Following 9/11, President Bush and seven top
officials of his administration waged a carefully
orchestrated campaign of misinformation about
the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
By Charles Lewis and Mark Reading-Smith
President George W. Bush and seven of his administration's top officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, made at least 935 false statements in the two years following September 11, 2001, about the national security threat posed by Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Nearly five years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, an exhaustive examination of the record shows that the statements were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses.
On at least 532 separate occasions (in speeches, briefings, interviews, testimony, and the like), Bush and these three key officials, along with Secretary of State Colin Powell, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and White House press secretaries Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan, stated unequivocally that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (or was trying to produce or obtain them), links to Al Qaeda, or both. This concerted effort was the underpinning of the Bush administration's case for war.
It is now beyond dispute that Iraq did not possess any weapons of mass destruction or have meaningful ties to Al Qaeda. This was the conclusion of numerous bipartisan government investigations, including those by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (2004 and 2006), the 9/11 Commission, and the multinational Iraq Survey Group, whose "Duelfer Report" established that Saddam Hussein had terminated Iraq's nuclear program in 1991 and made little effort to restart it.
In short, the Bush administration led the nation to war on the basis of erroneous information that it methodically propagated and that culminated in military action against Iraq on March 19, 2003. Not surprisingly, the officials with the most opportunities to make speeches, grant media interviews, and otherwise frame the public debate also made the most false statements, according to this first-ever analysis of the entire body of prewar rhetoric.
President Bush, for example, made 232 false statements about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and another 28 false statements about Iraq's links to Al Qaeda. Secretary of State Powell had the second-highest total in the two-year period, with 244 false statements about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and 10 about Iraq's links to Al Qaeda. Rumsfeld and Fleischer each made 109 false statements, followed by Wolfowitz (with 85), Rice (with 56), Cheney (with 48), and McClellan (with 14).
The massive database at the heart of this project juxtaposes what President Bush and these seven top officials were saying for public consumption against what was known, or should have been known, on a day-to-day basis. This fully searchable database includes the public statements, drawn from both primary sources (such as official transcripts) and secondary sources (chiefly major news organizations) over the two years beginning on September 11, 2001. It also interlaces relevant information from more than 25 government reports, books, articles, speeches, and interviews.
Consider, for example, these false public statements made in the run-up to war:
· On August 26, 2002, in an address to the national convention of the Veteran of Foreign Wars, Cheney flatly declared: "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us." In fact, former CIA Director George Tenet later recalled, Cheney's assertions went well beyond his agency's assessments at the time. Another CIA official, referring to the same speech, told journalist Ron Suskind, "Our reaction was, 'Where is he getting this stuff from?' "
· In the closing days of September 2002, with a congressional vote fast approaching on authorizing the use of military force in Iraq, Bush told the nation in his weekly radio address: "The Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons, is rebuilding the facilities to make more and, according to the British government, could launch a biological or chemical attack in as little as 45 minutes after the order is given. . . . This regime is seeking a nuclear bomb, and with fissile material could build one within a year." A few days later, similar findings were also included in a much-hurried National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction — an analysis that hadn't been done in years, as the intelligence community had deemed it unnecessary and the White House hadn't requested it.
· In July 2002, Rumsfeld had a one-word answer for reporters who asked whether Iraq had relationships with Al Qaeda terrorists: "Sure." In fact, an assessment issued that same month by the Defense Intelligence Agency (and confirmed weeks later by CIA Director Tenet) found an absence of "compelling evidence demonstrating direct cooperation between the government of Iraq and Al Qaeda." What's more, an earlier DIA assessment said that "the nature of the regime's relationship with Al Qaeda is unclear."
· On May 29, 2003, in an interview with Polish TV, President Bush declared: "We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories." But as journalist Bob Woodward reported in State of Denial, days earlier a team of civilian experts dispatched to examine the two mobile labs found in Iraq had concluded in a field report that the labs were not for biological weapons. The team's final report, completed the following month, concluded that the labs had probably been used to manufacture hydrogen for weather balloons.
· On January 28, 2003, in his annual State of the Union address, Bush asserted: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production." Two weeks earlier, an analyst with the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research sent an email to colleagues in the intelligence community laying out why he believed the uranium-purchase agreement "probably is a hoax."
