Act I




RWM: Iraq has never had UF6 conversion facilities, nor a production centrifuge cascade. They had plans for both in 1989, but the Gulf War and inspections throughout the 90s terminated the program. Even if they could have shaved the walls to make the tubes workable, it would have taken over a decade to build a cascade capable of producing enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon within in a year —  giving us 11 years to identify their activity and destroy it.

WASHINGTON POST (August 10th, 2003): As an academic, Professor Wood said, he would not describe “anything that you absolutely could not do.” But he said he would “like to see — if they’re going to make that claim — that they have some explanation for how you turn those tubes into centrifuges.”

RWM: And then there’s Joe Turner, who fits the exact opposite profile of Professor Wood in both professionalism and expertise. Turner was a WINPAC analyst, which is the C.I.A’s Center for Weapons-Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control. That outfit is curiously connected to the entire intelligence debacle.



RWM: Mr. Turner, you ignored all the experts and yet you offered no coherent case to counter their rock-solid reasoning. Even the best minds in the business seek Professor Wood’s advice, and yet you did not. D.O.E. and I.N.R. argued that the tubes were a perfect match for the tubes that Iraq had previously purchased for artillery rockets.

TURNER: No one would waste a costly alloy on a rocket

RWM:  The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence investigated the so-called intelligence failure and produced a 511-page document called the Senate Intelligence Report that was released in July 2004. When interviewed by the Committee , Department of Defense design engineers who work on rocket systems testified that the National Intelligence Estimate was “not correct at all” on your claim. According to the Senate Report: “High-strength aluminum is ‘around the world the material of choice for low cost rocket systems, because it’s widely available and can be easily manufactured,’ and has a high strength to weight ratio. . . . U.S. and Russian rocket  systems also use 7075-T6  aluminum and thirteen other countries that manufacture the U.S. Mark-66 also use that same aluminum.”

TURNER: The tubes are suitable for uranium enrichment and the rocket is the less likely scenario.

RWM: What is your argument to support that belief?

TURNER: The tubes are a near match for the 50 year old centrifuge design by German scientist, Gernot Zippe.

RWM: Not  according to Dr. Zippe. You didn’t bother to ask him, but Professor Wood did — and Dr. Zippe replied, “Not so, not even close.”

TURNER: All the Iraqis had to do was cut the tubes in half to for a near-match to the Zippe design.

RWM: Except they would still be too heavy even after cutting them in half. D.O.E. experts told you in 2001 that you failed to include the end caps and a baffle in your calculation of the rotor mass.

TURNER: But if the Iraqis also shaved the wall thickness down to one millimeter, then the mass would match — so with those modifications the tubes would work.

RWM: You seem to be making it up as you go. You claimed that the tightened tolerances indicated that the tubes were for centrifuges. Now you’re arguing that the walls would have to be machined — which negates your argument on the tolerances. And while theoretically possible to shave the walls to make them work — according to the Red Team Paper: “It is extremely difficult to machine a high-strength aluminum tube without rendering it useless as a centrifuge rotor. A centrifuge rotor even a few tenths of a millimetre lopsided is going to have significant balancing problems.” But even if Iraq could pull all that off to perfection, the rotor’s separative capacity would be four to five times LESS than their proven carbon fiber design.





LIZ JACKSON: Joe T made his presentation.

DAVID ALBRIGHT: The view in Vienna in the summer of 2001 was “Maybe this guy has a clever idea, but he really is just grabbing at almost straws to prove his case, and when he’s debunked in one model, he then shifts it and tries to make his information fit another centrifuge model.” And yet whenever you confronted him with the facts or the weaknesses in argument, he always came back with the same answer – “It’s only for centrifuges.”

JACQUES BAUTE: Our level of contribution is to bring facts – the fact that the facts we bring on the table are taken into account or ignored goes beyond our capabilities.

DAVID ALBRIGHT: There’s another part of this story which is troubling – is that when this CIA person went back, he said the IAEA agreed with him. And, in fact, they spent a long time telling this guy he’s wrong, and that they don’t agree with him. Now…

LIZ JACKSON: He went back to the CIA and told his CIA bosses, “The IAEA agree with me”?

DAVID ALBRIGHT: That’s right.


