This article first appeared in the January/February 2005 issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. To access this publication, visit www.thebulletin.org.
Hoodwinked: The Documents That Reveal How Bush Sold Us a War
By John Prados
Reviewed by Joseph Cirincione
As George W. Bush and Dick Cheney lower their hands after being sworn in for their second terms, they will be smiling. And with good reason. They will have gotten away with the greatest con in the history of the American presidency. They willfully and systematically misled the American people and our closest allies on the most crucial question any government faces: Must we go to war?
Not one of the dozens of claims they made about Iraq’s alleged stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, missiles, unmanned drones, or most importantly, Iraq’s nuclear weapons and ties to Al Qaeda, were true. Not one. Yet no one in the administration has been held accountable for the hundreds of false statements or—if you believe they made the statements in good faith—for their faulty judgments and incompetence. Almost all the key officials, save former CIA Director George Tenet, will still be in office to celebrate the administration’s reelection. (When Tenet resigned for “personal reasons,” Bush praised him for having done “a superb job”; he has since made more than $500,000 in speaking fees.)
We now know with absolute certainty, as Cheney likes to say, that during the buildup to the 2003 Iraq War Saddam Hussein did not have any of these weapons, did not have production programs for manufacturing these weapons, and did not have plans to restart programs for these weapons. The most that Charles Duelfer, head of the Iraq Survey Group, was able to tell Congress in October was that Saddam might have had the “intention” to restart these programs at some point. The weapons were not destroyed shortly before the war, nor were they moved to Syria, as some still claim. They never existed. As Duelfer reported, the weapons and facilities had been destroyed by the United Nations inspectors and U.S. bombing strikes in the 1990s, and he found no evidence of “concerted efforts to restart the program” (Washington Post, October 7, 2004).
In short, administration officials “hoodwinked” America, as John Prados carefully and convincingly documents in his book by that name. Because Prados wrote and published his research in early 2004, one might think it has been overtaken by subsequent events, including the publication of the Senate Intelligence Committee report that provided new details of the false claims. But it has not. It is still a fascinating read for two reasons, apart from the author’s skill as a storyteller.
First, Prados does what the Senate Committee refused to do. He describes the political process behind the development of the false intelligence. The Senate report, a valuable and solid piece of work, pulled its political punches.
The committee concluded that while “most of the major key judgments” in the October 2002 national intelligence estimate (NIE) were “either overstated, or were not supported by, the underlying intelligence report,” the failures were a result of “systematic weaknesses, primarily in analytic trade craft, compounded by a lack of information sharing, poor management, and inadequate intelligence collection” as well as a “groupthink” mentality, rather than administration pressure. In other words, they blamed the lower-ranking analysts.
Au contraire, says Prados. The president and vice president had decided even before September 11, 2001 to overthrow Saddam Hussein. This was to be the beginning of an historic crusade to forcibly remake the geopolitics of the Middle East (for more on this, see Walter C. Uhler, “Preempting the Truth,” September/October 2004 Bulletin). But the drive for war ran into serious opposition in summer 2003, particularly from respected Republican moderates such as retired general Brent Scowcroft. Prados quotes Scowcroft’s prescient warning that an invasion of Iraq “could turn the whole region into a cauldron and, thus, destroy the war on terrorism.”
The administration’s response, says Prados, “was to craft a scheme to convince America and the world that war with Iraq was necessary and urgent, a scheme, unfortunately, that required patently untrue public statements and egregious manipulations of intelligence.” White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card set up a special White House Information Group chaired by political guru Karl Rove in August 2002 to coordinate all the executive branch elements in the new campaign.
Prados takes readers step by step through the stages of this political operation, weaving together the strands of official statements, media stories, and behind-the-scenes struggles in the intelligence community. By also reproducing key intelligence documents, speeches, and press releases—all annotated to pinpoint false statements, exaggerations, and contradictions—Hoodwinked does double duty and is a valuable research tool for scholars and experts.
