name was Joe, from the U.S. government. He
carried 40 classified slides and a message
from the Bush administration.
engineer-turned-CIA analyst, Joe had helped
build the U.S. government case that Iraq posed
a nuclear threat. He landed in Vienna on Jan.
22 and drove to the U.S. diplomatic mission
downtown. In a conference room 32 floors above
the Danube River, he told United Nations nuclear
inspectors they were making a serious mistake.
At issue was Iraq's efforts to buy high-strength
aluminum tubes. The U.S. government said those
tubes were for centrifuges to enrich uranium
for a nuclear bomb. But the IAEA, the world's
nuclear watchdog, had uncovered strong evidence
that Iraq was using them for conventional
Joe described the rocket story as a transparent
Iraqi lie. According to people familiar with
his presentation, which circulated before
and afterward among government and outside
specialists, Joe said the specialized aluminum
in the tubes was "overspecified," "inappropriate"
and "excessively strong." No one, he told
the inspectors, would waste the costly alloy
on a rocket.
fact, there was just such a rocket. According
to knowledgeable U.S. and overseas sources,
experts from U.S. national laboratories reported
in December to the Energy Department and U.S.
intelligence analysts that Iraq was manufacturing
copies of the Italian-made Medusa 81. Not
only the Medusa's alloy, but also its dimensions,
to the fraction of a millimeter, matched the
disputed aluminum tubes.
CIA spokesman asked that Joe's last name be
withheld for his safety, and said he would
not be made available for an interview. The
spokesman said the tubes in question "are
not the same as the Medusa 81" but would not
identify what distinguishes them. In an interview,
CIA Director George J. Tenet said several
different U.S. intelligence agencies believed
the tubes could be used to build gas centrifuges
for a uranium enrichment program.
The Vienna briefing was one among many private
and public forums in which the Bush administration
portrayed a menacing Iraqi nuclear threat,
even as important features of its evidence
were being undermined. There were other White
House assertions about forbidden weapons programs,
including biological and chemical arms, for
which there was consensus among analysts.
But the danger of a nuclear-armed Saddam Hussein,
more potent as an argument for war, began
with weaker evidence and grew weaker still
in the three months before war.
This article is based on interviews with analysts
and policymakers inside and outside the U.S.
government, and access to internal documents
and technical evidence not previously made
The new information indicates a pattern in
which President Bush, Vice President Cheney
and their subordinates -- in public and behind
the scenes -- made allegations depicting Iraq's
nuclear weapons program as more active, more
certain and more imminent in its threat than
the data they had would support. On occasion
administration advocates withheld evidence
that did not conform to their views. The White
House seldom corrected misstatements or acknowledged
loss of confidence in information upon which
it had previously relied:
Bush and others often alleged that President
Hussein held numerous meetings with Iraqi
nuclear scientists, but did not disclose that
the known work of the scientists was largely
benign. Iraq's three top gas centrifuge experts,
for example, ran a copper factory, an operation
to extract graphite from oil and a mechanical
engineering design center at Rashidiya.
The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) of
October 2002 cited new construction at facilities
once associated with Iraq's nuclear program,
but analysts had no reliable information at
the time about what was happening under the
roofs. By February, a month before the war,
U.S. government specialists on the ground
in Iraq had seen for themselves that there
were no forbidden activities at the sites.
Gas centrifuge experts consulted by the U.S.
government said repeatedly for more than a
year that the aluminum tubes were not suitable
or intended for uranium enrichment. By December
2002, the experts said new evidence had further
undermined the government's assertion. The
Bush administration portrayed the scientists
as a minority and emphasized that the experts
did not describe the centrifuge theory as
In the weeks and months following Joe's Vienna
briefing, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell
and others continued to describe the use of
such tubes for rockets as an implausible hypothesis,
even after U.S. analysts collected and photographed
in Iraq a virtually identical tube marked
with the logo of the Medusa's Italian manufacturer
and the words, in English, "81mm rocket."
