracy. Petraeus had already reached agreement with the White
House to take Cheney's line on the EFPs issue and to present the briefing
immediately without consulting State or Defense.
State and Defense tried to counter this maneuver. McCormack argued, rather
lamely, that the briefing had really been about "a threat to our troops from
these devices and from the networks that supply them". And the chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, responded by saying that he could
not "from his own knowledge" confirm the assertion that the Quds Force was
providing bomb-making kits to Shi'ite insurgents.
The US command in Baghdad temporarily backed away from the briefers' charge
against Iran. The command spokesman, Lieutenant General William B Caldwell, who
had been one of the three military briefers, was forced to tell reporters on
February 14 that the purpose of the briefing had been to talk only about the
threat to US troops, implying that briefers had gone beyond their brief in
making statements about Iranian complicity.
But the hardline position on EFP was the one that dominated press coverage.
Instead of the more cautious line focusing on the EFP networks inside Iraq,
which was what State, Defense and NSC and agreed to in January, Cheney now had
a potential casus belli against Iran.
And Cheney would continue to use his alliance with Petraeus to advance his
proposal for an attack on Quds Force bases in Iran. The very first episode in
the Cheney-Petraeus alliance sheds additional light on the nomination of
Petraeus to become the new United States Central Command commander later this
Gareth Porter is an historian and national security policy analyst. The
paperback edition of his latest book, Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of
Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, was published in 2006.