Vice President Dick Cheney, a regular CPAC speaker, gave the keynote address. California Rep. Chris Cox had the honor of introducing him, and he took the opportunity to mock the Democrats whose hatred of America led them to get Iraq so horribly wrong.
"America's Operation Iraqi Freedom is still producing shock and awe, this time among the blame-America-first crowd," he crowed. Then he said, "We continue to discover biological and chemical weapons and facilities to make them inside Iraq." Apparently, most of the hundreds of people in attendance already knew about these remarkable, hitherto-unreported discoveries, because no one gasped at this startling revelation.
I just received this statement in response from Cox via James Freeman, his legislative and communications director:
Michelle Goldberg, writing in Salon, has committed the egregious but all-too-common journalistic sin of tendentiously editing quoted material. The sentence she quotes was not a vague, general statement. Rather, it was immediately followed by two sentences that clearly explained the biological agent referred to was ricin and the chemical agent was sarin -- and that these might be packaged in, among other things, perfume containers.
Here is the passage in context (note there is NO reference to WMDs, which is an assumption you made, understandably, based on the tendentious report that appeared in Salon):"Despite all evidence to the contrary, the Left persists with the fiction that our efforts in Iraq are a distraction from the war on terrorism. No, this is the war on terrorism. We continue to discover biological and chemical weapons and facilities to make them inside Iraq, and even more about their intended use. A plan to disperse sarin and the lethal poison ricin in the United States and Europe was actively being pursued as late as March 2003. The facility in which the weapons were being made also housed a large inventory of perfume atomizers of various shapes and sizes to mimic the existing brands on the store shelves in the United States. It doesn't take a lot of imagination to understand the implications, but it does take imagination and determination to combat it, which is why it is so important we have an administration that gets it."
What I said came straight from news reports the preceding weekend. That is why, as Goldberg wrote, "most of the hundreds of people in attendance already knew about these remarkable, hitherto-unreported discoveries" and did not gasp when I said it. The following is excerpted from the article "Oil-for-Food a Failure From the Start?" which appeared on FoxNews.com on Sunday, February 13, 2005:
The Iraqi Survey Group also found that supposed "humanitarian" imports under Oil-for-Food gave Saddam the ability to restart his biological and chemical warfare programs at a moment's notice. [UN weapons inspector Richard] Spertzel said what scared him the most in Iraq was the discovery of secret labs to make deadly weapons like the nerve agent, sarin, and the biological poison, ricin, in spray form.
"If that were released in a closed [area], such as Madison Square Garden or, even some, some of your smaller closed malls, shopping malls, it would have a devastating effect ... killing hundreds or thousands," Spertzel said.
But Spertzel believes Saddam was cooking up an even more sinister plan - putting the poisons on department store shelves across the United States and Europe. He said that plan was "actively pursued" as late as March 2003. And that plan was at least, in part, funded by Saddam's corrupt Oil-for-Food activities.
"Some of the photographs that were obtained from this same laboratory had multiple different shapes of glass spray bottles, perfume spray bottles - presumably to mimic different brand names," Spertzel said. "Can you imagine somebody going into Macy's department store and spray a little bit of a perfume to see whether they like the scent, only instead of perfume they're getting a face full of sarin?
"That would kill within, within a few minutes. If this were to appear at a couple different locations, imagine the economic impact in the U.S. - people would be afraid to buy anything."
There is an enormous difference between what I said (and clearly did NOT say about WMD), on the one hand, and what you inferred, based on the skimpy Salon out-of-context quote, that I must have said about new discoveries of Iraq WMD. Sarin and ricin are ugly terrorist tools, but they are a separate issue -- and my remarks left no doubt which I was talking about. You may not agree with my political judgment -- that it's good we have an administration that "gets it" -- but I hope you will help me point out that I have been misquoted. I appreciate your saying that I am a very trustworthy person (that is the message that was passed on to me) and I have every intention of remaining so.
Just to clarify, I didn't say Cox was "trustworthy"; that's a message that was garbled in translation. What I actually did say to his press secretary was that I thought of Cox as being smart and well-informed, so I was surprised to read the quote and wanted to verify that it was accurate. Unfortunately, I'm disappointed to say that it may be time to reassess my view of him -- he's misconstruing the FoxNews.com article that he claims backs him up and exaggerating scraps of evidence from the Duelfer Report.
