Thursday :: Feb 2, 2006

Treasongate: Libby and Uranium from Africa


by eriposte

Murray Waas has a story in the National Journal today (worth reading in full) which provides some additional, important, detail on a story which I had already discussed in a couple of posts at TLC last year - especially this post from Nov 2005 showing that Libby was peddling the supposed "validity" of the uranium claim to Judith Miller in July 2003 even after the CIA had formally withdrawn it a few weeks earlier in a classified memo. In this post, I discuss some of Waas' reporting in his latest article and provide additional clarification (#3 below) to address a piece of information regarding dates, that is missing in his article. (I also mention another significant point that is not mentioned in Waas' article - that the SSCI Report misled on who the CIA memo was briefed to - see #1 below). [UPDATE on 2/3/06: Just added section 6 on Cheney with an observation from Think Progress.]

The post is separated into the following sections for clarity. (Note that all emphasis in quotes is mine).

1. The CIA recall of the uranium claim and Libby's peddling the claim to Judith Miller - summary of findings discussed at TLC

2. New information from Murray Waas on when Libby and Cheney knew about the CIA recall of the uranium claim

3. When Libby was briefed and When he peddled the uranium claim: A Clarification

4. Libby's fictions about WINPAC

5. Some additional information regarding the CIA recall

6. Cheney continued to lie as well

7. Conclusion


1. The CIA recall of the uranium claim and Libby's peddling the claim to Judith Miller - summary of findings discussed at TLC

Let me first reproduce the relevant portions of what I said back in Nov 2005 on some of Libby's deceptions. When [Libby] 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 discussing the Robb-Silberman report:

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 (and you can refer to my comprehensive uraniumgate page for more).


2. New information from Murray Waas on when Libby and Cheney knew about the CIA recall of the uranium claim

Here's the key element that Murray Waas adds to the story - namely, not only was the CIA memo withdrawing the uranium claim briefed to the DCI and the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, Scooter Libby and Dick Cheney were also informed of the withdrawal of the uranium claim:

Vice President Cheney and his then-Chief of Staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby were personally informed in June 2003 that the CIA no longer considered credible the allegations that Saddam Hussein had attempted to procure uranium from the African nation of Niger [the mention of Niger here is an error; the CIA said "abroad", not "Niger", i.e., they were withdrawing the entire "uranium from Africa" claim, not just "uranium from Niger" - eriposte], according to government records and interviews with current and former officials. The new CIA assessment came just as Libby and other senior administration officials were embarking on an effort to discredit an administration critic who had also been saying that the allegations were untrue.

CIA analysts wrote then-CIA Director George Tenet in a highly classified memo on June 17, 2003, "We no longer believe there is sufficient" credible information to "conclude that Iraq pursued uranium from abroad." The memo was titled: "In Response to Your Questions for Our Current Assessment and Additional Details on Iraq's Alleged Pursuits of Uranium From Abroad."


3. When Libby was briefed and When he peddled the uranium claim: A Clarification

One thing that is important here are the dates - because the CIA memo was published just 6 days before Libby's first meeting with Judith Miller on June 23, 2003. Here's what Waas says:

Tenet received the highly classified memo on Niger from his analysts on June 17, 2003, five days after Cheney and Libby spoke with each other about Plame's working for the CIA. Sources familiar with the matter say that both Cheney and Libby were informed of the findings in the June 17 memo only days after Tenet himself read and reviewed it.

This wording - "only days after" - is somewhat unfortunate; perhaps Waas's source was not able to pinpoint the exact date when Libby and Cheney were briefed. This is only important because Bush propagandists may argue that perhaps Libby was briefed only after he peddled the validity of the uranium claim to Miller. Unluckily for Libby, the facts say otherwise. As I pointed out back in my original post, Libby's statement to Miller occurred on July 8, 2003 and not June 23, 2003 - which was clearly after he and Cheney were briefed on the CIA recall of the uranium claim (per Waas' article). As Miller said:

I interviewed Mr. Libby for a second time on July 8, two days after Mr. Wilson published his essay attacking the administration on the Op-Ed Page of The Times.

Our meeting, which lasted about two hours, took place over breakfast at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington. I told Mr. Fitzgerald that I almost certainly began this interview by asking about Mr. Wilson's essay, which appeared to have agitated Mr. Libby. As I recall, Mr. Libby asserted that the essay was inaccurate.

