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Red Team, Part 4: The Product Launch

by FMJ Mon May 15th, 2006 at 12:29:18 PM EST

Vice-President Dick Cheney declared publicly that Iraq was "pursuing a nuclear weapon" for the first time on March 17, 2002. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Robb-Silberman Commission would find later that the IC's judgment that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program was based on the CIA's assessment of the Iraqi tubes. (SSCI, p. 85; RS, p. 52) However, the CIA had not published a detailed assessment of the tubes at the time of Cheney's declaration and, in fact, would not do so until August 1. A Senior Executive Memorandum published in March, 2002, was titled The Status of Iraq's Uranium Enrichment Program. The document explained that the tubes were only "suitable" for gas centrifuges (RS, p. 200) and only that Iraq "may be trying" to reconstitute its enrichment program (SSCI, p. 127). The document also stated that Iraq "could" have a nuclear weapon by "mid-to-late decade" (SSCI, p. 127). Despite these caveats, over the following months Cheney implied regularly in public addresses that Iraq's nuclear weapons program was certain, advanced and a threat to the United States.

Cheney's persistent public statements almost certainly had an effect on IC analysts. In a July 22 assessment, Iraq: Is Nuclear Reconstitution Underway?, the DOE listed three indications that Iraq "might" be reconstituting its gas centrifuge program but did not mention the Iraqi tubes (SSCI, p. 48). Instead the DOE based its case on Iraq's efforts to procure magnets, Saddam's recent contact with his `nuclear cadre' and evidence of Iraqi attempts to procure uranium from Niger (RS, p.59). (The Niger reporting was later shown to have been based on crude forgeries.) The Robb-Silberman Commission found that DOE's position appeared "rather dubious" (RS, p. 75). Every other agency that judged Iraq was reconstituting its centrifuge program had relied on the tubes; DOE was the only agency that relied on the Niger reporting. As a former senior intelligence officer remarked in 2004, DOE's position had "made sense politically but not substantively" (RS, p. 75).

On August 1, 2002, the CIA published its first assessment that stated categorically that Iraq had "begun reconstituting its gas centrifuge program." (SSCI, p. 127). Iraq: Expanding WMD Capabilities Pose Growing Threat was published by the CIA's Office of Near East and South Asia analysis (NESA) (RS, p. 200). The paper also contained the CIA's first detailed assessment of the Iraqi tubes: a one-page outline (SSCI, p. 93). NESA argued that the tubes were destined for Iraq's gas centrifuge program because of their "materials, exceedingly stringent tolerances, high cost and the secrecy surrounding the procurement." (SSCI, p. 93).

NESA's argument that the tubes' material - 7075-T6 aluminum - and their "stringent" tolerances suggested a nuclear end-use had been made first in the shadowy `personnel' assessment of July 2, 2001. Both of these had been addressed in subsequent DOE papers. The Iraqis were not likely to pursue aluminum rotors because they had been successful building centrifuges from more effective material. High-strength aluminum was in fact suggestive of a non-nuclear end-use: the Nasser-81 rocket. The tubes' tolerances were actually not stringent enough for centrifuges and many other common industrial items, such as aluminum cans, required tolerances to be much tighter.

The two new arguments for the tubes' nuclear end-use in the NESA paper were the tubes' "high cost" and the "secrecy" surrounding the procurement. However, the tubes were in fact cheaper than the tubes Iraq had purchased for rockets in the 1980s. Adjusted for inflation, the tubes Iraq had bought in the 1980s were up to $20 each. At $17.50 per tube in 2001, Iraq was actually getting a bargain (SSCI, p. 105). In fact, the Robb-Silberman commission found that similar tubes from a U.S. manufacturer were more expensive - $19.27 (RS, p. 72).

Also, the tubes' procurement had not been a particularly well-kept secret. While the tubes' purchase had been brokered through a front company, the Iraqis had used multiple agents and multiple suppliers, received quotes, and haggled over the price. The DOE had pointed out in April, 2001, that the manner of the procurement was more consistent with a conventional military purchase rather than a clandestine WMD program (SSCI, p. 89). Bizarrely, the National Intelligence Estimate, Iraq's Continuing Weapons of Mass Destruction, would make the exact opposite argument barely two months later: Iraq's tube procurement broke with its "traditionally cautious approach" and this persistence was somehow indicative of the tubes' nuclear end-use (SSCI, p. 96).

