Almost nine months before the invasion of Iraq led by the United States, the CIA produced a document in October 2002 summarizing the agency’s purported knowledge of Iraqi chemical and biological weapons programs.
The National Intelligence Estimate, which became the pretext for the Bush Administration’s decision to topple Saddam Hussein’s government, was kept under wraps ever since. However, after the CIA released a heavily redacted version of the controversial document in 2004, transparency activist John Greenwald pushed to obtain its original version and received it this past January.
Greenwald provided the document to Jason Leopold of Vice News, which then published it on March 19.
The “hastily drafted” National Intelligence Estimate concludes that Hussein had an active weapons of mass destruction program; however, the CIA didn’t provide any definitive proof for the claim in the report (probably because there was never a WMD program to begin with).
One of the most important parts of the document is where it casts doubt over any links between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein because the information came from “sources of varying reliability.”
"As with much of the information on the overall relationship, details on training and support are second-hand," the National Intelligence Estimate states. "The presence of al-Qa'ida militants in Iraq poses many questions. We do not know to what extent Baghdad may be actively complicit in this use of its territory for safe haven and transit."
However, for the then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, it was sufficient proof to launch an invasion, so much so that he called it U.S. government’s "bulletproof" evidence against Saddam.
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Paul Pillar, the former CIA analyst who was in charge of coordinating the intelligence assessment on Iraq, also told Vice News that the un-redacted version of the National Intelligence Estimate held claims of WMDs in Iraq based on sketchy sources.
“There was an insufficient critical skepticism about some of the source material,” he said. “I think there should have been agnosticism expressed in the main judgments. It would have been a better paper if it were more carefully drafted in that sort of direction.”
However, since the Bush administration had already set its mind on invading Iraq, lack of reliable sources didn’t matter.
The complete version of the National Intelligence Estimate, available here, helps in understanding the extent of how incredibly flawed the U.S. pretext to attack Iraq actually was. Nevertheless, it eventually led the combined armed forces of the U.S. and U.K. into making one of the worst mistakes in history on March 20, 2003.
A staggering 122,438 civilian deaths were recorded by Iraq Body Count between March 20, 2003, and March, 14 2013, during the Iraq War; nearly 5,000 U.S. and coalition forces were killed. Although the conflict came to an end in December 2011, the number of deaths is constantly increasing due to the ongoing insurgency the invasion wrought.