Uranium from Africa: Patrick Fitzgerald's correction
Via Georgia10, the Washington Post has printed a correction from Patrick Fitzgerald that is important (emphasis mine):
The federal prosecutor overseeing the indictment of Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, yesterday corrected a claim in an earlier court filing that Libby had misrepresented the significance placed by the CIA on allegations that Iraq attempted to buy uranium from Niger.
Last week, Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald wrote that, in conversation with former New York Times reporter Judith Miller, Libby described the uranium story as a "key judgment" of the CIA's 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, a term of art indicating there was consensus within the intelligence community on that issue. In fact, the alleged effort to buy uranium was not among the estimate's key judgments and was listed further back in the 96-page, classified document.
In a letter to U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton, Fitzgerald wrote yesterday that he wanted to "correct" the sentence that dealt with the issue in a filing he submitted last Wednesday. That sentence said Libby "was to tell Miller, among other things, that a key judgment of the NIE held that Iraq was 'vigorously trying to procure' uranium."
Instead, the sentence should have conveyed that Libby was to tell Miller some of the key judgments of the NIE "and that the NIE stated that Iraq was 'vigorously trying to procure' uranium."
Let me first say that based on this acknowledged error by Fitzgerald, I hereby retract my earlier criticism of Libby, Bush and Cheney for allegedly portraying the uranium claim as having been part of the key judgements.
That said, this revelation is strange and actually worse for Libby's case. Why?
(1) If Libby merely told Miller some of the "key judgements" in support of the Bush administration's claims, then he would have only been revealing what was already in the unclassified White Paper. After all, the unclassified White Paper was nothing but the Key Judgements of the classified NIE with all the IC caveats and challenges deleted - deliberately. Which means that if Libby was not actually declassifying the Key Judgements of the classified NIE (or leaking the entire contents of the unclassified Key Judgements of the NIE), then the portions highlighted in bold (below) in the classified NIE key judgements are the key pieces of information that would have remained hidden from reporters in the context of any discussion on Saddam's alleged nuclear capabilities:
We judge that Iraq has continued its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs in defiance of UN resolutions and restrictions. Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons as well as missiles with ranges in excess of UN restrictions; if left unchecked, it probably will have a nuclear weapon during this decade. (See INR alternative view at the end of these Key Judgments.)
Most agencies believe that Saddam’s personal interest in and Iraq’s aggressive attempts to obtain high-strength aluminum tubes for centrifuge rotors—as well as Iraq’s attempts to acquire magnets, high-speed balancing machines, and machine tools—provide compelling evidence that Saddam is reconstituting a uranium enrichment effort for Baghdad’s nuclear weapons program. (DOE [Department of Energy] agrees that reconstitution of the nuclear program is underway but assesses that the tubes probably are not part of the program.)
State/INR Alternative View of Iraq’s Nuclear Program
The Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research (INR) believes that Saddam continues to want nuclear weapons and that available evidence indicates that Baghdad is pursuing at least a limited effort to maintain and acquire nuclear weapon-related capabilities. The activities we have detected do not, however, add up to a compelling case that Iraq is currently pursuing what INR would consider to be an integrated and comprehensive approach to acquire nuclear weapons. Iraq may be doing so, but INR considers the available evidence inadequate to support such a judgment. Lacking persuasive evidence that Baghdad has launched a coherent effort to reconstitute its nuclear weapons program, INR is unwilling to speculate that such an effort began soon after the departure of UN inspectors or to project a timeline for the completion of activities it does not now see happening. As a result, INR is unable to predict when Iraq could acquire a nuclear device or weapon.
In INR’s view Iraq’s efforts to acquire aluminum tubes is central to the argument that Baghdad is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program, but INR is not persuaded that the tubes in question are intended for use as centrifuge rotors. INR accepts the judgment of technical experts at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) who have concluded that the tubes Iraq seeks to acquire are poorly suited for use in gas centrifuges to be used for uranium enrichment and finds unpersuasive the arguments advanced by others to make the case that they are intended for that purpose. INR considers it far more likely that the tubes are intended for another purpose, most likely the production of artillery rockets. The very large quantities being sought, the way the tubes were tested by the Iraqis, and the atypical lack of attention to operational security in the procurement efforts are among the factors, in addition to the DOE assessment, that lead INR to conclude that the tubes are not intended for use in Iraq’s nuclear weapon program.
So, if Libby, Cheney and Bush were leaking or declassifying the entirety of the NIE Key Judgements, then the truth about the major challenges to Bush's SOTU claim on nuclear reconstitution would have been revealed. If they were not declassifying or leaking the entirety of the NIE Key Judgements, then that would be proof that they were trying to hide all the information that showed the Bush administration in poor light.
2) The Key Judgements did not have the uranium claim anyway - so if Libby was out there to discuss the uranium claim with Miller - why would he be reinforcing some of the key judgements when those did not mention the uranium claim? Perhaps, he was trying to change the topic to talk about the "other" evidence for "nuclear constitution"...but in this case, just using the key judgements of his liking without revealing the State/INR dissent that was very much embedded inside the classified key judgements would have been a deliberate attempt to continue to mislead the public and the press.
3) Further, if Libby was peddling the uranium claim from the body of the NIE without mentioning that INR rebutted that claim in another portion of the NIE, then that would have also been an attempt to mislead.
At this point, we should ask the White House to clearly state what it was that Libby was asked to leak. This new revelation by Fitzgerald doesn't help Libby or the White House.
(I'll probably have more on this later - but those are some quick thoughts.)