|From The New York Times
How the White House Embraced Disputed Arms
October 3, 2004
By DAVID BARSTOW, WILLIAM J. BROAD and JEFF GERTH
In 2002, at a crucial juncture on the path to war, senior members of the Bush
administration gave a series of speeches and interviews in which they asserted that Saddam
Hussein was rebuilding his nuclear weapons program. Speaking to a group of Wyoming
Republicans in September, Vice President Dick Cheney said the United States now had
"irrefutable evidence" - thousands of tubes made of high-strength aluminum,
tubes that the Bush administration said were destined for clandestine Iraqi uranium
centrifuges, before some were seized at the behest of the United States.
Those tubes became a critical exhibit in the administration's brief against Iraq. As the
only physical evidence the United States could brandish of Mr. Hussein's revived nuclear
ambitions, they gave credibility to the apocalyptic imagery invoked by President Bush and
his advisers. The tubes were "only really suited for nuclear weapons programs,"
Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security adviser, explained on CNN on Sept. 8,
2002. "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."
But almost a year before, Ms. Rice's staff had been told that the government's foremost
nuclear experts seriously doubted that the tubes were for nuclear weapons, according to
four officials at the Central Intelligence Agency and two senior administration officials,
all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity. The experts, at the Energy Department,
believed the tubes were likely intended for small artillery rockets.
The White House, though, embraced the disputed theory that the tubes were for nuclear
centrifuges, an idea first championed in April 2001 by a junior analyst at the C.I.A.
Senior nuclear scientists considered that notion implausible, yet in the months after
9/11, as the administration built a case for confronting Iraq, the centrifuge theory
gained currency as it rose to the top of the government.
Senior administration officials repeatedly failed to fully disclose the contrary views of
America's leading nuclear scientists, an examination by The New York Times has found. They
sometimes overstated even the most dire intelligence assessments of the tubes, yet
minimized or rejected the strong doubts of nuclear experts. They worried privately that
the nuclear case was weak, but expressed sober certitude in public.
One result was a largely one-sided presentation to the public that did not convey the
depth of evidence and argument against the administration's most tangible proof of a
revived nuclear weapons program in Iraq.
Today, 18 months after the invasion of Iraq, investigators there have found no evidence of
hidden centrifuges or a revived nuclear weapons program. The absence of unconventional
weapons in Iraq is now widely seen as evidence of a profound intelligence failure, of an
intelligence community blinded by "group think," false assumptions and
unreliable human sources.
Yet the tale of the tubes, pieced together through records and interviews with senior
intelligence officers, nuclear experts, administration officials and Congressional
investigators, reveals a different failure.
Far from "group think," American nuclear and intelligence experts argued
bitterly over the tubes. A "holy war" is how one Congressional investigator
described it. But if the opinions of the nuclear experts were seemingly disregarded at
every turn, an overwhelming momentum gathered behind the C.I.A. assessment. It was a
momentum built on a pattern of haste, secrecy, ambiguity, bureaucratic maneuver and a
persistent failure in the Bush administration and among both Republicans and Democrats in
Congress to ask hard questions.
Precisely how knowledge of the intelligence dispute traveled through the upper reaches of
the administration is unclear. Ms. Rice knew about the debate before her Sept. 2002 CNN
appearance, but only learned of the alternative rocket theory of the tubes soon afterward,
according to two senior administration officials. President Bush learned of the debate at
roughly the same time, a senior administration official said.
Last week, when asked about the tubes, administration officials said they relied on
repeated assurances by George J. Tenet, then the director of central intelligence, that
the tubes were in fact for centrifuges. They also noted that the intelligence community,
including the Energy Department, largely agreed that Mr. Hussein had revived his nuclear
"These judgments sometimes require members of the intelligence community to make
tough assessments about competing interpretations of facts," said Sean McCormack, a
spokesman for the president.
Mr. Tenet declined to be interviewed. But in a statement, he said he "made it
clear" to the White House "that the case for a possible nuclear program in Iraq
was weaker than that for chemical and biological weapons." Regarding the tubes, Mr.
Tenet said "alternative views were shared" with the administration after the
intelligence community drafted a new National Intelligence Estimate in late September
The tubes episode is a case study of the intersection between the politics of pre-emption
and the inherent ambiguity of intelligence. The tubes represented a scientific puzzle and
rival camps of experts clashed over the tiniest technical details in secure rooms in
Washington, London and Vienna. The stakes were high, and they knew it.
So did a powerful vice president who saw in 9/11 horrifying confirmation of his long-held
belief that the United States too often naïvely underestimates the cunning and
ruthlessness of its foes.
"We have a tendency - I don't know if it's part of the American character - to say,
'Well, we'll sit down and we'll evaluate the evidence, we'll draw a conclusion,' "
Mr. Cheney said as he discussed the tubes in September 2002 on the NBC News program
"Meet the Press."
"But we always think in terms that we've got all the evidence,'' he said. "Here,
we don't have all the evidence. We have 10 percent, 20 percent, 30 percent. We don't know
how much. We know we have a part of the picture. And that part of the picture tells us
that he is, in fact, actively and aggressively seeking to acquire nuclear weapons."
Joe Raises the Tube Issue
Throughout the 1990's, United States intelligence agencies were deeply preoccupied with
the status of Iraq's nuclear weapons program, and with good reason.
After the Persian Gulf war in 1991, arms inspectors discovered that Iraq had been far
closer to building an atomic bomb than even the worst-case estimates had envisioned. And
no one believed that Saddam Hussein had abandoned his nuclear ambitions. To the contrary,
in one secret assessment after another, the agencies concluded that Iraq was conducting
low-level theoretical research and quietly plotting to resume work on nuclear weapons.
But at the start of the Bush administration, the intelligence agencies also agreed that
Iraq had not in fact resumed its nuclear weapons program. Iraq's nuclear infrastructure,
they concluded, had been dismantled by sanctions and inspections. In short, Mr. Hussein's
nuclear ambitions appeared to have been contained.
Then Iraq started shopping for tubes.
According to a 511-page report on flawed prewar intelligence by the Senate Intelligence
Committee, the agencies learned in early 2001 of a plan by Iraq to buy 60,000
high-strength aluminum tubes from Hong Kong.
The tubes were made from 7075-T6 aluminum, an extremely hard alloy that made them
potentially suitable as rotors in a uranium centrifuge. Properly designed, such tubes are
strong enough to spin at the terrific speeds needed to convert uranium gas into enriched
uranium, an essential ingredient of an atomic bomb. For this reason, international rules
prohibited Iraq from importing certain sizes of 7075-T6 aluminum tubes; it was also why a
new C.I.A. analyst named Joe quickly sounded the alarm.
