Beating the Spooks

Back in 2002, I was sure that Iraq didn’t have a nuclear program (and  said so) , but the nation’s intelligence agencies ( along with the Administration, Congress, the press and the pundits) thought otherwise.  I was right.

How did this happen?

I knew that there were, effectively, only four ways to develop fissionable materials: gaseous diffusion, calutrons, centrifuges and breeder reactors ( the plutonium path).  All were technically difficult, expensive,  and in many cases had signatures that we would have noticed using our ‘national technical means’, such as spy satellites, aerial reconnaissance, etc.

Gaseous diffusion requires enormous facilities, which were not seen.  It also requires knowledge of obscure materials properties and huge electricity usage, also not seen. Scratch gaseous diffusion.

The Iraqis had  made a gram or so of enriched material back in 1990 with calutrons, surprising because calutrons  are incredibly inefficient ( as Lawrence showed in the Manhattan Project). Couldn’t have been resumed with using vast amount of power, which wasn’t happening – we would have noticed. Also pretty difficult under sanctions – you couldn’t buy the parts anymore from competent countries. Scratch calutrons.

Centrifuges are tough engineering, take a big facility ( for the thousands of centrifuges).  Without imports ( or money), Iraq would have had to use their native talents. But the Kurds were in revolt, the Shi’ites had recently revolted.  Can’t hire them. The country was half illiterate, and had an average IQ in the 80s – and performed accordingly.  In other words, Iraq was not Germany.  This was apparently unknown to the intelligence agencies. Scratch the centrifuges.

Breeder reactors leak odd noble gas isotopes.  Detectable, but not detected. Scratch breeder reactors and plutonium.

Some loon suggested that the Iraqis had perhaps mastered laser isotope separation – when, at the time, nobody else on Earth had managed to do, in spite of vast efforts involving thousands of physicists in the US, France, and the Soviet Union.  This when nobody in Iraq ( or anywhere else in the Moslem world) had invented or discovered anything in seven hundred years.

Parenthetically, North Korea managed  a nuclear program, without a lot of outside help or money.  But A. Koreans are smart, B.  North Korea didn’t have ~80% of the country in rebellion, and C. much of their effort was detected by our ‘national technical means’ – they didn’t manage to keep it invisible. That’s hard.

In order to achieve  what the Bush Administration alleged,  Iraq would have to create an undetectable-by-the-US Manhattan project, with no money, even though they’re not technically skilled,  and with most of the population unusable because disloyal ( and poorly educated morons).

Speaking of: someone once said that doubting the Iraqi capacity to pull off a secret invisible, undetectable nuclear program was racist. Indeed.

Money: oil exports were allowed under the Oil-For-Food program, but those monies could only be spent on approved imports.  Approved by the US.  We would take our time approving pencils.

It was pretty easy to observe  & control their oil exports, with only one port (Basra).

Iraq got a little money from kickbacks and truck smuggling.  I estimated around a billion a year ( from press reports) . Barely enough to pay for air conditioning the palaces.

So where and how did the intelligence agencies go wrong?

First, they had to please the boss: I didn’t. They told Bush II what he wanted to hear. Second, on technical issues, very few people in intelligence actually know anything.  This was demonstrated again later, when the CIA and DIA concluded that we had found ‘mobile biological labs’ in Iraq.  Which were actually vans with portable hydrogen generators – hydrogen for  balloons intended to measure high-altitude winds, for increasing the accuracy of artillery. Pinheads.

I’ve heard that the CIA had one guy that knew enough to do the capacity analysis I’ve outlined, and he was working on something else.

There were guys at DOE that knew everything there is to know about the nuclear production cycle, including centrifuges – but they were ignored. The CIA found its own ‘expert’ – a mechanical engineer that had worked on the stable platform for a centrifuge project at Oak Ridge  – not the centrifuges themselves.  Laid off, he became the CIA’s  centrifuge oracle, even though he knew little about the subject.

On technical issues, what do Administration political appointees, Congress, the press, and the pundits know?  Nothing.  Don’t know much about biology, don’t know much about history. They certainly don’t know jack about the nuclear production cycle.

