A few thoughts on under-celebrated reporting of the WMD manipulation story. First, some of the more interesting, not-following-the-pack pieces I’ve seen have been by Knut Royce in Newsday. (Do I know him? No, never even heard his name before a week or so ago.) And, of course, let’s keep in mind that Tom Gjelten of NPR had pretty much the entire story — the administration’s knowledge of the problems with Niger claims, the last minute back-and-forth with the CIA, and even the decision to use the Brits to get around the CIA’s objections — more than a month ago, back on June 19th. Talk about beating everyone else to the story!
What will we find?
When Iraqi scientists are permitted to talk to inspectors and journalists without fear of having their tongues later cut out and their families slaughtered by Saddam, the truth will out in vivid detail about the decadelong deception of the U.N. With “Dr. Germs” singing to save her life at future war crimes trials, today’s American straddlers will at last be confronted with conclusive evidence they now profess to doubt … When the postwar books are written, a former Iraqi spymaster with knowledge of the suicide attacker Mohamed Atta’s perhaps unwitting connection to Saddam will eagerly come forth to spill all he knows to save his neck or sell his memoirs. Suspected followers of Osama bin Laden like Musaab Zarqawi and Mullah Krekar, if alive, will further link Al Qaeda to Saddam’s mukhabarat police.
Some Bush critic setting the bar ridiculously high? No, Bill Safire, from January 30th.
More to come soon on the phantom ‘al Qaida connection.’
It’s nice to see some war-hawks are waking up to what George Tenet actually wrote in his July 11th plank-walking press release, the ‘mea culpa’ that had an extremely sharp barb hidden amidst all the abject language.
Over the last week people who’ve been following this case have slowly woken up to a realization of how dexterous a game Tenet has been playing. I wrote back on the 12th that if you “read Tenet’s ‘mea culpa‘ (self-criticism session?) closely … you’ll see it points right back at Condi Rice’s NSC.”
But I didn’t grasp quite the degree of Tenet’s bureaucratic savvy. Nor do I think did the White House. Actually, scratch that: I’m sure they didn’t.
Having covered himself with a dignity-dashing mess of sorries and self-criticism (which sounded vaguely like something out of Russia in the mid-late 1930s), he set out an explanation that pointed right back to the White House, or specifically to the NSC.
He upped the ante dramatically when he and his aides gave more information in the recent closed-door hearing on Capitol Hill. Tenet and company are slowly reeling out piece after incriminating piece of information. It’s hard to attack him since he’s already ‘taken responsibility’ for the goof (still the only one as far as I can see.) But the real reason it’s hard to attack him or, for that matter, fire him, is that the White House realizes that it is far better to have a dishing Tenet on the inside than on the outside. Amazingly, Tenet has managed to make himself nearly untouchable — at least for the moment.
In any case, back to war-hawks realizing this.
In Bill Kristol’s new column, he writes …
On January 28, the president said in his State of the Union address that “the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” Perhaps he should have said “the British government believes” rather than “has learned.” But this statement was unremarkable at the time, and remains unremarkable today. And, contrary to the implications of George Tenet’s disingenuous press release of July 11, the president said nothing that the Central Intelligence Agency had retracted or controverted in the months between the distribution of their October estimate and the State of the Union address.
It now turns out the CIA had its doubts–though they were less than definitive. It also turns out the British are sticking by their claim. And it remains the case, most important, that the African uranium business, whatever the truth of it, was never more than a single piece of the otherwise voluminous evidence driving allied concern over Saddam and weapons of mass destruction. How important were those “significant quantities of uranium from Africa”? The White House now acknowledges, in retrospect, that the matter didn’t merit mention in the State of the Union.
There are three points I’d like to note about these two grafs. But let me start with the point about Tenet. The “president said nothing that the Central Intelligence Agency had retracted or controverted in the months between the distribution of their October estimate and the State of the Union address”? Is that really your final answer, Bill? If it is, which part of the public record are you disputing? As nearly as I can tell we have at least two instances where the CIA did just that — we can leave aside for the moment the instances that haven’t been reported yet.
George Tenet personally — and it seems, repeatedly — interceded with Hadley to keep the Niger uranium story out of the president’s October 7th speech. Isn’t that right? And then Alan Foley tried to keep the statement out of the State of the Union speech, but eventually gave way over the ‘Brits-said-it compromise.’ The White House first agreed that Foley had done this and now they seem to have un-agreed.
But does anyone really buy the line from the “senior administration official” on Friday that the White House came up with the ‘British caveat’ on their own to make the claim seem more credible? It seems like there are at least two instances where Tenet or one of his subordinates tried to warn the White House off those claims, on the reasoning that they were not credible enough for public dissemination. The sentence that reads “the CIA had its doubts” probably ought to read “the CIA had its doubts and communicated them to the White House on at least two occasions after the NIE was completed.”
Second point. Kristol asks “how important were those ‘significant quantities of uranium from Africa’? The White House now acknowledges, in retrospect, that the matter didn’t merit mention in the State of the Union.” This comes after he argues that the uranium claim was just a minor part of the case against Iraq.
If I didn’t know better I’d think this was an attempt at a rhetorical sleight of hand. Kristol seems to be saying that the uranium claim didn’t merit mention because it was a matter of such negligible significance.
Let’s try that again.
If they didn’t merit mentioning it was because the allegations weren’t particularly credible. It’s almost as if Kristol wants to have it both ways — to grab the uranium claims out of the speech but to do so for reasons that have nothing to do with their credibility. Does anyone really believe that evidence of Iraqi purchases of tons of uranium ore from Africa — if credible — wouldn’t “merit mention in the State of the Union”?
I didn’t think so.
The only possible reason not for including those claims when building the case for the magnitude of Saddam’s WMD program would be their lack of credibility.
And finally to the Brits and the claim they’re “sticking by.” Based on my own snooping I think I know what the Brits’ other evidence is. I can’t say I’m certain of it yet. But I have to figure that the White House — having rather better sources of information than I do — is hearing the same thing. The “other evidence” is not insignificant. If I were the DCI I’d probably have someone look into it. Hell, I might even send Joe Wilson over to Africa to check it out. But if it’s not insignificant, it’s pretty close. I think I know why the Brits are keeping it mum. They have their own domestic political reasons for sticking by their other evidence — even if it’s little more than a placeholder — and the president’s defenders know it. But partisans of the White House probably don’t want to press too hard, lest everyone actually find out what that ‘other evidence’ really is.
