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Context of 'July 13, 2003: New York Times Columnist Lambasts Bush’s Lack of Transparency over Iraq Admissions'

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White House speechwriters Michael Gerson, Matthew Scully, and John Gibson decide to include an allegation about the purported Iraq-Niger uranium deal in President Bush’s upcoming state of the union address. They remember that the allegation had been pulled from at least two previous speeches (see September 11, 2002, October 5, 2002, October 6, 2002, and Late September 2002), but figure that if the CIA has a problem with it, the agency will ask them to remove it. They want to include it in the speech to increase the persuasiveness of Bush’s argument. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 169] Gibson later recalls that his assumption at this time is, “Maybe we had gotten better information on it.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 171]

Entity Tags: Matthew Scully, Michael Gerson, John Gibson

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Iraqi bomb allegedly containing botulism toxin.Iraqi bomb allegedly containing botulism toxin. [Source: CIA]President Bush gives his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress, making several false allegations about Iraq. [US President, 2/3/2003] An empty seat is left open to symbolize the lives lost during the 9/11 attacks. Author Craig Unger will later characterize Bush’s delivery as somber and effective. He will be interrupted some 70 times by thunderous applause from the assembled lawmakers in the House chambers. One of his biggest applause lines is his statement about the US’s war on “international terrorism:” “The war goes on, and we are winning.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 269-270]
African Uranium - He says: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Saddam Hussein has not credibly explained these activities.… He clearly has much to hide.” [US President, 2/3/2003; White House, 4/18/2003; Independent, 6/5/2003] The British allegation cited by Bush concerns a SISMI (Italy’s military intelligence) report (see Mid-October 2001) based on a set of forged documents. Months after the speech, with evidence mounting that the statement was completely false, the administration will retract this claim (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003).
Aluminum Tubes - Bush alleges that a shipment of aluminum tubes imported by Iraq was intended to be used in the country’s alleged nuclear weapons program. “Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production. Saddam Hussein has not credibly explained these activities. He clearly has much to hide.” [US President, 2/3/2003]
Biological Agents - Bush lists a parade of agents: “anthrax, botulinum toxin, Ebola, and plague,” many of which Iraq has never been accused of possessing, and warns against “outlaw regimes that seek and possess nuclear, chemical, and builogical weapons… blackmail, terror, and mass murder.” He then moves from the general to the specific, accusing Iraq of having enough material “to produce over 25,000 liters of anthrax—enough doses to kill several million people… more than 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin—enough to subject millions of people to death by respiratory failure… as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent.” [US President, 2/3/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 270-271]
False Testimony from Iraqi Scientists - Bush alleges: “Iraqi intelligence officers are posing as the scientists inspectors are supposed to interview. Real scientists have been coached by Iraqi officials on what to say.” [US President, 2/3/2003] But Hans Blix, the chief UNMOVIC weapons inspector, tells the New York Times in an interview that he knows of no evidence supporting this claim. [New York Times, 1/31/2003]
Defector Allegations - Bush, citing intelligence provided by “three Iraqi defectors,” says, “We know that Iraq, in the late 1990s, had several mobile weapons labs… designed to produce germ warfare agents and can be moved from place to a place to evade inspectors.” One of the defectors referred to by Bush is ‘Curveball,’ whom the CIA station chief in Germany warned was not reliable the day before (see January 27, 2003). German intelligence officials watching Bush’s speech are “shocked.” One official later recalls: “Mein Gott! We had always told them it was not proven.… It was not hard intelligence.” [Los Angeles Times, 11/20/2005] Another source for the claim was Mohammad Harith, whom the Defense Intelligence Agency had labeled a “fabricator” the previous May (see May 2002).
Torture, Murder, and 9/11 - Bush accuses Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein of routinely torturing his own people, using such techniques as “electric shock, burning with hot irons, dripping acid on the skin, mutilation with electric drills, cutting out tongues, and rape.” He then connects Hussein, the torturer, murderer, and terrorist supporter, to the 9/11 attacks, saying: “[I]magine those 19 hijackers with other weapons and other plans—this time armed by Saddam Hussein. It would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known.” He invites “all free nations” to join him in ensuring no such attack ever happens, but notes that “the course of this nation does not depend on the decisions of others.” After another long burst of applause, Bush continues, “Whatever action is required, whatever action is necessary, I will defend the freedom and security of the American people.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 270-271]
'Direct Personal Threat' - Bush states what former ambassador Joseph Wilson later writes can only be interpreted by Hussein “as a direct personal threat,” saying: “Tonight I have a message for the brave and oppressed people of Iraq: Your enemy is not surrounding your country, your enemy is ruling your country. And the day he and his regime are removed from power will be the day of your liberation.” Wilson will later write: “Not simply promising the disarmament of Iraq as he had in his recent speeches, the president now stated outright his intention to rout Saddam from power, and to kill or capture him. It was an unwise thing to say. It made whatever strategy we adopted for Iraq that much more dangerous because it so blatantly telegraphed our next move and our ultimate goal.” [US President, 2/3/2003; Wilson, 2004, pp. 315]
Defending America - To America’s soldiers, he says: “Many of you are assembling in or near the Middle East, and some crucial hours lay ahead. In these hours, the success of our cause will depend on you. Your training has prepared you. Your honor will guide you. You believe in America, and America believes in you.” In 2007, Unger will write: “A few years earlier, Bush had confided that he thought to be a great president meant being a great commander in chief. Now George W. Bush was leading his nation into war.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 270-271]

