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April 12, 2006

What Did The President Know and When Did He Know It?

Remember those trailers, the Bushies went on and on about post-invasion? The ones that gave Stephen Hayes and The Weekly Standard kids such throbbing hard-ons? The mobile death labs filled with killer biological cocktails whipped up by villainous Iraqi scientists? Yeah?

They were for hydrogen balloons. As for what the president knew and when he knew it; he knew he was lying and he knew it two days before he lied to the American people. From WaPo:

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 three-page field report and a 122-page final report three weeks later were stamped "secret" and shelved. Meanwhile, for nearly a year, administration and intelligence officials continued to publicly assert that the trailers were weapons factories.

Unlike the portions of the National Intelligence Estimate which had to be declassified lest the American people be misled by devious opponents of the war, this report has not been declassified, distributed to ensure the public who is financing and fighting this war is able to conduct their deliberative democracy with the best available information. The administration declassifies to embarrass political opponents, not to better inform the citizenry they're supposed to serve.

Instead, Americans heard Colin Powell, months after the report's completion, assert that the government's "confidence level" about the labs was increasing. That was probably correct, as more and more bureaucrats forgot about the shelved document, they became more amenable to their own spin. And so it's no surprise that, come September, America saw Dick Cheney declare the trailers "mobile biological facilities" that could have been used for anthrax or smallpox. What they didn't hear was this:

News of the team's early impressions leaped across the Atlantic well ahead of the technical report. Over the next two days, a stream of anxious e-mails and phone calls from Washington pressed for details and clarifications.

The reason for the nervousness was soon obvious: In Washington, a CIA analyst had written a draft white paper on the trailers, an official assessment that would also reflect the views of the DIA. The white paper described the trailers as "the strongest evidence to date that Iraq was hiding a biological warfare program." It also explicitly rejected an explanation by Iraqi officials, described in a New York Times article a few days earlier, that the trailers might be mobile units for producing hydrogen.

But the technical team's preliminary report, written in a tent in Baghdad and approved by each team member, reached a conclusion opposite from that of the white paper.

Some politicized desk jockey in DC was heeded over nine experts each with a decade plus of experience in a relevant area. He was listened to because his judgments squared with that of "Curveball," the Iraqi defector who claimed to be a chemical weapons engineer, turned out to be a liar, and appears to have singlehandedly concocted around 50% of our case for war. Impressive work, considering his code name, basically, means betrayal. How cunningly Shakespearian of him.

As for George Tenet's' later assertion that the labs could have been "easily modified" to create biological weapons, that too was a vicious lie. "It would have been easier to start all over with a bucket," said Rod Barton, an Australian biological weapons expert and member of the Iraq survey group. Of course, this administration prefers not to lie, they're fond of the plausible mislead. So they asked the experts to lend a brotha a hand:

After team members returned to Washington, they began work on a final report. At several points, members were questioned about revising their conclusions, according to sources knowledgeable about the conversations. The questioners generally wanted to know the same thing: Could the report's conclusions be softened, to leave open a possibility that the trailers might have been intended for weapons?

In the end, the final report -- 19 pages plus a 103-page appendix -- remained unequivocal in declaring the trailers unsuitable for weapons production.[...]

"I went home and fully expected that our findings would be publicly stated," one member recalled. "It never happened. And I just had to live with it."

Not anymore. This is big, and coming at precisely the wrong time for the administration. They've declassified incorrect reports to kneecap the case against war, ignored classified documents that discredit their own rhetoric, and now Americans are trapped in an imploding war that they accepted on false premises. The danger for the Bushies is that at exactly the moment voters are searching for a reason to turn against a conflict they nominally supported, they're being given both a reason and villains who purposefully tricked them into ignoring their better judgment. Revelations about the administration's actions are lifting culpability from the American people, and once they lose their investment in this conflict, the crew sullying the White House is finished.

April 12, 2006 | Permalink


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You forgot to quote this paragraph:

"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."

So there were 3 teams looking at the trailers, and two concluded they were weapons labs - while one concluded otherwise.

Posted by: Nathan | Apr 12, 2006 11:16:17 AM

to risk the life of one young soldier without crystal-clear and indisputable evidence of those weapons has surely resonated through the spheres by now.
....thank you for this article, ezra.
it is good that when the president is on his knees in prayer, wondering what Jesus would do, that he is praying to the Prince of peace and forgiveness, and not the hungry ghosts that prowl for karmic retribution.
....we can run, but the gods will come to meet us sooner or later, if only in our dreams.
...one cannot help but think in terms of good and evil as it manifests itself through arrogance and what corruptive power can unleash into this world.
without humility, this is the place we come to.
...and while i write this, i am thinking that there must be a young soldier, whose destiny will be stamped by the end of the day on a dusty road in iraq...
....or a young housewife walking down the wrong street in baghdad.
lives lost forever.
this will wear like a nightmare and haunt our national consciousness for generations.
these kinds of deeds take us into the back into the wilderness for generations.
the mission was accomplished, and i am sure Jesus wept when the first craft roared off to shock and awe a sleeping city.
george bush just didnt hear him.

