A look back at Powell's case on Iraq
By CHARLES J. HANLEY, Associated Press
Six months ago, the most detailed U.S. case for invading Iraq was laid out. How does it stand up now?
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 10, 2003
On a Baghdad evening last February, in a stiflingly warm conference room high above the city's streets, Iraqi bureaucrats, European envoys and foreign reporters crowded before television screens to hear the reading of an indictment.
In a hushed U.N. Security Council chamber in New York, Secretary of State Colin Powell unleashed an 80-minute avalanche of allegations: The Iraqis were hiding chemical and biological weapons, were secretly working to make more banned arms, were reviving their nuclear bomb project. He spoke of "the gravity of the threat that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction pose to the world."
It was the most comprehensive presentation of the U.S. case for war. Powell marshaled what were described as intercepted Iraqi conversations, reconnaissance photos of Iraqi sites, accounts of defectors, and other intelligence sources. Since 1998, he told fellow foreign ministers, "we have amassed much intelligence indicating that Iraq is continuing to make these weapons."
In the United States, Powell's "thick intelligence file" was galvanizing, swinging opinion toward war.
But in Baghdad, when the satellite broadcast ended, presidential science adviser Lt. Gen. Amer al-Saadi appeared before the audience and dismissed the U.S. case as "stunts" aimed at swaying the uninformed.
Six months after Powell's Feb. 5 appearance, the file does look thin. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told U.S. senators last month the Bush administration had no "dramatic new evidence" before ordering the Iraq invasion.
"We acted because we saw the existing evidence in a new light through the prism of our experience on Sept. 11," he said.
The U.S. military, since overrunning the country, has found no weapons of mass destruction, and President Bush's credibility has come under attack because his State of the Union address cited a British report that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger. That allegation, which Powell left out of his own speech, has been challenged by U.S. intelligence officials.
How does Powell's pivotal indictment look from the vantage point of today? Powell has said several times since February that he stands by it, the State Department said last week. Here is an Associated Press review of major elements, based on both what was known in February and what has been learned since:
Powell presented satellite photos of industrial buildings, bunkers and trucks, and suggested they showed Iraqis surreptitiously moving prohibited missiles and chemical and biological weapons to hide them. At two sites, he said trucks were "decontamination vehicles" associated with chemical weapons.
These and other sites had undergone 500 inspections in recent months. Chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix, a day earlier, had said his well-equipped experts found no contraband and no sign that items had been moved. Nothing has been reported found since.
Addressing the Security Council a week after Powell, Blix used one photo scenario as an example and said it could be showing routine as easily as illicit activity. Norwegian inspector Jorn Siljeholm told AP on March 19 that "decontamination vehicles" U.N. teams were led to invariably turned out to be water or fire trucks.
Powell played three audiotapes of men speaking in Arabic of a mysterious "modified vehicle," "forbidden ammo," and "the expression "nerve agents' " - tapes said to be intercepts of Iraqi army officers discussing concealment.
Two of the brief, anonymous tapes, otherwise not authenticated, provided little context for judging their meaning. It couldn't be known whether the mystery vehicle, however "modified," was even banned. A listener could only speculate over the cryptic mention of nerve agents. The third tape, meanwhile, seemed natural, an order to inspect scrap areas for "forbidden ammo." The Iraqis had just told U.N. inspectors they would search ammunition dumps for stray, empty chemical warheads left over from years earlier. They later turned four over to inspectors.
Powell's rendition of that third conversation made it more incriminating, by saying an officer ordered that the area be "cleared out." The voice on the tape didn't say that, but only that the area be "inspected," according to the official U.S. translation.
Powell said "classified" documents found at a nuclear scientist's Baghdad home were "dramatic confirmation" of intelligence saying prohibited items were concealed this way.
U.N. nuclear inspectors later said the documents were old and "irrelevant" - some administrative material, some from a failed and well-known uranium-enrichment program of the 1980s.
Powell noted Iraq had declared it produced 8,500 liters of the biological agent anthrax before 1991, but U.N. inspectors estimated it could have made up to 25,000 liters. None has been "verifiably accounted for," he said.
No anthrax has been reported found. The Defense Intelligence Agency, in a confidential report last September, recently disclosed, said that although it believed Iraq had biological weapons, it didn't know their nature, amounts or condition. Three weeks before the invasion, an Iraqi report of scientific soil sampling supported its contention it destroyed its anthrax at a known site, the U.N. inspection agency said May 30.
Powell said defectors told of "biological weapons factories" on trucks and in train cars. He displayed artists' conceptions of such vehicles.
After the invasion, U.S. authorities said they found two such truck trailers in Iraq, and the CIA said it concluded they were part of a bioweapons production line. But no trace of biological agents was found on them, Iraqis said the equipment made hydrogen for weather balloons, and State Department intelligence balked at the CIA's conclusion. The British defense minister, Geoffrey Hoon, has said the vehicles aren't a "smoking gun."