Most of the documents are available on the web, but it is helpful to have them all assembled in printed form. And Prados’s annotations, of course, are available only in the book.
Mistakes and misdirections
The key document in the administration’s campaign was the CIA White Paper on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs. The White Paper was hurriedly produced and distributed to the public in October 2002 as an unclassified version of the now-infamous NIE that was given to Congress in the same month, just a few days before the vote to authorize the use of force. These two documents convinced the majority of congressional members, experts, and journalists that Saddam had a powerful and growing arsenal.
I have pored over these two deeply flawed documents (Prados cites work from the January 2004 Carnegie study, WMD in Iraq: Evidence and Implications, which I coauthored). There is not one claim in the reports that proved true, except the finding that Saddam was highly unlikely to transfer any weapons to terrorist groups—a finding that the administration ignored and was not included in the public White Paper. Prados does a superb job of detailing not only the major false statements, but also the many subtle, yet critical, misdirections.
The first paragraph of the White Paper concludes that Iraq “probably will have a nuclear weapon during this decade.” This claim was then repeated endlessly to the public. The classified NIE, Prados notes, predicted Iraq might acquire a bomb some time from 2007 to 2009, “a time frame that is far in the future, negating President Bush’s claim that Iraq poses an urgent national security threat.” Setting aside the fact that the estimate itself was wildly wrong, by dropping the dates, the public was told to “fear for tomorrow as well as 2007,” Prados correctly notes. (This technique is now cropping up in the debate over Iran. Those who favor military action are again making the threat appear closer than it is by minimizing the substantial technological and engineering obstacles that Iran must overcome to be able to enrich uranium and manufacture a weapon.)
We got tubed
Michael Gordon of the New York Times published a lengthy article on October 3, 2004, detailing how the administration manipulated the evidence to support a claim that Iraq had imported aluminum tubes for centrifuges to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons. David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, presented much of that research in his report “Iraq’s Aluminum Tubes: Separating Fact from Fiction,” in December 2003. Others, myself included, have weighed in on the tubes, including Seymour Hersh for the New Yorker, Spencer Abraham and John Judis for the New Republic, and Jonathan Landay and others at Knight-Ridder. Despite this, Prados’s treatment of the story of the tubes—central to the administration’s case—is still worth reading.
He provides a critical element: “The way the tube allegation surfaced bears every mark of an orchestrated leak by the Bush administration, quite possibly one planned by the White House Information Group.” The New York Times has never acknowledged this, not in Gordon’s otherwise excellent article, nor in its inadequate May 26, 2004 apology (buried on page 10) regarding its coverage of the administration’s pre-war claims.
I agree with Prados. It has always seemed to me that the story on aluminum tubes made it to the front page of the September 8, 2003 New York Times because the unnamed administration officials quoted in the piece gave the paper much-treasured inside information. Having set up the Times story, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Cheney were primed when they appeared on the Sunday talk shows that same day, pointing to the article as confirmation of their claims. We now know that when Rice said that the tubes “are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs,” she knew it was untrue. She had already been briefed on the disagreements in the intelligence community and knew that leading U.S. experts did not think the tubes were at all suitable for centrifuges.
Prados published his book too soon to take advantage of the Senate report, which provides a fascinating exchange of e-mails between a State Department expert and an Energy Department expert fuming about the way higher-ups at the CIA were twisting the intelligence. By exaggerating the evidence on Iraq, one expert warns the other, “the administration will eventually look foolish, i.e., the tubes and Niger.”
Foolish, but reelected. Now the president is purging from the CIA the officials who opposed the intelligence manipulation, not the ones who ran the con.
Hoodwinked contains an abundance of valuable information. It is hard to read without becoming infuriated, but it is worth it. This book should be part of your Iraq War collection.
Joseph Cirincione, Director of Nonproliferation at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, is coauthor of WMD in Iraq: Evidence and Implications (2003), which is available at www.ProliferationNews.org.