Add faked photos to the list of lies told by the Bush–Cheney Administration before its invasion of Iraq.
In a town hall meeting in Bloomsburg, Pa. this week, Rep. Paul Kanjorski, a 12-term congressman, said that shortly before Congress was scheduled to vote on authorizing military force against Iraq, top officials of the CIA showed select members of Congress three photographs it alleged were Iraqi Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), better known as drones. Kanjorski said he was told that the drones were capable of carrying nuclear, biological, or chemical agents, and could strike 1,000 miles inland of east coast or west coast cities.
Kanjorski said he and four or five other congressmen in the room were told UAVs could be on freighters headed to the US. Both secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and President Bush wandered into and out of the briefing room, Kanjorski said.
Kanjorski said it was the second time he was called to the White House for a briefing. He had opposed giving the President the powers to go to war, and said that he hadn’t changed his mind after a first meeting. Until he saw the pictures, Kanjorski said, “I hadn’t thought that Iraq was a threat.” That second meeting changed everything. After he left that meeting, said Kanjorski, he was willing to give the President the authorization he wanted since the drones “represented an imminent danger.”
Kanjorski said he went to see Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), a retired Marine colonel. Murtha, said Kanjorski, “turned white” when told about the drones; Murtha, a former intelligence officer, believed that such information was classified.
Several years later, Kanjorski said he learned that the pictures were “a god-damned lie,” apparently taken by CIA photographers in the desert in the southwest of the US. The drone story itself had already been disproved, although not many major media carried that story.
In October 2002, President Bush said in Cincinnati that, “Iraq has a growing fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons across broad areas.” He said that he was concerned “that Iraq is exploring ways of using these UAVs for missions targeting the United States.” In that same speech, he claimed, “Iraq possesses ballistic missiles with a likely range of hundreds of miles — far enough to strike Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey, and other nations — in a region where more than 135,000 American civilians and service members live and work.” Bush further claimed, “Surveillance photos reveal that the regime is rebuilding facilities that it had used to produce chemical and biological weapons.” Those claims were later proven false.
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said that at the time the President made his speech, intelligence analysts had already discounted that threat. Nelson had told Florida Today in December 2003 that no analysts had “found anything that resembles an UAV that has that capability.” Any drones that Iraq did have, John Pike, director of Global Security, a major military and intelligence “think tank,” told Florida Today, had limited range, and would not be able to target Tel Aviv, let alone the U.S.
Nelson, on the floor of the Senate in January 2004, said that the information presented by the Administration was crucial in getting him and others to authorize a pre-emptive strike.
* Assisting on this story were Bill Frost, and John and Sandie Walker. In a four-day period after that meeting in northeast Pennsylvania, Rep. Kanjorski did not return phone calls to follow up on his statements. The Department of Defense and the CIA did not comment. Certain representatives who could confirm the meeting were unavailable.