At the C.I.A.'s request, The Times agreed to use only Joe's first name; the agency said
publishing his full name could hinder his ability to operate overseas.
Joe graduated from the University of Kentucky in the late 1970's with a bachelor's degree
in mechanical engineering, then joined the Goodyear Atomic Corporation, which dispatched
him to Oak Ridge, Tenn., a federal complex that specializes in uranium and national
Joe went to work on a new generation of centrifuges. Many European models stood no more
than 10 feet tall. The American centrifuges loomed 40 feet high, and Joe's job was to
learn how to test and operate them. But when the project was canceled in 1985, Joe spent
the next decade performing hazard analyses for nuclear reactors, gaseous diffusion plants
and oil refineries.
In 1997, Joe transferred to a national security complex at Oak Ridge known as Y-12, his
entry into intelligence work. His assignment was to track global sales of material used in
nuclear arms. He retired after two years, taking a buyout with hundreds of others at Oak
Ridge, and moved to the C.I.A.
The agency's ability to assess nuclear intelligence had markedly declined after the cold
war, and Joe's appointment was part of an effort to regain lost expertise. He was assigned
to a division eventually known as Winpac, for Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation and
Arms Control. Winpac had hundreds of employees, but only a dozen or so with a technical
background in nuclear arms and fuel production. None had Joe's hands-on experience
Suddenly, Joe's work was ending up in classified intelligence reports being read in the
White House. Indeed, his analysis was the primary basis for one of the agency's first
reports on the tubes, which went to senior members of the Bush administration on April 10,
2001. The tubes, the report asserted, "have little use other than for a uranium
This alarming assessment was immediately challenged by the Energy Department, which builds
centrifuges and runs the government's nuclear weapons complex.
The next day, Energy Department officials ticked off a long list of reasons why the tubes
did not appear well suited for centrifuges. Simply put, the analysis concluded that the
tubes were the wrong size - too narrow, too heavy, too long - to be of much practical use
in a centrifuge.
What was more, the analysis reasoned, if the tubes were part of a secret, high-risk
venture to build a nuclear bomb, why were the Iraqis haggling over prices with suppliers
all around the world? And why weren't they shopping for all the other sensitive equipment
needed for centrifuges?
All fine questions. But if the tubes were not for a centrifuge, what were they for?
Within weeks, the Energy Department experts had an answer.
It turned out, they reported, that Iraq had for years used high-strength aluminum tubes to
make combustion chambers for slim rockets fired from launcher pods. Back in 1996,
inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency had even examined some of those
tubes, also made of 7075-T6 aluminum, at a military complex, the Nasser metal fabrication
plant in Baghdad, where the Iraqis acknowledged making rockets. According to the
international agency, the rocket tubes, some 66,000 of them, were 900 millimeters in
length, with a diameter of 81 millimeters and walls 3.3 millimeters thick.
The tubes now sought by Iraq had precisely the same dimensions - a perfect match.
That finding was published May 9, 2001, in the Daily Intelligence Highlight, a secret
Energy Department newsletter published on Intelink, a Web site for the intelligence
community and the White House.
Joe and his Winpac colleagues at the C.I.A. were not persuaded. Yes, they conceded, the
tubes could be used as rocket casings. But that made no sense, they argued in a new
report, because Iraq wanted tubes made at tolerances that "far exceed any known
conventional weapons." In other words, Iraq was demanding a level of precision
craftsmanship unnecessary for ordinary mass-produced rockets.
More to the point, those analysts had hit on a competing theory: that the tubes'
dimensions matched those used in an early uranium centrifuge developed in the 1950's by a
German scientist, Gernot Zippe. Most centrifuge designs are highly classified; this one,
though, was readily available in science reports.
Thus, well before Sept. 11, 2001, the debate within the intelligence community was already
neatly framed: Were the tubes for rockets or centrifuges?
Experts Attack Joe's Case
It was a simple question with enormous implications. If Mr. Hussein acquired nuclear
weapons, American officials feared, he would wield them to menace the Middle East. So the
tube question was critical, yet none too easy to answer. The United States had few spies
in Iraq, and certainly none who knew Mr. Hussein's plans for the tubes.
But the tubes themselves could yield many secrets. A centrifuge is an intricate device.
Not any old tube would do. Careful inquiry might answer the question.
The intelligence community embarked on an ambitious international operation to intercept
the tubes before they could get to Iraq. The big break came in June 2001: a shipment was
seized in Jordan.
At the Energy Department, those examining the tubes included scientists who had spent
decades designing and working on centrifuges, and intelligence officers steeped in the
tricky business of tracking the nuclear ambitions of America's enemies. They included Dr.
Jon A. Kreykes, head of Oak Ridge's national security advanced technology group; Dr. Duane
F. Starr, an expert on nuclear proliferation threats; and Dr. Edward Von Halle, a retired
Oak Ridge nuclear expert. Dr. Houston G. Wood III, a professor of engineering at the
University of Virginia who had helped design the 40-foot American centrifuge, advised the
team and consulted with Dr. Zippe.
On questions about nuclear centrifuges, this was unambiguously the A-Team of the
intelligence community, many experts say.
On Aug. 17, 2001, weeks before the twin towers fell, the team published a secret Technical
Intelligence Note, a detailed analysis that laid out its doubts about the tubes'
suitability for centrifuges.
First, in size and material, the tubes were very different from those Iraq had used in its
centrifuge prototypes before the first gulf war. Those models used tubes that were nearly
twice as wide and made of exotic materials that performed far better than aluminum.
"Aluminum was a huge step backwards," Dr. Wood recalled.
In fact, the team could find no centrifuge machines "deployed in a production
environment" that used such narrow tubes. Their walls were three times too thick for
"favorable use" in a centrifuge, the team wrote. They were also anodized,
meaning they had a special coating to protect them from weather. Anodized tubes, the team
pointed out, are "not consistent" with a uranium centrifuge because the coating
can produce bad reactions with uranium gas.
In other words, if Joe and his Winpac colleagues were right, it meant that Iraq had chosen
to forsake years of promising centrifuge work and instead start from scratch, with
inferior material built to less-than-optimal dimensions.
The Energy Department experts did not think that made much sense. They concluded that
using the tubes in centrifuges "is credible but unlikely, and a rocket production is
the much more likely end use for these tubes." Similar conclusions were being reached
by Britain's intelligence service and experts at the International Atomic Energy Agency, a
United Nations body.
Unlike Joe, experts at the international agency had worked with Zippe centrifuges, and
they spent hours with him explaining why they believed his analysis was flawed. They
pointed out errors in his calculations. They noted design discrepancies. They also sent
reports challenging the centrifuge claim to American government experts through the
embassy in Vienna, a senior official said.