The escalation of nuclear rhetoric a year
ago, including the introduction of the term
"mushroom cloud" into the debate, coincided
with the formation of a White House Iraq Group,
or WHIG, a task force assigned to "educate
the public" about the threat from Hussein,
as a participant put it.
Two senior policymakers, who supported the
war, said in unauthorized interviews that
the administration greatly overstated Iraq's
near-term nuclear potential.
never cared about the 'imminent threat,' "
said one of the policymakers, with directly
relevant responsibilities. "The threat was
there in [Hussein's] presence in office. To
me, just knowing what it takes to have a nuclear
weapons program, he needed a lot of equipment.
You can stare at the yellowcake [uranium ore]
all you want. You need to convert it to gas
and enrich it. That does not constitute an
imminent threat, and the people who were saying
that, I think, did not fully appreciate the
difficulties and effort involved in producing
the nuclear material and the physics package."
No White House, Pentagon or State Department
policymaker agreed to speak on the record
for this report about the administration's
nuclear case. Answering questions Thursday
before the National Association of Black Journalists,
national security adviser Condoleezza Rice
said she is "certain to this day that this
regime was a threat, that it was pursuing
a nuclear weapon, that it had biological and
chemical weapons, that it had used them."
White House officials referred all questions
of detail to Tenet.
In an interview and a four-page written statement,
Tenet defended the NIE prepared under his
supervision in October. In that estimate,
U.S. intelligence analysts judged that Hussein
was intent on acquiring a nuclear weapon and
was trying to rebuild the capability to make
"We stand behind the judgments of the NIE"
based on the evidence available at the time,
Tenet said, and "the soundness and integrity
of our process." The estimate was "the product
of years of reporting and intelligence collection,
analyzed by numerous experts in several different
Tenet said the time to "decide who was right
and who was wrong" about prewar intelligence
will not come until the Iraqi Survey Group,
the CIA-directed, U.S. military postwar study
in Iraq of Hussein's weapons of mass destruction
programs is completed. The Bush administration
has said this will require months or years.
Facts and Doubts
The possibility of a nuclear-armed Iraq loomed
large in the Bush administration's efforts
to convince the American public of the need
for a preemptive strike. Beginning last August,
Cheney portrayed Hussein's nuclear ambitions
as a "mortal threat" to the United States.
In the fall and winter, Rice, then Bush, marshaled
the dreaded image of a "mushroom cloud."
By many accounts, including those of career
officials who did not support the war, there
were good reasons for concern that the Iraqi
president might revive a program to enrich
uranium to weapons grade and fabricate a working
bomb. He had a well-demonstrated aspiration
for nuclear weapons, a proficient scientific
and engineering cadre, a history of covert
development and a domestic supply of unrefined
uranium ore. Iraq was generally believed to
have kept the technical documentation for
two advanced German centrifuge designs and
the assembly diagrams for at least one type
of "implosion device," which detonates a nuclear
What Hussein did not have was the principal
requirement for a nuclear weapon, a sufficient
quantity of highly enriched uranium or plutonium.
And the U.S. government, authoritative intelligence
officials said, had only circumstantial evidence
that Iraq was trying to obtain those materials.
But the Bush administration had reasons to
imagine the worst. The CIA had faced searing
criticism for its failures to foresee India's
resumption of nuclear testing in 1998 and
to "connect the dots" pointing to al Qaeda's
attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Cheney, the administration's
most influential advocate of a worst-case
analysis, had been powerfully influenced by
his experience as defense secretary just after
the Persian Gulf War of 1991.
Former National Security Council official
Richard A. Clarke recalled how information
from freshly seized Iraqi documents disclosed
the existence of a "crash program" to build
a bomb in 1991. The CIA had known nothing
"I can understand why that was a seminal experience
for Cheney," Clarke said. "And when the CIA
says [in 2002], 'We don't have any evidence,'
his reaction is . . . 'We didn't have any
evidence in 1991, either. Why should I believe
you now?' "
Some strategists, in and out of government,
argued that the uncertainty itself -- in the
face of circumstantial evidence -- was sufficient
to justify "regime change." But that was not
what the Bush administration usually said
to the American people.
