About those "Saddam Tapes"

I was there -yes, for the whole excruciating 3 hours -of the much-trumpeted release of the so-called "Saddam Tapes" which were promoted as the "smoking gun" of WMD in Iraq.

The slow-moving main presentation of the tapes was bogged down by its seeming unending length, and by the predominance of vague, cryptic, nonsensical, insignificant and inconclusive text.

It appears the most-hyped excerpts are also subject to wide-ranging interpretations.

You can read my article on this here. [Actually, it was my second submision after my first "too long and boring" one was canned. :)] Please read the excerpts for yourself. Judge for yourself. Here I list some serious concerns.

I was very surprised at some of the conclusions drawn by former UNSCOM weapons inspector Bill Tierney, who said he was asked by the FBI to translate them -that was before he apparently absconded with copies of what he told me was courtroom standard proof Iraq had "stockpiles" of WMD before the U.S. invaded. [Click here to hear Tierney tell me what he believes the significance of the tapes is. Recorded at the Intel Summit]

First, the word "stockpiles" occurs nowhere in the transcripts. Nor is there any reference to any similar term denoting quantity of weapons of any sort. The entire presentation relied heavily on his interpretation.

Here's an example of how vague some of the text was:

Saddam Hussein: That is, there was a group of these guys and those guys, but this all ended and with that, the thing they will confirm is our cover story. Good, this is the way it goes...they are present. There isn't anybody that is going to give away a card....well...this is -[indistinct] attempt in any se'a. (Tierney left some words untranslated because their meaning was not clear)

Say what?

Or how about:

Saddam Hussein: Hala thala [mumbling]. Um al-Ma'arik and I can write [unintelligible], until you have [unintelligible.]

Or how about this excerpt Tierney said was from mid-96 and said dealt with decontamination of a bioweapons facility:

Unidentified male: Then the question is who is the person in the situation? What is the organizational relationship, and what is the relationship in this subject to the Ministry of Defense?

Unidentified male: How was the relationship with the Ministry of Defense? Antashtu how much food provision and habiya al-khaliya. Is this from an order from the Ministry of Defense? Where does this order come from?

Saddam Hussein: What do you mean by the "Ministry of Defense?"

Unidentified male: Sir I...I believe that baytakun on this point there [unintelligible] and their plan is to create a group of reasonable doubts which we have not yet seen. This point was dealt with by this round . The primary care was excellent.

And so on.....


An excerpt where Saddam is briefed by scientists on plasma technology got big play on Fox News and in the Washington Times: "One new piece of information revealed on the tapes, released Saturday by Mr. Tierney at the Intelligence Summit, a private conference held in Arlington, is that Saddam was actively working on a plan to enrich uranium using a technique known as plasma separation."

First, the excerpt says nothing like that.

Second, the excerpt is preceded by Saddam asking "plasma, what is it?"

One of the scientists describes it as an "industrial application" for coating materials etc. (It can be used for sterilization of medical instruments, and as coatings for film, silicon wafers, and so on.)

Dr. Thamir Ma'aman Mawdud from the Theoretical Applications Center at the Iraqi Military Industrial Commission stated that "in 1981 we started to create sources of plasma, which were used in the Iraqi nuclear program." He later referenced "production we achieved in the advanced stages in the end of the 1990s."

What raises questions for me, is that although Tierney has dated these tapes to "post-2000" Thamir then appeared to reference the first Persian Gulf War when he remarked that "Now, at present, after the 30-state aggression against us" the Iraqis' plasma activity was limited: "Today activity is limited to qawaya tests and experimental and industrial measurements." (Everyone seems to be ignoring the "now" "present" "today" and "limited" comments". Plus even the word "qawaya" which seems to be a qualifying word, was left untranslated.)

A passage from a Dr. Amer Abbas about unidentified plasma activity within the Atomic Energy Agency includes talk of the history of plasma from the 19th-century on. He goes on to mention more history -"tokomaks" (a chamber used in fusion research to heat plasma) and "breakeven" (A likely referent to the 1955 Lawson Criterion, which sets the conditions under which heated plasma results in a net yield of energy). This indicates the scientists were briefing Saddam on the nuclear fusion 101 -basic information available on the Internet.

Why was this inconsequential passage included ?

