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Last Updated: Monday, 15 September, 2003, 11:52 GMT 12:52 UK
Why Bush escaped an Iraq row

by Tom Carver
BBC correspondent in Washington

Why hasn't George Bush encountered the same storm of criticism in the US over his intelligence claims on Iraq as Tony Blair has received in the UK?

Bush delivers his State of the Union address in January 2003
Some of Bush's claims have been disputed, but there is no US inquiry
After all, Tony Blair's difficulties hinge largely on a single allegation. But the White House made numerous allegations in the run up to the war which turned out to be wrong.

Last summer, US officials claimed Saddam Hussein was close to acquiring nuclear weapons. On 7 August, Vice President Dick Cheney set the ball rolling by saying, "it's the judgement of many of us that in the not-too-distant future, he [Saddam Hussein] will acquire nuclear weapons".

Within a month, President George W Bush had shortened that timeframe.

Standing next to Tony Blair at Camp David, he declared that Saddam Hussein was only "six months away" from developing a nuclear bomb.

He claimed to be quoting an IAEA report, but the IAEA appeared never to have made such a claim.

A White House official later said that the president had been "imprecise" but no-one noticed.

Hoax

On 5 February, US Secretary of State Colin Powell told the United Nations that Iraq was importing high-strength aluminium tubes as part of a uranium enrichment programme yet more proof that Iraq was apparently building nuclear weapons.

There was also the case of the "yellow cake" uranium that was supposedly being smuggled into Iraq from Africa. That was mentioned by the president in his State of the Union speech in January, which the White House now admits was based on a hoax.
After 11 September, Bush knew if he told the people he needed to attack Iraq they would support him

So, did the White House ride roughshod over the CIA and other intelligence agencies? Well, both yes and no.

The American intelligence system is very different to the British one. There is no Joint Intelligence Committee, which assembles the intelligence from multiple anonymous sources.

Each intelligence agency in the US is a powerful fiefdom in its own right, and is not afraid to speak its mind.

In the case of the aluminium tubes, there was a fierce debate over whether they were for enriching uranium or for building ordinary military rockets.

Four agencies said they were nuclear. Two said they weren't. So Colin Powell was correct when he said that "most analysts" believed they were for enriching uranium.

The disadvantage of this system is that, although it gives the individual agencies more clout, the White House can cherry pick the bits of each report it wants. Or ignore the reports altogether.

Mission

The CIA now claims that it warned the White House about the difficulties there would be in Iraq after the war.

But, as one intelligence source told the Washington Post rather huffily this week, "the reports were written; we don't know if they were ever read".

US marines fighting in the Iraqi town of Kut
Intelligence was not as necessary for Bush's case for war
Last summer, the White House was on a mission to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

The intelligence agencies agreed that he probably possessed weapons of mass destruction. But they had no hard evidence.

Most of their intelligence was five years out of date. Ever since the last UN inspectors left in 1998, the CIA had basically been "guesstimating" the size of the Iraqi stockpile.

On the eve of a war, US intelligence agencies always draw up a formal, secret assessment of the threat, known as a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE). But the White House did not want a document with all the usual intelligence analysts' caveats.

The NIE only happened after Congress wrote and insisted on it. CIA director George Tenet claims that "no one told us what to say", which is probably true.

The White House did not need to tell them. If the Estimate did not fit their view, they could simply ignore it.

In the end, George Bush did not need the intelligence to make his case, in the same way that Tony Blair did.

After going through the trauma of 11 September, Mr Bush knew that if he told the American people he needed to attack Iraq they would support him.



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