The most significant aspect of the NESA paper is that it does not appear to have argued that the tubes' dimensions `matched' or were in any way similar to known centrifuge rotors - Zippe, Beams or otherwise. The paper did not mention any other agency's views on the tubes (RS, p. 200). It did not mention any of the DOE's extensive analyses. It did not mention the November 2001 Military Intelligence Digest supplement. It did not mention the analysis of the NGIC. It appears that when NESA drafted the CIA's first detailed assessment of the tubes, it did so with very limited information.

NESA's single, limited, one-page outline appears to be the only basis of the CIA's conclusion that Iraq was reconstituting its gas centrifuge program in August, 2002. On August 28, CIA "Talking Points" prepared for a Principals Committee Meeting noted that the tubes were "destined for a gas centrifuge program" and that their procurement showed "clear intent to produce weapons-capable fissile material." (RS, p. 200).

On September 8, 2002, the `product' launch to build support for a U.S. invasion of Iraq began. As the first anniversary of September 11 approached, the Iraqi tubes - in particular their dimensions and specifications - were touted as evidence of Iraq's active uranium enrichment program and the "grave and gathering" threat Iraq posed to the United States.

September 8, The New York Times, citing unnamed Bush administration officials (Karl Rove? Scooter Libby?):

"In the last 14 months, Iraq has sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes, which American officials believe were intended as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium. American officials said several efforts to arrange the shipment of the aluminum tubes were blocked or intercepted but declined to say, citing the sensitivity of the intelligence, where they came from or how they were stopped.
The diameter, thickness and other technical specifications of the aluminum tubes had persuaded American intelligence experts that they were meant for Iraq's nuclear program, officials said, and that the latest attempt to ship the material had taken place in recent months." [Author's emphasis]

September 8, then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice on CNN Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer:

"We do know that there have been shipments going . . . into Iraq . . . of aluminum tubes that really are only suited to -- high-quality aluminum tools [sic] that are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs ... We do know that he is actively pursuing a nuclear weapon ... We know that he has the infrastructure, nuclear scientists to make a nuclear weapon ... The problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud." [Author's emphasis]

September 8, Vice President Dick Cheney on NBC Meet the Press with Tim Russert:

"What we have seen recently that has raised our level of concern to the current state of unrest, if you will, if I can put it in those terms, is that he now is trying through his illicit procurement network to acquire the equipment he needs to be able to enrich uranium.
Specifically aluminum tubes. There's a story in the New York Times this morning --this is --and I want to attribute it to the Times. I don't want to talk about obviously specific intelligence sources. But it is now public that in fact he has been seeking to acquire, and we have been able to intercept and prevent him from acquiring through this particular channel, the kinds of tubes that are necessary to build a centrifuge. And the centrifuge is required to take low-grade uranium and enhance it into highly-enriched uranium, which is what you have to have in order to build a bomb. This is a technology he was working on back say before the Gulf War.
And one of the reasons it's of concern to him is we know about a particular shipment --we have intercepted that --we don't know what else, what other avenues he may be taking out there, what he may have already acquired... So we have to deal with these bits and pieces and try to put them together into a mosaic to understand what's going on. But we do know with absolute certainty that he is using his procurement system to acquire the equipment he needs in order to enrich uranium to build a nuclear weapon." [Author's emphasis]

September 8, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell on Fox News Sunday with Tony Snow:

"There is no doubt that he has chemical weapons stocks... With respect to biological weapons, we are confident that he has some stocks of those weapons and he is probably continuing to try to develop more... With respect to nuclear weapons, we are quite confident that he continues to try to pursue the technology that would allow him to develop a nuclear weapon... So there's no question that he has these weapons, but even more importantly, he is striving to do even more, to get even more." [Author's emphasis]

