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[casi] article: is Iraqi intel still being manipulated

Published on Tuesday, August, 12, 2003 by Newsweek
Is Iraqi Intel Still Being Manipulated?
The sad and secretive tale of an Iraqi scientist

by Michael Hirsh

His story seemed, in the beginning, a godsend for the Bush administration. In early June, Iraqi 
nuclear scientist Mahdi Obeidi revealed to CIA investigators that in 1991, just after the Persian 
Gulf War, he had gone into his backyard to bury gas-centrifuge equipment used to enrich uranium.

IT APPEARED TO be hard evidence backing up what the Bush team had maintained all along: that Saddam 
Hussein had a secret nuclear-weapons program and had hidden it so well that United Nations 
inspectors never would have found it on their own. This, after all, was one of the justifications 
for the war that began in March, and evidence for Vice President Dick Cheney’s charge that 
the Iraqis were “reconstituting a nuclear program.” Obeidi also turned over to the CIA 
180 documents on Iraq’s enrichment program, as well as about 200 blueprints for centrifuges.

Suddenly the Bush administration seemed about to reap one of the windfalls it had long anticipated 
from the ouster of Saddam. Newly enfranchised Iraqi scientists now felt free to speak the truth. 
Obeidi himself, when he was interviewed by U.N. inspectors back in the mid-’90s, had lied 
outright, denying that he had anything to do with the gas-centrifuge program, though in fact he was 
in charge of it as director-general in Iraq’s Ministry of Industry and Military 
Industrialization. In late June, when Obeidi’s tale of the furtive burial beneath his 
backyard rosebush broke on CNN, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said “we’re hopeful 
that this example will lead to other Iraqi scientists stepping forward to provide 
information.” Among those who led the way in playing up the new revelation was David Kay, the 
former U.N. inspector who is today heading the Bush administration’s probe into Iraq’s 
WMD program. “There’s no wa
 y that that would have been discovered by normal international inspections,” said Kay, then 
on his second day on the job as special adviser to the CIA after spending much of the Iraq war as a 
hawkish TV pundit.

But for the Bush administration, things quickly began to go wrong with the Obeidi story. True, 
Obeidi said he’d buried the centrifuge equipment, as he’d been ordered to do in 1991 by 
Saddam’s son Qusay Hussein and son-in-law Hussein Kamel. But he also insisted to the CIA 
that, in effect, that was that: Saddam had never reconstituted his centrifuge program afterward, in 
large part because of the Iraqi tyrant’s fear of being discovered under the U.N. 
sanctions-and-inspections regime. If true, this was a terribly inconvenient fact for the Bush 
administration, after months in which Secretary of State Colin Powell and other senior officials 
had alleged that aluminum tubes imported from 11 countries were intended for just such a centrifuge 
program. Obeidi denied that and added that he would have known about any attempts to restart the 
program. He also told the CIA that, as the International Atomic Energy Agency and many technical 
experts have said, the alumi
 num tubes were intended for rockets, not uranium enrichment or a nuclear-weapons program. And he 
stuck by his story, despite persistent questioning by CIA investigators who still believed he was 
not telling the full truth.

Soon, not only was Obeidi no longer a marquee name for the Bush team, he was incommunicado. Whisked 
off to a safe house in Kuwait, with no access to phones or the Internet, he waited in vain for what 
he thought had been offered to him: asylum in the United States and green cards granting permanent 
residency to him and his eight-member family. Former U.N. inspector David Albright, who got to know 
Obeidi in the mid-’90s in Iraq and acted as middleman in putting him in touch with the CIA in 
mid-May after Operation Iraqi Freedom, spoke with him on June 29. Albright says Obeidi told him 
then that he thought his asylum would be granted by early July and was “in the final 
stages.” But another month passed. As recently as Aug. 5, the last time Albright spoke to 
him, Obeidi did not know when he would be allowed to leave for the United States, Albright said.

Asked about the Obeidi case, CIA spokesman William Harlow said Friday, “We don’t issue 
green cards … We never said he was coming here. We never made a promise.” (In fact, the 
agency does on occasion arrange asylum for useful informants). Later, Harlow called back to say 
that Obeidi was not “cooling his heels” in Kuwait any longer and that 
“we’re not unhappy with him.” But Harlow would not say where Obeidi had been sent 
or whether he had been granted asylum in the United States. “We just don’t discuss 
asylum cases,” Harlow said.

Albright and others suggest that, with the Obeidi case, the message being sent by the Bush 
administration to Iraqi scientists being interrogated in Iraq is a troublesome one: if you 
don’t tell us what we want to hear, you won’t be rewarded. In fact, things might even 
get a little unpleasant for you. As Albright points out, provisional green cards can be arranged 
very quickly; among those so favored, for example, was the Iraqi man who tipped off the U.S. 
military to the whereabouts of Pfc. Jessica Lynch. “I think they’re just keeping him 
under wraps,” said Albright.

The treatment of Obeidi has in turn raised questions about whether even fresh intelligence from 
Iraq is being manipulated in advance of the report being prepared by David Kay, which is intended 
as the definitive account of Iraq’s WMD program. One Capitol Hill legislator told NEWSWEEK 
that the administration’s plan is to put out a vast compilation of data about Saddam’s 
decades-long effort to build weapons of mass destruction and “hope the issue will go 
away.” And several Democrats say they are disturbed by what Sen. Dianne Feinstein told 
NEWSWEEK was the “very vague and nonprecise” nature of Kay’s testimony when he 
appeared at closed sessions of two congressional committees last week. “Signs of a weapons 
program are very different than the stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons that were a 
certainty before the war,” said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, ranking Democrat on the Senate 
Intelligence Committee. “We did
  not go to war to disrupt Saddam’s weapons program, we went to disarm him.” President 
Bush himself in late July said Kay would require a long time to analyze “literally the miles 
of documents that we have uncovered.”

While suggesting that more surprises are to come, especially on biological weapons, Kay also 
indicated last week that the most “amazing” evidence he was uncovering involved not 
caches of weapons, but new details of efforts by the Iraqis at deceiving U.N. inspectors. State 
Department spokesman Philip Reeker, asked Friday about the allegations that the forthcoming Kay 
report might amount to less than the full story, said that Kay “has been very clear that 
he’s doing a very thorough and methodical look at all of this.”

 2003 Newsweek, Inc



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