Entity Tags: Hans Blix, George W. Bush, Joseph C. Wilson, ’Curveball’, Saddam Hussein, Craig Unger, Mohammad Harith

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Joseph Wilson, the former US ambassador to Gabon and a former diplomatic official in the US embassy in Iraq during the Gulf War (see September 20, 1990), writes an op-ed for the New York Times entitled “What I Didn’t Find in Africa.” Wilson went to Africa over a year ago (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and July 6, 2003) to investigate claims that the Iraqi government surreptitiously attempted to buy large amounts of uranium from Niger, purportedly for use in nuclear weapons. The claims have been extensively debunked (see February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). Wilson opens the op-ed by writing: “Did the Bush administration manipulate intelligence about Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs to justify an invasion of Iraq? Based on my experience with the administration in the months leading up to the war, I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq’s nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.” Wilson notes his extensive experience in Africa and the Middle East, and says candidly: “Those news stories about that unnamed former envoy who went to Niger? That’s me” (see May 6, 2003). He makes it very clear that he believes his findings had been “circulated to the appropriate officials within… [the] government.”
Journey to Niger - Wilson confirms that he went to Africa at the behest of the CIA, which was in turn responding to a directive from Vice President Cheney’s office. He confirms that the CIA paid his expenses during the week-long trip, and that, while overseas, “I made it abundantly clear to everyone I met that I was acting on behalf of the United States government.” About Nigerien uranium, Wilson writes: “For reasons that are understandable, the embassy staff has always kept a close eye on Niger’s uranium business. I was not surprised, then, when the ambassador [Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick] told me that she knew about the allegations of uranium sales to Iraq—and that she felt she had already debunked them in her reports to Washington” (see November 20, 2001). Wilson met with “dozens of people: current government officials, former government officials, people associated with the country’s uranium business. It did not take long to conclude that it was highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever taken place.” Wilson notes that Nigerien uranium is handled by two mines, Somair and Cominak, “which are run by French, Spanish, Japanese, German, and Nigerian interests. If the government wanted to remove uranium from a mine, it would have to notify the consortium, which in turn is strictly monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Moreover, because the two mines are closely regulated, quasi-governmental entities, selling uranium would require the approval of the minister of mines, the prime minister, and probably the president. In short, there’s simply too much oversight over too small an industry for a sale to have transpired.” Wilson told Owens-Kirkpatrick that he didn’t believe the story either, flew back to Washington, and shared his findings with CIA and State Department officials. “There was nothing secret or earth-shattering in my report,” he writes, “just as there was nothing secret about my trip.”
State of the Union Reference - Wilson believed that the entire issue was settled until September 2002, when the British government released an intelligence finding that asserted Iraq posed an immediate threat because it had attempted to purchase uranium from Africa (see September 24, 2002). Shortly thereafter, President Bush repeated the charges in his State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). Wilson was surprised by the charge, but put it aside after discussing the issue with a friend in the State Department (see January 29, 2003). Wilson now knows that Bush was indeed referring to the Niger claims, and wants to set the record straight.
Posing a Real Nuclear Threat? - Wilson is now concerned that the facts are being manipulated by the administration to paint Iraq as a looming nuclear threat, when in fact Iraq has no nuclear weapons program. “At a minimum,” he writes, “Congress, which authorized the use of military force at the president’s behest, should want to know if the assertions about Iraq were warranted.” He is quite sure that Iraq has some form of chemical and biological weapons, and in light of his own personal experience with “Mr. Hussein and his thugs in the run-up to the Persian Gulf war of 1991, I was only too aware of the dangers he posed.” But, he asks, are “these dangers the same ones the administration told us about? We have to find out. America’s foreign policy depends on the sanctity of its information.… The act of war is the last option of a democracy, taken when there is a grave threat to our national security. More than 200 American soldiers have lost their lives in Iraq already. We have a duty to ensure that their sacrifice came for the right reasons.” [New York Times, 7/6/2003]
'Playing Congress and the Public for Fools' - Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write in 2004 that after Wilson’s editorial appears, he checks out the evidence behind the story himself. It only takes Dean a few hours of online research using source documents that Bush officials themselves had cited, from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Department of Energy, the CIA, and the United Nations. He will write: “I was amazed at the patently misleading use of the material Bush had presented to Congress. Did he believe no one would check? The falsification was not merely self-evident, it was feeble and disturbing. The president was playing Congress and the public for fools.” [Dean, 2004, pp. 145-146]

Entity Tags: US Department of Energy, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, United Nations, Somair, Office of the Vice President, Joseph C. Wilson, Bush administration (43), Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, New York Times, Cominak, John Dean, George W. Bush, Central Intelligence Agency, International Atomic Energy Agency

