A review of some of the media reports published in May and June of 2003 show that the US knew -- almost instantaneously -- that the trailers found in Iraq were for artillery balloons not WMDs. At this time, Bush was under massive public criticism worldwide as no WMDs had been found in Iraq since Bush declared mission accomplished in May 2003. Congress even had bipartisan support for congressional hearings to probe whether Bush cherry-picked and manipulated the intelligence to make his case for war.
The Bush administration responded to this pressure by jumping at the only scintilla of WMD evidence, the trailers. Bush made a definitive, unequivocal statement that the US had found WMDs.
And, the CIA dutifully complied with a rushed report that ignored the evidence and protocol, classified and shelved contrary government reports and pressured civilian experts to change their conclusions.
(1) Excluding the DIA/CIA report, there was unanimous agreement by scientist and engineer experts that the trailers were for artillery balloons, not WMD production.
A Pentagon team of experts was assembled and flown to Iraq to personally examine and analyze the trailers because Iraqi sources who had seen photographs of the trailers disagreed whether the trailers were for balloons or WMDs. The Pentagon team of 9 US/British experts of civilian scientists and engineers commenced analysis in Iraq on May 25th. One team member said that "within the first four hours, it was clear to everyone that these were not biological labs." Two days later, the team filed unanimous, unequivocal findings in a 3-page field report that trailers were not for WMDs but military weather balloons.
The British press reported that the trailers were not WMD labs but artillery balloons that were part of a system Britain sold to Iraq in 1987. Chemical weapons experts, chemists and military systems experts concluded that the layout and equipment found on the trailers was "entirely inconsistent with the vehicles being mobile labs."
(2) The DIA/CIA white paper was rushed to print its predetermined conclusion before completing its own investigation, which deviated from the usual protocols.
Prior to Bush's public pronouncement that the "WMD trailers" had been found in Iraq, the Pentagon experts who had conducted on-site inspections and analysis of the trailers had sent on May 27th to Washington its initial report that the trailers were not WMD labs. The word, and panic, spread through DC government offices. Within 24 hours, the CIA published its white paper on its Web site and then Bush issued his public statement the next day.
The CIA deviated from general investigation and reporting procedures in this case. The CIA completed writing its white paper from the comfort of US offices without having personally viewed or analyzed the trailers in Iraq. The CIA did not follow normal protocol of conferring with the other US intelligence agencies. The CIA issued its paper before the team of Pentagon civilian experts had issued its final report 3 weeks later and before the DIA's own engineering experts had returned from Iraq or issued their report. While Bush's practice is to classify and keep secret its "intelligence" for the war, the CIA rushed to download its report on the Internet before the Pentagon experts returned home with their reports.
While the White House claimed that it did not pressure the intelligence community either in the substantive content or timing of the CIA/DIA white paper, the intelligence community had not completed its investigation before the white paper was released to the public. On June 7, 2003, the "intelligence community was still scrambling to analyze the trailers, suggesting that the white paper may have been premature. They said laboratories in the Middle East and the United States were now analyzing more than 100 samples from the trailers to verify the intelligence findings."
The CIA report reached a predetermined conclusion. The CIA's finding was "based largely on the trailers' similarity to descriptions of mobile labs given by Iraqi defectors before the war." This is the exact conclusion reached by the US government when the 2nd trailer was found May 13, 2003. Without citing specific evidence, a military official stated there was "pretty conclusive evidence" that the trailer was a "mobile chemical weapons lab." The US position at the time was that the "trailer matched descriptions of mobile biological laboratories provided by an Iraqi defector."
Even the CIA acknowledged that its conclusion was weak because if the trailers were for WMDs, the trailers had an "inefficient design and contained chemicals unrelated to making biological agents." Yet, the CIA concluded that the only plausible explanation was that the trailers were WMD labs. However, while the CIA rejected Iraqi claims that the trailers were for weather balloons as a far-fetched idea, the US Army had "its own fleet of vehicles designed for precisely the same purpose."
(3) Contrary government reports on the trailers were ignored by the Bush administration and kept secret from the public until leaked to the media, but remain classified.
To permit the Bush administration to continue proclaiming the trailers as WMD factories for nearly a year after the Pentagon team issued its report to the contrary, dissenting views were pressured to change their reports, and, if not, those reports simply remained classified. While the Bush administration claims it has not interfered or pressured analysts or manipulated intelligence, the Pentagon's expert team were pressed to change their conclusions which did not support Bush's prewar claims or his recent unequivocal statements. The team issued a final report 3 weeks later with its contrary conclusion, and the report was classified and shelved.
Additional dissenting reports were issued by the State Dept. intelligence division and the DIA engineers. In a classified June 2nd memorandum, the State Dept. disputed the CIA's conclusion, stating it was premature to find the trailers were WMD labs, as Bush had done. On June 15, 2003, an official British investigation conducted by biological weapons experts concluded that the 2 trailers were not mobile germ warfare labs but harmless trailers for the production of hydrogen for artillery balloons. And, on August 8, 2003, it was reported that the classified findings by a majority of DIA engineering experts concluded that the trailers were for weather balloons, not biological weapons. The DIA's engineering teams had not finished their work in Iraq at the time the CIA/DIA white paper was drafted, so their views were not considered. The question of why the CIA/DIA white paper was issued before the engineers work was completed was subjected to DIA's inspector general for inquiry.
Aside from a few media reports not well publicized, the only evidence on the issue of the trailers was the CIA report as the other reports were classified. This permitted then-National Security Advisor Rice to blanket the airwaves in early June to argue that the trailers constituted WMD evidence and so closely matched their prewar case that the critics should now back off. In short, another mission to manipulate intelligence and deceive the public had been accomplished.
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