Thursday :: Apr 6, 2006

Treasongate: Libby and the NIE "key judgements"


by eriposte

UPDATE 2 (4/13/06): Fitzgerald posted a correction to his brief saying that Libby did not actually claim that the uranium allegation was part of the NIE's key judgements. Accordingly, I retract my charge that Libby et al. misrepresented the key judgements. However, click here for my discussion of the implications of Fitzgerald's correction.

UPDATE: See a clarification posted at the bottom of this post.

Josh Gerstein of The New York Sun (h/t Mary) has an article out that claims:

A former White House aide under indictment for obstructing a leak probe, I. Lewis Libby, testified to a grand jury that he gave information from a closely-guarded "National Intelligence Estimate" on Iraq to a New York Times reporter in 2003 with the specific permission of President Bush, according to a new court filing from the special prosecutor in the case.
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"Defendant testified that he was specifically authorized in advance of the meeting to disclose the key judgments of the classified NIE to Miller on that occasion because it was thought that the NIE was ‘pretty definitive' against what Ambassador Wilson had said and that the vice president thought that it was ‘very important' for the key judgments of the NIE to come out," Mr. Fitzgerald wrote.

Gerstein actually provides a link (PDF) to Patrick Fitzgerald's filing. Follow me over the flip to see why Libby's testimony is extremely odd.

I read the portion of Fitzgerald's filing that discusses this. Here is what it says in full (emphasis mine):

[Page 23]

As to the meeting on July 8, defendant testified that he was specifically authorized in advance of the meeting to disclose the key judgments of the classified NIE to Miller on that occasion because it was thought that the NIE was “pretty definitive” against what Ambassador Wilson had said and that the Vice President thought that it was “very important” for the key judgments of the NIE to come out. Defendant further testified that he at first advised the Vice President that he could not have this conversation with reporter Miller because of the classified nature of the NIE. Defendant testified that the Vice President later advised him that the President had authorized defendant to disclose the relevant portions of the NIE. Defendant testified that he also spoke to David Addington, then Counsel to the Vice President, whom defendant considered to be an expert in national security law, and Mr. Addington opined that Presidential authorization to publicly disclose a document amounted to a declassification of the document.

Defendant testified that he thought he brought a brief abstract of the NIE’s key judgments to the meeting with Miller on July 8. Defendant understood that he was to tell Miller, among other things, that a key judgment of the NIE held that Iraq was “vigorously trying to procure” uranium. Defendant testified that this July 8th meeting was the only time he recalled in his government experience when he disclosed a document to a reporter that was effectively declassified by virtue of the President’s authorization that it be disclosed. Defendant testified that one of the reasons why he met with Miller at a hotel was the fact that he was sharing this information with Miller exclusively.

Why is this so weird?

Well, because the key judgements of the NIE made no mention of the uranium from Africa claim at all! It was specifically agreed to at the IC coordination meeting on the NIE that the uranium claim should NOT be in the Key Judgments. So, releasing the Key Judgments would have actually made Wilson's case appear stronger!

I've discussed this curious issue of the Key Judgments at length before:

One of the many interesting pieces of information in the SSCI Report is this (emphasis mine):

On September 12, 2002, the DCI officially directed the National Intelligence Officer (NIO) for Strategic and Nuclear Programs to begin to draft an NIE. The National Intelligence Council (NIC) staff drew the discussion of nuclear reconstitution for the draft NIE largely from an August 2002 CIA assessment and a September 2002 DIA assessment, Iraq's Reemerging Nuclear Weapons Programs. [page 52]

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Isn't that fascinating? The August 2002 CIA assessment (drafted by NESA) did not actually mention the uranium from Africa claim at all (as I also discussed in Sec. 2.1.1); only the September 2002 DIA report did (how's that for irony, considering that the CIA was blamed for the uranium claim by the Bush administration).

The question, then, is: how did the uranium claim get into the NIE?

Here's the relevant Senate Report discussion on this (emphasis mine):

(U) At the NIE coordination meeting, the only analyst who voiced disagreement with the uranium section was an INR analyst. Several analysts from other agencies told Committee staff that they did not recall even discussing the uranium reporting at the meeting. All of the analysts said that the bulk of the time at the meeting was spent debating other issues such as the aluminum tubes, time lines for weapons designs, and procurement of magnets and other dual use items. CIA, DIA and DOE analysts all said that at the time the NIE was written, they agreed with the NIE assessment that Iraq was attempting to procure uranium from Africa. Some analysts said, in retrospect, the language should have been more qualified than it was, but they generally agreed with the text.

