Saturday :: Nov 12, 2005

WMDgate: More on the Intelligence that Was Withheld from Congress and the Public


by eriposte

UPDATE: I don't mean to imply in this post that the manipulation of intel was the only means by which Bush took America to war. Clearly, it was way more than that, including a steady stream of lies and flip-flops. Also, note that others have roundups relating to the issue of what intel was shared with whom - here, here, here and here.
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To understand how George Bush and his neocons took the country to war with Iraq on false pretenses requires us to recognize that there were two important ingredients in this fraud (other than the steady spate of outright lies and deception).

(a) Elimination or downplaying of contradictory information in classified intelligence reports that were shared only with select members of Congress
(b) Further elimination or downplaying of contradictory information in unclassified white papers provided to Congress, that were derived from (a)

The outrageous lies from President George Bush yesterday, in his speech, should be viewed particularly (although not solely) in the context of his administration's deliberate attempt to mislead the public and Congress (especially Democrats) into supporting the war in Iraq using the latter approach (b). Let me illustrate this with three examples, which merely constitute the tip of the iceberg.

1. Let's start with what the SSCI Report mentioned about the NIE (emphasis mine):

Conclusion 85. The Intelligence Community's elimination of the caveats from the unclassified White Paper misrepresented their judgments to the public which did not have access to the classified National Intelligence Estimate containing the more carefully worded assessments.
...
Conclusion 86. The names of agencies which had dissenting opinions in the classified National Intelligence Estimate were not included in the unclassified white paper and in the case of the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), the dissenting opinion was excluded completely. In both cases in which there were dissenting opinions, the dissenting agencies were widely regarded as the primary subject matter experts on the issues in question. Excluding the names of the agencies provided readers with an incomplete picture of the nature and extent of the debate within the Intelligence Community regarding these issues.
...
Conclusion 87. The key judgment in the unclassified October 2002 White Paper on Iraq's potential to deliver biological agents conveyed a level of threat to the United States homeland inconsistent with the classified National Intelligence Estimate.

Which dissenting agencies you ask? The US Air Force (USAF) regarding the claim on Iraq's alleged UAVs, INR on the whole nuclear reconstitution allegation and the bogus uranium from Africa claim, and INR (and DOE) on the aluminum tubes issue. More on that here.

The significance of the SSCI report's conclusions above must be viewed in the context of the unsuccessful attempts made in October 2002 by a few leading Democrats, who had seen the classified NIE, to have more of the NIE declassified because they knew that the Bush administration was misrepresenting the facts in the classified version of the NIE, while using the unclassified whitewashed version as a backup for the fake claims they were making day in and day out. As Media Matters has documented (emphasis mine):

The Hardball panel described Democrats' recent efforts to ensure the completion of this second phase as "disingenuous" and simply an attempt to "climb down off the war" that many of them had supported. But the panel omitted mention of the fact that, prior to the October 2002 vote, Democratic members of Congress had sought to square the Bush administration's claims about the Iraqi threat with the actual intelligence -- just as they are currently attempting to do.

While the NIE was ultimately found to contain fundamental flaws, it also included dissenting views and certain caveats regarding assessments central to the administration's case for war -- caveats that Democratic senators quickly noticed the Bush administration was omitting from public statements at the time. In the August 21 CNN Presents documentary "Dead Wrong," Durbin, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, addressed the subsequent dilemma:

DURBIN: I walked out of those [October 2002 Senate Intelligence Committee] hearings [on the NIE] having heard something that was truthful and accurate and picked up the newspaper and saw someone from the White House or administration has just said the opposite, or they've said it much differently. I am bound by law not to go to the press and say, something's wrong here. I can't do it.

Due to the NIE's classified status, Durbin says that he and his Democratic colleagues on the committee could not publicly highlight the discrepancies between the document's findings and the administration's assertions in the days before the October 11 vote. But Mitchell, Matthews, and Fineman did not note this claim.

As CNN national security correspondent David Ensor reported in "Dead Wrong," this situation led the Democratic committee members to request that a declassified version of the NIE be made public. On October 4, three days after the publication of the NIE, the CIA released a declassified report (i.e. "white paper") that laid out the same key judgments as the classified document but without important caveats such as "we judge" or "we assess":

ENSOR: To force the information that contradicts administration claims into the open, the intelligence committee insists that Tenet produce a declassified NIE. Instead the CIA director releases a document that mirrors in tone a white paper written earlier by the White House Iraq Group. Contradictory evidence is played down. Claims that strengthen the case for war are emphasized.