· On February 5, 2003, in an address to the United Nations Security Council, Powell said: "What we're giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence. I will cite some examples, and these are from human sources." As it turned out, however, two of the main human sources to which Powell referred had provided false information. One was an Iraqi con artist, code-named "Curveball," whom American intelligence officials were dubious about and in fact had never even spoken to. The other was an Al Qaeda detainee, Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, who had reportedly been sent to Eqypt by the CIA and tortured and who later recanted the information he had provided. Libi told the CIA in January 2004 that he had "decided he would fabricate any information interrogators wanted in order to gain better treatment and avoid being handed over to [a foreign government]."
The false statements
dramatically increased in August 2002, with congressional consideration of a war
resolution, then escalated through the mid-term elections and spiked even higher
from January 2003 to the eve of the invasion.
It was during those critical weeks in early 2003 that the president delivered his State of the Union address and Powell delivered his memorable U.N. presentation. For all 935 false statements, including when and where they occurred, go to the search page for this project; the methodology used for this analysis is explained here.
In addition to their patently false pronouncements, Bush and these seven top officials also made hundreds of other statements in the two years after 9/11 in which they implied that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or links to Al Qaeda. Other administration higher-ups, joined by Pentagon officials and Republican leaders in Congress, also routinely sounded false war alarms in the Washington echo chamber.
The cumulative effect of these false statements — amplified by thousands of news stories and broadcasts — was massive, with the media coverage creating an almost impenetrable din for several critical months in the run-up to war. Some journalists — indeed, even some entire news organizations — have since acknowledged that their coverage during those prewar months was far too deferential and uncritical. These mea culpas notwithstanding, much of the wall-to-wall media coverage provided additional, "independent" validation of the Bush administration's false statements about Iraq.
The "ground truth" of the Iraq war itself eventually forced the president to backpedal, albeit grudgingly. In a 2004 appearance on NBC's Meet the Press, for example, Bush acknowledged that no weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq. And on December 18, 2005, with his approval ratings on the decline, Bush told the nation in a Sunday-night address from the Oval Office: "It is true that Saddam Hussein had a history of pursuing and using weapons of mass destruction. It is true that he systematically concealed those programs, and blocked the work of U.N. weapons inspectors. It is true that many nations believed that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. But much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong. As your president, I am responsible for the decision to go into Iraq. Yet it was right to remove Saddam Hussein from power."
Bush stopped short, however, of admitting error or poor judgment; instead, his administration repeatedly attributed the stark disparity between its prewar public statements and the actual "ground truth" regarding the threat posed by Iraq to poor intelligence from a Who's Who of domestic agencies.
On the other hand, a growing number of critics, including a parade of former government officials, have publicly — and in some cases vociferously — accused the president and his inner circle of ignoring or distorting the available intelligence. In the end, these critics say, it was the calculated drumbeat of false information and public pronouncements that ultimately misled the American people and this nation's allies on their way to war.
Bush and the top officials of his administration have so far largely avoided the harsh, sustained glare of formal scrutiny about their personal responsibility for the litany of repeated, false statements in the run-up to the war in Iraq. There has been no congressional investigation, for example, into what exactly was going on inside the Bush White House in that period. Congressional oversight has focused almost entirely on the quality of the U.S. government's pre-war intelligence — not the judgment, public statements, or public accountability of its highest officials. And, of course, only four of the officials — Powell, Rice, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz — have testified before Congress about Iraq.
Short of such review, this project provides a heretofore unavailable framework for examining how the U.S. war in Iraq came to pass. Clearly, it calls into question the repeated assertions of Bush administration officials that they were the unwitting victims of bad intelligence.
Above all, the 935 false statements painstakingly presented here finally help to answer two all-too-familiar questions as they apply to Bush and his top advisers: What did they know, and when did they know it?
George W. Bush is the 43rd president of the United States.
Richard "Dick" Cheney is the vice president of the United States. As the secretary of defense under President George H.W. Bush, he directed the U.S. military effort in the 1991 Gulf War. After leaving the government Cheney became the chairman and chief executive officer of Halliburton Company. He was President Gerald Ford's chief of staff from 1975 to 1977. From 1979 to 1989, he served as a U.S. Representative from Wyoming.
