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Friday, July 11, 2003

Tenet takes the fall--sort of:
From a quick glance at the headlines on CNN, the NY Times and the Washington Post, you'd get the impression that CIA Director George Tenet has taken full responsibility for the false claims about Iraq getting uranium from Niger that were made in Bush's State of the Union address in January. This is based on the opening paragraph of Tenet's statement:

Legitimate questions have arisen about how remarks on alleged Iraqi attempts to obtain uranium in Africa made it into the President's State of the Union speech. Let me be clear about several things right up front. First, CIA approved the President's State of the Union address before it was delivered. Second, I am responsible for the approval process in my Agency. And third, the President had every reason to believe that the text presented to him was sound. These 16 words should never have been included in the text written for the President.

But if you read the whole statement, you'll see that the CIA is only to blame in a very minor way, and that at the obvious insistence of the White House:

Although the documents related to the alleged Niger-Iraqi uranium deal had not yet been determined to be forgeries, officials who were reviewing the draft remarks on uranium raised several concerns about the fragmentary nature of the intelligence with National Security Council colleagues. Some of the language was changed. From what we know now, Agency officials in the end concurred that the text in the speech was factually correct i.e. that the British government report said that Iraq sought uranium from Africa. This should not have been the test for clearing a Presidential address. This did not rise to the level of certainty which should be required for Presidential speeches, and CIA should have ensured that it was removed.

If Bush thinks he's off the hook with this, I think he's wrong. So much of what was said in the State of the Union address and numerous other speeches was couched in similar CYA language, for example:
  • The United Nations concluded in 1999 that Saddam Hussein had biological weapons sufficient to produce over 25,000 liters of anthrax -- enough doses to kill several million people.
  • The United Nations concluded that Saddam Hussein had materials sufficient to produce more than 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin.
  • From three Iraqi defectors we know that Iraq, in the late 1990s, had several mobile biological weapons labs.
  • The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed in the 1990s that Saddam Hussein had an advanced nuclear weapons development program, had a design for a nuclear weapon and was working on five different methods of enriching uranium for a bomb.
  • Evidence from intelligence sources, secret communications, and statements by people now in custody reveal that Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of al Qaeda.
How many of these claims rise to the level of certainty which should be required for Presidential speeches? If that standard were applied, it would have been a VERY short speech. I think it's possible that if Tenet is fired that he may make these points more clearly.

One other thing that Tenet makes quite clear without saying it directly: The CIA did not put those 16 words in the speech; they merely mistakenly signed off on them. Whoever wrote those words is at least as much to blame as the CIA. He points out several times in his statement that the evidence was considered dubious and that he never used it in any of his testimony to Congress or elsewhere.