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Referring to President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), CIA Director George Tenet says in a written statement: “I am responsible for the approval process in my agency.… These 16 words should never have been included in the text written for the president.” Tenet denies that the White House is responsible for the mistake, putting the blame squarely on himself and his agency. His statement comes hours after Bush blamed the CIA for the words making it into the speech (see July 11, 2003). [CNN, 7/11/2003; Central Intelligence Agency, 7/11/2003; New York Times, 7/12/2003]
CIA Chose to Send Wilson to Niger - Tenet also confirms that it was the CIA’s choice to send former ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), apparently in an effort to rebut claims that Vice President Dick Cheney ordered the mission. Tenet states: “There was fragmentary intelligence gathered in late 2001 and early 2002 on the allegations of Saddam’s efforts to obtain additional raw uranium from Africa, beyond the 550 metric tons already in Iraq. In an effort to inquire about certain reports involving Niger, CIA’s counterproliferation experts, on their own initiative, asked an individual with ties to the region [Wilson] to make a visit to see what he could learn.” Tenet says that Wilson found no evidence to believe that Iraq had attempted to purchase Nigerien uranium, though this did not settle the issue for either the CIA or the White House. [Central Intelligence Agency, 7/11/2003]
Coordinated with White House - Tenet’s admission was coordinated by White House advisers for what reporter Murray Waas will call “maximum effect.” Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, White House political strategist Karl Rove, and Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby had reviewed drafts of Tenet’s statement days in advance; Hadley and Rove had suggested changes in the draft. [National Journal, 3/30/2006] Cheney rejected an earlier draft, marking it “unacceptable” (see July 11, 2003).
White House Joins in Blaming CIA - National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice also blames the CIA. Peppered with questions from reporters about the claim, she continues the White House attempt to pin the blame for the faulty intelligence on the CIA: “We have a higher standard for what we put in presidential speeches” than other governments or other agencies. “We don’t make the president his own fact witness. That’s why we send them out for clearance.” Had the CIA expressed doubts about the Niger claim before the State of the Union? she is asked (see January 26 or 27, 2003, March 8, 2003, March 23, 2003, April 5, 2003, Early June 2003, June 9, 2003, and June 17, 2003). “The CIA cleared the speech in its entirety,” she replies. “If the CIA, the director of central intelligence, had said, ‘Take this out of the speech,’ (see January 27, 2003) it would have been gone without question. If there were doubts about the underlying intelligence, those doubts were not communicated to the president, to the vice president or to me.… What we’ve said subsequently is, knowing what we know now, that some of the Niger documents were apparently forged, we wouldn’t have put this in the president’s speech—but that’s knowing what we know now.” Another senior White House official, defending the president and his advisers, tells ABC News: “We were very careful with what the president said. We vetted the information at the highest levels.” But another intelligence official, also interviewed by ABC, contradicts this statement. [CNN, 7/11/2003; White House, 7/11/2003; Washington Post, 7/12/2003; New York Times, 7/12/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 99; McClellan, 2008, pp. 171-172] Tenet’s mea culpa is apparently enough for Bush; press secretary Ari Fleischer says, “The president has moved on.” [White House, 7/11/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 99] White House press secretary Scott McClellan will later claim that at this point Rice is unaware that her National Security Council is far more responsible for the inclusion than the CIA. He will write that the news media reports “not unfairly” that Rice is blaming the CIA for the inclusion. [McClellan, 2008, pp. 171-172]