Ari Fleischer was the White House press secretary from January 20, 2001, to July 14, 2003, serving as President Bush's principal spokesperson and conducting daily news briefings. Prior to his White House appointment, he served as the senior communications adviser and spokesman for the 2000 Bush-Cheney campaign.
Scott McClellan was the White House press secretary from July 15, 2003, when he succeeded Ari Fleischer, to May 10, 2006; before that he was the principal deputy White House press secretary. During the 2000 presidential campaign he was George W. Bush's traveling press secretary.
Colin Powell was the secretary of state from January 20, 2001, to January 26, 2005. His 35-year army career included assignments as national security adviser to Ronald Reagan from 1987 to 1989 and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1989 until 1993, when he retired as a four-star general.
Condoleezza Rice has been the secretary of state since January 26, 2005, succeeding General Colin Powell. During the 2000 presidential campaign she was George W. Bush's chief foreign policy adviser, and in 2001 she became President Bush's national security adviser — the first woman to hold the post. Rice was provost of Standford University from 1993 to 1999.
Donald Rumsfeld was the secretary of defense from January 20, 2001, to December 18, 2006. In that role he directed the U.S. military effort in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Rumsfeld, a former U.S. Representative from Illinois, also served under President Gerald Ford as White House chief of staff from 1974 to 1975 and as defense secretary from 1975 to 1977.
Paul Wolfowitz was the deputy secretary of defense from March 2, 2001, until May 13, 2005. He became the president of the World Bank in June that year. He resigned that position effective June 30, 2007, in the wake of the disclosure that he had played a direct role in giving a promotion to a World Bank employee with whom he had a longstanding personal relationship. From 1973 to 1993, Wolfowitz served in several different positions in the State Department, Defense Department, and the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.
On September 8, 2002, Bush administration officials hit the national airwaves to advance the argument that Iraq had acquired aluminum tubes designed to enrich uranium. In an appearance on NBC's Meet the Press, for example, Vice President Dick Cheney flatly stated that Saddam Hussein "now is trying through his illicit procurement network to acquire the equipment he needs to be able to enrich uranium."
Condoleezza Rice, who was then Bush's national security adviser, followed Cheney that night on CNN's Late Edition. In answer to a question from Wolf Blitzer on how close Saddam Hussein's government was to developing a nuclear capability, Rice said: "We do know that he is actively pursuing a nuclear weapon. We do know there have been shipments going into . . . Iraq, for instance, of aluminum tubes that really are only suited to—high-quality aluminum tools that only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs."
In April 2001, however, the Energy Department had concluded that, "while the gas centrifuge application cannot be ruled out, we assess that the procurement activity more likely supports a different application, such as conventional ordnance production." During the preparation of the September 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, the Energy Department and the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research stated their belief that Iraq intended to use the tubes in a conventional rocket program, but the Central Intelligence Agency's contrary view prevailed.
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence subsequently concluded that postwar findings supported the assessments of the Energy Department and the Bureau of Intelligence and Research.
There was dissent within the intelligence community in the first 48 hours after 9/11 over the connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda. Richard Clarke, President Bush's chief counterterrorism adviser, has written that President Bush asked him on September 12 to "see if Saddam did this. See if he is linked in any way. . ." Clarke said that he responded by saying, "Absolutely, we will look . . . again," and then adding, "But you know, we have looked several times for state sponsorship of al Qaeda and not found any real linkages to Iraq."
Beginning apparently in late November 2001, a team in the office of Defense Undersecretary Douglas Feith, working independently of the formal intelligence community, reviewed intelligence data related to Al Qaeda. In August and September 2002, this team provided three separate briefings to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, to Central Intelligence Agency Director George Tenet, and finally to high-level White House officials. The briefings, titled "Assessing the Relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda," included the assessment that "Intelligence indicates cooperation [with Al Qaeda] in all categories: mature, symbiotic relationship."
Bush administration officials were soon publicly linking the two. For example, on September 25, 2002, in response to a reporter's question, President Bush said: "They're both risks, they're both dangerous. The difference, of course, is that Al Qaeda likes to hijack governments. Saddam Hussein is a dictator of a government. Al Qaeda hides, Saddam doesn't, but the danger is, is that they work in concert. The danger is, is that Al Qaeda becomes an extension of Saddam's madness and his hatred and his capacity to extend weapons of mass destruction around the world."
