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Texas governor and possible presidential candidate George W. Bush’s “Iron Triangle” of (four, not three) political advisers—Karen Hughes, Karl Rove, Donald Evans, and Joe Allbaugh—are preparing for Bush’s entry into the 2000 presidential campaign. His biggest liability is foreign affairs: despite his conversations with Saudi Prince Bandar (see Fall 1997) and former security adviser Condoleezza Rice (see August 1998), he is still a blank slate (see Early 1998). “Is he comfortable with foreign policy? I should say not,” observes George H. W. Bush’s former national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, who is not involved in teaching the younger Bush about geopolitics. Bush’s son’s only real experience, Scowcroft notes, “was being around when his father was in his many different jobs.” Rice is less acerbic in her judgment, saying: “I think his basic instincts about foreign policy and what need[…] to be done [are] there: rebuilding military strength, the importance of free trade, the big countries with uncertain futures. Our job [is] to help him fill in the details.” Bush himself acknowledges his lack of foreign policy expertise, saying: “Nobody needs to tell me what to believe. But I do need somebody to tell me where Kosovo is.” Rice and former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney assemble a team of eight experienced foreign policy advisers to give the younger Bush what author Craig Unger calls “a crash course about the rest of the world.” They whimsically call themselves the “Vulcans,” (Carter 2004, pp. 269; Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 117; Unger 2007, pp. 161-163) which, as future Bush administration press secretary Scott McClellan will later write, “was based on the imposing statue of Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and metalworking, that is a landmark in Rice’s hometown of Birmingham, Alabama.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 85) The eight are:
Richard Armitage, a hardliner and Project for a New American Century (PNAC) member (see January 26, 1998) who served in a number of capacities in the first Bush presidency;
Robert Blackwill, a hardliner and former Bush presidential assistant for European and Soviet Affairs;
Stephen Hadley, a neoconservative and former assistant secretary of defense;
Richard Perle, a leading neoconservative and another former assistant secretary of defense;
Condoleezza Rice, a protege of Scowcroft, former oil company executive, and former security adviser to Bush’s father;
Donald Rumsfeld, another former defense secretary;
Paul Wolfowitz, a close associate of Perle and a prominent neoconservative academic, brought in to the circle by Cheney;
Dov Zakheim, a hardline former assistant secretary of defense and a PNAC member;
Robert Zoellick, an aide to former Secretary of State James Baker and a PNAC member.
McClellan will later note, “Rice’s and Bush’s views on foreign policy… were one and the same.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 85) Their first tutorial session in Austin, Texas is also attended by Cheney and former Secretary of State George Schulz. Even though three solid neoconservatives are helping Bush learn about foreign policy, many neoconservatives see the preponderance of his father’s circle of realpolitik foreign advisers surrounding the son and are dismayed. Prominent neoconservatives such as William Kristol, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and James Woolsey will back Bush’s primary Republican opponent, Senator John McCain (R-AZ). (Carter 2004, pp. 269; Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 117; Unger 2007, pp. 161-163) Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay, both former National Security Council members, write in the book America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy, that under the tutelage of the Vulcans, Bush adopts a “hegemonist” view of the world that believes the US’s primacy in the world is paramount to securing US interests. As former White House counsel John Dean writes in 2003, this viewpoint asserts, “[S]ince we have unrivalled powers, we can have it our way, and kick ass when we don’t get it.” (Dean 11/7/2003; Carter 2004, pp. 269)
Stephen Hadley, a neoconservative foreign affairs analyst who will become the future President Bush’s national security adviser (see November 2, 2004), briefs a group of prominent Republicans on the national security and foreign policy agenda of Bush. Hadley tells the assembled policymakers that Bush’s “number-one foreign policy agenda” will be removing Iraq’s Saddam Hussein from power. Hadley also says Bush will spend little or no time trying to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. According to Virginia Military Institute professor Clifford Kiracofe, who speaks to many of the policymakers after the meeting, many of them are shocked at the briefing. (Lang 6/2004; Unger 2007, pp. 175)
By the end of the Clinton administration, an effort by some US officials to arrest international arms dealer Victor Bout is gathering steam (see Early Spring 1999-2000). National Security Council (NSC) adviser Lee Wolosky has been gathering evidence of Bout’s airplanes being used to smuggle weapons and possibly drugs for the Taliban. Shortly after the Bush administration takes office, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, Wolosky, and other NSC deputies hold a briefing about Bout’s activities for Condoleezza Rice, the new national security adviser. Rice appears interested, and authorizes the NSC team to continue to pursue an attempt to get an arrest warrant for Bout strong enough to secure a conviction. (Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 186-187) However, Rice focuses on diplomatic solutions and does not allow any actual covert action against Bout. The FBI also does not have an open investigation into Bout and does not appear particularly interested in him. “Look but don’t touch,” is how one White House official will later describe Rice’s approach. (Landesman 8/17/2003; Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 193) In late spring 2001, Wolosky briefs Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley about Bout and global organized crime. He receives a go-ahead to present a full briefing to President Bush on the topic, but no specific date is set. Wolosky is still trying to arrange a date when the 9/11 attacks occur. The Bush administration’s interest in Bout was already fading before 9/11, and after 9/11 the remaining interest in him is lost, despite Bout’s ties to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Wolosky soon quits. “We knew we were being phased out,” he will later say. (Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 193-194) Bout moves to Russia not long after 9/11, but Rice decides that Russia should not be pressured about arms trafficking in general and Bout in particular. One source who talks to Rice claims that she reasons the US has “bigger fish to fry.” (Landesman 8/17/2003)
The National Institute for Public Policy (NIPP) publishes a report arguing for a “smaller, more efficient, arsenal” of specialized weapons. The report claims that developing a new generation of smaller, tactical nuclear weapons is necessary for the US to maintain its deterrent. The report suggests that nuclear weapons could be used to deter “weapons of mass destruction (WMD) use by regional powers,” deter “WMD or massive conventional aggression by an emerging global competitor,” prevent “catastrophic losses in conventional war,” provide “unique targeting capabilities” (such as the use of “mini-nukes,” or “bunker-busters,” to destroy deep underground/biological weapons targets), or to enhance “US influence in crises.” Many of the report’s authors are later appointed to senior positions within the Bush administration, including Linton Brooks who becomes head of the national nuclear security administration overseeing new weapons projects, Stephen Hadley who is appointed deputy national security adviser, and Stephen Cambone who becomes undersecretary of defense for intelligence. (National Institute for Public Policy 1/2001 ; Borger 8/7/2003) The document is said to influence the Pentagon’s controversial Nuclear Posture Review that is submitted to Congress a year later (see January 8, 2002).
Richard Clarke, counterterrorism “tsar” for the Clinton administration, briefs National Security Adviser Rice and her deputy, Steve Hadley, about al-Qaeda. (Gellman 1/20/2002) Outgoing National Security Adviser Sandy Berger makes an unusual appearance at the start of the meeting, saying to Rice, “I’m coming to this briefing to underscore how important I think this subject is.” He claims that he tells Rice during the transition between administrations, “I believe that the Bush administration will spend more time on terrorism generally, and on al-Qaeda specifically, than any other subject.” Clarke presents his plan to “roll back” al-Qaeda that he had given to the outgoing Clinton administration a couple of weeks earlier. (Elliott 8/12/2002) He gets the impression that Rice has never heard the term al-Qaeda before. (Clarke 2004, pp. 227-30; Blumenthal 3/25/2004) Clarke is told at the meeting that he will keep his job but the position is being downgraded and he will no longer have direct access to the president (see January 3, 2001).
Even before President Bush’s official inauguration, Clinton holdover counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke pushes National Security Adviser Rice and other incoming Bush officials to resume Predator drone flights over Afghanistan (originally carried out in September and October 2000) in an attempt to find and assassinate bin Laden. (Gellman 1/20/2002; CBS News 6/25/2003) On January 10, Rice is shown a video clip of bin Laden filmed by a Predator drone the year before. (Gellman 1/20/2002) Aware of an Air Force plan to arm the Predator, when Clarke outlines a series of steps to take against al-Qaeda on January 25 (see January 25, 2001), one suggestion is to go forward with new Predator drone reconnaissance missions in the spring and use an armed version when it is ready. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004) The original Air Force development plan calls for three years of Predator testing, but Clarke pushes so hard that a Hellfire missile is successfully test fired from a Predator on February 16, 2001. The armed Predator will be fully ready by early June 2001 (see Early June-September 10, 2001). (CBS News 6/25/2003; Mayer 7/28/2003) However, Rice apparently approves the use of the Predator but only as part of a broader strategy against al-Qaeda. Since that strategy will still not be ready before 9/11, the Predator will not be put into use before 9/11. (Bridis and Solomon 6/22/2003)
White House counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke meets with President Bush and others to discuss the administration’s approach to cyber-security and terrorism. Clarke will later express his surprise at the way Bush conducts himself: “We had a couple of meetings with the president, and there were detailed discussions and briefings on cyber-security and often terrorism, and on a classified program. With the cyber-security meeting, he seemed—I was disturbed because he seemed to be trying to impress us, the people who were briefing him. It was as though he wanted these experts, these White House staff guys who had been around for a long time before he got there—didn’t want them buying the rumor that he wasn’t too bright. He was trying—sort of overly trying—to show that he could ask good questions, and kind of yukking it up with [Dick] Cheney. The contrast with having briefed his father [George H. W. Bush] and [Bill] Clinton and [Al] Gore was so marked. And to be told, frankly, early in the administration, by Condi Rice and [her deputy] Steve Hadley, you know, ‘Don’t give the president a lot of long memos, he’s not a big reader’—well, sh_t. I mean, the president of the United States is not a big reader?” (Murphy and Purdum 2/2009)
During a White House meeting, Bush administration officials discuss new proposals on how to undermine Saddam Hussein. At one point during the meeting, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley tells Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin that the CIA needs to stop bad-mouthing Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi so the Bush administration can work with Chalabi to overthrow the Iraqi government. McLaughlin reportedly makes it clear to Hadley that the agency will not undermine White House efforts to work with Chalabi. Hadley’s pressure on the CIA produces the intended results. Though the CIA will never work directly with Chalabi, the CIA will nonetheless allow the Pentagon to disseminate intelligence reports to other US intelligence agencies based on information from Iraqi defectors supplied by Chalabi’s organization, the Iraqi National Congress. One CIA official later tells author James Risen that the White House message to drop its objections to Chalabi was sent to the CIA “a thousand times, in a thousand different ways.” (Risen 2006, pp. 183-184)
CIA Director George Tenet will claim in his 2007 book that he attempts to get new covert action authorities to fight bin Laden at this time. He says he wants to move from a defensive to offensive posture, but needs policy backing at a higher level to do it. He meets with Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and gives him a list of expanded authorities the CIA is seeking to go after bin Laden. The authorities would permit the CIA or its partners to kill bin Laden without trying to capture him first. Tenet claims that he tells Hadley, “I’m giving you this draft now, but first, you guys need to figure out what your policy is.” The next day, Mary McCarthy, a CIA officer serving as National Security Council (NSC) senior director, calls Tenet’s chief of staff and asks the CIA to take the draft back. She says something to the effect, “If you formally transmit these to the NSC, the clock will be ticking (to take action), and we don’t want the clock to tick just now.” Tenet withdraws the draft. (Tenet 2007, pp. 143-144) A deputy cabinet level meeting in July 2001 discusses the idea, but no action results (see July 13, 2001). The authorities will be granted a few days after 9/11. (Tenet 2007, pp. 154)
