I had planned on publishing part two of TPM’s interview with Kenneth Pollack at the end of this week. But the first couple questions in that second part deal with the controversy surrounding those bogus Niger uranium documents. And with that story seeming to catch some fire in the last couple days, I’m going to go ahead and post that part of the interview this afternoon. The rest of part two of the interview will follow later this week.
Keep in mind that this back and forth took place at the beginning of last week, before the revelations of the last few days …
TPM: Let me ask you one more question on this front before we move to the post-war part â¦ this question of these uranium sale documents. There’ve been three or four fairly heavily reported pieces on this — there’s Nick Kristof’s piece, there’s one in The New Republic, a few electronic media reports. And I think in toto, they make a pretty decent circumstantial case that either principals in the administration must have known about this CIA report or that if they didn’t then you have a breakdown in communications that is the kind of thing that people get fired over. It’s hard to see that that information wouldn’t have gotten to the Vice President or to Condi Rice or something like that. What’s your sense of that?
Pollack: Yeah, it is the most interesting thing out there because if it turns out to be true in the sense that Sy Hersch has suggested, and that Nick Kristof is trying to prove, I think it really is a damning indictment of the administration. What I’ll say is that people from inside the administration have been trying very hard to convince me that in fact it’s not nearly as bad as suggested. And, you know, they have some interesting points. What they basically say is, look, you know, the vice-president’s office did find out but the timing isn’t the way that you’ve got it. And in fact when they found out that it was forged that’s what led to its being yanked from Colin Powell’s presentation. But simultaneously the speechwriter for the State of the Union address had just gone to the earlier, to the British report basically and pulled it from the British report. And they make the point — and they’re absolutely right about this — which is that no one saw the State of the Union.
TPM: Wouldn’t the vice-president, the vice-president has to see the State of the Union.
Pollack: You would be, the vice-president may have. But the vice-president may not have known the information. It doesn’t necessarily go to the staff. And I think that people really would be struck or be really stunned at how few people see the State of the Union address. That actually does ring true for me. Again, this is all unsubstantiated. Even there, I think that you could make the case that, well, alright, if they did find out later on that it was a forgery, shouldn’t they have gone out and said â¦ ladies and gentlemen of the American public and the world we actually told you something that was incorrect. We talked about this uranium from Niger â¦ we’ve now found that the information was forged.
If that’s true, which is the version that the administration is telling me, I think that that’s still an indictment. But it’s obviously not nearly as bad as if they knew about it and purposely let this stuff go out knowing that it was forged. That’s kind of a longwinded way of saying at the moment I think the jury is still out.
It certainly looks bad any way you slice it. Certainly there are people at CIA who seem to have known about this long in advance. And it’s just unclear exactly how they disseminated that information. But in deference to my old friends at CIA — and I don’t mean to be apologetic for them — they were in a position where they felt so beaten down by this administration that I don’t think they were feeling terribly charitable. And I think that to any low-level CIA officer, the idea of going out, kind of out of channels to say, hey, this big story that you guys thought you had on Niger uranium, it’s false. You know, I think by that point in time they just felt like if I do that those guys in OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense] are going to beat the hell out of me. And why do I need this?
And this is kind of part of the larger picture out there. We’re focused on these specific details and there’s a reason for that. Because if you can make the case stick on the Niger uranium then you’ve got a really damning indictment, as I’ve said. But I think the truth of the matter is that the larger problem was just this more general day-to-day of beating up the Agency for any assessments that weren’t sufficiently alarmist. And, again, not doing anything illegal, just making the lives of the analysts so miserable that they didn’t want to keep writing this kind of stuff while simultaneously cherry picking intelligence to try to put together the most alarming case you could in this shop over at the Pentagon and using that as an alternative set of analyses that was given just as much — what’s the word I’m looking for? — attention and credibility as what the CIA and the other intelligence agencies were coming up with in these high-level meetings.