William Safire has now joined the camp of those who argue that anyone who questions the White House’s use of trumped-up or flimsy intelligence is actually playing into the hands of Saddam and aiding his quest to return to power. Saddam, says Safire …
presumes that British and American journalists, after the obligatory mention that the world is better off with Saddam gone, would â by their investigative and oppositionist nature â sustain the credibility firestorm. By insisting that Bush deliberately lied about his reasons for pre-emption, and gave no thought to the cost of occupation, critics would erode his poll support and encourage political opponents â eager to portray victory as defeat âto put forward a leave-Iraq-to-the-Iraqis candidate.
Let’s translate this: What’s the defense against charges of manipulation or deception? We don’t have one. But don’t mention it or you’ll be helping Saddam return to power. Or perhaps you could put it another way: the mess we’ve made is too big for us to afford the luxury of asking why we made such a big mess.
I’ll be honest with you. I struggled for some time trying to think up a way to discuss Safire’s Monday morning column. But the whole thing was such a cynical mix of half-truths, untruths and twisted logic that it ended up besting me.
Here are a few examples …
Saddamist guerrillas, aided by terrorist allies in Syria and Iran, would hold out the fearsome possibility of the return to power of Saddam or his sons. A series of murders of “collaborators” would continue to intimidate Iraqi scientists and officers who know about W.M.D. and links to Al Qaeda and its related Ansar al-Islam.
Here Safire slips in an assumption (“continue to intimidate”) that virtually no one believes: that we haven’t gotten WMD-related testimony because the scientists and officers fear retribution.
Or this …
How best to deny Saddam’s putative return from his Elba, and to put this summer of discontent behind us? Drop the premature conclusion that if we can’t yet find proof of the destructive weapons, they never existed. That’s like saying because we haven’t found Osama or Saddam, those killers never existed.
Is it really like saying that? Am I missing something? Because this analogy sounds like one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard in my life.
Let’s be honest. Homefront disputes over war aims, justifications and policy are seldom helpful to the conduct of a war, at least in an immediate operational sense. But accountability and responsibility are so alien to these people that the responsibility for their manipulations, reckless enthusiasm and lack of planning rests not with them, but on the shoulders of those who now choose to call them on it.
There’s a bigger point that’s easy to miss in this larger brouhaha over the Niger documents — one which the attention to the Niger documents themselves may even help obscure.
A few days ago I mentioned an October 20th column by Jim Hoagland, one in which he celebrated the way the Bush administration had muscled the intelligence community (and particularly the CIA) into giving up its “long-standing and deeply flawed analysis of Iraq.” The White House was triggering, he went on to say, a battle between “officials whose careers and reputations were built on the old analysis of the Iraqis as a feckless, inert and inward-looking bunch of thugs against those willing to take a fresh, untilted look at all the evidence.”
The idea was clear. The CIA didn’t understand Saddam, his motives, the extent of his WMD programs or the depth of its ties to al Qaida. (The CIA, Hoagland lamented, still couldn’t bring itself to agree about Iraq’s alleged deep ties with al Qaida.) The politicals did — and they were going to make sure the folks at the Agency did too.
The results, Hoagland continued, had been promising. It was only because the administration had forced the CIA to get religion on Iraq that they had generated a National Intelligence Estimate that allowed the president to fill his speech with details of Iraq-al-Qaida connections and chemical and biological-spewing unmanned aerial vehicles. As Hoagland aptly put it on July 16th, the “political leadership of the administration declared war on the careerists at the CIA soon after Bush’s election.”
Now, sometimes bureaucracies really do need to be taken on, to be shaken up. But we have intelligence agencies for a reason: to gather and analyze intelligence. Going to war with your primary intelligence agency is a risky proposition, especially while you’re fighting a war against international terrorist groups.
Until we got into Iraq we really couldn’t say for certain what we’d find. Perhaps the politicals were right and the Agency’s more cautious estimations of the Iraqi threat would be exposed as hopelessly naive.
But now we’re there. And from what we’ve found so far, the Bush administration’s revisionist view of Iraq seems far more deeply flawed than what Hoagland called the Agency’s “long-standing and deeply flawed analysis of Iraq.”
Now we’re also seeing a lot of administration defenders carting out the standard lines that intelligence is an art, not a science, that it’s a mosaic, and so forth.
That’s all true of course. But it doesn’t cut it to say, “This is just an intelligence failure. The White House just went with what they were being told.” Why? Because you can’t separate our failure to find a lot of what we thought we’d find in Iraq from the “war” the administration has been fighting with the intelligence community for the last two years. If the administration spent the previous two years “at war” with the CIA, pushing them harder and harder into a set of assumptions (and in many cases conclusions) that turned out to be wildly off-the-mark, shouldn’t there be some political accountability for what turned out to be at best a very poor call?
Let’s say a CEO took over a Fortune 500 company. Let’s further say that his first act was to walk down to the advertising division and tell them they had no idea what they were doing and had to change the way they did business. He also told them he was going to bring in some outside consultants to comment on (read: second guess) their work. Now, the CEO and his new crew didn’t have a huge amount of experience with ad work. But he talked a good game. So people thought he might have something up his sleeve. Then the new results come in at the end of the year and the company’s revenues fell off the cliff.
Now, needless to say, the boss’s cronies and sycophants would say that it was just an example of how bad the ad division was doing in the first place, or come up with some other such excuse. But how long do you think that CEO would hold on to his job?
