SECTION D: THE BUSH ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT
In April 1993, former President George Bush visited Kuwait to commemorate the victory over Iraq in the Persian Gulf War. During Bush's visit, Kuwaiti authorities arrested 17 people allegedly involved in a plot to kill Bush using a car bomb.
The United States sent various personnel to Kuwait to investigate the alleged assassination attempt. Based on interviews of the alleged coconspirators, forensic examinations of the explosive devices, and intelligence reports, the United States Government concluded that Iraq was behind the attempted car bombing. In response, on June 26, 1993, President Clinton ordered a cruise missile strike against an Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) building in Baghdad. A Kuwaiti court later convicted all but one of the defendants charged with crimes arising from the assassination attempt.
Whitehurst alleges that he compared the explosive material in the main charge of the Bush device to explosive materials in known Iraqi devices and told Explosives Unit Chief J. Christopher Ronay that the explosives were different. Whitehurst claims that Ronay purposely misinterpreted these results in order to link the explosive material to Iraqi agents. Whitehurst further asserts that very possibly his results were changed to support the retaliatory missile strike by the United States.
We reviewed relevant Laboratory reports, dictation, and work papers, along with relevant memoranda, articles, notes, teletypes, and reports concerning the Bush assassination attempt. We also interviewed various witnesses from the FBI, including Whitehurst, former Explosives Unit Chief J. Christopher Ronay, former Explosives examiner Alan R. Jordan, and FBI Counter Intelligence Section Chief Neil Gallagher, along with personnel from the CIA Counter Terrorism Center and DOJ Terrorism and Violent Crime Section.
We conclude that the evidence does not support Whitehurst's claim that Ronay changed or purposely misinterpreted Whitehurst's results, either in the Laboratory reports or verbally during discussions of those results. Nor does the evidence support Whitehurst's suggestion that the United States launched the missile strike against the IIS building in Baghdad based on a misinterpretation of Whitehurst's results. This case does illustrate the importance of documenting all case-related work in the Laboratory. To the extent that the results of Whitehurst's comparison were reported less precisely than they should have been, such lack of precision may have been avoided if Whitehurst had prepared a written report containing those results.
II. Factual Background
Former President George Bush visited Kuwait between April 14 and April 16, 1993, to commemorate the allied victory in the Persian Gulf War. Accompanying Bush were his wife, two of his sons, former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, former Chief of Staff John Sununu, and former Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady.
In late-April 1993, the United States learned that terrorists had attempted to assassinate Bush during his visit to Kuwait. The Kuwaiti authorities arrested 17 persons suspected in the plot to kill Bush using explosives hidden in a Toyota Landcruiser. The Kuwaitis recovered the Landcruiser, which contained between 80 and 90 kilograms of plastic explosives connected to a detonator ( the Bush device or Bush explosive device ). The Kuwaitis also recovered ten cube-shaped plastic explosive devices with detonators (the cube-bombs ) from the Landcruiser. Some of the suspects reportedly confessed that the Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS ) was behind the assassination attempt.
On April 29, 1993, CIA bomb technicians compared the Bush explosive device to two known Iraqi explosive devices found in different Middle-Eastern countries in 1990 and 1991 (the Middle-East devices ) . The technicians reported that the remote control firing mechanism in the Bush device was identical to those in the Middle-East devices. Additionally, the technicians reported that blasting caps from the Bush device appeared to be identical to those found in one of the Middle-East devices. The technicians later concluded that the circuit board from the Bush device also closely resembled circuit boards from the Middle-East devices.
In early-May 1993, the FBI sent personnel to Kuwait to interview the suspects and examine the physical evidence. FBI Special Agents, along with representatives of the Secret Service and State Department, interviewed 16 suspects, some more than once. Two of the suspects, Wali 'Abd Al-Hadi 'Abd Al-Hasan Al-Ghazali ( Al-Ghazali ) and Ra'd 'Abd Al-Amir 'Abbud Al-Asadi ( Al-Asadi ), admitted during the FBI interviews that they had participated in the plot at the direction of the IIS.
Explosives examiner Jordan also traveled to Kuwait in May 1993 to examine the Bush device. Jordan examined the main charge, which was hidden in three panels in the Landcruiser and was capable of being detonated by remote control, a timing device, or a push-pull suicide switch. Jordan compared the Bush device to photographs of the Middle-East devices, as well as other devices, and concluded that the same person or persons manufactured the Bush device and one of the Middle-East devices, and that a connection existed between persons responsible for the Bush device and several other devices, including the other Middle-East device. Jordan reported these conclusions in a May 11, 1993 Laboratory report.
