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October 11, 2005

Wait, I've Changed My Mind And Decided Colin Powell Is The Most Honest Man On Earth

Yesterday I quietly and calmly explained that COLIN POWELL IS A GIGANTIC ERUPTING GEYSER OF LIES. Today I thought it might be fun to soberly and carefully describe why POWELL'S REAL NAME IS MR. BULLSHIT GOT-LIES PINOCCHIO.

Below are all the nitty-gritty details; as far as I know, this has never been laid out to this extent before. Speaking of which, I actually do have a reason for doing this beyond my own personal amusement. (Although my own personal amusement is a significant factor.) More news on this soon.

Powell has gone to great lengths to create the impression he was desperate to make sure his U.N. presentation on February 5, 2003 was 100% accurate. According to the WMD Commission, he "engaged in an intense personal effort to explore every flaw in the intelligence he was about to present to the United Nations Security Council."

Uh. Well. Hmm. Judge for yourself:

At the beginning of the presentation, Powell stated:

My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we're giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.

Later in the presentation, in regards to whether Iraq had reconstituted a nuclear weapons program, he said:

...there is no doubt in my mind...

That's in public. What about in private? According to Larry Wilkerson, Powell's chief of staff, after the U.N. presentation

[Powell] had walked into my office musing and he said words to the effect of, I wonder how we'll all feel if we put half a million troops in Iraq and march from one end of the country to the other and find nothing.

1. Powell played an intercept of a conversation between Iraqi army officers about U.N. inspections. However, when he translated what they were saying, he knowingly embellished it, turning it from evidence Iraq was complying with U.N. resolutions to evidence Iraq was violating them. Here's the conversation as Powell provided it:

They're inspecting the ammunition you have, yes.
For the possibility there are forbidden ammo.
For the possibility there is by chance forbidden ammo.
And we sent you a message yesterday to clean out all of the areas, the scrap areas, the abandoned areas. Make sure there is nothing there.

However, the incriminating phrases "clean all of the areas" and "Make sure there is nothing there" do not appear in the official State Department translation:

And we sent you a message to inspect the scrap areas and the abandoned areas.

(Imad Khadduri was kind enough to confirm for me that the State Department translation is correct.)

This is described in Plan of Attack by Bob Woodward:

[Powell] had decided to add his personal interpretation of the intercepts to rehearsed script, taking them substantially further and casting them in the most negative light...

Concerning the intercept about inspecting for the possibility of "forbidden ammo," Powell took the interpretation further: "Clean out all of the areas... Make sure there is nothing there." None of this was in the intercept. (p. 310)

Note that since the State Department was questioned about this by journalist Gilbert Cranberg, the translation has disappeared from its site. It's now available only via the Wayback Machine.

2. Later in the presentation, Powell said:

We know that Saddam's son, Qusay, ordered the removal of all prohibited weapons from Saddam's numerous palace complexes.

The State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) prepared two memos commenting on drafts of Powell's presentation. (They were later released as appendices to the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on WMD intelligence.) And the first memo, from January 29, 2003, flagged this claim as "WEAK":

second bullet. WEAK. Qusay order to remove prohibited items from palaces.

3. Powell said:

...key files from military and scientific establishments have been placed in cars that are being driven around the countryside by Iraqi intelligence agents to avoid detection.

The January 29, 2003 INR memo flagged this claim as "WEAK":

last bullet. WEAK. Sensitive files being driven around in cars, in apparent shell game. Plausibility open to question.

This claim was again flagged in the second INR memo, from February 3, 2003:

Page 4, last bullet, re key files being driven around in cars to avoid inspectors. This claim is highly questionable and promises to be targeted by critics and possibly UN inspection officials as well.

4. Powell:

...we know from sources that a missile brigade outside Baghdad was disbursing [sic] rocket launchers and warheads containing biological warfare agents to various locations, distributing them to various locations in western Iraq.

January 29, 2003 INR memo:

last bullet. WEAK. Missiles with biological warheads reportedly dispersed. This would be somewhat true in terms of short-range missiles with conventional warheads, but is questionable in terms of longer-range missiles or biological warheads.

February 3, 2003 INR memo:

Page 5. first para, claim re missile brigade dispersing rocket launchers and BW warheads. This claim too is highly questionable and might be subjected to criticism by UN inspection officials.

5. Powell described a satellite picture this way:

The two arrows indicate the presence of sure signs that the bunkers are storing chemical munitions...

The truck you [...] see is a signature item. It's a decontamination vehicle in case something goes wrong.

January 29, 2003 INR memo:

***/WEAK. We support much of this discussion, but we note that decontamination vehicles—cited several times in the text—are water trucks that can have legitimate uses...

...Iraq has given UNMOVIC what may be a plausible account for this activity—that this was an exercise involving the movement of conventional explosives; presence of a fire safety truck (water truck, which could also be used as a decontamination vehicle) is common in such an event.