Such statements were not supported by the intelligence community's findings. In July 2002, the Defense Intelligence Agency had concluded that "compelling evidence demonstrating direct cooperation between the government of Iraq and Al Qaeda has not been established, despite a large body of anecdotal information."
In September, the CIA circulated a draft report titled Iraqi Support for Terrorism, which found "no credible information that Baghdad had foreknowledge of the 11 September attacks or any other al-Qaeda strike." On September 17, CIA Director George Tenet reiterated this point in testimony to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. "The intelligence indicates that the two sides at various points have discussed safe-haven, training, and reciprocal non-aggression," he said. "There are several reported suggestions by Al Qaeda to Iraq about joint terrorist ventures, but in no case can we establish that Iraq accepted or followed up on these suggestions."
The 9/11 Commission Report found that while there may have been meetings in 1999 between Iraqi officials and Osama Bin Ladin or his aides, it had seen no evidence that the contacts "ever developed into a collaborative operational relationship." It added: "Nor have we seen evidence indicating that Iraq cooperated with Al Qaeda in developing or carrying out any attacks against the United States."
In a speech on August 26, 2002, Vice President Dick Cheney flatly asserted that "there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction."
Central Intelligence Agency Director George Tenet later wrote that Cheney's statement "went well beyond what our own analysis could support." Tenet was not alone within the CIA. As one of his top deputies later told journalist Ron Suskind: "Our reaction was, 'Where is he getting this stuff from? Does he have a source of information that we don't know about?'"
In a national radio address on September 28, 2002, President Bush flatly asserted: "The Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons, is rebuilding the facilities to make more and, according to the British government, could launch a biological or chemical attack in as little as 45 minutes after the order is given. The regime has long-standing and continuing ties to terrorist groups, and there are al Qaeda terrorists inside Iraq. This regime is seeking a nuclear bomb, and with fissile material could build one within a year."
What the American people did not know at the time was that, just three weeks before Bush's radio address, in early September, Central Intelligence Agency Director George Tenet told the Senate Intelligence Committee that there was no National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Such an assessment had not been done in years because nobody within the intelligence community had deemed it necessary, and, remarkably, nobody at the White House had requested that it be done.
The CIA put the NIE together in less than three weeks. It proved to be false. As the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence later concluded, "Postwar findings do not support the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) judgment that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program.
In his State of the Union address on January 28, 2003, President Bush said: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
But as early as March 2002, there was uncertainty within the intelligence community regarding the sale of uranium to Iraq. That month, the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research published an intelligence assessment titled, "Niger: Sale of Uranium to Iraq Is Unlikely." In July 2002, the Energy Department concluded that there was "no information indicating that any of the uranium shipments arrived in Iraq" and suggested that the "amount of uranium specified far exceeds what Iraq would need even for a robust nuclear weapons program." In August 2002, the Central Intelligence Agency made no mention of the Iraq-Niger connection in a paper on Iraq's WMD capabilities.
Just two weeks before the president's speech, an analyst with the Bureau of Intelligence and Research had sent an e-mail to several other analysts describing why he believed "the uranium purchase agreement probably is a hoax." And in 2006 the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence concluded: "Postwar findings do not support the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) assessment that Iraq was 'vigorously trying to procure uranium ore and yellowcake' from Africa. Postwar findings support the assessment in the NIE of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) that claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa are 'highly dubious.'"
In his dramatic presentation to the United Nations Security Council on February 5, 2003, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said: "My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we're giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence. I will cite some examples, and these are from human sources." In preparation for his presentation, Powell had spent a week at Central Intelligence Agency headquarters sifting through intelligence.
One of the "human sources" that Powell referenced turned out to be "Curveball," whom U.S. intelligence officials had never even spoken to. "My mouth hung open when I saw Colin Powell use information from Curveball," Tyler Drumheller, the CIA's chief of covert operations in Europe, later recalled. "It was like cognitive dissonance. Maybe, I thought, my government has something more. But it scared me deeply."
