Sunday, July 13, 2003

George Tenet has been muscled by Condoleezza Rice into falling on his sword to save his President from allegations that he lied to the American people in the State of the Union address (CBS is having trouble reporting on the lie without the annoying syndrome of 'headline drift'!). He has given a quite remarkable statement taking the full blame for the Niger uranium fiasco, on the basis that the CIA saw Bush's State of the Union address before it was given and didn't say anything:

  1. The technical reason the CIA is said to have kept its mouth shut is the same dumb reason used as the excuse by the Bush Administration - because the Niger assertion specifically refers to a British government source, it wasn't technically incorrect, as the British government source had in fact made the allegation. Needless to say, this is nonsense. The State of the Union address isn't supposed to be a speech given by a trickster trying to con the American public, and Bush can't get away with stating something that the Administration knows is highly questionable just because the British wrote a report about it. The CIA knows that this is a completely bogus excuse, and so Tenet's explanation for why they didn't say anything makes no sense.

  2. Tenet and Rice can't even keep their lies straight. Tenet in his statement said:

    "Portions of the State of the Union speech draft came to the CIA for comment shortly before the speech was given. Various parts were shared with cognizant elements of the Agency for review. Although the documents related to the alleged Niger-Iraqi uranium deal had not yet been determined to be forgeries, officials who were reviewing the draft remarks on uranium raised several concerns about the fragmentary nature of the intelligence with National Security Council colleagues. Some of the language was changed. From what we know now, Agency officials in the end concurred that the text in the speech was factually correct – i.e. that the British government report said that Iraq sought uranium from Africa."

    On the other hand, Rice said:

    "The CIA cleared on it. There was even some discussion on that specific sentence, so that it reflected better what the CIA thought. And the speech was cleared. Now, I can tell you, if the CIA, the Director of Central Intelligence, had said, take this out of the speech, it would have been gone, without question."

    But the changes she is referring to relate to "specifics about amount and place," i. e., specific references to amounts of uranium and countries from which Iraq was seeking to obtain it. She claimed the CIA did not object to the assertion that Iraq was seeking to procure uranium from Africa, when in fact Tenet's statement makes it clear that the CIA did so object, and only got around their objection with the technicality of relying on the British report. Another account has it that Tenet himself (?) vetted the entire address and removed any reference to 'yellow cake' or the specific country of Niger, while Tenet implies he did not personally see the speech. This is the difficulty of creating a lie when one party is in Africa and the other in Washington.

  3. Rice knew that the Niger story was false months before the State of the Union address was delivered (from the MSNBC story):

    "But U.S. officials told NBC News' Andrea Mitchell that Tenet himself advised Rice’s top deputy, Steven Hadley, to remove a reference to the uranium report from a speech Bush delivered Oct. 7 in Cincinnati, establishing that the nation's top intelligence officials suspected that the allegation was false more than three months before they approved Bush’s repeating it in his nationally televised address on Jan. 28."

    Rice's argument is that Bush is off the hook because the CIA, when given a chance to say something, didn't comment on the inclusion of the Niger claim in the State of the Union address. But Rice knew. She knew it was false, or at least highly questionable, and yet let it stand in the speech. How can she possibly think that the Bush Administration can get away with pinning this on the CIA? Someone wrote the State of the Union address, and expressly included something which they all knew to be highly questionable. How does the fact that they ran this by the CIA absolve them of lying to mislead the country into a very bad war? Rice said:

    "If the CIA - the director of central intelligence - had said, 'Take this out of the speech,' it would have been gone. We have a high standard for the president’s speeches."

    Not so high that they wouldn't say things that they knew to be highly questionable.

  4. Former US ambassador Joseph Wilson (or here - article dated June 8, 2003) was the fellow that the CIA sent to Niger to investigate the original claims about Saddam's alleged attempts to obtain uranium there. Who put pressure on the CIA to send someone to check? None other than Dick Cheney (note that Tenet goes out of his way in his statement to note that Wilson was sent by CIA counter-proliferation experts, on their own initiative, as if that point was in issue)! Now, we're supposed to believe that no one bothered to tell Cheney the results of Wilson's report, and that Cheney wasn't curious enough to ask. Wilson says that the CIA, the State Department, the U. S. National Security Council and the Vice-President's office were all informed of the results of his investigation. Did Dick Cheney not read the State of the Union Address before it was given? Why didn't he say anything about the problems with the Niger story? Ari Fleischer has said specifically:

    "The vice president's office did not request the mission to Niger. The vice president's office was not informed of his mission. He was not aware of Mr. Wilson's mission until recent press reports accounted for it."

    Who do you believe, Wilson or Fleischer?

  5. Just eight days after the State of the Union address, Colin Powell specifically left the Niger claim out of his address to the United Nations. He said:

    "I didn’t use the uranium at that point because I didn’t think that was sufficiently strong as evidence to present before the world."

    So it wasn't strong enough to present before the world, but presumably was strong enough to present to the American people. Powell said he read the State of the Union speech before it was delivered. Why didn't he say anything?