But maybe the CIA is good at humint?  No: arguably worse than any other intelligence agency in history.

Have things gotten any better?  No.






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103 Responses to Beating the Spooks

  1. Polymath says:

    So what about Iran? They’re smarter than Iraqis and seem to know how to build centrifuges. Pakistan managed to make nukes and I would say Iranians aren’t technically inferior to Pakistanis.

    • dearieme says:

      The Pakistanis simply built centrifuges to a design that a Pakistani had stolen from his employers, the British/German/Dutch consortium URENCO.

    • Ursiform says:

      We knew they had the program because of the indicators Greg outlined.

    • Edward says:

      What about Iran? As you say yourself, Iranians are likely to be smarter than Iraqis, and as Greg has pointed out they probably have a more stratified population. India is the same: large population, high degree of stratification, probably a higher genotypic IQ too.

      Greg put it well in his 2002 email to his Iraq War-supporting friend:

      “The Iraqis wanted U-235, probably because it is much easier to make a device with U-235 than with plutonium. You don’t have to use implosion and you don’t even have to test a gun-type bomb – we didn’t test the Hiroshima bomb. I would guess that they realized their limitations – they’re not exactly overflowing with good physicists and engineers – and chose an approach that they could actually have made work. Implosion is not so easy to make work. India only got their implosion bomb to work on the seventh try, back in 1974, and they have a hell of a lot more technical talent than Iraq.”

      As for Pakistan, their success has been explained by dearieme.

    • Anonymous says:

      india also produced nukes.

    • Pop says:

      “They’re smarter than Iraqis”

      Israel killed several of the smartest Iranians working on their nuke program, and probably deters others.

  2. catte says:

    The Russian Federation is accused of doing a lot of naughty things nowadays. They probably even did some of them. But what fraction?

  3. Anonymous says:

    I once asked a guy who was in a position to know about UK intelligence services whether he reckoned that on these matters they were better than technical guys reading the scientific literature and he said: Probably not.

    • Hugh Mann says:

      Dunno. I knew a very competent techie who took the security service shilling after 20 years in industry, definitely a top few percent of IT kind of guy who understood the tech at a deep level.

  4. Lawful Evil says:

    I remember all that, I said much the same thing. I knew the administration was planning a war in Iraq as soon as they started yammering about yellow cake. DOE actually tried to tell them that there was no nuclear program worthy of the name, so did IAEA. Bushies din’t care about “experts” telling them about “facts” they didn’t like. CIA could do this sort of analysis once upon a time, but apparently the only people suitable for intelligence work these days are liberal arts majors from Ivy league schools.
    As for Iran, Pakistan did all the hard work (specifically one guy was responsible for most of it, stole the plans from the French along with a list of suppliers of key parts). Iran just utilized their network to buy all the parts and assembled them. Still not trivial, but much easier than rolling your own.

    • gcochran9 says:

      A Dutch company, not France.

      I believe those Ivy League liberal arts majors could play a useful role in nuclear engineering, say in disposing of high-level radioactive waste.

    • ziel says:

      Why do you assume it has to be Ivy League? That pretty CIA lady that Robert Novak exposed, Valerie Plame, graduated from Penn State (not Penn!) – with a major in Advertising! Her father was an Air Force Colonel so I assume that was her “in”. So, sure, I’m sure she was qualified to analyze and interpret all sorts of complexities in international relations.

    • CIA could do this sort of analysis once upon a time, but apparently the only people suitable for intelligence work these days are liberal arts majors from Ivy league schools.

      Who do you think staffs the bureaucratic side of the CIA?

      There’s a lot of talented technical folks in the IC, but there’s also a lot of bureaucrats with ivy league credentials “organizing” things.

    • Joe Falcone says:

      I see you snuck some facts into your reply, LE. Nicely done.

      DOE wasn’t the only agency. The problem wasn’t experts or the intelligence agencies. It was the administration.

      Weird to see the revisionism here today.

      • Eponymous says:

        Phil Tetlock writes about this at length in his book Superforecasting. It seems the CIA really was fooled. The prediction tournament that Tetlock took part in was a CIA program to assess what went wrong and how to avoid repeating the mistakes. Not sure how well that’s worked.