Jordan then returned to Washington, D.C., and delivered samples of the explosives from the Bush device to Whitehurst. Whitehurst analyzed the explosive from the main charge and concluded that the substance was approximately 96% RDX, 3% polyvinyl-isobutyl ether binder, and 1% hydrocarbon oil. As for samples from the cube-bombs, Whitehurst concluded that the explosive was consistent with an explosive containing RDX bound with a cross-linked phenoxy or epoxy binder containing Sudan I dye. Whitehurst reported these findings in his June 7, 1993, dictation.
Shortly thereafter, Jordan returned to the Middle-East to conduct further examinations of the Bush device and the Middle-East devices. Based on these examinations, Jordan reported significant consistencies in the selection of individual components and alterations to manufactured items in all of the devices. Jordan concluded that the similarities represented signature characteristics. He further reported that the same person or persons of close association constructed the remote control fuzing systems and electronic timing mechanisms used in all of these devices. Jordan also reported that a second person or persons of close association were responsible for adding wiring and components to the Bush device and one of the Middle-East devices, enabling those devices to be incorporated in vehicles. Jordan reported these conclusions in his June 18, 1993, Laboratory report, in which he also summarized parts of Whitehurst's June 7, 1993, dictation.
On June 2, 1993, representatives of the FBI, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and others in the Department of Justice (DOJ) discussed the results of their investigations with representatives of the Clinton Administration. Three weeks later, the DOJ and CIA reported their conclusions. The DOJ and CIA reported that it was highly likely that the Iraqi Government originated the plot and more than likely that Bush was the target. Additionally, based on past Iraqi methods and other sources of intelligence, the CIA independently reported that there was a strong case that Saddam Hussein directed the plot against Bush.
On June 26, 1993, the United States launched a cruise missile attack against a building housing the IIS in Baghdad in retaliation for the assassination attempt on former President Bush. According to news reports, the attack killed between six and eight persons and injured approximately 12 others. On June 27, 1993, Madeleine Albright, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, addressed an emergency session of the Security Council and provided evidence to support the attack on the IIS facility.
III. Analysis of Whitehurst's Allegations
In a letter to the DOJ OIG, Whitehurst claims that Ronay may have purposely misinterpreted his results in order to suggest involvement by Iraq and support the missile strike by the United States.
Whitehurst explains that before the missile strike, Ronay asked him to compare the explosive material in the Bush device to explosive materials and residues from Iraqi devices discovered in Southeast Asia during the 1991 Gulf War (the Southeast Asia devices or Southeast Asia explosives ). When Whitehurst previously examined the explosives and residues from these Southeast Asia devices, he reported that they were consistent with, or could have come from, a British-made plastic explosive described as "PE-4A," although the results did not agree entirely with the formula for British PE-4A.
Whitehurst told us that he conducted the comparison suggested by Ronay and found that the binder material from the Southeast Asia explosives readily dissolved in acetone and had a relatively low molecular weight distribution, unlike the binder material in the Bush explosive. Therefore, according to Whitehurst, he informed Ronay that the explosive in the Bush device which he suspected to be Portuguese PE-4A, was very much different from the explosives in the Southeast Asia devices, which he thought were similar to British PE-4A :
I advised Ronay that at the time of the analysis of [the Southeast Asia] material we had interpreted the data to be consistent except in one aspect with a British product called PE-4A which was very much different from Portuguese PE-4A which was what we suspected the material used in the [Bush] assassination attempt was.
Whitehurst did not incorporate the results of this comparison in any dictation or written report.
Whitehurst stated that he later read a newspaper article and an FBI memorandum about the Bush matter, which he believed suggested that his comparison results had been used to link the Bush device to Iraq and to support the missile strike. Whitehurst told us that as a result, he reviewed his data again and discovered that he had overlooked Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) data from the Bush explosives that resembled FTIR data from the Southeast Asia explosives. This discovery somewhat lessened Whitehurst's concern about the reported relationship between the Bush and Southeast Asia explosives. Still, Whitehurst remained concerned that after he had advised Ronay that there was no link between the Bush explosive and other explosives, Ronay had purposely misreported this conclusion.
