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Context of 'July 13, 2003: Condoleeza Rice Again Blames CIA for Uranium-from-Africa Claim'

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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

Appearing on ABC’s This Week, Condoleezza Rice defends the Bush administration’s prewar intelligence. For example, she tells host George Stephanopoulos, “Already, we’ve discovered… trailers… that look remarkably similar to what Colin Powell described in his February 5 speech (see February 5, 2003).” [This Week with George Stephanopoulos, 6/8/2003; American Forces Press Service, 6/9/2003] Asked why the Africa-uranium claim was included in Bush’s 2003 State of the Union Address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) even though it had been debunked by the CIA several months earlier (see October 6, 2002), Rice claims the administration had “other sources” which supported the claim that Hussein was determined to obtain uranium from somewhere in Africa. “At the time that the State of the Union address was prepared, there were also other sources that said that they were, the Iraqis were seeking yellow cake, uranium oxide from Africa.” [This Week with George Stephanopoulos, 6/8/2003; US House Committee on Government Reform, 3/16/2004] When Stephanopoulos notes that there were several people in the US government who doubted the Africa-uranium claim, Rice responds, “The intelligence community did not know at that time or at levels that got to us that this, that there was serious questions about this report.” [This Week with George Stephanopoulos, 6/8/2003; Washington Post, 7/26/2003; US House Committee on Government Reform, 3/16/2004]

Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice, George Stephanopoulos

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

Vice President Dick Cheney writes talking points for press secretary Ari Fleischer and other White House officials to use with the press to address the recent New York Times op-ed by former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who revealed that during a 2002 fact-finding mission to Africa, he found nothing to support administration claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase weapons-grade uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003). After Wilson’s op-ed, the White House was forced to back away from its claims about the uranium purchase (see July 6-7, 2003, July 7, 2003, and July 8, 2003), a move that Cheney and other White House officials believed damaged the administration’s credibility over its justifications for the Iraq invasion. Cheney then rewrites the talking points to provide White House officials with more information that can be used to discredit Wilson, and to maximize the chances that reporters will conclude that Wilson’s wife, CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson, sent her husband on a “junket” to Niger (see July 7, 2003 or Shortly After). The lead talking point changes from the original version as drafted by Cheney press aide Cathie Martin: “The vice president’s office did not request the mission to Niger,” to Cheney’s: “It is not clear who authorized Joe Wilson’s trip to Niger.” Cheney will admit that in rewriting the talking points to draw attention to Plame Wilson’s putative role in arranging for the Niger mission, reporters might find out that she was a CIA officer. However, he will deny that he did anything on purpose to give reporters that information. FBI investigators will not be convinced by Cheney’s explanation.
Telling Reporters Cheney, Aides Knew Nothing of Wilson Mission - Another reason for revising the talking points is to give the impression that Cheney had little to no role in Wilson’s mission to Niger, and knew nothing of the trip before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq (see March 5, 2002). Cheney will later admit to FBI investigators that he rewrote the talking points to lead reporters to that conclusion—a conclusion that he hopes will paint Wilson’s trip to Niger as a nepotistic jaunt envisioned to discredit the administration. That conclusion is false (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, and October 17, 2003). Cheney’s subsidiary talking points include: “The vice president’s office did not request the mission to Niger”; the “vice president’s office was not informed of Joe Wilson’s mission”; Cheney’s office was not briefed about the mission until long after it occurred; and Cheney and his aides, including his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, only learned about the mission from reporters a year later. [Washington Post, 2/21/2007; Murray Waas, 12/23/2008]
Talking Points Revised Just before Libby Outs Plame Wilson to Reporter - Cheney revises the talking points on July 8, hours before Libby reveals Plame Wilson’s CIA identity to reporter Judith Miller and tells Miller that Plame Wilson sent her husband to Niger (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003). Both Cheney and Libby will later testify that Libby’s purpose in meeting with Miller is to leak classified intelligence information that the White House hopes will discredit Wilson’s allegations that the White House manipulated intelligence to bolster its justification for the invasion (see July 12, 2003).
Talking Points Used in Morning 'Press Gaggle' - In the July 8 morning briefing for the White House press corps, informally known as the “press gaggle,” Fleischer reiterates the talking points, telling the reporters: “The vice president’s office did not request the mission to Niger. The vice president’s office was not informed of his mission and he was not aware of Mr. Wilson’s mission until recent press accounts… accounted for it. So this was something that the CIA undertook.… They sent him on their own volition.”
'Growing Body of Evidence' that Cheney Directed Libby to Out Plame Wilson - In 2008, reporter Murray Waas will write, “That Cheney, by his own admission, had revised the talking points in an effort to have the reporters examine who sent Wilson on the very same day that his chief of staff was disclosing to Miller Plame [Wilson]‘s identity as a CIA officer may be the most compelling evidence to date that Cheney himself might have directed Libby to disclose Plame [Wilson]‘s identity to Miller and other reporters.” Waas will write that Cheney’s admission adds to the “growing body of evidence that Cheney may have directed Libby to disclose Plame [Wilson]‘s identity to reporters and that Libby acted to protect Cheney by lying to federal investigators and a federal grand jury about the matter.” Cheney’s admission is not, Waas will note, the “smoking gun” that would prove he directed Libby to leak Plame Wilson’s identity. Neither does it prove that Libby outed Plame Wilson on his own by acting “overzealously” to follow Cheney’s “broader mandate” to besmirch and discredit Wilson. Waas will write that special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald believes that Libby lied and placed himself in criminal jeopardy in order to protect Cheney, perhaps to conceal the fact that Cheney had told him to leak Plame Wilson’s identity to the press. [Murray Waas, 12/23/2008]