        I was surprised to learn this too. I figured out there probably weren’t WMDs at the time, and I was just a teen with an internet connection. (I still supported the war, to my shame). So I figured, if I knew it, the CIA must have too. A dangerous line of thinking.

        • Jessica Triepel says:

          Funny. I was also just a highschool kid when 9/11 happened, and somehow I wasn’t buying the terrorist mantra, at least not to the point of it justifying war. And all the hype about WMDs wasn’t convincing to me at all. All this before I had an internet connection.

        • I figured out there probably weren’t WMDs at the time,

          There were not Nuclear weapons at the time, but WMDs are also chemical and biological.

          Just as Saddam had the expertise and manpower organized to restart a nuclear program if he could ever get the US and Britain out of the way (the UN was trivially bribeable), so to he had chemical and biological programs in the same sort of state.

          Those are LOT easier to produce than fissionable material, Iraq had used them against both Iran AND internal dissenters previously, and several of our troops were exposed to chemical agents from artillery shells that had been listed as destroyed.

          The Administration routinely asserted that “We cannot wait UNTIL the threat is imminent”–that this was a proactive measure. There was only one time–on one of those Sunday morning scream fests–that an Administration Mouthpiece asserted that the threat WAS imminent.

          It’s sort of like Palin’s comment that she can see Russia from her house. Everybody’s heard it and thinks she’s an idiot. Except she never said it.

          If you really think for a second that Saddam didn’t WANT to acquire nuclear weapons you’re a fool.

          He had sent people to Nigeria to see if he could corrupt them. Even Joe Wilson admitted that (in his written report to the CIA, not when he had a camera on him). It’s just that the Nigerians weren’t interested at that time.

          • gcochran9 says:

            Wrong. Do you like being wrong? The country was Niger, not NIgeria, and the Iraqi trade envoy never even mentioned uranium. Not that they needed any if they were intent on a program: they already had 500 tons of yellowcake.

            There were gas shells buried in the mud or left in an abandoned bunker by mistake.

            Since you are working at furthering falsehoods, why don’t you go elsewhere?

      • gcochran9 says:

        No revisionism: and of course Lawful Evil agrees with me.

  5. dearieme says:

    After Chernobyl I was roped into a UK government project to do a speedy assessment. My recruitment happened thus; my (university) Head of Department knocked on my office door, opened it, peeked round it, and urged my participation. Oh all right. The team was – well our bit of it was just the two of us.

    By golly Her Majesty’s Government got piles of relevant paperwork to us at remarkable speed. How did they know so much about the Soviet nuclear programme? I was impressed. Who was I working for? The Atomic Energy Authority, MI6, the Department of Defence, the Home Office? I don’t know. Nor was I ever paid or even officially thanked. But it was utterly fascinating so I don’t much care. (Though if anyone relevant is reading this, I wouldn’t say no to a cheque, chaps, albeit so late in the day.) Anyway, the improvisation and speed of decision were reminiscent of tales of parts of WWII: exhilarating stuff.

    I can’t even remember whether I signed the Official Secrets Act concerning this business but since I have long outlived the USSR I don’t suppose that matters. Anyway, without wishing to be rude, I think our spooks, or whoever it was, might have been rather more capable than your spooks.

    From which it follows that I am perfectly sure that HMG would have been told by its own civil and military servants that Iraq didn’t have a nuclear weapons programme. From which it further follows that Mr Tony Blair lied and lied and then lied some more. I’d happily see him hanged.

    • I think our spooks, or whoever it was, might have been rather more capable than your spooks.

      We share LOTS of information at very high levels. A lot of our intelligence collection facilities are “three” or “five” eyes–meaning some combination of US, England, Britain, Australia and Canada.

      I would go into more detail, but I did sign the US version of the Official Secrets Act, and I’m not sure where the line is these days.

    • Joe Falcone says:

      Nope. Your spooks and our spooks both knew the Iraqi program was moribund. Only the political bosses and a few highly-placed journalists pursued the idea of WMD. And it’s impossible to know what such people “believed”.