A. The Laboratory Reports
To determine whether Ronay misreported Whitehurst's comparison results, we first reviewed the Laboratory reports prepared by the Explosives Unit in this matter. Our review showed that the Laboratory reports, which Ronay had authority to approve as Unit Chief, did not misstate the results of Whitehurst's comparison.
Explosive examiner Jordan prepared four Laboratory reports in the Bush matter. None of these reports mentioned Whitehurst's comparison of the Bush and Southeast Asia explosives. Specifically, the May 11, 1993, Laboratory report did not contain any dictation by Whitehurst. The June 18, 1993, Laboratory report included a summary of Whitehurst's June 7, 1993, dictation, but again did not include any results from the comparison performed by Whitehurst. The November 2, 1993, Laboratory report contained a verbatim version of Whitehurst's entire June 7, 1993, dictation, except for a transcription error, but did not mention Whitehurst's comparison results. Finally, the December 17, 1993, Laboratory report contained the results of Whitehurst's comparison of the explosive materials in the cube-bombs with known Iraqi explosives, but again did not include his results from the comparison of the main charge of the Bush device to the Southeast Asia explosives.
Although these Laboratory reports did not misstate Whitehurst's findings, our review did show that Jordan, in the June 18, 1993, Laboratory report, omitted and rewrote parts of Whitehurst's June 7, 1993, dictation. Specifically, Jordan omitted a description of the instrumentation used in Whitehurst's analysis and the results from Whitehurst's examinations of the detonator leg wires, detonating cord, and end plug. Jordan also reworded Whitehurst's description of two earlier laboratory cases involving explosive material similar to that in the Bush device. When questioned about these changes to Whitehurst's dictation, Jordan explained that his June 18, 1993, Laboratory report was not a normal report. Jordan told us that his supervisors at the FBI, including FBI Counter Intelligence Section Chief Neil Gallagher, requested just an opinion from the explosive examiner. Therefore, Jordan suggested that he included only those portions of Whitehurst's dictation that he had considered in forming his own opinion.
We think that once Jordan decided to include any part of Whitehurst's dictation, he should have included all of that dictation verbatim. As discussed elsewhere in our Report, the practice within the Explosives Unit of rewriting or editing the dictation of other examiners created an unacceptable risk of misinterpretation.
B. Verbal Reports by Ronay
We further sought to determine whether Ronay verbally misreported the results from Whitehurst's comparison of the explosive material in the Bush device and Southeast Asia devices. The evidence does not support this claim.
During our interviews, Ronay stated that he possibly reported some of the Laboratory's results to representatives of the FBI and CIA. Ronay stated that although he did not rewrite any of Whitehurst's dictation, he may have paraphrased Whitehurst's conclusions in those briefings. Ronay reported that he could not specifically recall requesting that Whitehurst compare the Bush explosives to the Southeast Asia explosives or receiving any results from those comparisons. However, he vaguely recalled that Whitehurst stated that the explosive in the Southeast Asia cases could be British PE-4A and the explosive in the Bush device could be Portuguese PE-4A. Ronay stated that if Whitehurst had reported this, he may have told others that the explosives were consistent with a PE-4A kind of explosive, [but] they are different. Ronay added that he would not have portrayed the explosives as chemically identical.
We interviewed Neil Gallagher, Chief of the FBI Counter Intelligence Section, about Ronay's statements. Gallagher told us that as Chief of the Intelligence Section, he reported the results of the FBI's investigation in the Bush matter to appropriate parties in the Administration. Gallagher stated that sometime before the June 2, 1993, meeting with the Attorney General, Ronay told him that the explosive material used in the Bush device and other Iraqi devices (including the Southeast Asia devices) was PE-4A, but that the FBI could not connect these explosives chemically or say that they came from the same shipment, sources, or country. Gallagher also stated that Ronay told him that there could be chemical differences in different batches of PE-4A and that one could only say that these bombing cases involved a plastic explosive described as PE-4A. Based on this conversation with Ronay, Gallagher reported to us that he believes he clarified for the Attorney General in the June 2, 1993, meeting that the explosives used in these cases were consistent with some type of PE-4A, but that this identification alone would not be enough to connect the devices. Gallagher stated that he also told the Attorney General that the identification of PE-4A was not that significant because its use was so common.
