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Who Can We Blame? Who Should We Blame?
July 16, 2003
By John J. Malone

After pointing the finger at the CIA for the appearance of misleading statements in his State of the Union address, the president has expressed his full confidence in George Tenet, the intelligence agency's director.

Not surprising. Wouldn't you have complete confidence in a loyal bootlicker who would be willing to fall on his sword for you? I know I would. Tell an egregious and deliberate lie and then have someone else take responsibility for not stopping you from doing it? Sounds like a great deal.

Let me break this down for you:

President Bush said in his State of the Union address on January 28, 2003:

"The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

Pretty serious stuff. Serious enough to scare the bejesus out of a frightened American public still reeling over September 11th. Serious enough to convince many fence-sitting skeptics that Iraq posed an imminent threat to our security. Serious enough to justify a war even. That is, if you believe it.

Problem is, the CIA had been unable to corroborate this report despite furious attempts to do so. The most significant such attempt was made in February of 2002 according to a piece in last Sunday's New York Times written by Joseph Wilson. In the piece, Wilson, a former U.S. ambassador and National Security Council aide, writes that the CIA sent him to Niger in February of 2002, at the behest of Vice President Dick Cheney's office. His mission, which was no secret, was to investigate the claim and report back. Mr. Wilson returned with the conclusion that the allegation was false and filed a full and complete report. In his piece he wrote:

"The vice president's office asked a serious question. I was asked to help formulate the answer. I did so, and I have every confidence that the answer I provided was circulated to the appropriate officials within our government. "

In case you haven't noticed, February of 2002 was almost a full year before the president's State of the Union Address. As far as Wilson was concerned, this issue had been put to bed a year earlier. Imagine his shock when he heard the president utter these words in his State of the Union address in January of 2003:

"The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

The veracity of the British claim had been hotly debated and disputed at all levels of the intelligence community for some time. Greg Thielmann, a former Director of the Office of Strategic, Proliferation, and Military Issues in the State Department, said to Newsweek regarding the use of the discredited uranium intelligence in the address: "When I saw that, it really blew me away… Not that stupid piece of garbage. My thought was, how did that get into the speech?"

So, when National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice said on Meet the Press: "…maybe someone knew down in the bowels of the agency, but no one in our circles knew that there were doubts and suspicions" she was…(pause for effect)…lying! I believe this may be part of Ms. Rice's job description. Even Secretary of State Colin Powell has leapt to the president's defense, saying: "The president was presenting what seemed to be a reasonable statement at that time." This is pretty surprising considering that scarcely a week after the State of the Union address, he apparently did not consider the intelligence good enough to include in his own momentously important address to the UN on February 5th outlining the scary, scary dangers posed by Iraq.

Now along comes whipping boy George Tenet to take full and complete responsibility for the "error." Notice no one likes to say the word lie, which I believe is the word one generally applies to misleading or factually incorrect statements made by people who know them to be misleading or factually incorrect. Either way, Tenet stepped forward and took the blame, took a bullet like a good soldier, and President Bush now considers the issue closed. Now everyone shut up and go about your business. Please disperse. Nothing to see here.

Although Tenet did not personally read or approve of the language in the State of the Union address, he took responsibility because his staff supposedly did read and approve it. It is interesting to note, however, that Tenet had personally raised objections to deputy national security adviser Stephen Hadley regarding prior presidential claims about Iraq seeking uranium. As a result, a similar statement was struck from an October 7, 2002 speech in Cincinnati at the CIA's request. Somehow, the statement still made it into the State of the Union address on January 23, 2003. Why was it not good enough for Cincinnati, but good enough for the rest of America? What changed?

What changed was the level of pressure being applied to intelligence officials to simply go along with the administration's rhetoric.

In his mea culpa statement, Tenet said:

"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 - that the British government report said that Iraq sought uranium from Africa."

Tenet may be taking the rap for his agents concurring that the language was technically correct, but this simply demonstrates complicity, not responsibility. The essential question is: who concocted the lie, who sold the lie, who told the lie, and who knew it was a lie.

