When The Washington Post's Thomas Ricks stated in a Time "roundtable conversation" that prior to the start of the Iraq war, "the chairman of the Joint Chiefs" told him that they didn't know where Saddam Hussein's purported weapons of mass destruction were located, Bob Woodward responded by saying that he "was not aware of" the claim at the time. But three days before the start of the war, a Post article to which Woodward "contributed" noted the lack of "specific information about the amounts of banned weapons or where they are hidden."
In a "roundtable conversation" transcribed in the December 25 edition of Time, Washington Post military correspondent Thomas E. Ricks, in response to a question about the Bush administration's claims that former Iraq president Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the run-up to the Iraq war, said: "I thought that at most they would find some old mustard gas buried out in the '91 war that somebody had forgotten about. I remember asking the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs about a week before the invasion, 'You don't know where the stuff is, do you?' And he said, 'No, but I'm confident the Iraqis will tell us.' " Apparently in response to Ricks' statement, Post assistant managing editor Bob Woodward said: "Tom Ricks and I work at the same newspaper. If you had these doubts, which I was not aware of contemporaneously, we should have found some way to get out and say, 'What do we really know here?' " But Woodward's own reporting before the invasion indicates that he was "aware of" such doubts. On the specific assertion by Ricks that the United States did not know where the purported WMD were, the lead paragraph of a March 16, 2003, Post article by Walter Pincus -- which was published three days before the start of the Iraq war and to which Woodward "contributed" -- reported that "[d]espite the Bush administration's claims about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, U.S. intelligence agencies have been unable to give Congress or the Pentagon specific information about the amounts of banned weapons or where they are hidden."
Not only did Woodward reportedly contribute to the Pincus article, Pincus was quoted in a report by Post media reporter Howard Kurtz as saying that Woodward "helped sell" the March 16, 2003, article. As Media Matters for America noted, Kurtz reported in an August 12, 2004, article that Pincus' article "ran into resistance from the paper's editors" in the days before the war. The article might not have been published without the support of Woodward, according to Pincus, who added: "Without him, it would have had a tough time getting into the paper."
Moreover, in addition to reporting precisely what Ricks said in the December 25 Time discussion -- that the United States did not know where Saddam's purported WMD were -- the March 16, 2003, article to which Woodward "contributed" reported that "some members of the intelligence community" had "concerns" "about whether administration officials have exaggerated intelligence." From the March 16, 2003, Post article:
Despite the Bush administration's claims about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, U.S. intelligence agencies have been unable to give Congress or the Pentagon specific information about the amounts of banned weapons or where they are hidden, according to administration officials and members of Congress.
Senior intelligence analysts say they feel caught between the demands from White House, Pentagon and other government policymakers for intelligence that would make the administration's case "and what they say is a lack of hard facts," one official said.
"They have only circumstantial evidence ... nothing that proves this amount or that," said an individual who has regularly been briefed by the CIA.
The assertions, coming on the eve of a possible decision by President Bush to go to war against Iraq, have raised concerns among some members of the intelligence community about whether administration officials have exaggerated intelligence in a desire to convince the American public and foreign governments that Iraq is violating United Nations prohibitions against chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons and long-range missile systems.
"They see a particular truck associated with chemical weapons activities keep reappearing, and they estimate chemical activities are there, but that and most intelligence would not pass the courtroom evidence test. For policymakers, who are out on a limb, that is not enough," one official said, adding that he questioned whether the administration is shaping intelligence for political purposes.
Said another senior intelligence analyst, "If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and looks like a duck, we professionals say it's a duck. ... They [policymakers] want a smoking duck."
Although senior intelligence officials said they are convinced Iraq is hiding weapons of mass destruction, they feel they will not be able to prove it until after an invasion, when U.S. military forces and weapons analysts would have unrestricted access. These officials said the administration is withholding some of the best intelligence on suspected Iraqi weapons -- uncertain as it is -- from U.N. weapons inspectors in anticipation of war.
"They are clearly hiding weapons, but it is a Catch-22 situation that we will only prove after an invasion," one senior intelligence official said.
U.S. intelligence on Iraqi weapons sites has raised a credibility problem involving the U.N. inspectors and, more recently, members of Congress.
A CIA spokesman refused to discuss the matter. But some officials charge the administration is not interested in helping the inspectors discover weapons because a discovery could bolster supporters in the U.N. Security Council of continued inspections and undermine the administration's case for war.
"We don't want to have a smoking gun," a ranking administration official said recently. He added, "I don't know whether the point is to embarrass [chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans] Blix or embarrass Saddam Hussein."
Anther [sic] official familiar with the intelligence said, "Not all the top sites have been passed to the inspectors."
A senior intelligence analyst said one explanation for the difficulties inspectors have had in locating weapons caches "is because there may not be much of a stockpile."
Pincus further reported challenges to the administration's WMD claims in an article published two days later, co-written with Dana Milbank.
From the interview of Ricks and Woodward, as well as investigative reporter Ron Suskind, in the December 25 edition of Time:
TIME: On the eve of the war, which of you believed that we would go in and find no WMD? Two out of six. Why did you feel that way, Tom?
RICKS: I thought that at most they would find some old mustard gas buried out in the '91 war that somebody had forgotten about. I remember asking the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs about a week before the invasion, "You don't know where the stuff is, do you?" And he said, "No, but I'm confident the Iraqis will tell us."
SUSKIND: I was sitting with [former Treasury Secretary] Paul O'Neill on the balcony of his condominium at the Watergate a week before the invasion, and he said two things. One is, "Trust me, they haven't thought this through." And second is, "I don't believe there is any evidence, any objective sources to credit as evidence in terms of WMD."
WOODWARD: I talked to people who said, The evidence is much skimpier than what they are saying. And we played around with writing a story about this and did not, and it's one of my regrets. We should've all been much more aggressive. It's an intelligence failure, it's a policy failure, it is a journalistic failure. Tom Ricks and I work at the same newspaper. If you had these doubts, which I was not aware of contemporaneously, we should have found some way to get out and say, "What do we really know here?" We can and should at least put the burden on ourselves to be one step ahead on this, and we were not.