Although it appears that Ronay did report that the explosives in the Bush and Southeast Asia devices could not be connected based on chemical composition, subsequent reports on the matter tended to ignore such chemical differences. In a report to the President drafted before the missile strike by representatives with the DOJ Terrorism and Violent Crime Section, the DOJ reported in pertinent part:
The results of chemical and physical analyses of the explosive main charge from the Kuwait car bomb are consistent with the presence of a moldable plastic bonded explosive composed of approximately 96% RDX explosive, 3% poly (vinyl-isobutyl ether) binder and 1% hydrocarbon oil (PE-4A). According to the FBI Laboratory Explosives Unit, PE-4A plastic explosive was contained in a terrorist improvised explosive device used by Iraqi operatives in early 1991 in [Southeast Asia] and two other devices believed to have been used by Iraqi operatives in [Southeast Asia] in early 1991.
(Emphasis added). A DOJ representative who assisted in preparing this Report told us that the FBI provided the information in this paragraph, although that DOJ representative was not sure whether the language later was massaged in some way.
Similarly, in the CIA's report to the President before the missile strike, members of the CIA Counter Terrorism Center (CTC) reported in part:
The results of chemical and physical analysis of the explosive main charge from the car bomb recovered in Kuwait indicate an explosive known as PE-4A. According to the FBI Laboratory Explosives Unit, PE-4A plastic explosive was contained in terrorist improvised explosive devices used by Iraqi operatives in early 1991 in [Southeast Asia].
(Emphasis added). Representatives of the CTC also told us that this information came from the FBI.
Moreover, even after the missile strike, the FBI and CIA continued to report simply that PE-4A plastic explosive had been identified in the Bush device and other Iraqi explosive devices, including those from Southeast Asia. We found such language in FBI memoranda and a FBI teletype concerning the Bush matter, as well as in two CIA intelligence reports.
Thus, the evidence shows that Ronay and Gallagher did understand and report that the Bush explosive and the Southeast Asia explosives contained PE-4A that the FBI could not say was chemically identical. At the time, Whitehurst suspected that the explosive in the Bush device was Portuguese PE-4A and that the explosive in the Southeast Asia devices was similar to British-made PE-4A. However, subsequent reports failed to note the possibility of chemical differences and simply reported that all of the cases involved a PE-4A plastic explosive. While these reports were not as precise as Whitehurst would have liked because they failed to discuss specific chemical differences, we find no evidence that Ronay or Gallagher purposely misreported that the explosives were chemically identical.
We also note that if the comparison results were not reported as precisely as possible, that lack of precision may have resulted from Whitehurst's own failure to prepare dictation reporting his findings. Whitehurst told us that he did not prepare such dictation because the results of his comparisons were already addressed in his June 7, 1993, dictation. In that dictation, Whitehurst reported that he had detected this type of explosive two times in the past, and then referred only to two prior Laboratory cases involving caches of explosives that the FBI could not link to Iraq. Whitehurst's explanation does not justify his failure to prepare dictation. As illustrated in this case, analytical results that provide a basis for distinguishing explosives can be as meaningful as results showing that explosives are chemically identical. Whitehurst should have prepared dictation explaining that he had compared the Bush and Southeast Asia explosives and documenting chemical differences between the explosives.
C. The Missile Strike
Whitehurst also suggests that the United States may have launched the missile strike against the IIS Building in Baghdad as a result of his findings being misreported.
Contrary to Whitehurst's suggestion, the decision to launch the missile strike did not turn on reports that the Bush and Southeast Asia explosives contained PE-4A. The FBI and CIA assembled extensive evidence of Iraqi involvement, including admissions from two key suspects, forensic examinations of relevant explosive devices, and intelligence from various sources. Our investigation showed that reports that the Laboratory had found PE-4A in the Bush matter and Southeast Asia cases were not a significant part of the overall evidence against the Iraqi Government.
Specifically, the evidence presented to the Administration included admissions from the two main suspects, Al-Ghazali and Al-Asadi. Each confessed during interviews with the FBI that they had participated in the plot at the direction of IIS officers. Al-Asadi, an Iraqi national, stated that he was recruited by suspected IIS officer, Muhammad Jawad. Jawad reportedly instructed Al-Asadi to plant the cube-bomb explosives in commercial areas of Kuwait City and to guide Al-Ghazali to Kuwait University. Al-Asadi reported that Al-Ghazali later told him that Bush was the target, although Al-Ghazali disputed this assertion. Al-Ghazali, also an Iraqi National, reported that he was recruited by suspected IIS officer, Abu Rafid. Rafid allegedly told Al-Ghazali that Bush was the target of the bombing attempt. Al-Ghazali also reported that Muhammad Jawad assisted in the plot.
