Lawrence Wilkerson, the man who reviewed the intelligence in Secretary of State Colin Powell's infamous 2003 pre-Iraq War United Nations presentation said Thursday the Obama administration's buildup for a strike on Syria "seems like the same thing again."
"So far all I've thought is I'm living through the five days at Langley again, with people telling me Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction with absolutely certainty," Wilkerson, a retired Army colonel who served as Powell's chief of staff, said in a phone interview, referring to the Obama administration's public case for action against Syria in response to a chemical weapons attack,
Powell's team spent five days at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Va. in 2003, reviewing the evidence that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. Then he went ahead with a crucial speech at the U.N. in New York, claiming that Iraq was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction. That assertion was false, and Wilkerson later rued his participation in preparing the speech as "probably the biggest mistake of my life."
"It seems like the same thing again," Wilkerson said. "People have pointed out to me that this is a Democratic president, and I point out to them that Lyndon Johnson was a Democratic president."
Wilkerson's views on the Syria chemical weapons attack put him far outside of the Washington mainstream. He questions whether chemical weapons were used at all, despite reports of hundreds killed, and of survivors suffering from the hallmarks of a chemical attack.
"We have concluded that the Syrian government in fact carried these out," President Barack Obama said on Wednesday of the chemical weapons attack.
Anonymous administration officials have admitted to reporters, however, that they have no conclusive evidence whether Syrian President Bashar al-Assad ordered the attack. One intercepted communication raised the possibility that a lower-ranking officer overstepped his bounds in ordering the attack.
Wilkerson said that he, too, has reviewed seemingly conclusive CIA and National Security Agency intelligence intercepts -- but they were in 2003, and pointed blame at Hussein.
"Intercepts themselves, unless they're just incredibly specific and backed up … by some other form of intelligence that independently corroborates them, can be very misleading," Wilkerson said.
"I see the potential for professionals in the intelligence community to persuade the president of something that isn't the case," Wilkerson said. "I really would want to see some really hard, believable evidence before I even start pondering a decision."