Manufactured Myth

Every intelligence agency in the world thought Iraq had WMD

As I wrote in Afterburner: Whittle vs. Whittle, just Exhibit A alone crushes Whittle’s common claim that “every intelligence agency in the world thought that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.” As I said in the documentary:

Those tortured talking points need to be put out of their misery — and I know of no one better for that than Greg Thielmann. I emailed him to ask how he would respond to Whittle’s common claim, and one of the most telling aspects to his answer was the technicality of literal truth in the manufactured myth. Thielmann acknowledged that nearly everybody thought that Saddam had hidden away some mustard agent left over from the 1980s, but he added that the Bush administration did not make its case for war on the strength of suspicions that Iraq retained World War One-era munitions. It’s the second half of that statement that Whittle & Company conveniently ignore.

We’ll get to Thielmann’s illuminating email momentarily — first let’s look at a short clip from Spinning the Tubes:

On Jan 22, 2014 I emailed Greg Thielmann to ask him the following question: “If you were in an interview, how would you respond to someone raising the claim that ‘every intelligence agency in the world thought Iraq had WMD?'” The following is his response to that question (with my original email below it):

From: Greg Thielmann
Sent: Wednesday, January 22, 2014 5:03 PM
To: Rick Memmer
Subject: Re: fairly quick question for you

Rick:

Happy New Year!

I’m doing OK, but up to my neck in Iran nuclear matters, mostly trying to buttress the argument against the Menendez-Kirk New Sanctions bill.

Returning to that thrilling Iraq saga of yesteryear, here’s how I would answer the question you posed at the end of your message:

To say that “every intelligence agency in the world thought Iraq had WMD,” is misleading to the listener/reader.

First, few intelligence agencies had independent means of evaluating many of the claims and analyses made by the US intelligence community; they had to rely on the huge intelligence establishments of their close allies, and would run risks of future intelligence sharing if they were too skeptical of US claims. What does it mean to assert that Denmark also thought Iraq had WMD?

Secondly, the statement about Iraqi WMD would be literally true because nearly everybody thought that Saddam had hidden away some mustard agent left over from the 1980s, largely because the verified destruction numbers did not add up to the known production numbers. (We now know that some of the CW was destroyed in secret after the 1991 war.) But the Bush administration did not make its case for war on the strength of suspicions that Iraq retained WWI-era munitions that would not critically impede a modern military. It waved the red flag of nuclear weapons program reconstitution with “mushroom clouds” imagery, files of anthrax, and reports of mobile anthrax laboratories and nerve gas allocated to front-line troops.

The Bush administration and its UK co-dependent further spun questionable intelligence judgments by dropping careful qualifiers about confidence levels and contrary evidence in the information provided to the public. The Downing Street Memo’s infamous characterization about US “fixing” the “intelligence and the facts” around the policy is an implicit acknowledgement that it was a witting coconspirator in the distortions rather than an independent validator of US conclusions.

Moreover, there was certainly not consensus between all foreign intelligence agencies on some of the critical WMD claims — “uranium from Africa,” mobile BW labs, the U.S. on the use of aluminum tubes, the U.S. (in Fall 2002) on CW/BW warheads for drones, etc. For example, the Germans warned the US Government in Dec. 2002 that it could not validate the claims of its own source on the mobile BW labs, “Curveball.” IAEA experts expressed strong skepticism about the alleged use of the aluminum tubes and the veracity of the “uranium from Africa” reports. The DIA itself reversed its position on the drones before the invasion.

Moreover, the appropriate period of time for critical scrutiny is not the weeks leading up to the UK’s “dodgie dossier” in Sept. 2002 and the unclassified summary of the US NIE in Oct 2002. It is the 12 weeks between the return of the UN inspectors in November 2002 and the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. The truth is that all evidentiary legs of the stool collapsed during that period of time, but by then, the books were closed by the US Congress, most of the press and the American public, whatever the evolving views of other foreign intelligence agencies may have been.

Regards,

–GT

Greg Thielmann
Senior Fellow
Arms Control Association

**************************************************************************************************

On Jan 22, 2014, at 2:23 PM, “Rick Memmer” wrote:

Hi, Greg.

Hope 2014 is treating you well so far. I’m zeroing in on completing all the pre-production work on my pre-war intel program. I don’t know if it will make any difference, but I’ve done everything possible to try.

As you know, the aluminum tubes is my primary focus—but I would like to make a very brief comment to counter the talking point that “every intelligence agency in the world thought Iraq had WMD.” As you pointed out in the PBS interview—there was the Australian intelligence analyst who resigned in protest and David Kelly’s suicide—just to name a couple that debunk the claim. I know the U.S. intelligence story, but outside of specific intel analyses, I’m a little unclear on what the agencies outside the U.S. were saying at the top levels. But like Thomas Ryder rubber stamping the nuclear reconstitution claim—I suspect that most of these other countries were just going along under pressure (casually conflating the loose language of “has weapons” with “seeking weapons”). It’s like a conservative talking point favorite: “the Democrats believed Saddam had WMD”—it’s meaningless rhetoric.

My question is—if you were in an interview, how would you respond to someone raising the claim that “every intelligence agency in the world thought Iraq had WMD” bit?

Thanks!

Rick

 

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