The CIA released a copy of
the NIE in 2004 in response to
a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, but redacted
virtually all of it, citing a threat to national security.
Then last year, John Greenewald,
who operates The Black Vault, a clearinghouse for
declassified government documents, asked the CIA to take another
look at the October 2002 NIE to determine whether any additional
portions of it could be declassified.
The agency responded to Greenewald this past January and
provided him with a new version of the NIE, which he shared
exclusively with VICE News, that restores the majority of the
prewar Iraq intelligence that has eluded historians,
journalists, and war critics for more than a decade.
(Some previously redacted portions
of the NIE had previously been disclosed in congressional
For the first time, the public can now read
the hastily drafted CIA document
that led Congress to pass a joint resolution authorizing the use
of military force in Iraq, a costly war launched March 20, 2003
that was predicated on "disarming" Iraq of its (non-existent)
WMD, overthrowing Saddam Hussein, and "freeing" the Iraqi
A report issued by the RAND Corporation last December titled "Blinders,
Blunders and Wars" said the NIE,
"contained several qualifiers
that were dropped… As the draft NIE went up the intelligence
chain of command, the conclusions were treated increasingly
An example of that:
According to the newly
declassified NIE, the intelligence community concluded that
"probably has renovated a
[vaccine] production plant" to manufacture biological
weapons "but we are unable to determine whether
[biological weapons] agent research has resumed."
The NIE also said Hussein did not
have "sufficient material" to manufacture any nuclear weapons.
But in an October 7, 2002 speech in
Cincinnati, Ohio, then-President
George W. Bush simply said
"possesses and produces chemical
and biological weapons" and "the evidence indicates that
Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program."
One of the most significant parts of
the NIE revealed for the first time is the section pertaining to
Iraq's alleged links to al Qaeda.
In September 2002, then-Secretary of
Defense Donald Rumsfeld claimed the US had "bulletproof"
evidence linking Hussein's regime to the terrorist group.
"We do have solid evidence of
the presence in Iraq of al Qaeda members, including some
that have been in Baghdad," Rumsfeld said.
"We have what we consider to be
very reliable reporting of senior-level contacts going back
a decade, and of possible chemical- and biological-agent
But the NIE said its information
about a working relationship between al Qaeda and Iraq was based
on "sources of varying reliability" - like Iraqi defectors - and
it was not at all clear that Hussein had even been aware of a
relationship, if in fact there were one.
"As with much of the information
on the overall relationship, details on training and support
are second-hand," the NIE said.
"The presence of al-Qa'ida
militants in Iraq poses many questions. We do not know to
what extent Baghdad may be actively complicit in this use of
its territory for safe-haven and transit."
The declassified NIE provides
details about the sources of some of the suspect intelligence
concerning allegations Iraq trained al Qaeda operatives on
chemical and biological weapons deployment - sources like War on
Terror detainees who were rendered to secret CIA black site
prisons, and others who were turned over to foreign intelligence
services and tortured.
Congress's later investigation into
prewar Iraq intelligence concluded that the intelligence
community based its claims about Iraq's chemical and biological
training provided to al Qaeda on a single source.
"Detainee Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi
- who had significant responsibility for training - has told
us that Iraq provided unspecified chemical or biological
weapons training for two al-Qai'ida members beginning in
December 2000," the NIE says.
"He has claimed, however, that
Iraq never sent any chemical, biological, or nuclear
substances - or any trainers - to al-Qa'ida in Afghanistan."
Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi was the
emir of the Khaldan training camp in Afghanistan, which the
Taliban closed prior
to 9/11 because al-Libi refused
to turn over control to Osama bin Laden.
Last December, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a
declassified summary of its so-called Torture Report on
the CIA's "enhanced interrogation" program.
A footnote stated that al-Libi, a
"reported while in [redacted]
custody that Iraq was supporting al-Qa'ida and providing
assistance with chemical and biological weapons."
"Some of this information was cited by Secretary [of State
Colin] Powell in his speech to the United
Nations, and was used as a justification for the
2003 invasion of Iraq," the
Senate torture report said.
"Ibn Shaykh al-Libi recanted the
claim after he was rendered to CIA custody on February
[redacted] 2003, claiming that he had been tortured by the
[redacted], and only told them what he assessed they wanted
Al-Libi reportedly committed suicide
in a Libyan prison in 2009, about a month after human rights
investigators met with him.
The NIE goes on to say that,
"none of the [redacted] al-Qa'ida
members captured during [the Afghanistan war] report having
been trained in Iraq or by Iraqi trainers elsewhere, but
given al-Qa'ida's interest over the years in training and
expertise from outside sources, we cannot discount reports
of such training entirely."