(U) The uranium text was included only in the body of the NIE, not in the key judgments section because the interagency consensus was that Iraq's efforts to acquire uranium were not key to the argument that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program. According to the NIO, the key judgments were drawn from a CIA paper which only highlighted the acquisition of aluminum tubes as the reason Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program. The NIO said that at the NIE coordination meeting, analysts added other reasons they believed Iraq was reconstituting, such as acquiring magnets, machine tools, and balancing machines, and reestablishing Iraq's nuclear scientists cadre. When someone, the NIO was not sure who [7 - eRiposte note: this may have been a DOE analyst per the footnote] suggested that the uranium information be included as another sign of reconstitution, the INR Iraq nuclear analyst spoke up and said that he did not agree with the uranium reporting and that INR would be including text indicating their disagreement in their footnote on nuclear reconstitution. The NIO said he did not recall anyone else at the coordination meeting who disagreed with the uranium text, but also did not recall anyone really supporting including the uranium issue as part of the judgment that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program, so he suggested that the uranium information did not need to part of the key judgments. He told Committee staff he suggested that "We'll leave it in the paper for completeness. Nobody can say we didn't connect the dots. But we don't have to put that dot in the key judgments."

(U) Because INR disagreed with much of the nuclear section of the NIE, it decided to convey its alternative views in text boxes, rather than object to every point throughout the NIE. INR prepared two separate boxes, one for the key judgments section and a two page box for the body of the nuclear section, which included a sentence which stated that "the claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa are, in INR's assessment, highly dubious." [page 52-53]

Let's repeat the key portion of the SSCI report:

The NIO said he did not recall anyone else at the coordination meeting who disagreed with the uranium text, but also did not recall anyone really supporting including the uranium issue as part of the judgment that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program, so he suggested that the uranium information did not need to part of the key judgments. He told Committee staff he suggested that "We'll leave it in the paper for completeness. Nobody can say we didn't connect the dots. But we don't have to put that dot in the key judgments."

What's more, as I pointed out before:

3.2.2 Post-NIE backtracking and CIA White Paper

However, immediately after the NIE was released, senior CIA officials started to dramatically backtrack from the uranium claim:

(U) On October 2, 2002, the Deputy DCI testified before the SSCI. Senator Jon Kyl asked the Deputy DCI whether he had read the British white paper and whether he disagreed with anything in the report. The Deputy DCI testified that "the one thing where I think they stretched a little bit beyond where we would stretch is on the points about Iraq seeking uranium from various African locations. We've looked at those reports and we don't think they are very credible. It doesn't diminish our conviction that he's going for nuclear weapons, but I think they reached a little bit on that one point. Otherwise I think it's very solid."

(U) On October 4, 2002, the NIO for Strategic and Nuclear Programs testified before the SSCI. When asked by Senator Fred Thompson if there was disagreement with the British white paper, the NIO said that "they put more emphasis on the uranium acquisition in Africa than we would." He added, "there is some information on attempts and, as we said, maybe not to this committee, but in the last couple of weeks, there's a question about some of those attempts because of the control of the material in those countries. In one case the mine is completely flooded and how would they get the material. For us it's more the concern that they have uranium in-country now. It's under inspection. It's under control of the IAEA - the International Atomic Energy Agency - but they only inspect it once a year." The NIO told Committee staff that he was speaking as an IC representative and was representing INR's known view on the issue. He said at the time of his remarks, he did not believe that the CIA had any problem with the credibility of the reporting, but said the CIA may have believed that the uranium information should not be included in an unclassified white paper.

(U) Also, on October 4, 2002, CIA published an unclassified White Paper, Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs. The NIO for NESA started work on the white paper in the spring of 2002, well before efforts began on the classified NIE. A CIA NESA analyst drafted the body of the White Paper and did not include text on Iraqi attempts to acquire uranium from Africa. [page 54-55]

So, immediately after the NIE was released, the CIA started to seriously backtrack and dismiss the uranium claim as not credible. The CIA's unclassified White Paper (which was actually a truncated version of the Key Judgements section of the classified NIE) that was released *after* the NIE was released, did not mention the uranium from Africa claim. This is important to note because even if the CIA did not want to reveal "sources and methods" (as was incredulously claimed by the WINPAC Director as the reason why he wanted the claim removed from the Bush 2003 SOTU - see Sec. 3.2.5 below) they could easily have introduced a simple, general statement that Saddam Hussein was seeking uranium from Africa, in the NIE Key Judgements and the White Paper (just like the British did in their own declassified White Paper released prior to the NIE). That would not have revealed sources or methods. Yet they chose not to do so - because the claim was not based on credible or reliable intelligence.