HUBRIS: Turner refused to back down. In meetings and videoconferences with Energy Department scientists and I.A.E.A. officials, he arrogantly dismissed the dissents and showed no willingness to engage in debate. “He was very condescending,” recalled Robert Kelley, a weapons inspector with the I.A.E.A, who sat in on meetings with Turner. “It was like he was on a kind of messianic mission. It was like he didn’t want to hear the right answer.”

RWM: The following is a 2-minute scene from FAIR GAME that accurately depicts Turner’s attitude.




RED TEAM PAPER: Nevertheless, by September 2001, the matter had more or less been settled. There was no serious debate within the intelligence community. One stubborn WINPAC analyst does not constitute a debate.
RWM: Then 9/11 happened — and whad’ya know, the tubes were resurrected. In November of that year the Defense Intelligence Agency (D.I.A. for short) got in on the game. From D.I.A’s own website: “The Defense Intelligence Agency is a Department of Defense combat support agency that produces, analyzes and disseminates military intelligence information.” Doesn’t strike me as an agency of experts on centrifuge physics. I confirmed their qualifications with Greg Thielmann, the director of proliferation for Powell’s Intelligence and Research Bureau at the State Department. Thielmann told me that “D.I.A. would have no particular institutional strength to bring to bear on the issue.”

HUBRIS: In late 2001, I.N.R. conducted an internal study of the Iraqi nuclear issue and the tubes. Powell’s intelligence agency canvassed the nuclear labs and interviewed several nuclear scientists. “We were talking to all these experts, and they were telling us, ‘NO, NO, NO,’ this is not the kind of tube you use for centrifuges,” Thielmann later said. In a lengthy memo to Powell late in 2001, and in a follow-up report in early 2002, the I.N.R. strongly disputed the C.I.A’s tubes argument, as well as the rest of the case for a resurgent Iraqi nuclear program. “The consistent message from I.N.R,” Thielmann later noted, “was that there is no good evidence” at all that Iraq had restarted its nuclear program.”

RWM: But instead of going on a fact-finding mission like I.N.R, D.I.A. went looking for a way to fit the dimensions to a design that didn’t require major modifications. They thought they had something by comparing the tubes against the Beams centrifuge design that Iraq worked on in the 80s.

RED TEAM PAPER: D.I.A. had ignored an important point: the Beams centrifuge had never actually worked. Not even Jesse Beams himself had managed to develop a working Beams centrifuge. Although the Iraqis had pursued a Beams centrifuge in the late-1980s, they could never get it to work either. The Iraqi Beams centrifuge had never operated faster than 25,000 RPM — far too slow to separate uranium isotopes. When Iraq procured more advanced designs in 1989, their Beams centrifuge project was quickly abandoned.

RWM: Professor Wood interviewed Dr. Zippe in 2003. The full 45 minutes would be enjoyable for anyone interested in the evolution of centrifuges, but this 90 second clip is of particular importance.




RWM: Amazingly, the saga over the aluminum tubes had barely just begun. Report after report was routed to the White House over the next year. None of them offered anything new to bolster the C.I.A’s belief, and most of the assessments were unavailable to other agencies. Then September 2002 rolled around, and like retailers ramping up for the holidays, the White House unleashed its product launch.

RWM: “Many a war has been caused by a diplomat who lied to a journalist and then believed what he read in the newspapers.”  . . . When I read that in Eric Alterman’s excellent book WHEN PRESIDENTS LIE: A History of Official Deception and Its Consequences, Vice President Cheney and the New York Times’ Judy Miller came to mind.



DAVID ALBRIGHT: In a way the administration constructed a box and that box had the all the information that the administration wanted the media and the public and Congress and to have.

ROBERT BAER: What they would do is they would have the Iraqi National Congress taking bogus defectors — the information from them — given them to the Pentagon, and then the Iraqi National Congress then giving them to journalists, and they said if you don’t believe us, the Iraqi National Congress, call up the Pentagon. So you had this circular reporting and you had the New York Times admitting that it was using one source for all of its information on weapons of mass destruction. And it was self-affirming by going to the Pentagon.


HUBRIS: The official rollout was launched in a routine manner: on the Sunday morning chat shows. But it relied upon a rather unusual device: a feedback loop exploited by the White House. A leak of secret intelligence produced a dramatic front-page headline that senior administration officials then used to corroborate their most alarming claim.

VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY (Meet the Press September 8th, 2002): There’s a story in The New York Times this morning — so it’s now public that, in fact, Saddam has been seeking to acquire the kinds of tubes that are necessary to build a centrifuge. And the centrifuge is required to take low-grade uranium and enhance it into highly enriched uranium, which is what you have to have in order to build a bomb. This is a technology he was working on before the Gulf War.
RWM: Except that their pre-Gulf war technology was not in line with these tubes at all. Iraq had advanced to designs that used maraging steel or carbon fiber — so any attempt with the aluminum tubes would be a huge step backward.

VICE PRES. CHENEY: We do know with absolute certainty that he is using his procurement system to acquire the equipment he needs in order to enrich uranium to build a nuclear weapon.

NEW YORK TIMES (September 8th, 2002): Experts say the dimensions and precise specification of the aluminum tubes would provide a clear indication of its intended use. Iraq used European designs for centrifuges in its earlier efforts, and American experts know what type of tubes are needed to make such centrifuges. Senior administration officials insist that the dimensions, specifications and numbers of the tubes show that they were intended for the nuclear program.

RWM: The true experts said that the tubes were unsuitable for  centrifuges and could only be used after highly implausible modifications — which at best would result in a poor quality gas centrifuge. The numbers of tubes sought indicated that they were for rockets — as Albright pointed out earlier by saying this claim on quantity was “preposterous on its face.”

RWM: According to HUBRIS, Judy Miller called Albright before the Sept. 8th story was published, but he was out of town. Rather than wait to hear back from someone who would speak with honesty and intelligence on the matter, they ran the story. Albright was outraged when he saw it and called Miller to set the record straight. She agreed to do a follow-up story, but incredibly, it was even worse than the first.

NEW YORK TIMES (September 13th, 2002):  According to an administration official, the best technical experts and nuclear scientists at laboratories like Oak Ridge supported the C.I.A. assessment. George Tenet, the director of central intelligence, has been adamant that the tubes were intended for use in a nuclear program, officials said. They also said it was the intelligence agencies’ unanimous view that the type of tubes that Iraq has been seeking are used to make such centrifuges. Although the C.I.A. position appears to be the dominant view, officials said some experts in the State Department and the Energy Department questioned whether Iraq might be seeking the tubes to build rockets. But other, more senior, officials insisted last night that this was a minority view among intelligence experts and that the C.I.A. had wide support, particularly among the government’s top technical experts and nuclear scientists.

RWM: Notice how she went out of her way to repeat the claim about the support from top technical experts and nuclear scientists — never mind that Albright had just told her that the exact opposite was true. The September 8th article stated that the diameter, thickness and other technical specifications were behind the Administration’s belief on the intended purpose of  the tubes. Those claims were central to Albright’s opposing arguments — and whad’ya know, there’s not one word about “diameter” or “thickness” anywhere in the follow-up article. “Don’t yell at me, yell at Gordon,” Miller told Albright. At minimum, if you’ve got a physicist yelling at you for getting the story so egregiously wrong, one would think that you’d start having serious suspicions. Instead, the second article just reinforced the first — which created talking points for the echo chamber that surrounded the story.



WOLF BLITZER: Based on what you know right now, how close is Saddam Hussein’s government to developing a nuclear capability?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: You will get different estimates about precisely how close he is. We do know that he is actively pursuing a nuclear weapon. We do know that there have been shipments going into Iraq of high-quality aluminum tubes that are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs. We know that he has the infrastructure and nuclear scientists to make a nuclear weapon.

WOLF BLITZER: The bottom line therefore is what — your assessment — six months, a year, five years? How much longer do you believe, given the intelligence information you obviously have, it will take for Saddam Hussein’s government to have a nuclear bomb?


RMW: It was anything but obvious, and even the most basic questions would have made that clear. How about asking her to give you some of those “different” estimates? Why not inquire about what the tubes are for — and ask her to explain the key components required to enrich uranium. And then ask her to provide specific evidence of Iraq’s past and present capabilities on centrifuge technology. But rather than delve into her empty assertions, Blitzer floated her a softball in hopes of a headline.

This concludes Act I



Silver wings upon their chest
These are men, America’s best
One hundred men we’ll test today
But only three win the Green Beret

The Green Berets - Record Cover


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