      No serious person disputes this. The memory hole has apparently swallowed a great deal if we’re blaming the IC for the Iraq fiasco.

      • gcochran9 says:

        You’re wrong. If the CIA, at the time, thought the WMD story was false, they would have leaked it in every direction. That did not happen. I watched carefully, at the time. And I’ve talked with people about it later as well.
        There were certainly technical worker-bee types in the DOE who knew that there was no nuclear weapons program: their boss ( at the DOE, recently promoted from H fucking R)) ignored their work and signed on to the intelligence-community consensus. CIA believed, DIA believed. The one actual intelligence agency that had real doubts was INR, working for the State Department. But even they didn’t understand enough to know that it was all for-sure nonsense.
        Like I did. Probably they didn’t have to start taking pills for high blood pressure.

        Memory hole my ass.

        Among the journalists, the closest to competent were the guys at MCClatchy, and their strength was a direct consequence of their lack of pull. They were such a fourth-rate newspaper chain that they could only get interviews with people so low on the totem pole that they actually did work; not guys in the White House, not the SecDef, not Wolfowitz: people that actually knew something about nuclear weapons. The lowest of the low.

        I saw one practically unknown columnist get it right: he used to be a nuclear weapons designer. I talked to him about it: he couldn’t figure it. As far as he could tell, people like Cheney ( who he’d known for a long time) had actually gone insane. Pumphead?

        • skeptic16 says:

          There were several allegations about Iraqi weapons research (WMD and conventional) that were made including, aluminum tubes, drones of death, mobile gas labs, Niger Uranium, U enrichment and whatever was in Colin Powell’s vial at the UN. Every allegation was wrong. They would have been better flipping a coin.

        • Matthew McConnagay says:

          If the CIA, at the time, thought the WMD story was false, they would have leaked it in every direction.


          • gcochran9 says:

            Because no one likes to be left holding the bag. They leak all the time. Yet they didn’t leak about the lack of WMD, because they were too dumb and fucked-up to figure it out.

    • Anonymous says:

      “I think our spooks, or whoever it was, might have been rather more capable than your spooks”

      I’ll accept correction from people with more knowledge on the matter, but my guess is that the British, Israelis and French are the best at human intelligence. Necessity is the mother of competence: when you are running vast colonial empires (or perpetually fighting for your existence) you are perforce required to develop what we now call cultural competence. Or maybe being culturally competent is the sine qua non for a vast colonial empire. The FBI had only 70 Arabic speakers available when 9/11 happened, and who knows what their abilities actually were; I remember reading an estimate that the CIA at that time period had only 5 employees truly fluent in Arabic, and 1 in Farsi.

      • gcochran9 says:

        The Brits. Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess, Kim Philby, Anthony Blunt, John Cairncross

        • dearieme says:

          Yeah, our five were identified in the end. The Washington and Berkeley five hundred weren’t.

          • gcochran9 says:

            I remember reading Kingsley Amis bitch about the ~50 card-carrying labor MPs, and the reluctance of the Labor leadership to expel them. Late 50s. At the time, the late 1950s, I’d say that the fraction of would-be real traitors in influential places was considerably higher in the UK than in the US: in part because of McCarthyism and the shunning of Henry Wallace supporters in the Democratic Party.

            But that was then. Today, replacing lots of legislators with stone-cold Stalinists (in either country) might be a step up.

    • catte says:

      From which it follows that I am perfectly sure that HMG would have been told by its own civil and military servants that Iraq didn’t have a nuclear weapons programme.

      Nope. The two Dodgy Dossiers were products of an intelligence establishment that had drunk the Kool-Aid too.

    • saintonge235 says:

              British spooks did indeed believe in Iraqi WMDs.  See the notorious Downing Street memo, where the British military worries about the troops getting hit by them during the invasion.  You don’t worry that a non-existent weapon will be used against your forces.

  6. Ursiform says:

    I think the CIA deserves credit for having the oddest people as agents in the whole IC.

