His own top aide said it:
I wish I had not been involved in it," says Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, a longtime Powell adviser who served as his chief of staff from 2002 through 2005. "I look back on it, and I still say it was the lowest point in my life.
Wilkerson, interviewed for CNN's 2005 documentary "Dead Wrong -- Inside an Intelligence Meltdown," was of course referring to the much-heralded (before) and much-derided and regretted (after) speech by then Secretary of State Colin Powell, in front of the United Nations Security Council on February 5, 2003.
Super Wednesday - as it might then have been called, such was the hype - was cast as the opportunity for an internationally-respected figure to present the definitive case for concerted action against Saddam Hussein. And Colin Powell did not disappoint: there were vials of poison, slides of bio-weapons labs, the scariest stuff imaginable. It was all the fruit of fevered imaginations: the infamous "Curveball" (though disavowed as a completely unreliable source by most serious Allied intelligence services) and his Administration enablers were at the root of the wildest Powell affirmations. Check out the above link for the January 24, 2008 Democracy Now! Amy Goodman interview with LA Times reporter Bob Drogin, on his new book, "Curveball: Spies, Lies, and the Con Man Who Caused a War:"
Three days after Powell went to the United Nations, the UN weapons inspectors went to all of the sites, every single one of the sites that Curveball had told them about, where these weapons supposedly were being produced. And they not only didn’t find the evidence, they proved that it couldn’t be true. They found a variety of things that showed his story was wrong. All of that was ignored, was overruled, was pushed aside. And obviously we went to war on false pretenses.
It's easy now to mix up the chronology of the whirlwind of speeches, allegations, lies... leading up to the invasion of Iraq. As Arianna Huffington said in Salon in 2003, Powell's UN speech came just days after the Presidential "Misstatement of the Union:"
The Secretary went on at great length about the intense vetting process -- "four days and three nights" locked up with the leaders of the CIA, working "until midnight, 1 o'clock every morning," going over "every single thing we knew about all of the various issues with respect to weapons of mass destruction" -- that went into deciding what information would be used in his United Nations presentation. A presentation that ultimately did not include the Niger allegation because it was not, in Powell's words, "standing the test of time."
Hmmm, just how hard is that test? Powell's U.N. speech came a mere eight days after Bush's State of the Union -- leaving one to wonder what the expiration date is on patently phony data. About a week after a president uses it, it turns out.
Huffington's reference to Niger - for those with short term memory loss - is the famous "Yellowcake-Gate," where another phony intelligence story was spun about Saddam trying to get nuclear bomb raw material from Africa. Ambassador (ret'd.) Joe Wilson - who in an earlier manifestation had faced down Saddam Hussein as the last senior American diplomat in Baghdad in 1990 - was sent to check the story out. Wilson went to Niger, found the story baseless, reported back to Washington, was shocked to see that the President would nonetheless tell the world that black-was-white, and spoke out publicly to set the record straight. Yellowcake-Gate became Plame-Gate (if you want to read an excellent review of Valerie Plame's book, "Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House," read Patricia Kushlis in "Whirled View.")
Yep. Five years ago today. Parallel History that brought the United States to war.