The white paper provoked an "outraged" reaction from former Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL), then chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who demanded that the NIE be further declassified, according to a September 15, 2003, New Republic article (subscription required):

Notwithstanding these distortions, the Walpole paper [the NIE] was still less overheated than administration rhetoric. For example, when presenting intelligence on the aluminum tubes, the NIE presented analytic opinion as "kind of a fifty-fifty split, take it as you will," according to an intelligence official who read it -- a sharp contrast with what senior administration officials were telling the public. As a result, Graham requested that Tenet issue a declassified version of the NIE so members could use the document to inform their upcoming votes on the war. In early October 2002, Tenet delivered -- only in this new version, he wiped clean the qualifiers, alternative explanations, and dissents. Whereas the DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency] had told Congress its analysts had "no reliable information" about whether Iraq was producing chemical weapons, the declassified version of the NIE declared that Iraq had "begun renewed production of chemical warfare agents." An outraged Graham insisted that more be declassified, but Tenet sent only a single-page letter.

Democratic senators continued to press for more of the NIE to be made public. They voiced further concern about the administration's statements, particularly those put forth by President Bush in a televised speech in Cincinnati, as The Washington Post reported on June 22, 2003:

Bush, in his speech in Cincinnati on Oct. 7, made his case that Iraq had ties with al Qaeda, by mentioning several items such as high-level contacts that "go back a decade." He said "we've learned" that Iraq trained al Qaeda members "in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases." Although the president offered essentially circumstantial evidence, his remarks contained none of the caveats about the reliability of this information as contained in the national intelligence document, sources said.

[...]

Questions about the reliability of the intelligence that Bush cited in his Cincinnati address were raised shortly after the speech by ranking Democrats on the Senate intelligence and armed services panel. They pressed the CIA to declassify more of the 90-page National Intelligence Estimate than a 28-page "white paper" on Iraq distributed on Capitol Hill on Oct. 4.

Five of the nine Democrats on the committee -- including Durbin and Graham -- ultimately voted against the Iraq war resolution. Eighteen months later, the Senate Intelligence Committee's 2004 report concluded that the white paper had "misrepresented" to the public the intelligence community's judgments. The report further concluded that the document had downplayed dissenting views and "provided readers with an incomplete picture of the nature and extent of the debate within the Intelligence Community regarding these issues."

Contrary to the Hardball panel's suggestion that Senate Democrats are now looking "under that rock" that they avoided examining in late 2002, their recent push for completion of the "phase two" investigation is part of their continued attempts to square the well-documented discrepancies between the administration's claims and the intelligence community's underlying judgments. While they have certainly employed more aggressive tactics as of late, during the more than 19 months since the expanded investigation was agreed to and the year since Roberts stated "phase two" would become a priority, the Democrats report a sustained effort to see the investigation move forward. Moreover, new evidence -- including the Downing Street Memo and the recent report that the vice-president's office withheld documents from the Senate Intelligence Committee -- has heightened the relevance of such an investigation into the administration's handling of the prewar intelligence.

2. Regarding the Bush administration's repeated claims about Iraq having trained Al Qaeda in "bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases", the SSCI Report notes that (emphasis mine):

The DCI's unclassified, February 2003 testimony addressed "training in poisons and gases" which "comes to us from credible and reliable sources." The DCI's classified, September 2002 testimony addressed "evidence that Iraq provided al-Qaida with various kinds of training" of which "details on training are [DELETED] from sources of varying reliability." The DCI's unclassified testimony did not include source descriptions, which could have led the recipients of that testimony to interpret that the CIA believed the training had definitely occurred.

This is significant because here is what was revealed early this month [emphasis mine]:

A top member of Al Qaeda in American custody was identified as a likely fabricator months before the Bush administration began to use his statements as the foundation for its claims that Iraq trained Al Qaeda members to use biological and chemical weapons, according to newly declassified portions of a Defense Intelligence Agency document.

The document, an intelligence report from February 2002, said it was probable that the prisoner, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, “was intentionally misleading the debriefers’’ in making claims about Iraqi support for Al Qaeda’s work with illicit weapons.

The document provides the earliest and strongest indication of doubts voiced by American intelligence agencies about Mr. Libi’s credibility. Without mentioning him by name, President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Colin L. Powell, then secretary of state, and other administration officials repeatedly cited Mr. Libi’s information as “credible’’ evidence that Iraq was training Al Qaeda members in the use of explosives and illicit weapons.

Among the first and most prominent assertions was one by Mr. Bush, who said in a major speech in Cincinnati in October 2002 that “we’ve learned that Iraq has trained Al Qaeda members in bomb making and poisons and gases.’’

