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October 2, 2004
NY Times Reruns The Golden Oldies

Tomorrow's New York Times runs a 10,000-word article about prewar intelligence on Iraq's nuclear program being called a "smoking gun", "persuasive", with predictions of "significant impact". I agree, although not on the Bush campaign, as Barry Ritholtz suggests. I believe it will have significant impact on the New York Times, because as Tom Maguire and CQ reader Michael K note, the Washington Post ran an article fourteen months ago that tells the exact same story.

At issue is the national-security assessment of aluminum tubes sought by Saddam Hussein in 2000 from China. The administration determined that the type and size of the tubes indicated that they were to be used in a nuclear centrifuge. Now we know that was not the case, especially after the testimony and evidence of Dr. Mahdi Obeidi, but at the time the West had not been in Iraq for two years and had little information on the state of Saddam's programs. The Times article suggests that the Bush Administration deliberately chose the worst-case scenario rather than the more likely explanation that the tubes were meant for rocket production.

Unfortunately, so did the Post in August 2003, hardly making this a revelation. Not only that, but the Times article even uses the same source to produce the same story. Consider this from the Post:

His name was Joe, from the U.S. government. He carried 40 classified slides and a message from the Bush administration.

An engineer-turned-CIA analyst, Joe had helped build the U.S. government case that Iraq posed a nuclear threat. He landed in Vienna on Jan. 22 and drove to the U.S. diplomatic mission downtown. In a conference room 32 floors above the Danube River, he told United Nations nuclear inspectors they were making a serious mistake.

At issue was Iraq's efforts to buy high-strength aluminum tubes. The U.S. government said those tubes were for centrifuges to enrich uranium for a nuclear bomb. But the IAEA, the world's nuclear watchdog, had uncovered strong evidence that Iraq was using them for conventional rockets.

Joe described the rocket story as a transparent Iraqi lie. According to people familiar with his presentation, which circulated before and afterward among government and outside specialists, Joe said the specialized aluminum in the tubes was "overspecified," "inappropriate" and "excessively strong." No one, he told the inspectors, would waste the costly alloy on a rocket.

In fact, there was just such a rocket. According to knowledgeable U.S. and overseas sources, experts from U.S. national laboratories reported in December to the Energy Department and U.S. intelligence analysts that Iraq was manufacturing copies of the Italian-made Medusa 81. Not only the Medusa's alloy, but also its dimensions, to the fraction of a millimeter, matched the disputed aluminum tubes.

And then there's this from tomorrow's Times:

According to a 511-page report on flawed prewar intelligence by the Senate Intelligence Committee, the agencies learned in early 2001 of a plan by Iraq to buy 60,000 high-strength aluminum tubes from Hong Kong.

The tubes were made from 7075-T6 aluminum, an extremely hard alloy that made them potentially suitable as rotors in a uranium centrifuge. Properly designed, such tubes are strong enough to spin at the terrific speeds needed to convert uranium gas into enriched uranium, an essential ingredient of an atomic bomb. For this reason, international rules prohibited Iraq from importing certain sizes of 7075-T6 aluminum tubes; it was also why a new C.I.A. analyst named Joe quickly sounded the alarm.

At the C.I.A.'s request, The Times agreed to use only Joe's first name; the agency said publishing his full name could hinder his ability to operate overseas.

It's good to know that the Times stays on top of the news. Either that, or David Barstow must be their editor in charge of reprints.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at October 2, 2004 7:45 PM

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