Senior Bush administration officials begin to meet once a month to discuss Pakistan’s nuclear program. The officials are CIA Director George Tenet, his deputy John McLaughlin, Secretary of State Colin Powell, his deputy Richard Armitage, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, and Robert Joseph, the National Security Council non-proliferation director. The participants at the meetings discuss what Pakistan is doing, including the fact that North Korea is a client of Pakistan, Pakistan is still doing nuclear business with Iran, it has offered to sell nuclear weapons to Iraq, and there are rumors of a deal between it and Libya. The meetings are arranged by Tenet and, according to Assistant Secretary of State for Non-Proliferation Robert Einhorn: “A very small number of people got involved. Any names added to the list had to be sanctioned personally by Tenet.” The group receives intelligence about Khan’s network derived from tracking flights and meetings, as well as intercepting letters and phone calls. “The CIA guys would grudgingly come over to share anything new with us policy types,” Einhorn will say. “State was always making the case to roll up the network now, to stop it doing more damage. The CIA would make a plausible case to keep watching, let the network run so eventually we could pick it up by the roots, not just lop off the tentacles. We’d debate and always decide to continue following. The policy people were nervous about leaving it too long.” Some of Einhorn’s colleagues accuse the CIA of being “addicted” to collecting information, although senior CIA analysts think they have a better understanding of the issues and should be allowed to decide. Einhorn will add that he goes to Armitage for get support for rolling up the network, but Armitage simply refers him to Joseph and nothing is done before Einhorn leaves the administration in September 2001. Authors Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark will comment: “The Bush administration was not interested in acting on Pakistan, or had no idea of how to act. They were far more interested in eliminating Pakistan’s clients: Iran, Iraq, Libya, and North Korea.” (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 303-304)
Deputy National Security Adviser Steve Hadley chairs an informal meeting of some counterparts from other agencies to discuss al-Qaeda. They begin a broad review of the government’s approach to al-Qaeda and Afghanistan. According to the New York Times, the approach is “two-pronged and included a crisis warning effort to deal with immediate threats and longer-range planning by senior officials to put into place a comprehensive strategy to eradicate al-Qaeda.” Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke again pushes for immediate decisions on assisting Ahmed Shah Massoud and his Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. Hadley suggests dealing with this as part of the broad review. Clarke supports a larger program, but he warns that delay risks the Alliance’s defeat. Clarke also advocates using the armed Predator drone. However, despite an increasing number of alarming warnings following this meeting, there is little follow-up. “By June, a draft of a presidential directive authorizing an ambitious covert action plan is circulating through the upper echelons of the administration, but there seem[s] little urgency about putting the plan into effect.” (Marquis and Strolberg 3/24/2004; 9/11 Commission 3/24/2004; 9/11 Commission 3/24/2004; Semple 4/4/2004)
The Bush administration finally has its first Deputy Secretary-level meeting on terrorism. (Elliott 8/12/2002) According to counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, he advocates that the Northern Alliance needs to be supported in the war against the Taliban, and the Predator drone flights need to resume over Afghanistan so bin Laden can be targeted. (Clarke 2004, pp. 231) Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz says the focus on al-Qaeda is wrong. He states, “I just don’t understand why we are beginning by talking about this one man bin Laden,” and “Who cares about a little terrorist in Afghanistan?” Wolfowitz insists the focus should be Iraqi-sponsored terrorism instead. He claims the 1993 attack on the WTC must have been done with help from Iraq, and rejects the CIA’s assertion that there has been no Iraqi-sponsored terrorism against the US since 1993 (see April 30, 2001). (A spokesperson for Wolfowitz later calls Clarke’s account a “fabrication.”) (Clarke 2004, pp. 30, 231; Isikoff and Thomas 3/22/2004) Wolfowitz repeats these sentiments immediately after 9/11 and tries to argue that the US should attack Iraq. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage agrees with Clarke that al-Qaeda is an important threat. Deputy National Security Adviser Steve Hadley, chairing the meeting, brokers a compromise between Wolfowitz and the others. The group agrees to hold additional meetings focusing on al-Qaeda first (in June and July), but then later look at other terrorism, including any Iraqi terrorism. (Clarke 2004, pp. 30, 231-32) Vice President Cheney’s Chief of Staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby and Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin also attend the hour-long meeting. (Elliott 8/12/2002)
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke suggests to National Security Adviser Rice that she ask CIA Director George Tenet what more the US can do to stop al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida from launching “a series of major terrorist attacks.” It is believed these attacks will probably be directed at Israeli targets, but possibly on US facilities. Clarke writes to Rice and her deputy, Stephen Hadley, “When these attacks occur, as they likely will, we will wonder what more we could have done to stop them.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 256)
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke asks for a transfer to start a new national program on cyber security. His request is granted, and he is to change jobs in early October 2001 (which he does, see October 9, 2001). He makes the change despite the 9/11 attacks. He claims that he tells National Security Adviser Rice and her deputy Steve Hadley, “Perhaps I have become too close to the terrorism issue. I have worked it for ten years and to me it seems like a very important issue, but maybe I’m becoming like Captain Ahab with bin Laden as the White Whale. Maybe you need someone less obsessive about it.” (White House 10/9/2001; Clarke 2004, pp. 25-26) He later claims, “My view was that this administration, while it listened to me, either didn’t believe me that there was an urgent problem or was unprepared to act as though there were an urgent problem. And I thought, if the administration doesn’t believe its national coordinator for counterterrorism when he says there’s an urgent problem, and if it’s unprepared to act as though there’s an urgent problem, then probably I should get another job.” (Bumiller and Miller 3/24/2004)
Deputy National Security Adviser Steve Hadley circulates a draft presidential directive on policy toward al-Qaeda. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke and his staff regard the new approach as essentially the same as the proposal that they developed in December 2000 and presented to the Bush administration in January 2001 (see December 20, 2000 and January 25, 2001). The draft has the goal of eliminating al-Qaeda as a threat over a multi-year period, and calls for funding through 2006. It has a section calling for the development of contingency military plans against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Hadley contacts Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz to tell him these contingency plans will be needed soon. However, no such plans are developed before 9/11. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and others later admit that the contingency plans available immediately after 9/11 are unsatisfactory. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004; 9/11 Commission 3/24/2004) The draft is now discussed in three more deputy-level meetings.
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke warns National Security Adviser Rice and Assistant National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley that six separate intelligence reports show al-Qaeda personnel warning of a pending attack. These include a warning by al-Qaeda leaders that the next weeks “will witness important surprises” (see June 21, 2001) and a new recruitment video making further threats (see June 19, 2001). The 9/11 Commission will say that “Clarke [argues] that this [is] all too sophisticated to be merely a psychological operation to keep the United States on edge…” It is unclear how Rice and Hadley respond, but the CIA agrees with Clarke’s assessment. (Newsweek 7/22/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 257)
CIA Director George Tenet finds the briefing that counterterrorism chief Cofer Black gave him earlier in the day (see July 10, 2001) so alarming that he calls National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice from his car as he heads to the White House and says he needs to see her right away, even though he has regular weekly meetings with her. (Woodward 10/1/2006) Tenet and Black let a third CIA official, Richard Blee, who is responsible for Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, brief Rice on the latest intelligence. Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke are also present. (Landay, Strobel, and Walcott 10/2/2006)
'Significant Attack' - Blee starts by saying, “There will be a significant terrorist attack in the coming weeks or months!” He argues that it is impossible to pick the specific day, saying Osama bin Laden “will attack when he believes the attack will be successful.” He mentions a range of threat information including:
A warning related to Chechen leader Ibn Khattab (see (July 9, 2001)) and seven pieces of intelligence the CIA recently received indicating there would soon be a terrorist attack (see July 9-10, 2001);
A mid-June statement by bin Laden to trainees that there would be an attack in the near future (see Mid-June 2001);
Information that talks about moving toward decisive acts;
Late-June information saying a “big event” was forthcoming;
Two separate bits of information collected “a few days before the meeting” in which people predicted a “stunning turn of events” in the weeks ahead. This may be a reference to intercepts of calls in Yemen, possibly involving the father-in-law of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar (see June 30-July 1, 2001).
Multiple, Simultaneous Attacks in US Possible - Blee says that the attacks will be “spectacular,” they will be designed to inflict mass casualties against US facilities and interests, there may be multiple, simultaneous attacks, and they may be in the US itself. He outlines the CIA’s efforts to disrupt al-Qaeda by spreading incorrect word that the attack plans have been compromised, in the hope that this will cause a delay in the attack. But he says this is not enough and that the CIA should go on the attack. Blee also discounts the possibility of disinformation, as bin Laden’s threats are known to the public in the Middle East and there will be a loss of face, funds, and popularity if they are not carried out. Blee urges that the US take a “proactive approach” by using the Northern Alliance. (Tenet 2007, pp. 151-4) Author Bob Woodward will later write: “Black emphasize[s] that this amount[s] to a strategic warning, meaning the problem [is] so serious that it require[s] an overall plan and strategy. Second, this [is] a major foreign policy problem that need[s] to be addressed immediately. They need […] to take action that moment—covert, military, whatever—to thwart bin Laden. The United States ha[s] human and technical sources, and all the intelligence [is] consistent.” (Woodward 2006, pp. 80; Woodward 10/1/2006) Richard Clarke expresses his agreement with the CIA about the threat’s seriousness, and Black says, “This country needs to go on a war footing now.”
Rice's Response - There are conflicting accounts about the CIA’s reading of Rice’s response. According to Woodward: “Tenet and Black [feel] they [are] not getting through to Rice. She [is] polite, but they [feel] the brush-off.” They leave the meeting frustrated, seeing little prospect for immediate action. Tenet and Black will both later recall the meeting as the starkest warning they gave the White House on al-Qaeda before 9/11 and one that could have potentially stopped the 9/11 attacks if Rice had acted on it (see July 10, 2001) and conveyed their urgency to President Bush. (Tenet is briefing Bush on a daily basis at this time, but he will later say that Rice has a much better rapport with the president.) Black will say, “The only thing we didn’t do was pull the trigger to the gun we were holding to her head.” (Woodward 2006, pp. 80; Woodward 10/1/2006) Rice says that Bush will align his policy with the new realities and grant new authorities. Writing in 2007, Tenet will say that this response is “just the outcome I had expected and hoped for,” and recall that as they leave the meeting, Blee and Black congratulate each other on having got the administration’s attention. Nevertheless, Rice does not take the requested action until after 9/11. (Tenet 2007, pp. 153-4)
Rice Concerned about Genoa - Clarke will recall in 2006 that Rice focuses on the possible threat to Bush at an upcoming summit meeting in Genoa, Italy (see June 13, 2001 and July 20-22, 2001). Rice and Bush have already been briefed about the Genoa warning by this time (see July 5, 2001). Rice also promises to quickly schedule a high-level White House meeting on al-Qaeda. However, that meeting does not take place until September 4, 2001 (see September 4, 2001). (Landay, Strobel, and Walcott 10/2/2006) Rice also directs that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft be given the same briefing, and they receive it a short time later (see July 11-17, 2001).
Meeting Not Mentioned in 9/11 Commission Report - The meeting will not be mentioned in the 9/11 Commission Report (see August 4, 2002), and there will be controversy when it is fully revealed in 2006 (see September 29, 2006, September 30-October 3, 2006, and October 1-2, 2006).
Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley tells CIA Director George Tenet that Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz questions the significance of the recent surge in al-Qaeda warnings. Wolfowitz apparently suggests that bin Laden may merely be trying to study US reactions to an attack threat. Tenet replies that he has already addressed these questions and that the reporting is convincing. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 259) Tenet is likely referring to a report delivered to the White House on June 30 entitled “Bin Laden Threats Are Real” (see June 30, 2001) that was prepared to deal with nearly identical doubts from Defense Secretary Rumsfeld (see Summer 2001). In April 2001, Wolfowitz said in a meeting that the main terrorist threat to the US was from Iraq, not bin Laden (see April 30, 2001).
