Monday, November 10, 2003

Cheney's war

People are starting to point the finger at Dick Cheney for the debacle of the attack on Iraq:

"Writing recently in The New Yorker, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh alleged that Cheney had, in effect, become the dupe of a cabal of neoconservative full-mooners, the Pentagon's mysteriously named Office of Special Plans and the patsy of an alleged bank swindler and would-be ruler of Iraq, Ahmad Chalabi.

A Cheney aide took strong exception to the notion that the vice president was at the receiving end of some kind of private pipeline for half-baked or fraudulent intelligence, or that he was somehow carrying water for the neocons or anyone else's self-serving agendas. 'That's an urban myth,' said this aide, who declined to be identified. Cheney has cited as his 'gold standard' the National Intelligence Estimate, a consensus report put out by the entire intelligence community. And, indeed, an examination of the declassified version of the NIE reveals some pretty alarming warnings. 'Baghdad is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program,' the October 2002 NIE states."

We're well aware of the pernicious influence of Chalabi, and the manipulations of the Office of Special Plans (led by William Luti, who had previously worked in Cheney's office), but what of the National Intelligence Estimate (my emphasis)?:

"By early September, intelligence experts in Congress were clamouring for a so-called National Intelligence Estimate, a full rundown of everything known about Iraq's weapons programmes. Usually NIEs take months to produce, but George Tenet, the CIA director, came up with a 100-page document in just three weeks.
The man he picked to write it, the weapons expert Robert Walpole, had a track record of going back over old intelligence assessments and reworking them in accordance with the wishes of a specific political interest group. In 1998, he had come up with an estimate of the missile capabilities of various rogue states that managed to sound considerably more alarming than a previous CIA estimate issued three years earlier. On that occasion, he was acting at the behest of a congressional commission anxious to make the case for a missile defence system; the commission chairman was none other than Donald Rumsfeld, now Secretary of Defence and a key architect of the Iraq war.

Mr Walpole's NIE on Iraq threw together all the elements that have now been discredited - Niger, the aluminium tubes, and so on. It also gave the misleading impression that intelligence analysts were in broad agreement about the Iraqi threat, relegating most of the doubts and misgivings to footnotes and appendices.

By the time parts of the NIE were made public, even those few qualifications were excised. When President Bush's speechwriters got to work - starting with the address to Congress on 7 October that led to a resolution authorising the use of force against Iraq - the language became even stronger."

The dispute over who was to blame for the lies about Niger uranium in the state of the union address gives us some hints about what was going on behind the scenes. The Bush Administration initially tried to put all the blame on Tenet, and Tenet even fell on his sword in accepting the blame. Then it was leaked that Tenet had specifically warned about the unreliability of the Niger story in October 2002, and had successfully managed to have reference to it removed from a speech Bush gave in Cincinnati that month. Tenet sent a memo in October to deputy national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley on the matter, so Hadley eventually had to take the blame (to protect Rice, who almost certainly also saw the memo and therefore allowed lies to go into the address). Here's where things get odd (my emphasis):

"According to the outline of events the White House gave today, Mr. Tenet's warnings to the National Security Council that the information was unreliable came only six days after the intelligence director published it in the 'National Intelligence Estimate,' the gold-standard of intelligence documents circulated to the highest levels of the administration and to Congress.

'I can't explain that,' Mr. Hadley said, referring the issue back to Mr. Tenet. Three months later, on Jan. 24, another senior C.I.A. official, Robert Walpole, sent Mr. Hadley and other White House officials another memorandum that again said Iraq had sought to obtain the uranium, citing the language in the Oct. 1 intelligence estimate.

That memorandum, which was not part of the White House discovery this weekend, was intended to aid Secretary of State Colin L. Powell as he prepared to make the case against Saddam Hussein at the United Nations. But it arrived at the White House just four days before the State of the Union speech, and seemed to support the president's now disputed statement. It contained none of the cautions that Mr. Tenet had voiced by phone to Mr. Hadley and in the two memorandums sent just before the president's speech in Cincinnati on Oct. 7, laying out the case against Mr. Hussein."