Mr. Fitzgerald asked about a notation I made on the first page of my notes about this July 8 meeting, ''Former Hill staffer.''

My recollection, I told him, was that Mr. Libby wanted to modify our prior understanding that I would attribute information from him to a ''senior administration official.'' When the subject turned to Mr. Wilson, Mr. Libby requested that he be identified only as a ''former Hill staffer.'' I agreed to the new ground rules because I knew that Mr. Libby had once worked on Capitol Hill.

Did Mr. Libby explain this request? Mr. Fitzgerald asked. No, I don't recall, I replied. But I said I assumed Mr. Libby did not want the White House to be seen as attacking Mr. Wilson.

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.


4. Libby's fictions about WINPAC

There is another unintentionally hilarious part to what Libby was peddling in summer 2003. Waas says:

At one point during that period -- the summer of 2003 -- Libby confronted a senior intelligence analyst briefing him and the vice president and accused the CIA of willfully misleading him and the administration on Niger. Libby was said to be upset that the CIA, in his view, had routinely minimized the extent to which Iraq was pursuing weapons of mass destruction and was now prematurely attempting to distance itself from the Niger allegations.

Libby had also complained about the CIA's Center for Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control. WINPAC, as the center is known, scrutinizes unconventional-weapons threats to the United States, including the pursuit by both foreign nations and terrorist groups of nuclear, radiological, chemical, and biological weapons.

Libby, according to people with knowledge of the events, said that he and Cheney had come to believe that WINPAC was presenting Saddam Hussein's pursuit of such weapons in a far more benign light than Iraq's intents and capabilities reflected. Libby cited CIA bureaucratic inertia and caution and his view that many of WINPAC's analysts were aligned with foreign-policy elites who did not support the war with Iraq.

As is typical with the Bush administration, and particularly with Libby and Cheney, this stance of Libby's is simply false. As I showed in my previous, detailed analysis, if anything the White's House's WINPAC contacts were instrumental in exaggerating, distorting or lying about the actual WMD evidence, and particularly on the uranium from Africa issue. I pointed out in my conclusions to that analysis that:

5.1 The WINPAC/White House stovepipe

In this post I have presented direct and inferred evidence using the Senate (SSCI) Report that indicates the following:

  • the uranium from Africa hoax in the Bush SOTU was largely due to the "cooperation" (with the White House) of a few individuals at WINPAC
  • there were significant opposing views within the CIA on the uranium claim (especially within CIA NESA, even setting aside INR's well-known dissent that the claim was "highly dubious"), and
  • the position of the CIA's top management (including then-DCI George Tenet) was that the uranium claim was not credible

The picture that emerges is that the uranium from Africa claim was stovepiped to the White House by certain individuals at WINPAC (Sec. 3.4) using known bogus (raw) "intel" (Sec. 3.3), in order to meet the White House's expectations, while a parallel communication channel that even included then-DCI George Tenet was trying hard (and ultimately unsuccessfully) to get the WH to drop the uranium claim (Sec. 3.2). Thus, a rogue operation involving select WH-cooperative personnel in a WH-created group within the CIA (WINPAC) was conveniently used to paint the "CIA" as a monolithic entity that got the intel "wrong".

The data shows a clear pattern that when the White House wanted to have a (uranium) claim approved, they went to their contacts in WINPAC. Some WINPAC personnel were repeatedly misrepresenting the CIA's actual judgment on the uranium claim on multiple occasions. Most of these incidents occurred after George Tenet and other senior CIA officials had directly told the White House/NSC that the uranium claim was not credible, that the British claim was not credible on this matter and that the President should not be a "fact witness" on this issue. Many incidents occurred after senior WINPAC officials knew that the claim was bogus (Sec. 3.3). In fact, the White House's "approvers" within WINPAC were so blatant in misrepresenting the intelligence that it was even discussed in an email exchange between a DOE analyst and an INR analyst (Sec. 3.4.1.5).


5. Some additional information regarding the CIA recall

There is one other aspect reported by Waas that I'd like to comment on:

The memo also related that there had been other, earlier claims that Saddam's regime had attempted to purchase uranium from private interests in Somalia and Benin; these claims predated the Niger allegations. It was that past intelligence that had led CIA analysts, in part, to consider the Niger claims as plausible.