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke informs National Security Adviser Rice and her deputy Stephen Hadley that the spike in intelligence about a near-term al-Qaeda attack has stopped. However, he urges keeping readiness at a high level during August, when President Bush and many other top US leaders go on vacation. He warns that another recent report suggests that an attack has just been postponed for a few months “but will still happen.” Similarly, on August 3, the CIA sends a cable to the US intelligence community warning that the threat of impending al-Qaeda attacks is likely to continue indefinitely. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 260, 534)
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke reports to National Security Adviser Rice and her deputy Steve Hadley that the spike in intelligence indicating a near-term attack appears to have ceased, but he urges them to keep readiness high. Intelligence indicates that an attack has been postponed for a few months. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004) In early August, CIA Director Tenet also reports that intelligence suggests that whatever terrorist activity might have been originally planned has been delayed. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004)
According to counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, around this time, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice says she is going down to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House to be with Vice President Dick Cheney. Clarke is currently convening a video teleconference with top officials from the Secure Video Conferencing Center, just off the main floor of the Situation Room (see (9:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Rice has just walked in with her deputy, Stephen Hadley. Clarke asks her, “Do you want to chair this as a principals meeting?” (Clarke 2004, pp. 2-4) (A “principals meeting” includes the principals of the National Security Council, but not the president. (Bumiller 2007, pp. 141) ) Rice declines, allowing Clarke to run the conference. Clarke will recall that Rice says to him: “You’re going to need some decisions quickly. I’m going to the PEOC to be with the vice president. Tell us what you need.” Clarke replies, “What I need is an open line to Cheney and you.” Clarke then turns to his White House Fellow, Army Major Mike Fenzel, and instructs him to “go with Condi to the PEOC and open a secure line to me. I’ll relay the decisions we need to you.” (Clarke 2004, pp. 3-4) However, according to her own later recollections, Rice does not head down from the Situation Room to the PEOC until later, at some time shortly after the Pentagon is hit (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Rice 7/12/2002; Rice 9/11/2002; Sanger 9/11/2002; Bumiller 2007, pp. xiii)
Staffers in the White House Situation Room remain where they are despite being advised to evacuate and a list of their names is sent out, in case an aircraft should crash into the White House. At 9:33 a.m., a supervisor at Washington’s Reagan National Airport called the Secret Service Joint Operations Center at the White House to report that an unidentified aircraft was heading toward the White House. The supervisor warned, “[I]f you’ve got people [at the White House], you’d better get them out of there” (see (9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Federal Aviation Administration 9/14/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 9; Bohn 8/29/2011) Most personnel evacuated from the White House at around 9:45 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (CNN 9/11/2001; CNN 9/12/2001)
Situation Room Personnel Decline the Advice to Leave - Meanwhile, Rob Hargis, the senior duty officer in the Situation Room, receives a call from a National Security Council official, who urges him and his colleagues to get out of the White House. Hargis turns to the others in the Situation Room and says: “We have been ordered to evacuate. If you want to go, go now.” However, everyone stays silent and no one gets up to leave. Hargis therefore tells the caller, “We’re staying.” He thinks the White House would be disconnected from the crisis if the Situation Room stopped operating at such a critical time. (Bohn 8/29/2011) According to Franklin Miller, a senior aide to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, at some point Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley gives the instruction to keep the Situation Room running and there is in fact never any question about its personnel leaving. (Sanger 3/30/2004)
Counterterrorism Chief Allegedly Asks the Staffers to Evacuate - White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke will later claim that, apparently around this time, he is concerned for the safety of those with him in the Situation Room, and so he huddles them together and asks them to leave. He tells them: “We will be the next target. It’s no shame to relocate. Some of you have kids too. Think about them.” But the staffers all decline his request. (Clarke 2004, pp. 12) However, Miller will dispute whether Clarke makes this offer, calling his claim “a complete fiction” (see March 30, 2004). (Sanger 3/30/2004)
List of the Staffers' Names Is Sent to the CIA - All the same, Miller is concerned for the safety of those in the Situation Room. “The White House could be hit; we could be going down,” he thinks. He therefore quietly compiles a list of the names of everyone in the room, he will recall, “so that when and if we died, someone would know who was in there.” The list is passed to Scott Heyer, a communications officer in the Situation Room, and Heyer e-mails it to the CIA operations center. (Miller, Gerth, and van Natta 12/30/2001; Bohn 8/29/2011) For the rest of the day, about a dozen staffers will remain in the Situation Room, working frantically to keep information flowing to President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and key White House personnel. (Gardham 9/10/2010; Bohn 8/29/2011)
According to the 9/11 Commission: “An Air Force lieutenant colonel working in the White House Military Office [joins] the [NMCC’s air threat] conference and state[s] that he had just talked to Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. The White House request[s]: (1) the implementation of Continuity of Government measures, (2) fighter escorts for Air Force One, and (3) the establishment of a fighter combat air patrol over Washington, DC.” (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke gave the order to implement the Continuity of Government plan a few minutes earlier, from inside the White House Situation Room (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Before that, he had requested a fighter escort for Air Force One (see (Between 9:30 a.m. and 9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and combat air patrols over all major US cities (not just Washington), according to his own recollection (see (Between 9:38 a.m. and 9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Clarke 2004, pp. 7-8)
At the instruction of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage sends a cable out around the world saying the US government is still functioning. (Rice 9/8/2006) Having recently arrived at the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House (see (Shortly Before 9:59 a.m.) September 11, 2001), the first thing that occurs to Rice, she will later say, is that it is important to get a cable out to all diplomatic posts around the world, to say the United States government has “not been decapitated by this attack.… I thought to myself, we need to let everybody know that we’re still up and running.” (Rice 9/11/2002) She therefore tells her deputy, Stephen Hadley, to call Armitage at the State Department, and urge him to send a cable to all overseas posts with this message. (Rice 8/1/2002 ; Bumiller 2007, pp. xvi)
While he is at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, President Bush receives an intelligence report from the US Strategic Command (Stratcom), informing him that a high-speed object is heading for his ranch in Crawford, Texas. It is already more than 45 minutes since US airspace had been cleared of all aircraft except military and emergency flights (see 12:16 p.m. September 11, 2001). Bush orders an underling to notify everyone at the ranch about this. (Lemann 9/25/2001; Sammon 2002, pp. 117; Kohn 9/2/2003) In the White House Situation Room, they are also informed of the rogue aircraft. Logan Walters, who is Bush’s personal aide, calls the ranch’s caretaker and tells him, “Get as far away from there as you can.” Senior national security official Franklin Miller then receives a phone call informing him that a combat air patrol (CAP) has been established over the ranch. (Draper 2007, pp. 142) (A CAP is an aircraft patrol with the purpose of intercepting and destroying hostile aircraft before they reach their targets. (US Department of Defense 4/12/2001) ) Miller heads to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House to ask Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley about the CAP. Both men agree that it seems unnecessarily excessive. When Miller returns to the Situation Room, he sets about calling off the CAP, but finds that it wasn’t even established to begin with, and that, furthermore, the report of a rogue aircraft was a false alarm. (Draper 2007, pp. 143) A threat to Air Force One had allegedly been received earlier on (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001), but this too is later deemed to have been a false alarm. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 554)
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith set up a secret intelligence unit, named the Counter Terrorism Evaluation Group (CTEG—sometimes called the Policy Counterterrorism Evaluation Group), to sift through raw intelligence reports and look for evidence of a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda. (Risen 2006, pp. 183-184; Mitchell 5/2006 )
Modeled after "Team B" - The four to five -person unit, a “B Team” commissioned by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and modeled after the “Team B” analysis exercise of 1976 (see November 1976), is designed to study the policy implications of connections between terrorist organizations. CTEG uses powerful computers and software to scan and sort already-analyzed documents and reports from the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and other agencies in an effort to consider possible interpretations and angles of analysis that these agencies may have missed due to deeply ingrained biases. Middle East specialist Harold Rhode recruits David Wurmser to head the project. Wurmser, the director of Middle East studies for the American Enterprise Institute, is a known advocate of regime change in Iraq, having expressed his views in a 1997 op-ed piece published in the Wall Street Journal (see November 12, 1997) and having participated in the drafting of the 1996 policy paper for Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm (see July 8, 1996). F. Michael Maloof, a former aide to Richard Perle, is also invited to take part in the effort, which becomes known internally as the “Wurmser-Maloof” project. Neither Wurmser nor Maloof are intelligence professionals (Scarborough 1/14/2002; Schmitt and Shanker 10/24/2002; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004; Arkin 2/8/2004; Reuters 2/19/2004; Mitchell 5/2006 ) , but both are close friends of Feith’s.
Countering the CIA - Since the days of Team B, neoconservatives have insisted the CIA has done nothing but underestimate and downplay the threats facing the US. “They have a record over 30 years of being wrong,” says Defense Policy Board member Richard Perle, who adds that the CIA refuses to even allow for the possibility of a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda—one of the topics that most interests Wurmser and Maloof. (Unger 2007, pp. 226-227)
Finding Facts to Fit Premises - Maloof and Wurmser set up shop in a small room on the third floor of the Pentagon, where they set about developing a “matrix” that charts connections between terrorist organizations and their support infrastructures, including support systems within nations themselves. Both men have security clearances, so they are able to draw data from both raw and finished intelligence products available through the Pentagon’s classified computer system. More highly classified intelligence is secured by Maloof from his previous office. He will later recall, “We scoured what we could get up to the secret level, but we kept getting blocked when we tried to get more sensitive materials. I would go back to my office, do a pull and bring it in.… We discovered tons of raw intelligence. We were stunned that we couldn’t find any mention of it in the CIA’s finished reports.” Each week, Wurmser and Maloof report their findings to Stephen Cambone, a fellow member of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC—see January 26, 1998) neoconservative and Feith’s chief aide. George Packer will later describe their process, writing, “Wurmser and Maloof were working deductively, not inductively: The premise was true; facts would be found to confirm it.” CTEG’s activities cause tension within the intelligence community. Critics claim that its members manipulate and distort intelligence, “cherry-picking” bits of information that support their preconceived conclusions. Although the State Department’s own intelligence outfit, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), is supposed to have access to all intelligence materials circulating through the government, INR chief Greg Thielmann later says, “I didn’t know about its [CTEG’s] existence. They were cherry-picking intelligence and packaging it for [Vice President] Cheney and [Defense Secretary] Donald Rumsfeld to take to the president. That’s the kind of rogue operation that peer review is intended to prevent.” A defense official later adds, “There is a complete breakdown in the relationship between the Defense Department and the intelligence community, to include its own Defense Intelligence Agency. Wolfowitz and company disbelieve any analysis that doesn’t support their own preconceived conclusions. The CIA is enemy territory, as far are they’re concerned.” Wurmser and Maloof’s “matrix” leads them to conclude that Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and other groups with conflicting ideologies and objectives are allowing these differences to fall to the wayside as they discover their shared hatred of the US. The group’s research also leads them to believe that al-Qaeda has a presence in such places as Latin American. For weeks, the unit will attempt to uncover evidence tying Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 attacks, a theory advocated by both Feith and Wolfowitz. (Scarborough 1/14/2002; Schmitt and Shanker 10/24/2002; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004; Arkin 2/8/2004; Mitchell 5/2006 ; Unger 2007, pp. 226-227)
Denial - Defending the project, Paul Wolfowitz will tell the New York Times that the team’s purpose is to circumvent the problem “in intelligence work, that people who are pursuing a certain hypothesis will see certain facts that others won’t, and not see other facts that others will.” He insists that the special Pentagon unit is “not making independent intelligence assessments.” (Schmitt and Shanker 10/24/2002) The rest of the US intelligence community is not impressed with CTEG’s work. “I don’t have any problem with [the Pentagon] bringing in a couple of people to take another look at the intelligence and challenge the assessment,” former DIA analyst Patrick Lang will later say. “But the problem is that they brought in people who were not intelligence professionals, people were brought in because they thought like them. They knew what answers they were going to get.” (Unger 2007, pp. 226-227)
Dismissing CIA's Findings that Iraq, al-Qaeda are Not Linked - One example is an early CTEG critique of a CIA report, Iraq and al-Qaeda: Interpreting a Murky Relationship. CTEG notes that the CIA included data indicating links between Iraq and al-Qaeda, and then blast the agency for “attempt[ing] to discredit, dismiss, or downgrade much of this reporting, resulting in inconsistent conclusions in many instances.” In CTEG’s view, policy makers should overlook any equivocations and discrepancies and dismiss the CIA’s guarded conclusions: “[T]he CIA report ought to be read for content only—and CIA’s interpretation ought to be ignored.” Their decision is powered by Wolfowitz, who has instructed them to ignore the intelligence community’s view that al-Qaeda and Iraq were doubtful allies. They also embrace the theory that 9/11 hijacker Mohammad Atta met with an Iraqi official in Prague, a theory discredited by intelligence professionals (see December 2001 and Late July 2002). Author Gordon R. Mitchell refers to the original Team B in calling the critique “1976 redux, with the same players deploying competitive intelligence analysis to sweep away policy obstacles presented by inconvenient CIA threat assessments.” In 1976, the Team B members were outsiders; now they are, Mitchell will write, “firmly entrenched in the corridors of power. Control over the levers of White House bureaucracy enabled Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz to embed a Team B entity within the administration itself. The stage was set for a new kind of Team B intelligence exercise—a stealth coup staged by one arm of the government against the other.” (Mitchell 5/2006 ; Agence France-Presse 2/9/2007)
Stovepiping Information Directly to White House - The group is later accused of stovepiping intelligence directly to the White House. Lang later tells the Washington Times: “That unit had meetings with senior White House officials without the CIA or the Senate being aware of them. That is not legal. There has to be oversight.” According to Lang and another US intelligence official, the two men go to the White House several times to brief officials, bypassing CIA analysts whose analyses they disagreed with. They allegedly brief White House staffers Stephen Hadley, the deputy national security adviser, and Lewis “Scooter” Libby, chief of staff for Vice President Richard Cheney, according to congressional staffers. (Sale 7/29/2004) In October 2004, Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) will conclude, “[T]he differences between the judgments of the IC [intelligence community] and the DOD [Department of Defense] policy office [CTEG] might have been addressed by a discussion between the IC and DOD of underlying assumptions and the credibility and reliability of sources of raw intelligence reports. However, the IC never had the opportunity to defend its analysis, nor point out problems with DOD’s ‘alternative’ view of the Iraq-al-Qaeda relationship when it was presented to the policymakers at the White House.” Levin will add, “Unbeknownst to the IC, policymakers were getting information that was inconsistent with, and thus undermined, the professional judgments of the IC experts. The changes included information that was dubious, misrepresented, or of unknown import.” (Mitchell 5/2006 )
Passing Intelligence to INC - According to unnamed Pentagon and US intelligence officials, the group is also accused of providing sensitive CIA and Pentagon intercepts to the US-funded Iraqi National Congress, which then pass them on to the government of Iran. (Sale 7/29/2004) “I knew Chalabi from years earlier,” Maloof later recalls, “so I basically asked for help in giving us direction as to where to look for information in our own system in order to be able to get a clear picture of what we were doing. [Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress] were quite helpful.” (Unger 2007, pp. 226-227)
CTEG Evolves into OSP - By August 2002, CTEG will be absorbed into a much more expansive “alternative intelligence” group, the Office of Special Plans (OSP—see September 2002). Wurmser will later be relocated to the State Department where he will be the senior adviser to Undersecretary Of State for Arms Control John Bolton.(see September 2002). (Kwiatkowski 12/1/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004; Mitchell 5/2006 )
Public Finally Learns of CTEG's Existence - Over a year after its formation, Rumsfeld will announce its existence, but only after the media reveals the existence of the OSP (see October 24, 2002).