Here's how it went down: according to Alan Foley, a proliferation expert at the CIA, he was questioned by Robert G. Joseph, a nuclear proliferation expert at the National Security Council, about the use of the uranium claim in a draft of the State of the Union address. Foley (CIA) objected to the use of the claim because the intelligence was weak and had been essentially discredited. Joseph (NSC) then cited the British report. Foley countered that the CIA did not believe the report was correct. Joseph then asked Foley to at least confirm that the British had indeed made such a report. Foley confirmed that this was true, the British had issued such a report. End of discussion.

So, apparently, because it cited the British report (which they knew to be bogus), "White House officials" felt it was acceptable to include a false claim (call it "dubious" if that makes you feel more comfortable) in the President's address to the nation concerning a subject as solemn and serious as war. Right on!

And we're supposed to blame the CIA for not preventing the White House from out-and-out lying? They raised their objections. Their objections were duly squashed. And now they are taking the blame? For what? Not having the balls to stand up to the Bush Cartel and call them on their lies? Condoleeza Rice has said: "If the C.I.A., the director of central intelligence, had said, 'Take this out of the speech,' it would have been gone, without question." That may be so, but it seems to me that the climate within this administration is one in which the policy-makers have the final say, not the intelligence analysts. Absolutely sickening.

What I want to know is this:

Was Mr. Cheney aware that the statement was false? Mr. Wilson seems to think he was and I find it hard to believe that Cheney would request that the CIA investigate a matter of such magnitude and not be informed of the agency's findings and conclusions.

If Mr. Cheney knew it was false, who else within the administration knew? Did Mr. Bush? We need to know what the president knew and when he knew it.

Of one thing I am virtually certain: the trail of blame goes much higher than George Tenet. Having the Director of the CIA read a conciliatory statement (most likely drafted for him by Karl Rove) and taking the heat will not make this thing go away. Tenet didn't write the speech nor did anyone at the CIA. Tenet did not make the slippery arguments for leaving bogus claims in the speech, nor did anyone at the CIA.

Something is rotten in the West Wing, and my sense is that there's more to come on this. This goes much deeper than one "mistake" in one speech. It's indicative of a pattern of deceit and finger-pointing on a subject of extreme gravity. I, for one, want answers, and I hope that the press and Congress will demand them.

Key Sources:

C.I.A. Chief Takes Blame in Assertion on Iraqi Uranium
http://www.nytimes.com/2003/07/12/international/worldspecial/12INTE.html

Tenet Takes Blame on Iraqi Uranium Claim
http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/ap/20030712/ap_on_go_pr_wh/us_iraq_tenet&cid=544&ncid=716

CIA Takes Blame For WMD Flap
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/06/25/iraq/main560449.shtml?cmp=EM8707

CIA wanted British to drop uranium reference
http://www.startribune.com/stories/1762/3982121.html

John Nichols: Was war based on a lie? Ask Cheney
http://www.madison.com/captimes/opinion/column/nichols/52530.php

Bush Considers Iraq Uranium Issue Closed
http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&cid=544&e=1&u=/ap/20030712/ap_on_go_pr_wh/us_iraq

Tenet statement taking responsibility for Iraq charge
http://www.msnbc.com/news/937835.asp?cp1=1

Bush Expresses Confidence in C.I.A. Director
http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/national/AP-US-Iraq.html

What I Didn't Find in Africa
http://www.nytimes.com/2003/07/06/opinion/06WILS.html

President Delivers "State of the Union"
http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2003/01/20030128-19.html

Democrat Henry Waxman, Asks Condoleezza Rice "Why did President Bush cite forged evidence about Iraq"
http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article3758.htm

Where are Iraq's WMDs?
http://www.msnbc.com/news/919753.asp

Remarks to the United Nations Security Council
http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2003/17300.htm

White House was warned of dubious intelligence, official says
http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/6076139.htm

Bush need not apologize over Iraq-uranium statement, Powell says
http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/943865/posts

CIA Got Uranium Reference Cut in Oct.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A48847-2003Jul12.html?nav=hptop_tb

 

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