The trailers have not been submitted to U.N. inspection for verification. No "bioweapons railcars" have been reported found.
Powell showed video of an Iraqi F-1 Mirage jet spraying "simulated anthrax." He said four such spray tanks were unaccounted for, and Iraq was building small unmanned aircraft "well suited for dispensing chemical and biological weapons."
According to U.N. inspectors' reports, the video predated the 1991 Gulf War, when the Mirage was said to have been destroyed, and three of the four spray tanks were destroyed in the 1990s.
No small drones or other planes with chemical-biological capability have been reported found in Iraq since the invasion. Iraq also gave inspectors details on its drone program, but the U.S. bombing intervened before U.N. teams could follow up.
"FOUR TONS' OF VX
Powell said Iraq produced four tons of the nerve agent VX. "A single drop of VX on the skin will kill in minutes. Four tons," he said.
Powell didn't note that most of that four tons was destroyed in the 1990s under U.N. supervision. Before the invasion, the Iraqis made a "considerable effort" to prove they had destroyed the rest, doing chemical analysis of the ground where inspectors confirmed VX had been dumped, the U.N. inspection agency reported May 30.
Experts at Britain's International Institute of Strategic Studies said any pre-1991 VX most likely would have degraded anyway. No VX has been reported found since the invasion.
"We know that Iraq has embedded key portions of its illicit chemical weapons infrastructure within its legitimate civilian industry," Powell said.
No "chemical weapons infrastructure" has been reported found. The newly disclosed DIA report of last September said there was "no reliable information" on "where Iraq has - or will - establish its chemical warfare agent-production facilities." It suggested international inspections would be able to keep Iraq from rebuilding a chemical weapons program.
"500 TONS' OF CHEMICAL AGENT
"Our conservative estimate is that Iraq today has a stockpile of between 100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons agent," Powell said.
Powell gave no basis for the assertion, and no such agents have been reported found. An unclassified CIA report last October made a similar assertion without citing evidence, saying only that Iraq "probably" concealed precursor chemicals to make such weapons. The DIA reported confidentially last September there "is no reliable information on whether Iraq is producing and stockpiling chemical weapons."
Powell said 122mm chemical warheads found by U.N. inspectors in January might be the "tip of an iceberg."
The warheads were empty, a fact Powell didn't note. Blix said on June 16 the dozen stray rocket warheads, never uncrated, were apparently "debris from the past," the 1980s. No others have been reported found since the invasion.
"Saddam Hussein has chemical weapons. . . . And we have sources who tell us that he recently has authorized his field commanders to use them," Powell said.
No such weapons were used and none was reported found after the U.S. and allied military units overran Iraqi field commands and ammunition dumps.
REVIVED NUCLEAR PROGRAM
"We have no indication that Saddam Hussein has ever abandoned his nuclear weapons program," Powell said.
Chief U.N. nuclear inspector Mohamed ElBaradei told the council two weeks before the U.S. invasion, "We have to date found no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons program in Iraq." On July 24, Foreign Minister Ana Palacio of Spain, a U.S. ally on Iraq, said there were "no evidences, no proof" of a nuclear bomb program before the war. No such evidence has been reported found since the invasion.
SCUDS, NEW MISSILES
Powell said "intelligence sources" indicate Iraq had a secret force of up to a few dozen prohibited Scud-type missiles. He said it also had a program to build newer, 600-mile-range missiles, and had put a roof over a test facility to block the view of spy satellites.
No Scud-type missiles have been reported found. In the 1990s, U.N. inspectors had reported accounting for all but two of these missiles. No program for long-range missiles has been uncovered. Powell didn't note that U.N. teams were repeatedly inspecting missile facilities, including looking under that roof, and reporting no Iraqi violations of U.N. resolutions.
Powell said "most United States experts" believe aluminum tubes sought by Iraq were intended for use as centrifuge cylinders for enriching uranium for nuclear bombs.
Energy Department experts and Powell's own State Department intelligence bureau had already dissented from this CIA view, and on March 7 the U.N. nuclear agency's ElBaradei said his experts found convincing documentation - and no contrary evidence - that Iraq was using the tubes to make artillery rockets. Powell's scenario was "highly unlikely," he said. No centrifuge program has been reported found.
Powell said "intelligence from multiple sources" reported Iraq was trying to buy magnets and a production line for magnets of "the same weight" as those used in uranium centrifuges.
The U.N. nuclear agency traced a dozen types of imported magnets to their Iraqi end users, and none was usable for centrifuges, ElBaradei told the council March 7. "Weight is not enough; you don't have a centrifuge magnet because it's 20 grams," ElBaradei deputy Jacques Baute told AP on July 11. No centrifuge program has been found.
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