US President George Bush speaks privately with White House counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke in the White House Situation Room. According to Clarke, Bush tells him to investigate the possibility that Iraq was involved in the attacks. “I want you, as soon as you can, to go back over everything, everything,” Bush says. “See if Saddam did this.” When Clarke responds, “But Mr. President, al-Qaeda did this,” Bush replies, “I know, I know, but… see if Saddam was involved. Just look. I want to know any shred.” Clarke insists that the CIA, FBI, and White House already concluded that there were no such links. As he exits the room, Bush “testily” says again, “Look into Iraq, Saddam.” (Gellman 3/22/2004 Sources: Richard A. Clarke) During a “60 Minutes” interview, Clarke will say that Bush’s instructions were made in a way that was “very intimidating,” and which hinted that Clarke “should come back with that answer.” “Now he never said, ‘Make it up.’ But the entire conversation left me in absolutely no doubt that George Bush wanted me to come back with a report that said Iraq did this.” (CBS News 3/21/2004; Purdum 3/23/2004) Clarke’s account is later confirmed by several eyewitnesses. (CBS News 3/21/2004; BBC 3/23/2004; James 3/26/2004) After his meeting with Bush, Clarke works with CIA and FBI experts to produce the report requested by Bush (see September 18, 2001).
On September 12, 2001, President Bush spoke to counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke and told him to look into possible Iraqi links to the 9/11 attacks (see September 12, 2001). Clarke works with CIA and FBI experts to make a report on the issue. (Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 238) On September 18, Clarke sends a memo to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice entitled, “Survey of Intelligence Information on Any Iraq Involvement in the September 11 Attacks.” It passes along a few foreign intelligence reports, including a report just coming out of the Czech Republic alleging that hijacker Mohamed Atta met an Iraqi agent in Prague in April 2001. But it concludes there is no compelling case that Iraq had planned the 9/11 attacks. It further points out that allegations of any ties between al-Qaeda and the Iraqi government are weak, especially since bin Laden resents the secular nature of Saddam Hussein’s government. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 335, 559) Clarke will later claim that the first draft of his memo was returned by National Security Adviser Rice or her deputy Stephen Hadley because it did not find any link between Iraq and al-Qaeda. He says, “It got bounced and sent back, saying ‘Wrong answer…. Do it again.’” Rice and Hadley will later deny that they asked to have the memo redone for this reason. Clarke does not know if Bush ever sees his report. “I don’t think he sees memos that he doesn’t-wouldn’t like the answer.” (Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 238; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 559)
Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer will later claim that he receives a call from Dr. Eileen Preisser, who worked with him on the Able Danger program before 9/11. He claims that they meet and “she shows me a chart she had brought with her—a large desk top size chart. On it she has me look at the ‘Brooklyn Cell’—I was confused at first—but she kept telling me to look—and in the ‘cluster’ I eventually found the picture of [Mohamed] Atta. She pointed out (and I recognized) that this was one of the charts [we] had produced in January 2000, and had a sinking feeling at the pit of my stomach—I felt that we had been on the right track—and that because of the bureaucracy we had been stopped—and that we might well have been able to have done something to stop the 9/11 attack. I ask Eileen what she plans to do with the information/chart—she tells me that she does not know but she plans to do something.” Shaffer claims that Dr. Preisser shows the chart to Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and others a few days later. However, as of early 2006, Dr. Preisser herself has never publicly commented on this or any other matter relating to Able Danger. (US Congress 2/15/2006 )
Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA) later claims that about two weeks after 9/11, he is given a chart by friends of his from the Army’s Information Dominance Center, in cooperation with special ops. The chart indicates various al-Qaeda cells that were identified by a military intelligence unit called Able Danger. Early in 2000, this unit identified, amongst others, an al-Qaeda cell based in Brooklyn, New York, which included Mohamed Atta and three other future 9/11 hijackers (see January-February 2000). Atta’s name is said to be on the chart given to Weldon. Shortly after being given the chart, Weldon meets with Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, and shows the chart to him. Weldon claims, “Hadley looked at the chart and said, Congressman, where did you get that chart from? I said, I got it from the military.… Steve Hadley said, Congressman, I am going to take this chart, and I am going to show it to the man. The man that he meant… was the President of the United States. I said, Mr. Hadley, you mean you have not seen something like this before from the CIA, this chart of al-Qaeda worldwide and in the US? And he said, No, Congressman. So I gave him the chart.” (US Congress. House 6/27/2005; Bender 8/12/2005; Fox News 8/22/2005) However, a spokesman for Hadley later disputes this account, and says, “Mr. Hadley does not recall any chart bearing the name or photo of Mohamed Atta. [National Security Council] staff reviewed the files of Mr. Hadley as well as of all [National Security Council] personnel… That search has turned up no chart.” (Eggen 9/24/2005) Representative Dan Burton (R-IN) later recalls attending the meeting and remembers the chart, but can’t recall if Atta was on it or not. (Jehl 10/1/2005) Curt Weldon also later claims that the copy of the chart he gives to Hadley is his only one. (Burger and Bennett 8/29/2005) However, apparently contradicting this, Weldon will give a speech in 2002 showing the chart (see May 23, 2002).
Senior State Department official and former CIA analyst Flynt Leverett proposes a new, pragmatic approach to the war on terror. He believes that Middle Eastern terrorism is more tactical than religious: for example, since Syria wants to reclaim the Golan Heights and lacks the military ability to wrest that territory from Israel, it relies on “asymmetrical methods,” including terror attacks, to work for its aims. If one accepts this viewpoint, Leverett argues, one accepts that nations like Syria are not locked in fanatical mindsets, and can be negotiated with. Leverett, with the support of senior State Department official Richard Haass, advises his boss, Secretary of State Colin Powell, to draw up a “road map” to peace for the problem nations of the region—if a nation expels its terrorist groups and stops trying to develop weapons of mass destruction, the US will remove that nation from its list of terror sponsors and open a new era of cooperation with that nation. Powell takes the idea to a “Deputies Meeting” at the White House. The meeting includes Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy director of the CIA, a representative from Vice President Dick Cheney’s office, and Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. The neoconservatives—Hadley, Wolfowitz, Cheney’s representative—hate the idea, calling it a reward for bad behavior. Sponsors of terrorism should stop because it is the moral thing to do, they say, and until that happens, the US will not encourage their actions. After leaving the meeting, Hadley writes up a memo that comes to be known as “Hadley’s Rules.” They are simple: if a nation such as Iran or Syria offers assistance on a specific item or issue, the US will take it, but will give nothing and promise nothing in return, and the US will not attempt to build on that offer. Leverett believes Hadley’s memo is preposterous, sacrificing a chance at real progress for striking poses of moral purity. Shortly thereafter, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice offers him a position as senior director of Mideast affairs at the National Security Council; Leverett takes the job with the understanding that the Bush administration must begin real negotiations with Israel and Palestine. (Richardson 10/18/2007)
The Bush administration sends two defense officials, Harold Rhode and Larry Franklin, to meet with Iranians in Rome in response to an Iranian government offer to provide information relevant to the war on terrorism. The offer had been backchanneled by the Iranians to the White House through Manucher Ghorbanifar, an Iranian arms trader and a central person in the Iran-Contra affair, who contacted another Iran-Contra figure, Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute. Ledeen passed the information on to his friends in the Defense Department who then relayed the offer to Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. Hadley, who expressed no reservations about the proposed meeting, informed CIA Director George Tenet and Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage. According to officials interviewed by the New York Times, the United States Embassy in Rome was not notified of the planned meeting as required by standard interagency procedures. Neither the US embassy nor the CIA station chief in Rome learns of the three-day meeting until after it happens (see December 12, 2001). When they do catch wind of the meeting, they notify CIA and State Department headquarters in Washington which complain to the administration about how the meetings were arranged. (Royce and Phelps 8/9/2003; Graham and Slevin 8/9/2003; Risen 12/7/2003) In addition to Ghorbanifar, Ledeen, Franklin, and Rhode, the meeting is attended by Nicolo Pollari, head of SISMI, and Antonio Martino, Italy’s minister of defense. (Marshall, Rozen, and Glastris 9/2004)
Destabilizing the Iraqi Government - According to the Boston Globe, either at this meeting, a similar one in June (see June 2002), or both, Ledeen and Ghorbanifar discuss ways to destabilize the Iranian government, possibly using the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), a US-designated terrorist group, as a US proxy. (Bender 8/31/2004) The meetings are suspected of being an attempt by what investigative reporters Joshua Micah Marshall, Laura Rozen, and Paul Gastris will later call “a rogue faction at the Pentagon… trying to work outside normal US foreign policy channels to advance a ‘regime-change’ agenda.” The fact that MEK members attend the meetings adds weight to the claim. (Unger 2007, pp. 234-235)
Italian Intelligence on Iraq-Niger Allegations - Additionally, according to an unnamed SISMI source, Pollari speaks with Ledeen about intelligence his agency has collected (see October 15, 2001) suggesting that Iraq made a deal with Niger to purchase several tons of uranium. SISMI already sent a report to Washington on the matter in mid-October (see October 15, 2001). Reportedly, Pollari has also approached CIA Station Chief Jeff Castelli about the report, but Castelli has since indicated he is not interested in the information. (Bonini and d'Avanzo 10/25/2005)
According to a later report by the Senate Intelligence Committee, Pentagon officials conceal potentially life-saving intelligence gleaned from Iranian agents. The report will find that in 2001, the officials, Larry Franklin and Harold Rhode, fail to pass along information gained from Iranian agents to US intelligence agencies, including reports that Iran has sent “hit squads” to Afghanistan to kill Americans. The findings will be based on information from highly unreliable sources: Iranian arms merchant Manucher Ghorbanifar and former Pentagon official Michael Ledeen, both of whom have often provided false or questionable information gathered from questionable sources (see April 3, 2005). In a series of meetings authorized by then-Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley (see December 9, 2001, December 12, 2001, June 2002, July 2002, and June 2003), two Pentagon officials, including one who reported to then-Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith (see September 2002), meet with Ghorbanifar, Ledeen, and other Iranians. Hadley does not fully brief CIA Director George Tenet and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage about the meetings. The head of the DIA is briefed on the meeting but is not authorized to keep a written summary of it or to discuss it on the orders of then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. For his part, Ledeen will say he twice briefed the US ambassador to Italy about the meetings. “Any time the CIA wanted to find out what was going on all they had to do was ask,” he will say. Though the report will admit that the sources of the intelligence are unreliable, it will still criticize the Pentagon for failing to allow what it calls “potentially useful and actionable intelligence” to be shared with intelligence agencies. (Hess 6/5/2008; Senate Intelligence Committee 6/5/2008 )
In late November 2001, State Department officials write a paper suggesting that the US has an opportunity to work with Iran to fight al-Qaeda. The CIA seconds the idea, and is willing to exchange information and coordinate border sweeps with Iran. However, neoconservatives led by Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld argue that the US cannot engage with Iran and other officially declared state sponsors of terrorism. In late December 2001, at a meeting of deputy cabinet officials, it is decided that the US will accept tactical information about terrorists from countries on the state sponsors list but offer nothing in return. This policy is called the “Hadley Rules” after Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, who chairs the meeting. One month later, President Bush publicly lists Iran as part of an “Axis of Evil,” greatly reducing Iran’s cooperation regarding al-Qaeda. (Gellman and Linzer 10/22/2004) However, the policy appears to be largely focused on Iran, as the US continues working with countries on the state sponsors list like Sudan and Syria against al-Qaeda (see June 13, 2002 and Early 2002-January 2003).
