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December 18, 2006

Powell Again Blames CIA For Fabrications And Lies-By-Omission In U.N. Speech

As much criticism as Colin Powell has received for his Iraq presentation at the UN, it hasn't been anywhere near what he deserves. While they've been little noticed, declassified memos from Powell's own intelligence staff at the State Department conclusively prove Powell was aware much of what he said was false or shaky. (I've previously gone through this in detail here.)

So far Powell has blamed everything on the CIA. He did it again yesterday when questioned outside Face the Nation by Sam Husseini of the Institute for Public Accuracy. Here are the details, along with background and the actual video.

#1: Fabricated electronic intercept

According to some, the most impressive elements of Powell's speech came when he played intercepted radio conversations between Iraqi soldiers. According to Powell, this is how one of them went:

"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.''

Powell then explained:

This is all part of a system of hiding things and moving things out of the way and making sure they have left nothing behind.

In fact, Powell had simply made up the parts in bold. According to the official State Department translation, the Iraqi soldier merely said:

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

In other words, Powell took evidence of the Iraqis doing what they were supposed to do—i.e., searching their ammunition dumps to make sure they weren't accidentally holding onto banned chemical weapons—and doctored it to make it look as if Iraq were hiding banned weapons.

And this isn't just my interpretation; it was first reported in Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack. As Woodward writes:

[Powell] had decided to add his personal interpretation of the intercepts to the 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.

When Sam Husseini asked Powell about this yesterday, this was Powell's barely responsive response:

POWELL: Everything that was in that presentation that I gave—

HUSSEINI: Do you acknowledge that you did that [i.e., add words the Iraqi soldier did not say]?

POWELL: You've asked a question. I'm about to answer it. Everything that was in that presentation that I gave was approved and edited by the intelligence community. The Director of Central Intelligence and the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence and all of their principal assistants. And if there were anything in that the script that they didn't think was appropriate or was not accurate, it was removed. Thank you.

The video is below. And here are some obvious follow up questions, if there are any journalists in the D.C. area who feel like practicing journalism:

1. Do you acknowledge that what you said was inaccurate?
2. If you do acknowledge this, you must be furiously angry at George Tenet and the CIA. What actions have you taken to make sure the people responsible for this fabrication have been held accountable?

#2: Lie-by-omission

This appears in another section of Powell's presentation:

Iraq's record on chemical weapons is replete with lies. It took years for Iraq to finally admit that it had produced four tons of the deadly nerve agent, VX. A single drop of VX on the skin will kill in minutes. Four tons.

The admission only came out after inspectors collected documentation as a result of the defection of Hussein Kamal, Saddam Hussein's late son-in-law.

This was accurate. However, Powell left out some extremely important details. Kamel defected in 1995. Iraq had produced this VX before the Gulf War, in 1991—and according to Kamel, Iraq had secretly destroyed it soon after the war. Then they lied about ever producing it. But according to Kamel, they weren't lying when they said they no longer had it.

Indeed, in the U.N.'s notes from Kamel's debriefing, he says Iraq had no remaining WMD of any kind:

All chemical weapons were destroyed. I ordered destruction of all chemical weapons. All weapons -- biological, chemical, missiles, nuclear were destroyed.

And if that weren't enough, Kamel also said this in an interview on CNN:

SADLER: Can you state here and now -- does Iraq still to this day hold weapons of mass destruction?

KAMEL: No. Iraq does not possess any weapons of mass destruction. I am being completely honest about this.

But in 1996 Kamel returned to Iraq, where he was killed by Saddam's regime. Thus the U.S. could safely take a witness who truthfully had said Iraq had no remaining banned weapons, and pretend his testimony indicated the exact opposite.

Here's what Powell said on Sunday.

HUSSEINI: You cited Hussein Kamel in your U.N. testimony. Did you know he said there were no WMDs?

POWELL: I only knew what the intelligence community told me.

HUSSEINI: But did you know that fact?

POWELL: Of course not!

HUSSEINI: You didn't know that, even though it was reported?

POWELL: I've answered your question!

The video is below. And here are some more obvious follow up questions:

1. When and how did you learn that Hussein Kamel said Iraq had no WMD?
2. Have you ever discussed this publicly before?
3. Again, you must be furiously angry about this. What actions have you taken to make sure the people responsible for this have been held accountable?

And that's it. I hope anyone reading this can see the possibilities for better journalism that exist with blogs, YouTube, etc. All that's required is effort and organization on our part.

Finally—don't miss other Washington figures being questioned by Sam Husseini at Washington Stakeout.

Posted at December 18, 2006 10:31 AM | TrackBack

Oh my god, that clip with Negroponte is fucking AWESOME! Way to go, Sam.

