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• • •
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February 04, 2008

Lie After Lie: What Exactly Colin Powell Knew Five Years Ago Today, And What He Told The World

(For a round up of blog posts on the Powell anniversary, see here.)

Colin Powell made his Iraq presentation at the UN five years ago, on February 5, 2003.

As much criticism as Powell has received for this—he calls it "painful" and something that will "always be a part of my record"—it hasn't been close to what's justified. Powell was far more than just horribly mistaken: the evidence is conclusive that he fabricated evidence and ignored repeated warnings that what he was saying was false.

Unfortunately, Congress has never investigated Powell's use of the intelligence he was given. Even so, what's already in the public record is extremely damning. So while the corporate media has never taken a close look at this record, we can go through Powell's presentation line by line to demonstrate the chasm between what he knew, and what he told the world. As you'll see, there's quite a lot to say about it.

Powell's speech can be found on the State Department website here. All other sources are linked below.


On that February 5 in front of the UN Security Council, was Colin Powell certain what he was saying was accurate? He certainly was:

POWELL: 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, regarding whether Iraq had reconstituted a nuclear weapons program, he said:

POWELL: [T]here is no doubt in my mind...

That's in public. What about in private? According to Larry Wilkerson, Powell's chief of staff, here's what Powell was thinking at the time:

WILKERSON: [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.


This is some of what Powell said about the infamous aluminum tubes purchased by Iraq, supposedly meant for their covert nuclear weapons program:

POWELL: [I]t 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.

Powell's own intelligence staff, the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), prepared two memos commenting on drafts of the presentation. They were later quietly released as appendices to the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on WMD intelligence.

The second INR memo, written on February 3, 2003, told Powell this:

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.


Powell played an intercept of a conversation between Iraqi army officers about the UN 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. This appears in Bob Woodward's book Plan of Attack:

[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.

Here's the conversation as Powell presented it at the UN. As Woodward reported, the underlined sentences were simply added by Powell:

POWELL: "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.

According to the official State Department translation (and confirmed for me by Imad Khadduri), the Iraqi soldier merely said:

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

And it's no surprise the Iraqi said this. Here's what the Duelfer report found about what was going on within the Iraqi government just before the January 30th intercepted conversation:

The NMD director met with Republican Guard military leaders on 25 January 2003 and advised them they were to sign documents saying that there was no WMD in their units, according to a former Iraqi senior officer. Husam Amin told them that the government would hold them responsible if UNMOVIC found any WMD in their units or areas, or if there was anything that cast doubt on Iraq’s cooperation with UNMOVIC. Commanders established committees to ensure their units retained no evidence of old WMD.

Again: Powell took evidence of the Iraqis doing what they were supposed to do—i.e., searching their gigantic 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.

Since the State Department was questioned about this by journalist Gilbert Cranberg, the translation at variance with Powell's version has disappeared from its site. It's now available only via


Powell's presentation left out extremely important information, as here:

POWELL: 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.

As far as this went, this was accurate. However, Kamel, the head of Iraq's WMD programs, 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 (until his defection). But according to Kamel, they weren't lying when they said they no longer had it.

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

KAMEL: 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.

Did Powell know what he was doing at the time? It's unclear. Here's a transcript of an exchange between Powell and Sam Husseini in Washington in December, 2006, with video below:

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!

As you can see in the video, Powell was not happy to explore this line of questioning. (He's also never shown any inclination to find out who purportedly steered him wrong; when asked by Barbara Walters asked who was responsible for the mistakes in the overall presentation, Powell stated "I don't have the names.")


As mentioned above, the State Department's intelligence staff, called the INR, prepared two memos on the presentation. They directly contradicted Powell on the aluminum tubes issue, but also warned him many of his claims were "weak," "not credible" or "highly questionable." Here are some (amazingly enough, not all) of the examples the memos give.

Powell at the UN:

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

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

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

Powell at the UN:

POWELL: [K]ey 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 first INR memo:

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.

Powell at the UN:

POWELL: [W]e 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.

At the UN, 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.

Powell at the UN:

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.

Powell at the UN:

POWELL: [I]n 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.

Powell at the UN:

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.

Powell at the UN:

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.
• • •

Now, with that for context, it's useful to look back at what Powell said in a November, 2005 interview with Barbara 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.

That 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.

Clearly, Powell's loyalty to George Bush extended to being willing to deceive the world: the United Nations, Americans, and the coalition troops about to be sent to kill and die in Iraq. He has never been held accountable for his actions, and it's extremely unlikely he ever will be.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at February 4, 2008 09:08 PM

Thanks, Jonathan. This needs saying, and remembering, and wider publication. They lied us into a war and occupation that has now killed a million people.

The inability to forget what really happened and "move on" is an obstacle to acceptance by the elite gatekeepers, but to the rest of us posts like this are lifelines.

Posted by: Nell at February 4, 2008 10:13 PM

Take direct action Tuesday morning.

Download this PDF flyer, put some up in your neighborhood, in your workplace, at the bus stop, anywhere:

Or just type your own, print and post:


Says it all.