Posted by: jacqueline | Apr 12, 2006 11:45:10 AM

Good call, Nathan! The team of experts sent out to analyze the labs declared them hydrogen production facilities, David Kay agreed, Curveball, who was the informer on the labs in the first place was proven a liar, and you want to go with the military guys -- not the technical experts -- who were proven false...

Don't you people ever feel shame? I mean that in all seriousness.

Posted by: Ezra | Apr 12, 2006 11:47:51 AM

i, for one, will sit at my seder table tonight....
and lament, how after thousands of years, countless wars and acts of inhumanity, we are still all wandering unmindfully, and bickering in the wilderness.
....what a brokenness.

Posted by: jacqueline | Apr 12, 2006 11:56:27 AM

This paragraph is frustratingly vague, but I think there is enough to say that Nathan is misled. The military teams looked at them first. The trucks were found in April - one at the capture of Mosul, so presumably on or shortly after April 11, and the other at Irbil, presumably on or shortly after its fall in early April. The military looked at them "shortly after their capture" (presumably in April or early May) and thought they were bioweapons-related. Curveball agreed.
However, other defectors disagreed and as a result DIA sent out the civilian technical team (the Jefferson Project) to resolve the situation. Jefferson was on scene on May 25. Within hours of arrival, Jefferson concluded the trucks were not bioweapons-related. This information was with DIA Washington at the earliest the same day, and at the latest on May 27 when the team's field report was sent.
The next day, CIA published a white paper stating - wrongly - that the trucks were bioweapons labs.

The kindest interpretation is that CIA was not aware of the Jefferson team's findings before May 28. It is, however, very improbable that CIA was unaware of the team's existence and presence on the scene. DIA liaison with the CIA team preparing the white paper should certainly have known. The paper should have been held back until the team's findings were known. CIA and DIA were both at fault here.

The decision to bury the Jefferson team's findings is not as open to an innocent interpretation. This was either a) a decision by CIA and DIA to mislead the Secretary of State and the rest of the administration by suppressing the Jefferson report or b) a decision by the administration to lie.

Posted by: ajay | Apr 12, 2006 11:58:33 AM

Its amazing. Nathan spews the same slight of hand rhetoric that the Bushies have perfected. Black is white. "Joe Wilson was sent by his wife." "Everyone had the same intell."

Classify the proof/objections ...selectively promote/leak the falsity/supposition. Liars, murderers, incompetents, profiteers. Nothing less.

Posted by: Johnny2Bad | Apr 12, 2006 12:04:22 PM

I remember hearing back then that these were not mobile labs, but the supposed "liberla MSM" did not press the issue. The first link is to the CIA report. There is no hard evidence, only graphics and hints to Curveball. How was to looted trailers evidence of mobile labs? I am waiting to see how Tweety and Fox cover this one.

Posted by: Rudi | Apr 12, 2006 12:09:18 PM

Nathan works for the DoD. Hell, they even announced that the internet was going to be frontline in their war on terror (read misinformation campaign). So ignore him, he speaks the talking points because he is the talking point.

Posted by: kharma | Apr 12, 2006 12:14:34 PM

"So there were 3 teams looking at the trailers, and two concluded they were weapons labs - while one concluded otherwise."

This is exactly the sort of "spin" comment that one might expect from a defender of the Bush administration. What your comment disregards (willfully or otherwise) is the fact that the article describes a timeline in which the first two teams gave their view, then because a more vigorous investigation remained desirable, the third and apparently most broadly and deeply qualified team did exactly this more detailed investigation and concluded against the findings the Bush administration wished for. These 3rd team findings either should have been declared final and conclusive or another similarly detailed and independent expert investigation should have been conducted. Neither option was taken. Instead the administration shelved the findings and reverted to the previous, and it must be noted DISPROVEN, findings to make its public case for war.

When a theory is disproven, it does not work to throw out the disproving evidence and revert to earlier evidence to reassert the validity of the theory. This is simply illogical.

Posted by: jim | Apr 12, 2006 12:24:32 PM

Good post, Ezra. And the last sentence you've got is key.

Posted by: Roxanne | Apr 12, 2006 12:25:02 PM

When a theory is disproven, it does not work to throw out the disproving evidence and revert to earlier evidence to reassert the validity of the theory. This is simply illogical.

Ah, but with those standards, Stephen Hayes would be out of a job; or at very least, he'd have to start writing books explicitly categorised as speculative fiction: say, on a scenario where Saddam ordered the Lincoln assassination.

Posted by: nick s | Apr 12, 2006 1:37:31 PM

Facts and expert opinion were cherry-picked as fodder for propaganda by BushCo, not once, but repeatedly. In this case the proganda was used to justify a pre-emptive war.

Exactly the same approach is used daily by the Republicans in Congress and by the radical conservative political appointees in civilian agencies of government to justify all manner of legislation that is ideology-driven.

And they have no shame, just pride on how they've hijacked our democracy.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Apr 12, 2006 1:51:47 PM

"When a theory is disproven, it does not work to throw out the disproving evidence and revert to earlier evidence to reassert the validity of the theory. This is simply illogical."