As noted earlier, a “senior administration official” briefed members of the White House press corps this afternoon about the latest developments in the WMD story. The real substantive news here, as near as I can tell, is that the White House is saying it didn’t make any changes in the uranium portions of the State of the Union speech because of resistance or doubts from the CIA — specifically in the conversation between NSC staffer Bob Joseph and Alan Foley of the CIA. That directly contradicts what Alan Foley is reported to have said in Wednesday’s closed-door hearing in the Senate. The “senior administration official” also seemed to say (you read the transcript and be the judge) that the White House would not allow White House staff — most likely Joseph — to be questioned about any of this before committees on Capitol Hill. Several papers reported yesterday that the White House had signaled willingness to do so. The entire question and answer portion of the briefing has just been posted in the TPM Documents Collection.
Early this afternoon a “senior administration official” briefed members of the White House press corps on the National Intelligence Estimate, Iraq and WMD. Return soon to find out just what this person said.
We’ll also be discussing what you might call, paraphrasing the late President Eisenhower, ‘creeping DeLayism’. House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas ordered Capitol police to forcibly remove Democratic committee members from a nearby library where they had gone to plot strategy after a dispute erupted over the amount of time the Dems were given to review a bill in the committee
Yesterday morning a few of the usual suspects pointed to the National Intelligence Estimate and said, “Look, it has the claims about Iraqi uranium purchases in Africa. End of story. The Agency gave the White House bad intelligence, period.”
Today the White House has declassified and released selected portions of the NIE, including a claim, according to this AP article, that there was “compelling evidence” that Saddam was trying to reconstitute his nuclear program and that “if left unchecked…probably will have a nuclear weapon during this decade.” It also cited unsubstantiated reports that the Iraqis might be trying to buy uranium in Africa.
Now, first of all, I think we need to know more about just what the NIE said on this issue, in its totality. But let’s assume that it said it more or less flat out.
Even if that’s true, it still seems like the CIA made subsequent and multiple attempts — some successful, some not — to keep the president from making this claim publicly because they had very real doubts about whether it was even true. The NIE may give the White House something to hang its hat on but only as a debating point, no more.
If the White House were interested in getting the story right, rather than just getting it scary, you’d think they would have paid attention to the repeated messages from the CIA saying, in essence, “Yes, we know it’s mentioned in the NIE. But we’re now not so sure it’s true. The president shouldn’t say it.”
They kept pushing and pushing even after Agency personnel seem to have made their views on the evidence pretty clear.
Like the female employee and her grabby boss, how many times does she have to say ‘no’ before the behavior becomes inappropriate?
First we find out that ABC News has the temerity to send a gay reporter to risk getting shot-up and blown-up in Iraq. Now it turns out he’s Canadian too!
Have they no shame?!?!?!? Know they no limits!?!?!
This seems to be the attitude over at the White House. Jeffrey Kofman is the ABC reporter who filed the recent stories about declining troop morale in Iraq. According to Lloyd Grove’s column this morning, the White House press office has been putting out word about Jeffrey Kofman’s unpardonable offenses to friendly news organizations, including Matt Drudge.
First there was the smearing of Joe Wilson, now the digging up of personal details about Kofman. Are we permitted to start recognizing a pattern here? A road map, shall we say, for how the White House plans to deal with criticism on this issue?
Wow. Amazing and terribly tragic. Dr. David Kelly was a British government Iraq expert — and former weapons inspector — who seemed to be the source for BBC reports that Prime Minsiter Tony Blair’s office had “sexed up” its report about Iraqi WMD. He had denied it. But the Ministry of Defense fingered him as someone who had met with the BBC reporter in question.
He disappeared yesterday (yesterday UK time) and a body which seems to be his was found in the woods not far from his home this morning (again, UK time). Every sign here looks like this is someone who was unaccustomed to and overwhelmed by the media spotlight this was generating and took his own life. One MP told the BBC: “He is not used to the media glare, he is not used to the intense spotlight he has been put under.”
Even if that’s what happened here though, when people at the center of scandals like this turn up dead it raises the drama level, the media fascination and ‘heat’ of the story almost immeasurably.
Who was Dick Durbin talking about when he told Good Morning America that George Tenet named the White House official who “insisted” on including the shaky Niger material?
(This late-filed report from the AP reports that a “U.S. government official present at the closed-door Senate Intelligence Committee meeting” says it was another CIA official, not Tenet, who dicsussed this stuff with the committee. But this other official doesn’t seem to dispute Durbin’s contention that a White House official was named at the hearing.)
But, again, who is the White House official in question? The invaluable Chris Nelson of the Nelson Report says he knows.
This from the summary of this evening’s Nelson Report …
Summary: the Iraq intel scandal gets more interesting, as CIA’s Tenet decides to pull NSC from behind the curtain. Says proliferation expert Bob Joseph performed the “negotiated truth” of Bush’s State of the Union Niger claim. Hints Hadley, Rice (?) had to approve. Senate intel committee chair Roberts loyally trying to shield White House, limit damage to CIA. No deal, Tenet now makes clear. Watch for September public hearings.
This is the same official, Robert G. Joseph, a NSC nuclear proliferation expert, mentioned in the July 12th Sanger-Risen New York Times story.
More from this evening’s Nelson Report …
1. With Senate Intelligence Committee chair Pat Robert’s promising public hearings in September, it’s now clear that CIA Director George Tenet is no longer prepared to let the Agency take the fall for President Bush’s use of discredited information on Iraqi nuclear procurement in the State of the Union address.
— in closed testimony yesterday, sources confirm, Tenet named NSC non-proliferation official Bob Joseph as the White House staffer who forced the CIA to accept the “negotiated truth” Bush used to “prove” assertions by Vice President Cheney, and DOD Secretary Rumsfeld, that the Administration “knew” that Saddam Hussein was trying to “reconstitute” his nuclear bomb program.
2. Tenet’s decision shows that the professional intelligence community has been pushed one time too many in a process that includes Cheney’s historically unprecedented three visits to Langley, and DOD Undersecretary Feith’s rump intel assessment group.
— while CIA professionals have always had to fight political appointees over the interpretation of intelligence (the misuse of Vietnam war intel being a classic, tragic example), in this case, the straw that broke the camel’s back was Joseph’s insistence on what he knew was flawed British intelligence for the political purpose of persuading the American people to support the Iraq war.