In his presentation to the U.N. Security Council, Powell described another of the human sources as "a senior terrorist operative telling how Iraq provided training in these weapons [of mass destruction] to Al Qaeda." Six days earlier, however, the CIA itself had come to the conclusion that this source, a detainee, "was not in a position to know if any training had taken place."
In a report completed in 2004, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence concluded: "Much of the information provided or cleared by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for inclusion in Secretary Powell's speech was overstated, misleading, or incorrect."
In an interview with Polish television on May 29, 2003, President Bush stated: "We found the weapons of mass destruction." Bush was referencing two trailers or "mobile labs" discovered in Iraq.
Just days earlier, the Defense Intelligence Agency had concluded that the trailers "could not be used as a transportable biological production system as the system is presently configured." It was ultimately acknowledged that the trailers had nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction and were probably used to manufacture hydrogen employed in weather balloons.
On July 30, 2003, in an interview with Gwen Ifill of PBS's NewsHour With Jim Lehrer, Condoleezza Rice said: "What we knew going into the war was that this man was a threat. He had weapons of mass destruction. He had used them before. He was continuing to try to improve his weapons programs. He was sitting astride one of the most volatile regions in the world, a region out of which the ideologies of hatred had come that led people to slam airplanes into buildings in New York and Washington. Something had to be done about that threat and the president to simply allow this brutal dictator, with dangerous weapons, to continue to destabilize the Middle East."
Just two days earlier, David Kay, the Bush administration's top weapons inspector in Iraq, had briefed administration officials. "We have not found large stockpiles," he told them. "You can't rule them out. We haven't come to the conclusion that they're not there, but they're sure not any place obvious. We've got a lot more to search for and to look at."
VIDEO: Bill Buzenberg, the executive director of the Center for Public Integrity, interviews former Representative Lee H. Hamilton, who co-chaired the 9/11 Commission.
VIDEO: Bill Buzenberg, the executive director of the Center for Public Integrity, and Charles Lewis, the founder of the Center creator of IRAQ: THE WAR CARD, introduce the project at a briefing at the National Press Club.
Project Audio Podcasts
Bill Buzenberg presents the IRAQ: THE WAR CARD project, with comments by Center for Public Integrity founder and project director and creator Charles Lewis and former Representative Lee H. Hamilton.
Relevant Videos From the White House Press Secretary's Office
President Bush on November 26, 2001: "Well, my message is, is that if you harbor a terrorist, you're a terrorist. If you feed a terrorist, you're a terrorist. If you develop weapons of mass destruction that you want to terrorize the world, you'll be held accountable. And I also have said, as I recall at the White House, we're going to make sure that we accomplish each mission that we tackle. First things first."
President Bush on March 13, 2002: "a nation which has weapons of mass destruction and apparently is not afraid to use them."
President Bush on October 2, 2002: "We know the treacherous history of the regime. It has waged a war against its neighbors; it has sponsored and sheltered terrorists; it has developed weapons of mass death; it has used them against innocent men, women, and children. We know the designs of the Iraqi regime. In defiance of pledges to the U.N., it has stockpiled biological and chemical weapons. It is rebuilding the facilities used to make those weapons."
President Bush on October 7, 2002: "The Iraqi regime has violated all of those obligations. It possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons. It is seeking nuclear weapons. It has given shelter and support to terrorism, and practices terror against its own people." "Iraq's weapons of mass destruction are controlled by a murderous tyrant who has already used chemical weapons to kill thousands of people." "If we know Saddam Hussein has dangerous weapons today—and we do—does it make any sense for the world to wait to confront him as he grows even stronger and develops even more dangerous weapons?" "Yet, Saddam Hussein has chosen to build and keep these weapons despite international sanctions, U.N. demands, and isolation from the civilized world." "We know that Iraq and the Al Qaeda terrorist network share a common enemy—the United States of America. We know that Iraq and Al Qaeda have had high-level contacts that go back a decade." "The evidence indicates that Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program."
President Bush on January 28, 2003: "He pursued chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, even while inspectors were in his country. Nothing to date has restrained him from his pursuit of these weapons—not economic sanctions, not isolation from the civilized world, not even cruise missile strikes on his military facilities." "The job of the inspectors is to verify that Iraq's regime is disarming. It is up to Iraq to show exactly where it is hiding its banned weapons, lay those weapons out for the world to see, and destroy them as directed. Nothing like this has happened."
