Faith-Based Intelligence

Rick Memmer:

I was a fan of Bush’s, but the rush to war was when I stopped supporting him. Do you know that for about 8 months before the war started Bush NEVER MENTIONED the name Osama Bin Laden? There was a guy who actually did a study on it. Now, most people might not think this is that big of a deal, but my attitude was simply this:

If you’ve got the goods to go to war, then you would not need to resort to “semantics” in order to make your case. Here you have the leader behind the biggest terrorist attack in U.S. history, and you no longer mention his name…when virtually every speech is dedicated to promoting the war on terror!

Back in January, I watched a hero and a true patriot on CNN. His name is Greg Thielmann, former director of the Strategic, Proliferation and Military Affairs Office at the State Department’s Intelligence Bureau. The truth just exudes from this man, and he communicates in a demeanor that I have never seen before. I can tell that he’s just as outraged as I am, but he delivers it in such a flowing but understated fashion…never missing a beat, and never raising his voice or getting frustrated.

Thielmann, who left his job in September 2002, contends that much of the intelligence about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was entirely politicized. “Senior officials made statements which I can only describe as dishonest,” he says. “They were distorting some of the information that we provided to make it seem more alarmist and more dangerous.” This interview was conducted on August 12, 2003. “There’s plenty of blame to go around. The main problem was that the senior administration officials have what I call faith-based intelligence. They knew what they wanted the intelligence to show,” says Thielmann.

“They were really blind and deaf to any kind of countervailing information the intelligence community would produce. I would assign some blame to the intelligence community, and most of the blame to the senior administration officials.”

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.”

But Thielmann also says that he believes the decision to go to war was made first, and then the intelligence was interpreted to fit that conclusion. For example, he points to the evidence behind Powell’s charge that Iraq was importing aluminum tubes to use in a program to build nuclear weapons.

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.

Intelligence agents intercepted the tubes in 2001, and the CIA said they were parts for a centrifuge to enrich uranium — fuel for an atom bomb. But Thielmann wasn’t so sure. 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. At about the same time, Thielmann’s office was working on another explanation. It turned out the tubes’ dimensions perfectly matched an Iraqi conventional rocket.

“The aluminum was exactly, I think, what the Iraqis wanted for artillery,” recalls Thielmann, who says he sent that word up to the Secretary of State months before.

Houston Wood was a consultant who worked on the Oak Ridge analysis of the tubes. He watched Powell’s speech, too.

“I guess I was angry, that’s the best way to describe my emotions. 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.

Months later, Thielmann reported to Secretary Powell’s office that they were confident the tubes were not for a nuclear program. Then, about a year later, when the administration was building a case for war, the tubes were resurrected on the front page of The New York Times.

“I thought when I read that there must be some other tubes that people were talking about. I just was flabbergasted that people were still pushing that those might be centrifuges,” says Wood, who reached his conclusion back in 2001. “It didn’t make any sense to me.”

The New York Times reported that senior administration officials insisted the tubes were for an atom-bomb program.

“Science was not pushing this forward. Scientists had made their determination their evaluation and now we didn’t know what was happening,” says Wood.

In his U.N. speech, Secretary Powell acknowledged there was disagreement about the tubes, but he said most experts agreed with the nuclear theory.

“There is controversy about what these tubes are for. Most U.S. experts think they are intended to serve as rotors in centrifuges used to enrich uranium,” said Powell.

“Most experts are located at Oak Ridge and that was not the position there,” says Wood, who claims he doesn’t know anyone in academia or foreign government who would disagree with his appraisal. “I don’t know a single one anywhere.”

As for Greg Thielmann, he told 60 Minutes II that he’s a reluctant witness. His decision to speak developed over time, and he says the president’s address worried him because he knew the African uranium story was false. He said he watched Secretary Powell’s speech with disappointment because, up until then, he had seen Powell bringing what he called “reason” to the administration’s inner circle.

Today, Thielmann believes the decision to go to war was made — and the intelligence was interpreted to fit that conclusion.

“There’s plenty of blame to go around. The main problem was that the senior administration officials have what I call faith-based intelligence. They knew what they wanted the intelligence to show,” says Thielmann.

“They were really blind and deaf to any kind of countervailing information the intelligence community would produce. I would assign some blame to the intelligence community, and most of the blame to the senior administration officials.”

The administration wants to spend several hundred million dollars more to continue the search for evidence.

After turning down repeated requests for an interview by 60 Minutes II, Colin Powell spoke to the BBC Wednesday afternoon about Thielmann’s claim that he misinformed the nation during his February U.N. speech.

“That’s nonsense. I don’t think I used the word ‘imminent’ in my presentation on the 5th of February. I presented on the 5th of February not something I pulled out of the air. I presented the considered judgment of the intelligence community of the United States of America — the coordinated judgment of the intelligence community of the United States of America,” said Powell, according to a transcript of the interview released by the State Department.

“The investigation continues. There is an individual, I guess, who is going on a television show to say I misled the American people. I don’t mislead the American people and I never would. I presented the best information that our intelligence community had to offer.”

When the BBC interviewer pointed out that Thielmann was considered the leading expert for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction in his department, Powell replied: “I have many experts in my department, and there are many differences of opinion, among any group of experts. And it’s quite easy for a television program to get this individual and then they complain. But to try to turn it around and say that ‘Secretary Powell made this all up and presented it, knowing it was false,’ is simply inaccurate.”

Powell again refuted the charges in an Oct. 16 interview with National Public Radio.

“It wasn’t hyped. It wasn’t overblown,” said Powell, in a transcript released by the State Department. “I would not do that to the American people, nor would I do that before the Security Council, as a representative of the American people and of the President of the United States.”

Here’s the 60 Minutes interview.

Here’s the PBS interview.

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