“So in the fall of 2002, before going to war, we had it on good authority from a source within Saddam’s inner circle that he didn’t have an active program for weapons of mass destruction?” [60 Minutes Correspondent Ed] Bradley asked.
“Yes,” [Top Europe Officer for the CIA Tyler] Drumheller replied. He says there was [no] doubt in his mind at all.
“It directly contradicts, though, what the president and his staff were telling us,” Bradley remarked.
“The policy was set,” Drumheller says. “The war in Iraq was coming. And they were looking for intelligence to fit into the policy, to justify the policy.”
Well at least the intelligence wasn’t “fixed around the policy,” they were simply looking for intelligence that “fit into the policy!”
What has always amazed me about this administration are its thin attempts to avoid uncomfortable truths. They will lie and distort through rhetorical slight-of-hand, bait and switch if you will. But as a critical thinker, I tend to think. I check what you say with the facts as I know them. If there is dissonance, then something is wrong. None of the facts here are in dispute (although I’m sure The Weekly Standard will no doubt cook something up). So yet again, this administration is caught in yet another lie or at least a strong attempt at misdirection.
Specifically, the issue here isn’t that the intelligence was faulty but that it was misused as a justification for war. It was known to the Bush administration and the intelligence community that this information had credibility problems because the community had made this clear by phone, fax, and formal report before the infamous State of the Union speech and certainly before going to war.
The Washington Post recently reported that in early January 2003, the National Intelligence Council, which oversees all U.S. intelligence agencies, did a final assessment of the uranium rumor and submitted a report to the White House. Their conclusion: The story was baseless. That might have been the end of the Niger uranium story.
But it wasn’t. Just weeks later, the president laid out his reasons for going to war in the State of the Union Address — and there it was again.
“The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa,” the president said.
“I didn’t even remember all the details of it because it was such a low-level, unimportant thing. But once it was in that State of the Union address, it became huge,” says Drumheller.
“So, let me see if I have it correctly. The United States gets a report that Saddam is trying to buy uranium from Africa. But you and many others in our intelligence community quickly knock it down. And then the uranium story is removed from the speech that the President is to give in Cincinnati. Because the head of the CIA, George Tenet, doesn’t believe in it?” Bradley asked.
“Right,” Drumheller appeared.
It then appeared in the State of the Union address as a British report. Drumheller, who oversaw intelligence operations for the CIA in Europe doubts the British had something the U.S. didn’t. “No. I don’t think they did,” he says.
The British maintain they have intelligence to support the story —but to this day, they have never shared it. [I wonder why!]
The White House declined 60 Minutes’ request for an interview for this story, but Dan Bartlett, Counselor to the President, wrote us:
“The President’s convictions about Saddam Hussein’s possession of WMD were based on the collective judgment of the intelligence community at that time. Bipartisan investigations … found no evidence of political pressure to influence the pre-war intelligence assessments of Iraq’s weapons programs.” And he added: “Saddam Hussein never abandoned his plan to acquire WMD, and he posed a serious threat to the American people and to the region.”
Let me deconstruct Bartlett’s statement:
- The first sentence of the official White House response can be characterized as an outright lie or wild distortion. Either way, it defies logic that the President’s convictions (faith?) would be based on the community’s collective judgment since the NIC’s report and Tenet’s action directly contradict his conclusions. At best the President could claim a lack of conclusive judgment, Mr. Tenet’s statement and the NIC report, notwithstanding.
- Then comes the slight-of-hand about political pressure to influence intelligence which isn’t the issue here. The article said absolutely nothing about White House coercion or undue influence over the intelligence community or its officers. This is in fact the switch of unrelated information to persuade people to believe a falsehood.
- Then Mr. Bartlett follows with a plausible statement with little proof, but no rightminded individual would question.
So, it’s easy think to oneself, “No, Bush and his administration didn’t influence the intelligence product, faulty as it was, and Saddam is a lunatic. Clearly they went to war with a ‘conviction’ based on wrong information. The President didn’t lie to us; he simply made a tragic mistake.” And this is what they want most of us to think, but the facts tell us a different story.
Policy trumped the facts in the administration’s attempt to garner support for war. At the end of the day, Mr. Tenet didn’t want those infamous “16 words” in the State of the Union address because he knew they were not true. In fact, he intervened with the President’s speechwriters to remove them with a phone call and not one but two faxes. But somehow that reference was put back in. And who is responsible for that? The intelligence community or Mr. Bush? Right. Thought so. So no matter how you slice it, this administration had no business coming out with dubious reports and using them to justify war.
Incidentally, the administration once again embarrassed itself by criticizing it’s own misuse of intelligence.
Once [the Bush adminstration] learned what it was the source [Mr. Sabri] had to say — that Saddam Hussein did not have the capability to wage nuclear war or have an active WMD program, Drumheller says, “They stopped being interested in the intelligence.”
The White House declined to respond to Drumheller’s account of Naji Sabri’s role, but Secretary of State Rice has said that Sabri, the Iraqi foreign minister turned U.S. spy, was just one source, and therefore his information wasn’t reliable.
“They certainly took information that came from single sources on uranium, on the yellowcake story and on several other stories with no corroboration at all and so you can’t say you only listen to one source, because on many issues they only listened to one source,” says Drumheller.
“So you’re saying that if there was a single source and that information from that source backed up the case they were trying to build, then that single source was ok, but if it didn’t, then the single source was not ok, because he couldn’t be corroborated,” Bradley asked.
“Unfortunately, that’s what it looks like,” Drumheller replied.
This administration gives the cliché, “Truth is often stranger than fiction,” a whole new meaning.