Robert Draper's new book on George Bush, "Dead Certain", claims that Bush believed until last year that WMDs would be found in Iraq - that is, two-and-a-half years after the Interim Report of the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) headed by David Kay, and one-and-a-half years after the ISG's Duelfer Report, both of which made very clear that there were no such weapons in Iraq.
"Though it was not the sort of thing one could say publicly anymore, the president still believed that Saddam had possessed weapons of mass destruction. He repeated this conviction to Andy Card all the way up until Card’s departure in April 2006, almost exactly three years after the Coalition had begun its fruitless search for WMDs." [p. 388][h/t Think Progress] NB, this was after Bush had publicly conceded that the Duelfer Report invalidated his stated pretext for going to war:
BUSH: The chief weapons inspector, Charles Duelfer, has now issued a comprehensive report that confirms the earlier conclusion of David Kay that Iraq did not have the weapons that our intelligence believed were there.Now this: According to Sidney Blumenthal, writing in Salon.com, Bush was told by former CIA chief George Tenet in unequivocal terms, in September 2002, that Saddam Hussein had no WMDs, as confirmed by a top-level source inside Saddam's inner circle of advisers, namely Iraqi foreign minister Naji Sabri.
On Sept. 18, 2002, CIA director George Tenet briefed President Bush in the Oval Office on top-secret intelligence that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction, according to two former senior CIA officers. Bush dismissed as worthless this information from the Iraqi foreign minister, a member of Saddam's inner circle, although it turned out to be accurate in every detail.The headline of the Salon article, "Bush knew Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction", is misleading; a more accurate, though less pithy version would probably be "Bush was told Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction, but refused to believe the best available intelligence, instead choosing to trust in the words of a fabricator, con man and former Iraqi taxi driver posing as a chemical engineer", the source now known as "Curveball":
According to a US presidential commission looking into pre-war intelligence failures, the basis for pivotal intelligence on Iraq's alleged biological weapons programmes and fleet of mobile labs was a spy described as 'crazy' by his intelligence handlers and a 'congenital liar' by his friends [... A] US official was surprised to find Curveball had a hangover and said he 'might be an alcoholic.' By early 2001, the Germans were having doubts of their own, telling the CIA their spy was 'out of control'.A "crazy" man described as a "congenital liar" even by his friends, assessed as an "out of control alcoholic": Could it be that Bush felt a certain kinship with this man, since they have so much in common? In fact, the headline of the Guardian/Observer story quoted above, "US relied on 'drunken liar' to justify war", had me thinking of Bush before I realized it referred to the Curveball source. But let us return to Blumenthal's story:
Nor was the intelligence included in the National Intelligence Estimate of October 2002, which stated categorically that Iraq possessed WMD. No one in Congress was aware of the secret intelligence that Saddam had no WMD [...] The information, moreover, was not circulated within the CIA among those agents involved in operations to prove whether Saddam had WMD [...] Tenet never shared Sabri's intelligence with then Secretary of State Colin Powell. According to the former officers, the intelligence was also never shared with the senior military planning the invasion, which required U.S. soldiers to receive medical shots against the ill effects of WMD and to wear protective uniforms in the desert.
Powell apparently also realized, without having access to Sabri's views, that the information he was given was not holding up to scrutiny. Preparing his testimony to the UN Security Council in February 2003, which he delivered with George Tenet sitting directly behind him, Powell reportedly
tossed several pages in the air. "I'm not reading this," he declared. "This is bulls- - -."The French and US intelligence service reportedly paid Sabri "hundreds of thousands of dollars" for information about Iraq's banned weapons programs. Blumenthal's CIA sources confirm that Sabri stated Iraq had no such weapons. However:
Instead, said the former officials, the information was distorted in a report written to fit the preconception that Saddam did have WMD programs. That false and restructured report was passed to Richard Dearlove, chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), who briefed Prime Minister Tony Blair on it as validation of the cause for war.Dearlove must have suspected he was being treated to a snow job, since the notorious "Downing Street Memo", of which, he is believed to be the author, noted that "Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy." Bush's determination to overthrow Hussein was such that he decided to ignore the intelligence provided by Sabri and presented to the president by the CIA director:
The next day, Sept. 18, Tenet briefed Bush on Sabri. "Tenet told me he briefed the president personally," said one of the former CIA officers. According to Tenet, Bush's response was to call the information "the same old thing." Bush insisted it was simply what Saddam wanted him to think. "The president had no interest in the intelligence," said the CIA officer. The other officer said, "Bush didn't give a fuck about the intelligence. He had his mind made up."
I have long refused to believe that the rationale for invading Iraq was based on a genuine error, which is the version being spun by the neocons today - that the White House did believe it had solid evidence for Iraq's alleged weapons programs, and that the "intelligence failure" was the fault of the CIA. Instead, the "best available evidence" now indicates that the US government either actively manipulated the intelligence or - and this is the most charitable interpretation possible - came to believe in its own propaganda. You decide which is worse.