Shooting from the Lip
Contrary to press stories
indicating that Friday's African statements by Bush and
Rice pointing fingers at Tenet for the crime were well-considered
in advance, it is much more likely that an increasingly
unstable Bush shot from the lip as he responded (again)
to barrages of questions about his allegations that Saddam
Hussein had sought to purchase uranium from Niger for
a "reconstituted" nuclear weapons program. "I gave my
speech to the nation and it was cleared by the intelligence
agencies," said Bush. A short time later, National Security
Advisor Condoleezza Rice was holding an unusual and hastily
arranged press conference aboard Air Force One that many
reports later described as a full broadside against DCI
It was a moment the press
had apparently been waiting for.
Confronted by official statements
that he was responsible for the inclusion of the Niger/uranium
references Tenet had but two choices. He could issue
a confession that would ultimately not stand, or he could
call George W. Bush an out-and-out liar. The latter would
have crippled the US government.
Tenet's actions have been
described as falling on his sword. Such a description
is inaccurate because Tenet is far from dead. He has
suffered only a flesh wound while the administration
itself may be mortally wounded. For saving the government
from an immediate and unavoidable constitutional crisis,
Tenet, a shrewd political player who had previously served
on the staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee, will
be viewed as a hero by some inside the Beltway. He may
have to offer to resign at some point, and may choose
to do so with this event as the pretext, rather than
face heavy scrutiny for a bothersome list of contradictions
about the 9/11 attacks which are now fully back on the
table and soon to be under renewed scrutiny. Remember,
Tenet holds the secrets to 9/11, which may explain why
a post-foot-in-mouth Bush is kissing Tenet's clandestine
buttocks in public and reaffirming his confidence in
Waiting for the Moment
It was almost as if the press
had been waiting for the moment and had their stories
already in the works. In fact, a number of stories preceding
Friday's presidential foot-chewing session show that - as
described in FTW's two-part series Beyond Bush - the
inertia had already turned.
July 6 - In an op-ed
piece written for The New York Times, Joseph Wilson
wrote that the CIA had sent him to Niger at the request
of Cheney. Wilson also wrote, (putting British intelligence
and Tony Blair on the spot) that, "It did not take long
to conclude that it was highly doubtful that any such
transaction had ever taken place." Niger's uranium industry
is run by European, Japanese and Nigerian companies and
monitored by agencies like the IAEA. Wilson wrote, "There's
simply too much oversight over too small an industry
for a sale to have transpired."
July 7 - A scathing
editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle by Harley
Sorenson titled "The Madness of King George" lambasted
the president for his statements to Ha'aretz that he
received direct instructions from God. Sorenson wrote, "I'm
becoming convinced that our president, the man with his
finger on the nuclear trigger, is a bona fide nutcase."
July 8 - CNN, after
the White House admitted that the assertion was inaccurate,
wrote "It remains unclear why senior administration officials
did not know about Wilson's findings to the CIA that
the reports... were bogus...
"A British panel also found
intelligence on the Iraq allegations was inaccurate,
according to reports."
Blair was already cooked.
"US officials said a report
citing Wilson's conclusions was given to the White House
and other agencies nearly a year before the president's
State of the Union address."
July 10 - CBS publishes
a lengthy and devastating poll headlined "US Losing Control
in Iraq". In it, a wide range of questions showed that
the Bush administration is losing support everywhere
and on all major issues.
Ready, Set, Go!
After the fateful statements
from Bush and Rice, the reactions came swiftly and unequivocally.
July 11 - First out
of the gate was MSNBC's Michael Moran who has written
some compelling stories since 9/11. "The familiar drip,
drip, drip of a brewing political scandal echoes through
the power centers of Washington and London these days." Moran
quoted a source close to the Bush family as saying, "They
have to get by this and they have to do it very soon." Moran
then nailed Rice in a lie by quoting her statement that,
if George Tenet had any objections about the uranium
claim, "he did not make them known." In fact, he had
done so three months before and in a variety of methods.
Moran then re-emphasized a damning statement from Pentagon
Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz who stupidly admitted
in a May Vanity Fair interview that the WMD issue
had been selected (instead of oil) as an issue of convenience
on which the war could be sold to the American people.
Moran then roasted Blair's
goose by pointing out the public defection of former
Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and his statements that
the pretext for the whole war was a concoction.