Likewise, Britain's experts believed the tubes would need "substantial
re-engineering" to work in centrifuges, according to Britain's review of its prewar
intelligence. Their experts found it "paradoxical" that Iraq would order such
finely crafted tubes only to radically rebuild each one for a centrifuge. Yes, it was
theoretically possible, but as an Energy Department analyst later told Senate
investigators, it was also theoretically possible to "turn your new Yugo into a
In late 2001, intelligence analysts at the State Department also took issue with Joe's
work in reports prepared for Secretary of State Colin L. Powell. Joe was "very
convinced, but not very convincing," recalled Greg Thielmann, then director of
strategic, proliferation and military affairs in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research.
By year's end, Energy Department analysts published a classified report that even more
firmly rejected the theory that the tubes could work as rotors in a 1950's Zippe
centrifuge. These particular Zippe centrifuges, they noted, were especially ill suited for
bomb making. The machines were a prototype designed for laboratory experiments and meant
to be operated as single units. To produce enough enriched uranium to make just one bomb a
year, Iraq would need up to 16,000 of them working in concert, a challenge for even the
most sophisticated centrifuge plants.
Iraq had never made more than a dozen centrifuge prototypes. Half failed when rotors
broke. Of the rest, one actually worked to enrich uranium, Dr. Mahdi Obeidi, who once ran
Iraq's centrifuge program, said in an interview last week.
The Energy Department team concluded it was "unlikely that anyone" could build a
centrifuge site capable of producing significant amounts of enriched uranium "based
on these tubes." One analyst summed it up this way: the tubes were so poorly suited
for centrifuges, he told Senate investigators, that if Iraq truly wanted to use them this
way, "we should just give them the tubes."
In the months after Sept. 11, 2001, as the Bush administration devised a strategy to fight
Al Qaeda, Vice President Cheney immersed himself in the world of top-secret threat
assessments. Bob Woodward, in his book "Plan of Attack," described Mr. Cheney as
the administration's new "self-appointed special examiner of worst-case
scenarios," and it was a role that fit.
Mr. Cheney had grappled with national security threats for three decades, first as
President Gerald R. Ford's chief of staff, later as secretary of defense for the first
President Bush. He was on intimate terms with the intelligence community, 15 spy agencies
that frequently feuded over the significance of raw intelligence. He knew well their
record of getting it wrong (the Bay of Pigs) and underestimating threats (Mr. Hussein's
pre-1991 nuclear program) and failing to connect the dots (Sept. 11).
As a result, the vice president was not simply a passive recipient of intelligence
analysis. He was known as a man who asked hard, skeptical questions, a man who paid
attention to detail. "In my office I have a picture of John Adams, the first vice
president," Mr. Cheney said in one of his first speeches as vice president.
"Adams liked to say, 'The facts are stubborn things.' Whatever the issue, we are
going to deal with facts and show a decent regard for other points of view."
With the Taliban routed in Afghanistan after Sept. 11, Mr. Cheney and his aides began to
focus on intelligence assessments of Saddam Hussein. Mr. Cheney had long argued for more
forceful action to topple Mr. Hussein. But in January 2002, according to Mr. Woodward's
book, the C.I.A. told Mr. Cheney that Mr. Hussein could not be removed with covert action
alone. His ouster, the agency said, would take an invasion, which would require persuading
the public that Iraq posed a threat to the United States.
The evidence for that case was buried in classified intelligence files. Mr. Cheney and his
aides began to meet repeatedly with analysts who specialized in Iraq and unconventional
weapons. They wanted to know about any Iraqi ties to Al Qaeda and Baghdad's ability to
make unconventional weapons.
"There's no question they had a point of view, but there was no attempt to get us to
hew to a particular point of view ourselves, or to come to a certain conclusion," the
deputy director of analysis at Winpac told the Senate Intelligence Committee. "It was
trying to figure out, why do we come to this conclusion, what was the evidence. A lot of
questions were asked, probing questions."
Of all the worst-case possibilities, the most terrifying was the idea that Mr. Hussein
might slip a nuclear weapon to terrorists, and Mr. Cheney and his staff zeroed in on Mr.
Hussein's nuclear ambitions.
Mr. Cheney, for example, read a Feb. 12, 2002, report from the Defense Intelligence Agency
about Iraq's reported attempts to buy 500 tons of yellowcake, a uranium concentrate, from
Niger, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee report. Many American intelligence
analysts did not put much stock in the Niger report. Mr. Cheney pressed for more
At the same time, a senior intelligence official said, the agency was fielding repeated
requests from Mr. Cheney's office for intelligence about the tubes, including updates on
Iraq's continuing efforts to procure thousands more after the seizure in Jordan.
"Remember," Dr. David A. Kay, the chief American arms inspector after the war,
said in an interview, "the tubes were the only piece of physical evidence about the
Iraqi weapons programs that they had."
In March 2002, Mr. Cheney traveled to Europe and the Middle East to build support for a
confrontation with Iraq. It is not known whether he mentioned Niger or the tubes in his
meetings. But on his return, he made it clear that he had repeatedly discussed Mr. Hussein
and the nuclear threat.
"He is actively pursuing nuclear weapons at this time," Mr. Cheney asserted on
At the time, the C.I.A. had not reached so firm a conclusion. But on March 12, the day Mr.
Cheney landed in the Middle East, he and other senior administration officials had been
sent two C.I.A. reports about the tubes. Each cited the tubes as evidence that "Iraq
currently may be trying to reconstitute its gas centrifuge program."
Neither report, however, mentioned that leading centrifuge experts at the Energy
Department strongly disagreed, according to Congressional officials who have read the
What White House Is Told
As the Senate Intelligence Committee report made clear, the American intelligence
community "is not a level playing field when it comes to the competition of ideas in
The C.I.A. has a distinct edge: "unique access to policy makers and unique control of
intelligence reporting," the report found. The Presidential Daily Briefs, for
example, are prepared and presented by agency analysts; the agency's director is the
president's principal intelligence adviser. This allows agency analysts to control the
presentation of information to policy makers "without having to explain dissenting
views or defend their analysis from potential challenges," the committee's report
This problem, the report said, was "particularly evident" with the C.I.A.'s
analysis of the tubes, when agency analysts "lost objectivity and in several cases
took action that improperly excluded useful expertise from the intelligence debate."
In interviews, Senate investigators said the agency's written assessments did a poor job
of describing the debate over the intelligence.
