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The Raw Story November 10, 2005

Powell told senator he'd reveal details about case for war in Iraq after both left office, sources say

By Larisa Alexandrovna and Jason Leopold

President Bush’s former Secretary of State, Colin Powell, may have known that the case for military action in Iraq was thin before he presented it to the United Nations, RAW STORY has learned.

In an interview earlier this year, Powell told ABC News’s Barbara Walters that he felt misled by the intelligence community and found the entire experience of presenting questionable information to the United Nations to be “painful.”

“George Tenet did not sit there for five days with me misleading me," he said. “He believed what he was giving to me was accurate.”

But according to individuals familiar with Powell’s conversations in the days leading up to his UN presentation, an exchange between Powell and the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joseph Biden (D-DE), indicates that the Secretary may have already had issue with the evidence presented for going to war with Iraq.

Several days prior to his UN presentation, then-Secretary Powell had a private conversation with Sen. Biden, sources familiar with the Secretary's account say.

During this conversation, Biden reiterated much of what he had said during the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s hearing on the evidence as presented by Powell deputy Richard Armitage. According to sources, Biden expressed his concerns to Powell about the reliability of the evidence, and encouraged the Secretary to speak only about intelligence that he was sure of.

“Mr. Secretary, tell them what you know,” Biden said, according to those familiar with the conversation.

“…When we are both out of office for two years, I will tell you what is going on here,” they say Powell replied.

One individual familiar with the conversation said it suggested Powell had personal reservations about the intelligence.

Senator Biden's office declined to comment on the conversation, saying the exchange was private. A spokesman for the Secretary said he was traveling and declined to comment.

More from State: Armitage chimes in

Just a few days before Biden's conversation with Powell, then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage presented evidence to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Iraq’s now debunked WMD program. Armitage described the case against Iraq, citing an alleged attempted uranium purchase and aluminum tubes in much the same way that Powell would later present to the United Nations.

But during his Jan 30., 2003 testimony, he admitted that the claims of Iraq reconstituting its nuclear program were not the strongest points of evidence.

“SEN. BIDEN: …Why is it that we spend, it seems, so much time on making the assertions that are the least -- or, the most difficult to prove, including the aluminum tubes, when we have such overwhelming evidence of the failure of Iraq to comply with the existence -- with 1441? It seems to undercut our case. We lead with the two things that may be true but are the most difficult to prove.

MR. ARMITAGE: … On the question of why we spend so much time on things that are difficult to prove, perhaps particularly on the aluminum tubes, we miscalculated. Clearly, there's a difference of opinion in the intelligence community, which we came up and briefed forthrightly and, indeed, deliberately.”

John Pike, Director of GlobalSecurity.org, a Washington-based military research group, said the evidence was grossly inaccurate and poorly constructed.

“They didn't understand how weak it was,” Pike said. “In the sense that those idiots at Army intelligence never got around [to] evaluating the diameter of aluminum tubes relative to the artillery rockets that Iraq had. That was an elementary blunder in tradecraft.”

“If you read the WMD intelligence report, the incompetence, the ineptitude, and the breaches of elementary tradecraft were just so pervasive that you just want to drive up to some of these buildings and clean them out with a firehose,” Pike added. “You really have to wonder what these people do for a living. Because they're just so incompetent.”

That same day, Walter Pincus and Dana Priest wrote in the Washington Post about the case for war and the evidence provided by the Bush administration.

The Post reporters wrote, “But the information, while constituting what officials described as a more graphic case against Iraq than presented by the administration to date, is still circumstantial, the officials said. It does not include new intelligence linking the Baghdad government to al Qaeda despite assertions by President Bush in his State of the Union address Tuesday and by British Prime Minister Tony Blair in London yesterday that the ties exist.”

The Big Sell

Nevertheless, on Feb. 5, 2003, Powell told the world that credible intelligence showed that Iraq was working to develop nuclear weapons.

In his interview with ABC’s Walters, Powell claimed that responsibility for faulty intelligence lay primarily with lower level intelligence officers who did not come forward.

“There were some people in the intelligence community who knew at that time that some of these sources were not good, and shouldn't be relied upon, and they didn't speak up,” he said. “That devastated me.”

However, retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski, who served as a political military analyst in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Policy Directorate, questions the sincerity of Powell’s statement to Walters.

“Powell clearly knew he was being fed dubious claims regarding Iraq, and he knew those claims were being pushed hard by the White House,” Kwiatkowski told RAW STORY. “He knew because he had discarded and rejected some of them already, and he had to push back hard in order to do that.”

Kwiatkowski also took umbrage with Powell's insistence that he was misled.

“In my military career, if a general or anyone else wanted to get to the heart of the matter, you (the low ranking expert) got a knock on your door,” she said. “You jumped to attention and gave the ranking officer the information he needed, and it had better be the truth. Surely, Powell himself understood this and had done this himself many times in his career.”

Armitage, who presented the uranium claims to Congress, served as an Assistant Secretary of Defense to Ronald Reagan and was forced to resign for his role in the Iran-Contra affair. He was denied Senate confirmation to be Assistant Secretary of State under President George H.W. Bush.

According to the Washington Post, the final decision was to be made by the White House.

“They have reached no conclusions on exactly what will be said,” an intelligence official told the Post. “But a lot more is being done this week to get a decision on what's safe to reveal.” Eventually, one official said, "the president will have to make the decision.”

“The Bush people had decided long ago and far away that they were going to blow up Saddam," Pike said. “They did not require convincing. What they required was arguments that might convince others.”

Muriel Kane contributed to research for this article.


Copyright 2005, Raw Story Media, Inc.