  7. Kim Babylon says:

    Typical dumb yankee. It’s spelled ‘Muslim’ not ‘moslem’ you dumb moron . Oh and Iraq is one of the richest nations on earth, but impoverished on purpose you thick fucking uncultured yankee swine.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Aren’t iranian score similary to iraqis on iq scores? Why were they more successful in their nuclear ambitions and in other intellectuall pursuits?

    • gcochran9 says:

      Stratification, maybe.

      • skeptic16 says:

        It seems that most of the knowledge coming out of the “House of Wisdom” that was not of ancient origin were made by Persians or non-muslim guest scholars.

    • Maybe it could also factor that Iranians, speaking language of same family as most Westerners, have it easier adapt/copy from the west, plus size factor.

    • Edward says:

      Average IQ isn’t everything. India’s average phenotypic IQ is somewhere between 82 and 87, but their genotypic IQ is likely somewhere in the mid-90s. Plus, they have a large population and substantial subgroup/caste differences.

      Greg put it well in his 2002 email to his Iraq War-supporting friend:

      “The Iraqis wanted U-235, probably because it is much easier to make a device with U-235 than with plutonium. You don’t have to use implosion and you don’t even have to test a gun-type bomb – we didn’t test the Hiroshima bomb. I would guess that they realized their limitations – they’re not exactly overflowing with good physicists and engineers – and chose an approach that they could actually have made work. Implosion is not so easy to make work. India only got their implosion bomb to work on the seventh try, back in 1974, and they have a hell of a lot more technical talent than Iraq.”

      • Craken says:

        Do you have a source for your “genotypic IQ” estimate for Indians?

        • Edward says:

          The average IQ of sub-Saharan Africa is 75. Yet, African-Americans have an average IQ of 85, possibly slightly higher.

          White admixture only adds around 2 points to their IQ, and some have suggested that those taken as slaves were below-average for sub-Saharan Africans. Most of the advantage that African-Americans enjoy is due to being reared in an enriched environment.

          The malnutrition problem in India is probably worse than in sub-Saharan Africa, and there’s still a large burden of infectious disease and a pretty poor education system. India’s average IQ is around 83; Pakistan’s is around 84. If India were to improve its education system, and reduce its rates of malnutrition and stunting, and reduce its burden of infectious disease, I suspect that they could easily see an environmental boost of similar magnitude to that which African-Americans enjoy, i.e. ~10 points.

          Anatoly Karlin came to a figure of 92-94, if I remember correctly. Steve Sailer went even further in one comment, arguing that India could see increase its mean IQ by one standard deviation if they improved their education system.

          Richard Lynn put it as follows:

          “Mean IQs [in India] lie in the range of 81 to 94, with an overall mean of approximately 86. But ethic Indians in Britain obtain a mean of 96 which is within the range of other Caucasoid populations. Their verbal IQ of 89 is depressed, but this is probably because their families are recent immigrants and have not yet mastered the language. The British results suggest that when Indians are reared in an economically developed environment their intelligence level is about the same as that of European Caucasoids.”

          In fact, the best, and latest, data we have available (from the 2009-2010 Cognitive Abilities Test in the UK) suggest that the average IQ of Indians in Britain is approximately 100. The students who took this test will mostly be third-generation grandchildren of people who took advantage of the open borders between the UK and its former colonies in the 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s, or the grandchildren of those who fled Kenya and Uganda as refugees in the 1960s and early 1970s, when they were kicked out by the Africans.

          In other words, there was no government selection for talent, but some self-selection will obviously have occurred.

  9. lhtness says:

    My memory of my impressions at the time is that the WMDs we were mostly concerned about chemical and maybe biological weapons, although looking things up on Wikipedia indicates that that memory of an impression is not so reliable.

    • Eponymous says:

      One rhetorical trick was to lump bio/chem/nuke into a single category (“WMD”), and then argue that Iraq was pursuing “WMDs”, and therefore we had to act before we got nuked.

      • lhtness says:

        In retrospect, I feel it should have been obvious to me that the term “WMD” was a sign that something was horribly off. The most likely interpretation is the one you give, and just about the only other interpretation I can come up with is that they strongly felt Iraq must have at least one of the three (despite lack of compelling evidence for any of them), and so they opted for a vague term to hedge their bets.

