On the November 12 edition of Fox News' The Beltway Boys, Weekly Standard executive editor Fred Barnes suggested that the Bush administration's claim that aluminum tubes sought by Saddam Hussein were evidence of an emerging Iraqi nuclear program has been vindicated, citing French tests that purportedly determined the tubes "couldn't have been used for anything else but producing nuclear weapons." In fact, this claim has been refuted by the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Iraq Survey Group's inquiry into Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, both of which concluded that the tubes were likely for use in conventional rockets, not as part of a nuclear program. Additionally, a former aide to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell later acknowledged that the French and American intelligence on the aluminum tubes was "wrong."
From the November 12 edition of Fox News' The Beltway Boys:
BARNES: Now, Democrats have cited three things where they say the president misused intelligence before the war, and I'm going to mention them to you. I don't mean to be mind-numbing, but I'm going to mention them. One is these aluminum tubes that were sought by Saddam which, which the administration said could only be used in the production of nuclear weapons. And, and, you know, people charged that that wasn't true. Since then, the French have actually tested exactly those tubes and discovered they couldn't have been used for anything else but producing nuclear weapons. That's number, that's number one.
In his 2003 State of the Union address, President Bush stated: "Our intelligence sources tell us that he [Saddam Hussein] has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production." Then-Secretary of State Colin Powell addressed the United Nations Security Council on February 5, 2003, saying:
Saddam Hussein is determined to get his hands on a nuclear bomb. He is so determined that he has made repeated covert attempts to acquire high-specification aluminum tubes from 11 different countries, even after inspections resumed. These tubes are controlled by the Nuclear Suppliers Group precisely because they can be used as centrifuges for enriching uranium. By now, just about everyone has heard of these tubes, and we all know that there are differences of opinion. There is controversy about what these tubes are for. Most U.S. experts think they are intended to serve as rotors in centrifuges used to enrich uranium. Other experts, and the Iraqis themselves, argue that they are really to produce the rocket bodies for a conventional weapon, a multiple rocket launcher. Let me tell you what is not controversial about these tubes. First, all the experts who have analyzed the tubes in our possession agree that they can be adapted for centrifuge use. Second, Iraq had no business buying them for any purpose. They are banned for Iraq.
Two separate government inquiries determined that there was little cause to believe the aluminum tubes were intended for use in uranium-enrichment centrifuges. The Senate Intelligence Committee's 2004 "Report on the U.S. Intelligence Community's Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq" concluded that "the information available to the Intelligence Community indicated that these tubes were intended to be used for an Iraqi conventional rocket program and not a nuclear program." The Intelligence Committee further concluded that the "Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) initial reporting on its aluminum tube spin tests was, at a minimum, misleading and, in some cases, incorrect." The 2004 report of the Iraq Survey Group (also known as the Duelfer report*) concluded that the tubes were likely intended for an 81-mm rocket program, and that there was insufficient evidence "to show a nuclear end use was planned for the tubes."
A June 4, 2003, Financial Times article reported that the conclusions of one CIA analyst and the results of tests performed by French intelligence supported Powell's assertion, but the French refused Powell permission to cite their findings. According to the Financial Times:
Mr [Mohammed] ElBaradei [International Atomic Energy Agency director general] also rejected US assertions -- repeated by Mr Powell on February 5 -- that aluminium tubes Iraq had sought to buy were destined for use in its nuclear programme. US officials said the assessment that they were wanted for centrifuges required for uranium enrichment came from a CIA analyst -- encouraging the claim that the CIA was bending to political pressure. But, in a disclosure that underlines how intelligence agencies share information, they said that assessment was supported by a foreign intelligence agency.
"He wasn't the only source. There was another very strong source: French intelligence," says one official.
French intelligence had seized a separate shipment of tubes to the US, and tested their tolerance by spinning them to 98,000 revolutions per minute, concluding they were too sophisticated to have alternative uses. But Mr Powell could not cite his supporting evidence on February 5. "The French political authorities refused us permission to use that information at the last minute," he said.
Moreover, at an October 19 speech before the New America Foundation, former Powell chief of staff Col. Lawrence Wilkerson acknowledged that American and French intelligence regarding the tubes was "wrong." From Wilkerson's speech:
In fact, I'll just cite one more thing. The French came in in the middle of my deliberations at the CIA and said, we have just spun aluminum tubes, and by god, we did it to this RPM, et cetera, et cetera, and it was all, you know, proof positive that the aluminum tubes were not for mortar casings or artillery casings, they were for centrifuges. Otherwise, why would you have such exquisite instruments? We were wrong. We were wrong.
Barnes suggested that the aluminum-tube claims had been vindicated in order to rebuff claims by Democrats who "say the president misused intelligence before the war." But not only have those claims now been refuted, there is evidence indicating that the administration was aware of the widespread debate within the government and between various intelligence agencies regarding the tubes. According to an October 3, 2004, New York Times article, experts at the Energy Department "believed the tubes were likely intended for small artillery rockets," and had conveyed their assessment to then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice almost a year before she appeared on CNN's Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer and said the tubes were ''only really suited for nuclear weapons programs." The Times also cited a "senior administration official" claiming that the CIA was "indeed candid about the differing views" on the aluminum tubes during meetings with the National Security Council. The same administration official "also spoke to senior officials at the Department of Energy about the tubes, and a spokeswoman for the department said in a written statement that the agency 'strongly conveyed its viewpoint to senior policy makers.'"