July 12 - CNN in an
early follow-up story reported that Senate Intelligence
Chairman and Bush loyalist Pat Roberts was criticizing
Tenet for "extremely sloppy handling" of the uranium
mess and that, "Roberts also accused the agency of orchestrating
a 'campaign of press leaks' to discredit the president." The
CNN story went on state, "Tenet said top administration
officials - including Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney - were
never briefed on CIA's skepticism... Nor did he tell members
of the administration last fall."
Now we have Tenet calling
Wilson a liar. Then CNN chose to headline the concluding
section of the story with a quote from Democratic challenger
Howard Dean, This is "beginning to sound a little like
July 12 - CBS News
reported that many members of Congress were not satisfied
with Tenet's statement. It then quoted a former National
Security Council staff member as saying, "I anticipate
that George Tenet... will probably be sacrificed on this
one. He has taken the fall, and I think the administration
will wait to see whether this flies. I'd doubt (it will)." CBS
then quoted former Republican White House staffer David
Gergen as saying, "Somebody in the administration, not
in the agency, wanted to put this in the speech and got
the CIA to sign off on it, even though everybody knew
within the US government that there were real doubts
about the validity of the report. And that's what constitutes
the misleading quality of it."
July 12 - The Washington
Times of London ran a story titled "Bush Team Split
As CIA Becomes The Fall Guy". It said, "The first salvo
in what degenerated into open warfare within the Bush
Administration was fired by the President himself... It
capped one of the worst weeks Mr. Bush has endured
since the September 11 attacks and put the... White House
on the defensive as it struggled to protect the President
from allegations that he may have knowingly lied to
the American public... In anonymous briefings to the
US media on Thursday CIA officials insisted that the
agency explicitly told the White House that the claim
was false before the speech."
July 12 - In a scathing
editorial titled "The Uranium Fiction", The New York
Times wrote, "We're glad that someone in Washington
has finally taken responsibility for letting President
Bush make a false accusation about Saddam Hussein's nuclear
weapons program... but the matter will not end there." After
pointing to the Wilson investigation and reports the Times wrote, "The
uranium charge should never have found its way into Mr.
Bush's speech. Determining how it got there is essential
to understanding whether the administration engaged in
a deliberate effort to mislead the nation about the Iraqi
July 12 - Eleanor
Clift writing in Newsweek titled her story "No
Mistakes Were Made". Her lead paragraph bespoke the escalating
tone of criticism for Bush et al. "President Bush is
certain he did the right thing by going to war in Iraq.
Bush never second-guesses himself, a trait that permeates
his administration and contains the seeds of his undoing... He
can't let cracks appear or the whole edifice could crumble.
The moment Bush landed on the USS Lincoln, he was caught
in his own hubris." Clift then took apart the administrations
boasts that it had a broad international coalition supporting
the invasion quoting a democratic lawmaker as saying, "I'm
not interested in three Latvians in bio-chem suits."
July 12 - The Associated
Press, a little more reserved in its reporting,
stated, "[Senate Intelligence Chair Pat] Roberts charged
that unnamed intelligence officials were telling the
press that the CIA warned the White House that the
information about Iraq trying to obtain uranium from
Africa were unfounded. But as late as ten days before
the State of the Union speech, Roberts said the CIA
was still saying that Iraq was trying to get uranium
from Africa." That's interesting.
Where's the record of that
July 13 - In a page
1 story of the Sunday edition of The Washington Post,
veteran reporter and CIA conduit Walter Pincus fired
back at Bush. His headline was "CIA Got Uranium Reference
Cut in October." In describing how Tenet had previously
successfully intervened to have an October reference
to the uranium removed from a Bush speech, Pincus wrote, "Tenet
argued personally to White House officials, including
deputy national security adviser Stephen Hadley, that
the allegation should not be used... Another senior official
with knowledge of the intelligence said the CIA had doubts
about the accuracy of the documents underlying the allegation,
which months later turned out to be forged.
If Hadley knew, then Condoleezza
Rice knew. And her finger pointing is an outright lie.
Pincus continued, "It is
unclear why Tenet failed to intervene in January to prevent
the questionable intelligence from appearing in the president's
address to Congress when Tenet intervened three months
earlier in a much less symbolic speech... But it is clear
from the new disclosure about Tenet's intervention... that
the controversy continues to boil, and as new facts emerge
a different picture is being presented than the administration
has given to date..."
"...Cheney, insisted on including
Hussein's quest for a nuclear weapon as a prominent part
of their public case for war in Iraq."
Pincus then dropped a bombshell.
