Sunday, July 13, 2003

Must Reads

Thank God this Niger Uranium story doesn't seem to be going away despite the attempts to brush it aside.

This piece in TIME Magazine does a good job of laying out the chronology of the debate over the intelligence. It also states quiet clearly that there was a good deal of White House influence involved in the push to use the intelligence.

When it got to Washington, the Iraq-Niger uranium report caught the eye of someone important: Vice President Dick Cheney. Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis Libby, told TIME that during one of his regular CIA briefings, "the Vice President asked a question about the implication of the report." Cheney's interest hardly came as a surprise: he has long been known to harbor some of the most hard-line views of Saddam's nuclear ambitions. It was not long before the agency quietly dispatched a veteran U.S. envoy named Joseph Wilson to investigate. Wilson seemed like a wise choice for the mission. He had been a U.S. ambassador to Gabon and had actually been the last American to speak with Saddam before the first Gulf War. Wilson spent eight days sleuthing in Niger, meeting with current and former government officials and businessmen; he came away convinced that the allegations were untrue. Wilson never had access to the Italian documents and never filed a written report, he told TIME. When he returned to Washington in early March, Wilson gave an oral report about his trip to both CIA and State Department officials. On March 9 of last year, the CIA circulated a memo on the yellowcake story that was sent to the White House, summarizing Wilson's assessment. Wilson was not the only official looking into the matter. Nine days earlier, the State Department's intelligence arm had sent a memo directly to Secretary of State Colin Powell that also disputed the Italian intelligence. Greg Thielmann, then a high-ranking official at State's research unit, told TIME that it was not in Niger's self-interest to sell the Iraqis the destabilizing ore. "A whole lot of things told us that the report was bogus," Thielmann said later. "This wasn't highly contested. There weren't strong advocates on the other side. It was done, shot down."

Except that it wasn't. By late summer, at the very moment that the Administration was gearing up to make its case for military mobilization, the yellowcake story took on new life. In September, Tony Blair's government issued a 50-page dossier detailing the case against Saddam, and while much of the evidence in the paper was old, it made the first public claim that Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa. At the White House, Ari Fleischer endorsed the British dossier, saying "We agree with their findings."

Officially we had the same information that the British did, only our intelligence called it into question and their's did not. So spin like this isn't going to fly.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, echoing Rice in an appearance on ABC's "This Week," said the statement was "technically correct" because Bush noted the source of the claim was Britain.

BTW: If you missed Bill Moyers interview with Jon Stewart, you can read the transcript here
Jon never fails to impress and entertain. I really wish Moyers had tried to pin him down about trying to stay a centrist when the rhetoric of the right was so militant it pretty much called moderates leftists.

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