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Intelligence notes proving Iraq had no WMD were shelved

A former CIA official, who worked for the agency for more than 20 years, has recently revealed that the agency was informed in the spring of 2001 that Iraq has abandoned major elements of its nuclear weapons program, but the intelligence agency hided the information from senior policy makers.

In December, a lawsuit filed in federal court where the former CIA officer said that the informant told him that Iraq suspended its uranium enrichment program years earlier.

The officer was fired in 2004.

In the lawsuit, the officer, whose name remains secret because disclosing it might jeopardize the agency's sources, accused the CIA of dismissing him as a punishment for the reports he prepared, in which he questioned the agency's assumptions on a series of weapons-related matters. Among other things, he charged that he had been the target of retaliation for his refusal to go along with the agency's intelligence conclusions.

But the CIA would not comment on the lawsuit, the agency spokesman, Michelle Neff, said.

The officer asserted that the information he got about Iraq’s nuclear programme came from a significant source. The information would have arrived at a time when the CIA was reconsidering whether Iraq was reviving its nuclear activities, he said.

Details of the lawsuit have not been made public because the documents the official used in the case have been heavily censored by Bush’s administration.

But The New York Times received information about the officer’s allegations from several people who are familiar with the case.

Roy W. Krieger, the former officer's lawyer, likened his client's case to that of Valerie Plame, CIA officer whose name was leaked after her husband publicly challenged the administration conclusions about Saddam Hussein’s alleged WMD.

"In both cases, officials brought unwelcome information on WMD. in the period prior to the Iraq invasion, and retribution followed," said Mr. Krieger.

In 2003, the former officer learned that he was the subject of a counterintelligence investigation, and that he was accused of having sex with a female contact, according to the court documents.

The officer dismissed the allegations as false.

Eight months later, the CIA inspector general's office informed the officer that he was accused of diverting to his own use money earmarked for payments to informants, a charge he also dismissed, the officer said in the court documents.

The officer's allegations regarding his reports about Iraq’s nuclear weapons weren’t addressed in a report issued in March by the presidential commission which examined intelligence about Saddam’s alleged WMD. The lawyer said that his client didn’t testify before the commission.

The panel was not aware of the officer's allegations, according to a former senior staff member of the commission. Also his concerns weren’t included in the Senate Select Committee report in 2004 on prewar intelligence.

The officer and his lawyer met with staff members of that Senate committee last December, months after the report was issued, the officer stated.

In the spring of 2001, the former officer met with a valuable informant who had examined parts of Iraqi centrifuges, used to turn uranium into fuel for nuclear weapons, he said in the lawsuit.

The informant told the officer that the Iraqi government had long since halted all activities related to uranium enrichment and that the CIA could buy centrifuge components if it wanted to.

The reports were filed with the Counter Proliferation Division in the CIA’s espionage arm, but they never reached other American intelligence agencies or policy makers, as is typically done, the officer said.

The officer was told that the CIA had already detailed information about continuing Iraqi nuclear weapons efforts and that his informant should focus on other countries, according to the suit.

According to the presidential commission report concerning illicit weapons, the CIA and other intelligence agencies issued a classified assessment in 2000, stating that Iraq didn’t take any step toward the reconstitution of its nuclear program.

But in 2001, that assessment changed.

In March 2001, intelligence reports claiming that Iraq was seeking high-strength aluminum tubes from China made the agency change its mind, and decide that Iraq sought those tubes to develop high-tech centrifuges to restart its uranium enrichment program.

Despite differing interpretations of the tubes' purposes by other intelligence experts, the CIA’s view had hardened.

But, pressured by the U.S. Congress, the National Intelligence Estimate produced by the intelligence community, stated in October 2002 that most of the nation's intelligence agencies concluded that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program.

Mr. Krieger said he had recently sent a letter to the FBI director, asking him to order an investigation into his client's complaints, but the CIA classified that letter.

Most of the details of the suit "were classified by the CIA, not to protect national security but to conceal politically embarrassing facts from public scrutiny," the lawyer said.

In October 2004, a 1,200 to 1,500 report authored by Charles Duelfer, head of the Iraq Survey Group, said that Iraq's WMD program was destroyed in 1991 and that the ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein halted the country’ nuclear program after 1991 Gulf War.

Source: New York Times


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