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During the buildup to the Iraq war, National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice infamously appeared on CNN's Late Edition (09/09/02) to proclaim that the high-strength aluminum tubes intercepted while in transit to Iraq "are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs" That was the same program on which she warned that "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud," again based on the tubes.

That same day, Vice President Dick Cheney was on Meet the Press telling the world that "what we've seen recently that has raised our level of concern to the current state of unrest... is that he [Saddam Hussein] now is trying, through his illicit procurement network, to acquire the equipment he needs to be able to enrich uranium--specifically, aluminum tubes." Again, it's worth noting that this was THE evidence of the alleged Iraqi nuclear program.

A few days later (Sept. 12), "President" Bush himself, in his disgraceful performance before the UN General Assembly, asserted that the tubes were to be "used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons."

The day after that, an administration official told the New York Times (9/13/02) that "the best technical experts and nuclear scientists at laboratories like Oak Ridge supported the CIA assessments" that the tubes were intended for centrifuge work.

The facts?

1) Aluminum hadn't been used in centrifuges in the manner suggested by the administration since the 1950s, due to their inefficiency--Iraq would have been required to deploy an impossible number of machines (around 12,000) and to maintain them for at least a year in order to create enough highly enriched uranium for even a single weapon. Both of the earlier Iraqi designs were completely different and far more advanced.

2) The tubes featured an anodized coating that rendered them useless for centrifuge work--whereas administration officials, including Colin Powell, publicly insisted this meant the tubes were more likely to be used for centrifuge work, the coating, in fact, rendered them useless for it, and would have to be completely removed before they could be put to any such use. On the other hand, the coating would be an ideal feature if the tubes were intended for use with rockets, which brings me to

3) "Iraq was manufacturing copies of the Italian-made Medusa 81 [rocket]. Not only the Medusa's alloy, but also its dimensions, to the fraction of a millimeter, matched the disputed aluminum tubes." (Washington Post, Aug. 10, 2003). This machining, likewise, rendered them useless for centrifuge work--they'd have to be completely re-milled from scratch to be put to that use.

4) "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." (Ibid.)

5) One of the disputed tube consignments was actually stamped "rocket."

6) And here's the kicker: Every expert on the subject, both within and outside the administration, told Bush and his underlings these things.

Throughout the buildup to the invasion and in the aftermath of the war, the administration consistently tried to portray those who disagreed with their public assessment of the tubes as a minority of professionals. This was their story from day one. Recall the administration official launching this theme by telling the New York Times (9/13/02) that "the best technical experts and nuclear scientists at laboratories like Oak Ridge supported the CIA assessments" that the tubes were intended for centrifuge work.

The truth?

NO ONE at the laboratories supported that assessment. Not a majority, not a plurality, not even a few: No one. The Washington Post reported (8/10/03) that:

"...the government's centrifuge scientists--at the Energy Department's Oak Ridge National Laboratory and its sister institutions--unanimously regarded this possibility [that they could be intended for use in centrifuge work] 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.'" (all emphases mine)

Peter D. Zimmerman, 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." (Quoted in Ibid.)

A report issued in Sept. 2002 by the Institute for Science and International Security, whose director had worked on Iraqi disarmament at the IAEA in the 1990s, underscored the same conclusion. (Washington Post, Sept. 19, 2002). The experts at IAEA, charged with monitoring disarmament of Iraq's nuke program, reached exactly the same conclusion about the tubes before the war.

And so on.

Starting all the way back in April, 2001, the DOE--"the U.S. government's primary repository of expertise on nuclear matters", as the Robb-Silberman report put it--crafted and passed along to administration higher-ups one detailed report after another, all of them rejecting the centrifuge assessment, and explaining why it was simply untenable.

While the hawks in the administration portrayed those who disagreed with them as a small minority, the only people who apparently challenged the experts' assessments were intelligence spooks in other branches without their expertise on the subject. This is significant because those in the administration, in trying to defend their treatment of the matter, have acted as though these other agencies' agreement on the intended nuclear use for the tubes overrules that of the experts--the equivalent of consulting four auto mechanics and one brain surgeon about how best to perform brain surgery, then arguing that the vote of three of the mechanics should overrule the one brain surgeon (DOE) and the mechanic who sided with him (INR). The auto mechanics at the CIA and DIA, who most vociferously pimped the idea that the tubes were intended for centrifuge work and dismissed, as a cover story, Iraqi insistence that they were intended for rockets, didn't even bother to obtain the dimensions and specifications for the Medusa 81 rocket until long after the Iraq invasion! In early Sept. 2002, a CIA officer suggested acquiring the data, which would have been both an obvious first step and a very simple matter, given that the Energy Department had distributed a detailed report containing the info a few months before the request. The CIA rejected the request, and the official story offered as to why was that the data in question was unneeded, because the agency had already judged the tubes were intended for centrifuge work!

This official story suggests a level of cretinism that simply isn't credible. The Robb-Silberman commission suggests the denial of the request was "a textbook example of an agency prematurely closing off an avenue of investigation because of its confidence in its conclusions," but that only underscores the combination of rank incompetence, utter laziness, and ill intentions that underscored everything that commission did. Here, the timing is what's important: By the time that request for the Medusa 81 info was made and rejected, Bush and his underlings were already making definitive public claims about the tubes, as shown earlier. The CIA and DIA were under the relentless lash of the White House war-hawks to offer product that supported those claims, and, with anything contradicting them being met, invariably, with something between complete indifference and outright hostility, the likelihood is that the matter wasn't pursued for the same reason it hadn't been properly investigated in the first place--Bush and the war-hawks had made it very clear they weren't interested in the truth, just what would work. There certainly wasn't an atmosphere that encouraged the pursuit of info that directly contradicted definitive public presidential claims.

Even without having ever examined the most basic information that would have allowed a proper assessment of the matter, the CIA and DIA assessments regarding the tubes reportedly acknowledged the argument within the intel community on this subject. The public statements of those in the administration did not (the only exception to this that comes readily to mind is Colin Powell, in his disgraceful UN speech). The tubes were flat-out said to be intended for nuclear centrifuge work, and were good for nothing else.

Here's a footnote that says a lot: the same day that Bush official falsely claimed most of the experts at the labs supported the Bush assessment of the tubes, "the Energy Department sent a directive forbidding employees from discussing the subject with reporters." (New York Times, 10/03/04)

And we know why, now don't we?

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