3. The implications of Tenet’s counterattack are potentially huge: while Joseph is a career professional, his highly ideological approach to arms control, and refusal to countenance compromise, has made him a major political player by default, sources confirmed as early as 2002, due to his central role in blocking negotiations with North Koreaâ¦more on this in the next section of today’s Report.
— but no career professional could have had such impact on the decision-making process if he didn’t receive the backing of his political masters. Tenet, who came to the CIA from Capitol Hill, thus knew exactly what he was doing when he threw Joseph’s name out to the Senators yesterday.
4. As Tenet obviously intended, even Republicans are now asking tough questions about the role of National Security advisor Condi Rice, and, in particular, her deputy, Steve Hadleyâ¦the two senior political appointees who’s approval of Joseph’s actions were essential, observers agree.
— Hadley, especially, has some explaining to do, given that Tenet called him in early October, 2002, to warn that the Niger information was doubtful, and should be deleted from the prepared text of an Oct. 9 Bush speech.
5. And this incident alone puts Rice in the difficult position of having to explain why she said just last week (July 11) that no one at her level knew of the CIA’s doubts about the Niger information at the time of the State of the Union, several months after the Tenet/Hadley chat.
— so far, Rice and other White House officials have sought to minimize, or localize, the harm to the “bigger picture” of how the President went about persuading the American people to support a war to overthrow Saddamâ¦that’s what this talk of “just 16 little words” is all about.
More soon …
From this morning’s gaggle, an APB for a buck on the loose …
QUESTION: Regardless of whether or not there was pressure from the White House for that line, I’m wondering where does the buck stop in this White House? Does it stop at the CIA, or does it stop in the Oval Office?
Scott McClellan: Again, this issue has been discussed. You’re talking about some of the comments that — some that are —
QUESTION: I’m not talking about anybody else’s comments. I’m asking the question, is responsibility for what was in the President’s own State of the Union ultimately with the President, or with somebody else?
Scott McClellan: This has been discussed.
QUESTION: So you won’t say that the President is responsible for his own State of the Union speech?
Scott McClellan: It’s been addressed.
QUESTION: Well, that’s an excellent question. That is an excellent question. (Laughter.) Isn’t the President responsible for the words that come out of his own mouth?
Scott McClellan: We’ve already acknowledged, Terry, that it should not have been included in there. I think that the American people appreciate that recognition.
QUESTION: You acknowledge that, but you blame somebody else for it. Is the President responsible for the things that he said in the State of the Union?
Scott McClellan: Well, the intelligence — you’re talking about intelligence that — sometimes you later learn more information about intelligence that you didn’t have previously. But when we’re clearing a speech like that, it goes through the various agencies to look at that information and —
QUESTION: And so when there’s intelligence in a speech, the President is not responsible for that?
Scott McClellan: We appreciate Director Tenet saying that he should have said, take it out.
QUESTION: But it’s the President’s fault.
Scott McClellan: In fact, if you look back at it, I mean, we did take out a different reference, a reference based on different sources in a previous speech because it was said — the CIA Director said, take it out.
QUESTION: Let me come back to your “nonsense” statement here, and let me slice it as thinly as I possibly can, just growing out of what Scott asked. Is it nonsense to say that the White House wanted this information included in the State of the Union and negotiated with the CIA to find a way to put it in to the State of the Union?
Scott McClellan: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Is it nonsense to say that the White House wanted this information in the speech and went through negotiations with the CIA on a way to get it in the speech?
Scott McClellan: That there were discussions? Speech drafts go — we’ve stated that these speeches go out to the principals, it goes out to the State, it goes out to DOD, it goes out to CIA, when it’s going through the drafting process.
QUESTION: Scott, you said it was “nonsense” to say that the White House was pressuring the CIA to put this in the speech. Is it nonsense to say —
Scott McClellan: I think the question that you asked about was that someone was insisting —
QUESTION: Durbin said, a White House official insisted —
Scott McClellan: — insisting that it be put in there in an effort to mislead the American people, I think is what —
QUESTION: You didn’t explicitly give a motive.
Scott McClellan: And I said I think that’s just nonsense.
QUESTION: I’m just trying to slice it a little bit narrowly, to say, is it nonsense to say that the White House wanted this information in the speech and negotiated with the CIA on a way to get it in the speech?
Scott McClellan: Are you asking me to characterize the discussions that occur going on during the speech drafting process? I don’t —
QUESTION: I’m saying, does your “nonsense” statement apply to the idea that the White House wanted it in the speech and negotiated with the CIA on a way to get it in the speech?
Scott McClellan: I think that it still goes back to, these drafts go to the various agencies, it goes to the CIA, this is an intelligence matter. It was based on information in the National Intelligence Estimate. That’s the consensus document of the intelligence community, and that’s what the information was based on in that speech.
QUESTION: So what I asked you about in that speech, your “nonsense” statement —
Scott McClellan: I’m trying to walk you —
QUESTION: You’re trying to walk me out the door. (Laughter.)
Scott McClellan: I’m trying to walk you through this.
QUESTION: So your nonsense statement doesn’t apply to what I just asked you?
Scott McClellan: I’m trying to walk you through the drafting process. And that’s why I was trying to put it in context, so you understand how this occurs.
QUESTION: Scott, on Keith’s question, why can’t we just expect, basically what would be a non-answer, which is, of course the President is responsible for everything that comes out of his mouth. I mean, that’s a non-answer. Why can’t you just say that?
Scott McClellan: This issue has been addressed over the last several days.
QUESTION: Why won’t you say that, though, that’s, like, so innocuous and benign.
Scott McClellan: The issue has been addressed.