Stephen Hadley, Condoleezza Rice’s chief deputy on the National Security Council, instructs former Iran-Contra figure Michael Ledeen and officials in Douglas Feith’s office to cease their dealings (see December 9, 2001) with Manucher Ghorbanifar. (Marshall, Rozen, and Glastris 9/2004)
Attorneys from the CIA’s Office of Legal Counsel meet with a legal adviser from the National Security Council (NSC) and with members of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. The meeting concerns the CIA’s proposed interrogation plan for newly captured alleged al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002, March 28-August 1, 2002, and April - June 2002). The lawyers mull over the legal restrictions surrounding the proposed interrogations. CIA records will show that the NSC’s legal counsel will brief National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, Counsel to the President Alberto Gonzales, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and the head of the Justice Department’s criminal division, Michael Chertoff, on the discussion. (Senate Intelligence Committee 4/22/2009 )
Flynt Leverett, the newly named head of Mideast affairs for the National Security Council (see December 2001-January 2002), has worked hard for the last months to persuade Bush administration officials to consider a proposal by Saudi Arabia for a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The proposal, originated by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Abdullah, calls for “full normalization” of relations between Israel and Arab nations in exchange for Israel’s “full withdrawal” from the occupied territories. Abdullah promised that he can persuade all the Arab nations of the region to sign off on the accords. But even with concessions insisted upon by the Israelis, the Bush administration refused to consider the deal. Even after Abdullah persuaded every nation of the Arab League to sign his proposal, the White House refused to listen. In April, Secretary of State Colin Powell, accompanied by Leverett, travels to the Middle East to negotiate an end to an Israeli siege of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s compound. Powell believes he has authorization from the White House to explore what are called “political horizons,” diplomatic shorthand for peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine. Powell and Leverett use the Saudi proposal as a springboard for discussions. On their final day in the Middle East, Leverett, with a group of senior American officials, is trying to hammer out Powell’s final speech when a telephone call from the White House short-circuits the procedure. On the other end, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley tells Leverett: “Tell Powell he is not authorized to talk about a political horizon. Those are formal instructions.” Leverett responds by telling Hadley it is a bad idea to abruptly stop negotiations. As he later recalls the conversation, Leverett tells Hadley, “It’s bad policy and it’s also humiliating for Powell, who has been talking to heads of state about this very issue for the last 10 days.” Hadley retorts: “It doesn’t matter. There’s too much resistance from [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld and the VP [Dick Cheney]. Those are the instructions.” Powell is furious at the instructions. “What is it they’re afraid of?” he demands. “Who the hell are they afraid of?” Leverett responds, “I don’t know sir.” Powell will later recall, “I had major problems with the White House on what I wanted to say.” (Richardson 10/18/2007)
The CIA believes that recently captured al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002) is withholding “imminent threat information” from his US interrogators. To that end, the CIA sends attorneys from its Office of General Counsel to meet with Attorney General John Ashcroft, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Rice’s deputy Stephen Hadley, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, and other senior White House aides to discuss what the Senate Intelligence Committee will later term “the possible use of alternative interrogation methods that differed from the traditional methods used by the US military and intelligence community” (see April 2002). The CIA proposes several “alternative” methods that equate to torture, including waterboarding, for Zubaida. After the meeting, the CIA asks the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) to prepare an opinion about the legality of the proposed interrogation methods. The CIA provides the OLC with, in the committee’s words, “written and oral descriptions of the proposed techniques.” The CIA also provides the OLC with information about the medical and psychological effects of the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) training, which trains soldiers how to counter and resist torture and harsh interrogation techniques (see December 2001). (Senate Intelligence Committee 4/22/2009 ; BBC 4/23/2009) Meanwhile, the CIA will send Zubaida to Thailand for torture (see March 2002 and April - June 2002).
Michael Ledeen contacts Mel Sembler, the US ambassador to Italy, and informs him that he will be traveling to Rome again (see December 9, 2001) to continue “his work” with the Iranians. Sembler passes this on to Washington, and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley sends word to Ledeen reminding him that he is not to deal with the Iranians. (Marshall, Rozen, and Glastris 9/2004)
A memo written by an intelligence analyst working under Pentagon policy chief Douglas Feith asserts that while “some analysts have argued” that Osama bin Laden will not cooperate with secular Arab groups like Iraq, “reporting indicates otherwise.” A subsequent investigation by the Pentagon’s Office of Inspector General (see February 9, 2007) will criticize the memo, titled “Iraq and al-Qaeda: Making the Case,” saying that it constituted an “alternative intelligence assessment” and therefore should have been developed in accordance with intelligence agency guidelines for publishing alternative views. (US Department of Defense 2/9/2007 ; Cloud and Mazzetti 2/9/2007) Nevertheless, Bush administration officials such as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, CIA Director George Tenet, DIA Director Thomas Wilson, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, and the chief of staff for Vice President Cheney, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, embrace the memo. Cheney’s office is particularly enamoured of the report; journalists Franklin Foer and Spencer Ackerman later report a White House official as saying of Cheney and his staffers, “They so believed that the CIA were wrong, they were like, ‘We want to show these f_ckers that they are wrong.” The memo is based on an earlier briefing by Feith entitled “Assessing the Relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda,” which accused the CIA of using overly rigorous standards to analyze information that might show links between Iraq and the terrorist organization. Feith’s briefing uses almost no evidence to claim a “mature, symbiotic” relationship between the two, alleging “more than a decade of numerous contacts” between al-Qaeda and the Hussein government, and asserting “possible Iraqi coordination with al-Qaeda specifically related to 9/11.” (Scoblic 2008, pp. 220-222) An updated version of the “Making the Case” briefing will be presented to the White House in September 2002 (see September 16, 2002).
White House chief of staff Andrew Card forms the White House Iraq Group, or WHIG, which aims to “educate the public” about the alleged threat from Iraq. WHIG is formed concurrently with the Office of Special Plans (see September 2002). A senior official involved with the group will later describe it as “an internal working group, like many formed for priority issues, to make sure each part of the White House was fulfilling its responsibilities.” (Gellman and Pincus 8/10/2003) According to White House deputy press secretary Scott McClellan, the WHIG is “set up in the summer of 2002 to coordinate the marketing of the [Iraq] war,” and will continue “as a strategic communications group after the invasion had toppled Saddam [Hussein]‘s regime.” McClellan, who will become a full-fledged member of the WHIG after rising to the position of senior press secretary, will write: “Some critics have suggested that sinister plans were discussed at the WHIG meetings to deliberately mislead the public. Not so. There were plenty of discussions about how to set the agenda and influence the narrative, but there was no conspiracy to intentionally deceive. Instead, there were straightforward discussions of communications strategies and messaging grounded in the familiar tactics of the permanent campaign.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 142) Author Craig Unger will sum up the WHIG’s purpose up more bluntly: “to sell the war.” Members of the group include White House political advisers Karl Rove, Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin, James R. Wilkinson, and Nicholas E. Calio, and policy advisers led by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, her deputy Stephen Hadley, and Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby. They meet weekly in the White House Situation Room. A “strategic communications” task force under the WHIG is charged with planning speeches and writing position papers. (Gellman and Pincus 8/10/2003; Unger 2007, pp. 241)
Marketing Fear, Idea of Invasion as Reasonable - After Labor Day 2002—and after suitable test marketing—the group launches a full-fledged media marketing campaign. The images and storyline are simple and visceral: imminent biological or chemical attack, threats of nuclear holocaust, Saddam Hussein as a psychopathic dictator who can only be stopped by American military force. A key element of the narrative is forged documents “proving” Iraq sought uranium from Niger (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, October 15, 2001, October 18, 2001, November 20, 2001, February 5, 2002, March 1, 2002, Late April or Early May 2002-June 2002, and Late June 2002). One of the main objectives is to swing the dialogue ever farther to the right, creating the assumption in the public mind that war with Iraq is a thoughtful, moderate, well-reasoned position, and delegitimizing any opposition. To that end, Cheney stakes out the “moderate” position, with statements like “many of us are convinced that Saddam will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon” (see August 26, 2002), and neoconservatives such as Michael Ledeen pushing the extremes ever rightward with calls to invade not only Iraq, but Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia (see September 20, 2001, August 6, 2002, and September 4, 2002). The real push is delayed until the second week of September. As Card reminds the group, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August” (see September 6, 2002). The first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is a perfect opportunity to launch the new campaign (see September 8, 2002). (Unger 2007, pp. 250-251) Wilkinson, the group’s communications director, is tasked with preparing one of the group’s first public releases, a white paper that will describe the “grave and gathering danger” of Iraq’s “reconstituted” nuclear weapons program. Wilkinson will claim that Iraq “sought uranium oxide, an essential ingredient in the enrichment process, from Africa.” (Leupp 11/9/2005)
'Push[ing] the Envelope' - According to an intelligence source interviewed by the New York Daily News in October 2005, the group, on “a number of occasions,” will attempt “to push the envelope on things.… The [CIA] would say, ‘We just don’t have the intelligence to substantiate that.’” (Meek and Bazinet 10/19/2005) In 2003, three unnamed officials will tell a Washington Post reporter that the group “wanted gripping images and stories not available in the hedged and austere language of intelligence,” what author and reporter Charlie Savage will call “a stark display of the political benefits that come with the power to control information.” (Savage 2007, pp. 357) In 2008, McClellan will write of “the heightened rhetoric on Iraq, including unequivocal statements that made things sound more certain than was known.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 137)
Using Friendly Media Outlets - An important part of the WHIG strategy is to feed their messages to friendly journalists, such as New York Times reporter Judith Miller. James Bamford, in his book A Pretext for War, will write: “First OSP [Office of Special Plans] supplies false or exaggerated intelligence; then members of the WHIG leak it to friendly reporters, complete with prepackaged vivid imagery; finally, when the story breaks, senior officials point to it as proof and parrot the unnamed quotes they or their colleagues previously supplied.” (Bamford 2004, pp. 325)
Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, both staunch neoconservatives, rename the Northern Gulf Affairs Office on the Pentagon’s fourth floor (in the seventh corridor of D Ring) the “Office of Special Plans” (OSP) and increase its four-person staff to sixteen. (Strobel 8/16/2002; Arkin 11/24/2002; Hersh 5/12/2003; Lobe 8/7/2003; Rosenfeld 8/27/2003; Kwiatkowski 12/1/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) William Luti, a former navy officer and ex-aide to Vice President Cheney, is put in charge of the day-to-day operations (Borger 7/17/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) , apparently at the behest of Cheney. Luti was, according to former Defense Intelligence Agency official Patrick Lang, a member of Cheney’s “shadow National Security Council.” (Lang 6/2004)
Transforming NESA - Luti worked for the Near East and South Asian Affairs desk (NESA) at the Pentagon since mid-2001. Lang later describes NESA as having been “a Pentagon backwater, responsible primarily for arranging bilateral meetings with military counterparts” from various nations. Before the Afghanistan war, NESA worked closely with the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Defense Intelligence Officer (DIO) for the Near East, South Asia, and Counterterrorism. During Luti’s first months at NESA, the DIO was Bruce Hardcastle. The Pentagon dismantled the entire DIO system, partly because of friction between Luti and Hardcastle (see Early 2002). Lang will write, “The roots of the friction between Hardcastle and Luti were straightforward: Hardcastle brought with him the combined wisdom of the professional military intelligence community. The community had serious doubts about the lethality of the threat from Saddam Hussein, the terrorism links and the status of the Iraqi WMD programs. Luti could not accept this. He knew what he wanted: to bring down Saddam Hussein. Hardcastle could not accept the very idea of allowing a desired outcome to shape the results of analysis.” Luti transforms NESA into what Lang will call “a ‘de facto’ arm of the vice president’s office,” and in the process shuts Hardcastle out of NESA (and later OSP) intelligence briefings. Luti does not report to either Feith or Donald Rumsfeld, as his chain of command delineates, but to Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby. OSP staffer Karen Kwiatkowski later recalls being “shocked” to learn that Luti reports to Libby and not to his putative Pentagon superiors. She will say, “In one of the first staff meetings that I attended there, Bill Luti said, ‘Well, did you get that thing over to Scooter? Scooter wants this, and somebody’s got to get it over to him, and get that up to him right away.’ After the meeting, I asked one of my co-workers, who’d been there longer, ‘Who is this Scooter?’ I was told, ‘That’s Scooter Libby over at the OVP (Office of the Vice President). He’s the Vice President’s chief of staff.’ Later I came to understand that Cheney had put Luti there.” Under Luti, NESA becomes a virtual adjunct to the OSP. (Lobe 8/7/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004; Lang 6/2004)