Entity Tags: Murray Waas, Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, Bush administration (43), Ari Fleischer, Joseph C. Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Judith Miller, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Valerie Plame Wilson

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

During the morning meeting for senior White House officials, political strategist Karl Rove tells the assemblage that the White House needs to “get the message out” about war critic Joseph Wilson (see July 6, 2003). Rove emphasizes the need to push the point that Wilson was not sent to Niger by Vice President Dick Cheney (see July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, and July 7-8, 2003). At the meeting are Cheney, President Bush, Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and chief of staff Andrew Card, who will soon take over the administration’s response to the Iraq-Niger controversy (see (July 11, 2003)). [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 3/5/2004 pdf file] Libby brings an underlined copy of Wilson’s July 6 New York Times op-ed to the meeting. [Office of the Vice President, 7/7/2003]

Entity Tags: Karl C. Rove, Andrew Card, Bush administration (43), Condoleezza Rice, Joseph C. Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Just after a morning meeting where White House political strategist Karl Rove emphasized that White House officials need to tell reporters that Vice President Dick Cheney did not send Joseph Wilson to Niger (see 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003), Cheney’s communications director, Cathie Martin, e-mails talking points to White House press secretary Ari Fleischer that state:
bullet “The vice president’s office did not request the mission to Niger.”
bullet “The vice president’s office was not informed of Joe Wilson’s mission.”
bullet “The vice president’s office did not receive briefing about Mr. Wilson’s misson after he returned” (see March 5, 2002).
bullet “The vice president’s office was not aware of Mr. Wilson’s mission until recent press reports accounted for it” (see 4:30 p.m. June 10, 2003). [Office of the Vice President, 7/7/2003; US Department of Justice, 3/5/2004 pdf file]
Minutes later, Fleischer presents these talking points in the morning press briefing. He says of the Wilson op-ed: “Well, there is zero, nada, nothing new here. Ambassador Wilson, other than the fact that now people know his name, has said all this before. But the fact of the matter is in his statements about the vice president—the vice president’s office did not request the mission to Niger. The vice president’s office was not informed of his mission and he was not aware of Mr. Wilson’s mission until recent press accounts—press reports accounted for it. So this was something that the CIA undertook as part of their regular review of events, where they sent him.” [White House, 7/7/2003; Marcy Wheeler, 10/30/2009] In 2007, Martin will testify that Cheney dictated the talking points to her (see January 25-29, 2007).