He reported that a senior administration official had
stated, "seeking uranium from Niger was never in the
drafts". He then followed it up by stating, "A senior
administration official said Bush's chief speechwriter... does
not remember who wrote the line that has wound up causing... so
July 13 - The New
York Times, calling the matter a "political storm" drew
the noose tighter by reporting that "[Tenet's] involvement
[in pulling the statement from the October speech]
indicates that both he and the White House were aware
of the doubts about the intelligence three months before
the State of the Union speech.
"With the matter threatening
to undermine Mr. Bush's support at a time when American
soldiers continue to be killed in Iraq...the White
House was clearly seeking to put the matter to rest."
In a new twist, the Times also
reported that, "After CIA officials raised concerns about
the wording in an early draft the speech, the White House
changed it to make it vaguer and to attribute it to Britain." Then
the Times raised the specter that Tenet and Colin
Powell might have set the administration up. "Participants
in the process note that Mr. Tenet reviewed the same
material with Mr. Powell as they prepared the presentation
to the United Nations. The two men decided together that
the story of Iraqi efforts to obtain uranium... could not
But Powell is not off the
hook. (See below)
July 13 - The Los
Angeles Times checked in with a major story that
said, "But the administration effort to have Tenet
accept responsibility triggered new recriminations
on Saturday - including a sharp rebuke from a key Democrat
on Capitol Hill - that suggest the issue is far from
"...the administration continued
to face persistent questions.
"Senator John D. 'Jay' Rockefeller
IV (D-WVa) vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee
said the White House has yet to explain how discredited
claims about Iraqi efforts... made their way into the speech
to begin with..."
"Tenet and the CIA 'have
been made to take the fall to shield the president and
his advisers,' Rockefeller said, adding that he believes
that the National Security Council pressed to include
the allegation even though it 'knew the underlying information
was not credible.'"
"Rockefeller directed particularly
pointed criticism at National Security Adviser Condoleezza
Rice, saying her very public role in pinning the blame
on Tenet is 'dishonorable.'"
"'Why does this all fall on George
Tenet? Because it's convenient,' Rockefeller said. 'My
guess is [Rice] had a lot more to do with this mistake
than Tenet did.'"
July 13 - TIME Magazine
took the unraveling process further in a story titled, "A
Question of Trust". In questioning whether Bush's credibility
has taken a major hit, the article by Michael Duffy and
James Carney pointed out that before the Friday statements
by Bush and Rice the admission of the "error" in the
speech had "instead sparked a bewildering four days of
changing explanations and unusually nasty finger pointing
by the normally disciplined Bush team."
In a statement that suggests
to this writer that the original forged documents might
have been planted by the CIA or the National Security
Council (remember Iran-Contra?), TIME wrote, "Finally,
in late 2001 [just after 9/11], the Italian government
came into possession of evidence suggesting that Iraq
was again trying to purchase yellowcake from Niger. Rome's
source provided half a dozen letters and other documents
alleged to be correspondence between Niger and Iraqi
officials negotiating a sale. The Italians' evidence
was shared with both Britain and the US.
"When it got to Washington,
the Iraq-Niger uranium report caught the eye of someone
important: Vice President Dick Cheney."
Then TIME began the
process of naming names by listing top CIA analyst Alan
Foley and presidential aide Robert Joseph as playing
key roles in the battle over whether to use the information
When the hearings start,
just as with Watergate, these men will be among the first
to testify, and their testimony will begin the long and
excruciating death of the Bush presidency.
The brick wall against which
all of the administration's chess pieces will be crushed
was outlined in an unanswered March 17 letter from California
Congressman Henry Waxman (D) to President Bush. The record
laid out by Waxman also makes it perfectly clear that
Secretary of State Colin Powell is as implicated as any
member of the Bush administration.
Before presenting Waxman's
irrefutable record, it is important to ask one question:
Who or what is capable of orchestrating events to remove
the Bush presidency and yet leave the US with the Patriot
Act, Homeland Security, a National Security Strategy
calling for pre-emptive attacks on foreign powers, Total
Information Awareness, and, above all, Iraqi oil and
the proceeds of Afghan heroin sales flowing through US
banks? It isn't Henry Waxman, that's for sure.
To view the original letter,
of Waxman's letter reads:
the Evidence by U.S. Officials
The evidence that Iraq sought
to purchase uranium from an African country was first
revealed by the British government on September 24,
2002, when Prime Minister Tony Blair released a 50-page
report on Iraqi efforts to acquire weapons of mass
destruction. As the New York Times reported
in a front-page article, one of the two "chief
new elements" in the report was the claim that
Iraq had "sought to acquire uranium in Africa
that could be used to make nuclear weapons."1
This evidence subsequently became
a significant part of the U.S. case against Iraq.