3. A third example is Lewis "Scooter" Libby's false claim to Judith Miller in July 2003 - about what was in the classified version of the NIE regarding about the administration's uranium from Africa claim. As Newsweek noted (emphasis mine):

When Miller met with Libby for two hours at St. Regis Hotel on July 8, 2003, the vice president’s top aide provided an additional detail that was not contained in the white paper, according to Miller’s account published in last Sunday’s New York Times. The still-classified NIE, Libby told her, “had firmly concluded that Iraq was seeking uranium” for a nuclear bomb.
...

Libby
, though, “said little more than that the assessments of the classified estimate were even stronger than those in the unclassified version,” Miller wrote.
...
What Miller didn’t mention in her article is that on July 18, 2003, the White House did release a more detailed version of the NIE. At the time, White House aides were trying to explain how the claims about Iraqi uranium purchases in Africa had mistakenly found their way into the president’s State of the Union Message that year—even though, it turns out, they were partially based on documents that were forged.

But contrary to what Libby told Miller, the more detailed version of the NIE was hardly stronger. In fact, it revealed for the first time, in the very first paragraph—right after the sentence that “if left unchecked, [Iraq] probably will have a nuclear weapon during this decade”—the fact that the State Department’s intelligence arm, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), had an “alternative view” of the matter.

...the NIE also included an INR written annex in which the State Department analysts  concluded that claims of Iraq uranium purchases in Africa were “highly dubious.”

Let's not forget that Libby's fakery to Judith Miller was even more blatant. When he spoke to Judith Miller in July 2003, he was still trying to convince Miller that the forged Niger documents were not the only basis for Bush's State of the Union claim and that Wilson's own trip provided evidence for the uranium from Africa claim. As Miller said (emphasis mine):

Mr. Libby then proceeded through a lengthy and sharp critique of Mr. Wilson and what Mr. Libby viewed as the C.I.A.'s backpedaling on the intelligence leading to war. According to my notes, he began with a chronology of what he described as credible evidence of Iraq's efforts to procure uranium. As I told Mr. Fitzgerald and the grand jury, Mr. Libby alluded to the existence of two intelligence reports about Iraq's uranium procurement efforts. One report dated from February 2002. The other indicated that Iraq was seeking a broad trade relationship with Niger in 1999, a relationship that he said Niger officials had interpreted as an effort by Iraq to obtain uranium.

My notes indicate that Mr. Libby told me the report on the 1999 delegation had been attributed to Joe Wilson.

Let's set aside the fact that, contrary to the standard right-wing fakery about Wilson, his trip did not provide credible evidence for the claim that Iraq had sought uranium from Africa. One would imagine that if Wilson's trip was considered to have provided credible evidence for the uranium from Africa claim, that the CIA would have stood by the claim. The reality was the opposite. After all, the CIA had already admitted in June 2003 (prior to Joseph Wilson's op-ed and prior to Libby's claim to Judith Miller) to the Senate and House Intelligence Committees that the uranium from Africa claim was no longer valid since it was based solely on the forged Niger documents, as I noted in an earlier post:

3. Senate and House Intelligence Committees knew that uranium from Africa claim was baseless, before Joseph Wilson's op-ed in 2003

This is the only significant new finding for me in this report and it means that any Senate or House Intelligence Committee member who kept claiming, after June 19, 2003, that there was still evidence supporting the claim that Saddam Hussein was seeking significant quantities of uranium from Africa was simply a brazen liar.

On June 17, 2003, CIA produced a memorandum for the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) stating that "since learning that the Iraq-Niger uranium deal was based on false documents earlier this spring we no longer believe that there is sufficient other reporting to conclude that Iraq pursued uranium from abroad." [216] The NIO for Strategic and Nuclear Programs also briefed the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, on June 18 and 19, respectively, on the CIA's conclusions in this regard. [217]

Why didn't I know about this before? Well, because the Senate (SSCI) Report conveniently left it out as the Robb-Silberman report points out (emphasis mine):

217 Interview with NIO/SNP (Sept. 20, 2004). The SSCI report referenced the memorandum for the DCI, and stated that the memorandum had no distribution outside the CIA. SSCI at p. 71. This reference left the mistaken impression, however, that CIA did not inform others of its conclusions regarding the forged documents and the concomitant reliability of information about a possible uranium deal with Niger. The NIO/SNP emphasized that CIA not only recalled the original reporting as having possibly been based on fraudulent reporting, but the NIO, with CIA and other agencies in attendance, also briefed Congress on the matter. Interview with NIO/SNP (Sept. 20, 2004).

"Mistaken impression". Uh-huh.

[The fact that the Niger forgeries were the sole basis for the CIA's uranium from Africa position has been discussed at length previously].

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