All told, this is the most damning
language in the NIE about Hussein's links to al Qaeda:
"While the Iraqi president has
not endorsed al-Qa'ida's overall agenda and has been
suspicious of Islamist movements in general, apparently he
has not been averse to some contacts with the organization."
The NIE suggests that the CIA had
sources within the media to substantiate details about meetings
between al Qaeda and top Iraqi government officials held during
the 1990s and 2002 - but some were not very reliable.
"Several dozen additional direct
or indirect meetings are attested to by less reliable
clandestine and press sources over the same period," the NIE
The RAND report noted,
"The fact that the NIE concluded
that there was no operational tie between Saddam and al
Qaeda did not offset this alarming assessment."
The NIE also restores another
previously unknown piece of "intelligence":
a suggestion that Iraq was
possibly behind the letters laced with anthrax sent to news
organizations and senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy a
week after the 9/11 attacks.
The attacks killed five people and
sickened 17 others.
"We have no intelligence
information linking Iraq to the fall 2001 attacks in the
United States, but Iraq has the capability to produce spores
of Bacillus anthracis - the causative agent of anthrax -
similar to the dry spores used in the letters," the NIE
"The spores found in the Daschle
and Leahy letters are highly purified, probably requiring a
high level of skill and expertise in working with bacterial
spores. Iraqi scientists could have such expertise,"
although samples of a biological agent Iraq was known to
have used as an anthrax simulant "were not as pure as the
anthrax spores in the letters."
Paul Pillar, a former veteran
CIA analyst for the Middle East who was in charge of
coordinating the intelligence community's assessments on Iraq,
told VICE news that,
"the NIE's bio weapons claims"
was based on unreliable sources such as Ahmad Chalabi, the
former head of the Iraqi National Congress, an opposition
group supported by the US.
"There was an insufficient critical skepticism about some of
the source material," he now says about the unredacted NIE.
"I think there should have been
agnosticism expressed in the main judgments. It would have
been a better paper if it were more carefully drafted in
that sort of direction."
But Pillar, now a visiting professor
at Georgetown University, added that the Bush administration had
already made the decision to go to war in Iraq, so the NIE,
"didn't influence [their]
Pillar added that he was told by
congressional aides that only a half-dozen senators and a few
House members read past the NIE's five-page summary.
David Kay, a former Iraq weapons inspector who also
headed the Iraq Survey Group, told Frontline that the
intelligence community did a "poor job" on the NIE,
"probably the worst of the
modern NIE's, partly explained by the pressure, but more
importantly explained by the lack of information they had.
And it was trying to drive towards a policy conclusion where
the information just simply didn't support it."
The most controversial part of the
NIE, which has been picked apart hundreds of times over the past
decade and has been thoroughly debunked, pertained to a section
about Iraq's attempts to acquire aluminum tubes.
The Bush administration claimed that
this was evidence that Iraq was pursuing a nuclear weapon.
National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice stated at the
time on CNN that the tubes,
"are only really suited for
nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs," and that "we
don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."
The version of the NIE released in
2004 redacted the aluminum tubes section in its entirety.
But the newly declassified
assessment unredacts a majority of it and shows that the
intelligence community was unsure why,
"Saddam is personally interested
in the procurement of aluminum tubes."
The US Department of Energy
concluded that the dimensions of the aluminum tubes were,
"consistent with applications to
rocket motors" and "this is the more likely end use."
The CIA's unclassified summary of
the NIE did not contain the Energy Department's dissent.
"Apart from being influenced by
policymakers' desires, there were several other reasons that
the NIE was flawed," the RAND study concluded.
"Evidence on mobile biological
labs, uranium ore purchases from Niger, and
unmanned-aerial-vehicle delivery systems for WMDs all proved
to be false. It was produced in a hurry. Human intelligence
was scarce and unreliable.
While many pieces of evidence
were questionable, the magnitude of the questionable
evidence had the effect of making the NIE more convincing
The basic case that Saddam had
WMDs seemed more plausible to analysts than the alternative
case that he had destroyed them.
And analysts knew that Saddam
had a history of deception, so evidence against Saddam's
possession of WMDs was often seen as deception."
According to the latest figures
compiled by Iraq Body Count, to date more than 200,000 Iraqi
civilians have been killed, although other sources say the
casualties are twice as high.
More than 4,000 US soldiers have
been killed in Iraq, and tens of thousands more have been
injured and maimed. The war has cost US taxpayers more than $800
In an interview with VICE founder Shane Smith,
Obama said the rise of the
Islamic State was a direct result of the disastrous invasion.
"ISIL is a direct outgrowth of
al Qaeda in Iraq that grew out of our invasion," Obama said.
"Which is an example of
unintended consequences. Which is why we should generally
aim before we shoot."