Dissent over going to war
grows among U.S. government officials
BY WARREN P. STROBEL, JONATHAN S. LANDAY AND JOHN WALCOTT
Posted on Mon, Oct. 07, 2002
WASHINGTON - While President Bush marshals congressional and
international support for invading Iraq, a growing number of
military officers, intelligence professionals and diplomats in
his own government privately have deep misgivings about the
administration's double-time march toward war.
These officials charge that administration hawks have
exaggerated evidence of the threat that Iraqi leader Saddam
Hussein poses -- including distorting his links to the al Qaeda
terrorist network -- have overstated the extent of international
support for attacking Iraq and have downplayed the potential
repercussions of a new war in the Middle East.
They charge that the administration squelches dissenting views
and that intelligence analysts are under intense pressure to
produce reports supporting the White House's argument that
Hussein poses such an immediate threat to the United States that
preemptive military action is necessary.
''Analysts at the working level in the intelligence community
are feeling very strong pressure from the Pentagon to cook the
intelligence books,'' said one official, speaking on condition of
A dozen other officials echoed his views in interviews with
the Knight Ridder Washington Bureau.
They cited recent suggestions by Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice that
Hussein and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network are working
Rumsfeld said on Sept. 26 that the U.S. government has
''bulletproof'' confirmation of links between Iraq and al Qaeda
members, including ''solid evidence'' that members of the
terrorist network maintain a presence in Iraq.
The facts are much less conclusive. Officials said Rumsfeld's
statement was based in part on intercepted telephone calls in
which an al Qaeda member who apparently was passing through
Baghdad was overheard calling friends or relatives, intelligence
The intercepts provide no evidence that the suspected
terrorist was working with the Iraqi regime or that he was
working on a terrorist operation while he was in Iraq, they
In his Monday night speech, President Bush said a senior al
Qaeda leader received medical treatment in Baghdad this year --
implying larger cooperation -- but he offered no evidence of
complicity in any plot between the terrorist and Hussein's
Rumsfeld also suggested that the Iraqi regime has offered safe
haven to bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.
While technically true, that too is misleading. Intelligence
reports said the Iraqi ambassador to Turkey, a longtime
intelligence officer, made the offer during a visit to
Afghanistan in late 1998, after the United States attacked al
Qaeda training camps with cruise missiles to retaliate for the
bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. But
officials said the same intelligence reports said bin Laden
rejected the offer because he didn't want Hussein to control his
NO IRONCLAD PROOF
In fact, the officials said, there's no ironclad evidence that
the Iraqi regime and the terrorist network are working together,
or that Hussein has ever contemplated giving chemical or
biological weapons to al Qaeda, with whom he has deep ideological
None of the dissenting officials, who work in a number of
different agencies, would agree to speak publicly. But many of
them have long experience in the Middle East and South Asia, and
all spoke in similar terms about their unease with the way that
U.S. political leaders are dealing with Iraq.
All agreed that Hussein is a threat who eventually must be
dealt with, and none flatly opposes military action. But, they
say, the U.S. government has no dramatic new knowledge about the
Iraqi leader that justifies Bush's urgent call to arms.
''I've seen nothing that's compelling,'' said one military
officer who has access to intelligence reports.
Some lawmakers have voiced similar concerns after receiving
Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said some information he had seen
did not support Bush's portrayal of the Iraqi threat.
''It's troubling to have classified information that
contradicts statements made by the administration,'' Durbin said.
``There's more they should share with the public.''
Florida's Sen. Bob Graham, chairman of the Senate Intelligence
Committee, last week expressed frustration with the information
he was receiving from the CIA and questioned the need to elevate
Iraq to ``our No. 1 threat.''
In his Monday night speech, Bush stressed that if Hussein
gained control of radioactive material no bigger than ''a
softball'' he could build a nuclear weapon sufficient to
intimidate his region, blackmail the world and covertly arm
terrorists. But a senior administration intelligence official
notes that Hussein has sought such highly enriched uranium for
many years without success, and there is no evidence that he has
Moreover, the senior official said, Hussein has no way to
deliver a nuclear weapon against a U.S. target.
''Give them a nuclear weapon and you have the problem of
delivery. Give them delivery, even clandestine, and you have a
problem of plausible denial. Does anyone think that a nuclear
weapon detonating in a Ryder truck or tramp freighter would not
automatically trigger a response that would include Iraq, Iran,
North Korea?'' the intelligence official asked.
Here are some other examples of questionable statements:
• Vice President Dick Cheney said in late August that
Iraq might have nuclear weapons ``fairly soon.''
A CIA report released Friday said it could take Iraq until the
last half of the decade to produce a nuclear weapon, unless it
could acquire bomb-grade uranium or plutonium on the black
• Also in August, Rumsfeld suggested that al Qaeda
operatives fleeing Afghanistan were taking refuge in Iraq with
Rumsfeld apparently was referring to about 150 members of the
militant Islamic group Ansar al Islam (Supporters of Islam) who
have taken refuge in Kurdish areas of northern Iraq. One of
America's would-be Kurdish allies controls that part of the
country, however, not Hussein.
Current and former military officers also question the view
sometimes expressed by Cheney, Rumsfeld and their civilian
advisors in and out of the U.S. government that an American-led
campaign against the Iraqi military would be a walkover.
''It is an article of faith among those with no military
experience that the Iraqi military is low-hanging fruit,'' one
intelligence officer said.
He challenged that notion, citing the U.S. experience in
Somalia, where militiamen took thousands of casualties in 1993
but still managed to kill U.S. soldiers and force an American
Iraqi commanders, some officials warned, also could unleash
chemical or biological weapons -- although the American military
is warning them they could face war crimes charges if they do --
or U.S. airstrikes could do so inadvertently.
Hussein also might try to strike Israel or Saudi Arabia with
Scud missiles tipped with chemical or biological weapons.