On December 7, Iraq filed its weapons declaration with
the United Nations Security Council. The U.S. response
relied heavily on the evidence that Iraq had sought
to obtain uranium from Africa.
For example, this is
how the New
York Times began
its front-page article on December 13 describing
the U.S. response:
American intelligence agencies have reached a preliminary
conclusion that Iraq's 12,000 page declaration of its
weapons program fails to account for chemical and biological
agents missing when inspectors left Iraq four years
ago, American officials and United Nations diplomats
In addition, Iraq's declaration on its nuclear program, they
say, leaves open a host of questions. Among them
is why Iraq was seeking to buy uranium in Africa in
The official U.S. response was provided
on December 19, when Secretary of State Colin Powell
appeared before the Security Council. As the Los
Angeles Times reported, "A one‑page
State Department fact sheet... lists what Washington
considers the key omissions and deceptions in Baghdad's
Dec. 7 weapons declaration."3 One of
the eight "key omissions and deceptions" was
the failure to explain Iraq's attempts to purchase
uranium from an African country.
Specifically, the State Department fact
sheet contains the following points under the heading "Nuclear Weapons": "The
Declaration ignores efforts to procure uranium from
Niger. Why is the Iraqi regime hiding their uranium
procurement?" A copy of this fact sheet is enclosed
with this letter.
The Iraqi efforts to obtain uranium
from Africa were deemed significant enough to be included
in your State of
the Union address to Congress. You stated: "The
British government has learned that Saddam Hussein
recently sought significant quantities of uranium from
Africa."4 As the Washington
Post reported the next day, "the president
seemed quite specific as he ticked off the allegations
last night, including the news that Iraq had secured
uranium from Africa for the purpose of making nuclear
A day later, Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld told reporters at a news briefing that Iraq "recently
was discovered seeking significant quantities of uranium
Knowledge of the Unreliability of the Evidence
The world first learned that
the evidence linking Iraq to attempts to purchase uranium
from Africa was forged from the Director General of
the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed
El Baradei. On March 7, Director El Baradei reported
to the U.N. Security Council:
Based on thorough analysis, the IAEA
has concluded, with the concurrence of outside experts,
that these documents-which formed the basis
for reports of recent uranium transactions between
Iraq and Niger-are in fact not authentic.
We have therefore concluded that these specific allegations
Recent accounts in the news media
have provided additional details. According to the Washington
Post, the faked evidence included "a series
of letters between Iraqi agents and officials in
the central African nation of Niger."8 The
article stated that the forgers "made relatively
crude errors that eventually gave them away -including
names and titles that did not match up with the individuals
who held office at the time the letters were purportedly
written."9 CNN reported:
one of the documents purports to be
a letter signed by Tandjia Mamadou, the president of
Niger, talking about the uranium deal with Iraq. On
it [is] a childlike signature that is clearly not his.
Another, written on paper from a 1980s military government
in Niger, bears the date of October 2000 and the signature
of a man who by then had not been foreign minister
of Niger for 14 years.10
U.S. intelligence officials had doubts
about the veracity of the evidence long before Director
El Baradei's report. The Los Angeles Times reported
on March 15 that "the CIA first heard allegations
that Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger in late
2001" when "the
existence of the documents was reported to [the CIA]
second-or third-hand." The Los
Angeles Times quotes one CIA official as saying: "We
included that in some of our reporting, although
it was all caveated because we had concerns about
accuracy of that information."11 The Washington
Post reported on March 13: "The CIA... had
questions about 'whether they were accurate,' said
one intelligence official, and it decided not to
include them in its file on Iraq's program to procure
of mass destruction."12
There have been suggestions by some
Administration officials that there may be other evidence
besides the forged documents that shows Iraq tried
to obtain uranium from an African country. For instance,
CIA officials recently stated that "U.S. concerns
regarding a possible uranium agreement between Niger
and Iraq were not based solely on the documents which
are now known to be fraudulent." The CIA provided
this other information to the IAEA along with the forged
documents. After reviewing this complete body of evidence,
the IAEA stated: "we have found to date no evidence
or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear
weapons programme in Iraq.13 Ultimately,
the IAEA concluded that "these specific allegations
These facts raise troubling questions. It appears that at
the same time that you, Secretary Rumsfeld, and State
Department officials were citing Iraq's efforts to
obtain uranium from Africa as a crucial part of the
case against Iraq, U.S. intelligence officials regarded
this very same evidence as unreliable. If true, this
is deeply disturbing: it would mean that your Administration
asked the U.N. Security Council, the Congress, and
the American people to rely on information that your
own experts knew was not credible.
