Powell concedes Iraq evidence may have been wrong


First off, the satellite photos Powell presented to the UN are not related to the intelligence derived from “Curveball,” which concerned mobile weapons labs. So please, let’s get our story straight here and not conflate different intelligence claims.

Secondly, again on a technical matter, Powell never claimed that the trucks in the satellite photo were “full of germ weapons.” He claimed they were “decontamination vehicles,” which he argued were specific “signature items” that enabled analysts to conclude, with a strong degree of certainty, that the bunkers contained chemical weapons. The question here then becomes one of how reasonable this conclusion really is. I judged the conclusion to be fairly speculative, myself, and time has shown that I was correct. Of the approximately 65 sites named by the US intelligence as possible chemical dumps, none have been shown to house chemical weapons. It is almost certain that the trucks in the photo were fire trucks, not “decontamination vehicles” (no decontamination vehicles have been found in Iraq since the invasion).

So, if we leave that aside for a moment and turn “Curveball,” here is what we know:[ul]
[li]An important section of Powell’s presentation to the UN on Feb. 5, 2003 was dedicated to discussing so-called “mobile germ labs” allegedly designed by Hussein’s regime. Powell argued that these mobile production facilities were “One of the most worrisome things that emerges from the thick intelligence file we have on Iraq’s biological weapons,” and claimed to possess “eyewitness accounts” as well as “first-hand descriptions” of the labs. He goes on to give some of the details of the eyewitness account, and corroborates them with three additional sources.[/li][QUOTE]
** Although Iraq’s mobile production program began in the mid-1990s, UN inspectors at the time only had vague hints of such programs. Confirmation came later, in the year 2000. The source was an eyewitness, an Iraqi chemical engineer who supervised one of these facilities. He actually was present during biological agent production runs. He was also at the site when an accident occurred in 1998. 12 technicians died from exposure to biological agents.

He reported that when UNSCOM was in country and inspecting, the biological weapons agent production always began on Thursdays at midnight, because Iraq thought UNSCOM would not inspect on the Muslim holy day, Thursday night through Friday.

He added that this was important because the units could not be broken down in the middle of a production run, which had to be completed by Friday evening before the inspectors might arrive again.

This defector is currently hiding in another country with the certain knowledge that Saddam Hussein will kill him if he finds him. His eyewitness account of these mobile production facilities has been corroborated by other sources.

A second source. An Iraqi civil engineer in a position to know the details of the program confirmed the existence of transportable facilities moving on trailers.

A third source, also in a position to know, reported in summer, 2002, that Iraq had manufactured mobile production systems mounted on road-trailer units and on rail cars.

Finally, a fourth source. An Iraqi major who defected confirmed that Iraq has mobile biological research laboratories in addition to the production facilities I mentioned earlier.**
Taken together, these four sources might appear quite credible, especially if their stories were consistent. But what if, let us say, 3 of the 4 were Chalabi plants, all told to give more-or-less the same story?
[li]Powell’s statements jive well with the LA Times news report, but perversely call into doubt the credibility of his claims. Of importance here is the fact that inspectors first suspected that such facilities existed, and then contacted Chalabi, who surreptitiously managed to provide an eyewitness.[/li][li]US intelligence officials were warned that “Curveball’s” story was of doubtful authenticity, but chose to believe it anyway. There is some disagreement between agencies regarding when this warning was issued. At any rate, US intelligence did not know Curveball’s true identity, nor had they ever directly interrogated him. Powell chose to keep these facts hidden in his presentation. (In general, the administration has displayed an almost perverse insistence on believing only those intelligence reports that support the case for war and disregarding any reports that call into doubt the asserted nature of the Iraqi threat. The results of this insistence are easy to see.)[/li][li]None of the other sources had actually seen the facilities, and their testimony amounted to little more than hearsay, really. Powell obscures this fact by referring to them as people “in a position to know.”[/li][li]David Kay, a US weapons inspector and ardent supporter of the invasion (who originally believed that Iraq possessed “WMDs”), flatly states that the administration’s reliance on “Curveball’s” story, and its use in Powell’s presentation, “really looks like a lack of due diligence and care in going forward.” He claims that “Curveball” was the “absolute heart” of the allegations regarding the mobile labs, that Powell’s presentation was “disingenuous” on that matter, and that “If Powell had said to the Security Council: ‘It’s one source, we never actually talked to him, and we don’t know his name,’ as he’s describing this, I think people would have laughed us out of court.” To my mind, that seems like unbelievably damaging testimony from the former weapons inspector.[/li][li]There are so many “mistakes” of this nature that have come up since the invasion – the entire issue of the aluminum tubes, the “yellowcake” claims subsequently proven false, the allegations of a connection between Hussein and al Qaida, the complete lack of any sort of nuclear facilities or program, etc., that I really find it hard to believe that all of them could be the result of misjudgments made in good faith. Add to this the administration’s refusal to address the issue afterwards; Bush’s assertion, for example, that a single vial of a common strain of botulinum found in a scientist’s refrigerator was proof that Saddam was “threat to the world,” Cheney’s continued assertions that the helium trailers were actually mobile labs, etc., etc., and it’s literally impossible not to see a clear pattern of willful mendacity on the part of the Bush administration.[/ul][/li]You ask why evidence has to be “rock solid.” To begin with, in answer to your question, I would say that launching an unprovoked war of aggression against the will of the majority of world opinion ought to require a very, very strong evidential basis. War should always be the last resort, because it involves so much terrible human suffering. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect that before going to war, a state has very, very strong reasons for doing so. With regard to Iraq, however, the administration’s case for war was based on the flimsiest basis imaginable; so much so that virtually none of its pre-war claims regarding the Iraqi threat have proven to be correct. That’s why I object to your use of the word “reasonable” as a characterization of the evidence Powell presented to the UN. It was not “reasonable;” it was bunch of trumped up charges based on faulty logic, rhetoric, and hearsay.