To gird a nation for the extraordinary step
of preemptive war -- and to obtain the minimum
necessary support from allies, Congress and
the U.N. Security Council -- the administration
described a growing, even imminent, nuclear
threat from Iraq.
The unveiling of that message began a year
ago this week.
raised the alarm about Iraq's nuclear menace
three times in August. He was far ahead of
the president's public line. Only Bush and
Cheney know, one senior policy official said,
"whether Cheney was trying to push the president
or they had decided to play good cop, bad
On Aug. 7, Cheney volunteered in a question-and-answer
session at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco,
speaking of Hussein, that "left to his own
devices, it's the judgment of many of us that
in the not-too-distant future, he will acquire
nuclear weapons." On Aug. 26, he described
Hussein as a "sworn enemy of our country"
who constituted a "mortal threat" to the United
States. He foresaw a time in which Hussein
could "subject the United States or any other
nation to nuclear blackmail."
"We now know that Saddam has resumed his efforts
to acquire nuclear weapons," he said. "Among
other sources, we've gotten this from firsthand
testimony from defectors, including Saddam's
That was a reference to Hussein Kamel, who
had managed Iraq's special weapons programs
before defecting in 1995 to Jordan. But Saddam
Hussein lured Kamel back to Iraq, and he was
killed in February 1996, so Kamel could not
have sourced what U.S. officials "now know."
And Kamel's testimony, after defecting, was
the reverse of Cheney's description. In one
of many debriefings by U.S., Jordanian and
U.N. officials, Kamel said on Aug. 22, 1995,
that Iraq's uranium enrichment programs had
not resumed after halting at the start of
the Gulf War in 1991. According to notes typed
for the record by U.N. arms inspector Nikita
Smidovich, Kamel acknowledged efforts to design
three different warheads, "but not now, before
the Gulf War."
'Educating the Public'
Systematic coordination began in August, when
Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. formed the
White House Iraq Group, or WHIG, to set strategy
for each stage of the confrontation with Baghdad.
A senior official who participated in its
work called it "an internal working group,
like many formed for priority issues, to make
sure each part of the White House was fulfilling
In an interview with the New York Times published
Sept. 6, Card did not mention the WHIG but
hinted at its mission. "From a marketing point
of view, you don't introduce new products
in August," he said.
The group met weekly in the Situation Room.
Among the regular participants were Karl Rove,
the president's senior political adviser;
communications strategists Karen Hughes, Mary
Matalin and James R. Wilkinson; legislative
liaison Nicholas E. Calio; and policy advisers
led by Rice and her deputy, Stephen J. Hadley,
along with I. Lewis Libby, Cheney's chief
The first days of September would bring some
of the most important decisions of the prewar
period: what to demand of the United Nations
in the president's Sept. 12 address to the
General Assembly, when to take the issue to
Congress, and how to frame the conflict with
Iraq in the midterm election campaign that
began in earnest after Labor Day.
A "strategic communications" task force under
the WHIG began to plan speeches and white
papers. There were many themes in the coming
weeks, but Iraq's nuclear menace was among
the most prominent.
'A Mushroom Cloud'
The day after publication of Card's marketing
remark, Bush and nearly all his top advisers
began to talk about the dangers of an Iraqi
Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair conferred
at Camp David that Saturday, Sept. 7, and
they each described alarming new evidence.
Blair said proof that the threat is real came
in "the report from the International Atomic
Energy Agency this morning, showing what has
been going on at the former nuclear weapon
sites." Bush said "a report came out of the
. . . IAEA, that they [Iraqis] were six months
away from developing a weapon. I don't know
what more evidence we need."
There was no new IAEA report. Blair appeared
to be referring to news reports describing
curiosity at the nuclear agency about repairs
at sites of Iraq's former nuclear program.
Bush cast as present evidence the contents
of a report from 1996, updated in 1998 and
1999. In those accounts, the IAEA described
the history of an Iraqi nuclear weapons program
that arms inspectors had systematically destroyed.
