Reidblog [The Reid Report blog]

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Monday, July 18, 2005
Big, fat factual errors on Plamegate
You've got to love the consistency of the Bush cult. They're still out there slogging away in the desperate belief that their beloved White House did nothing wrong as regards Valerie Plame. Here are Fat Steve's spin points from Friday, along with the inconvenient facts that go with them:

FAT STEVE: "The background of the story appears to be a dispute concerning whether Saddam should have been removed from power, with the CIA, and the State Dept. in the 'keep Saddam' camp."
Wrong. Elements within the State Department and individual analysts within the CIA and other agencies may have doubted the case being made for Iraq as a wmd/nuclear threat, but all of the evidence suggests that the CIA was a prime mover of neocon-friendly Iraq data. Recall that it was CIA director George Tenet who vigorously backed Bush's claims on Iraq, calling the wmd case a "slam dunk" in meetings with the president. As for the State Department, it may have been in the midst of a mini-war with the Pentagon over who would administer post-war Iraq, but it faithfully carried out administration policy on Iraq throughout the prewar period, whether by authoring the Future of Iraq Project -- a muti-year plan for post-Saddam Iraq begun in 2002, but that wound up being shelved by the Pentagon just months before the invasion, or making the case itself, through the then Secretary of State, Collin Powell, before the United Nations. So much for the "keep Saddam camp."

FAT STEVE: "Around the beginning of 2002, Vice-President Cheney heard that Iraq was trying to acquire Uranium, and asked the CIA what they knew about it. The CIA wasn't sure about this, and told Cheney so. Cheney dropped the matter, but on its own initiative, the CIA decided to send former ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger to check into things."
Wrong again. Cheney did more than "hear that Iraq was trying to acquire uranium" and casually query the CIA. The vice president affirmatively made the accustion that Iraq not only had acquired uranium, but that Saddam Hussein had reconstituted, first nuclear weapons themselves, and then his nuclear weapons program, which Cheney strongly suggested posed a clear and present danger to the United States. And it appears that Cheney was bolstered in his assertions from the supposedly dovish CIA. A 2004 Senate Intelligence Committee report largely blamed the CIA for peddling bad intelligence on Iraq, stating that "Despite questions being raised by other U.S. intelligence agencies, the CIA insisted that Iraq was trying to import uranium ore from Niger and had tried to buy aluminum tubes to use in making a nuclear weapon" and that "the CIA repeatedly took interesting but ambiguous intelligence reports and punched them up into unqualified warnings about Iraq's alleged arsenal." [USA Today 7/11/2004]

Why was the CIA pressing the case so hard? It could be because of a high-pressure give and take with Cheney's office. Both the vice president and his deputy, Scooter Libby, practically haunted the CIA in the period just before the war, looking for more evidence of Iraq's nuclear and biochemical threat -- in repeat visits that career intelligence officials called unprecedented. Could it be that Cheney was looking for more evidence to back up statements like this:

March 16, 2003: "just three days before the war, [Cheney] zoomed far beyond the
evidence in telling NBC’s Meet the Press , “We believe he [Saddam Hussein] has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.” Asked about ElBaradei’s report just nine days before that Iraq had no nuclear weapons program, Cheney said, “I disagree...I think Mr. ElBaradei is frankly wrong.” [TomPaine.com]
So it seems that Cheney and the CIA were partners in pushing the Iraq case, not adversaries.

FAT STEVE: "In February, 2002, Wilson went to Africa, and reported that a Niger official thought Iraq had tried to acquire uranium. Wilson also reported his judgment that Iraq failed to get the uranium. His reasons weren't very persuasive, in my arrogant opinion."
Wrong again. Arit Fleischer and CIA director George Tenet tried to discredit Wilson by telling their friends in the press, including at WaPo, that Wilson's report had strengthened Bush's claims. But their claim that a former Nigerian official had interpreted overtures by Saddam's government to "expand commercial operations" in 1999 as an attempt to purchase uranium conflict with what Wilson actually reported, which was that "the official in question was contacted by an Algerian-Nigerien intermediary who inquired if the official would meet with an Iraqi about "commercial" sales — an offer he declined." [Time, 7/17, 2003]. Very different from an attempt to buy enriched uranium, however Fleishcer and Tenet chose to spin it.