Strong Neoconservative Influence - The Office of Special Plans is staffed with a tight group of like-minded neoconservative ideologues, who are known advocates of regime change in Iraq. Notably, the staffers have little background in intelligence or Iraqi history and culture. (Boehlert 7/16/2003; Lobe 8/7/2003; Kwiatkowski 12/1/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) Some of the people associated with this office were earlier involved with the Counter Terrorism Evaluation Group, also known as the “Wurmser-Maloof” project (see Shortly After September 11, 2001). They hire “scores of temporary ‘consultants‘… including like-minded lawyers, congressional staffers, and policy wonks from the numerous right-wing think-tanks in the US capital.” Neoconservative ideologues, like Richard Perle, Michael Ledeen, and Newt Gingrich, are afforded direct input into the Office of Special Plans. (Borger 7/17/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004; Unger 7/2006, pp. 150) Kwiatkowski later says she saw Ledeen going “in and out of there (OSP) all the time.” (Unger 7/2006, pp. 150)
Planning for Post-Saddam Iraq - The official business of Special Plans is to help plan for post-Saddam Iraq. The office’s staff members presumably “develop defense policies aimed at building an international coalition, prepare the secretary of defense and his top deputies for interagency meetings, coordinate troop-deployment orders, craft policies for dealing with prisoners of war and illegal combatants, postwar assistance and reconstruction policy planning, postwar governance, Iraqi oil infrastructure policy, postwar Iraqi property disputes, war crimes and atrocities, war-plan review and, in their spare time, prepare congressional testimony for their principals.” (Timmerman 12/2/2003)
Covert Source of 'Alternative' Intelligence - But according to numerous well-placed sources, the office becomes a source for many of the administration’s prewar allegations against Iraq. It is accused of exaggerating, politicizing, and misrepresenting intelligence, which is “stovepiped” to top administration officials who use the intelligence in their policy decisions on Iraq. (Strobel 8/16/2002; Arkin 11/24/2002; Hersh 5/12/2003; Lobe 8/7/2003; Rosenfeld 8/27/2003; Kwiatkowski 12/1/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004; Coman 7/11/2004; CNN 7/11/2004)
'Top Secret' - There are very few news reports in the American mainstream media that report on the office. In fact, the office is reportedly Top Secret. (Bamford 2004, pp. 308) “We were instructed at a staff meeting that this office was not to be discussed or explained,” Kwiatkowski will later say, “and if people in the Joint Staff, among others, asked, we were to offer no comment.” (Kwiatkowski 12/1/2003)
Part of a 'Separate Government,' Powell Feels - Colin Powell is said to have felt that Cheney and the neoconservatives in this “Gestapo” office had established what was essentially a separate government. (Hamilton 4/17/2004) Powell’s former chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, is even more blunt. “When I say ‘secret cabal,’ I mean ‘secret cabal,’ he says of the White House officials behind the OSP. He compares Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the neoconservatives to the Jacobins, the radical zealots who plunged 18th-century France into the Reign of Terror. “I see them as messianic advocates of American power from one end of the globe, much as the Jacobins in France were messianic advocates of the French Revolution. I don’t care whether utopians are Vladimir Lenin on a sealed train to Moscow or Paul Wolfowitz. You’re never going to bring utopia, and you’re going to hurt a lot of people in the process.” (Unger 2007, pp. 299-300) Among the claims critics find most troubling about the office are:
Heavy Reliance on Intelligence from Exiles and Defectors - The office relies heavily on accounts from Iraqi exiles and defectors associated with Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC), long considered suspect by other US intelligence agencies. (Hersh 5/12/2003; Boehlert 7/16/2003; Borger 7/17/2003; Lobe 8/7/2003; Buncombe 9/30/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) One defector in particular, code-named “Curveball,” provides as much as 98 percent of the intelligence on Iraq’s alleged arsenal of biological weapons. (CNN 7/11/2004) Much of the information provided by the INC’s sources consists of “misleading and often faked intelligence reports,” which often flow to Special Plans and NESA directly, “sometimes through Defense Intelligence Agency debriefings of Iraqi defectors via the Defense Human Intelligence Service and sometimes through the INC’s own US-funded Intelligence Collection Program, which was overseen by the Pentagon.” (Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) According to Kwiatkowski, the movement of intelligence from the INC to the Office of Special Plans is facilitated by a Colonel Bruner, a former military aide to Gingrich. (Hosenball and Isikoff 12/15/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004; Kwiatkowski 3/10/2004) Bruner “was Chalabi’s handler,” Kwiatkowski will tell Mother Jones. “He would arrange meetings with Chalabi and Chalabi’s folks.” (Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) Kwiatkowski also finds that OSP personnel, along with DIA and CIA officials, are taking part in the debriefing of INC informants. She will recall confronting one DIA officer, John Trigilio, about the practice: “I argued with [Tregilio] after the president’s Cincinnati speech (see October 5, 2002 and October 6, 2002). I told him that the president had made a number of statements that were just not supported by the intelligence. He said that the president’s statements are supported by intelligence, and he would finally say, ‘We have sources that you don’t have.’ I took it to mean the sources that Chalabi was bringing in for debriefing… Trigilio told me he participated in a number of debriefs, conducted in hotels downtown, or wherever, of people that Chalabi brought in. These debriefs had Trigilio from OSP, but also CIA and DIA participated… If [the information] sounded good, it would go straight to the OVP or elsewhere. I don’t put it out of possibility that the information would go straight to the media because of the (media’s) close relationship with some of the neoconservatives. So this information would make it straight out into the knowledge base without waiting for intelligence [analysts] to come by with their qualifications and reservations.” (Lang 6/2004)
Cherry-Picked Intelligence - The Office of Special Plans purposefully ignores intelligence that undermines the case for war while exaggerating any leads that support it. “It wasn’t intelligence—it was propaganda,” Kwiatkowski will later explain. “They’d take a little bit of intelligence, cherry-pick it, make it sound much more exciting, usually by taking it out of context, often by juxtaposition of two pieces of information that don’t belong together.” (Schmitt and Shanker 10/24/2002; Hersh 5/12/2003; Boehlert 7/16/2003; Borger 7/17/2003; Lobe 8/7/2003; Buncombe 9/30/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) “At the OSP, what they were doing was looking at all the intelligence they could find on WMD. That was the focal point, picking bits and pieces that were the most inflammatory, removing any context that might have been provided in the original intelligence report, that would have caused you to have some pause in believing it or reflected doubts that the intelligence community had, so if the intelligence community had doubts, those would be left out… They would take items that had occurred many years ago, and put them in the present tense, make it seem like they occurred not many years ago… But they would not talk about the dates; they would say things like, ‘He has continued since that time’ and ‘He could do it tomorrow,’ which of course, wasn’t true… The other thing they would do would be to take unrelated events that were reported in totally unrelated ways and make connections that the intelligence community had not made. This was primarily in discussing Iraq’s activities and how they might be related to al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups that might be against us, or against Israel… These kinds of links would be made. They would be made casually, and they would be made in a calculated way to form an image that is definitely not the image that anyone reading the original reports would have. The summaries that we would see from Intelligence did not match the kinds of things that OSP was putting out. So that is what I call propaganda development. It goes beyond the manipulation of intelligence to propaganda development.” (Lang 6/2004)
No Intelligence Oversight - The OSP bypasses established oversight procedures by sending its intelligence assessments directly to the White House and National Security Council without having them first vetted by a review process involving other US intelligence agencies. (Hersh 5/12/2003; Boehlert 7/16/2003; Borger 7/17/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) The people at Special Plans are so successful at bypassing conventional procedures, in part, because their neoconservative colleagues hold key positions in several other agencies and offices. Their contacts in other agencies include: John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security; Bolton’s adviser, David Wurmser, a former research fellow on the Middle East at the American Enterprise Institute, who was just recently working in a secret Pentagon planning unit at Douglas Feith’s office (see Shortly After September 11, 2001); Elizabeth Cheney, deputy assistant secretary of state for Near East Affairs; Stephen Hadley, the deputy national security adviser; Elliott Abrams, the National Security Council’s top Middle East aide; and Richard Perle, Newt Gingrich, James Woolsey and Kenneth Adelman of the Defense Policy Board. The office provides very little information about its work to other US intelligence offices. (Boehlert 7/16/2003; Borger 7/17/2003; Lobe 8/7/2003)
'Stealth Organization' - Greg Thielmann, the former director of the Strategic, Proliferation and Military Affairs Office at the State Department’s Intelligence Bureau, later says of the OSP: “It was a stealth organization. They didn’t play in the intelligence community proceedings that our office participated in. When the intelligence community met as a community, there was no OSP represented in these sessions. Because, if they had done that, they would have had to subject their views to peer review. Why do that when you can send stuff right in to the vice president?” (Lang 6/2004; Unger 2007, pp. 299) Lang will say in January 2004 that what happened was fundamentally different from anything that had happened under previous presidents. Cheney’s staff and allies “behaved as though they had seized control of the government in a ‘silent coup,’” The result, according to Lang, is “a highly corrupted system of intelligence and policymaking, one twisted to serve specific group goals, ends, and beliefs held to the point of religious faith.” (Unger 2007, pp. 301)
Pressuring Intelligence Analysts - Retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel Dale Davis, who headed the International Programs Department at the Virginia Military Institute until March 2004, and an expert on Middle East affairs, later says he believes intelligence analysts at the CIA and other agencies were pressured indirectly. Davis will say, “By creating the OSP [Office of Special Plans], Cheney was able to say, ‘Hey, look at what we’re getting out of OSP. How come you guys aren’t doing as well? What is your response to what this alternative analysis that we’re receiving from the Pentagon says?’ That’s how you do it. You pressure people indirectly.” Vincent Cannistraro, a former senior counterterrorism official with the CIA, will agree: “Over a long period of time, there was a subtle process of pressure and intimidation until people started giving them what was wanted… When the Senate Intelligence Committee interviewed, under oath, over 100 analysts, not one of them said, ‘I changed my assessment because of pressure.‘… The environment was conditioned in such a way that the analyst subtly leaned toward the conceits of the policymakers… The intelligence community was vulnerable to the aggressiveness of neoconservative policymakers, particularly at the Pentagon and at the VP’s office. As one analyst said to me, ‘You can’t fight something with nothing, and those people had something. Whether it was right or wrong, fraudulent or specious, it almost didn’t make any difference, because the policymakers believed it already, and if you didn’t have hard countervailing evidence to persuade them, then you were at a loss.’” (Lang 6/2004)
Strong Pro-Israel, Anti-Arab Biases - Lastly, the people involved in Special Plans openly exhibit strong pro-Israel and anti-Arab bias. The problem, note critics, is that the analysis of intelligence is supposed to be apolitical and untainted by ideological viewpoints. (Kwiatkowski 12/1/2003) According to a CIA intelligence official and four members of the Senate’s Intelligence Committee, Special Plans is the group responsible for the claim Bush will make in his 2003 State of the Union address that Iraq had attempted to procure uranium from an African country (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). (Dreyfuss 6/19/2003; Leopold 7/16/2003)
Personal Grudges against Intelligence Community - The OSP reflects the personal grudges and ill will of many in the Office of the Vice President against the intelligence community, in part because of the CIA’s refusal to give much weight to the claims of Chalabi and the INC. “This had been a fight for such a long period of time, where people were so dug in,” a friend of one of Vice President Cheney’s senior staffers will later reflect. A colleague of the senior staff later says, “They so believed that the CIA were wrong, they were like, ‘We want to show these f_ckers that they are wrong.’” (Foer and Ackerman 11/20/2003)
Propaganda - Kwiatkowski will later recall that the OSP generated a large amount of what she terms propaganda, in the form of “talking points” used in briefings and in press conferences. “With the talking points, many of the propagandistic bullets that were given to use in papers for our superiors to inform them—internal propaganda—many of those same phrases and assumptions and tones, I saw in Vice President Cheney’s speeches and the president’s speeches,” she will say. “So I got the impression that those talking points were not just for us, but were the core of an overall agenda for a disciplined product, beyond the Pentagon. Over at the vice president’s office and the [neoconservative news magazine] Weekly Standard, the media, and the neoconservative talking heads and that kind of thing, all on the same sheet of music.” Kwiatkowski identifies Abram Shulsky, a neoconservative academic and recent Pentagon hire, as the source of many of these talking points. (Lang 6/2004)
Denials, Counter-Accusations after Public Learns of OSP - After the existence of the Office of Special Plans is revealed to the public, the Pentagon will deny that it served as a direct conduit to the White House for misleading intelligence, instead claiming that its activities had been limited to postwar plans for Iraq. (Hersh 5/12/2003) And a December 2003 opinion piece published in Insight magazine will call the allegations surrounding the Office of Special Plans the work of conspiracy theorists. (Timmerman 12/2/2003)
Vice President Cheney, widely acknowledged as a master bureaucrat, uses a variety of bureaucratic strategies to craft his own foreign policy strategies, including the promotion the Office of Special Plans (OSP—see September 2002), simultaneously undercutting and marginalizing the CIA. Many senior intelligence officials have no idea that the OSP even exists. “I didn’t know about its existence,” Greg Thielmann, the director of the State Department’s in-house intelligence agency, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), will say.