From April 2001 to September 2002, the agency wrote at least 15 reports on the tubes. Many
were sent only to high-level policy makers, including President Bush, and did not
circulate to other intelligence agencies. None have been released, though some were
described in the Senate's report.
Several senior C.I.A. officials insisted that those reports did describe at least in
general terms the intelligence debate. "You don't go into all that detail but you do
try to evince it when you write your current product," one agency official said.
But several Congressional and intelligence officials with access to the 15 assessments
said not one of them informed senior policy makers of the Energy Department's dissent.
They described a series of reports, some with ominous titles, that failed to convey either
the existence or the substance of the intensifying debate.
Over and over, the reports restated Joe's main conclusions for the C.I.A. - that the tubes
matched the 1950's Zippe centrifuge design and were built to specifications that
"exceeded any known conventional weapons application." They did not state what
Energy Department experts had noted - that many common industrial items, even aluminum
cans, were made to specifications as good or better than the tubes sought by Iraq. Nor did
the reports acknowledge a significant error in Joe's claim - that the tubes
"matched" those used in a Zippe centrifuge.
The tubes sought by Iraq had a wall thickness of 3.3 millimeters. When Energy Department
experts checked with Dr. Zippe, a step Joe did not take, they learned that the walls of
Zippe tubes did not exceed 1.1 millimeters, a substantial difference.
"They never lay out the other case," one Congressional official said of those
The Senate report provides only a partial picture of the agency's communications with the
White House. In an arrangement endorsed by both parties, the Intelligence Committee agreed
to delay an examination of whether White House descriptions of Iraq's military
capabilities were "substantiated by intelligence information." As a result,
Senate investigators were not permitted to interview White House officials about what they
knew of the tubes debate and when they knew it.
But in interviews, C.I.A. and administration officials disclosed that the dissenting views
were repeatedly discussed in meetings and telephone calls.
One senior official at the agency said its "fundamental approach" was to tell
policy makers about dissenting views. Another senior official acknowledged that some of
their agency's reports "weren't as well caveated as, in retrospect, they should have
been." But he added, "There was certainly nothing that was hidden."
Four agency officials insisted that Winpac analysts repeatedly explained the contrasting
assessments during briefings with senior National Security Council officials who dealt
with nuclear proliferation issues. "We think we were reasonably clear about
this," a senior C.I.A. official said.
A senior administration official confirmed that Winpac was indeed candid about the
differing views. The official, who recalled at least a half dozen C.I.A. briefings on
tubes, said he knew by late 2001 that there were differing views on the tubes. "To
the best of my knowledge, he never hid anything from me," the official said of his
counterpart at Winpac.
This official said he also spoke to senior officials at the Department of Energy about the
tubes, and a spokeswoman for the department said in a written statement that the agency
"strongly conveyed its viewpoint to senior policy makers."
But if senior White House officials understood the department's main arguments against the
tubes, they also took into account its caveats. "As far as I know," the senior
administration official said, "D.O.E. never concluded that these tubes could not be
used for centrifuges."
A Referee Is Ignored
Over the summer of 2002, the White House secretly refined plans to invade Iraq and debated
whether to seek more United Nations inspections. At the same time, in response to a White
House request in May, C.I.A. officials were quietly working on a report that would lay out
for the public declassified evidence of Iraq's reported unconventional weapons and ties to
That same summer the tubes debate continued to rage. The primary antagonists were the
C.I.A. and the Energy Department, with other intelligence agencies drawn in on either
Much of the strife centered on Joe. At first glance, he seemed an unlikely target. He held
a relatively junior position, and according to the C.I.A. he did not write the vast
majority of the agency's reports on the tubes. He has never met Mr. Cheney. His one trip
to the White House was to take his family on the public tour.
But he was, as one staff member on the Senate Intelligence Committee put it, "the
ringleader" of a small group of Winpac analysts who were convinced that the tubes
were destined for centrifuges. His views carried special force within the agency because
he was the only Winpac analyst with experience operating uranium centrifuges. In meetings
with other intelligence agencies, he often took the lead in arguing the technical basis
for the agency's conclusions.
"Very few people have the technical knowledge to independently arrive at the
conclusion he did," said Dr. Kay, the weapons inspector, when asked to explain Joe's
Without identifying him, the Senate Intelligence Committee's report repeatedly questioned
Joe's competence and integrity. It portrayed him as so determined to prove his theory that
he twisted test results, ignored factual discrepancies and excluded dissenting views.
The Senate report, for example, challenged his decision not to consult the Energy
Department on tests designed to see if the tubes were strong enough for centrifuges. Asked
why he did not seek their help, Joe told the committee: "Because we funded it. It was
our testing. We were trying to prove some things that we wanted to prove with the
testing." The Senate report singled out that comment for special criticism, saying,
"The committee believes that such an effort should never have been intended to prove
what the C.I.A. wanted to prove."
Joe's superiors strongly defend his work and say his words were taken out of context. They
describe him as diligent and professional, an open-minded analyst willing to go the extra
mile to test his theories. "Part of the job of being an analyst is to evaluate
alternative hypotheses and possibilities, to build a case, think of alternatives," a
senior agency official said. "That's what Joe did in this case. If he turned out to
be wrong, that's not an offense. He was expected to be wrong occasionally."
Still, the bureaucratic infighting was by then so widely known that even the Australian
government was aware of it. "U.S. agencies differ on whether aluminum tubes, a
dual-use item sought by Iraq, were meant for gas centrifuges," Australia's
intelligence services wrote in a July 2002 assessment. The same report said the tubes
evidence was "patchy and inconclusive."
There was a mechanism, however, to resolve the dispute. It was called the Joint Atomic
Energy Intelligence Committee, a secret body of experts drawn from across the federal
government. For a half century, Jaeic (pronounced jake) has been called on to resolve
disputes and give authoritative assessments about nuclear intelligence. The committee had
specifically assessed the Iraqi nuclear threat in 1989, 1997 and 1999. An Energy
Department expert was the committee's chairman in 2002, and some department officials say
the C.I.A. opposed calling in Jaeic to mediate the tubes fight.
Not so, agency officials said. In July 2002, they insist, they were the first intelligence
agency to seek Jaeic's intervention. "I personally was concerned about the extent of
the community's disagreement on this and the fact that we weren't getting very far,"
a senior agency official recalled.
The committee held a formal session in early August to discuss the debate, with more than
a dozen experts on both sides in attendance. A second meeting was scheduled for later in
August but was postponed. A third meeting was set for early September; it never happened
"We were O.B.E. - overcome by events," an official involved in the proceedings
White House Makes a Move
"The case of Saddam Hussein, a sworn enemy of our country, requires a candid
appraisal of the facts," Mr. Cheney said on Aug. 26, 2002, at the outset of an
address to the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention in Nashville.
