Saturday :: Dec 20, 2008

Uranium from Africa - Alberto Gonzales Strikes Again

by eriposte

[UPDATE: I see Emptywheel has just posted on this as well]

Rep. Henry Waxman has the latest on the uranium from Africa saga - evidence that Alberto Gonzales provide false information to Congress (on behalf of Condoleezza Rice) even on that matter, at a time when he was White House Counsel. Considering Gonzales was one of the most corrupt and criminal Attorney Generals in American history this doesn't surprise me one bit, but my greater disappointment is the revelation that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) Phase 1 Report on WMD has been shown to have even more erroneous information. This means I need to correct one of my previous observations. 

The background to this issue is one of the points I had discussed in some posts previously, especially in "WMDgate: Fixing Intelligence Around Policy, Part 4A -- CIA's WINPAC and Uranium from Africa" and "WMDgate - "Hubris" and Uranium from Africa: The Odd Incident of 9/11/02". In the latter post, I discussed a passage from the book "Hubris" by Michael Isikoff and David Corn to highlight a particular event that occurred on September 11, 2002. I wrote (emphasis mine, throughout this post):

The SSCI report said:

In a written response to questions from Committee staff, the White House said that on September 11, 2002, National Security Council (NSC) staff contacted the CIA to clear language for possible use in a statement for use by the President. The language cleared by the CIA said, "Iraq has made several attempts to buy high strength aluminum tubes used in centrifuges to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons. And we also know this: within the past few years, Iraq has resumed efforts to obtain large quantities of a type of uranium oxide known as yellowcake, which is an essential ingredient of this process. The regime was caught trying to purchase 500 metric tons of this material. It takes about 10 tons to produce enough enriched uranium for a single nuclear weapon." The text was identical to the text proposed by the White House except that the CIA had suggested adding "up to" before 500 metric tons. The President never used the approved language publicly. [page 49]

In a detailed post in late 2005, I discussed this incident in the context of the CIA's known actions on the uranium from Africa matter. However, at the time, I did not really address what to me was the rather odd sentence at the end of the above passage:

The President never used the approved language publicly.

A literal reading of the SSCI report would indicate that the NSC/WH decided against using the uranium claim in Bush's Sep 2002 UN speech despite "CIA" approval on 9/11/02 - a claim that the WH/NSC specifically wanted to use in Bush's speech and one which they reached out to the "CIA" to get approval for. Does that sound believable?


Yet, per the SSCI report's rendering of the events, a White House/NSC that was hell-bent on using the false Niger claim even when the CIA and other agencies repeatedly asked them not to use it, seemingly decided on 9/11/02 to not use the claim despite "CIA" approval! Too good to be true? Sadly, yes.

Some of you may recall that in my Dec 2005 post, I mentioned that the unclassified portion of the SSCI report had completely left out the fact that on the very same day - 9/11/02 - the CIA had communicated some concerns about the credibility of the British uranium claim - back to the U.K. Which naturally raises the question - since the CIA communicated their concerns to the U.K. on 9/11/02 regarding the uranium allegation, is it not possible that they might have also communicated concerns to the NSC/WH on the same day - a communication that the SSCI report did not mention (for whatever reason)? [...]

As I pointed out then:

According to Hubris, that is exactly what happened (although the authors don't discuss the SSCI report's omission):

Go ahead, the CIA replied, suggesting that the words "up to" be placed before "500 metric tons." That day, [NSC aide Robert] Joseph and [White House speechwriter John] Gibson conferred several times about how to insert the yellowcake charge into the UN speech. Joseph even faxed to Gibson the language that had been cleared by the CIA. But, at the end of the day, the CIA wasn't comfortable with Bush issuing this allegation in public. The information had come from a single foreign source. It had not been confirmed. It was not solid enough for a presidential speech. The CIA wanted it out. Strike it, Joseph said, and Gibson did. [page 86]

In other words, it wasn't out of the goodness of Gibson's or Joseph's or Hadley's or Bush's heart that the Niger claim was left out of Bush's Sep 2002 UN speech.