Let me repeat my comments for emphasis:

So, immediately after the NIE was released, the CIA started to seriously backtrack and dismiss the uranium claim as not credible. The CIA's unclassified White Paper (which was actually a truncated version of the Key Judgements section of the classified NIE) that was released *after* the NIE was released, did not mention the uranium from Africa claim. This is important to note because even if the CIA did not want to reveal "sources and methods" (as was incredulously claimed by the WINPAC Director as the reason why he wanted the claim removed from the Bush 2003 SOTU - see Sec. 3.2.5 below) they could easily have introduced a simple, general statement that Saddam Hussein was seeking uranium from Africa, in the NIE Key Judgements and the White Paper (just like the British did in their own declassified White Paper released prior to the NIE). That would not have revealed sources or methods. Yet they chose not to do so - because the claim was not based on credible or reliable intelligence.

So, the uranium from Africa claim was in the body of the NIE but it was rebutted by INR in a text box in the Annex. See this PDF file which has the key judgments along with the text in the body of the NIE (on the uranium claim) and the INR rebuttal. What I wonder though is whether the Bush administration made it appear as if the text in the body of the NIE was part of the key judgments. (Now that I look more carefully at the PDF file, I wonder if that was really what happened). Enterprising reporters may want to take a look.

CLARIFICATION

Someone wrote asking whether this is really a new development. Namely, didn't we know Libby already tried to mislead Miller by claiming that the classified version was scarier than the unclassified version of the NIE?

Let me answer this by saying that what I've indicated above is indeed a new development. Here's why.

There are two documents to consider here.

I. Classified NIE

II. Unclassified White Paper which was based on the Key Judgments of the classified NIE, with all IC caveats deliberately removed

The Classified NIE (I) had three relevant sections we need to be aware of:

IA - The Key Judgments: This had NO mention of the uranium claim - as I've discussed above - because the IC specifically decided to exclude the claim from the key judgments.

IB - The Body of the NIE: The body mentioned the uranium claim but here’s a very important part that very few people are likely aware of. The uranium claim in the body of the NIE did not originate from a CIA Report! As I've briefly mentioned above (and have discussed in detail previously) it appears to have been added to the NIE from a Sep 2002 DIA Report - and possibly because of support from a WINPAC stovepipe. The only CIA report that was used to generate the NIE was one from August 2002 and that report, by CIA NESA, had already dropped the uranium claim (I won’t go into the details of that here but I have previously discussed why that likely happened. It is no wonder that the day after the NIE came out, the CIA started to try and eliminate the uranium claim again and again.)

IC - The Annex with one of the two INR text boxes: The Annex had the INR rebuttal which said, among other things, that the uranium claim was dubious.

So, as you can see, although the unclassified white paper did not contain the uranium claim, the key judgments of the classified NIE did not include the claim either.

So, when Libby was trying to mislead Judith Miller into believing that the classified document strongly supported the uranium claim unlike the unclassified white paper, he was misleading her by referring to the BODY of the NIE without mentioning the INR dissent in the ANNEX of the NIE. What we've learnt today is that Libby, Cheney and Bush appear to have been trying to mislead reporters by claiming that what was really in the BODY of the NIE (and which was rebutted in the ANNEX and which was NOT part of the NIE's key judgments), was somehow part of the key judgments.

If Libby had actually passed on the key judgments of the NIE to Miller, Miller would have discovered that it had NO mention of the uranium claim. So, it appears that Libby, Bush and Cheney tried to deliberately misrepresent the NIE to reporters by claiming that the uranium claim was part of the NIE's key judgments (even though it was not) and then tried to leak the contents from the body of the NIE (minus the annex) to make it appear as if the NIE made a strong case against Joseph Wilson's claims.

NOTE added on 4/13/06: I came across this misleading claim in the NRO:

True, this sentence wasn't in the "key judgments" section. But this was:

Although we assess that Saddam does not yet have nuclear weapons or sufficient material to make any, he remains intent on acquiring them.

The portion in bold was obviously written to discuss Saddam's intent to acquire nuclear weapons and not to convey that he was seeking uranium from Africa. If you read the SSCI Report or George Tenet's statement on 7/11/03, it is obvious that the mention of Saddam seeking uranium was deliberately left out of the key judgements because there were questions about the credibility of that claim. Further, the key judgements also had a major dissent from State/INR completely questioning/challenging the nuclear weapons/reconstitution claim.

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