A White House spokesman later acknowledged
that Bush "was imprecise" on his source but
stood by the crux of his charge. The spokesman
said U.S. intelligence, not the IAEA, had
given Bush his information.
too, was garbled at best. U.S. intelligence
reports had only one scenario for an Iraqi
bomb in six months to a year, premised on
Iraq's immediate acquisition of enough plutonium
or enriched uranium from a foreign source.
"That is just about the same thing as saying
that if Iraq gets a bomb, it will have a bomb,"
said a U.S. intelligence analyst who covers
the subject. "We had no evidence for it."
Two debuts took place on Sept. 8: the aluminum
tubes and the image of "a mushroom cloud."
A Sunday New York Times story quoted anonymous
officials as saying the "diameter, thickness
and other technical specifications" of the
tubes -- precisely the grounds for skepticism
among nuclear enrichment experts -- showed
that they were "intended as components of
No one knows when Iraq will have its weapon,
the story said, but "the first sign of a 'smoking
gun,' they argue, may be a mushroom cloud."
Top officials made the rounds of Sunday talk
shows that morning. Rice's remarks echoed
the newspaper story. She said on CNN's "Late
Edition" that Hussein was "actively pursuing
a nuclear weapon" and that the tubes -- described
repeatedly in U.S. intelligence reports as
"dual-use" items -- were "only really suited
for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs."
"There will always be some uncertainty about
how quickly he can acquire nuclear weapons,"
Rice added, "but we don't want the smoking
gun to be a mushroom cloud."
Perez, a communications adviser to Rice, said
Rice did not come looking for an opportunity
to say that. "There was nothing in her mind
that said, 'I have to push the nuclear issue,'
" Perez said, "but Wolf [Blitzer] asked the
Powell, a confidant said, found it "disquieting
when people say things like mushroom clouds."
But he contributed in other ways to the message.
When asked about biological and chemical arms
on Fox News, he brought up nuclear weapons
and cited the "specialized aluminum tubing"
that "we saw in reporting just this morning."
on NBC's "Meet the Press," also mentioned
the tubes and said "increasingly, we believe
the United States will become the target"
of an Iraqi nuclear weapon. Defense Secretary
Donald H. Rumsfeld, on CBS's "Face the Nation,"
asked listeners to "imagine a September 11th
with weapons of mass destruction," which would
kill "tens of thousands of innocent men, women
Bush evoked the mushroom cloud on Oct. 7,
and on Nov. 12 Gen. Tommy R. Franks, chief
of U.S. Central Command, said inaction might
bring "the sight of the first mushroom cloud
on one of the major population centers on
In its initial meetings, Card's Iraq task
force ordered a series of white papers. After
a general survey of Iraqi arms violations,
the first of the single-subject papers --
never published -- was "A Grave and Gathering
Danger: Saddam Hussein's Quest for Nuclear
Wilkinson, at the time White House deputy
director of communications for planning, gathered
a yard-high stack of intelligence reports
and press clippings.
said he conferred with experts from the National
Security Council and Cheney's office. Other
officials said Will Tobey and Susan Cook,
working under senior director for counterproliferation
Robert Joseph, made revisions and circulated
some of the drafts. Under the standard NSC
review process, they checked the facts.
In its later stages, the draft white paper
coincided with production of a National Intelligence
Estimate and its unclassified summary. But
the WHIG, according to three officials who
followed the white paper's progress, wanted
gripping images and stories not available
in the hedged and austere language of intelligence.
The fifth draft of the paper was obtained
by The Washington Post. White House spokesmen
dismissed the draft as irrelevant because
Rice decided not to publish it. Wilkinson
said Rice and Joseph felt the paper "was not
The document offers insight into the Bush
administration's priorities and methods in
shaping a nuclear message. The white paper
was assembled by some of the same team, and
at the same time, as the speeches and talking
points prepared for the president and top
officials. A senior intelligence official
said last October that the president's speechwriters
took "literary license" with intelligence,
a phrase applicable to language used by administration
officials in some of the white paper's most
emotive and misleading assertions elsewhere.