But the memo said that after a thorough review of those earlier reports, the CIA had concluded that they were no longer credible. Indeed, the previous intelligence reports citing those claims had long since been "recalled" -- meaning that the CIA had formally repudiated them.

This is an aspect that I mentioned previously in my analysis of the Robb-Silberman report:

The Robb-Silberman report says:

The Intelligence Community agencies did not effectively authenticate the documents regarding an alleged agreement for the sale of uranium yellowcake from Niger to Iraq. The President referred to this alleged agreement in his State of the Union address on January 28, 2003-- evidence for which the Intelligence Community later concluded was based on forged documents [190].

To illustrate the failures involved in vetting this information, some details about its collection require elaboration. The October 2002 NIE included the statement that Iraq was "trying to procure uranium ore and yellowcake" and that "a foreign government service" had reported that "Niger planned to send several tons" of yellowcake to Iraq [191]. The statement about Niger was based primarily on three reports provided by a liaison intelligence service to CIA in late 2001 and early 2002 [192].

The report hints that the Niger reports were the sole basis for the Bush 2003 SOTU claim. This becomes even more obvious when we consider the contents of Ref. 192 in the report (bold text is my emphasis):

192 Classified intelligence report (Oct. 2001); Classified intelligence report (Feb. 2002) ; Classified intelligence report (March 2002). There was additional reporting that Iraq was seeking to procure uranium from Africa, but this reporting was not considered reliable by most analysts at the time, and it was subsequently judged not credible and recalled. Interview with CIA WINPAC nuclear analysts (Aug. 11, 2004); CIA, Memorandum for the DCI, In Response to Your Questions for Our Current Assessment and Additional Details on Iraq's Alleged Pursuits of Uranium From Abroad (June 17, 2003) at p. 2. For example, separate reporting indicated Iraq had offered weapons to a country in exchange for uranium. Classified intelligence report (April 1999). There were two human intelligence reports in March-April 1999 indicating that a delegation of Iraqis, Iranians, and Libyans had arrived in Somalia to discuss the possibility of extracting uranium from a Somali mine. Classified intelligence report (March 1999); Classified intelligence report (April 1999). Another report indicated further Iraqi involvement with a uranium purchase. Classified intelligence report (April 2002); see also SSCI at p. 47 n. 6; CIA, Memorandum for the DCI, In Response to Your Questions for Our Current Assessment and Additional Details on Iraq's Alleged Pursuits of Uranium From Abroad (June 17, 2003) at p. 2....

In other words, consistent with the information in the Senate (SSCI) Report, the Robb-Silberman Report made it very obvious that the uranium from Africa claim in the 2003 SOTU was based on Niger alone.


6. Cheney continued to lie as well

Think Progress adds this:

On September 14, 2003, Vice President Dick Cheney appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press to discuss the faulty pre-war evidence on Iraq. Here was Cheney’s response on the question of whether Iraq was trying to acquire uranium:

I guess the intriguing thing, Tim, on the whole thing, this question of whether or not the Iraqis were trying to acquire uranium in Africa. …. I don’t know what the truth is on the ground with respect to that. [Meet the Press, 9/14/03]

Today, Murray Waas, writing in the National Journal, reveals Cheney’s false pretense. Three months before he appeared on Meet the Press, Cheney and his chief of staff Scooter Libby were personally presented a memo by CIA Director George Tenet that debunked the uranium acquisition theory:

CIA analysts wrote then-CIA Director George Tenet in a highly classified memo on June 17, 2003, “We no longer believe there is sufficient” credible information to “conclude that Iraq pursued uranium from abroad.” The memo was titled: “In Response to Your Questions for Our Current Assessment and Additional Details on Iraq’s Alleged Pursuits of Uranium From Abroad.”

So, three months after receiving a memo from the CIA informing him Iraq was not purchasing uranium, Cheney went before a national televised audience and refused to tell the truth about what he knew. All this coming from a man who said, “The suggestion that’s been made by some U.S. senators that the President of the United States or any member of this administration purposely misled the American people on pre-war intelligence is one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges ever aired in this city.


7. Conclusion

In a nutshell, multiple aspects of what I had reported last year were confirmed by Waas' story and he adds the important additional piece of information regarding the CIA having informed Libby and Cheney in June 2003 about their recall of the uranium from Africa claim.

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