Day after day we see more and more quotes from administration officials ducking the blame for their actions with excuses that don't even pass the laugh test.
Recently, Ken Pollack told TPM: "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."
Now we're told, by some "senior administration official," that the White House is pissed that the CIA would have saddled them with such thin and needlessly alarmist material as the Niger uranium allegations.
This from Wednesday's New York Times, discussing the warnings George Tenet gave Condi Rice's deputy Stephen Hadley about the problems with the Niger uranium charges and why they should be kept out of his Cincinnati speech ...
The warning, administration officials said, came in several phone calls to the deputy national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley.
Now, I think we do need to know more about just what was in the NIE and why it was there. But however it got there, one would really think that Tenet's subsequent, and apparently repeated, attempts to warn the White House off the allegations would have been sufficient to settle the problem. I mean, even if you assume that the CIA included a wildly inflammatory and utterly unsubstantiated report in the NIE, a follow-up call from Tenet saying, "You know, we're really not so sure about that Niger uranium stuff; don't use it" really should have put an end to it, right?
Mr. Tenet told Mr. Hadley that the C.I.A. was not sure about the credibility of the information.
The White House, asked tonight whether Mr. Hadley had read the National Intelligence Estimate before Mr. Tenet warned him that the section on Niger might be unreliable, declined to comment. But one administration official said that it appeared that Mr. Hadley had not read the report before he spoke with Mr. Tenet, or finished reviewing the Cincinnati speech.
While that call was disclosed last weekend, White House officials were asking today why the information about uranium from Niger had been published in the intelligence estimate at all. The White House has said repeatedly over the past eight days that the estimate was one of the reports that they relied upon as evidence that Iraq had a global program to get an atomic weapon in the president's State of the Union speech.
"This report was supposed to be the gold standard of our intelligence about Iraq," said one senior administration official. Asked why the agency backed away from it days after it was circulated, the official replied, "Who knows?"
C.I.A. officials explain the discrepancy by saying that classified intelligence reports sometimes include information that does not necessarily rise to the level of certainty required of a public address by the president. The report contained a footnote that made clear that there were doubts at the State Department about the uranium evidence.
"It's one thing to have information in a classified document with caveats and footnotes, and another to have the president flatly assert something," an intelligence official said.
What's very important to keep in mind here is that Hadley is not just some staffer at NSC. He's Rice's deputy -- the equivalent of Armitage at State or Wolfowitz at the Pentagon. There's just no way that anything Tenet told him should have or really even could have gotten lost in the mix.
Now, here's another point worth considering. And consider it in relation to Pollack's comments noted above.
Later on in the Times article there's some discussion of the fact that the NIE was put together on a rush basis, and that this may have played a role in problems in what was included and what wasn't. But there's also some key information about what the NIE was and why it was prepared.
Intelligence officials have also said that the intelligence estimate, which provided an overview assessment of the status of Iraq's programs to develop weapons of mass destruction, was put together hastily and only at the request of Senate Democrats, who wanted to see the report before they voted on a war resolution. [emphasis added, ed.]
Is it possible that the issue here wasn't just one of haste?
As Pollack's notes -- and virtually everyone else says off the record -- the CIA was under intense pressure to produce, well, let's say, good stuff -- material that was, to use Pollack's words, "sufficiently alarmist." I don't think it's unreasonable to assume that that pressure would have been at its greatest when it came time to producing intelligence assessments and dossiers for members of congress who were going to vote on the Iraq war resolution. We know there was an intense battle within the CIA, not only over disagreements over substance, but also between different officials who wanted to bend either more or less in the White House's direction. Is it possible that that pressure got some things into the NIE that really probably shouldn't have been there, but that when it came to making public allegations -- as in the president's October speech -- that seemed like maybe a step too far?
That's by no means the only interpretation. The point made by the intelligence official quoted above (that you'd include shaky intelligence in a classified document that wouldn't be fit for public consumption) makes a lot of sense to me. But perhaps this other possibility is one we should consider.