What Bush knew: This time, it's Iraq

The National Journal says Bush received briefings that contradicted key assertions his administration made in an effort to justify war.

By Tim Grieve
March 2, 2006 11:50PM (UTC)
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It may be Oscar Week everywhere else, but it's sure shaping up to be "Bush Knew" Week in these parts. The latest: Murray Waas reports in the National Journal today that the president was specifically told before he went to war that aluminum tubes obtained by Iraq probably weren't meant for nuclear weapons and that Saddam Hussein wasn't likely to attack the United States, either on his own or through ties to international terrorists.

As Waas writes, news of the reports -- both of which he says were delivered directly to the president -- casts doubt on "key public assertions" George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and other administration officials offered as "justifications for invading Iraq and toppling Saddam Hussein."


In the first of the reports, Waas says, Bush was informed in early October 2002 that the Energy Department and the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research believed that aluminum tubes Saddam had procured were "intended for conventional weapons." That report contradicted the "aluminum tubes as nuclear threats" story line the administration began using in September 2002, when somebody leaked it to the New York Times' Michael Gordon and Judy Miller. "U.S. Says Hussein Intensifies Quest for A-Bomb Parts," the Times said then, and administration officials took to the airwaves to chime in. Donald Rumsfeld warned of a nuclear 9/11. Condoleezza Rice said that the tubes "are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs," and she brushed away any sense of uncertainty by insisting that we wouldn't want the "smoking gun" to come in the form of a "mushroom cloud." Shortly thereafter, Bush himself told the General Assembly of the United Nations that Iraq had "made several attempts to buy high-strength aluminum tubes used to enrich uranium for a nuclear weapon." And in his 2003 State of the Union speech, right after uttering the much more famous 16 words about Niger, Bush said: "Our intelligence sources tell us that [Saddam] has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production."

It's hard to know how many Americans were swayed by the faulty aluminum tubes story, but it was all part of the larger argument: Saddam Hussein had to be removed, the president would say, because he's a "gathering threat," a man who could "decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists." "If I thought we were safe from attack, I would be thinking differently," Bush said in March 2003..\ "But I see a gathering threat. I mean, this is a true, real threat to America."

Bush may well have thought that, but it wasn't because he wasn't getting contrary views. In January 2003, Waas says, the president was handed a summary of a National Intelligence Estimate. "The report stated that U.S. intelligence agencies unanimously agreed that it was unlikely that Saddam would try to attack the United States -- except if 'ongoing military operations risked the imminent demise of his regime' or if he intended to 'extract revenge' for such an assault, according to records and sources." There was one exception, Waas says: The State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research said Saddam was "unlikely to conduct clandestine attacks against the U.S. homeland" even if a U.S. invasion threatened his regime.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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