President Bush on March 6, 2003: "Has the Iraqi regime fully and unconditionally disarmed, as required by Resolution 1441, or has it not?" "These are not the actions of a regime that is disarming. These are the actions of a regime engaged in a willful charade. These are the actions of a regime that systematically and deliberately is defying the world. If the Iraqi regime were disarming, we would know it, because we would see it. Iraq's weapons would be presented to inspectors, and the world would witness their destruction. Instead, with the world demanding disarmament, and more than 200,000 troops positioned near his country, Saddam Hussein's response is to produce a few weapons for show, while he hides the rest and builds even more. Inspection teams do not need more time, or more personnel. All they need is what they have never received—the full cooperation of the Iraqi regime. Token gestures are not acceptable. The only acceptable outcome is the one already defined by a unanimous vote of the Security Council—total disarmament." "Saddam Hussein has a long history of reckless aggression and terrible crimes. He possesses weapons of terror. He provides funding and training and safe haven to terrorists—terrorists who would willingly use weapons of mass destruction against America and other peace-loving countries. Saddam Hussein and his weapons are a direct threat to this country, to our people, and to all free people." "We are determined to confront threats wherever they arise. I will not leave the American people at the mercy of the Iraqi dictator and his weapons." "This is what's important for our fellow citizens to realize; that if he really intended to disarm, like the world has asked him to do, we would know whether he was disarming. He's trying to buy time. I can understand why—he's been successful with these tactics for 12 years." "It used to be that we could think that you could contain a person like Saddam Hussein, that oceans would protect us from his type of terror. September the 11th should say to the American people that we're now a battlefield, that weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a terrorist organization could be deployed here at home."
President Bush on April 24, 2003: "the regime was armed with weapons of mass destruction." "We are now working to locate and destroy Iraq's weapons of mass destruction." "Iraqis with firsthand knowledge of these programs, including several top officials who have come forward recently—some voluntarily—(laughter)—others not—(laughter)—are beginning to cooperate, are beginning to let us know what the facts were on the ground. And that's important because the regime of Saddam Hussein spent years hiding and disguising his weapons. He tried to fool the United Nations, and did for 12 years, by hiding these weapons. (Applause.) And so, it's going to take time to find them. But we know he had them. And whether he destroyed them, moved them, or hid them, we're going to find out the truth. And one thing is for certain: Saddam Hussein no longer threatens America with weapons of mass destruction." "He spent money on illegal weapons," "Our mission—besides removing the regime that threatened us, besides ending a place where the terrorists could find a friend, besides getting rid of weapons of mass destruction"
Do you support military action?
"Do you approve or disapprove of the United States taking military actions against Iraq to try and remove Saddam Hussein from power?" [Percentage Saying Yes]
The CBS News/New York Times poll asked this question 14 times from February 2002 to March 2003. The percentage of respondents who said that they approved of U.S. military action fluctuated over this period from a high of 74 percent in February 2002 to a low of 64 percent in February 2003. The last time the question was asked, just before the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, 66 percent of the respondents said that they approved of U.S. military actions against Iraq.
Has the Bush administration clearly explained itself?
"Do you think the Bush
administration has clearly explained the United States
position with regard to possibly attacking Iraq?"
The CBS News/New York Times poll asked this question three times: once in September 2002 and twice in February 2003. The percentage of respondents who answered "yes" to this question more than doubled in this period, from a low of 27 percent in September 2002 to a high of 56 percent the first time the question was asked in February 2003 (and then dropping to 53 percent). This upward trend closely mirrors the higher number of misleading statements by Bush administration officials, beginning in September 2002. The Center’s analysis found 21 such statements in December 2002, for example, compared with 77 in January 2003 and 141 in February 2003—the month before the invasion of Iraq.
Was Saddam Hussein personally involved in 9/11?
"Do you think Saddam Hussein
was personally involved in the September 11th,
2001, terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon?"
The CBS News/New
York Times poll asked this question six times from September 2002,
when 51 percent of the respondents answered "yes," to May 2003, when 52 percent
answered "yes." The low of 45 percent came in February 2003 and the high of 53
percent in April 2003, with the invasion of Iraq in between.