Posted by: Hudson at February 5, 2008 12:04 AM

Thanks very much, Jonathan. It's an excellent summary of your past work and a valuable resource.

Posted by: Batocchio at February 5, 2008 03:23 AM

Colin Powell--A poor black kid from Jamicia, coes to America,joins the military,promoted being black, took part in the mass killings in Iraq/Kuiwaite--highway of death--182,000 fleeing Iraqies killed in 48 hrs. Please ck-out-Documentary-called--Hidden Desert Storm.
In 2000 Bush appoints him and Powell discloses that his worth is $21 million.
Now how in the world can someone in the military acquire that kind of money on a officiers salary?
His son gets to be head of FCC. When he pushs for Rupert Murdoc and gets to own Direct Tv--the pigeon flys off.
No wonder Africa is screwed up--guys like Powell run it. Pity America we have another Powell waiting to screw us--OBama. It can't get worse--with Bush and Hitlary or can it?

Posted by: jojo at February 5, 2008 09:08 AM

Well taken, Jon. Best he goes in your blog, since he'll never make it to mine.

Posted by: Executed Today at February 5, 2008 09:44 AM

No wonder Africa is screwed up--guys like Powell run it

talk about a non-sequitur

Posted by: almostinfamous at February 5, 2008 12:00 PM

I said at the time that the Bushies trotted out their lawn jockeys, like Rice and Powell, when they needed to push the most egregious lies, because they could hide behind the race/color of their liars, they knew the (white) media would tread softly because ot the race of their sources, and then to cast the inevitable outraged responses to the lies as 'racist' attacks.

Dang clever...

Posted by: konopelli/wgg at February 5, 2008 01:19 PM

You're a racist.

Oh, is that why the media didn't question any of the lies told them about Iraq? Because the people delivering those lies were black? Funny, because I thought it was just part of a general pattern, running back a hundred years or so, of the media not questioning any lies told by representatives of our government, no matter the color, when those lies are being used to get us into the war. Which black folk lied us into Vietnam?

Posted by: SteveB at February 5, 2008 04:38 PM

Please JoJo go back to the My Lai massacre and see the officer who did the first coverup was.
Yip dear old great old lying ass kissing Colin

Posted by: regulararmyfool at February 5, 2008 06:17 PM

I kept an open mind about WMD prior to Powell's presentation at the UN; that convinced me Iraq not only had no nukes but that it had no WMD whatsoever. Part of it was his weasel language - honest men who are honestly mistaken don't use the kind of tortured parsing he used.

Also, if you listen to his comments he quotes an Iraqi general as saying "make sure nothing's there" or words to that effect but if you read the State Dept. copy of the actual transcript of the monitored conversation, you'll see Powell exaggerated the real words.

Last: "Saddam Hussein has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbours."

Secreatary of State Colin Powell 02/24/01

And, just for good measure: "But in terms of Saddam Hussein being there, let's remember that his country is divided, in effect. He does not control the northern part of his country. We are able to keep arms from him. His military forces have not been rebuilt. "

National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice 07/27/01

Posted by: Maezeppa at February 5, 2008 06:30 PM

" All men from Washington are liars."----Chief Sitting Bull

Posted by: Mike Meyer at February 5, 2008 07:22 PM

"And the Women from Washington lie too."---Mike Meyer

Posted by: Mike Meyer at February 5, 2008 07:24 PM

I have to admit to being a war supporter during the run up. At the time I thought there was no way Powell would be on board unless there was a there there.

But my turning point strangely enough was this presentation. I watched it on CSPAN and afterward thought, ok that's over. No war.

Then I turned to the cable networks and felt like I'd lost my mind -- everyone was talking about a slam dunk case. Wha??

IMHO the presentation itself could not have led any honest person to buy the rationale for war. It was only Powell's willingness to do the presentation that sold the nation on it, because it was damn sure not the evidence contained therein.

Posted by: cvcobb01 at February 5, 2008 07:43 PM

our US media was talking about a slam dunk, but the foreign press was chewing it up.....

but the real way you can tell that someone lied (rather than be mistaken) is that the person who was mistaken will be ANGRY that they got it wrong and will have a few words with the ones who led them astray.....

and with all the bushies, that never happen....

Posted by: Susan - NC at February 6, 2008 01:13 AM

oh,those negroes.

always working for the massa

Posted by: albertchampion at February 6, 2008 02:00 AM

oh,those negroes.

always working for the massa

Posted by: albertchampion at February 6, 2008 02:00 AM

"I have to admit to being a war supporter during the run up. At the time I thought there was no way Powell would be on board unless there was a there there."

So, assuming that there would have been a "there there", which I assume means some (still very small amount of) weapons in Iraq (as compared to the weapons of mass destructions arbitrarily maintained by the US), you believe those US would have been justified to unleash a war on that country that killed a million people?

Is that because they are inherently bad? Or devoid of the right of doing what the US do? Is that the same logic that now calls for the preemptive use of the nuclear bomb to prevent the use of the nuclear bomb?