That's just crazy - haven't you heard about intelligent design?

Posted by: True North | Apr 12, 2006 2:01:14 PM

The news about the hydrogen trucks in Iraq was first circulated in June of 2003, about two weeks after Bush announced the "find."


Posted by: Tony | Apr 12, 2006 2:01:51 PM

And, of course:

"The revelation that the mobile labs were to produce hydrogen for artillery balloons will also cause discomfort for the British authorities because the Iraqi army's original system was sold to it by the British company, Marconi Command & Control."

So you didn't need a team of crack CIA analysts to work out what they were, just a copy of Marconi's export licenses from the 1980s..

Posted by: Gridlock | Apr 12, 2006 2:33:32 PM

"However, other defectors disagreed and as a result DIA sent out the civilian technical team (the Jefferson Project) to resolve the situation. Jefferson was on scene on May 25. Within hours of arrival, Jefferson concluded the trucks were not bioweapons-related. This information was with DIA Washington at the earliest the same day, and at the latest on May 27 when the team's field report was sent. "

Gee, if I were running an invasion to prevent the use of 'vast stockpiles' of chemical and biological weapons, I'd have had teams of experts going in with the troops. A few months later is ridiculous.

If, of course, I actually believed what I said. If I didn't, and was trying to cover up later, the timing would make sense.

Posted by: Barry | Apr 12, 2006 2:46:32 PM

In response to Nathan: The two teams of experts that did say those trailers were mobile weapons labs were from the military--I submit those teams had a vested interest in claiming the trailers were weapons. It is interesting to note that the independent inspectors (international, the above mentioned team of technical experts and our Keye's group all concluded those labs were not weapons).

Posted by: RailPour | Apr 12, 2006 3:22:10 PM

Methinks Nathan was just a hit-and-run poster troll.

Posted by: Mike V. | Apr 12, 2006 3:47:59 PM

And when they're done sullying, they can take their ugly-ass "optimistic rugs" with them.

Posted by: Pepper | Apr 12, 2006 4:26:10 PM

The CIA White Paper Iraqi Mobile Biological Warfare Agent Production Plants certainly admits the possibility of their finds having the capability of being either a bioweapons lab or a hydrogen production unit. They decided that the trailers were too impractical for the production of hydrogen. The credited Iraqi military for identifying them as such and made no allusion to the technical report that ended up shelved till now.

According to the Post article of today, tho: A spokesman for the DIA asserted that the team's findings were neither ignored nor suppressed, but were incorporated in the work of the Iraqi Survey Group, which led the official search for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. The survey group's final report in September 2004 -- 15 months after the technical report was written -- said the trailers were "impractical" for biological weapons production and were "almost certainly intended" for manufacturing hydrogen for weather balloons. From the Iraq Survey Final Report:

The Trailers as Field Units for Hydrogen Gas Production

After re-examining the equipment found on trailers in northern Iraq and reviewing previous reporting, documents, and results of chemical and biological analysis, ISG judges that the Al Kindi General Establishment at Mosul designed and built the two trailer-borne equipment systems as hydrogen generators for Republican Guard artillery units for use with radio-sonde balloons. Although the equipment is poorly constructed, it is consistent with the hydrogen generation process detailed in documents from the Al Kindi Company.

The survey final report listed 11 major required components for a 'reactor vessel' and not one was found on these trailers.

Posted by: alank | Apr 12, 2006 4:39:22 PM

I believe Dr David Kelly was the single British representative on the investigative team. He was Britain’s most experienced biological expert and he stated categorically that these were not for the production of biological weapons. Kelly was the scientist who committed suicide after leaking against the government.

Posted by: David M | Apr 12, 2006 7:14:28 PM

Doesn't anyone remember seeing pictures of soldiers crawling all over those "labs" in nothing but their fatigues? I do. Bush was in Poland when he declared, "We found the WMDs." If these so-called labs were so hot, then why weren't our soldiers outfitted in biohazard gear? Okay. Forget they don't get proper armor. But this was supposed to be such a big deal. I remember this sooo distinctly because I sent the pictures to Bush supporters and the pictures themselves debunked Bush's claims at the time. I absolutely cannot believe that this has now become such a big deal. It's just another one of Bush's lies. It's par for the course. I guess it has now become such a big deal because it's actually being reported. I believe the article was online from Yahoo. I will try to find it and/or the pictures. I may have printed them out. I may have just emailed them. It's just boggling my mind that people are just NOW connecting the dots on this one because I was very much aware of it in 2003.

Posted by: Ellen | Apr 12, 2006 8:45:18 PM

It is now obvious that certain key players in the Bush administration (Wolfowitz, Cheney, Rove, Rumsfeld, et.al.) had already decided to invade Iraq. They clearly cherry picked intel to support their claims about WMD and used scare tactics (e.g., invoking 9/11) to whip up support for toppling Saddam. What I cannot understand why Colin Powell supported this deception. He regrets it now, but if he knew it was wrong he could have stopped this madness by going public and resigning his post when it mattered.

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