Warning against "wishful thinking or willful blindness," Mr. Cheney used the
speech to lay out a rationale for pre-emptive action against Iraq. Simply resuming United
Nations inspections, he argued, could give "false comfort" that Mr. Hussein was
"We now know Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons," he
declared, words that quickly made headlines worldwide. "Many of us are convinced that
Saddam will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon. Just how soon, we cannot really gauge.
Intelligence is an uncertain business, even in the best of circumstances."
But the world, Mr. Cheney warned, could ill afford to once again underestimate Iraq's
"Armed with an arsenal of these weapons of terror, and seated atop 10 percent of the
world's oil reserves, Saddam Hussein could then be expected to seek domination of the
entire Middle East, take control of a great portion of the world's energy supplies,
directly threaten America's friends throughout the region, and subject the United States
or any other nation to nuclear blackmail."
A week later President Bush announced that he would ask Congress for authorization to oust
Mr. Hussein. He also met that day with senior members of the House and Senate, some of
whom expressed concern that the administration had yet to show the American people
tangible evidence of an imminent threat. The fact that Mr. Hussein gassed his own people
in the 1980's, they argued, was not sufficient evidence of a threat to the United States
President Bush got the message. He directed Mr. Cheney to give the public and Congress a
more complete picture of the latest intelligence on Iraq.
In his Nashville speech, Mr. Cheney had not mentioned the aluminum tubes or any other
fresh intelligence when he said, "We now know that Saddam has resumed his efforts to
acquire nuclear weapons." The one specific source he did cite was Hussein Kamel
al-Majid, a son-in-law of Mr. Hussein's who defected in 1994 after running Iraq's
chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs. But Mr. Majid told American
intelligence officials in 1995 that Iraq's nuclear program had been dismantled. What's
more, Mr. Majid could not have had any insight into Mr. Hussein's current nuclear
activities: he was assassinated in 1996 on his return to Iraq.
The day after President Bush announced he was seeking Congressional authorization, Mr.
Cheney and Mr. Tenet, the director of central intelligence, traveled to Capitol Hill to
brief the four top Congressional leaders. After the 90-minute session, J. Dennis Hastert,
the House speaker, told Fox News that Mr. Cheney had provided new information about
unconventional weapons, and Fox went on to report that one source said the new
intelligence described "just how dangerously close Saddam Hussein has come to
developing a nuclear bomb."
Tom Daschle, the South Dakota Democrat and Senate majority leader, was more cautious.
"What has changed over the course of the last 10 years, that brings this country to
the belief that it has to act in a pre-emptive fashion in invading Iraq?" he asked.
A few days later, on Sept. 8., the lead article on Page 1 of The New York Times gave the
first detailed account of the aluminum tubes. The article cited unidentified senior
administration officials who insisted that the dimensions, specifications and numbers of
tubes sought showed that they were intended for a nuclear weapons program.
"The closer he gets to a nuclear capability, the more credible is his threat to use
chemical and biological weapons," a senior administration official was quoted as
saying. "Nuclear weapons are his hole card."
The article gave no hint of a debate over the tubes.
The White House did much to increase the impact of The Times' article. The morning it was
published, Mr. Cheney went on the NBC News program "Meet the Press" and
confirmed when asked that the tubes were the most alarming evidence behind the
administration's view that Iraq had resumed its nuclear weapons program. The tubes, he
said, had "raised our level of concern." Ms. Rice, the national security
adviser, went on CNN and said the tubes "are only really suited for nuclear weapons
Neither official mentioned that the nation's top nuclear design experts believed
overwhelmingly that the tubes were poorly suited for centrifuges.
Mr. Cheney, who has a history of criticizing officials who disclose sensitive information,
typically refuses to comment when asked about secret intelligence. Yet on this day, with a
Gallup poll showing that 58 percent of Americans did not believe President Bush had done
enough to explain why the United States should act against Iraq, Mr. Cheney spoke openly
about one of the closest held secrets regarding Iraq. Not only did Mr. Cheney draw
attention to the tubes; he did so with a certitude that could not be found in even the
C.I.A.'s assessments. On "Meet the Press," Mr. Cheney said he knew "for
sure" and "in fact" and "with absolute certainty" that Mr.
Hussein was buying equipment to build a nuclear weapon.
"He has reconstituted his nuclear program," Mr. Cheney said flatly.
But in the C.I.A. reports, evidence "suggested" or "could mean" or
"indicates" - a word used in a report issued just weeks earlier. Little if
anything was asserted with absolute certainty. The intelligence community had not yet
concluded that Iraq had indeed reconstituted its nuclear program.
"The vice president's public statements have reflected the evolving judgment of the
intelligence community," Kevin Kellems, Mr. Cheney's spokesman, said in a written
The C.I.A. routinely checks presidential speeches that draw on intelligence reports. This
is how intelligence professionals pull politicians back from factual errors. One such
opportunity came soon after Mr. Cheney's appearance on "Meet the Press." On
Sept. 11, 2002, the White House asked the agency to clear for possible presidential use a
passage on Iraq's nuclear program. The passage included this sentence: "Iraq has made
several attempts to buy high-strength aluminum tubes used in centrifuges to enrich uranium
for nuclear weapons."
The agency did not ask speechwriters to make clear that centrifuges were but one possible
use, that intelligence experts were divided and that the tubes also matched those used in
Iraqi rockets. In fact, according to the Senate's investigation, the agency suggested no
changes at all.
The next day President Bush used virtually identical language when he cited the aluminum
tubes in an address to the United Nations General Assembly.
Dissent, but to Little Effect
The administration's talk of clandestine centrifuges, nuclear blackmail and mushroom
clouds had a powerful political effect, particularly on senators who were facing fall
election campaigns. "When you hear about nuclear weapons, this is the national
security knock-out punch," said Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon who sits on
the Intelligence Committee and ultimately voted against authorizing war.
Even so, it did not take long for questions to surface over the administration's claims
about Mr. Hussein's nuclear capabilities. As it happened, Senator Dianne Feinstein,
another Democratic member of the Intelligence Committee, had visited the International
Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna in August 2002. Officials there, she later recalled, told
her they saw no signs of a revived nuclear weapons program in Iraq.
At that point, the tubes debate was in its 16th month. Yet Mr. Tenet, of the C.I.A., the
man most responsible for briefing President Bush on intelligence, told the committee that
he was unaware until that September of the profound disagreement over critical evidence
that Mr. Bush was citing to world leaders as justification for war.
Even now, committee members from both parties express baffled anger at this possibility.