FAT STEVE: "Wilson, a Lefty Democrat, and a former Foreign Service officer married to CIA employee Valerie Plame, was very much against removing Saddam from power, from the Gulf War till 2003. Wilson and Plame seem to have been convinced the 'Iraq tried to buy Niger Uranium' reports were wrong before he visited Niger."
Irrelevant. Wilson's opinions about American domestic politics are as irrelevent as his opinion about whether or not Iraq had tried to buy Niger's yellowcake. (Richard Clarke, another administration whistleblower the White House Rove squad tried to destroy, is a Republican.) Wilson wasn't off on a mission of his own in Niger, he was going there at the behest of the CIA, which we've already established was predisposed to believe the Iraq-yellowcake claim. His job was to assess, confirm, or dispel it.

FAT STEVE: "By September 2002, the British government was convinced that Saddam has been trying to buy significant quantities of uranium from Africa, though we do not know whether he has been successful. On October 1st, 2002, a National Intelligence Estimate was issued saying that Saddam had sought African Uranium. This represented the CIA's official position at the time."

Yes and no. A September 2002 British report on Iraq's wmd programs did float the Niger claim, accompanied by the equally bogus claim that Iraq was attempting to procure high strength aluminum tubes that then National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said could "only be used to build nuclear centrifuges." But by October, cooler heads within the CIA were raising doubts about the Niger story, and by July 22, 2002 some analysts had warned Rice that the info might not be accurate (though the CIA officially continued to stand by the estimate). Also, the October NIE included dissents by the State Department's intelligence people, all of which were there for the gandering, should Rice, Cheney, Tenet and the other war-promoters cared to look.

FAT STEVE: "In January 2003, Bush's State of the Union message said "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." When we invaded Iraq and didn't find the WMDs that Wilson believed Saddam had, he started talking to Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times, and someone at The Washington Post. Wilson told them the pre-war intelligence had been distorted."
Wrong. The administration acknowledged on July 7, 2003 (the day after Wilson's op-ed ran) that Mr. Bush should never have made the African unranium claim in his January SOTU speech (it had been deleted from Bush's infamous "smoking gun, mushroom cloud" speech in Cincinnati in October 2002 and Collin Powell considered the claims so dubious, he refused to present them before the U.N.), particularly after the British government backed away from the claim after a parliamentary panel, the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee , "said it was unclear why the British government asserted as a 'bald claim' that there was intelligence that Iraq had sought to buy significant amounts of uranium in Africa. It noted that the CIA had already debunked this intelligence, and questioned why an official British government intelligence dossier published four months before Bush's speech included the allegation as part of an effort to make the case for going to war against Iraq." (And by "someone" at WaPo, I think you mean Walter Pincus...")

FAT STEVE: "On July 6, 2003, Wilson published his infamously dishonest Times op-ed. The MSM proved it can't read, by failing to notice Wilson's artful sliding from 'Iraq didn't buy Niger uranium' to 'Iraq didn't attempt to buy Niger uranium.' "
Huh? There was nothing artful about it. Iraq didn't buy Niger uranium, as every credible intelligence assessment now acknowledges. Wilson's report stated that the former Niger official interpreted 1999 overtures by Iraq as an attempt to score uranium -- the key words there being "interpret" and "attempt." But even any thought of an attempt to purchase uranium has since been debunked, including by the aforementioned British parliamentary report of July 3, 2003 (three days before Wilson's op-ed). Four months before that, in March, an IAEA report concluded that the Niger uranium story was based on forged documents -- crudely forged, at that. An FBI investigation in 2003 probed whether the forgeries came from the Pentagon pets in the Iraqi National Congress, particularly since the documents were thought to have been key to fooling the CIA into strongly believing in the Iraqi nuclear program claims.

By the time Joe Wilson published his op-ed, on July 6th, he had good reason to wonder why Cheney had continued to make the nuclear claim even after the forgeries had come to light (the forgeries were announced March 7, Collin Powell acknowledged the fakery on March 8, Cheney had his MTP moment March 16, "shock and awe" commenced March 19), and to believe that the administration should have known that its wmd claims were dubious. Interestingly enough, days after Wilson's op-ed ran, a CIA source pushed the story of Wilson's March debunking of the Niger story to the BBC, perhaps in an attempt to shift blame for the wmd blunder away from the agency ...