6. Powell:

These are facts, corroborated by many sources, some of them sources of the intelligence services of other countries.

February 3, 2003 INR memo:

Numerous references to humint as fact. (E.g., "We know that...) We have been told that some are being adjusted, but we gather some others—such as information involving multiple-corroboration—will stay...In the Iraq context, "multiple corroboration" hardly guarantees authenticity of information.

7. Powell: mid-December weapons experts at one facility were replaced by Iraqi intelligence agents who were to deceive inspectors about the work that was being done there.

January 29, 2003 INR memo:

last bullet. **/WEAK. Iraqi intelligence officials posing as WMD scientists. Such claims are not credible and are open to criticism, particularly by the UN inspectorates.

8. Powell:

On orders from Saddam Hussein, Iraqi officials issued a false death certificate for one scientist, and he was sent into hiding.

January 29, 2003 INR memo:

second bullet. WEAK. Alleged false death certificate for scientist. Not implausible, but UN inspectors might question it. (Note: Draft states it as fact.)

9. Powell:

A dozen [WMD] experts have been placed under house arrest, not in their own houses, but as a group at one of Saddam Hussein's guest houses.

January 29, 2003 INR memo:

second bullet. WEAK. 12 experts reportedly under house arrest... Highly questionable.

10. Powell:

In the middle of January, experts at one facility that was related to weapons of mass destruction, those experts had been ordered to stay home from work to avoid the inspectors. Workers from other Iraqi military facilities not engaged in elicit [sic] weapons projects were to replace the workers who'd been sent home.

January 29, 2003 INR memo:

WEAK. Experts at one facility being substituted by workers from other facilities. Plausibility open to question.

11. Powell:

UAVs outfitted with spray tanks constitute an ideal method for launching a terrorist attack using biological weapons.

January 29, 2003 INR memo:

...the claim that experts agree UAVs fitted with spray tanks are "an ideal method for launching a terrorist attack using biological weapons" is WEAK.

12. Powell:

Most U.S. experts think [the seized aluminum tubes] are intended to serve as rotors in centrifuges used to enrich uranium. Other experts, and the Iraqis themselves, argue that they are really to produce the rocket bodies for a conventional weapon, a multiple rocket launcher.

An October 15, 2003 60 Minutes II program interviewed Houston Wood, a consultant to Oak Ridge National Laboratories and one of the world's foremost experts on uranium enrichment:

PELLEY: (Voiceover) The New York Times reported that senior administration officials insisted the tubes were for an atom bomb program. Was it clear to you that science wasn't pushing this forward?

Mr. WOOD: Yes. That's a very good way to put it. Science was not pushing this forward. Scientists had made their evaluation and made their determination, and now we didn't know what was happening...Most experts are located in Oak Ridge, and that was not the position there.

PELLEY: Do you know one in academia, in government, in a foreign country who disagrees with your appraisal, who says, 'Yes, these are for nuclear weapons'?

Mr. WOOD: I don't know a single one anywhere.

13. Powell: strikes me as quite odd that these [aluminum] tubes are manufactured to a tolerance that far exceeds U.S. requirements for comparable rockets. Maybe Iraqis just manufacture their conventional weapons to a higher standard than we do, but I don't think so.

February 3, 2003 INR memo:

Our key remaining concern is the claim that the tubes are manufactured to a tolerance that "far exceeds US requirements for comparable rockets." In fact, the most comparable US system is a tactical rocket—the US Mark 66 air-launched 70mm rocket—that uses the same, high-grade (7075-T6) aluminum, and that has specifications with similar tolerances. Note that the Mk 66 specifications are unclassified, and the Department is planning to share them with the IAEA.
• • •

Now, with that for context, let's look back at what Powell said last month in his interview with Barbara "Living Dead" Walters:

There was some people in the intelligence community who knew at that time that some of these sources were not good and shouldn't be relied upon, and they didn't speak up. That devastated me.

This can be contrasted with this October, 2003 exchange from 60 Minutes II with Greg Thielmann, who headed the office of Strategic, Proliferation, and Military Affairs in the INR until September 2002:

PELLEY: If the secretary took the information that his own intelligence bureau had developed and turned it on its head, which is what you're saying, to what end?

Mr. THIELMANN: I can only assume that he was doing it to loyally support the president of the United States and build the strongest possible case for arguing that there was no alternative to the use of military force.

And there you have it: Colin Powell, American Liar.

Posted at October 11, 2005 07:17 AM | TrackBack

Heck, I knew that way back when My Lai, Calley, Medina, Simpson and the rest of the guys were hot news.

Posted by: Jesus B. Ochoa at October 11, 2005 08:07 AM

I know, I know. It's old news re Mr. Powell in the margins where we live. But you have to keep pushing and pushing just to get 5% of the truth into regular history.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at October 11, 2005 08:38 AM

As long as you keep the phrase "Mr. Bullshit Got-Lies Pinocchio," I don't see how this shadowy future project can fail.