The draft white paper precedes other known
instances in which the Bush administration
considered the now-discredited claim that
Iraq "sought uranium oxide, an essential ingredient
in the enrichment process, from Africa." For
a speechwriter, uranium was valuable as an
image because anyone could see its connection
to an atomic bomb. Despite warnings from intelligence
analysts, the uranium would return again and
again, including the Jan. 28 State of the
Union address and three other Bush administration
statements that month.
Other errors and exaggerations in public White
House claims were repeated, or had their first
mention, in the white paper.
Much as Blair did at Camp David, the paper
attributed to U.N. arms inspectors a statement
that satellite photographs show "many signs
of the reconstruction and acceleration of
the Iraqi nuclear program." Inspectors did
not say that. The paper also quoted the first
half of a sentence from a Time magazine interview
with U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix:
"You can see hundreds of new roofs in these
photos." The second half of the sentence,
not quoted, was: "but you don't know what's
As Bush did, the white paper cited the IAEA's
description of Iraq's defunct nuclear program
in language that appeared to be current. The
draft said, for example, that "since the beginning
of the nineties, Saddam has launched a crash
program to divert nuclear reactor fuel for
. . . nuclear weapons." The crash program
began in late 1990 and ended with the war
in January 1991. The reactor fuel, save for
waste products, is gone.
'Footnotes and Disclaimers'
A senior intelligence official said the White
House preferred to avoid a National Intelligence
Estimate, a formal review of competing evidence
and judgments, because it knew "there were
disagreements over details in almost every
aspect of the administration's case against
Iraq." The president's advisers, the official
said, did not want "a lot of footnotes and
But Bush needed bipartisan support for war-making
authority in Congress. In early September,
members of the Senate Select Committee on
Intelligence began asking why there had been
no authoritative estimate of the danger posed
by Iraq. Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) wrote
Sept. 9 of his "concern that the views of
the U.S. intelligence community are not receiving
adequate attention by policymakers in both
Congress and the executive branch." When Sen.
Bob Graham (D-Fla.), then committee chairman,
insisted on an NIE in a classified letter
two days later, Tenet agreed.
Explicitly intended to assist Congress in
deciding whether to authorize war, the estimate
was produced in two weeks, an extraordinary
deadline for a document that usually takes
months. Tenet said in an interview that "we
had covered parts of all those programs over
10 years through NIEs and other reports, and
we had a ton of community product on all these
Even so, the intelligence community was now
in a position of giving its first coordinated
answer to a question that every top national
security official had already answered. "No
one outside the intelligence community told
us what to say or not to say," Tenet wrote
in reply to questions for this article.
The U.S. government possessed no specific
information on Iraqi efforts to acquire enriched
uranium, according to six people who participated
in preparing for the estimate. It knew only
that Iraq sought to buy equipment of the sort
that years of intelligence reports had said
"may be" intended for or "could be" used in
Richard J. Kerr, a former CIA deputy director
now leading a review of the agency's intelligence
analysis about Iraq, said in an interview
that the CIA collected almost no hard information
about Iraq's weapons programs after the departure
of IAEA and U.N. Special Commission, or UNSCOM,
arms inspectors during the Clinton administration.
He said that was because of a lack of spies
Tenet took issue with that view, saying in
an interview, "When inspectors were pushed
out in 1998, we did not sit back. . . . The
fact is we made significant professional progress."
In his written statement, he cited new evidence
on biological and missile programs, but did
not mention Hussein's nuclear pursuits.
The estimate's "Key Judgment" said: "Although
we assess that Saddam does not yet have nuclear
weapons or sufficient material to make any,
he remains intent on acquiring them. Most
agencies assess that Baghdad started reconstituting
its nuclear program about the time that UNSCOM
inspectors departed -- December 1998."
According to Kerr, the analysts had good reasons
to say that, but the reasons were largely
Hussein was known to have met with some weapons
physicists, and praised them as "nuclear mujaheddin."