  6. Lots of people in the Bush Administration, including Bush, Cheney and Rice, knew that the CIA had strong misgivings about the Niger claim. They knew that these misgivings had existed for months. The CIA knew that the Bush Administration knew that the CIA had these misgivings. In fact, as mentioned above, the CIA had already blocked the use of the allegations in a previous Bush speech on October 7. Tenet was personally involved in this previous case. The State of the Union address was passed by the CIA for comments, and it contained the Niger claim. Wouldn't it be natural for the CIA to assume that its misgivings had been overridden, particularly in the light of the fact that they had already made exactly the same comments on a previous speech? After all, the CIA works for Bush. If it starts to nit pick about something which Bush may feel has already been dealt with, the CIA may find itself in trouble with the Administration. If I keep telling you that something is a lie, and then you show me a speech you are about to give which states that the very thing is true, wouldn't it be natural to assume that you didn't believe me, or didn't care, or were going to lie about it, and really didn't want to hear my opinion on that subject again? Wouldn't you get mad at me if I attempted to raise the issue again? There was an understanding as to what the CIA's position was, and it would no doubt have been considered gross insubordination if the CIA officiously tried to raise the issue again. This whole story that Rice has concocted to save Bush makes no sense.

  7. So how did this mistake end up in the speech? After all, someone had to write the speech, and the Niger uranium claim had to come from somewhere. From the Washington Post, referring to a national intelligence estimate (NIE):

    "By January, when conversations took place with CIA personnel over what could be in the president's State of the Union speech, White House officials again sought to use the Niger reference since it still was in the NIE.

    'We followed the NIE and hoped there was more intelligence to support it,' a senior administration official said yesterday. When told there was nothing new, White House officials backed off, and as a result 'seeking uranium from Niger was never in drafts,' he said."

    So who added it after the draft stage? Bush's chief speechwriter, Michael J. Gerson, claims he does not remember who wrote the line, which is of course silly as it could be easily determined. From the Independent:

    "Quite how the claim entered the speech remains unclear. Reports yesterday suggested the decision was taken after a conversation between Robert Joseph, a nuclear proliferation expert at the national security council, and Alan Foley, a CIA official with similar expertise. Exactly what the two men said to each other is unknown. Some unnamed administration officials said Mr Joseph had pressured the CIA man to authorise the claim, while others said he had done no such thing."

    Robert Joseph?! From the New York Times:

    "Before the speech, the crucial conversations between the C.I.A and White House over whether to include the African reference in the State of the Union address were held between Robert G. Joseph, a nuclear proliferation expert at the National Security Council, and Alan Foley, a proliferation expert at the C.I.A., according to government officials.

    There is still a dispute over what exactly was said in their conversations. Mr. Foley was said to recall that before the speech, Mr. Joseph called him to ask about putting into the speech a reference to reports that Iraq was trying to buy hundreds of tons of yellowcake from Niger. Mr. Foley replied that the C.I.A. was not sure that the information was right.

    Mr. Joseph then came back to Mr. Foley and pointed out that the British had already included the information in a report. Mr. Foley said yes, but noted that the C.I.A. had told the British that they were not sure that the information was correct. Mr. Joseph then asked whether it was accurate that the British reported the information. Mr. Foley said yes.

    Other government officials said, however, that Mr. Joseph did not recall Mr. Foley's raising any concerns about the reliability of the information. If he had, they said, Mr. Joseph would have made sure that the reference was not included in the speech."

    You may recall I've mentioned Mr. Joseph here before. From the important article by Jonathan S. Landay (my emphasis):

    "'The intelligence community had generally discredited the Niger angle well before the Feb. 5 presentation, though the (CIA) had caveated the whole matter with 'it's a possibility' type language,' said one senior administration official. 'The State Department's (Bureau of Intelligence and Research) had footnoted the caveat with a 'hardly believable. . . . It was too bad even to get on the table at the (CIA) by that time.'

    'However, during the time between the 'almost no good' report from the agency and the 'unbelievable' footnote from INR, various people tried time and again to resurrect it and use it,' the official said.

    Among the most vocal proponents of publicizing the alleged Niger connection, two senior officials said, were Cheney and officials in the office of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. The effort was led by Robert G. Joseph, the top National Security Council staff official on nuclear proliferation, the officials said."

    It was Robert G. Joseph, working for Cheney and Rumsfeld, who inserted the magic 16 words.

  8. The funniest part of the whole story is that the CIA is supposed to have not told the Bush Administration about the problem, but did tell Tony Blair about it! Even funnier is that Tony Blair asserts that he could use the story because he had additional reliable sources for it. Funniest of all is that he cannot reveal who the sources are (my wild guess is that they are Israeli, although the Americans specifically claim the forgeries did not come from Israel, and Italian, with the Italians simply passing on Israeli information to make it look like two independent sources).

The Bush Administration has put me in the very odd position of feeling sorry for the CIA.