WMD War Heats Up

GENERIC george w. bush, CIA, Intelligence, seal, nuclear weapons
CBS/AP
An intelligence assessment drafted last October cites "compelling evidence" that Saddam Hussein was attempting to reconstitute a nuclear-weapons program, according to documents released Friday by the White House.

Mounting a campaign to counter criticism that it used flawed intelligence to justify war with Iraq, the White House made public excerpts of the intelligence community's October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate.

That report helped shaped now-challenged comments by President Bush in his State of the Union address that Iraq was attempting to buy uranium in Africa.

The report asserts that Baghdad "if left unchecked…probably will have a nuclear weapon during this decade."

It also cites unsubstantiated reports that Iraq was trying to buy uranium from three African countries: Niger, Somalia and "possibly" Congo.

The White House sought to bolster its case as U.S. officials said that documents alleging Iraq sought uranium from Africa were obtained months before Mr. Bush cited them in making his case for war. But intelligence analysts did not look at them closely enough to know they were forgeries until after Mr. Bush had made the claim, U.S. officials say.

Mr. Bush in his State of the Union address in January asserted that, "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

However, while the British government has stood by the assertion, U.S. officials, including CIA Director George Tenet, have subsequently challenged the allegation — which was based at least in part on forged documents — and have said it should not have been included in Mr. Bush's speech.

The intelligence assessment is put together by all the agencies in the intelligence community, with the CIA overseeing the presentation of the report.

The report cites "high confidence" within the intelligence community that "Iraq could make a nuclear weapon in months to a year once it acquires sufficient weapons-grade fissile material."

Under the category of "moderate confidence," the report states that "Iraq does not yet have a nuclear weapon or sufficient material to make one but is likely to have a weapon by 2007 to 2009."

Meanwhile, new details emerged about the back-and-forth between the CIA and the White House over the speech.

According to reports about testimony by CIA analyst Alan Foley at Wednesday's closed-door session of the Senate Intelligence Committee, National Security Council official Robert Joseph wanted to use specific intelligence on Niger in the State of the Union speech.

Officials say Foley testified that he warned Joseph that the CIA had doubts and suggested the claim be left out.

Joseph then asked if the speech could refer to a British report that referenced the allegation. Foley testified he again warned Johnson the CIA had doubts about the British claim.

Foley said he did finally agree it would be technically correct if the NSC laid the claim off on the British.

In other developments:

  • A body found in central England matches the description of a missing Ministry of Defense adviser who had become embroiled in a controversy over the British government's intelligence dossiers on Iraqi arms, police said Friday. Blair's office says an independent judicial inquiry was expected in the case.
  • Mahdi Shukur Obeidi, the scientist who made headlines last month when he surrendered documents and weapons-making parts that he had buried in his Baghdad backyard, has told the CIA that Iraq hadn't rebuilt its nuclear weapons program since the first Gulf War of 1991.
  • The CIA this week blocked the State Department's counterproliferation head, John Bolton, from claiming in testimony to Congress that Syria's chemical and biological weapons programs now posed a threat to the region, The New York Times reports.
  • Democratic presidential candidate and Florida Sen. Bob Graham said Thursday the weapons dispute could threaten Mr. Bush's presidency. "If the standard of impeachment is the one the House Republicans used against Bill Clinton, this clearly comes within that standard," he said.