September 12, President George W. Bush's address to the United Nations General Assembly:

"Today, Iraq continues to withhold important information about its nuclear program - weapons design, procurement logs, experiment data, an accounting of nuclear materials and documentation of foreign assistance. Iraq employs capable nuclear scientists and technicians. It retains physical infrastructure needed to build a nuclear weapon. Iraq has made several attempts to buy high-strength aluminum tubes used to enrich uranium for a nuclear weapon. Should Iraq acquire fissile material, it would be able to build a nuclear weapon within a year. And Iraq's state-controlled media has reported numerous meetings between Saddam Hussein and his nuclear scientists, leaving little doubt about his continued appetite for these weapons." [Author's emphasis]

The DOE's response to the president's remarks was swift. On September 13, DOE published Iraq: Recent Aluminum Tube Procurements. The DOE restated its judgment on the tubes: they could not be used in a gas centrifuge program without extensive modification. The tubes were "too thick for the design Iraq would most likely be pursuing" (RS, p. 208) and "other conventional military uses [we]re
more plausible" (RS, p. 57). If the administration wanted to make the case Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program, officials should refer to Saddam's renewed contact with his nuclear scientists, Iraq's dual-use procurements and evidence Iraq was trying to obtain uranium from Niger (RS, p. 203).

The DOE's dissent on the tubes' most likely end-use was leaked to the New York Times on the same day. The article quoted unnamed senior administration officials (Karl Rove? Scooter Libby?) who dismissed DOE's expert analysis as irrelevant.

"Senior officials acknowledged yesterday that there have been debates among intelligence experts about Iraq's intentions in trying to buy such tubes, but added that the dominant view in the administration was that the tubes were intended for use in gas centrifuges to enrich uranium. Although the C.I.A. position appears to be the dominant view, officials said some experts had questioned whether Iraq might not be seeking the tubes for other purposes, specifically, to build multiple-launch rocket systems.
Specifically, Washington officials said, some experts in the State Department and the Energy Department were said to have raised that question. But other, more senior, officials insisted last night that this was a minority view among intelligence experts and that the C.I.A. had wide support, particularly among the government's top technical experts and nuclear scientists.
`This is a footnote, not a split,' a senior administration official said." [Author's emphasis]

The suggestion that the government's top technical experts and nuclear scientists supported the CIA was a flat-out lie.

The DOE's September 13 paper was potentially devastating for the administration's product launch. One day earlier, the IC had begun work on a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq's WMD programs. The NIE had not been requested by the White House. Instead, members of the Senate intelligence committee had had to invoke a rarely used senatorial authority to order its production. An NIE is the product of the entire Intelligence Community and is supposed to be its most comprehensive and authoritative assessment on a particular issue. Now, days into the administration's product launch, the IC's nuclear experts had come out against the key piece of evidence in the case for Iraq's gas centrifuge reconstitution. There were no assessments that concluded the tubes could be used as centrifuge rotors without considerable modification, other than the `personnel' assessment and Military Intelligence Digest supplement. Both of these were now over a year old and had also been extensively criticised. NESA's limited one-page outline did not address the tubes dimensions. It was not going to cut it for the majority position in an NIE.

The CIA informed the administration of the dilemma on September 14 in a Senior Executive Memorandum, Key Milestones in Our Assessments of Iraq's Nuclear Program. The paper noted the debate over the tubes' intended use and also that "Iraq's denial and deception programs and the lack of human intelligence have resulted in intelligence gaps." (RS, p. 203). In President Bush's weekly radio address the same day, he did not mention the Iraqi tubes per se. Instead, he referred only to the uranium enrichment "equipment" Iraq had sought.

Two days later, the CIA provided another Senior Executive Memorandum, Details About Our Assessments on Iraq's Nuclear Program Since 1991. The document explained that "Iraq's persistent interest in high-strength aluminum tubes - complemented by magnet production and machine tool and balancing machine procurement efforts - is key to our current assessment that Baghdad is reconstituting its centrifuge program." (RS, p. 200). [Author's emphasis] The tubes were the key to reconstitution. Without the tubes, the NIE would not have a nuclear section. The product launch would stall if congress called the administration's honesty into question. There might not be a war.