FAT STEVE: "After Wilson's op-ed, reporters called Rove and Libby, asking about Wilson. Apparently, the reporters told Rove and Libby that Plame was CIA. Most reporters didn't write anything about this, but Robert Novak revealed that Wilson's wife was CIA."
Wrong yet again.Let's recall the timeline once again. The forgeries emerge March 7, are acknowledged by Powell March 8. Wilson goes on CNN that same day to say the administration was sitting on infomation that should have alerted them to thebogus nuclear intel. Condi Rice and other officials spend the next two months trying to explain the administration's position. The British explode their own prior Iraq claims on July 3, Wilson's op-ed runs July 6, the White House retracts Bush's SOTU remarks on July 7. It was that same day that the "war on Wilson," as Time's Matt Cooper later wrote (in the article he almost went to jail over), begins. There's even some speculation that Wilson may have been tipped off, possibly by a reporter, that the WH would be "coming after him" after his op-ed ran...

On July 11, Cooper writes an email saying he had spoken on "double super secret background" with Rove (he also apparently talked to Scooter Libby) about Plame. Yes, Cooper called Rove, but not "about Wilson" as you say. We now know from Cooper himself that in that conversation, Cooper first learned that Wilson's wife was a CIA operative from Karl Rove, not the other way around. Rove brought it up during a conversation about Bush's SOTU speech and how it was vetted. That same day, Tenet issues a statement falling on his sword over the "16 words" in Bush's SOTU and clarifying the fact that the CIA sent Wilson to Niger. Novak's column outing Valerie Plame dropped on July 14. Clearly, someone was circulating this information before Novak's column ran, and before Miller talked to Rove. Novak is the one who called Rove (and someone else) to confirm it.

FAT STEVE: "The MSM then lied in their teeth, claiming that the White House had called reporters seeking to out Plame. These stories have now collapsed."
You wish. The whole genesis of this story, and the grand jury investigation, is the fact that one or more White House officials (not Pentagon, not CIA, not anybody else...) contacted at least six reporters, including Cooper, Judy Miller, Novak, and NBC's Tim Russert, pushing the Plame info. Novak was simply the only one who used it. We also learned on Sunday that also on July 7 (seven days before Novak's column ran), a state department memo to Collin Powell, discussing "Wilson's wife", was circulated on Air Force One (it along with the plane's phone records, were subpoenaed last March). That sounds like a group of people in the White House were looking for "pushback" against Joe Wilson, dos it not? Naming his wife as the one who caused him to go to Niger was that pushback.

Yes, there is a question of whether one of the original sources of the Plame info was a journalist (maybe even Judy Miller), and apparently, neither Rove nor Libby used Valerie Plame Wilson's name, at least with Matt Cooper, but that doesn't take away from the legal jeopardy in this case. The statute doesn't require Plame's name to be used. Divulging secret info could be a crime unto itself, not to mention possibly lying to investiators or puerjury, both of which are still hanging out there... If these facts have collapsed, why hasn't the grand jury collapsed with them? And BTW don't you mean "through their teeth...?"
FAT STEVE: "The information Wilson gave for the two Kristof stories and the Post stories was at best wrong, at worst a lie. "
Wrong. Kristoff and Pincus' stories were based on the facts as most of the reality based community now knows them, along with Wilson's reporting to the CIA; findings which were almost universally upheld by the Senate panel that investigated them. What the committee concluded was that Wilson's findings did not change minds on either side of the Iraq nuclear issue. Also, Wilson never claimed that Cheney's office sent him to Niger. He always state that he was sent at the behest of the CIA. The worst that critics can say about Wilson is that he minimized his wife's role in recommending him for the job. However, Bush defenders are equally incorrect in stating that Plame "sent Wilson" to Niger. She certainly lacked that kind of authority.
FAT STEVE: "Wilson's report strengthened the case that Iraq sought uranium. "
Nope. Wilson's report didn't move experts either way. The "case-strengthening" argument you're putting forward is pure White House/George Tenet spin, was made solely by George "slam dunk" Tenet and Ari Fleischer. The Senate intelligence panel investiation largely upheld Wilson's claims that Iraq sought no such thing. However, a correction to the WaPo article referenced above and so prized by the Bush-cult ran with the following slightly embarrassing correction the next day: "In some editions of the Post, a July 10 story on a new Senate report on intelligence failures said that former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV told his contacts at the CIA that Iraq had tried to buy 400 tons of uranium from the African nation of Niger in 1998. In fact, it was Iran that was interested in making that purchase, but no contract was signed, according to the report." Iraq, Iran, potatoe "potahto"...

