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As Bush speeches were being drafted in the prewar period, serious questions were also being raised within the intelligence community about purported threats from biologically armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
In an Oct. 7, 2002, speech, Bush mentioned a potential threat to the U.S. mainland being explored by Iraq through unmanned aircraft “that could be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons.” The basis for that analysis was a single report that an Iraqi general in late 2000 or early 2001 indicated interest in buying autopilots and gyroscopes for Hussein’s UAV program. The manufacturer automatically included topographic mapping software of the United States in the package.
When the list was submitted in early 2002, the manufacturer’s distributor determined that the U.S. mapping software would not be included in the autopilot package, and told the procurement agent in March 2002. By then, however, U.S. intelligence, which closely followed Iraqi procurement of such material, had already concluded as early as the summer of 2001 that this was the “first indication that the UAVs might be used to target the U.S.”
When a foreign intelligence service questioned the procurement agent, he originally said he had never intended to purchase the U.S. mapping software, but he refused to submit to a thorough examination, according to the president’s commission. “By fall 2002, the CIA was still uncertain whether the procurement agent was lying,” the commission said. Nonetheless, a National Intelligence Estimate in October 2002 said the attempted procurement “strongly suggested” Iraq was interested in targeting UAVs on the United States. Senior members of Congress were told in September 2002 that this was the “smoking gun” in a special briefing by Vice President Cheney and then-CIA Director George J. Tenet.
By January 2003, however, it became publicly known that the director of Air Force intelligence dissented from the view that UAVs were to be used for biological or chemical delivery, saying instead they were for reconnaissance. In addition, according to the president’s commission, the CIA “increasingly believed that the attempted purchase of the mapping software . . . may have been inadvertent.”
In an intelligence estimate on threats to the U.S. homeland published in January 2003, Air Force, Defense Intelligence Agency and Army analysts agreed that the proposed purchase was “not necessarily indicative of an intent to target the U.S. homeland.”
And, of course, there were always those pesky aluminum tubes.