How could he not know? "I don't even understand it," Olympia Snowe, a Republican
senator from Maine, said in an interview. "I cannot comprehend the failures in
judgment or breakdowns in communication."
Mr. Tenet told Senate investigators that he did not expect to learn of dissenting opinions
"until the issue gets joined" at the highest levels of the intelligence
community. But if Mr. Tenet's lack of knowledge meant the president was given incomplete
information about the tubes, there was still plenty of time for the White House to become
Yet so far, Senate investigators say, they have found little evidence the White House
tried to find out why so many experts disputed the C.I.A. tubes theory. If anything,
administration officials minimized the divide.
On Sept. 13, The Times made the first public mention of the tubes debate in the sixth
paragraph of an article on Page A13. In it an unidentified senior administration official
dismissed the debate as a "footnote, not a split." Citing another unidentified
administration official, the story reported that the "best technical experts and
nuclear scientists at laboratories like Oak Ridge supported the C.I.A. assessments."
As a senior Oak Ridge official pointed out to the Intelligence Committee, "the vast
majority of scientists and nuclear experts" in the Energy Department's laboratories
in fact disagreed with the agency. But on Sept. 13, the day the article appeared, the
Energy Department sent a directive forbidding employees from discussing the subject with
The Energy Department, in a written statement, said that it was "completely
appropriate" to remind employees of the need to protect nuclear secrets and that it
had made no effort "to quash dissent."
In closed hearings that month, though, Congress began to hear testimony about the debate.
Several Democrats said in interviews that secrecy rules had prevented them from speaking
out about the gap between the administration's view of the tubes and the more benign
explanations described in classified testimony.
One senior C.I.A. official recalled cautioning members of Congress in a closed session not
to speak publicly about the possibility that the tubes were for rockets. "If people
start talking about that and the Iraqis see that people are saying rocket bodies, that
will automatically become their explanation whenever anyone goes to Iraq," the
official said in an interview.
So while administration officials spoke freely about the agency's theory, the evidence
that best challenged this view remained almost entirely off limits for public debate.
In late September, the C.I.A. sent policymakers its most detailed classified report on the
tubes. For the first time, an agency report acknowledged that "some in the
intelligence community" believed rockets were "more likely end uses" for
the tubes, according to officials who have seen the report.
Meanwhile, at the Energy Department, scientists were startled to find senior White House
officials embracing a view of the tubes they considered thoroughly discredited. "I
was really shocked in 2002 when I saw it was still there," Dr. Wood, the Oak Ridge
adviser, said of the centrifuge claim. "I thought it had been put to bed."
Members of the Energy Department team took a highly unusual step: They began working
quietly with a Washington arms-control group, the Institute for Science and International
Security, to help the group inform the public about the debate, said one team member and
the group's president, David Albright.
On Sept. 23, the institute issued the first in series of lengthy reports that repeated
some of the Energy Department's arguments against the C.I.A. analysis, though no
classified ones. Still, after more than 16 months of secret debate, it was the first
public airing of facts that undermined the most alarming suggestions about Iraq's nuclear
The reports got little attention, partly because reporters did not realize they had been
done with the cooperation of top Energy Department experts. The Washington Post ran a
brief article about the findings on Page A18. Many major newspapers, including The Times,
ran nothing at all.
Scrambling for an 'Estimate'
Soon after Mr. Cheney's appearance on "Meet the Press," Democratic senators
began pressing for a new National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, terrorism and
unconventional weapons. A National Intelligence Estimate is a classified document that is
supposed to reflect the combined judgment of the entire intelligence community. The last
such estimate had been done in 2000.
Most estimates take months to complete. But this one had to be done in days, in time for
an October vote on a war resolution. There was little time for review or reflection, and
no time for Jaeic, the joint committee, to reconcile deep analytical differences.
This was a potentially thorny obstacle for those writing the nuclear section: What do you
do when the nation's nuclear experts strongly doubt the linchpin evidence behind the
C.I.A.'s claims that Iraq was rebuilding its nuclear weapons program?
The Energy Department helped solve the problem. In meetings on the estimate, senior
department intelligence officials said that while they still did not believe the tubes
were for centrifuges, they nonetheless could agree that Iraq was reconstituting its
nuclear weapons capability.
Several senior scientists inside the department said they were stunned by that stance;
they saw no compelling evidence of a revived nuclear program.
Some laboratory officials blamed time pressure and inexperience. Thomas S. Ryder, the
department's representative at the meetings, had been acting director of the department's
intelligence unit for only five months. "A heck of a nice guy but not savvy on
technical issues," is the way one senior nuclear official described Mr. Ryder, who
Mr. Ryder's position was more alarming than prior assessments from the Energy Department.
In an August 2001 intelligence paper, department analysts warned of suspicious activities
in Iraq that "could be preliminary steps" toward reviving a centrifuge program.
In July 2002 an Energy Department report, "Nuclear Reconstitution Efforts
Underway?", noted that several developments, including Iraq's suspected bid to buy
yellowcake uranium from Niger, suggested Baghdad was "seeking to reconstitute" a
nuclear weapons program.
According to intelligence officials who took part in the meetings, Mr. Ryder justified his
department's now firm position on nuclear reconstitution in large part by citing the Niger
reports. Many C.I.A. analysts considered that intelligence suspect, as did analysts at the
Nevertheless, the estimate's authors seized on the Energy Department's position to avoid
the entire tubes debate, with written dissents relegated to a 10-page annex. The estimate
would instead emphasize that the C.I.A. and the Energy Department both agreed that Mr.
Hussein was rebuilding his nuclear weapons program. Only the closest reader would see that
each agency was basing its assessment in large measure on evidence the other considered
On Oct. 2, nine days before the Senate vote on the war resolution, the new National
Intelligence Estimate was delivered to the Intelligence Committee. The most significant
change from past estimates dealt with nuclear weapons; the new one agreed with Mr. Cheney
that Iraq was in aggressive pursuit of the atomic bomb.
Asked when Mr. Cheney became aware of the disagreements over the tubes, Mr. Kellems, his
spokesman, said, "The vice president knew about the debate at about the time of the
National Intelligence Estimate."
Today, the Intelligence Committee's report makes clear, that 93-page estimate stands as
one of the most flawed documents in the history of American intelligence. The committee
concluded unanimously that most of the major findings in the estimate were wrong,
unfounded or overblown.
This was especially true of the nuclear section.
Estimates express their most important findings with high, moderate or low confidence
levels. This one claimed "moderate confidence" on how fast Iraq could have a
bomb, but "high confidence" that Baghdad was rebuilding its nuclear program. And
the tubes were the leading and most detailed evidence cited in the body of the report.
