Low Point in a Long Distinguished Career

Unfortunately, I missed Wednesday’s 60 Minutes II piece featuring former Iraqi WMD expert Greg Thielmann (his last position was as the State Department’s director of the Office of Strategic Proliferation and Military Affairs). CBS now has a transcript or perhaps a report compiled from the segment, and it should be very damaging to the administration and to Gen. Powell. Definitely read the whole thing. While there’s not really any new information, the chronicling of the misrepresentations and, yes, lies, is thorough and the sources credible. Here are some highlights:

  • “The gravity of this moment is matched by the gravity of the threat that Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction pose to the world,” said Powell.

    At the time of Powell’s speech, Thielmann says that Iraq didn’t pose an imminent threat to anyone: “I think it didn’t even constitute an imminent threat to its neighbors at the time we went to war.”

  • Powell said: “Saddam Hussein is determined to get his hands on a nuclear bomb. He is so determined that he has made repeated covert attempts to acquire high-specification aluminum tubes from 11 different countries even after inspections resumed.”

    “This is one of the most disturbing parts of Secretary Powell’s speech for us,” says Thielmann … “Experts at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the scientists who enriched uranium for American bombs, advised that the tubes were all wrong for a bomb program…It turned out the tubes’ dimensions perfectly matched an Iraqi conventional rocket.”

    Houston Wood was a consultant who worked on the Oak Ridge analysis of the tubes. He watched Powell’s speech, too. “…I was angry at that,” says Wood, who is among the world’s authorities on uranium enrichment by centrifuge. He found the tubes couldn’t be what the CIA thought they were. They were too heavy, three times too thick and certain to leak.

  • [In the Feb 5th UN speech] Powell said you could see a truck for cleaning up chemical spills, a signature for a chemical bunker: “It’s a decontamination vehicle in case something goes wrong.”

    …Was there ever a time when American satellite intelligence provided [former U.N. inspector] Allinson with something that was truly useful? “No. No, not to me. Not on inspections that I participated in,” says Allinson, whose team was sent to find decontamination vehicles that turned out to be fire trucks.

  • Allinson watched Powell’s speech in Iraq with a dozen U.N. inspectors. There was great anticipation in the room.

    …”Various people would laugh at various times because the information he was presenting was just, you know, didn’t mean anything, had no meaning,” says Allinson.

  • “I guess I would say, frequently we got bad information [from defectors],” says Thielmann…”You had the Iraqi National Congress with a clear motive for presenting the worst possible picture of what was happening in Iraq to the American government. “
  • But there was a good deal more in Secretary Powell’s speech that bothered the analysts. Powell claimed Saddam still had a few dozen Scud missiles.

    “I wondered what he was talking about,” says Thielmann. “We did not have evidence that the Iraqis had those missiles, pure and simple.”

    Powell warned that empty chemical warheads found recently by the U.N. could be the tip of the iceberg. “They were shells left over from the Gulf War. Or prior to the Gulf War, from their past programs,” says Allinson.

  • Powell, however, made several points that turned out to be right. Among them, he was right when he said Iraqi labs were removing computer hard drives; he was right that Iraq had drawings for a new long-range missile; and he was right about Saddam’s murder of thousands of Iraqi citizens.
  • We went from Vice President Cheney saying “There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us,” to fire trucks, missing hard drives, and drawings. The murder of thousands is a tragedy, and perhaps even cause for war (see Kosovo), but that’s not the war this administration sold to the public.


    UPDATE: This post is revised because (1) it was too long, and (2) upon reflection, it seemed like I might be stretching fair use too far. So there’s a lot of good stuff in the full story that’s not in this post.