Strategic Placement of Personal, Ideological Allies - Another Cheney strategy is personal placement. He moves his special adviser, neoconservative William Luti, into the OSP. Another influential neoconservative, Abram Shulsky, soon joins Luti there. A longtime associate of both Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Stephen Cambone, becomes a special assistant to Rumsfeld (see Early 2001). Cheney now has his allies at the highest levels of the Pentagon. In Cheney’s office, chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby serves as his liaison with the Pentagon. His chief counsel, David Addington, oversees Cheney’s aggressive and obsessively secretive legal staff. In the National Security Council (NSC), Stephen Hadley, Condoleezza Rice’s deputy, keeps a close eye on Rice in case she shows signs of falling back in with her old mentor, Brent Scowcroft (see August 1998). John Bolton and David Wurmser keep tabs on Colin Powell at the State Department. Cheney has John Yoo (see (After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001) at the Justice Department. Not only does Cheney have highly placed loyalists in the State, Defense, and Justice Department, and in the NSC, he has vital allies in the Republican leadership in Congress.
Managing the Oval Office - Cheney handles the Oval Office himself. A Pentagon official who works closely with Cheney will later observe that President Bush handles the executive branch much as he handled the Texas Rangers baseball team: ignoring much of the daily functions, leaving most policy decisions to others and serving as a “corporate master of ceremonies, attending to the morale of the management team and focusing on narrow issues… that interested him.” Cheney becomes, in author Craig Unger’s words, “the sole framer of key issues for Bush,” the single conduit through which information reaches the president. Cheney, the Pentagon official will later say, “rendered the policy planning, development and implementation functions of the interagency system essentially irrelevant. He has, in matters he has deemed important, governed. As a matter of protocol, good manners, and constitutional deference, he has obtained the requisite ‘check-mark’ of the president, often during one-on-one meetings after a Potemkin ‘interagency process’ had run its often inconclusive course.” (Unger 2007, pp. 249-250)
Nicolo Pollari, chief of SISMI, Italy’s military intelligence service, meets briefly with US National Security Council officials. (Rocca 10/28/2005) Present at the meeting are National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice; her deputy, Stephen Hadley; and other US and Italian officials. (Bonini and d'Avanzo 10/25/2005; Rozen 10/25/2005; Bonini and d'Avanzo 10/26/2005; Wilkinson 10/28/2005; AGI online 10/29/2005)
Mysterious 'Courtesy Call' - Pollari can presumably set the record straight on the question of whether Iraq is trying to purchase aluminum tubes for manufacturing rockets or for use in building muclear weapons (see Between April 2001 and September 2002, April 11, 2001, July 25, 2002, September 24, 2002, October 1, 2002, Between December 2002 and January 2003, January 11, 2003, and March 7, 2003)—the aluminum tubes in question are exactly the same as the Italians use in their Medusa air-to-ground missile systems (see December 2002). Apparently Iraq is trying to reproduce “obsolete” missile systems dating back to when Italy and Iraq engaged in military trade. Pollari could also discuss the documents alleging that Iraq and Niger entered into a secret uranium deal (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001), a set of documents originally promulgated by SISMI and now thoroughly discredited (see February 5, 2003). But apparently Pollari discusses none of this with White House officials. Hadley, who hosts the meeting with Pollari, will refuse to say what they discuss, except to label Pollari’s visit “just a courtesy call,” and will add, “Nobody participating in that meeting or asked about that meeting has any recollection of a discussion of natural uranium, or any recollection of any documents passed.”
Meeting with Hadley, Not Tenet, Significant - Author Craig Unger will write in 2007 that the real significance of the meeting is that Pollari meets with Hadley (widely considered an ally of Vice President Dick Cheney), and not with Pollari’s counterpart, CIA Director George Tenet. Former CIA officer Philip Giraldi later says, “It is completely out of protocol for the head of a foreign intelligence service to circumvent the CIA. It is uniquely unusual.” Of the Iraq-Niger documents, Giraldi will say, “In spite of lots of people having seen the documents, and having said they were not right, they went around them.” Former CIA and State Department analyst Melvin Goodman will concur. “To me there is no benign interpretation of” the Pollari-Hadley meeting, Goodman will say. “At the highest level it was known that the documents were forgeries. Stephen Hadley knew it. Condi Rice [Hadley’s supervisor] knew it. Everyone at the highest level knew.” Neoconservative columnist, author, and former Italian intelligence asset Michael Ledeen, who has close ties with both Pollari and Hadley and may have played a part in producing the Iraq-Niger forgeries (see December 9, 2001). will deny setting up the meeting. And a former CIA official speaking on Tenet’s behalf will say that Tenet has no information to suggest that Pollari or elements of SISMI were trying to circumvent the CIA and go directly to the White House. (Unger 2007, pp. 258-259) (In 2006, history professor Gary Leupp will write that Ledeen is the informal liaison between SISMI and the Office of Special Plans—see September 2002). (Leupp 11/9/2005)
Downplaying Significance of Meeting - The Bush administration later insists the meeting was of little importance. Frederick Jones, a National Security Council spokesman, describes the meeting as a courtesy call of 15 minutes or less. He also says, “No one present at that meeting has any recollection of yellowcake [uranium oxide] being discussed or documents being provided.” (Jehl 10/28/2005)
Meeting Remains Secret until 2005 - This meeting is not reported until 2005, when Italy’s La Repubblica reports that a meeting—arranged through a backchannel by Gianni Castellaneta, the Italian prime minister’s diplomatic advisor—took place between Pollari and Hadley on this date. The report is refuted by Italy which insists it was actually a short meeting between Pollari and Rice. Italy says that although Hadley was present, he was really not part of the meeting. (AGI online 10/29/2005) It is not clear from the reporting, however, if the meeting acknowledged by Italy and Washington, is in fact the same meeting reported by La Repubblica.
White House speechwriter Michael Gerson contacts John Gibson, another speechwriter, at his Waldorf-Astoria hotel room where he is putting the final touches on Bush’s upcoming speech to the UN. Gerson asks him to contact National Security Council aide Robert Joseph about some new intelligence that Gibson might be able to insert into the speech. If it’s not used in the speech, “it’s something we might leak to the New York Times,” Gerson says. Gibson calls Joseph, who tells him to write in the speech that Iraq was caught trying to purchase 500 tons of uranium from Niger. Simultaneously, the office of Stephen Hadley, deputy national security adviser, asks the CIA to clear language so that President Bush can state: “Within the past few years, Iraq has resumed efforts to purchase large quantities of a type of uranium oxide known as yellowcake (see 1979-1982 and Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001).… The regime was caught trying to purchase 500 metric tons of this material. It takes about 10 tons to produce enough enriched uranium for a single nuclear weapon.” But later in the day, the CIA rescinds its approval for this passage, saying that the information for this allegation had come from a single source and was not solid enough for a presidential speech. The reference to the alleged attempt to obtain uranium is dropped. (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 85-86; Unger 2007, pp. 259)
Two days before the CIA is to issue an assessment (see August 2002) on Iraq’s supposed links to militant Islamic groups, Defense Department officials working in the Office of Special Plans (OSP) deliver a briefing in the White House to several top officials, including I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, and Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. The briefing is entitled “Assessing the Relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda,” and is an updated version of a briefing presented in July 2002 (see July 25, 2002). The OSP, working under Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith, is aggressively promoting any evidence it can find to support a decision to invade Iraq (see September 2002).
The briefing claims that the relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda is “mature” and “symbiotic,” and marked by shared interests.
It lists cooperation in 10 categories, or “multiple areas of cooperation,” including training, financing, and logistics. (Savage 2007, pp. 292; New York Times 4/6/2007; Smith 4/6/2007)
An alleged 2001 meeting in Prague between an Iraqi spy and 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta is listed as one of eight “Known Iraq-Al-Qaeda Contacts.” It claims that there is a “known contact” between Atta and the Iraqi intelligence agency, a claim already rejected by the CIA. (Savage 2007, pp. 293; Smith 4/6/2007)
The briefing claims that “Fragmentary reporting points to possible Iraqi involvement not only in 9/11 but also in previous al-Qaeda attacks.” (Smith 4/6/2007)
It includes a slide criticizing the rest of the US intelligence community, which says there are “fundamental problems” with CIA intelligence gathering methods. It claims other intelligence agencies assume “that secularists and Islamists will not cooperate, even when they have common interests,” and there is a “consistent underestimation of importance that would be attached by Iraq and al-Qaeda to hiding a relationship.” (Coman 7/11/2004; Isikoff 7/19/2004; Savage 2007, pp. 293; Smith 4/6/2007)
Around the same time, the briefing is also presented with slight variations to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and CIA Director George Tenet. The slide criticizing other intelligence agencies is excluded when a version of the briefing is given to Tenet. A later report by the Defense Department’s Office of Inspector General will conclude the briefing was entirely incorrect and deliberately ignored intelligence by the CIA, DIA, and other intelligence agencies that contradicted its conclusions (see February 9, 2007). (Smith 4/6/2007) The CIA has already found the majority of the information in the presentation either completely false or largely unsupported by reliable evidence. (Savage 2007, pp. 293)
Unusual Briefing - This briefing, delivered at the same time the White House is pressing Congress to authorize the upcoming war with Iraq (see October 11, 2002), is, in the words of author and reporter Charlie Savage, “highly unusual.” Usually, high-level administration officials making national security decisions rely on information vetted by top-flight analysts at the CIA, in order to ensure the information is as accurate and politically neutral as possible. No CIA analyst has ever found a meaningful link between Hussein and al-Qaeda; the few reports of such claims were seen as highly dubious. But Cheney and his supporters consider the CIA slow, pedantic, and incompetent, and believe Feith’s OSP can provide better—or at least more amenable—intelligence. Savage will write: “In Feith’s shop and elsewhere in the executive branch, neoconservative political appointees stitched together raw intelligence reports, often of dubious credibility, without any vetting or analysis by professional intelligence specialists. The officials cherry-picked the files for reports that supported the notion that Iraq had an active [WMD] program and that it was working hand-in-hand with al-Qaeda, ‘stovepiping’ such reports to top decision makers (and leaking them to the press) while discounting any skepticism mounted by the professionals.” (Savage 2007, pp. 292)
Dismantling Intelligence Filtering System in Favor of Politically Controlled Intelligence Provisions - What the presentation accomplishes, according to former CIA intelligence analyst Kenneth Pollock, is to support a conclusion already drawn—the need to get rid of Saddam Hussein—by using slanted, altered, and sometimes entirely fabricated “intelligence.” The White House proceeded to “dismantle the existing filtering process that for 50 years had been preventing the policymakers from getting bad information.” Savage goes one step farther. He will write that the presentation is part of a larger White House strategy to alter the balance of power between the presidency and a key element of the bureaucracy. By setting up a politically controlled alternative intelligence filtering system, he will write, “the administration succeeded in diminishing the power of the CIA’s information bureaucracy to check the White House’s desired course of action.” (Savage 2007, pp. 294)
Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley convenes a meeting in the White House Situation Room to discuss Iraq with Colin Powell, George Tenet, and Donald Rumsfeld. The White House wants to be sure they are all on the same page when they testify before Congress next week. When a CIA officer notes that the alleged ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda are not supported by current intelligence, Douglas Feith cuts in insisting that Mohamed Atta had met an Iraqi agent in Prague, and that the director of Iraqi intelligence had met with Osama bin Laden in 1996. Both theories have been dismissed by the intelligence community. After a few minutes, Hadley cuts him off and tells him to sit down. (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 113-114)
Preparing for a major speech by President Bush on Iraq (see October 7, 2002), the National Security Council has sent the sixth draft of the speech to the CIA for vetting. It includes a line saying that Iraq “has been caught attempting to purchase up to 500 metric tons of uranium oxide from Africa—an essential ingredient in the enrichment process.” It is essentially the same language turned down by the CIA for an earlier speech (see September 11, 2002). In response, the CIA’s associate deputy director for intelligence [ADDI] sends a four-page memo to Bush administration officials, including Bush’s Deputy National Security Adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, and the chief speechwriter, Michael Gerson, expressing doubt over claims that Iraq had attempted to obtain uranium from Niger. On page three of the memo, the ADDI advises removing the allegation from the draft of Bush’s upcoming speech in Cincinnati. “[R]emove the sentence because the amount is in dispute and it is debatable whether it can be acquired from the source. We told Congress that the Brits have exaggerated this issue (see September 24, 2002). Finally, the Iraqis already have 550 metric tons of uranium oxide in their inventory.” (Milbank and Pincus 7/23/2003; Unger 2007, pp. 261-262) Despite the warning, the White House refuses to make substantial changes. Draft seven of the speech, completed later in the day (see October 6, 2002), contains the passage, “[T]he regime has been caught attempting to purchase substantial amounts of uranium oxide from sources in Africa.” (US Congress 7/7/2004) Hadley will later claim in July 2003 that he did not brief his boss, Condoleezza Rice, on the memo. (Milbank and Allen 7/27/2003)
