I’ll dispense with the literary prologue and get right to the point.
Susan Schmidt is known, happily among DC Republicans and not so happily among DC Democrats, as what you might call the “Mikey” (a la Life Cereal fame) of the DC press corps, especially when the cereal is coming from Republican staffers.
This morning she has an article on the Senate intel report and Joe Wilson, specifically focusing on the relevance of Wilson’s reporting on Niger (the report says analysts did not see Wilson’s findings as weakening claims that Iraq had sought to purchase uranium from Niger) and his wife’s role in recommending him for the assignment.
We’ll discuss the broader issues of Plame’s role in Wilson’s assignment and the underlying question of the alleged Iraq-Niger negotiations. A clearer-eyed take on Wilson and report can be found here in this story by Knight Ridder. But for now a few points on Schmidt’s treatment.
In her fourth paragraph Schmidt writes that “contrary to Wilson’s assertions and even the government’s previous statements, the CIA did not tell the White House it had qualms about the reliability of the Africa intelligence that made its way into 16 fateful words in President Bush’s January 2003 State of the Union address.”
This is one of those cases in which it’s helpful to actually read the report rather than just run with what you’ve got from the majority committee staffer who gave you the spin.
The claim with regards to the back-and-forth was always that the CIA struggled to get the uranium references out of the October 2002 Cincinnati speech and then failed to do so — though why presicely is less clear — when the same folks at the White House tried again to get it into the 2003 State of the Union address. And indeed on page 56 the report states that …
Based on the analyst’s comments, the ADDI drafted a memo for the NSC outlining the facts that the CIA believed needed to be changed, and faxed it to the Deputy Natoinal Security Advisor and the speech writers. Referring to the sentence on uranium from Africa the CIA said, “remove the sentence because the amount is in dispute and it is debatable whether it can be acquired from the source. We told Congress that the Brits have exaggerated this issue. Finally, the Iraqis already have 550 metric tons of uranium oxide in their inventory.”
… Later that day, the NSC staff prepared draft seven of the Cincinnati speech which contained the line, “and the regime has been caught attempting to purchase substantial amounts of uranium oxide from sources in Africa.” Draft seven was sent to CIA for coordination.
… The ADDI told Committee staff he received the new draft on October 6, 2002 and noticed that the uranium information had “not been addressed,” so he alerted the DCI. The DCI called the Deputy National Security Advisor directly to outline the CIA’s concerns. On July 16, 2003, the DCI testified before the SSCI that he told the Deputy National Security Advisor that the “President should not be a fact witness on this issue,” because his analysts had told him the “reporting was weak.” The NSC then removed the uranium reference from the draft of the speech.
Although the NSC had already removed the uranium reference from the speech, later on October 6th, 2002 the CIA sent a second fax to the White House which said, “more on why we recommend removing the sentence about procuring uranium oxide from Africa: Three points (1) The evidence is weak. One of the two mines cited by the source as the location of the uranium oxide is flooded. The other mine city by the source is under the control of the French authorities. (2) The procurement is not particularly significant to Iraq’s nuclear ambitions because the Iraqis already have a large stock of uranium oxide in their inventory. And (3) we have shared points one and two with Congress, telling them that the Africa story is overblown and telling them this is one of the two issues where we differed with the British.”
I find it difficult to square that with Schmidt’s claim that the report states that the CIA “did not tell the White House it had qualms about the reliability of the Africa intelligence.”
Then there’s a point with regards to Plame’s role in selecting Wilson for the mission. The report includes testimony from those involved saying that Plame did suggest Wilson for the mission — a point we’ll return to. Based on this Schmidt says …
Plame’s role could be significant in an ongoing investigation into whether a crime was committed when her name and employment were disclosed to reporters last summer.
The report may bolster the rationale that administration officials provided the information not to intentionally expose an undercover CIA employee, but to call into question Wilson’s bona fides as an investigator into trafficking of weapons of mass destruction. To charge anyone with a crime, prosecutors need evidence that exposure of a covert officer was intentional.
Again, a conversation with a lawyer may have been more helpful than one with a staffer.
There’s no ‘challenging the bona fides of a political opponent’ exception to the law in question. While Plame’s alleged role may have some political traction, it’s legally irrelevant. Government officials are not allowed to disclose the identity of covert intelligence agents, whether they feel like they have a good reason or not.
Finally, down toward the end of Schmidt’s article she writes that: “According to the former Niger mining minister, Wilson told his CIA contacts, Iraq tried to buy 400 tons of uranium in 1998.”
I read the report’s discussion of the whole Niger business. And I didn’t see that reference. However, on page 44 there is a reference to Wilson reporting to the CIA that “an Iranian delegation was interested in purchasing 400 tons of yellowcake from Niger in 1998 [but that] no contract was ever signed with Iran.” (emphasis added).
Perhaps I missed the reference that Schmidt is noting. But it seems awfully similar to the one the report notes about Iran — same date, same tonnage. Presumably in this case, Schmidt innocently confused the two neighboring and similar-sounding countries, though it’s a goof you’d think an editor would have caught.