Entity Tags: Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, Joseph C. Wilson, Karl C. Rove, Ari Fleischer, Bush administration (43), Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

The White House, after much discussion and argument among senior advisers (see July 6-7, 2003), issues a vaguely worded admission that President Bush and his top officials erred in claiming that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). A senior, unnamed White House official says that Bush should not have made the claim (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) by saying: “Knowing all that we know now, the reference to Iraq’s attempt to acquire uranium from Africa should not have been included in the State of the Union speech.… There is other reporting to suggest that Iraq tried to obtain uranium from Africa. However, the information is not detailed or specific enough for us to be certain that attempts were in fact made.” The statement is authorized by the White House. [BBC, 7/8/2003; McClellan, 2008, pp. 168-170]
Dashed Hope that Admission Might Defuse Controversy - White House deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will later write: “Although two other African countries were mentioned in the [Iraq] NIE (National Intelligence Estimate—see October 1, 2002) as possible sources of uranium for Iraq, the only detailed or specific intelligence about Iraqi attempts to acquire uranium from Africa was related to Niger, and this was clearly the primary basis for the president’s 16 words” in the State of the Union speech. Senior White House officials, with Bush’s authorization, elaborate on the concession. One official says, “We couldn’t prove it, and it might in fact be wrong.” McClellan will write: “It was the public acknowledgement that the president should have not made the uranium allegation in his State of the Union address and that the information in which it had been based was incomplete or inaccurate. At the White House, everyone hoped the acknowledgement would put the 16-words controversy to rest. The reality was the opposite.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 168-170]
Critics: Bush 'Knowingly Misled' US Citizenry, Calls for Firings - Critics of the White House are quick to jump on the claim. “This may be the first time in recent history that a president knowingly misled the American people during the State of Union address,” says Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe. “Either President Bush knowingly used false information in his State of the Union address or senior administration officials allowed the use of that information. This was not a mistake. It was no oversight and it was no error.” Tom Daschle (D-SD), the Senate Majority Leader, calls the admission another reason for Congress to fully investigate the use and misuse of prewar intelligence. Retired Colonel David Hunt, a Fox News analyst, says: “This is an absolute failure. This is an overstatement and it’s embarrassing and it’s very poor business for the war on terrorism, really bad news.” Hunt calls for firings over the admission: “I think there are some people that need to be fired—starting with the [CIA Director George] Tenet. This is bad. When they’re blaming him publicly, and that’s unheard of… it can’t be glossed over. The bureaucracy has got to knock this off. It can’t happen anymore.” [Fox News, 7/9/2003]
Calls for Congressional Investigation - Congressional Democrats demand, but never get, a Congressional inquiry; Senator Carl Levin questions how such a “bogus” claim could have become a key part of the case for war, and Ted Kennedy suggests the claim is a “deliberate deception.” McClellan will observe: “Whether legitimate expressions of concern or grandstanding for political gain, their efforts to raise more suspicion about the White House for political gain, their efforts to raise more suspicion about the White House were a natural part of the ongoing partisan warfare that President Bush had promised to end. Now, the way the president had chosen to sell the war to the American people and his reluctance to discuss openly and directly how that case had been made were ensuring his promise would not be kept.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 168-170]
Blair Administration 'Furious' at Admission - In Great Britain, officials in the government of Tony Blair are “privately furious with the White House,” according to McClellan. Blair’s officials insist on standing by the claim, thus causing an embarrasing disparity between the White House and Downing Street. [McClellan, 2008, pp. 168-170]
Admission Retracted Days Later - Within days, the White House will retract the admission (see July 11, 2003).