    • I think collective memory is more reliable than Wiki editors with an interest in pushing ‘there were no Iraqi WMD because Saddam didn’t pop a nuke when we invaded’. The anti-war brigade was going on and on about the possibility of mass WMD casualties if we invaded. Democrats from Bill Clinton (and Hillary) on down pushed the Iraq WMD line for years until it became politically inconvenient. Glenn Reynolds has a great highlight reel he posts from time to time.

      I generally like our host’s take on things but on this I disagree with a number of points.

      1) WMD isn’t exclusively nukes, and we knew he had the capability in the past as he had gassed his internal opposition. It also isn’t exclusively fission devices, either. He may have been interested in building ‘dirty bombs’.
      2) Just because Iraqis weren’t doing the heavy lifting doesn’t mean they weren’t paying people with the actual smarts, and/or buying material for contract assembly. They did that with a bunch of conventional weapons, especially artillery.
      3) The US case for invading Iraq was NOT based on WMD. This is a misstatement meant to use the lack of WMD to discredit the invasion. The US had a vested interest in deposing Saddam because the sanctions policy wasn’t holding and it was in our interest to find somebody other than the Saudi’s to balance Iran. A moderate Iraq fit the bill about as well as could be expected in that area. The WMD justification was presented to build support in the UK et al, and W even indicated to Blair that if it was a problem he could take a pass.

      • Eponymous says:

        Whatever the true reason (to the degree such a thing exists), the case made to the public was primarily about WMDs; and by far the most compelling part was the risk of a nuke. “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud” and all that.

      • gcochran9 says:


        1. Calling something like mustard gas, or even nerve gas, “WMD” is just a lie. Mind you, Iraq wasn’t producing either one in 2003.
        2. The Iraqis had no money in 2003. They weren’t hiring outside experts.

        3. We overthrew Saddam and ended up with a pro-Iranian government, losing ~4000 KIA and spending over a trillion dollars in the process. ANd of course the case to the people of the United States was about Iraqi WMD, along with talk about nonexistent links to Al- Qaeda and 9-11. It was all false, all stupid, all nonsense.

          The Sanctions policy was holding, by the way. Statements to the contrary are false. Nor was it about to disintegrate: with one port, you could have enforced it forever with a single destroyer.

          I could have made up better excuses while three sheets to the wind. But nobody & nothing could have made invading Iraq make any sense.

        • skeptic16 says:

          My guess is that the war designers thought that even if nothing was found, another Gulf War 1 lopsided victory would make people forget about no WMDs. And they were probably right. Many forgot that Bush joked about not finding them at the White House Correspondents dinner.

      • dearieme says:

        “The US had a vested interest in deposing Saddam because the sanctions policy wasn’t holding and it was in our interest to find somebody other than the Saudi’s to balance Iran. A moderate Iraq fit the bill”

        That’s as cruel an assessment of the intelligence of the US Establishment as ever I’ve seen.

      • gcochran9 says:

        There was no Iraqi WMD because we spent a billion dollars looking, and found nothing.

    • It’s Wikipedia that’s not really reliable in this case.

  10. Anon says:


    I noticed your brief Twitter conversation with Yeyo a month ago (

    Yeyo: A healthy reminder that US foreign policy is pure realpolitik and has fuck all to do with human rights and democracy
    Greg: Not true. Many US actions don’t make sense in any framework.
    Yeyo: To be fair, since they got access to much more classified info than us lots of actions might not make sense to us
    Greg: That’s what a friend, himself someone with all kind of high clearances, said about Bush II and Iraq. “POTUS must know something I don’t.” I thought otherwise.
    Yeyo: Ah, you mean the Iraq adventure. That was also realpolitik, just a misguided one. But intention counts.
    Greg: I guess we really needed to spend a trillion turning Iraq into a Iranian ally. Realpolitik it wasn’t. As for Iraqi WMD, the powers that be really believed. Not one high-ranking person understood that issue as well as I did.
    Yeyo: Misguided as fick, agree. But these loons really thought they could turn Iraq into an ally and have their soldiers be greeted with roses. Intentions were realpolitik, the (very predictable) consequences weren’t planned

    I was going to respond at the time but didn’t know how to send you a longer message. But now I see you’ve posted a blog entry about the same topic, I had to say something.

