WASHINGTON – A former Energy Department intelligence chief who agreed with the White House claim that Iraq had reconstituted its defunct nuclear-arms program was awarded a total of $20,500 in bonuses during the build-up to the war, WorldNetDaily has learned.

Thomas Ryder, as acting director of Energy’s intelligence office, overruled senior intelligence officers on his staff in voting for the position at a National Foreign Intelligence Board meeting at CIA
headquarters last September.

His officers argued at a pre-briefing at Energy headquarters that there was no hard evidence to support the alarming Iraq nuclear charge, and asked to join State Department’s dissenting opinion, Energy officials say.

Ryder ordered them to “shut up and sit down,” according to sources familiar with the meeting.

As a result, State was the intelligence community’s lone dissenter in the key National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction, something the Bush administration is quick to remind critics of its prewar intelligence. So far no banned weapons have been found in Iraq to confirm its charges.

The secret 90-page report, prepared Oct. 1, was rushed to sway members of Congress ahead of a key vote on granting the White House war-making authority. It also formed the underlying evidence for the White House’s decision to go to war.

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham gave Ryder a $13,000 performance bonus after the NIE report was released and just before the war, department sources say. He had received an additional $7,500 before the report.

“That’s a hell of a lot of money for an intelligence director who had no experience or background in intelligence, and who’d only been running the office for nine months,” said one source who requested anonymity. “Something’s fishy.”

Ryder declined to talk about the payments.

“I’m really not going to talk about my personal life,” he told WorldNetDaily.

Ryder, a long-time human resources bureaucrat, served nine months as acting director of Energy’s intelligence office. He stepped down in February, the month before the war.

Energy officials say Ryder rubber-stamped the administration’s conclusion that Baghdad was reactivating a nuclear weapons program over the objections of Energy’s nuclear weapons research labs and senior members of his own staff.

“He was doing their bidding,” asserted an Energy official who also wished to remain nameless.

Oddly, Energy headquarters signed on to the hawkish position on Iraq nukes even though Energy’s labs debunked the centerpiece of its evidence – that the thick-walled aluminum tubes it sought were more likely intended for artillery rockets than gas centrifuges used to enrich uranium for nuclear bombs.

With Ryder and Energy on board, the vote for the position that Baghdad had restarted its defunct nuclear program was a nearly unanimous 5-1, with the other supporting votes cast by CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency and the National Imagery and Mapping Agency. Without Energy, the vote would have been a less-convincing 4-2, which was the vote on the aluminum tubes (both Energy and State dissented).

The difference is not lost on the administration, which is quick to point out Energy’s acceptance of the hawkish line. Energy’s vote on the nuclear allegation was critical, because the department is viewed as the final arbiter of technical disputes regarding nuclear-proliferation issues.

“It is noteworthy that although DOE [Department of Energy] assessed that the tubes probably were not part of Iraq’s nuclear program, DOE agreed that reconstitution was under way [emphasis in the original],” CIA Director George Tenet said in a four-page statement defending the NIE on Iraq. It was published Sunday in the Washington Post.

But officials in Energy’s intelligence office were at odds with Ryder, and did not agree that the program was being reconstituted, sources say. In fact, they agreed with the State Department’s view that the nuclear case against Baghdad was weak.

“Senior folks in the office wanted to join INR on the footnote, and even wanted to write it with them, so the footnote would have read, ‘Energy and INR,'” one official said. “But when they were arguing about it at the pre-brief, Ryder told them to ‘shut up and sit

INR, State’s intelligence office, not only shot down the tubes theory, but called “inadequate” other evidence used to support the view that Baghdad was trying to acquire nuclear arms.

“The activities we have detected do not add up to a compelling case that Iraq is currently pursuing what INR would consider to be an integrated and comprehensive approach to acquire nuclear weapons,” it said in its alternative view attached to the end of the NIE report’s key findings, which the White House recently declassified to show critics that the nuclear reconstitution position was nearly unanimous among the intelligence agencies.

Ryder is said to have brought two scientists to the NIE meeting at Langley to debate the tubing issue, one from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the other from Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Though the prevailing view among physicists and engineers at both labs was that the aluminum tubes were more likely intended for Iraq’s conventional artillery program, the scientist that Ryder brought from Oak Ridge leaned the other way – that they were more likely used for the nuclear program, though he did not rule out artillery use, sources say.

The White House’s harder line that the tubes were really suited only for the nuclear program was driven by CIA analyst Joe T. (Langley has asked that his full last name not be disclosed for his protection), though he is said to have received the blessing of senior CIA officials like Robert Walpole and Tenet himself. The former Oak Ridge engineer works in a CIA unit known by the acronym WINPAC, which analyzes intelligence about dual-use technology and export controls.

“He was the spark plug for them on the whole issue,” said David Albright, a physicist who helped inspect Iraqi nuclear sites last decade. “But most scientists at the labs disagreed with him,” arguing that the tubes Iraq sought were too thick for gas centrifuges, and had a coating that would flake off in the corrosive gases of centrifuges. However, they were ideal for artillery rockets, they argued, and matched ones Iraq had previously used for rockets.

“The debate over whether Baghdad was trying to acquire nuclear weapons pretty much came down to the tubes,” said one Energy official. “Yet even though DOE voted against the tubes, Ryder still argued that the program was being reconstituted.”

“But if the tubes are out, and if the African search for uranium is out, and if all the construction activity at the old nuclear sites turned out to be nothing, then what’s the evidence?” he said. “It was just taken on faith.”

Ryder is said to have earned his second bonus of $13,000 from Abraham in February for exceeding performance expectations as head of the intelligence office.

Sources say the secretary wanted to pay him $20,000, but was informed he’d already received $7,500 just nine months earlier.

Bonuses that big are rare, and Energy insiders say they cannot recall previous intelligence chiefs receiving as much bonus money as Ryder, who is said to be close to Abraham.

Energy spokespersons for the secretary, Joe Davis and Jeanne Lopatto, did not return phone calls for this story.

Yet despite Ryder’s alleged outstanding performance, Abraham didn’t keep him in the top position. In February, he was replaced by CIA official John Russak. By July, Ryder had been relocated to another department – energy assurance.

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