Did they really think they could get away with this? Joby Warrick writes in today’s Washington Post,
On May 29, 2003, 50 days after the fall of Baghdad, President Bush proclaimed a fresh victory for his administration in Iraq: Two small trailers captured by U.S. and Kurdish troops had turned out to be long-sought mobile “biological laboratories.” He declared, “We have found the weapons of mass destruction.”
The claim, repeated by top administration officials for months afterward, was hailed at the time as a vindication of the decision to go to war. But even as Bush spoke, U.S. intelligence officials possessed powerful evidence that it was not true.
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 transmitted their unanimous findings to Washington in a field report on May 27, 2003, two days before the president’s statement.
The report was stamped “secret” and shelved, and for the next several months Administration officials continued to claim the trailers were weapons factories.
This seems to me the most chilling part of Warrick’s news story:
The authors of the reports were nine U.S. and British civilian experts — scientists and engineers with extensive experience in all the technical fields involved in making bioweapons — who were dispatched to Baghdad by the Defense Intelligence Agency for an analysis of the trailers. … None would consent to being identified by name because of fear that their jobs would be jeopardized.
As I recall, Saddam Hussein had the same deal going with his weapons scientists. They’d tell him what he wanted to hear so they could keep their jobs. This sort of thing is not supposed to happen with the government of a free nation.
Intelligence analysts involved in high-level discussions about the trailers noted that the technical team was among several groups that analyzed the suspected mobile labs throughout the spring and summer of 2003. Two teams of military experts who viewed the trailers soon after their discovery concluded that the facilities were weapons labs, a finding that strongly influenced views of intelligence officials in Washington, the analysts said. “It was hotly debated, and there were experts making arguments on both sides,” said one former senior official who spoke on the condition that he not be identified.
No cigar, righties. The Administration didn’t say, we think these trailers might be mobile labs. It said they were, unequivocally. And the evidence that they weren’t was then suppressed. That was dishonest. And it’s part of the now-familiar pattern — the Bushies cherry-picked intelligence, believing what they wanted to believe, discarding anything that didn’t support their conclusions.
Throughout the summer and fall of 2003, the trailers became simply “mobile biological laboratories” in speeches and press statements by administration officials. In late June, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell declared that the “confidence level is increasing” that the trailers were intended for biowarfare. In September, Vice President Cheney pronounced the trailers to be “mobile biological facilities,” and said they could have been used to produce anthrax or smallpox.
Warrick goes on to say that the Bushies had been looking for mobile labs because of stories told by the now-infamous Curveball. Good ol’ Curveball was shown photographs of the trailers, and he identified them as mobile labs. Others had doubts. So the Defense Intelligence Agency put together a team of specialists to resolve the issue. The specialists flew to Kuwait, where the “labs” were stored, to examine the labs. Within four hours it was clear to the entire team that the trailers were not mobile weapons labs.
But back in Washington, a CIA analyst had already written an official assessment that called the trailers “the strongest evidence to date that Iraq was hiding a biological warfare program.”
The technical team’s preliminary report was transmitted in the early hours of May 27, just before its members began boarding planes to return home. Within 24 hours, the CIA published its white paper, “Iraqi Mobile Biological Warfare Agent Production Plants,” on its Web site.
One can imagine the pressure being applied from the White House to cover Bush’s butt on the WMDs. But I ask again — did they really believe they could get away with this?
I’m thinking about something Taylor Marsh said yesterday — “…it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what’s been going on for years. The president’s people have been covering for the president.” Exactly so. At first Bush family connections covered for him, and once he got into politics in Texas a team of cronies and sycophants — and Karl Rove — surrounded him to create the artful illusion that Bush was substantive, a leader, a man to be taken seriously. And they sold that illusion to a gullible public.
One of the paradoxes created by the mass media age is that the more local the government, the less most voters are paying attention to it, because mass media news is focused on national stories. Thus, We, the People get more news about what’s going on in Washington than we get about our state and local governments. It’s likely that, say, a governor of Texas gets less media scrutiny than a president of the United States. Such a governor could funnel money and favors to his supporters and cronies without worrying much about the public catching on. It also may be easier to persuade state judges to let aspiring presidential candidates wriggle out of giving testimony that might have been embarrassing, for example. Then again, had Bush served a seventh year as governor the artful illusion might have collapsed like a failed soufflÃ©. Ya never know.
My point is, however, that for years the Bush team had been creating whatever “reality” they wished the public to believe. And they’d always gotten away with it. So when they got to Washington they continued to operate the way they’d always operated. And they got away with it for a remarkably long time.
But it’s obvious now the lot of them are in way over their heads, including the mighty Karl. Because now, the whole world is watching. And most of the world has no vested interest in covering Bush’s butt.
On Monday, former Secretary of State Colin Powell told me that he and his departmentâ€™s top experts never believed that Iraq posed an imminent nuclear threat, but that the president followed the misleading advice of Vice President Dick Cheney and the CIA in making the claim. Now he tells us.
Thanks loads, Colin.
The harsh truth is that this president cherry-picked the intelligence data in making his case for invading Iraq and deliberately kept the public in the dark as to the countervailing analysis at the highest level of the intelligence community. While the president and his top Cabinet officials were fear-mongering with stark images of a â€œmushroom cloudâ€ over American cities, the leading experts on nuclear weaponry at the Department of Energy (the agency in charge of the U.S. nuclear-weapons program) and the State Department thought the claim of a near-term Iraqi nuclear threat was absurd.
A few hours ago the Pentagon announced the deaths of five U.S. soldiers in Iraq. The death total for April is now 31, which is the total for all of March. The grand total, for want of a better term, is now 2,363.