One nitpick: under number four, the quote use "disbursing" instead of "dispersing." And under number eleven, "ilicit" instead of "illicit." You might want to throw in a "[sic]."

Posted by: Sully at October 11, 2005 08:40 AM

I'm probly in the left 15%, and I never heard about this memo. Actually the other post works better for me. Not just length. This one, when you read enough of the claims and they're all called "weak," makes you wonder "did they have an agenda to tear the claims down?" It reads kind of like an anti-Iraq-war think tank or talking points memo. Reading the other one, I had no doubts that you'd turned up the big lie.

Posted by: Noumenon at October 11, 2005 11:14 AM


Posted by: at October 11, 2005 11:45 AM

Nouemenon, what you're saying is that if the experts find all of Powell's assertions weak, this doesn't cast doubt on Powell, but makes you think the experts had an agenda. Perhaps their agenda was to evaluate the evidence and give their conclusions, and if they found that the evidence for Powell's statements were weak, maybe it suggests that Powell had an agenda. Back here on planet earth, that's what most of us would say.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at October 12, 2005 03:23 PM

Apparently Colin is having a grand time these days telling lies for big bucks and getting the standing "O":

Posted by: Ross Winters at October 12, 2005 03:54 PM

"Perhaps their agenda was to evaluate the evidence and give their conclusions..."

I'm not willing to give them the benefit of the doubt any more than Powell. Everything's politicized. Anyway, it's a well known fact about persuasion that highly educated audiences are more persuaded if you appear to give them both sides of the story. So a post that says "Powell's claims agreed with the intelligence on this and this, but he was lying about that and that" could be naturally more convincing than a post that says "Powell stretched weak evidence" and nothing else.

Posted by: Noumenon at October 12, 2005 04:24 PM

I had the same reaction as Noumenon about the impact of Jonathan's two posts. Even after I reminded myself that the repeated flagging of points in the presentation by State analysts is a result of them doing their job.

The rocket tolerances business is much stronger stuff, and this post's addition of the Oak Ridge scientist makes that even more damning. As is the intentional distortion of the translation.

Posted by: Nell at October 12, 2005 05:27 PM

I believe that ultimately, human beings have a limitless capacity for self-deception or a denial of reality. The normal goal of most governments is to play to the former to enforce the latter to maintain (its own version of) social order. This must be the first time that I have seen a government believing in the lies it spun itself.

Posted by: En Ming Hee at October 12, 2005 09:03 PM

I misread you, Noumenon. Sorry about that. I thought you were saying the first post made you think Jon had a smoking gun, but now after the second one you thought it just looked like experts with an agenda. But if you are saying, like Nell, that the aluminum tube episode is more impressive than experts saying "weak case", than yeah, that's true.

I'd add that the experts were clearly vindicated by subsequent events, so in the face of some hypothetical Bush supporter accusing them of having an agenda one could plausibly argue that their agenda was one of honestly evaluating the evidence. The hypothetical Bush supporter would have had a stronger case before the war.

For myself I was hoping one of these posts was going to go back to Powell's role "investigating" My Lai.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at October 13, 2005 02:41 PM

Noumenon, you have an interesting view. To rephrase: "if all the evidence points in one direction, the observer must be biased." Do you apply this standard also to gravity? A spherical Earth? Evolution? And when your own good sense tells you that the evidence *is* rather one-sided, do you then also wave it away by saying, "Both sides are nonsense"?

Speaking of bits of balderdash, my favorite one didn't appear here, maybe because it wasn't part of The UN Speech. Remember the two "bioweapon lab" trucks? Proof--proof!--that mass weapons of mass anthrax were being mass produced. The two trucks had been looted, so there wasn't much left, but they were proof. When I saw a picture of them, I nearly fell off my chair laughing. Both had canvas cloth sides, well known as the way to contain dangerous bacteria. That's why P4 containment labs are always housed in tents. And they had no centrifuges. None. The centrifuge you'd need to weaponize anthrax is the size of half a bed and as heavy as three refrigerators. That's not impossible to loot, but other equipment of equal massiveness was still there. And there was no laminar flow hood. None. That's built in, unlikely to be looted, and if it was, the plumbing for it would still be there. It wasn't. Without one of those, your horrible bioweapon bacteria would kill everyone in the lab long before you could mail them to the US in plain brown envelopes. I'm just a harmless botanist who studies orchids. If I know this, you can bet there were a few people at State, the CIA, hell, even the Defense Dept., who were pointing it out, too.

Posted by: quixote at October 13, 2005 02:50 PM

On Feb. 6, 2003 I told a friend of mine that "Powell lied his ass off yesterday". According to David Barsamian of Alternative Radio, there was a total of 33 lies.

Posted by: Bill Warrick at November 3, 2005 10:45 PM