I can't believe I just read that. That is really what made this war click. Not the lies - well, yes, they played a role. But the ease with which, given some token cause (be it through a lie), intelligent and educated people in the US will just find it absolutely appropriate to start a war that might kill a million people.

There is no just no justification for war. Whether it was a lie or truth, does not matter. Everyone who says they were lied into supporting the war is as guilty of it, as they would have found the war justified, if it had been a truth.

And it is the same for those who say, I would have found the war justified, if not for the atrocities. War IS atrocity. Torture, dismemberment, sufferance, destruction, pain, unbearable atrocity. If you have a war, you have an Abu Ghraig, you have a My Lai. You have a thousand of them. Why be shocked when they show up in the news? What do you think war is? The expression of righteousness?

An entire country has its education - moral, philosophical, political - to do over.

Posted by: Francois at February 6, 2008 04:07 AM

mai lai...powell covered it up...enough said

Posted by: tony quantrell at February 6, 2008 05:32 AM

I believe that, were we to find the killers of JFK and the movers behind the Vietnam war, we could demystify and identify those who lied us into Iraq and the payoffs and pressures employed in its implementation. Webster Tarplay pulls the curtain back a bit--go to youtube to SEE Tarplay's analysis.

Posted by: thomas at February 6, 2008 10:08 AM

I wonder where would Powell be now if he had not made this speech? If he had resigned, and then run in this election- or back in 2004?

Is there any doubt he would have been a dead certainty to be President?

Is there any doubt that he now never will?

Posted by: BM at February 6, 2008 10:28 AM

I am very familiar with the quality of today's service personnel. Thank God those psychos are over in the ME, and not killing our raping my family, which they would do for a signed order and a PlayStation, or some combination thereof.
My heart goes out to the people of Iraq, but they're better prepared to deal with the troops then we are at home.
And Hilary and Obama or Obama or Hilary? Just watch how fast they stand up to the neo-cons!

My heart goes out to the people of Iraq, but better them then us.

Posted by: Mooser at February 6, 2008 10:44 AM

Do not mix apple with orange, Collen powel and Obama are two different indivoduals. Collen powel is a real house neggro,who would be sick when his masters are sick; however, Obama is a proud man every balck man should proud of him. he is our sunshine, and black moses. he is like Marcus garvey, who strongly beleive in education and slef-improving.

Posted by: abel at February 6, 2008 10:46 AM

obama is owned by the jews just like colin powell condi rice and all the other blacks you guys are full of shit if you do not know this

Posted by: darryl at February 6, 2008 05:23 PM

abel - I agree that Obama is being attacked simply for being a black man like Powell -- both of them clearly of mixed heritage white and black. The physical resemblances should not be taken as moral resemblances. I know no ill of Obama. I feel betrayed by Powell. There's a good deal of difference there.

You used the expression "our sunshine" to refer to Obama. You must have had the experience of seeing a new word or phrase you never saw, remarking upon it, and then suddenly seeing it the next day. I just saw the film "Ned Kelly" about the Australian Robin Hood (starring Heath Ledger). It is based on a book about the outlaw called "Our Sunshine." Does this have a meaning in colonial countries in which someone is a savior of the poor, or perhaps someone who rose by his own power, without fear or favor? Just wondering.

Posted by: musings at February 6, 2008 06:23 PM

I usually post under my name, but since I'm about to trash a friend of mine I'm going to do it anonymously. I have to figure out some way of gently telling him what I think.

He said recently that he didn't blame HRC for changing her mind about the war. People make mistakes. Unbelievable. I don't even say that HRC should be tried as a war criminal, though maybe in a better world she would. I only say that a person who makes a mistake this enormous, one that causes hundreds of thousands of deaths, perhaps more, is someone who has absolutely no business running for President.

Francois is right. It's this attitude that Americans have, that we have the God-given right to accidentally kill a million people (not that most Americans are even aware of the debate over the death toll or have any notion of even the lowest estimate) that's wrong here. Colin Powell's pathological lying is only the sort of thing you should expect with this kind of attitude. A lot of people don't even think the Iraq War is a major issue, because the "surge" is supposedly working, as though if it were all the deaths before don't count. Old news.

Posted by: Anonymous at February 6, 2008 10:34 PM

I've got some bad news
Pink isn't well
He's stayed back at the hotel
They sent us along
As a surogate band
We're gonna find out where
You fans really stand
Are there any queers
In the theatre tonight?
Get them up against the wall
(against the wall)
There's one in the spotlight
He don't look right to me
Get him up against the wall
(against the wall)
And that one looks Jewish
And that one's a coon
Who let all this riff raff
Into the room?
There's one smoking a joint
And another with spots
If I had MY way
I'd have all of you shot!---Pink Floyd--The Wall

Posted by: Mike Meyer at February 6, 2008 10:50 PM

Francois: Very good points, very well stated.

Posted by: John Caruso at February 7, 2008 03:20 AM