The Administration also received forensic results from the FBI and CIA. These results consisted primarily of comparisons of components from the Bush device to other known Iraqi devices, including the Middle-East devices. CIA technicians found that the remote-control firing devices in the Bush case closely resembled devices used in other IIS devices, including the Middle-East devices. They found that blasting caps in the Bush case had the same characteristics as those found in one of the Middle-East devices, and the detonators matched those found in the other Middle-East device and one of the Southeast Asia devices. They further determined that the cube-bombs incorporated timing circuits and remote control firing devices containing integrated circuits used by Iraq in other devices.
Likewise, FBI explosives examiner Jordan found that the makers of the Bush device and the Middle-East devices used the same basic components, including the same circuit boards, manufactured radio control units, and anodized metal container. The circuit boards even had the same serial numbers, suggesting a single manufacturer, according to Jordan. Jordan characterized the maker's placement of components and soldering techniques as a signature. Jordan added that he observed in the radio-controlled receiving units the same drilled holes, wiring, component selection for incorporating an external power source, and soldering expertise. He also observed similar heat-shrunk, textile, and plastic materials used to protect wires, along with an unusually large quantity of black electrical tape. Jordan also pointed to other similarities, including similar or identical breaks and jumpers in the circuit boards, similar computer-type ribbon cable, similar adhesive material added to the potentiometers, and the same positioning of resistors on the timing mechanism.
Additionally, before the missile strike, the CIA obtained various intelligence reports indicating involvement by the Iraqi Government. The CIA learned that the IIS was planning to assassinate Bush now that he had returned to private life and that the assassination attempt would occur only with authorization from Saddam Hussein. The CIA also received information suggesting that Saddam Hussein had authorized the assassination attempt to obtain personal revenge and intimidate Kuwait and other Arab states.
Representatives of the DOJ, FBI, and CIA told us that in view of this evidence of Iraqi involvement, the Administration had significant information indicating Iraqi involvement aside from identification of the explosive material. Neil Gallagher stated that the identification of the explosive material in the Bush device was not a critical issue because the FBI could not say that the explosive material was identical to that in other Iraqi devices. According to Gallagher, similarities in the wiring, fuzing system, and circuit boards were deemed more significant than whether the explosive was identical to what had been contained in known Iraqi devices. Likewise, other highly placed representatives in the FBI Intelligence Division told us that the FBI established responsibility for the assassination attempt based on interviews of the suspects and examinations of the circuitry and wiring that showed signature characteristics.
Similarly, representatives of the DOJ Terrorism and Violent Crime Section stated that the various intelligence information, similarities in wiring and circuitry, and the confessions of the suspects were more important than the composition of the main charge. Representatives of the CIA Counter Terrorism Center also told us that analyses of the electrical components constituted more compelling evidence of Iraqi involvement, and that they were confident that Iraq was responsible based on the firing device, statements by the suspects, and Iraqi methods of operation. Even Ambassador Albright in her remarks to the United Nations focused almost exclusively on similarities in wiring and circuitry of the various devices, statements by the suspects, and information from the intelligence community.
In sum, it appears that significant information linked Iraq to the attempted bombing aside from any information about the explosive material. Even Whitehurst acknowledged that [t]here may have been sufficient data in other areas [to support the missile strike] and I have no doubt that there was. The evidence suggests that the identification of PE-4A in the Bush and Southeast Asia cases, even if stated less precisely than Whitehurst would have liked, was not responsible for the decision to launch the missile strike.
The evidence does not support Whitehurst's claim that Ronay purposely changed or misinterpreted Whitehurst's results, either in the Laboratory reports or during discussions of those results. Nor does the evidence support Whitehurst's suggestion that the United States launched the missile strike against the IIS building in Baghdad based on a misinterpretation of Whitehurst's results.
This case does illustrate the importance of documenting all case-related work in the Laboratory. To the extent that chemical differences between the Bush and Southeast Asia explosives did not receive appropriate emphasis in this matter, that result may have been avoided if Whitehurst had prepared written dictation reporting his results.