The Times editorial goes on: "This is particularly worrisome because of the date of the conversation: It took place in 2000, nearly five years after Iraq's nuclear programs were thought to have stopped. Perhaps most disturbing of all, according to Mr. Tierney, was the fact that the Iraqi scientists briefing Saddam about the uranium enrichment plan in 2000 'were totally unknown' to U.N. weapons inspectors. The plasma program also appears to have escaped the attention of the Iraq Survey Group, which reported two years ago that it had ended back in the late 1980s. "

This Tuesday, the day after the Intel Summit ended, FOX News military analyst Lieutenant General Thomas Mcinerney, the co-author of the book "Endgame" talked up the plasma tapes. Said the general: "I heard in the words of both Saddam Hussein and Tariq Aziz, if [sic] they had chemical, biological, and nuclear, and were using advanced nuclear plasma techniques for processing the uranium.." It is surpising to me that was his response.

O'Reilly says: "You saw the transcripts, and Saddam said we have which weapons precisely? What do we have?"

MCINERNEY: Well, he didn't say "we have." He talked about nuclear weapons with plasma enrichment. He talked about chemical. He talked about biological.

That interpretation sounds vague and (unintentionally) misleading to me.

Bill goes on to ask why the administration does not want this out there. The general says in part: "you know, this cuts the legs out of every left-wing group in the whole country."

Conservative cognitive dissonance:

Allow me to voice one of my pet peeves here. Conservatives keep:

1) Jumping uncritically on any bandwagon that comes along that promises proof of WMD.

2) Attributing the idea our intelligence was wrong and there were no WMD stockpiles or imminent threat to left-wingers.

The ISG (Iraq Survey Group) was led by the CIA and U.S. military officials, not the DNC, Nancy Pelosi or the Communist Party.

The ISG findings (all 1,500 pages) as well as the Robb-Silverman Commission, or Sentate Intel Comm findings, are all chucked out the window as non-existent or part of a conspiracy, by some conservatives.

This creates an interesting dynamic for conservatives - because it puts them at odds with people who disagree, like our intelligence agencies and U.S. military officials as well as Bush appointees like John Negroponte --all folks conservatives traditionally support.

Is there any credible reason to believe the CIA or all of our other intelligence agencies want to squash any late-breaking news of WMD? The CIA did state there could be new developments.

AUDIO: [Click here to hear Tierney on media, the conservative "lefty" accusation, and zigging while the i.c. is zagging. Recorded at the Intel Summit.]

Claims that surface do not warrant unqualified trust -religious-like faith in their veracity. These issues should be explored objectively and reasonably. They shouldn't be hyped or dismissed outright.

AUDIO: [Click hereto hear Tierney answer my question about why his message isn't coming from the admin or intel community. Recorded at the summit.]

Allegations Russians spirited WMD away

Back to MCINERNEY: "Well, I believe that -- that he had it and then the Russians convinced him, because they sent a team in, a Spetsnaz team in, and they moved those weapons into three locations in Syria and one into Bekaa Valley."

This is a rehash of John A. "Jack" Shaw's presentation at the tape session on the same issue. This isn't new information. As Shaw said during his presentation, when he relayed what he described as high quality intel to the Iraqi desk officer at the DIA, the latter brushed it off as "Israeli disinformation." Shaw experienced "pushback" elsewhere. The CIA trashed one of his sources he said, and tried to make him persona non grata in the intel community. DIA also tried to discredit him and the whole effort he said.

My point? In all the Saddam Tapes talk- Tierney never seemed interested in discussing the evident contradictions in his tapes. Nor did Fox News discuss them. Nor did McInerney discuss any caveats regarding any of this information. That's hardly 'fair or balanced.'

The viewer/news consumer is left with the idea that thousands of intelligence officers and military officials are wrong, and a small coterie, including a sampling of conservative websites, got it right. First -there are some very murky issues floating up right now on WMD. They need to be tackled with reason and objectivity, not blind faith. By all means look into Shaw's information, look further into Tierney's tapes and those 35,000 boxes of documents and tapes Hoekstra says are untouched. Americans deserve more than hyping or dismissing out of hand, or sloppy and careless reporting.

Now -the plasma program was also talked up by FOX News' Brent BAIER and GEN. PAUL VALLELY, FOX NEWS MILITARY ANALYST. (Vallely incidentally was a keynote speaker at the summit.) He calls the plasma issue "profound."