Entity Tags: David Hunt, George W. Bush, George J. Tenet, Tom Daschle, Bush administration (43), Terry McAuliffe

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Almost immediately after the CIA admits that President Bush never should have claimed that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003), the White House begins backing away from the admission of error. Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus tells former ambassador Joseph Wilson (see July 11, 2003) that he is receiving numerous phone calls from White House officials trying to take back the admission. One official tells Pincus that, in Wilson’s words, “telling the truth ‘was the biggest mistake the administration had made.’” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 335]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Walter Pincus, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: 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

The White House continues to back away from its admission of error concerning President Bush’s claim that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see July 8, 2003 and July 11, 2003). Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice appear on the Sunday morning talk shows to assert that the “16 words” in Bush’s January speech (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) were “technically correct” because British intelligence, not American intelligence, was the original source of the claim as worded by Bush. The British still stand by the claim, though they refuse to provide evidence. In the interviews, Rice tries to call the claim a “mistake” and simultaneously vouch for its “accuracy.” [Washington Post, 7/26/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 100] “I believe that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” she says. In particular, Fox News host Tony Snow gives Rice multiple opportunities to state that Iraq had a nuclear weapons program, and that the Iraq-Niger uranium claim is probably true. She says that the related claim of the Iraqis buying aluminum tubes for nuclear centrifuges is also supported by the CIA, even though Snow acknowledges that the tubes theory has been “knocked down.” [Fox News, 7/13/2003]
Invoking the British, Blaming Tenet - On CBS’s Face the Nation, Rice again blames CIA Director George Tenet for the error (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003), saying: “My only point is that, in retrospect, knowing that some of the documents underneath may have been—were, indeed, forgeries, and knowing that apparently there were concerns swirling around about this, had we known that at the time, we would not have put it in.… And had there been even a peep that the agency did not want that sentence in or that George Tenet did not want that sentence in, that the director of central intelligence did not want it in, it would have been gone.” [CBS News, 7/13/2003] On Fox News, Rice says: “[T]he statement that [Bush] made was indeed accurate. The British government did say that. Not only was the statement accurate, there were statements of this kind in the National Intelligence Estimate. And the British themselves stand by that statement to this very day, saying that they had sources other than sources that have now been called into question to back up that claim. We have no reason not to believe them.… We have every reason to believe that the British services are quite reliable.” [Fox News, 7/13/2003] On CNN, Rice calls the issue “enormously overblown.… This 16 words has been taken out of context. It’s been blown out of proportion.” She emphasizes that Bush’s claim came “from a whole host of sources.… The British, by the way, still stand by their report to this very day in its accuracy, because they tell us that they had sources that were not compromised in any way by later, in March or April, later reports that there were some forgeries.” She adds: “We’re talking about a sentence, a data point, not the president’s case about reconstitution of weapons of mass destruction, or of nuclear weapons in Iraq.… We’re talking about a single sentence, the consequence of which was not to send America to war. The consequence of which was to state in the State of the Union something that, while accurate, did not meet the standard that we use for the president.” [CNN, 7/13/2003]
Denies Involvement in Wilson Mission - Rice also denies that anyone at the White House had any involvement in sending former ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger to investigate the uranium claims (see July 6, 2003). CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer says of the Wilson mission, “Supposedly, it came at the request of the vice president.” Rice replies: “No, this is simply not true, and this is something that’s been perpetuated that we simply have to straighten out. The vice president did not ask that Joe Wilson go to Niger. The vice president did not know. I don’t think he knew who Joe Wilson was, and he certainly didn’t know that he was going. The first that I heard of Joe Wilson mission was when I was doing a Sunday talk show and heard about it (see June 8, 2003 and June 8, 2003)… [T]he Wilson trip was not sent by anyone at a high level. It wasn’t briefed to anyone at high level. And it appears to have been inconclusive in what it found.” Rice is following the White House strategy of denying Vice President Dick Cheney’s involvement in the Wilson mission (see July 6, 2003, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, and July 8, 2003). [CNN, 7/13/2003]

Entity Tags: Wolf Blitzer, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Tony Snow, Saddam Hussein, George W. Bush, Joseph C. Wilson, Donald Rumsfeld, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), George J. Tenet, Condoleezza Rice

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

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