Secondly, you note that “It would be nice if spying was a precise science --but in war, you can’t always have scientific proof.” I would like to point out that we who opposed the war were making precisely this argument. In point of fact, prior to the invasion, it was the proponents of war who claimed to possess complete certainty that Iraq was a threat, again and again. In his address to the nation prior to military operations, Bush claimed that “Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.” On these boards, doubters were ruthlessly lambasted by pro-war posters who claimed to have incontrovertible evidence of Iraq’s possession of “WMDs.” Bush did not sell this war to the American public with the argument that he suspected that Iraq might possession “WMDs;” he and other administration officials claimed absolute certainty. You can’t simply go back after the fact and pretend like they didn’t. As far as I can tell, their claims amount to nothing more than a maze of lies.

This is a gross oversimplification of the situation. These are separate issues and have to be judged each on their own merits. There was more to the intelligence info prior to 9/11 than mere “vague warnings by a low-ranking FBI agent in Arizona,” and the “specific warnings” of “Curveball” were doubtful at best.

Finally, for the purposes of this debate, I would like to request that you refrain from accusing your debating opponents of hypocrisy unless you can point to a specific example.

If you are an American citizen, and you still support Bush, then the responsibility, at least a very small sliver, does rest on your shoulders.

The evidence doesn’t have to be “rock solid”. But it was presented that way. It was not presented as an assertion by an anonymous Iraqi defector, uncorroborated.

In an analogy to the US criminal justice system, it should be “proof beyond a reasonable doubt”. It is clear, now, that such a threshold was not met. But that also reflects poor judgement on the part of this administration. In the criminal analogy, there is a jury, which would be roughly similar to the function of the UNSC. But Bush shortcutted the system, acting as judge, jury, and executioner. In that case, I would think the proof should be irrefutable.

You see, if the UNSC agreed to support military intervention even with the flimsiest evidence, I would have supported military action. At least our participation would have been legitimate in the eyes of the world. Getting rid of Saddam is a good thing. Getting rid of him while pissing off our allies, and inflaming fundamentalist Islamic militants ire directly at the US, reflects very poor judgement.

I’m OK with the right to a “pre-emptive” attack - but only if the threat is imminent. This is the case the administration tried to make, and even if Saddam had WoMD, I never bought that argument.

I sincerely believe the administration was confident that Saddam had WoMD. Even if they weren’t sure, I see UNSC Resolution 1441 as proof of them willing to place the bet. They were confident, at the time, that unfettered weapons inspections, combined with their intelligence, would prove to the world that Saddam had WoMD. When 1441 failed to deliver the irrefutable proof, they simply asserted the guilty verdict and proceeded to impose sentencing. And they should be held accountable for that decision - don’t you agree?

Now, you don’t think Bush acted on bad faith or intentionally lied. On the first front, I believe UNSC Resolution 1441 was an act of bad faith. The failure to follow up with the UNSC “regardless the whip count” is further evidence of such bad faith. In the State of the Union, with his comments about the Niger uranium, I believe that he intentionally misled the nation, and I find that as culpable as an outright lie. How do you see either of those differently?

Sounds like a false dilemma to me. Why did he have to act? Why not wait on further evidence? Are you suggesting that Iraq represented an imminent threat, or that Bush had reason to believe such at the time?

That’s the best evidence, in your opinion? Please explain how we should be able to ascertain the authenticity of the message? Is it plausible that someone, other than an Iraqi officer, could have impersonated an Iraqi officer for no reason other than to cause mischief? That evidence sure didn’t seem to impact the opinion of Hans Blix…

And I will maintain that such a statement is full of straw unless you are willing to produce a cite from a high ranking Democrat who has taken such a position.

jshore, now that you mention Sam Stone, I remember that many times he put forward the point that US intelligence had been inefficient in past administrations, due to the official position of not getting in bed with unsavory characters to get intelligence. AFAICR, such position was reached because of very embarrassing scandals of our intelligence agencies getting info from wannna be thugs and dictators.

However, recently Time magazine reported that members in the intelligence community saw no limitations on getting the info; I take it that the changes then were mostly cosmetic and info was still obtained from unsavory characters.