Posted by: saurabh at December 18, 2006 05:44 PM

Thanks. It wasn't until I saw that video that I felt I was kind of doing a Michael Moore...and that I did need to knock off a few pounds. Gates and Olmert have since referred to Israel's nukes, but the question should still be raised often. Funny thing is the Al-Jazeera reporter at the stakeouts rags on me for asking that question.

Posted by: osama -- err -- sam at December 19, 2006 06:58 AM

Another point that most of the media missed during Powell's U.N. sellout speech was his dramatic waving of the anthrax vial while claiming it was part of Hussein's WMD arsenal. It was at that point that I knew he was lying because it was known that the Iraqis were not capable of producing powdered anthrax. They only had the liquid, less toxic form of anthrax and that had a short shelf life that had expired long before Powell's speech.

And given Powell's emphasis on anthrax, what has ever become of the FBI investigation of the 10/2001 anthrax attack on Congress? We attacked Iraq over false claims of WMD and yet refuse to investigate the only WMD attack the U.S. ever had. That alone speaks volumes about the real reasons for the Iraq Occupation.

Posted by: Josephus at December 19, 2006 10:12 AM

This post and the previous one on Powell represent some stellar work! Kudos.

Posted by: Batocchio at December 19, 2006 01:49 PM

Another thing - I was wondering if you were familiar with Stuff Happens, by British playwright David Hare. He was recently on the Charlie Rose show, and said he had rethought his conception of Colin Powell as a tragic hero (as he was when I saw the play) after some friends pointed out new information to Hare that would cohere with your work here. I believe Hare has since re-written the piece.

Posted by: Batocchio at December 19, 2006 01:54 PM

In regards to Colin Powell's response, I couldn't help noticing that 1) he tried to "marginalize" you because you were quoting Woodward's "previous book" as opposed to his "last book"--like that makes a difference and 2) after nodding his head a few times that the corners of his mouth turned upwards a couple of times-like he was irritated at the question ("How dare you ask me that?"), at the 38 second mark. That's also when he cut the question off. Kind of telling. Side note: I also notice that Pres. Bush blinks his eyes a lot when giving answers to questions. Also kind of telling. Thanks for good (American)journalism (for a change).

Posted by: Van B at December 19, 2006 02:12 PM

Very good work. I think a wikipedia update is in order. Make sure everybody knows that Colin Powell just makes stuff up.

Posted by: faux facsimile at December 19, 2006 02:47 PM


Loyal soldier bullshit.

Stinks in a way that cannot be missed.

Colin helped clean up My Lai. He is not a hero.

Posted by: Sinjohn at December 19, 2006 05:21 PM

My Anti-Republican party offiliation I've devoutly embraced since Ronald Reagan helps me deal with Republicans in favorable light like Powell and McCain. I get to just write them off because they are Republicans so there is no suprise when their lies come back to bite them. Good political riddance to you Powell. If you didn't have the sence, or the integrety to renounce this party long before you were their UN stooge then you get what you deserve. I look forward to the whole Republican party to get what they deserve, and we can choose between Democrats and Independants or someone else. Republicans almost became the only party in America through inhumane hate-filled ruthless politics, and dirty money powered by greed. Now they need to find a permanent home in the dustbin of history, which can't come too soon.

Posted by: Davol at December 19, 2006 05:41 PM

I always focused on the satellite photos, especially of the 11 identical buildings with 5 of them circled in red. Powell didn't establish that those photos were even of Iraq and how they could tell 5 of the 11 identical buildings had WMDs was never explained.

I was reminded of the photos the pentagon had in the run up to gulf war I that they used to convince us and the Saudis Iraq was building up troops on the Saudi border for an invasion. The St Petersburg Times was able to get Russian commercial satellite photos of the same area at the same time that showed not only no troop buildup but that likely no one had been there for months.

I always held out hope Powell would admit his UN speech was BS and turn on the administration after he retired being more loyal to the military than Bush.

Posted by: gnuorder at December 21, 2006 09:54 AM

Powell has always been two-faced and the yes-man who will do whatever his master tells him. He denies it, but he was a young captain in Vietnam and given the chore of squelching all info about the Mi Lai massacre. It was a young soldier, Ron Ridinour, who hand wrote to every senator what had happened, that opened the investigations. Ron went on to become an excellent journalist until a heart attack killed him about five years ago. Colin Powell should never be trusted any more than Bush or that other idiot, John McCain. Powell knows this ship is sinking and he's letting it be known that he's willing to lie for a new master. He knew what he was doing and if you believe him now, then you'll believe his autobiography a few years back that said he knew nothing about Mi Lai. Like Bush & McCain, he's a Born-Again-liar!

Posted by: Everett at December 21, 2006 11:34 AM

Only in the USA was Powell's UN speech given any credibility.
It didn't result in a resolution authorizing war. The two countries most likely to suffer collateral damage from any attack on the US i.e. Canada and Mexico refused to join Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Go figure.

Posted by: sam_m at December 23, 2006 05:14 AM