Look, it’s always a bit brutal and ugly when members of the press flog something like this over and over again. But why can’t they just say it: the president takes responsibility for what happens on his watch? And what ever happened to the responsibility era …
A fresh start …
I think the thing that discouraged me about the vice president was uttering those famous words, ‘no controlling legal authority.’ I felt like that there needed to be a better sense of responsibility of what was going on in the White House. I believe that–I believe they’ve moved that sign, ‘The buck stops here,’ from the Oval Office desk to ‘The buck stops here’ on the Lincoln Bedroom, and that’s not good for the country.George W. Bush
October 3rd, 2000
President Bush on Friday put responsibility squarely on the CIA for his erroneous claim that Iraq tried to acquire nuclear material from Africa, prompting the director of intelligence to publicly accept full blame for the miscue.Associated Press
July 11th, 2003
“The political leadership of the administration,” says Post columnist Jim Hoagland today, “declared war on the careerists at the CIA soon after Bush’s election. There should be no surprise that analysts who feel their insights have been scorned and attacked would use this opportunity to get even.” But let’s not forget how much of a soldier Hoagland was in that war. In a choice example, see this column from last October 20th on Bush’s now-newly-controversial October 7th speech on the Iraqi threat. The material for the October 20th speech never would have made it out of the CIA had not President Bush’s “determination to overthrow the Iraqi dictator” brought a such a “cultural change” to the Agency.
Too true, Jim.
One coup brought about by the “cultural change” was the president’s ability to use in his October 7th speech “an agency finding that Iraq is developing ‘a growing fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles’ to deliver chemical and biological weapons on U.S. targets.” Those would, of course, be the chemical and bio-spewing UAVs which even most of the maximalists now believe never existed. Hoagland thought that Tenet might still be part of the problem, holding the Agency back from truly embracing the new ways.
This is how war is waged inside the CIA: The upstarts who are challenging the agency’s long-standing and deeply flawed analysis of Iraq are being accused of “politicizing intelligence,” a label that is a reputation-killer in the intelligence world. It is also a protective shield for analysts who do not want, any more than the rest of us, to acknowledge that they have been profoundly and damagingly mistaken.
The “politicization” accusation suggests that those who find Iraqi links to al Qaeda are primarily interested in currying favor with the Bush White House. It comes primarily from those who won favor in the Clinton years with an analysis based on the proposition that an Arab nationalist such as Saddam Hussein would never cooperate with the Islamic fanatics of al Qaeda. They are now out in the cold in the Bush-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz era.
Can we take the quotes off ‘politicizing’ now?
Here’s an interesting article in the Washington Post detailing how the administration’s evidence for the Iraqi nuclear weapons programs was growing steadily weaker just as the its public confidence that such a program existed was growing steadily stronger. It’s a complicated story, neither cut and dry nor black and white. But you start to understand that time really was of the essence. Just not quite in the way we thought or were led to believe. And another issue I’m hearing a lot about in discussions but suprisingly little about in print: how many of those Iraqi defectors — where no small part of our intelligence came from — turned out to be totally full of it?
What’s that Dylan line? “They say that patriotism” … “Patriotism” … “They say that patriotism is the last refuge to which a scoundrel clings“? … No, that’s not it. No, wait. I got it. I remember. Right. “They say that patriotism is the last refuge to which Frank Gaffney clings”! Right! That’s it.
Gaffney had an OpEd in the National Post yesterday which you really must see to believe. Those who are questioning the honesty and completeness of the White House’s claims about Iraqi WMD and al qaida ties are paving the way for Saddam’s return, sapping the morale of our troops and generally stabbing America in the back …
Somewhere, probably in Iraq, Saddam Hussein is gloating. He can only be gratified by the feeding frenzy of recriminations, second-guessing and political power-plays that are currently assailing his nemeses … It is hard to believe that Americans of any political persuasion would actually want to gladden the heart of so vile a tyrant as Saddam Hussein, let alone to encourage those who seek his return to power … the enemy will be encouraged to believe that additional, murderous assaults on Americans and their Iraqi partners will improve the chances for a restoration of something like the previous order.
After all, what’s the problem? Britain continues to stand by its claim, “notwithstanding,” as Gaffney generously puts it, “the dubious provenance of one particular document that purports to confirm a specific uranium sale to Saddam’s Iraq by Niger.”
Call out the Freikorps!
This may be a sign of things to come. John R. Bolton, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, is one of the Bush administration’s most hawkish hawks. Last year he caused a stir by claiming Cuba was developing biological weapons. He’s also nearly blown the lid off northeast Asia a few times since he’s been in office.
Bolton is generally understood to be the neo-cons’ minder and advanced scout over in the wilds of the State Department.
In any case, he was slated to testify before a House International Relations Committee subcommittee Tuesday morning. But his testimony was cancelled at the last minute and then postponed until September. Bolton is something of a WMD maximalist. And when I heard about the cancelation Tuesday morning I was told it was because the White House had decided it didn’t want to send him up to the Hill to face questions which would inevitably turn to Iraq and the intel iffiness.
According to this Knight Ridder article, that was clearly part of the issue. But there seems to have been more to it than that.
According to the article, Bolton was prepared to tell the subcommittee that “Syria’s development of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons had progressed to such a point that they posed a threat to stability in the region.” Sound familiar? Apparently it did to many at the CIA and other US intelligence agencies because they flew into something close to full revolt. Clearly, the career people in the intel community are feeling emboldened by the White House’s recent Iraq embarrassments. The CIA alone compiled a list of “objections and comments” to Bolton’s proposed testimony which ran more than 35 pages.
Is the Agency coming around on ‘regime change’ after all?
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.
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.
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?
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.
Sometimes a reader writes in with a letter of such transcendent comedic value that I’ve just got to share it with you.
I would like you and your readers to keep open the possibility that the moon may in fact be
made of cheese, or at least parts of it. The Apollo missions to the moon only covered a
small fraction of the surface area of the moon, excluding large, unexamined areas that
may in the future turn out to be made of cheese. Remember, absense of evidence
doesn’t mean absense of possibility.
-Paul S. [named omitted by editor]
Good point …
Back in the day, Washington wags used to parse Bill Clinton’s public utterances looking for various misstatements, lies, fibs, fudges, what have you.
Now we have President George W. Bush.
And with each passing day it seems his public statements show not so much a pattern of lies as evidence that when he’s not doing press availabilities he’s living on some other planet. Misstatements are becoming so par for the course that his public pronouncements now seem more and more like a verbal equivalent of what the immortal David St. Hubbins once called a “a free-form jazz exploration” in which the individual words aren’t supposed to distract us from the larger truth the president is trying to convey.