FAT STEVE: "Inquiries in Britain and the U.S. say the intelligence was well-founded, and the CIA still won't say Iraq didn't try to buy uranium. "
Wrong. Tony Blair may have continued to stand by the Iraq wmd/nuke claims, even after the forgeries came to light (in March 2003) and a key document used to sell the war in Britain (the memorable "dodgy dossier") was found to (in February 2003) to have been cribbed from a graduate student's years-old paper, but Blair's determination to stand by the Iraq project wasn't shared by British intelligence or by members of his own cabinet. By April 29, 2003, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw was dropping the bomb that Iraq's wmd would never be found. In May, the bio-trailers story fell apart, too. By September, the U.N. issued a report saying Iraq's wmd program was "in disarray" and that Saddam had lacked the capability to pursue a nuclear weapons program since the 1991 war. Also in September, 2003, Voice of America reported that “a senior official in Iraq's new science ministry says the country never revived its nuclear program after inspectors dismantled it in the 1990's. ... The scientist, now a member of the U.S.-backed administration in Iraq, 'says Iraqi scientists had no way to re-start the program because the inspectors took away all the necessary resources.'" Even the White House's own investigation found the nuke claim to be without merit.

FAT STEVE: The Administration did not distort intelligence, or pressure the CIA.
Okay, now you're doing comedy. Here's just one example: In an August 2003 story in WaPo, intelligence source cite "a pattern in which President Bush, Vice President Cheney and their subordinates -- in public and behind the scenes -- made allegations depicting Iraq's nuclear weapons program as more active, more certain and more imminent in its threat than the data they had would support. On occasion administration advocates withheld evidence that did not conform to their views. The White House seldom corrected misstatements or acknowledged loss of confidence in information upon which it had previously relied... "

• Bush and others often alleged that President Hussein held numerous meetings with Iraqi nuclear scientists, but did not disclose that the known work of the scientists was largely benign. Iraq's three top gas centrifuge experts, for example, ran a copper factory, an operation to extract graphite from oil and a mechanical engineering design center at Rashidiya.


• The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) of October 2002 cited new construction at facilities once associated with Iraq's nuclear program, but analysts had no reliable information at the time about what was happening under the roofs. By February, a month before the war, U.S. government specialists on the ground in Iraq had seen for themselves that there were no forbidden activities at the sites.


• Gas centrifuge experts consulted by the U.S. government said repeatedly for more than a year that the aluminum tubes were not suitable or intended for uranium enrichment. By December 2002, the experts said new evidence had further undermined the government's assertion. The Bush administration portrayed the scientists as a minority and emphasized that the experts did not describe the centrifuge theory as impossible.


• The escalation of nuclear rhetoric a year ago, including the introduction of the term "mushroom cloud" into the debate, coincided with the formation of a White House Iraq Group, or WHIG, a task force assigned to "educate the public" about the threat from Hussein, as a participant put it.


Two senior policymakers, who supported the war, said in unauthorized interviews that the administration greatly overstated Iraq's near-term nuclear potential. [Washington Post, August 2003]

As for Cheney pressuring hte CIA, it's treated earlier in the post, as well as here.
FAT STEVE: "The MSM continues, its spin and bias, trying to claim Rove or someone, was attacking Plame, but all the available evidence is precisely the opposite."
Yaaaaawn... sorry, got a bit bored with all the spin and bias stuff... By opposite, do you mean that the White House was trying to help and support Ms. Plame by blowing her cover? Of course Ms. Plame was not the target of the administration: Joe Wilson was, and this case was all about the administration's intense desire to discredit him. And another thing, if this case is so inocuous, why have so many administration officials, including Mr. Rove, felt the need to lie about their involvement?

FAT STEVE: "And despite claims that Plame was a covert officer, the evidence is that people all over Washington knew that Plame was working for the CIA. Meanwhile, the MSM keeps recycling their mistakes, and making new mistakes. "
Wrong. Peoeple inside the Beltway knew Plame worked for the CIA because she had long since moved to headquarters at Langley. But during the bulk of her career, she was thought to be a private consultant when she was in fact a clandestine officer -- working secretly for a CIA front company (and very much on her own if caught by an enemy). She was sufficiently valuable to the agency that it was the CIA which demanded an investgation into the leak. Blowing her cover might not have endangered her at this point, but it did blow the front company the CIA had carefully worked over decades to construct, jeopardizing all of her contacts and an important CIA operation in the process. How the Bush cultists can defend that, I'll never know.
posted by JReid @ 10:21 AM  
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"I am for enhanced interrogation. I don't believe waterboarding is torture... I'll do it. I'll do it for charity." -- Sean Hannity
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