The "Scooter" Libby Trial and Uranium from Africa, Part 1: Bush to Blair - I'll Scratch Your Back Since You Scratched Mine
[Preface: In the past week, in the midst of her incredible live-blogging effort at FDL, Emptywheel also took some time to send me links to some of the documents from the trial proceedings that have been helpfully made public by Libby's legal firm. This post is the first of many where I will offer some observations and analysis on some of these documents. Cross-posted at Firedoglake.]
One of the declassified documents (DX63) released last week by Libby's legal team is a March 11, 2003 SPWR ("Senior Publish When Ready") prepared by WINPAC (Weapons Intelligence, Non-Proliferation and Arms Control Center - a White House friendly division within the CIA's Directorate of Intelligence). I noticed a short sentence in this SPWR which is a great example to illustrate a very important and under-reported aspect of the uranium from Africa scandal. In fact, this is an issue that is a natural outcome of our general emphasis on U.S.-centric news consumption and analysis - something that carries a risk that we will miss important cues about how we are being manipulated globally by the current Government and its "allies". (NOTE: All emphasis in quoted portions in this post is mine, unless otherwise stated.)
You may recall that a British Parliamentary Committee led by "Lord" Butler put out a blatantly shoddy and fraudulent summary in 2004 (covered in detail here) that was aimed at exonerating the Blair Administration for its uranium from Africa allegation in the infamous British White Paper released on September 24, 2002. The Butler report then became the foundation for the Bush White House and its propagandists to assert, falsely, that the British claim was "credible" and that Bush was therefore justified in citing it in his January 2003 State of the Union.
One of the most infamous lies in the Butler report was this sentence:
497. In preparing the [September 2002 British] dossier, the UK consulted the US. The CIA advised caution about any suggestion that Iraq had succeeded in acquiring uranium from Africa, but agreed that there was evidence that it had been sought. [page 123]
I explained in detail previously why the latter claim was an egregious lie. For example, about a year prior to the Butler report, George Tenet's July 2003 statement in the aftermath of the Joseph Wilson op-ed said:
Also in the fall of 2002, our British colleagues told us they were planning to publish an unclassified dossier that mentioned reports of Iraqi attempts to obtain uranium in Africa. Because we viewed the reporting on such acquisition attempts to be inconclusive, we expressed reservations about its inclusion but our colleagues said they were confident in their reports and left it in their document.
In other words, in July 2003, Tenet stated unequivocally that the CIA had expressed reservations to the U.K. in September 2002 about including any claim in their dossier that Iraq had sought uranium from Africa, let alone Iraq having purchased uranium from Africa. Yet, in July 2004, the Butler report flat out lied about this fact.
Now, this is where it gets very interesting.
As you may recall, in the aftermath of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's NYT op-ed the Bush administration was forced to withdraw Bush's SOTU uranium claim. However, that turned out to be a temporary PR disaster for the White House (leading, among other things, to the Bush White House outing the identity of an undercover CIA operative named Valerie Plame). One of the ways in which the Bush administration recovered from the firestorm was by relying on the British Government for cover. Indeed, Blair and MI6 continued to falsely insist (pretend) that the "sought uranium" claim in their White Paper was credible and that it was based on evidence that they could not reveal. As I said in October 2005:
Partly, this was to save face because their White Paper had already made the uranium from Africa claim; but it is also quite likely that they stuck by their claim to provide the last bit of support to Bush in the aftermath of Joseph Wilson's op-ed and the Bush administration's retraction of the SOTU uranium claim in July 2003, shortly before the expose of Valerie Plame's CIA identity.
In other words, Blair decided he needed to save his skin and scratch Bush's back to help Bush in his PR battle in the US against Ambassador Wilson.
So, what happened after Tenet's statement was published? Even though Tenet's public statement was made in July 2003, the Phase I SSCI report that came out in 2004 made it very difficult to figure out what the CIA really told the British about the uranium claim in the British White Paper. For instance:
1. Virtually the entire section of the SSCI Report discussing the British White Paper was redacted/classified.
2. The fact that the CIA specifically expressed concerns to the British even on the very first draft of the British White Paper on 9/11/02 was not publicized in the SSCI report.
3. The fact that the British claim that Iraq sought uranium was actually based entirely on false intelligence which claimed that Iraq had purchased uranium (yes!) was not revealed in the SSCI report or in the Butler report.
4. In the SSCI report's discussion of the CIA's testimony to Congress and the CIA's overtures to the White House/NSC in October 2002, mostly phrases like "stretched a little bit beyond", "reached a little bit", "question about some of those attempts", and "exaggerated" were cited as descriptors for the British allegation, rather than calling it out for what it really was - fraudulent horse manure. (There was one occasion where the DDCI is quoted as saying "...we don't think [the claims] are very credible...")
5. The fact that the British Government was contacted sometime in early 2003 prior to Colin Powell's UN speech to discuss the credibility of the uranium claim and that Powell dropped the claim due to the lack of credibility ("veracity") of the allegation despite the discussions with the British was not revealed in the declassified portions of the SSCI report. (Yet months later, even after the Wilson op-ed, Bush administration officials continued to imply or assert that the British allegation was standing the test of time).
6. The SSCI Report featured a convenient story from the WINPAC Director about the reason why the CIA expressed reservations to the British about the inclusion of the uranium claim in the British White Paper. The WINPAC Director claimed to the SSCI that it was due to concerns about "sources and methods" and that it was not because of any concerns about the credibility of the reporting, contradicting #4 above [pages 64-66].
7. The content of a WINPAC SPWR (Senior Publish When Ready) dated March 11, 2003, addressed to the Secretary of Defense was redacted to hide some comments regarding the British claim:
A centerpiece of the British White Paper last fall was U.K. concern over Iraqi interest in foreign uranium. Given the fragmentary nature of the reporting [DELETED] [page 70]
As luck would have it, we now know what was redacted because one of the declassified documents that was provided to the Libby defense team was the WINPAC March 11, 2003 SPWR, which says:
A centerpiece of the British White Paper last fall was U.K. concern over Iraqi interest in foreign uranium. Given the fragmentary nature of the reporting, CIA had recommended that the UK not use this information in their paper. [page 2]
Isn't that amazing? Let me re-emphasize this for effect.
Here's what former Senate GOP Cover Up Committee Chairman Pat Roberts pulled off for Bush and Cheney in the Phase I SSCI report (with the ignorant indifference of the Senate Democrats in the Committee). Even though Tenet wrote publicly in July 2003 that:
Because we viewed the reporting on such acquisition attempts to be inconclusive, we expressed reservations [to the British] about its inclusion [in the White Paper]...
...the Phase I SSCI report released publicly in 2004 classified/deleted this portion:
CIA had recommended that the UK not use this information in their paper.
Let's momentarily set aside the fact that there was zero justification for classifying/redacting the highlighted phrase - this was a pure and simple cover-up on behalf of the British Government. The main point here is that Blair and his lackeys in the British Parliament fraudulently stood their ground on the uranium claim in the aftermath of the Joseph Wilson op-ed in July 2003, and in doing so, performed a great "service" to Bush-Cheney. Bush and Cheney responded in kind by going to extraordinary lengths to hide information pertaining to the CIA's dismissal of the validity or credibility of the British claim in the 2004 Phase I SSCI report - a "service" that Bush-Cheney lackey Pat Roberts was clearly only too willing to perform, with WINPAC's help.
All of this may seem like old news to many, but I think it is important for history to reflect the depths to which these people went to try to hide their mutual complicity in the Iraq WMD fraud.