News Reports Reveal Warnings Not to Use Claim - Following Tenet’s statement, a barrage of news reports citing unnamed CIA officials reveal that the White House had in fact been explicitly warned not to include the Africa-uranium claim. These reports indicate that at the time Bush delivered his State of the Union address, it had been widely understood in US intelligence circles that the claim had little evidence supporting it. [Boston Globe, 3/16/2003; New York Times, 3/23/2003; Associated Press, 6/12/2003; Knight Ridder, 6/12/2003; Associated Press, 6/12/2003; Knight Ridder, 6/13/2003; ABC News, 6/16/2003; Newsday, 7/12/2003; Washington Post, 7/20/2003] For example, CBS News reports, “CIA officials warned members of the president’s National Security Council staff the intelligence was not good enough to make the flat statement Iraq tried to buy uranium from Africa.” And a Washington Post article cites an unnamed intelligence source who says, “We consulted about the paper [September 2002 British dossier] and recommended against using that material.” [CBS News, 7/10/2003; CNN, 7/10/2003; Washington Post, 7/11/2003]
Claim 'Technically True' since British, Not US, Actually Made It - White House officials respond that the dossier issued by the British government contained the unequivocal assertion, “Iraq has… sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa” and that the officials had argued that as long as the statement was attributed to the British intelligence, it would be technically true. Similarly, ABC News reports: “A CIA official has an idea about how the Niger information got into the president’s speech. He said he is not sure the sentence was ever cleared by the agency, but said he heard speechwriters wanted it included, so they attributed it to the British.” The same version of events is told to the New York Times by a senior administration official, who claims, “The decision to mention uranium came from White House speechwriters, not from senior White House officials.” [ABC News, 6/12/2003; CBS News, 7/10/2003; New York Times, 7/14/2003; New York Times, 7/19/2003]
Decision Influenced by Office of Special Plans - But according to a CIA intelligence official and four members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who are investigating the issue, the decision to include the Africa-uranium claim was influenced by the people associated with the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans (see September 2002). [Information Clearing House, 7/16/2003]
Reactions - Rice says that the White House will not declassify the October 2002 NIE on Iraq (see October 1, 2002) to allow the public to judge for itself whether the administration exaggerated the Iraq-Niger claim; McClellan will write that Rice is currently “unaware of the fact that President Bush had already agreed to ‘selective declassification’ of parts of the NIE so that Vice President Cheney, or his top aide Scooter Libby, could use them to make the administration’s case with selected reporters” (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003). [McClellan, 2008, pp. 171-172] Two days later, Rice will join Bush in placing the blame for using the Iraq-Niger claim solely on the CIA (see July 13, 2003). McClellan will later write, “The squabbling would leave the self-protective CIA lying in wait to exact revenge against the White House.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 172]
Former Ambassador Considers Matter Settled - Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who recently wrote an op-ed for the New York Times revealing his failure to find any validity in the claims during his fact-finding trip to Niger (see July 6, 2003 and February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), is pleased at Tenet’s admission. According to his wife, CIA analyst Valerie Plame Wilson, “Joe felt his work was done; he had made his point.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 140]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, George J. Tenet, Central Intelligence Agency, Joseph C. Wilson, Condoleezza Rice, Ari Fleischer, Bush administration (43), Karl C. Rove, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Murray Waas, Valerie Plame Wilson, ABC News, Stephen J. Hadley, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Scott McClellan, CBS News, Office of Special Plans