Do you think Iraq has weapons of mass destruction?
"Do you think Iraq probably does or probably does not have weapons of mass destruction that the U.N. weapons inspectors have not found yet?"
The CBS News/New York Times poll asked this question five times from February 2002 to April 2003. In February 2002, 80 percent of those asked this question answered "probably does." The percentage of respondents offering this answer dipped to a low of 75 percent in January 2003 and climbed to a high of 85 percent in February 2003. Between those two surveys, the Bush administration made arguably its two most critical statements concerning the case for war: the President’s State of the Union address (on January 28) and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell’s presentation to the U.N. Security Council, primarily concerning Iraq’s efforts to produce weapons of mass destruction. When the question was again asked in April 2003, following the invasion of Iraq, 81 percent of respondents answered "probably does."
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Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction. Washington, D.C., 2005.
Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the DCI on Iraq's WMD (the "Duelfer Report"), 2004.
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Levin, Carl. Report of an Inquiry into the Alternative Analysis of the Issue of an Iraq-Al Qaeda Relationship. Washington, D.C.: Senate Armed Services Committee (minority staff), 2004.
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Senate Select Committee on
Report of the Select Committee on Intelligence on
Postwar Findings about Iraq's WMD Programs and Links to Terrorism and How They
Compare With Prewar Assessments.
D.C.: 109th Congress,
2nd Session, 2006.
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Carroll, James. Crusade: Chronicles of an Unjust War. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2004.
Clarke, Richard A. Against all Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror. New York: Free Press, 2004.
Corn, David. The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2003.
Draper, Robert. Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush. New York: Free Press, 2007.
Drogin, Bob. Curveball: Spies, Lies, and the Con Man Who Caused a War. New York: Random House, 2007.
Drumheller, Tyler. On The Brink: An Insider's Account of How the White House Compromised American Intelligence. New York: Carroll & Graf, 2006.
Fleisher, Ari. Taking Heat: The President, the Press, and My Years in the White House. New York: William Morrow, 2005.
Franks, General Tommy. American Soldier. New York: ReganBooks/HarperCollins, 2005.
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Over the past two and a half years, researchers at the Fund for Independence in Journalism have sought to document every public statement made by eight top Bush administration officials from September 11, 2001, to September 11, 2003, regarding (1) Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction and (2) Iraq's links to Al Qaeda. Although both had been frequently cited as rationales for the U.S. war in Iraq, by 2005 it was known that these assertions had not, in fact, been true.
The centerpiece of this project is an exhaustive, searchable, and robustly indexed database of all public statements on the two topics by President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and White House Press Secretaries Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan. These statements were painstakingly collected from the websites of the White House, State Department, and Defense Department as well as from transcripts of interviews and briefings, texts of speeches and testimony, prepared statements, and the like.
Also included are statements in the same two categories that appeared in major newspapers and on television programs, were part of public statements by other officials, or were contained in government studies or reports, books, and the like from September 11, 2001, to December 31, 2007. Secondary material from reports and books was included in the two-year database only in cases where specific dates were available. Other noteworthy material was included for context and completeness.
As a general rule, only the relevant excerpts of public statements have been included in the database; deleted material is marked "[text omitted]." (In a case of a lengthy press conference in which Iraq is mentioned only briefly, for example, only the relevant passage is included.) Where deleting text might have rendered the remaining material misleading or difficult to understand, longer passages were left intact. And in some cases public pronouncements of Bush administration officials that did not include direct statements were included if they provided useful context.
Wherever possible, hyperlinks are provided.
"False Statements" — Definitions
In press briefings, interviews, and other question-and-answer venues, each answer was categorized for purposes of this study as a distinct statement. In speeches or briefings, only when one statement clearly ends was the next statement considered, and then only if a "buffer" of at least 50 words separated the statements.
Direct false statements. False statements by the eight Bush administration officials were counted as "direct"—and included in the total count of false statements—when they specifically linked Iraq to Al Qaeda or referenced Iraq's contemporaneous possession, possible possession, or efforts to obtain weapons of mass destruction (chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons). In addition, any use of the verb "disarm" was categorized as a direct statement because of the literal meaning of the word. (Example: "Saddam Hussein has got a choice, and that is, he can disarm.") These false statements can be found within the passages that are highlighted in yellow in the project database.