According to the committee, the passages on the tubes, which adopted much of the C.I.A.
analysis, were misleading and riddled with factual errors.
The estimate, for example, included a chart intended to show that the dimensions of the
tubes closely matched a Zippe centrifuge. Yet the chart omitted the dimensions of Iraq's
81-millimeter rocket, which precisely matched the tubes.
The estimate cited Iraq's alleged willingness to pay top dollar for the tubes, up to
$17.50 each, as evidence they were for secret centrifuges. But Defense Department rocket
engineers told Senate investigators that 7075-T6 aluminum is "the material of choice
for low-cost rocket systems."
The estimate also asserted that 7075-T6 tubes were "poor choices" for rockets.
In fact, similar tubes were used in rockets from several countries, including the United
States, and in an Italian rocket, the Medusa, which Iraq had copied.
Beyond tubes, the estimate cited several other "key judgments" that supported
its assessment. The committee found that intelligence just as flawed.
The estimate, for example, pointed to Iraq's purchases of magnets, balancing machines and
machine tools, all of which could be used in a nuclear program. But each item also had
legitimate non-nuclear uses, and there was no credible intelligence whatsoever showing
they were for a nuclear program.
The estimate said Iraq's Atomic Energy Commission was building new production facilities
for nuclear weapons. The Senate found that claim was based on a single operative's report,
which described how the commission had constructed one headquarters building and planned
"a new high-level polytechnic school."
Finally, the estimate stated that many nuclear scientists had been reassigned to the
A.E.C. The Senate found nothing to back that conclusion. It did, though, discover a 2001
report in which a commission employee complained that Iraq's nuclear program "had
been stalled since the gulf war."
Such "key judgments" are supposed to reflect the very best American
intelligence. (The Niger intelligence, for example, was considered too shaky to be
included as a key judgment.) Yet as they studied raw intelligence reports, those involved
in the Senate investigation came to a sickening realization. "We kept looking at the
intelligence and saying, 'My God, there's nothing here,' " one official recalled.
The Vote for War
Soon after the National Intelligence Estimate was completed, Mr. Bush delivered a speech
in Cincinnati in which he described the "grave threat" that Iraq and its
"arsenal of terror" posed to the United States. He dwelled longest on nuclear
weapons, reviewing much of the evidence outlined in the estimate. The C.I.A. had warned
him away from mentioning Niger.
"Facing clear evidence of peril," the president concluded, "we cannot wait
for the final proof - the smoking gun - that could come in the form of a mushroom
Four days later, on Oct. 11, the Senate voted 77-23 to give Mr. Bush broad authority to
invade Iraq. The resolution stated that Iraq posed "a continuing threat" to the
United States by, among other things, "actively seeking a nuclear weapons
Many senators who voted for the resolution emphasized the nuclear threat.
"The great danger is a nuclear one," Senator Feinstein, the California Democrat,
said on the Senate floor.
But Senator Bob Graham, then chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said he voted against
the resolution in part because of doubts about the tubes. "It reinforced in my mind
pre-existing questions I had about the unreliability of the intelligence community,
especially the C.I.A.," Mr. Graham, a Florida Democrat, said in an interview.
At the Democratic convention in Boston this summer, Senator John Kerry pledged that should
he be elected president, "I will ask hard questions and demand hard evidence."
But in October 2002, when the Senate voted on Iraq, Mr. Kerry had not read the National
Intelligence Estimate, but instead had relied on a briefing from Mr. Tenet, a spokeswoman
said. "According to the C.I.A.'s report, all U.S. intelligence experts agree that
Iraq is seeking nuclear weapons," Mr. Kerry said then, explaining his vote.
"There is little question that Saddam Hussein wants to develop nuclear weapons."
The report cited by Mr. Kerry, an unclassified white paper, said nothing about the tubes
debate except that "some" analysts believed the tubes were "probably
intended" for conventional arms.
"It is common knowledge that Congress does not have the same access as the executive
branch," Brooke Anderson, a Kerry spokeswoman, said yesterday.
Mr. Kerry's running mate, Senator John Edwards, served on the Intelligence Committee,
which gave him ample opportunity to ask hard questions. But in voting to authorize war,
Mr. Edwards expressed no uncertainty about the principal evidence of Mr. Hussein's alleged
"We know that he is doing everything he can to build nuclear weapons," Mr.
Edwards said then.
On Dec. 7, 2002, Iraq submitted a 12,200-page declaration about unconventional arms to the
United Nations that made no mention of the tubes. Soon after, Winpac analysts at the
C.I.A. assessed the declaration for President Bush. The analysts criticized Iraq for
failing to acknowledge or explain why it sought tubes "we believe suitable for use in
a gas centrifuge uranium effort." Nor, they said, did it "acknowledge efforts to
procure uranium from Niger."
Neither Energy Department nor State Department intelligence experts were given a chance to
review the Winpac assessment, prompting complaints that dissenting views were being
withheld from policy makers.
"It is most disturbing that Winpac is essentially directing foreign policy in this
matter," one Energy Department official wrote in an e-mail message. "There are
some very strong points to be made in respect to Iraq's arrogant noncompliance with U.N.
sanctions. However, when individuals attempt to convert those 'strong statements' into the
'knock-out' punch, the administration will ultimately look foolish - i.e., the tubes and
The U.N. Inspectors Return
For nearly two years Western intelligence analysts had been trying to divine from afar
Iraq's plans for the tubes. At the end of 2002, with the resumption of United Nations arms
inspections, it became possible to seek answers inside Iraq. Inspectors from the
International Atomic Energy Agency immediately zeroed in on the tubes.
The team quickly arranged a field trip to the Nasser metal fabrication factory, where they
found 13,000 completed rockets, all produced from 7075-T6 aluminum tubes. The Iraqi rocket
engineers explained that they had been shopping for more tubes because their supply was
Why order tubes with such tight tolerances? An Iraqi engineer said they wanted to improve
the rocket's accuracy without making major design changes. Design documents and
procurement records confirmed his account.
The inspectors solved another mystery. The tubes intercepted in Jordan had been anodized,
given a protective coating. The Iraqis had a simple explanation: they wanted the new tubes
protected from the elements. Sure enough, the inspectors found that many thousands of the
older tubes, which had no special coating, were corroded because they had been stored
The inspectors found no trace of a clandestine centrifuge program. On Jan. 10, 2003, The
Times reported that the international agency was challenging "the key piece of
evidence" behind "the primary rationale for going to war." The article, on
Page A10, also reported that officials at the Energy Department and State Department had
suggested the tubes might be for rockets.