But the CIA had "reasonably good intelligence
in terms of the general activities and whereabouts"
of those scientists, said another analyst
with the relevant clearances, and knew they
had generally not reassembled into working
groups. In a report to Congress in 2001, the
agency could conclude only that some of the
scientists "probably" had "continued at least
low-level theoretical R&D [research and development]
associated with its nuclear program."
Analysts knew Iraq had tried recently to buy
magnets, high-speed balancing machines, machine
tools and other equipment that had some potential
for use in uranium enrichment, though no less
for conventional industry. Even assuming the
intention, the parts could not all be made
to fit a coherent centrifuge model. The estimate
acknowledged that "we lack specific information
on many key aspects" of the program, and analysts
presumed they were seeing only the tip of
'He Made a Name'
According to outside scientists and intelligence
officials, the most important factor in the
CIA's nuclear judgment was Iraq's attempt
to buy high-strength aluminum tubes. The tubes
were the core evidence for a centrifuge program
tied to building a nuclear bomb. Even circumstantially,
the CIA reported no indication of uranium
enrichment using anything but centrifuges.
That interpretation of the tubes was a victory
for the man named Joe, who made the issue
his personal crusade. He worked in the gas
centrifuge program at Oak Ridge National Laboratory
in the early 1980s. He is not, associates
said, a nuclear physicist, but an engineer
whose work involved the platform upon which
centrifuges were mounted.
At some point he joined the CIA. By the end
of the 1990s, according to people who know
him casually, he worked in export controls.
Joe played an important role in discovering
Iraq's plans to buy aluminum tubes from China
in 2000, with an Australian intermediary.
U.N. sanctions forbade Iraq to buy anything
with potential military applications, and
members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, a
voluntary alliance, include some forms of
aluminum tubing on their list of equipment
that could be used for uranium enrichment.
Joe saw the tubes as centrifuge rotors that
could be used to process uranium into weapons-grade
material. In a gas centrifuge, the rotor is
a thin-walled cylinder, open at both ends,
that spins at high speed under a magnet. The
device extracts the material used in a weapon
from a gaseous form of uranium.
In July 2001, about 3,000 tubes were intercepted
in Jordan on their way to Iraq, a big step
forward in the agency's efforts to understand
what Iraq was trying to do. The CIA gave Joe
an award for exceptional performance, throwing
its early support to an analysis that helped
change the agency's mind about Iraq's pursuit
of nuclear ambitions.
"He grabbed that information early on, and
he made a name for himself," a career U.S.
government nuclear expert said.
'Stretches the Imagination'
Doubts about Joe's theory emerged quickly
among the government's centrifuge physicists.
The intercepted tubes were too narrow, long
and thick-walled to fit a known centrifuge
design. Aluminum had not been used for rotors
since the 1950s. Iraq had two centrifuge blueprints,
stolen in Europe, that were far more efficient
and already known to work. One used maraging
steel, a hard steel alloy, for the rotors,
the other carbon fiber.
Joe and his supporters said the apparent drawbacks
were part of Iraq's concealment plan. Hussein's
history of covert weapons development, Tenet
said in his written statement, included "built-in
"This is a case where different people had
honorable and different interpretations of
intentions," said an Energy Department analyst
who has reviewed the raw data. "If you go
to a nuclear [counterproliferation official]
and say I've got these aluminum tubes, and
it's about Iraq, his first inclination is
to say it's for nuclear use."
But the government's centrifuge scientists
-- at the Energy Department's Oak Ridge National
Laboratory and its sister institutions --
unanimously regarded this possibility as implausible.
In late 2001, experts at Oak Ridge asked an
alumnus, Houston G. Wood III, to review the
controversy. Wood, founder of the Oak Ridge
centrifuge physics department, is widely acknowledged
to be among the most eminent living experts.
Speaking publicly for the first time, Wood
said in an interview that "it would have been
extremely difficult to make these tubes into
centrifuges. It stretches the imagination
to come up with a way. I do not know any real
centrifuge experts that feel differently."
an academic, 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 of how you do that. Because I
don't see how you do it."