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd writes an op-ed calling on President Bush to stick to his campaign promise of truthfulness and transparency, particularly in regards to the allegations that his administration manipulated intelligence to build a case for war with Iraq (see July 6, 2003 and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). Bush is “presiding over a [White House] where truth is camouflaged by word games and responsibility is obscured by shell games,” she writes, and allowing the CIA to take blame for the fallacious representation of intelligence amounts to little more than “mendacity.” According to Dowd, Bush should have said of the “sixteen words” in his State of the Union address (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003): “The information I gave you in the State of the Union about Iraq seeking nuclear material from Africa has been revealed to be false. I’m deeply angry and I’m going to get to the bottom of this.” But, Dowd writes, he did not. Dowd pins much of the blame on Vice President Dick Cheney and the Office of the Vice President. [New York Times, 7/13/2003] Almost four years later, prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald will enter a clipping of Dowd’s column, annotated by Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby, into evidence in Libby’s perjury trial (see Late January 2007).

Entity Tags: Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Maureen Dowd, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Office of the Vice President

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald enters a copy of New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd’s July 13, 2003 op-ed, “National House of Waffles,” into evidence in the Lewis Libby trial. The copy is heavily marked with notes from Libby. Fitzgerald blacked out most of the column, not because of security concerns, but to focus the jury’s attention on the section at the bottom. He directs the jury’s attention to the section that reads: “When the president attributed the information about Iraq trying to get Niger yellowcake to British intelligence (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003), it was a Clintonian bit of flim-flam. Americans did not know what top Bush officials knew: that this ‘evidence’ could not be attributed to American intelligence because the CIA had already debunked it. [Condoleezza] Rice did not throw out the line, even though the CIA had warned her office that it was sketchy. Clearly, a higher power wanted it in. And that had to be Dick Cheney’s office. Joseph Wilson, former US ambassador to Gabon, said he was asked to go to Niger to answer some questions from the vice president’s office about that episode and reported back that it was highly doubtful” (see July 6, 2003). Libby’s notes read in part, “not us” and “not to us” in response to Dowd’s suggestions that the CIA had debunked the evidence pointing to an Iraqi attempt to obtain Nigerien uranium. [National Public Radio, 3/7/2007; Office of the Special Prosecutor, 5/2007 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Central Intelligence Agency, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Maureen Dowd

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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