First, how can he claim that "there is NO reference to WMDs" in his statement? He specifically said "weapons and facilities." Second, the Fox article never describes the discovery of "biological and chemical weapons" in Iraq. In fact, it specifically says "CIA investigators recovered no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction" (though it later implies weapons were found, saying the UN "could have done more to stop Saddam from acquiring deadly weapons"). In addition, Cox's claim about an alleged plan to "disperse sarin and the lethal poison ricin in the United States and Europe" is also wrong. He refers to "[t]he facility in which the weapons [ricin and sarin] were being made," but the article never says that such weapons were being produced there. Instead, FoxNews.com refers to Saddam's "ability to restart his biological and chemical warfare programs at a moment's notice" and "secret labs to make deadly weapons."
If Cox had consulted the Duelfer Report, the definitive compilation of the findings of the Iraqi Survey Group, it states (PDF) that "While a small number of old, abandoned chemical munitions have been discovered, ISG judges that Iraq unilaterally destroyed its undeclared chemical weapons stockpile in 1991. There are no credible indications that Baghdad resumed production of chemical munitions thereafter." And as the liberal group Media Matters points out, the report states that the alleged perfume-sprayer plan reportedly could not be carried out due to a lack of chemical weapons agents:
A former IIS [Iraqi Intelligence Service] officer claimed that the M16 directorate had a plan to produce and weaponize nitrogen mustard in rifle grenades, and a plan to bottle Sarin and sulfur mustard in perfume sprayers and medicine bottles which they would ship to the United States and Europe. The source claimed that they could not implement the plan because chemicals to produce the CW agents were unavailable.
A few chemical munitions have been found, but they all appear to all be leftover pre-1991 stocks:
Since May 2004, ISG has recovered dozens of additional chemical munitions, including artillery rounds, rockets and a binary Sarin artillery projectile (see Figure 5). In each case, the recovered munitions appear to have been part of the pre-1991 Gulf war stocks, but we can neither determine if the munitions were declared to the UN or if, as required by the UN SCR 687, Iraq attempted to destroy them.
Also, there was no evidence (PDF) found of an active biological weapons program:
ISG found no direct evidence that Iraq, after 1996, had plans for a new BW program or was conducting BW-specific work for military purposes. Indeed, from the mid-1990s, despite evidence of continuing interest in nuclear and chemical weapons, there appears to be a complete absence of discussion or even interest in BW at the Presidential level. Iraq would have faced great difficulty in re-establishing an effective BW agent production capability. Nevertheless, after 1996 Iraq still had a signifi cant dual-use capability—some declared—readily useful for BW if the Regime chose to use it to pursue a BW program.
...Depending on its scale, Iraq could have re-established an elementary BW program within a few weeks to a few months of a decision to do so, but ISG discovered no indications that the Regime was pursuing such a course.
...ISG judges that in 1991 and 1992, Iraq appears to have destroyed its undeclared stocks of BW weapons and probably destroyed remaining holdings of bulk BW agent. However ISG lacks evidence to document complete destruction. Iraq retained some BW-related seed stocks until their discovery after Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF).
So once again -- what is Chris Cox talking about? This is the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee we're talking about. Why do I know more about the Duelfer Report than he does?
Update 2/22: Congressman Cox just called me to follow up on his email. I guess he hadn't read this post yet. He was very gracious, and in fairness to him I do want to emphasize something that I neglected in my original post. The Salon article should have included the references he made to the sarin/ricin lab. Cox did not make a general statement about the discovery of WMDs -- it was a specific factual claim, and should have been reported as such. That said, however, I did say to him that I believed he was misrepresenting the FoxNews.com article and urged him to re-read it. I also tried to make clear why I believe that his remarks were substantively misleading given the findings of the Duelfer Report that Iraq did not have active biological or chemical weapons programs.
One final clarification: When Cox states in his email above that "there is NO reference to WMDs," he was apparently making a distinction between nuclear and biological weapons, which are weapons of mass destruction in the sense of being able to kill many thousands of people, and ricin and sarin, which are smaller-scale chemical weapons. He emphasized this distinction to me and said that he doesn't think of ricin and sarin as WMDs. I pointed out to him that they are usually classified as chemical weapons, but we agreed that the term "weapons of mass destruction" is vague and it's better to speak precisely about different types of weapons.
[Disclosure: Spinsanity was a featured column on Salon for most of 2002.]