Experts rap Bush’s speech

Experts rap Bush’s speech

By Joe Baker, Senior Editor

President Bush’s recently televised speech against Saddam Hussein has drawn fire from several government officials and analysts. They say it relied on slanted and sometimes false interpretations of available U.S. intelligence on Iraq.

The Guardian, a London newspaper, reported it has learned that officials of the CIA, the FBI and the Department of Energy have been under strong pressure to turn out reports backing the administration line. The newspaper said some were complying, some resisting and some simply saying nothing.

The former head of counter-intelligence at the CIA, Vincent Cannistraro, said: “Basically, cooked information is working its way into high-level pronouncements, and there’s a lot of unhappiness about it in intelligence, especially among analysts at the CIA.”

Bush, in his speech, assured Americans that war was not imminent or unavoidable but still gave his most detailed case yet for using force against Saddam.

Government observers said some of his key allegations against the Baghdad regime are not supported by current intelligence information.

Bush repeated the claim—first broached by senior members of his administration—that Iraq has tried to import hardened aluminum tubes “for gas centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons.” British Prime Minister Tony Blair brought up the same claim in his presentation to the British Parliament last month.

The government’s own experts on nuclear weapons and centrifuges said, however, such tubes are more likely to be used to make conventional weapons. A Department of Energy specialist commented: “I would just say there is not much support for that (nuclear) theory around here.”

Former UN weapons inspector David Albright, himself a physicist, said there is disagreement between the experts and an official at the CIA over this issue.

He said some employees at the Energy Department’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California had been told to keep their doubts to themselves. Albright quoted one as saying: “The administration can say what it wants, and we are expected to remain silent.”

U.S. intelligence officials are highly skeptical of the president’s claims of links between Iraq and al-Qaeda. In his talk, Bush referred to a high-ranking al-Qaeda leader he said got medical treatment in Baghdad this year.

An intelligence source said intercepted telephone calls did not reveal any cooperation by Iraq on that score, even though the al-Qaeda leader did come there seeking treatment.

Intelligence experts also downgrade Bush’s contention that Iraq has trained members of the terrorist group in poisons, bomb making and “deadly games.” A source familiar with the investigation of 9-11 said: “The FBI has been pounded on to make this link.”

President Bush also declared in his speech: “We’re concerned that Iraq is exploring ways of using these UAVs (drone aircraft) for missions targeting the United States.”

Military experts pointed out the unmanned aircraft Iraq is making from trainer jets have a range of only a few hundred miles and pose no threats to targets in the U.S.

Cannistraro said the flow of intelligence to the top levels of the administration has been deliberately skewed by the chickenhawks in the Pentagon.

“CIA assessments are being put aside by the Defense Department in favor of intelligence they are getting from various Iraqi exiles,” he said. “Machiavelli warned princes against listening to exiles. Well, that is what is happening now.”

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