"This was so profound that what's going to be exposed on Saturday morning down in Washington, D.C. will tell a lot about Saddam and what he was thinking back in those years." No - not really, it didn't tell us much at all, other than what we already knew. Yossef Bodansky actually said to me that the information the tapes do provide is information we already knew.

*Why didn't Fox get a nuclear expert on?*

Now a few more notes on plasma-mania:
--The ISG did note actions involving the Institute for Laser and Plasma Studies in their nuclear section. And secondly, the passage does not clearly denote nuclear weapons activity with plasma, despite what Tierney alleges.

--the ISG also noted they found a limited number of post-1995 activities that would have aided the reconstitution of the nuclear weapons program once sanctions were lifted.

--There is nuclear power and nuclear weapons, two very different things, but the difference seems lost on the consumers of the tapes. Those who have no knowledge of nuclear technology can grab ahold of something like this and run with it.

Also note: for a long time (you can find documents on the web dating back at least to 1998) Yossef Bodansky has spoken of Libya hosting Iraq's nuclear program. I wish some intrepid reporter(s) would get the real skinny on that. We've had very little follow-up reporting on this issue. Tierney did not bring it up at the presentation.


Another surprising interpretation to me was Tierney's contention that post-Gulf War discussions between Jafar Dhia Jafar (former head of the Iraqi nuclear program) and Saddam about repairing the electrical infrastructure were signs they were planning to divert electricity from al-Haritha station to build nukes.

During the discussion of electrical repairs, Jafar says: "We were thinking of using it for fission bombs or special bombs." But is he talking about the past or the future? Tierney headed this section under the title "Electrical Needs for Uranium Enrichment Project." Tierney seemed to think the fact Jafar was discussing electrical repairs and needs was a sign this was related to nukes, and "Large amounts of electricity are needed for uranium enrichment, so power from a civilian electrical station was to be diverted for the nuclear weapons program."

Tierney said on FOX news: "In early 1992, tremendous efforts were put into rebuilding an electrical power station outside of Basra. The person in charge of the rebuilding was the head of the nuclear weapons commission, Jafar al-Jafar. [sic] Why would [Jafar] care about an electrical power station?The reason was they planned to divert the power that was intended for civilian use to build two different types of nuclear weapons, fission and what the Iraqis call a special bomb."

What is really surprising is that Tierney is surprised, non-plussed, over Jafar's involvement with an electrical rebuilding project. But as I previously reported 3 years ago, according to Dr. Imad Khadduri who was a nuclear scientist with the program, following the war there was an "all hands on deck" scenario with the nuclear scientists called on the carpet to repair the electrical infrastructure. Jafar's involvment should therefore not be enough to constitute suspicion. This information is available on a google search. Khadduri is a strong opponent of the war, but the information was corroborated by another Iraqi nuclear scientist who was a strong supporter of the war.

Here is part of that passage, which was included in a 5-part serialization of Khadduri's book that I did:

"Extensive damage to the Iraqi infrastructure and subsequent rebuilding would occupy the nuclear scientists and engineers for years. During the war, Khadduri learned America had dropped special nets embedded with graphite pea-sized pellets that caused extensive electric shorts, shutting down the electrical grid. A week after the war ended, Jafar gave Khadduri his first post-war assignment. He was to convene an Electricity Rehabilitation Symposium in Baghdad which would assess damage and coordinate rebuilding. A third of Iraq’s electric power supply was re-established within four to five months. Passing along a highway south of Sharqat during the war, Khadduri remembers seeing miles-high walls of fire from spilled oil engulfing the Baiji oil refinery plant. Khadduri along with other nuclear scientists and engineers later supervised the rebuilding of oil refineries, which were up and running again within a few months as well. In the summer of 1991, as the telecommunications infrastructure was being repaired, Khadduri undertook an enterprise of his own initiative: networking all of the research centers and universities throughout Iraq.
Over a period of two years, Khadduri and Ayad Muhaimid used external Hayes modems, to network about sixty research centers and universities with a telephone dial-up service allowing them access to the many databases on CD-ROMs that were located at the Center for Specialized Information in the Ministry of Industry in Baghdad."...."Jafar, at that time, was appointed Head of the MIC, under Hussain Kamal’s authority, in return for having led the successful rebuilding of the electricity sector. "

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