Tuesday, September 30, 2003

It is fruitful to compare the Bush Administration negotiations over the contents of the Powell speech before the U. N., and what went on regarding the terms of Bush's state of the union address. The Washington Post has an interesting article on Dick Cheney's seeming inability to stop harping on an alleged meeting between Atta and an Iraqi intelligence official in Prague, despite the fact that all experts now regard that meeting as impossible (I actually think it may have been possible, but only on the assumption that there was more than one 'Atta'). Cheney tried very hard to get this allegation into Powell's speech:

"Cheney's staff also waged a campaign to include the allegation in Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's speech to the United Nations in February in which he made the administration's case for war against Iraq. Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, pressed Powell's speechwriters to include the Atta claim and other suspected links between Iraq and terrorism, according to senior and mid-level administration officials involved in crafting the speech.

When State Department and CIA officials complained about Libby's proposed language and suggested cutting large sections, Cheney's associates fought back. 'Every piece offered . . . they fought tooth and nail to keep it in,' said one official involved in putting together the speech."


"Libby - along with deputy national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley, a longtime Cheney associate - began pushing to include the Atta claim in Powell's appearance before the U.N. Security Council a week after the State of the Union speech. Powell's presentation was aimed at convincing the world of Iraq's ties to terrorists and its pursuit of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

On Jan. 25, with a stack of notebooks at his side, color-coded with the sources for the information, Libby laid out the potential case against Iraq to a packed White House situation room. "We read [their proposal to include Atta] and some of us said, 'Wow! Here we go again,'" said one official who helped draft the speech. 'You write it. You take it out, and then it comes back again.'

Libby described the material as a 'Chinese menu,' simply the broadest range of options, according to several administration officials. 'The papers were designed to assist [Powell's] preparation by organizing a lot of materials so that he could choose the order and evidence he found most compelling, although some of it, in the end, could not be declassified,' said one administration official.

But other officials present said they felt that Libby's presentation was over the top, that the wording was too aggressive and most of the material could not be used in a public forum. Much of it, in fact, unraveled when closely examined by intelligence analysts from other agencies and, in the end, was largely discarded.

'After one day of hearing screams about who put this together and what are the sources, we essentially threw it out,' one official present said.

Cheney's staff did not entirely give up. Late into the night before Powell's presentation, Libby called Powell's staff, waiting at the United Nations in New York, to question why certain material was not being included in the terrorism section, according to two State Department officials."

The pattern is to present what you want to see in the speech, and keep pounding it until you get your way from sheer force of will. You simply don't take no for an answer. In the Powell speech, Powell's will won out. However, in the state of the union address, we can see the same pattern resulting in the inclusion of the claim concerning Saddam's attempts to obtain uranium from Niger. In that case, the uranium claim was similarly highly dubious in the eyes of intelligence experts. The Bushites attempted to get it included in a speech Bush gave in Cincinnati in October, and it was only the insistence of George Tenet himself that kept it out of that speech (the CIA also had to fight to keep the same claim out of a speech by John D. Negroponte in December). Tenet knew what was going on and the type of pressures the drafters of speeches would be under, and wrote two memos on the subject after the Cincinnati speech to ensure that the uranium claim was completely buried and had a silver stake driven into its heart. One memo went to Stephen Hadley, the Deputy National Security Advisor, and one went to Rice and Hadley. Rice now claims that she may not have read the memo, and that both she and Hadley completely forgot about the fact that the uranium claim was not to go in another speech, and therefore it ended up in the state of the union address. Needless to say, Rice and Hadley both having forgotten an incident that was so important that Tenet himself got involved in October, made a personal phone call to Hadley specifically on that subject, and then followed it up with two memos on the subject, is completely implausible. It is even less plausible when we see that it was Hadley himself who was actively assisting Libby to force the same story into the Powell speech. Given what we've seen about Libby's assault on the drafters of Powell's speech, we can see exactly what must have really happened to the state of the union address. Dick Cheney is a relentless liar (and his continuing to repeat the lies about connections between Saddam and al Qaeda even after everyone else has admitted the story makes no sense may be an indication that his lying is a symptom of a deep psychological problem), and Rice just facilitates the lies. The reason the uranium lie reappeared is that Cheney doesn't give up. Considering that the outing of Ambassador Wilson's wife as a CIA operative is now in the news, it is worth returning to the scene of the crime - the state of the union address which contained the Niger uranium claim. It was Wilson's decision to go public with his concerns about the claim which led to the Bushites attempting to get revenge on Wilson by outing his wife. It is not impossible that this outing was a shot across the bow of the CIA and the State Department warning those in the know to keep quiet about the real source of the Niger uranium claim.