A CIA spokesman said the agency does have
support for its view from centrifuge experts.
He declined to elaborate.
In the last week of September, the development
of the NIE required a resolution of the running
disagreement over the significance of the
tubes. The Energy Department had one vote.
Four agencies -- with specialties including
eavesdropping, maps and foreign military forces
-- judged that the tubes were part of a centrifuge
program that could be used for nuclear weapons.
Only the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence
and Research joined the judgment of the Energy
Department. The estimate, as published, said
that "most analysts" believed the tubes were
suitable and intended for a centrifuge cascade.
Majority votes make poor science, said Peter
D. Zimmerman, a former chief scientist at
the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.
"In this case, the experts were at Z Division
at Livermore [Lawrence Livermore National
Laboratory] and in DOE intelligence here in
town, and they were convinced that no way
in hell were these likely to be centrifuge
tubes," he said.
Tenet said the Department of Energy was not
the only agency with experts on the issue;
the CIA consulted military battlefield rocket
experts, as well as its own centrifuge experts.
On Feb. 5, two weeks after Joe's Vienna briefing,
Powell gave what remains the government's
most extensive account of the aluminum tubes,
in an address to the U.N. Security Council.
He did not mention the existence of the Medusa
rocket or its Iraqi equivalent, though he
acknowledged disagreement among U.S. intelligence
analysts about the use of the tubes.
Powell's CIA briefers, using data originating
with Joe, told him that Iraq had "overspecified"
requirements for the tubes, increasing expense
without making them more useful to rockets.
That helped persuade Powell, a confidant said,
that Iraq had some other purpose for the tubes.
"Maybe Iraqis just manufacture their conventional
weapons to a higher standard than we do, but
I don't think so," Powell said in his speech.
He said different batches "seized clandestinely
before they reached Iraq" showed a "progression
to higher and higher levels of specification,
including in the latest batch an anodized
coating on extremely smooth inner and outer
surfaces. . . . Why would they continue refining
the specification, go to all that trouble
for something that, if it was a rocket, would
soon be blown into shrapnel when it went off?"
An anodized coating is actually a strong argument
for use in rockets, according to several scientists
in and out of government. It resists corrosion
of the sort that ruined Iraq's previous rocket
supply. To use the tubes in a centrifuge,
experts told the government, Iraq would have
to remove the anodized coating.
Iraq did change some specifications from order
to order, the procurement records show, but
there is not a clear progression to higher
precision. One tube sample was rejected because
its interior was unfinished, too uneven to
be used in a rocket body. After one of Iraq's
old tubes got stuck in a launcher and exploded,
Baghdad's subsequent orders asked for more
precision in roundness.
U.S. and European analysts said they had obtained
records showing that Italy's Medusa rocket
has had its specifications improved 10 times
since 1978. Centrifuge experts said in interviews
that the variations had little or no significance
for uranium enrichment, especially because
the CIA's theory supposes Iraq would do extensive
machining to adapt the tubes as rotors.
For rockets, however, the tubes fit perfectly.
Experts from U.S. national labs, working temporarily
with U.N. inspectors in Iraq, observed production
lines for the rockets at the Nasser factory
north of Baghdad. Iraq had run out of body
casings at about the time it ordered the aluminum
tubes, according to officials familiar with
the experts' reports. Thousands of warheads,
motors and fins were crated at the assembly
lines, awaiting the arrival of tubes.
U.S. experts," Powell asserted, "think they
are intended to serve as rotors in centrifuges
used to enrich uranium." He said "other experts,
and the Iraqis themselves," said the tubes
were really for rockets.
Wood, the centrifuge physicist, said "that
was a personal slam at everybody in DOE,"
the Energy Department. "I've been grouped
with the Iraqis, is what it amounts to. I
just felt that the wording of that was probably
intentional, but it was also not very kind.
It did not recognize that dissent can exist."
Staff writers Glenn Kessler, Dana Priest
and Richard Morin and staff researchers Lucy
Shackelford, Madonna Lebling and Robert Thomason
contributed to this report.
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