7.27.2005

Note to Bush: Don't Cross the CIA

Today's Washington Post article on the Plame investigation is a must-read. Not only does it put the investigation in the broader context of the administration misusing intelligence during the run-up to Gulf War II, but it also confirms that the Republican talking points are patently false regarding Joe Wilson, his wife's covert status and who arranged Wilson's trip to Niger.
...special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald has asked not only about how CIA operative Valerie Plame's name was leaked but also how the administration went about shifting responsibility from the White House to the CIA for having included 16 words in the 2003 State of the Union address about Iraqi efforts to acquire uranium from Africa, an assertion that was later disputed.
...
Bush officials attacked Wilson's credibility. They said that his 2002 trip to Niger was a boondoggle arranged by his wife, but CIA officials say that is incorrect. One reason for the confusion about Plame's role is that she had arranged a trip for him to Niger three years earlier on an unrelated matter, CIA officials told The Washington Post.
...
Harlow, the former CIA spokesman, said in an interview yesterday that he testified last year before a grand jury about conversations he had with Novak at least three days before the column was published. He said he warned Novak, in the strongest terms he was permitted to use without revealing classified information, that Wilson's wife had not authorized the mission and that if he did write about it, her name should not be revealed.

Harlow said that after Novak's call, he checked Plame's status and confirmed that she was an undercover operative. He said he called Novak back to repeat that the story Novak had related to him was wrong and that Plame's name should not be used. But he did not tell Novak directly that she was undercover because that was classified.
...
Harlow was also involved in the larger internal administration battle over who would be held responsible for Bush using the disputed charge about the Iraq-Niger connection as part of the war argument. Based on the questions they have been asked, people involved in the case believe that Fitzgerald looked into this bureaucratic fight because the effort to discredit Wilson was part of the larger campaign to distance Bush from the Niger controversy.

Wilson unleashed an attack on Bush's claim on July 6, 2003, appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press," in an interview in The Post and writing his own op-ed article in the New York Times, in which he accused the president of "twisting" intelligence.

Behind the scenes, the White House responded with twin attacks: one on Wilson and the other on the CIA, which it wanted to take the blame for allowing the 16 words to remain in Bush's speech. As part of this effort, then-deputy national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley spoke with Tenet during the week about clearing up CIA responsibility for the 16 words, even though both knew the agency did not think Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger, according to a person familiar with the conversation. Tenet was interviewed by prosecutors, but it is not clear whether he appeared before the grand jury, a former CIA official said.
Note: Chuck Schumer told The Buffalo News last Friday that Tenet "was furious" about the leak and demanded an investigation, which this week we learned was delayed for two months by John Ashcroft.
On July 9, Tenet and top aides began to draft a statement over two days that ultimately said it was "a mistake" for the CIA to have permitted the 16 words about uranium to remain in Bush's speech. He said the information "did not rise to the level of certainty which should be required for presidential speeches, and the CIA should have ensured that it was removed."
And for that, presumably, Bush awarded him the medal of freedom.

The White House abused the CIA before the war, dismantling the system painstakingly constructed during the Cold War to vet intelligence and instead stovepiping raw intelligence claims to Doug Feith, Bolton, Cheney and others. They then used the faulty intelligence that they believed was true as well as faulty intelligence that they knew was faulty, to convince Americans to go to war. When the intelligence was exposed as faulty, they blamed the CIA. Which isn't to say that the CIA didn't think Saddam had some WMD, just not a reconstituted nuke program and aerial drones. And by the way, Blix and the AIEA reported that before the invasion.

So if you're worried that the partially reanimated Washington press corpse isn't reporting on the Downing Street Memo, don't. Though it would help if they'd mention that those UK memos confirm what our journalists have reported, it'll suffice if they do what Walter Pincus and Jim VandeHei have done.

UPDATE: Josh Marshall has a similar take.

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