In a federal lawsuit against the Central Intelligence Agency, a former officer alleges that the agency ignored information in 2001 from a “significant” informant who told the CIA that Iraq had abandoned a major element of its nuclear weapons program.
In the lawsuit, the anonymous CIA officer says that the informant told him that Iraq’s uranium enrichment program had ended years earlier and that centrifuge components from the scuttled program were available for examination and even purchase.
The officer, an employee at the agency for more than 20 years, including several years in a clandestine unit assigned to gather intelligence related to illicit weapons, was fired in 2004.
(Ironically, Roy W. Krieger, the former officer’s lawyer, told the New York Times for an August 1 story that his client worked in the same unit as Valerie Plame, the CIA operative whose role was leaked to the press after her husband publicly challenged some administration conclusions about Iraq’s nuclear ambitions.)
In his lawsuit, the former officer says his dismissal was punishment for his reports questioning the agency’s assumptions on weapons-related matters, and that he was targeted for refusing to agree with the agency’s intelligence conclusions.
The Times noted that details of the eight-month-old case “have not been made public because the documents in his suit have been heavily censored by the government and the substance of the claims are classified. The officer’s name remains secret, in part because disclosing it might jeopardize the agency’s sources or operations.”
Several people with detailed knowledge of the case provided information anonymously to the Times about the allegations, the paper wrote.
Krieger told the Times that he had asked the court handling the case to declassify his client’s suit, but the CIA had moved to classify most of his motion seeking declassification. He added that he recently sent a letter to the director of the FBI requesting an investigation of his client’s complaints, but that the CIA had classified that letter, as well.
Most of the details of the case, he told the Times, “were classified by the C.I.A., not to protect national security but to conceal politically embarrassing facts from public scrutiny.”
The former officer’s information on the Iraqi nuclear program arrived at a time when the CIA was starting to reconsider whether Iraq had revived its efforts to develop nuclear weapons.
Throughout much of the 1990s, the CIA and other United States intelligence agencies believed that Iraq had largely abandoned its nuclear weapons program. In December 2000, the intelligence agencies issued a classified assessment stating that Iraq did not appear to have taken significant steps toward the reconstitution of the program, according to the presidential commission report concerning illicit weapons.
But that assessment changed in early 2001. In March, intelligence indicating that Iraq was seeking high-strength aluminum tubes from China greatly influenced the agency’s thinking. Analysts soon came to believe that the only possible explanation for Iraq’s purchase of the tubes was to develop high-tech centrifuges for a new uranium enrichment program.
By October 2002, the National Intelligence Estimate, produced by the intelligence community under pressure from Congress, stated that most of the nation’s intelligence agencies believed that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program, based in large part on the aluminum tubes.
The agency’s conclusion that this was happening, eventually made public by the Bush administration in 2002 as part of its rationale for war, has since been found to be incorrect.
In his lawsuit, the former officer said that in the spring of 2001, he met with a “significant” informant who had examined and purchased parts of Iraqi centrifuges. Centrifuges are used to turn uranium into fuel for nuclear weapons. The informant reported that the Iraqi government had long since canceled its uranium enrichment program and that the CIA could buy centrifuge components if it wanted.
The officer filed his reports with the Counter Proliferation Division in the agency’s clandestine espionage arm. The reports were never disseminated to other American intelligence agencies or to policy makers, as is typically done, he charged.
According to his suit, the former officer was told that the agency already had detailed information about continuing Iraqi nuclear weapons efforts.
The Times said it “was not possible to verify independently the former officer’s allegations concerning his reporting on illicit weapons.”
The former officer’s claims concerning his reporting on the Iraqi nuclear weapons program were not addressed in a report issued in March by the presidential commission that examined intelligence regarding such weapons in Iraq. He did not testify before the commission, Krieger said. A former senior staff member of the commission said the panel was not aware of the officer’s allegations.
The claims were also not included in the 2004 report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on prewar intelligence. The former officer and his lawyer met with staff members of that Senate committee in a closed-door session last December, months after the report was issued.
This article first appeared at Journalists Against Bush’s B.S.