Look at the president’s final remarks from his press opportunity with Kofi Annan yesterday …
The larger point is, and the fundamental question is, did Saddam Hussein have a weapons program? And the answer is, absolutely. And we gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn’t let them in. And, therefore, after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power, along with other nations, so as to make sure he was not a threat to the United States and our friends and allies in the region.
I mean, where do you start with this?
As the well-worn line goes, I think it’s too soon to say we know Saddam didn’t have a WMD program. I thought he did. There was lots of evidence to suggest he had at least some chemical and biological weapons programs. And we’re still actively looking. (Here’s an interesting piece in the new New Republic about how and why he might not have.) But I think our inability thus far to find any clear evidence of a on-going chemical, biological or nuclear weapons program would seem to leave us at least a bit short of being “absolutely” certain that he had one. Am I nitpicking here?
Like the philandering husband, he seems to be asking us, “Who ya gonna believe? Me or your lying eyes?”
And remember when Saddam wouldn’t let the inspectors in? I totally missed that one.
Look, you can certainly say that Saddam wasn’t cooperating fully with the inspectors, that his people hadn’t fully accounted for various chemical and biological munitions which the UN thought he had back in 1990s. Hans Blix said as much. It’s true. But, c’mon, he let them in.
You hear this stuff and you say to yourself: “Well, you can kinda know what he meant, I guess.”
I find myself thinking that. But even that doesn’t cut it.
The disquieting fact is that these whoppers aren’t even getting reported any more because it’s become a given among reporters and editors that most of what the president is saying on this subject has little connection to anything that’s actually going on. And the two keep diverging more and more. It’s almost as if the shakier the evidence gets the more certain he becomes about what the evidence was supposed to prove.
Tom DeLay’s plans to ram his redistricting plan through the Texas state senate just took what the Austin American-Statesman is calling a “direct, potentially fatal hit.”
This is big news. And it comes because of the defection of a Republican state senator: State Senator Bill Ratliff.
It turns out that some Republicans in rural areas aren’t willing to have their representation bollixed up just so Tom DeLay can pad his majority and stick an electoral shiv in the back of Marty Frost.
“One or two (senators) are coming back shaking their heads, saying even some of the conservative parts of West Texas are asking why are we doing this,” Ratliff said a few days ago. “It’s totally unacceptable. The people in Bowie County would wind up being represented by someone in Garland, and that’s just one reason. It just obliterates the representation for my constituents in Congress.”
Today, according to the Austin American Statesmen, he said he would “not be a part of the destruction of [Texas’s tradition of bipartisanship] for the sake of a theoretical marginal partisan gain in the Texas congressional delegation.”
I think you could say this guy just made an enemy of Tom DeLay.
Great moments in the passive voice …
I think the bottom has been gotten to …
No, we said it didn’t rise to a Presidential level. That’s what we’ve said, that in hindsight, we now realize it did not rise to a Presidential level. There is still — it would be also erroneous for anybody to report that the information about whether or not Iraq sought uranium from Africa was wrong. No one can accurately tell you that it was wrong. That is not known.Ari Fleischer
July 14th, 2003
Onward and upward …
Straight outta parseville, baby!
An interesting meditation on the newfound distinction between ‘accurate’ and ‘true’ in a back and forth this morning in Ari Fleischer’s final press gaggle …
Questioner: Does the President consider the whole Niger uranium story finished?
Fleischer: I think as far as the President is concerned, he’s moved on. The President —
Questioner: What do you mean, “moved on”? That we shouldn’t get to the bottom of it?
Fleischer: I think the bottom has been gotten to. The President has explained and said, and the Director of Central Agency has said —
Questioner: Who’s to blame for the misinformation?
Fleischer: Well, I think everybody went through this last week, and you can refer to the statements that have been made on it.
Questioner: But there are some questions, Ari, that haven’t been answered yet. Who, specifically, can you tell us, in the White House, asked for that line to be put in, given that this came out of the Cincinnati speech?
Fleischer: Which line was taken out of Cincinnati?
Questioner: Well, given that the information relating to the uranium in Niger was not included in the Cincinnati speech because the evidence wasn’t there or intelligence wasn’t there — so who made the decision? Was it the speechwriters, the NSC, to put it into the State of the Union?
Fleischer: When you say “it,” the information from the Cincinnati speech, which you just accurately said would have applied to Niger and to uranium, was not in the State of the Union. It’s a different issue. You had an apple in Cincinnati and an orange in the State of the Union. They are different issues
Questioner: Right. But as I understand it, the matter of the issue — the intelligence was discussed prior to the Cincinnati speech. And what’s been reported all over the place is that a recommendation was made not to include that in the Cincinnati speech. And, yet, it was included in the State of the Union address.
Fleischer: Be precise. When you say, it was not included in Cincinnati, but that was included in the State of the Union — again, let’s be — I’ll walk you through it. But the precision is crucial, because that’s the heart of understanding what was taken out of Cincinnati and included in the State of the Union.
The reference that the CIA recommended be taken out of the Cincinnati speech was very specific to the country of Niger and to the quantity of uranium that Iraq sought from Niger, specifically the country of Niger. The language in the State of the Union was very different. The language in the State of the Union said, sought uranium from Africa — not just Niger — because there was other reporting about other countries beyond Niger, in Africa. So it would be erroneous to report or to say that the language in Cincinnati, they tried to get it back into the State of the Union. Different language, different meaning, different implications, different facts.
Questioner: Ari, so who — okay, fine. Who asked that the language about uranium in Africa be put into the State of the Union speech?
Fleischer: It was based on the NIE, by the reporting that we had at the time from the CIA, and it went through the vetting process, through the regular NSC process, speechwriting process.
Questioner: Ari —
Fleischer: And as you know, it was not objected to in the final analysis.
Questioner: Ari, the whole premise for the White House saying that the President’s statement shouldn’t have been made was because you found out that the — specifically the Niger information was not credible. So if you knew that that part in October, why did you let him say it given that now you’re saying, yes, there was other information about Africa but that, in and of itself, did not hold up and didn’t lend itself to —
Fleischer: No, we said it didn’t rise to a Presidential level. That’s what we’ve said, that in hindsight, we now realize it did not rise to a Presidential level. There is still — it would be also erroneous for anybody to report that the information about whether or not Iraq sought uranium from Africa was wrong. No one can accurately tell you that it was wrong. That is not known.
