Thursday :: Mar 30, 2006

Bush Knew Aluminum Tubes Story Was Suspect Well Before 2003 SOTU - Rove Wanted Story Buried Until After 2004 Election


by Steve

Murray Waas has a new story in the National Journal today which reveals that not only was Bush told directly in early October 2002 that the aluminum tubes story was doubted by those in his own administration months before the 2003 SOTU, but that Karl Rove advised that this fact be buried until after the 2004 election.

Without taking anything away from Wass's work here, please note that Eriposte has already reported here at TLC that Bush was told about concerns within his own administration about the "tubes=centrifuges" assertions months ago.

Up until now, the White House damage control effort had focused on claiming that the intelligence community never fully told the White House that the Niger uranium claims were suspect, a defense that James Risen in his book “State of War” tends to support. The administration has tried to steer attention away from the second half of the claim about Saddam’s alleged nuclear program ambitions: his pursuit and purchase of aluminum tubes that were supposedly for centrifuges. According to Waas, Bush was told months prior to the January 28, 2003 SOTU that his own intelligence community had significant doubts about the tubes being for centrifuges. Waas goes on to report that former administration officials now confirm that Condi’s former Number Two Stephen Hadley conducted an informal review of classified government records during the summer of 2003, which determined that Bush was specifically told that the aluminum tubes story might not be true. After Hadley presented his review inside the White House, Karl Rove cautioned senior aides that Bush’s reelection was jeopardized if the information came out that Bush was warned this his own administration had doubts on the tubes story prior to the SOTU.

Eriposte has previously reported in detail that Bush was warned of the IAEA’s doubts about the tubes story in advance of the 2003 SOTU, as well as being told about concerns expressed from within.

The White House was largely successful in defusing the Niger controversy because there was no evidence that Bush was aware that his claims about the uranium were based on faulty intelligence. Then-CIA Director George Tenet swiftly and publicly took the blame for the entire episode, saying that he and the CIA were at fault for not warning Bush and his aides that the information might be untrue.
But Hadley and other administration officials realized that it would be much more difficult to shield Bush from criticism for his statements regarding the aluminum tubes, for several reasons.
For one, Hadley's review concluded that Bush had been directly and repeatedly apprised of the deep rift within the intelligence community over whether Iraq wanted the high-strength aluminum tubes for a nuclear weapons program or for conventional weapons.
For another, the president and others in the administration had cited the aluminum tubes as the most compelling evidence that Saddam was determined to build a nuclear weapon -- even more than the allegations that he was attempting to purchase uranium.
And finally, full disclosure of the internal dissent over the importance of the tubes would have almost certainly raised broader questions about the administration's conduct in the months leading up to war.
"Presidential knowledge was the ball game," says a former senior government official outside the White House who was personally familiar with the damage-control effort. "The mission was to insulate the president. It was about making it appear that he wasn't in the know. You could do that on Niger. You couldn't do that with the tubes." A Republican political appointee involved in the process, who thought the Bush administration had a constitutional obligation to be more open with Congress, said: "This was about getting past the election."
The pre-election damage-control effort in response to Wilson's allegations and the broader issue of whether the Bush administration might have misrepresented intelligence information to make the case for war had three major components, according to government records and interviews with current and former officials: blame the CIA for the use of the Niger information in the president's State of the Union address; discredit and undermine Wilson; and make sure that the public did not learn that the president had been personally warned that the intelligence assessments he was citing about the aluminum tubes might be wrong.
Most troublesome to those leading the damage-control effort was documentary evidence -- albeit in highly classified government records that they might be able to keep secret -- that the president had been advised that many in the intelligence community believed that the tubes were meant for conventional weapons.
The one-page documents known as the "President's Summary" are distilled from the much lengthier National Intelligence Estimates, which combine the analysis of as many as six intelligence agencies regarding major national security issues. Bush's knowledge of the State and Energy departments' dissent over the tubes was disclosed in a March 4, 2006, National Journal story -- more than three years after the intelligence assessment was provided to the president, and some 16 months after the 2004 presidential election.
The President's Summary was only one of several high-level warnings given to Bush and other senior administration officials that serious doubts existed about the intended use of the tubes, according to government records and interviews with former and current officials.
In mid-September 2002, two weeks before Bush received the October 2002 President's Summary, Tenet informed him that both State and Energy had doubts about the aluminum tubes and that even some within the CIA weren't certain that the tubes were meant for nuclear weapons, according to government records and interviews with two former senior officials.
Official records and interviews with current and former officials also reveal that the president was told that even then-Secretary of State Colin Powell had doubts that the tubes might be used for nuclear weapons.
When U.S. inspectors entered Iraq after the fall of Saddam's regime, they determined that Iraq's nuclear program had been dormant for more than a decade and that the aluminum tubes had been used only for conventional weapons.
In the end, the White House's damage control was largely successful, because the public did not learn until after the 2004 elections the full extent of the president's knowledge that the assessment linking the aluminum tubes to a nuclear weapons program might not be true. The most crucial information was kept under wraps until long after Bush's re-election.

I have said it before, and I will say it again: Democrats need to focus on Bush’s declaration to Congress and show that Bush knowingly lied to Congress to start the war in March 2003.

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