THE BLOG

Woodward (and Hubris ) on Cheney's Desperate WMD Search

It was the middle of the night in Baghdad. There was a pounding on the door. David Kay got out of bed, A staff officer of the Iraq Survey Group was at the door. He had an important message for the man who had been sent to Iraq to find Saddam's weapons of mass destruction: the vice president's office had called....

As the pre-publication PR blitz for Bob Woodward's new book, State of Denial rolls on, the news accounts of the book's disclosures have referred to an episode in the summer of 2003 when Dick Cheney's aides urged Kay to check out a particular place where Saddam Hussein might have hid WMDs. As The New York Times noted on Friday:

Vice President Cheney is described as a man so determined to find proof that his claim about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was accurate that, in the summer of 2003, his aides were calling the chief weapons inspector, David Kay, with specific satellite coordinates as the sites of possible caches. None resulted in any finds.

I happen to know something about this because a book published weeks ago--HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR, written by Michael Isikoff and me--disclosed this same story. The lines at the start of this item come from the opening page of its sixteenth chapter. Here's the rest of the tale:

Kay looked at the message. Cheney's office had a burning question for him: Had he seen a particular signals intercept? It was a highly sensitive communications intercept that had captured a snippet of conversation between two unidentified people. Cheney's aides were reading raw transcripts straight from the National Security Agency. And a Cheney staffer who had gotten hold of this piece of unanalyzed intelligence thought that it contained a reference to a WMD storage site in Iraq, even though the captured exchange didn't specifically mention weapons. What made the intercept most promising was that it had come with geographic coordinates for one of the unidentified persons. Here was a road map--finally--to Saddam's WMDs. Kay ordered his analysts to review the coordinates and went back to bed.

The next morning, his analysts checked the coordinates and discovered they referred to a site in the Bekka Valley in Lebanon--not anywhere in Iraq. This was no lead. It was nothing. But as Kay was overseeing the search for weapons in the summer months of 2003, the vice president's office urgently wanted him to come up with evidence that Saddam had maintained arsenals of weapons of mass destruction--so much so that, just as Cheney and Libby had done before the war, the vice president's aides were rummaging through top secret, unprocessed intelligence in the hope of discovering what everyone else in the U.S. government had missed. "They were reaching down and reading raw intelligence and putting their own meaning on it," said a CIA official familiar with the incident.

Hubris recounts other examples of the Bush team's desperate attempt to find evidence in post-invasion Iraq to justify the war. In one episode, Cheney's aides believed that a spy satellite had captured an image of a WMD hiding place. They sent the shot to Kay. But Cheney's office wasn't close. The satellite imagery showed a watering hole for cows. The incident's details are rather amusing.

I have yet to obtain a copy of State of Denial. But the news is that Woodward has taken a much more critical approach toward the commander in chief than he did in his two previous Bush-at-war books. (And see page 207 of Hubris for what Woodward said about WMDs in Iraq during the final run-up to the invasion.) Better late than never? You decide. I urge people to read State of Denial--after reading Hubris, of course.
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For information on Hubris, click here.