Questioner: In his statement Friday, the CIA Director said that he had alerted the White House officials several times to the fragmented nature of that intelligence, and, yet, Dr. Rice said on Friday and repeated again yesterday that neither she nor the President was aware of any concerns about the quality of the intelligence underlying the charge. Which is it?
Fleischer: I think the CIA Director’s statement speaks for itself. I mean, he explains in there very directly that the information in the State of the Union dealing with the broader question of whether or not Iraq was seeking uranium in Africa was not vetted the way it should have been by the CIA. And it was based on CIA documents, as has been very well and publicly reported. I mean, there’s nothing new here that hasn’t been discussed last week.
Questioner: But in his statement he says that not once, but, in his words, several times, the White House was alerted to concerns about the quality of the intelligence. He meets with the President every day, he’s meeting with him now. Did that subject never come up in any of these meetings?
Fleischer: The fact that it’s fragmentary is what means that it should not have been — risen to the Presidential level. There’s all kinds of information that is available that may — may not be true. And I’ve always talked about intelligence being mosaic. Some parts of the mosaic are very clear. Those parts that are the most clear are absolutely concrete is what should rise up to the Presidential level. There’s many other pieces of intelligence in the mosaic that certainly may be true, they may be fragmentary, but they should not necessarily rise to the President’s level. We’re the ones who acknowledge that.
Questioner: Didn’t the White House know, from Tenet, that that information was fragmentary and uncertain? The White House knew that from Tenet, correct?
Fleischer: The information specific to Niger and the quantity sought —
Questioner: — included in the speech, forget Niger.
Fleischer: No, because the NIA did not say that. And as Director Tenet has pointed out, the speech had been vetted by the CIA, and it was not taken out.
But, look, let me back up a second. Let me back up a second. The issue is, the President said that Iraq was seeking uranium in Africa. That still may be absolute fact. The point is, it just didn’t rise to the President’s level.
Questioner: Nobody here knew that that — that the information that was included in the speech about uranium from Africa was based on fragmentary evidence. Nobody here understood that.
Fleischer: Keith, that’s why there is a vetting process. There is information that we get from the CIA and that we talk to the CIA about. Then a speech gets written. It gets shopped to the CIA for them to review. And if the CIA has objections, it comes out.
Questioner: Well, if only the CIA knew — the White House understood that to be accurate, firm, information and only the CIA knew that, in fact, it wasn’t. Is that what you’re saying?
Fleischer: I’m not sure I follow your question.
Questioner: In other words, I’m trying to figure out if the White House understood at the time that this was uncertain information — because if they did, then somebody here is also responsible, not just Secretary Tenet.
Fleischer: No, it’s a process, and the process is we had the NIE in hand. The NIE said it explicitly, as you know. It gets written, it gets sent to the CIA, and nobody from the CIA said, take it out. I think the Cincinnati example actually underscores everything we’ve been telling you, because in Cincinnati, Director Tenet said, take that out. Had, for the State of the Union, somebody said, take that out, it, too, would have been taken out.
Questioner: But Rice and people here — forget “take it out,” “don’t take it out” — the people at the White House understood that to be certain information based on firm evidence; is that correct, or not?
Fleischer: The NIE stated it directly. And then what happens in the drafting process, the information is then sent back to the originating agency. And they review it and they didn’t take it out.
Questioner: Why not, though?
Questioner: So if the NIE states it, then it’s firm information?
Questioner: Ari, if the Cincinnati speech underscores the process, doesn’t Secretary Powell’s speech a week after the State of the Union undercut the process here? Because Secretary Powell looked at the totality of what the President said — not Niger, just Africa — considered it and said, this is insupportable. Now, what changed in the week’s time between the time the President uttered the words in the State of the Union and the time that Secretary Powell presented his evidence that made everybody suddenly feel nervous about the evidence?
Fleischer: The exact answer that Dr. Rice gave to you when you asked it last week, and that’s been in the pool report from last week. No difference. I’m not going to say anything different. It’s what she said.
To my good friend the neo-con rapper, isn’t this something you could rap?
Quote number one …
“I will bring honor to the process and honor to the office I seek. I will remind Al Gore that Americans do not want a White House where there is ‘no controlling legal authority.’ I will repair the broken bonds of trust between Americans and their government.”— George W. Bush
March 7th, 2000
Quote number two …
“It didn’t rise to the standard of a presidential speech, but it’s not known, for example, that it was inaccurate. In fact, people think it was technically accurate.”— Donald Rumsfeld
July 13th, 2003
I’m gonna put in a placeholder here for quote number three. I think we’ll have more.
One of TPM’s shrewdest advisors pointed my attention yesterday to the passage at the end of Saturday’s Niger-Uranium article in the Washington Post.
Officials involved in preparing the speech said there was much more internal debate over the next line of the speech, when Bush said in reference to Hussein, “Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production.”
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, in his Feb. 5 presentation to the United Nations, noted a disagreement about Iraq’s intentions for the tubes, which can be used in centrifuges to enrich uranium. The U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency had raised those questions two weeks before the State of the Union address, saying Hussein claimed nonnuclear intentions for the tubes. In March, the IAEA said it found Hussein’s claim credible, and could all but rule out the use of the tubes in a nuclear program.
I’m not willing to go that far. Not yet at least. But I do think this revelation sheds some important light on the White House’s apparent desperation to get the Niger uranium claims into the president’s state of the union speech, even in the face of so many signs and warnings that it wasn’t true.
First, what to make of the claims about the aluminum tubes?
In their recent article in The New Republic, I think Spencer Ackerman and John Judis make a pretty good case that the weight of analytic opinion was against those tubes being for a nuclear program.
The less ominous interpretation was particularly strong among those who might arguably be said to be most familiar with how you make nuclear weapons — at least those most familiar with what we might call traditional methods, as opposed to freaky-deaky approaches some allege were being employed in Iraq in the last days of Saddam (a long story we’ll get to later).