What is Walpole's, and Tenet's, game?:

  1. Tenet has Walpole throw together a quick National Intelligence Estimate, obviously crafted for the neocons' political purposes, which immediately becomes the basis for warmongering on Iraq. It becomes Cheney's 'gold standard'.

  2. Six days after the National Intelligence Estimate is released, Tenet is aggressively cautioning against using one of its main allegations against Saddam, and forces reference to the Niger uranium out of the Cincinnati speech.

  3. Tenet sends two memorandums to the White House on this matter.

  4. The state of the union address is drafted, and, despite the discussion with Hadley on the matter, and the two memorandums, the reference to Niger uranium appears in the speech.

  5. On January 24, four days before the state of the union address, Walpole sends the White House a memorandum which was supposedly intended to help Colin Powell in drafting his lying address before the United Nations. It refers to the National Intelligence Estimate, and again states the Niger uranium lies. At this point the White House has two memorandums from Tenet cautioning against using the Niger uranium story, and one memorandum from Walpole asserting the truth of the Niger uranium story. The CIA speak with forked tongue, and the Walpole-Tenet minuet is very suspicious. Why didn't the White House use the Walpole memorandum in its defense to charges of lying in the state of the union address?

  6. Despite all this, Powell doesn't believe the Niger uranium story, and it does not appear in his speech.

Confused yet? Well it gets better. From a story in U.S. News and World Report (excerpted from here):

"U.S. News has learned that a document prepared by Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, at almost exactly the same time as the State of the Union address omitted any reference to Iraqi efforts to obtain uranium from Niger. The chronology of events is puzzling - even to insiders: On Saturday, January 25, just three days before the address, officials gathered in the White House Situation Room to vet intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs and its links to terrorism. Libby made the presentation. After several hours, Libby summarized the conclusions of the meeting and turned them into a written case for war against Saddam.

Libby's document was sent to Secretary of State Colin Powell; it was intended as the 'script' for his presentation to the United Nations on February 5. The puzzler: The charge that Iraq sought uranium from Niger was not in Libby's paper. Why not? 'The agency had so discredited it,' says one participant, 'they didn't want to bring it up.'"

Sen. Dick Durbin apparently identified Robert G. Joseph as the man Tenet identified as pushing for the insertion of the Niger uranium story in the state of the union address. We're left with the following confusion:

  1. Tenet needs to produce a National Intelligence Estimate in a hurry, and gives the job to Walpole, who has previously created slanted information for Donald Rumsfeld. The Estimate is clearly drafted to be used as an excuse for war.

  2. Tenet immediately casts aspersions on a major part of the National Intelligence Estimate, fights to keep the Niger uranium story out of a Bush speech, and seems to fear he will be blamed when someone decides to use the Niger uranium lie at a later date, so covers his ass with two memorandums on the subject.

  3. Despite Tenet's concerns, Walpole sends his own memorandum to the White House supporting the Niger uranium story, which arrives during the late drafting of the state of the union address.

  4. Robert Joseph apparently is responsible for the insertion of the Niger uranium lies in the address.

  5. At almost exactly the same time as the state of the union address, Libby, Cheney's chief of staff, prepares a dog's breakfast of a memo to influence the drafting of Colin Powell's speech. Powell ignores most of it. While it contains every possible argument against Saddam, incredibly, it does not contain the Niger uranium allegation, on the basis that the CIA had discredited it! But if Libby thought it was obviously discredited, why didn't the White House know? And how could they think the CIA had discredited it, with Walpole's new memo just arrived, reasserting the Niger uranium story?

Tenet, Walpole, Chalabi, Luti, Joseph, Hadley, Libby. All these roads lead directly to Dick Cheney, but he's created such a cloud of confusion that we will probably never be able definitively to pin the lies on him.