The C.I.A. theory was in trouble, and senior members of the Bush administration seemed to
Also that January, White House officials who were helping to draft what would become
Secretary Powell's speech to the Security Council sent word to the intelligence community
that they believed "the nuclear case was weak," the Senate report said. In an
interview, a senior administration official said it was widely understood all along at the
White House that the evidence of a nuclear threat was piecemeal and weaker than that for
other unconventional arms.
But rather than withdraw the nuclear card - a step that could have undermined United
States credibility just as tens of thousands of troops were being airlifted to the region
- the White House cast about for new arguments and evidence to support it.
Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, asked the intelligence
agencies for more evidence beyond the tubes to bolster the nuclear case. Winpac analysts
redoubled efforts to prove that Iraq was trying to acquire uranium from Africa. When
rocket engineers at the Defense Department were approached by the C.I.A. and asked to
compare the Iraqi tubes with American ones, the engineers said the tubes "were
perfectly usable for rockets." The agency analysts did not appear pleased. One rocket
engineer complained to Senate investigators that the analysts had "an agenda"
and were trying "to bias us" into agreeing that the Iraqi tubes were not fit for
rockets. In interviews, agency officials denied any such effort.
According to the Intelligence Committee report, the agency also sought to undermine the
I.A.E.A.'s work with secret intelligence assessments distributed only to senior policy
makers. Nonetheless, on Jan. 22, in a meeting first reported by The Washington Post, the
ubiquitous Joe flew to Vienna in a last-ditch attempt to bring the international experts
around to his point of view.
The session was a disaster.
"Everybody was embarrassed when he came and made this presentation, embarrassed and
disgusted," one participant said. "We were going insane, thinking, 'Where is he
coming from?' "
On Jan. 27, the international agency rendered its judgment: it told the Security Council
that it had found no evidence of a revived nuclear weapons program in Iraq. "From our
analysis to date," the agency reported, "it appears that the aluminum tubes
would be consistent with the purpose stated by Iraq and, unless modified, would not be
suitable for manufacturing centrifuges."
The Powell Presentation
The next night, during his State of the Union address, President Bush cited I.A.E.A.
findings from years past that confirmed that Mr. Hussein had had an "advanced"
nuclear weapons program in the 1990's. He did not mention the agency's finding from the
He did, though, repeat the claim that Mr. Hussein was trying to buy tubes "suitable
for nuclear weapons production." Mr. Bush also cited British intelligence that Mr.
Hussein had recently sought "significant quantities" of uranium from Africa - a
reference in 16 words that the White House later said should have been stricken, though
the British government now insists the information was credible.
"Saddam Hussein," Mr. Bush said that night, "has not credibly explained
these activities. He clearly has much to hide. The dictator of Iraq is not
A senior administration official involved in vetting the address said Mr. Bush did not
cite the I.A.E.A. conclusion of Jan. 27 because the White House believed the agency was
analyzing old Iraqi tubes, not the newer ones seized in Jordan. But senior officials in
Vienna and Washington said the international group's analysis covered both types of tubes.
The senior administration official also said the president's words were carefully chosen
to reflect the doubts at the Energy Department. The crucial phrase was "suitable for
nuclear weapons production." The phrase stopped short of asserting that the tubes
were actually being used in centrifuges. And it was accurate in the sense that Energy
Department officials always left open the possibility that the tubes could be modified for
use in a centrifuge.
"There were differences," the official said, "and we had to address those
In his address, the president announced that Mr. Powell would go before the Security
Council on Feb. 5 and lay out the intelligence on Iraq's weapons programs. The purpose was
to win international backing for an invasion, and so the administration spent weeks
drafting and redrafting the presentation, with heavy input from the C.I.A., the National
Security Council and I. Lewis Libby, Mr. Cheney's chief of staff.
The Intelligence Committee said some drafts prepared for Mr. Powell contained language on
the tubes that was patently incorrect. The C.I.A. wanted Mr. Powell to say, for example,
that Iraq's specifications for roundness were so exacting "that the tubes would be
rejected as defective if I rolled one under my hand on this table, because the mere
pressure of my hand would deform it."
Intelligence analysts at the State Department waged a quiet battle against much of the
proposed language on tubes. A year before, they had sent Mr. Powell a report explaining
why they believed the tubes were more likely for rockets. The National Intelligence
Estimate included their dissent - that they saw no compelling evidence of a comprehensive
effort to revive a nuclear weapons program. Now, in the days before the Security Council
speech, they sent the secretary detailed memos warning him away from a long list of
assertions in the drafts, the intelligence committee found. The language on the tubes,
they said, contained "egregious errors" and "highly misleading"
claims. Changes were made, language softened. The line about "the mere pressure of my
hand" was removed.
"My colleagues," Mr. Powell assured the Security Council, "every statement
I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions."
He made his way to the subject of Mr. Hussein's current nuclear capabilities.
"By now," he said, "just about everyone has heard of these tubes, and we
all know there are differences of opinion. 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. Other experts and the Iraqis themselves argue that they are really to
produce the rocket bodies for a conventional weapon, a multiple rocket launcher."
But Mr. Powell did not acknowledge that those "other experts" included many of
the nation's most authoritative nuclear experts, some of whom said in interviews that they
were offended to find themselves now lumped in with a reviled government.
In making the case that the tubes were for centrifuges, Mr. Powell made claims that his
own intelligence experts had told him were not accurate. Mr. Powell, for example, asserted
to the Security Council that the tubes were manufactured to a tolerance "that far
exceeds U.S. requirements for comparable rockets."
Yet in a memo written two days earlier, Mr. Powell's intelligence experts had specifically
cautioned him about those very same words. "In fact," they explained, "the
most comparable U.S. system is a tactical rocket - the U.S. Mark 66 air-launched
70-millimeter rocket - that uses the same, high-grade (7075-T6) aluminum, and that has
specifications with similar tolerances."
In the end, Mr. Powell put his personal prestige and reputation behind the C.I.A.'s tube
"When we came to the aluminum tubes," Richard A. Boucher, the State Department
spokesman, said in an interview, "the secretary listened to the discussion of the
various views among intelligence agencies, and reflected those issues in his presentation.
Since his task at the U.N. was to present the views of the United States, he went with the
overall judgment of the intelligence community as reflected by the director of central
As Mr. Powell summed it up for the United Nations, "People will continue to debate
this issue, but there is no doubt in my mind these illicit procurement efforts show that
Saddam Hussein is very much focused on putting in place the key missing piece from his
nuclear weapons program: the ability to produce fissile material."
Six weeks later, the war began.
This article was reported by David Barstow, William J. Broad and Jeff Gerth, and was
written by Mr. Barstow.
Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company