    The model you’re using: that you are smarter and more informed than the whole American intelligence community, just isn’t realistic. I know you are a very intelligent man, and I have learned a lot from you and other HBDers in the short time I’ve known about your work. I agree there was no evidence of WMDs and it was foolish to try to democratize clannish Middle-Eastern societies. But as for why the intelligence agencies and US government acted the way they did, I think you are missing something important.

    The Bush Administration’s actions do make sense in a certain framework, but it is bleaker than anyone can imagine before looking into it. There is an interview with Cheney from 1994 proving he knew that getting rid of Saddam would destabilize the region ( They wanted to go to war in the Middle East before 9/11 even happened, the plan was already on Bush’s desk when the attacks occurred ( The plan to destabilize the Middle East was outlined in the Yinon Plan and repackaged by the Project for the New American Century as democratization. The WMD angle was pushed by Netanyahu himself in Congress.

    They knew exactly what they were doing, and 9/11 was their excuse to do it.

    I don’t know if you’ve ever looked into 9/11 conspiracy theories, but this documentary ( is very thorough and rational, presenting both sides of the story and comparing arguments, suggesting possible explanations — no wild leaps of inference or baseless assertions. Christopher Bollyn has more fully investigated this in his book Solving 9/11.

    Just something to consider… I think it is a better model than ‘they were too stupid.’

  11. X says:

    Correct links

  12. anonymous says:

    Why are then the other three letter agencies so succesful in infiltrating and destroying the internal enemies, the readical left in the 60’s and 70’s, the KKK,neo-nazi and right wing groups later? (see COINTELPRO)

    Does the system sees internal foes as more dangerous than external ones, or is there something specific in CIA incompetence?

  13. Thersites says:

    I was in high school at the time, and had probably developed better instincts than most of DC’s “experts” just by being on the debate team and the geography club. I didn’t know jack squat about enriching uranium then (and mostly still don’t), but I did watch news footage of inspectors touring through hilariously dilapidated Iraqi facilities- “Wait- Saddam has money for a nuclear weapons program, but doesn’t have money for window repairs or a fresh coat of paint? And why does all this purported nuclear weapons technology look like rusty garbage?” I watched Colin Powell lay out the “evidence” for war on morning TV and waited confusedly for the punchline. “That’s it?” And knowing, crudely, that Iraq was riven by ethnic and religious divisions, and that most people generally don’t like foreign soldiers walking their streets, it seemed a no-brainer that a bloody insurgency would result, notwithstanding an easy initial invasion.

    Surely, the highly-trained expert planners in Washington are taking all of this into account, of course“- and there you have youthful foolishness learning its lesson. Since the public case for war was so obviously flimsy and absurd, I assumed that the President must have had access to some sort of double-secret classified dossiers proving that an Iraqi attack was imminent, which couldn’t yet be shared with the public. If nothing else, I learnt exactly how much to put my faith in certain types of “experts”.

  14. joe falcone says:

    Odd that I remember this so differently. The intelligence agencies didn’t believe Iraq had any significant nuclear program. The administration famously “cooked the intelligence.” Or as Tony Blair famously put it, they “sexed it up.”

  15. jmcb says:

    Greg, what do you think about what Scott Ritter was saying then? In the lead up to the invasion, the NPR affiliate in Chicago broadcast a talk he gave where he said there are absolutely no WMD in Iraq and then spent an hour giving endless details from his time there as a weapons inspector. At the time, I found it a breath of fresh air and was then surprised that nothing really came of it.

    I heard that an anti-war group at U of C invited him to give a talk, but his fee was something like 20K, which was about two orders of magnitude higher than their annual budget. So that didn’t go anywhere.

  16. owentt says:

    Daniel Davies arrived at the same conclusion with a different sort of technical expertise: He used what he learned in business school. I still find this short post useful 15 years later:

    I figured it out by actually listening to the reports on the case being made by Hans Blix and other independent investigators and contrasting it with the obvious perjury and attempts to confuse the subject in the official sworn testimony Colin Powell and Robert Mueller.