Which brings us back to the current situation, I do think that when Bush came to power, whatever cosmetic limits were in place were removed and the administration went the other way to not only get in bed with the thugs, but to even… well, since this is not the pit, I’ll leave that to your imagination.

I do think this administration replicated the error of past administrations by trusting dissidents on the way to invasion (incredibly stupid not to take into account their own interests in the matter, but then again it seems they gave Bush just what he wanted to hear). Then it was Cuba, now it is Iraq. The difference was that in one, the dissidents were the ones willing to risk their lives, this time Chalabi and buddies did one step better: they played the American and British intelligence and media like a fiddle, and made us do the fighting.

Seeing reports that the US is still giving money to Chalabi, I do think he will be the future authoritarian ruler of Iraq, but that will be ok, he will be “our son of a bitch”*

Sad to know that he made Bush his bitch in the process too.

[sub]*this quote as been atributed to Roosvelt or Eisenhower in regards to a Latin American dictator, who said that?[/sub]

Two destinies for Chalabi:

(1) Ineffectual and locally-despised American puppet (he is this already)

(2) Turncoat and future HUGE American enemy and threat (like Saddam, Osama)

Either way, every one with any knowledge of Chalabi has always said the Bush administration are total fucking fools to back him, so when it goes shit up, with more bloodshed, the Bush admin will be morally responsible for those deaths.

They didn’t listen before, they’re still not listening now.

I think we should have a special category of spectacularly disingenuous statements, of the type that imply that common knowledge has suddenly become clear, as in a startling revelation. Powell just got the memo, we are given to assume.

Pursuant, I nominate Colon Powell for the Annual SDMB “This Just In” Award for 2004.

You’ve been reading TMP again, haven’t you, luci?

You should never’ve started accepting the word of politicians to begin with. That’s always a big mistake.

The price of freedom being eternal vigilance and all that.

There’re reasons why politicians have the same reputation throughout recorded history and all around the globe. Just because the politicians are American doesn’t mean that they aren’t still politicians.

(Doper politicians excluded of course)

Err… I mean, TPM.

TMP? Do you mean perhaps TPM, for Talking Points Memo? http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/, without which no citizen can hope to remain well informed?

Well, yes, every day as a matter of fact, you depraved dyslexic Scandahoovian socialist!

I suspected as much.

That stuff rots your teeth, you know.

This just in…

In a fit of Nordic funk, Mr. Svinlesha recently attempted suicide by throwing himself behind a bus. He has been referred for mental health therapy as adminstered by the socialized medicine system, prospective mourners are being notified. We are both quite dismayed.

Your honor, I object!

Depraved? Absolutely.

Lysdexic? Dubinimently.

Socialist? Yea socialism!

But Skandahoovian? You go to far, sir! I’m still American, even if I find myself living in this frozen wasteland [Lenny Bruce] (although Tonto and I have been considering an “alternative lifestyle”) [/Lenny Bruce].

Gotta joke for ya:

What does a Swedish woman have in common with a PC?

They’re both “user friendly.”

What does a Swedish man have in common with a moose?

Neither one can figure out how to use a PC.

(I know, I know. I’ll keep the day job. I promise.)

Please be assured, Big Svin, that as an exile in Minnesota, I am more than familiar with Swedish humor, which is closely akin to Swedish cuisine. I am required to carry a card at all times to warn the innocent that I cannot be responsible for the next person who tells me an “Ole and Lena” joke.

About the best that can be said for the Swedes is that they are not Norwegians.

According to local mythology, Norwegians are dour, parsimonious, and humorless, while Swedes are lazy, hedonistic, and scatterbrained. For many years, they were the same country until, for reasons that remain unclear, Norway achieved independence in the world’s most spectacularly non-violent revolution. The best that can be said for either is that they are not Finland.

Hey! You didn’t ask the most important question, yet.

What is the implication on my potential bar bill? What does that mean, you ask.

Well, back in the day(a year ago), I offered to buy the world a drink by posting Going out on a limb. There AIN’T any WMD, you stupid shits .
I started accumulating spare change not long after that original post. I worried that perhaps my lefty heart had spoken too soon. But time has a way of healing things. Maybe I’ll just buy myself some lutefisk and a quart of vodka with my booty, and party like it’s (November ) 2004.

Do you drink the vodka in advance of the lutefisk, in order to steel yourself, or afterwards trying to forget?

You’re right, that is the important question. Perhaps I should someday subject myself to lutefisk as penance for having ever doubted your unredoubtableness, Samclem.

Thanks for that trip down memory lane, samclem! It was fun to read the predictions of all the folks around here back in the days when most people hadn’t yet realized the full extent of this Administration’s lack of credibility!

SamClem: What’s SDSAB??? And is that thread the reason you get to put that weirdness under your name?

Straight Dope Scientific Advisory Board. It means he’s uber and we have to buy him beer and stuff.

Read the (former) Mailbags, silly.



We don’t need no stinkin’ lutefisk!
For a real treat, try surströmming instead.

(Be sure to read step 3, and should you ever have the chance to try this delicacy, don’t forget it.)

Yum, yum.