The CIA would have to get the right answer: the tubes were suitable for centrifuges without modification. The CIA would have to act fast. The CIA would have to turn to a red team.

Like in the case of the Niger yellowcake story, Berlusconi's men in the CIA's Italian counterpart, the SISMI, also played a role. Quoting Nur al-Cubicle's translation of a La Repubblica article by investigative journalists Carlo Bonini and Giuseppe d'Avanzo:

The date is September 9, 2002. On that day, in the chambers of the National Security Council, a very strange (if you believe in the principle of institutional transparency) and secret meeting takes place.

Why is the director of Italian military intelligence meeting a White House Administration official? It would be perfectly natural for Nicolò Pollari to meet with the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. It would be quite routine if the director of SISMI were to meet with Italian administration officials--but very bizarre indeed if he meets with officials of a foreign government, even if an ally. In this meeting there were Cabinet officials and under-secretaries. So, just what is it that he discusses with Stephen Hadley?

...We know that Hadley, together with Pollari, are concerned with weapons of mass destruction. And it's reasonable to ask what exactly Pollari knows on the score of the Niger uranium on the 9th of September 2002. As he admits himself, Pollari knows everything [...] So what does Pollari choose to do? To find out, we had better take a look at Pollari's comportment concerning the other topic of conversation with Hadley: the nuclear centrifuge dossier.

Barely 24 hours before, on September 8, 2002, Judith Miller reports on the nuclear threat posed by Baghdad on the front page of the New York Times. In the last 14 months, writes the reporter, Iraq has sought to acquire aluminum tubes which, according to US officials, are intended for use as rotor sheathings inside uranium enrichment centrifuges.

On September 9, 2002, seated in front of Stephen Hadley, Pollari has the means to address even this aspect of the issue. As Pollari admits, SISMI is in possession of documentary proof of the acquisition of aluminum tubes by Iraq. But let's take a look what he's talking about.

...Pollari keeps his mouth shut. He doesn't reveal what he knows about the aluminum tubes, which are the source of so much concern (or even enthusiasm) within the Bush Administration. The shame is that those 7075-T6 tubes--900 millimeters long, 81 millimeters in diameter, 3.3 millimeters thick--are well-known hardware to the Italian Army. They are 81-mm rocket artillery shells used in the Medusa air-to-ground missile defense system installed on Italian Army and Navy helicopters. In reality, the Iraqis are merely attempting to reproduce weaponry with which they became familiar during the long years of economic, military and nuclear cooperation between Rome and Baghdad. (Iraq's top army and air force officers trained in Italy during the 1980's). Saddam's General Staff needs to duplicate them, so to speak, because their inventory is stockpiled outdoors and is now corroded. That was the reason behind the new anodized aluminum tube purchases.

...September 8, 2002: Judith Miller throws a rock thorugh the window.
September 9, 2002: Hadley meets Pollari.
September 11, 2002: Stephen Hadley's office contacts the CIA for authorization to allow the President of the United States to use the information on the sale of Niger uranium in a public address.

...What the devil was Pollari up to? [...] He does not put the damper on the enthusiasm of his American friend Michel Ledeen and the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans. He simply sits there in silence as the imbroglio simmers. In fact, when he does open his mouth, he neither extinguishes nor disappoints American expectations. This is what happens to the aluminum tubes. Following a "brilliant operation", SISMI enters into concrete possession of the tubes. It's a military intelligence victory. But even the lowest grunt would understand that the tubes must be Italian--they are shells from the Medusa-81 aircraft missile defense system. Naturally, SISMI is well aware of this. Yet on September 9, 2002, Pollari maintains a reserved silence in the presence of Hadley. And he does more than that.

On September 12, 2002, Panorama magazine hits the newsstands. In a lengthy article titled,La guerra? è cominciata, (War with Iraq? It has already started)the magazine make decisive yet unverified revelations on Iraqi nuclear rearmament to the world...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon May 15th, 2006 at 03:03:49 PM EST

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