    Incidentally, you can figure out that Trump-Russia is a hoax either way. Any basic technical understanding of hacking and who does it and how it works reveals that there’s just nothing there. And furthermore the principals pushing the case are all obviously distorting it and proven liars willing to cheat openly to deceive us for their own benefit.

  17. Mobutu2 says:

    Since when to tell the truth is more professional than to spin the narrative. The narrative is not essentially a lie, for lie’s existing assumes the existence of truth. And no one wants to be a liar, even in government agencies. So any professionals who might have a knowledge, i.e. a whiff of truth to them, are driven from the field for non-professionalism. Since to be efficient you must implement pragmatic solutions in an absent of any evidence that might influence your decision.

  18. Bruce says:

    But .. but… they had chemical weapons – they used them on the Kurds and Iranians. One of my bosses (defense contractor & ex-pilot) told me this the other day.

    You must have run into this type at Hughes. BD, ex-military, these events were the main event in their lives. “Merica!”

  19. This “intelligence” agency of yours would be the same one that fell for Uri Geller, yes? The same ones that put small fortunes into research into remotve viewing and the rest? Yeah, I wouldn’t hold out too much hope for them as a way to put the “Int” into “Humint”

  20. Bob says:

    Parts & plans for a centrifuge buried in the garden are not a program, but they are not nothing either.

    A competent CIA might have gotten such out at a cost lower than the one we paid. I hear of planes falling out of the sky, fires, and motorcycle attacks on the cars of scientist in Iran and wonder if lessons have been learned. I would love to hear Greg’s thoughts on if our ‘national technical means’ is up to verifying continued compliance should a deal with the North Koreans to get rid of theirs be possible.Also, do those Paki gadhays worry him?

  21. Dmitry Anisimov says:

    CIA is one thing, what about NSA?

  22. josh says:

    “Don’t know much about biology, don’t know much about history.”

    But they do know that they love you and they know that if you loved them too, what a wonderful world this would be.

  23. Dale Force says:

    The CIA had top level uumint. Saddam’s son-in-laws defected and told all about his WMD program. Of course, Saddam welcomed the home afterwards and restored their palaces, but the CIA stillbuys the Soviet defector who returned home a few years later, to no punishment. [Saddam’s sons later killed the son-in-laws, but that looks at removing competiition .

  24. lelle says:

    The Swede Hans Blixt was given the job by UN to examine if Saddam had WMD, Saddam understood the danger from US, they were going to invade so he cooperated and this delegation were allowed to travel all over Iraq. They didn´t find a single indication of any WMD, Blix was ridiculed in all US newspapers and presented as a fool. Today we know there were no WMD.

    In Britain the fool Blair bought everything and supported the invasion. His actions has been investigated. In July 2016, Sir John Chilcot announced the report’s publication, more than seven years after the inquiry was announced.Usually referred to as the Chilcot report by the news media, the document stated that at the time of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Saddam Hussein did not pose an urgent threat to British interests, that intelligence regarding weapons of mass destruction was presented with unwarranted certainty, that peaceful alternatives to war had not been exhausted, that the United Kingdom and the United States had undermined the authority of the United Nations Security Council, that the process of identifying the legal basis was “far from satisfactory”, and that a war was unnecessary.

  25. brokenyogi says:

    All of those reasons make sense, but at the time I was willing to keep an open mind on the IC findings. What turned me against the idea that Iraq had a viable WMD program was Colin Powell’s ridiculous presentation. I’ve never seen a worse case made for literally anything of importance. It was so shoddy, I had to assume the whole thing was BS from top to bottom. And then Hans Blik’s highly professional inspection team with real experts kept reporting that they couldn’t find any signs of an active WMD program. That was crushing. To me, at the very least, it meant that we should delay any war for at least a year for further inspections. But the worst thing was that even after Blik made his reports, the Bush Admin ramped up their war talk even more urgently. It became obvious that WMDs were just a pretext for a war they had already decided to launch for other reasons, and they saw Blik and the entire UN inspection program as undermining that false pretext, so they had to go to war sooner rather than later, or the whole charade would collapse.

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