Here’s a key passage …
Some analysts from the CIA and DIA quickly came to the conclusion that the tubes were intended to enrich uranium for a nuclear weapon through the kind of gas-centrifuge project Iraq had built before the first Gulf war. This interpretation seemed plausible enough at first, but over time analysts at the State Department’s INR and the Department of Energy (DOE) grew troubled. The tubes’ thick walls and particular diameter made them a poor fit for uranium enrichment, even after modification. That determination, according to the INR’s Thielmann, came from weeks of interviews with “the nation’s experts on the subject, … they’re the ones that have the labs, like Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where people really know the science and technology of enriching uranium.” Such careful study led the INR and the DOE to an alternative analysis: that the specifications of the tubes made them far better suited for artillery rockets. British intelligence experts studying the issue concurred, as did some CIA analysts.
The key though is that there was a dispute. Indeed, there still is. And that makes it different from the African uranium story about which, as Greg Thielmann makes clear, there really was no serious dispute.
Aside from those who just heard the rumor, said “cool!“, and moved on, pretty much everyone who gave it a serious look decided it didn’t add up. I strongly suspect we’ll still find that political pressure played an important role in pumping up the aluminum tube claim too. But, still, there was a dispute.
The problem was a political one. By January of this year the issue of the aluminum tubes had already become a subject of intense public debate. It was at least clear that there was another interpretation of what those tubes might be for. That meant the big public evidence for a nuclear program was in dispute. And for many opinion-leaders and citizens around the country, the threat of a nuclear-armed Saddam was the one possibility which truly warranted immediate action to remove him from power.
In that context, getting proof that Saddam was buying tons of uranium would really help seal the deal. It wasn’t just one more “data point” as Condi Rice put it today. It was a hugely significant claim, something which the White House certainly realized. It’s one thing to say someone is buying materials to build a nuclear facility. I think that to most people the assumption would be that if you’re buying many tons of uranium that’s prima facie evidence that you already have such a facility. After all, why buy tons of uranium unless you had, or were about to have, some way to start cooking it into nuclear weapons?
That’s why the Niger uranium claims were so tempting. They weren’t just “this one sentence, this 16 words” as Condi Rice repeatedly and ridiculously said today on the morning shows. They made the near-term nuclear threat appear a lot more credible.
Apparently the temptation was just too great.
That’s a good sign. This from Monday’s USA Today …
With multiple congressional investigations of the Iraq-related intelligence about to begin, some in the Bush administration are arguing privately for a CIA director who will be unquestioningly loyal to the White House as committees demand documents and call witnesses.
Or this …
Officials in Vice President Cheney’s office are angry at Tenet because they believe the CIA leaked to reporters last week that it had told White House officials â before the State of the Union address â that allegations Iraq was trying to buy uranium were probably bogus.
And of course, this …
Bush administration officials who were hawkish on war in Iraq also have lingering resentment toward Tenet for his tendency to be skeptical about the intelligence implicating Iraq. These officials took note that the envoy the CIA sent to Niger in February 2002 to investigate the uranium rumors was Joseph Wilson, a career diplomat who had served on Clinton’s National Security Council. Last year, Wilson made frequent TV appearances in which he voiced opposition to war in Iraq.
Is that your final answer?
I mean, where’s friggin’ Regis when you need him?
The title of James Risen’s piece in the Times tomorrow lashes Condi Rice and Don Rumsfeld with cruelly apt understatement: “Rumsfeld and Rice Adjust Defense of Iraq-Africa Claim.”
The original line out of the White House was that the uranium allegation turned out not to be true. They didn’t know it at the time. And with what we know now it shouldn’t have been there. But it was an honest mistake: no harm, no foul.
Only that didn’t go over so well, especially when people started taking a closer look at the timing of who knew what when. So, now, well, now it is true. Or, in the tellingly ubiquitous word we’re hearing from administration officials, ‘accurate.’
Risen picks the signature quote from Rice, the theme around which she spent Sunday morning weaving a fugue of cynicism and mendacity: “The statement that he made was indeed accurate. The British government did say that.”
Rumsfeld, lacking Rice’s musical bent, was shall we say a touch more wobbly: “It didn’t rise to the standard of a presidential speech, but it’s not known, for example, that it was inaccurate. In fact, people think it was technically accurate.”
Risen has other sentences that capture the essence of the situation with equally grand understatement.
The legalistic defense of the phrasing seemed to signal a shift in the focus of the White House’s strategy in dealing with the political fallout over Mr. Bush’s public use of evidence that was based in part on fabricated documents and in part on uncorroborated reports from abroad.
(Dr. Jones’ fitness to practice medicine has been called into question since his qualifications were based in part on a forged diploma and in part on long, probing study of Marcus Welby, MD.)
Read Risen’s article. But, I warn you, don’t be drinking any beverages or eating any food while you do.
Senator Jay Rockefeller, from an interview today on NPR …
“I cannot believe that Condi Rice… directly, from Africa, pointed the finger at George Tenet, when she had known — had to have known — a year before the State of the Union.”
“The entire intelligence community has been very skeptical about this from the very beginning,” Rockefeller says. “And she has her own director of intelligence, she has her own Iraq and Africa specialists, and it’s just beyond me that she didn’t know about this, and that she has decided to make George Tenet the fall person. I think it’s dishonorable.”
See the transcript or hear the audio here.
Here’s a very good piece in Time on the Uranium-Niger question. (It took you guys a while. But welcome on board …)
Some of the key passages …
In what looked like a command performance of political sacrifice, the head of the agency that expressed some of the strongest doubts about the charge took responsibility for the President’s unsubstantiated claim.
Greg Thielmann, then a high-ranking official at State’s research unit, told TIME that it was not in Niger’s self-interest to sell the Iraqis the destabilizing ore. “A whole lot of things told us that the report was bogus,” Thielmann said later. “This wasn’t highly contested. There weren’t strong advocates on the other side. It was done, shot down.”
The piece gives a few benefits of doubts I think may be unwarranted. But it draws the whole story together: the more dubious the evidence became, the harder the White House tried to get it in …