This is one of the two incidents at the heart of Rep. Waxman's latest letter. According to him:

On January 6, 2004, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales sent a letter on behalf of Condoleezza Rice, who was then the National Security Advisor, to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, writing that "Dr. Rice has asked me to respond" to questions raised by the Committee about the uranium claim. Mr. Gonzales informed the Committee that the CIA "orally cleared" the uranium claim "for use by the President" in both a September 12, 2002, speech to the United Nations and a September 26, 2002, speech in the White House Rose Garden.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence relied on these representations and adopted the White House's statements almost verbatim in its 2004 Report on the U.S. Intelligence Community's Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq. As a result, the Senate report created the impression that the President's use of the uranium claim in the State of the Union address could be blamed in large part on the CIA and its clearance of the claim in the earlier speeches.

The information the Oversight Committee has received casts serious doubt on the veracity of the representations that Mr. Gonzales made on behalf of Dr. Rice. Contrary to Mr. Gonzales's assertions, the Committee has received evidence that the CIA objected to the uranium claim in both speeches, resulting in its deletion from the President's remarks. In the case of the September 26,2002, speech, the former Deputy Director of Intelligence at the CIA told the Committee that she personally warned Dr. Rice not to use the uranium claim. 

Waxman explains further:

During an interview with the Committee, John Gibson, who served as Director of Speechwriting for Foreign Policy at the National Security Council (NSC), stated that he tried to insert the uranium claim into this speech at the request of Michael Gerson, chief White House speechwriter, and Robert Joseph, the Senior Director for Proliferation Strategy, Counterproliferation, and Homeland Defense at the NSC. According to Mr. Gibson, the CIA rejected the uranium claim because it was "not sufficiently reliable to include it in the speech." Mr. Gibson stated that the CIA "didn't give that blessing," the "CIA was not willing to clear that language," and "[a]t the end of the day, they did not clear it."

On September 26, 2002, President Bush delivered remarks in the White House Rose Garden urging Congress to authorize the use of force in lraq. During an interview with the Committee, Jami Miscik, the Deputy Director of Intelligence at the CIA, stated that NSC officials "wouldn't take [the uranium claim] out of the speech." As a result, she was asked to explain directly to Dr. Rice "the reasons why we didn't think this was credible." Ms. Miscik stated that "[i]t was clear that we had problems or we at the most fundamental level wouldn't have been having the phone call at all." According to Ms. Miscik, the CIA's reasons for rejecting the uranium claim "had been conveyed to the NSC counterparts" before the call, and Dr. Rice was "getting on the phone call with that information." Ms. Miscik told Dr. Rice personally that the CIA was "recommending that it be taken out." She also said "[i]t turned out to be a relatively short phone call" because "we both knew what the issues were and therefore were able to get to a very easy resolution of it."

During his interview with the Committee, Mr. Gibson was asked about the White House assertions that the CIA had cleared the inclusion of the uranium claim. He stated that the White House assertions were "incorrect." He told the Committee that "the CIA had never cleared" the use of the uranium claim. During her interview with the Committee, Ms. Miscik made the same point, stating that the White House assertions were "not accurate" and "misleading." She explained further: "We had not cleared on this speech until the discussion that Dr. Rice and I had."

Unfortunately, Dr. Rice resisted efforts by the Committee to obtain her testimony about these matters. [...]

There's a lot more detail in Rep. Waxman's letter.

I would like to add one point. I had previously proposed that if the WH/NSC had in fact gotten approval from the "CIA", the best explanation for that - based on other incidents - is that some individual(s) in CIA's WINPAC division were behind those approvals. Based on this letter from Rep. Waxman, it appears that those individuals in WINPAC did not play a role in approving the uranium claim for the Sep 12 , 2002 and Sep 26, 2002 speeches, even though they did damage on other occasions.

eriposte :: 8:50 AM :: Comments (2) :: Digg It!