Indirect false statements. Statements were classified as "indirect" if they did not specifically link Iraq to Al Qaeda but alleged, for example, that Iraq supported or sponsored terrorism or terrorist organizations, or if they referred to Iraq's former possession of weapons of mass destruction or used such general phrases, for example, as "dangerous weapons." These indirect false statements are not included in the total count of 935.
For the Fund for Independence in Journalism
Charles Lewis, the founder of the Center for Public Integrity, created and directed this project. He is the president of the Fund for Independence in Journalism in Washington, a distinguished journalist in residence at American University, and the coauthor of five books, including the bestseller, The Buying of the President 2004 (HarperCollins). He founded the Center for Public Integrity in 1989 and was its executive director for 15 years. From 1977 to 1988 he did investigative reporting at ABC News and at CBS News's 60 Minutes. He was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 1998 and PEN USA's First Amendment Award in 2004.
Mark Reading-Smith is the senior researcher/editor and writer at the Fund. In 2002 he was an intern at the Center for Public Integrity and conducted research for its best-selling book, The Buying of the President 2004. He is a graduate of Michigan State University.
Benjamin Turner was a researcher/editor at the Fund. He originally came to the organization as an intern. He helped to build the chronological database for this project and also was a researcher for the Fund's "Truth Project." He is a graduate of American University and is currently pursuing a law degree at the Syracuse University College of Law.
Matthew Lewis, a researcher/editor at the Fund, is a recent graduate of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where he founded and edited a popular website for college sportswriters, The Heptagon, and worked for publications including The Wisconsin State Journal, Scout.com, and Rotowire.
Jeanne Brooks, the managing director of the Fund, previously worked for the New Hampshire Commission on the Status Women, where, among other projects, she assisted with the Women's Prison Project. She is a graduate of the University of New Hampshire.
Stephanie Carnes was a research intern at the Fund in the summer of 2007. She is an honors graduate of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London and is currently working on a joint graduate degree in international law and international relations in Brussels, Belgium.
Jennifer Spector was a research intern at the Fund in the summer of 2006. She is currently a senior at the University of Pennsylvania.
was a research intern at the Fund in 2005. He is a summa cum laude graduate of
Howard University and is currently pursuing a master's degree in international
affairs at Georgetown University.
Julia Dahl was an editor for the project. She is a freelance journalist in Brooklyn, New York, who reports regularly for the New York Post and The Real Deal and teaches writing for MediaBistro. Her articles have appeared in Salon, Slate, Seventeen, and Marie Claire, among many others. She is a graduate of Yale University and has a master's degree in journalism from American University.
Han Nguyen, a web development consultant for this project, was the Center for Public Integrity's software architect from 2002 to 2006 and the lead web developer for more than 20 of its projects and reports. He is a graduate of the College of William and Mary in 1995.
For the Center for Public Integrity
Bill Buzenberg, the executive director of the Center for Public Integrity, has been a journalist and news executive at newspapers and in public radio for more than 35 years, most recently as the senior vice president of news at American Public Media/Minnesota Public Radio. From 1990 to 1997, he was the vice president of news and information at National Public Radio. He has won numerous awards, including the prestigious Edward R. Murrow Award, public radio's highest honor.
Many other members of the Center for Public Integrity's staff also worked on this project, including Helena Bengtsson, Sara Bularzik, Lisa Chiu, Caitlin Ginley, Alan Green, C. Benjamin Haag, Bill Hogan, Josh Israel, Sarah Laskow, Tuan Le, Peter Newbatt Smith, and Devin Varsalona. For bios, please go to the Center's staff page.
The 380,000-plus-word database presented here allows, for the first time, the Iraq-related public pronouncements of top Bush administration officials to be tracked on a day-by-day basis against their private assessments and the actual “ground truth” as it is now known.
Throughout the database, passages containing false statements by the top Bush administration officials are highlighted in yellow. The 935 false statements in the database may also be accessed by selecting the “False Statements” option from the “Subject” pull-down menu and may be displayed within selected date ranges using the selection tool below.
Searches may also be limited by person or subject, or both, by using the appropriate selections from the pull-down menus.