from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2003, Issue No. 106
December 9, 2003


The discovery three years ago that Iraq was seeking to procure thousands of aluminum tubes was promptly interpreted by the Central Intelligence Agency as a sign that Saddam Hussein was pursuing uranium enrichment centrifuge technology for a reconstituted Iraqi nuclear weapons program.

That assessment, leaked to the press and uncritically reported, helped bolster the Bush Administration case for war against Iraq.

But now all indications are that the CIA assessment was wrong, according to David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), who has authored a detailed review of the aluminum tube controversy.

"Since the fall of Baghdad last spring, no evidence has emerged that Iraq planned to use the aluminum tubes in centrifuges. Despite months of searching, the Iraqi Survey Group (ISG) has not found any link between the tubes and a gas centrifuge program," Albright wrote.

Albright traces the development of the aluminum tube story from its earliest beginnings to the latest equivocations on the matter by David Kay of the CIA's Iraq Survey Group.

Among other lessons learned, Albright notes that the National Intelligence Estimate process proved to be a poor instrument for adjudicating the significance of the aluminum tubes. Crucially, of the ten or so intelligence agencies that each had one vote on the Estimate, those with technical expertise in centrifuge technology were outnumbered by those without such expertise.

At a time when intelligence oversight has moved entirely behind closed doors and is effectively dormant, Albright's review significantly enriches the public record on this controversial matter.

See "Iraq's Aluminum Tubes: Separating Fact from Fiction" by David Albright, Institute for Science and International Security, December 5:

The most damning thing one could say about an intelligence agency is not that it sometimes makes mistakes in analysis, which is inevitable, but that it refuses to admit its mistakes. When an agency cannot admit error, it cannot learn from its own missteps and is doomed to mediocrity.

In a recent publication, Stuart Cohen, Vice Chairman of the National Intelligence Council, finds no reason to acknowledge a single flaw in U.S. intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. It is the critics, he says, who have it wrong.

See "Iraq's WMD Programs: Culling Hard Facts from Soft Myths" by Stuart Cohen, November 28:

But whether CIA admits it or not, the Agency is already paying a price in credibility for having acquiesced in overstating the threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

So when the CIA issues an assessment on North Korea's nuclear weapons program, for example, it is now roundly met with skepticism by national security experts, as the Los Angeles Times reported today.

See "N. Korea's Nuclear Success Is Doubted" by Douglas Frantz, Los Angeles Times, December 9:


The challenges posed to academic freedom and free inquiry by the post-September 11 security environment are discussed in a new report from the American Association of University Professors.

"A major section of the report is devoted to restrictions on information. It reviews the evolution of federal regulation of classified research and the persistent uncertainty about the extent and location of such research within the academic world. The report recognizes the limited circumstances under which such restrictions may be warranted but points out that secret research is fundamentally at odds with the free circulation of research results. The report expresses reservations about the expansion of such constraints in response to national security concerns."

See "Academic Freedom and National Security in a Time of Crisis," report of an AAUP Special Committee:


The impact of the USA Patriot Act on the search and surveillance procedures of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) is discussed in a September 2003 memo from the Navy's Deputy Assistant Judge Advocate General. See:


A report of the Congressional Research Service (CRS) dispassionately considers whether terrorists might use chemical and biological weapons, and why (or why not).

See "Terrorist Motivations for Chemical and Biological Weapons Use: Placing the Threat in Context" by Audrey Kurth Cronin, March 28, 2003:

Congressional leaders refuse to provide comprehensive online public access to CRS products like this one. Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH), chair of the House Committee on House Administration, told the Associated Press on Monday that he would oppose a bill to require routine publication of CRS reports. Members of the public will have to turn elsewhere.


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