Your statement to Congress during
the State of the Union, in particular, raises a host
of questions. The statement is worded in a way that
suggests it was carefully crafted to be both literally
true and deliberately misleading at the same time.
The statement itself -"The British government
has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant
quantities of uranium from Africa" -may
be technically accurate, since this appears to be
the British position. But given what the CIA knew
time, the implication you intended -that there
was credible evidence that Iraq sought uranium from
Africa -was simply false.
To date, the White House has avoided
explaining why the Administration relied on this forged
evidence in building its case against Iraq. The first
Administration response, which was provided to the Washington
Post, was "we fell for it."15 But
this is no longer credible in light of the information
from the CIA. Your spokesman, Ari Fleischer, was asked
about this issue at a White House news briefing on
March 14, but as the following transcript reveals,
he claimed ignorance and avoided the question:
Q: Ari, as the president said in his
State of the Union address, the British government
has learned that Saddam Hussein
recently sought significant quantities of uranium
from Africa. And since then, the IAEA said that those
Mr. Fleischer: I'm sorry, whose statement was that?
Q: The President, in his State of the Union address. Since
then, the IAEA has said those were forged documents.
Was the administration aware of any doubts about these
documents, the authenticity of the documents, from
any government agency or department before it was submitted
to the IAEA?
Mr. Fleisher: These are matters that are always reviewed with
an eye toward the various information that comes in
and is analyzed by a variety of different people. The
President's concerns about Iraq come from multiple
places, involving multiple threats that Iraq can possess,
and these are matters that remain discussed.
Thank you [end of briefing].18
Plainly, more explanation is needed.
I urge you to provide to me and to the relevant committees
of Congress a full accounting of what you knew about
the reliability of the evidence linking Iraq to uranium
in Africa, when you knew this, and why you and senior
officials in the Administration presented the evidence
to the U.N. Security Council, the Congress, and the
American people without disclosing the doubts of the
CIA. In particular, I urge you to address:
1. Whether CIA officials communicated their doubts about the
credibility of the forged evidence to other Administration
officials, including officials in the Department of
State, the Department of Defense, the National Security
Council, and the White House;
2. Whether the CIA had any input into the "Fact Sheet" distributed
by the State Department on December 19, 2002; and
3. Whether the CIA reviewed your statement in the State of the
Union address regarding Iraq's attempts to obtain uranium
from Africa and, if so, what the CIA said about the
Given the urgency of the situation,
I would appreciate an expeditious response to these
Henry A. Waxman
Ranking Minority Member
1Blair Says Iraqis Could Launch Chemical Warheads in Minutes, New York Times (Sept. 25, 2002).
2Threats and Responses: Report by Iraq, Iraq Arms Report Has
Big Omissions, U.S. Officials Say, New York Times (Dec.
13, 2002) (emphasis added).
3U.S. Issues a List of the Shortcomings in Iraqi Arms Declaration, Los Angeles Times
(Dec. 20, 2002) (emphasis added).
4The President, State of the
Union Address (Jan. 28, 2003) (online at
5A War Cry Tempered by Eloquence, Washington
Post (Jan. 29, 2003).
6Press Conference with Donald Rumsfeld, General Richard Myers, Cable News Network (Jan. 29, 2003)
7IAEA Director General Dr. Mohamed El Baradei, The Status
of Nuclear Inspections in Iraq: An Update (Mar.
7, 2002) (online at www.iaea.org/worldatom/Press/Statements/
8Some Evidence on Iraq Called Fake; UN. Nuclear Inspector Says Documents
Were Forged, Washington
Post (Mar. 8, 2003).
10UN. Saying Documents Were Faked, CNN American Morning with Paula Zahn (Mar. 14, 2003).
11Italy May Have Been Misled by Fake Iraq Arms Papers, US. Says, Los Angeles Times (Mar. 15, 2003).
12FBI Probes Fake Evidence of Iraqi Nuclear Plans, Washington Post (Mar. 13, 2003).
13IAEA Director General Dr. Mohamed El Baradei, supra note
7 (emphasis added).
14Id. (emphasis added).
15Some Evidence on Iraq Called Fake, supra note 8.
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