The CIA’s associate deputy director for intelligence (ADDI) receives draft seven of President Bush’s upcoming speech in Cincinnati and sees that the speechwriters have failed to remove the passage on Iraq’s alleged attempt to purchase uranium from Niger, as the CIA had advised the day before (see October 5, 2002). The revised passage reads in part, “the regime has been caught attempting to purchase a substantial amount of uranium oxide from sources in Africa.” The ADDI contacts Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet and tells him that the “president should not be a fact witness on this issue” because the agency’s analysts consider the reporting “weak” and say it is based solely on one source. Tenet then personally calls White House officials, including Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, with the CIA’s concerns. The allegation is finally removed from the speech. Later in the day, to press its point even further, the CIA faxes another memo, summarizing its position on the Africa-uranium claim. The memo states: “[M]ore on why we recommend removing the sentence about procuring uranium oxide from Africa: Three points (1) The evidence is weak. One of the two mines cited by the source as the location of the uranium oxide is flooded. The other mine cited by the source is under the control of the French authorities. (2) The procurement is not particularly significant to Iraq’s nuclear ambitions because the Iraqis already have a large stock of uranium oxide in their inventory. And (3) we have shared points one and two with Congress, telling them that the Africa story is overblown and telling them this is one of the two issues where we differed with the British.” (Pincus and Allen 7/13/2003; Milbank and Pincus 7/23/2003; US Congress 7/7/2004; Unger 2007, pp. 261-262) The memo’s recipients include National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and her deputy, Hadley. (Milbank and Pincus 7/23/2003) Bush will not use the reference in his speech—although he does repeat the “smoking gun/mushroom cloud” trope (see September 4, 2002)—but the administration’s neoconservatives, such as Hadley, are not through with the issue. They will continue trying to insert the language into other speeches (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). Larry Wilkerson, the chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell, will later say: “That was their favorite technique. Stick that baby in there 47 times and on the 47th time it would stay. I’m serious. It was interesting to watch them do this. At every level of the decision-making process you had to have your axe out, ready to chop their fingers off. Sooner or later you would miss one and it would get in there.” (Unger 2007, pp. 261-262)
CIA officials John McLaughlin and Robert Walpole send a revised version of a paper on Iraq’s alleged illicit weapons and terrorist ties to the White House. The paper, a rebuttal to Iraq’s December 7 declaration (see December 7, 2002) to the UN, is to serve as the basis for Powell’s February 5 speech (see February 5, 2003) before the UN Security Council. McLaughlin and Walpole say that it is the best they can do. But the White House is not impressed. Bush redelegates the task to Stephen Hadley and I. Lewis Libby, who go to the CIA to search for additional intelligence that they can add to the draft speech. (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 175)
Jami Miscik, head of the CIA’s Directorate of Intelligence, storms into CIA Director George Tenet’s office, complaining about having to attend more meetings with Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley to rebut the Iraq-al-Qaeda connection yet again. She tells Tenet, “I’m not going back there again, George. If I have to go back to hear their crap and rewrite this g_ddamn report… I’m resigning, right now.” Tenet calls Hadley and shouts into the phone, “She is not coming over. We are not rewriting this f_cking report one more time. It’s f_cking over. Do you hear me! And don’t you ever f_cking treat my people this way again. Ever!” This is according to Ron Suskind in his book, The One Percent Doctrine. Suskind will conclude, “And that’s why, three weeks later, in making the case for war in his State of the Union address, George W. Bush was not able to say what he’d long hoped to say at such a moment: that there was a pre-9/11 connection between al-Qaeda and Saddam.” (Suskind 2006, pp. 190-191)
Robert Walpole, the national intelligence officer for strategic and nuclear programs, sends Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley and other White House officials a memo saying Iraq attempted to obtain uranium from Africa. The memo, intended to help Colin Powell prepare for his presentation before the UN Security Council, provides no new evidence to support the allegation. Rather it cites the National Intelligence Estimate written last September (see October 1, 2002), even though the Africa-uranium allegation was personally disavowed by CIA Director George Tenet on October 6 (see October 6, 2002). (Sanger and Miller 7/23/2003)
Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, presents the latest draft of a paper that is meant to serve as a rebuttal to Iraq’s December 7 declaration (see February 5, 2003) to Condoleezza Rice, Stephen Hadley, Paul Wolfowitz, Karl Rove, Richard Armitage, Michael Gerson, and Karen Hughes. The paper, written with the help of John Hannah, is supposed to serve as the basis for the speech Secretary of State Colin Powell will deliver to the UN Security Council on February 5 (see February 5, 2003). In his presentation, Libby says that intercepts and human intelligence reports indicate that Saddam Hussein has been attempting to conceal items. He doesn’t know what items are being hidden by the Iraqis, but he says it must be weapons of mass destruction. He also claims that Iraq has extensive ties to al-Qaeda, and cites the alleged meeting between Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi Intelligence agent (see April 8, 2001) as one example. While Armitage is disappointed with Libby’s presentation, Wolfowitz and Rove seem impressed. Karen Hughes warns Libby not to stretch the facts. (Bamford 2004, pp. 368; Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 175)
Colin Powell’s chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, tasked with the duty of preparing Powell’s upcoming UN presentation (see January 29, 2003), meets with his hastily assembled team: Lynne Davidson, Powell’s chief speechwriter; Carl Ford, the head of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR); and Barry Lowenkron, principal deputy director of policy planning at State. They also consult with a UN staffer on the logistics of making such a presentation to the Security Council. Later that day, Wilkerson drives to the CIA building in Langley, where he meets with CIA Director George Tenet and Tenet’s deputy, John McLaughlin. Wilkerson examines information provided for Powell’s speech by the White House, and quickly determines that it is unreliable to the point of uselessness (see January 30-February 4, 2003). He decides that his team will assemble its own information. (Unger 2007, pp. 276)
INR Analysts Not Invited to Presentation Planning Sessions - Over the next few days, Wilkerson and his team works almost around the clock putting together Powell’s upcoming presentation. In addition to Wilkerson’s staff, McLaughlin and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice are frequent participants. Others who take part include Rice’s deputy, Stephen Hadley; National Security Council officer Robert Joseph, who had ensured mention of the Iraq-Niger claim in President Bush’s recent State of the Union address (see January 26 or 27, 2003); another NSC official, Will Tobey; two of Vice President Cheney’s senior aides, John Hannah and Lewis “Scooter” Libby; and Lawrence Gershwin, one of the CIA’s top advisers on technical intelligence. Aside from Ford, there are no representatives from the State Department’s own intelligence analysts of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR). They had refused to give in to White House pressure to “cook” the intelligence on Iraq (see November 14, 2001, January 31, 2002, March 1, 2002, and December 23, 2002). Their absence, author Craig Unger will later write, is “another striking indication that Powell had capitulated and was trying to avoid a showdown with the White House.… [T]he hard-nosed analysts at INR, who had not bowed to White House pressure, would be a political liability for Powell.” (Auster, Mazzetti, and Pound 6/9/2003; Bamford 2004, pp. 370-1; Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 230; Unger 2007, pp. 276-278)
Inspirational Film - Early in the process, Wilkerson and his colleagues watch an archived film of then-UN ambassador Adlai Stevenson’s historic 1962 speech before the UN Security Council. Stevenson’s ringing denunciation of the Soviet Union, and his dramatic use of irrefutable evidence that showed Soviet missiles in Cuba, inspires the team to seek what Wilkerson calls “a similar confluence of evidence and rhetoric.” They want Powell to have his own “Stevenson moment” before the UN. (Unger 2007, pp. 276-278)
Roadblocks - Throughout the process, Wilkerson’s team is deviled by the insistence of White House representatives, most notably those from Cheney’s office, on the insertion of information and claims that Wilkerson and his team know are unreliable (see January 30-February 4, 2003). (Unger 2007, pp. 275)
On February 1, Secretary of State Colin Powell begins rehearsing for his February 5 presentation to the UN Security Council (see February 5, 2003). Powell is assisted by members of his staff, including his chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see January 30-February 4, 2003). (Auster, Mazzetti, and Pound 6/9/2003; Bamford 2004, pp. 368-9; Hylton 4/29/2004)
Discredited Items Keep Reappearing - One item that keeps reoccurring is the discredited claim that 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta met with Iraqi officials in Prague (see September 14, 2001 and September 18, 2001). Cheney’s people keep attempting to insert it into the presentation. It takes Powell’s personal intervention to have the claim removed from the presentation. “He was trying to get rid of everything that didn’t have a credible intelligence community-based source,” Wilkerson will later recall. But even after Powell’s decision, Cheney loyalist Stephen Hadley, the deputy national security adviser, tries to have it reinserted. “They were just relentless,” Wilkerson will recall. “You would take it out and they would stick it back in. That was their favorite bureaucratic technique—ruthless relentlessness.” An official (probably Wilkerson) later adds: “We cut it and somehow it got back in. And the secretary said, ‘I thought I cut this?’ And Steve Hadley looked around and said, ‘My fault, Mr. Secretary, I put it back in.’ ‘Well, cut it, permanently!’ yelled Powell. It was all cartoon. The specious connection between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, much of which I subsequently found came probably from the INC and from their sources, defectors and so forth, [regarding the] training in Iraq for terrorists.… No question in my mind that some of the sources that we were using were probably Israeli intelligence. That was one thing that was rarely revealed to us—if it was a foreign source.” Powell becomes so angry at the machinations that he throws the dossier into the air and snaps: “This is bullsh_t. I’m not doing this.” But he continues working on the presentation. (Auster, Mazzetti, and Pound 6/9/2003; Bamford 2004, pp. 370-1; Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 230; Unger 2007, pp. 278-279) The same official will add that every time Powell balks at using a particular item, he is “fought by the vice president’s office in the person of Scooter Libby, by the National Security Adviser [Condoleezza Rice] herself, by her deputy [Stephen Hadley], and sometimes by the intelligence people—George [Tenet] and [Deputy CIA Director] John [McLaughlin].” (Bamford 2004, pp. 370)
Mobile Bioweapons Claim Survives Editing Process - One of the allegations Powell rehearses is the claim that Iraq has developed mobile biological weapons laboratories, a claim based on sources that US intelligence knows are of questionable reliability (see Late January, 2003 and February 4, 2003). Referring to one of the sources, an Iraqi major, Powell later tells the Los Angeles Times, “What really made me not pleased was they had put out a burn [fabricator] notice on this guy, and people who were even present at my briefings knew it.” Nor does anyone inform Powell that another source, an Iraqi defector known as Curveball, is also a suspected fabricator (see January 27, 2003). (Drogin and Goetz 11/20/2005) In fact, the CIA issued an official “burn notice” formally retracting more than 100 intelligence reports based on Curveball’s information. (Ross and Schwartz 3/13/2007)
Powell 'Angry, Disappointed' in Poor Sourcing of Claim - In March 2007, Powell will claim he is “angry and disappointed” that he was never told the CIA had doubts about the reliability of the source. “I spent four days at CIA headquarters, and they told me they had this nailed.” But former CIA chief of European operations Tyler Drumheller will later claim in a book that he tried and failed to keep the Curveball information out of the Powell speech (see February 4-5, 2003). “People died because of this,” he will say. “All off this one little guy who all he wanted to do was stay in Germany.” Drumheller will say he personally redacted all references to Curveball material in an advance draft of the Powell speech. “We said, ‘This is from Curveball. Don’t use this.’” But Powell later says neither he nor his chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, were ever told of any doubts about Curveball. “In fact, it was the exact opposite,” Wilkerson will assert. “Never from anyone did we even hear the word ‘Curveball,’ let alone any expression of doubt in what Secretary Powell was presenting with regard to the biological labs.” (Ross and Schwartz 3/13/2007)
A day after former ambassador Joseph Wilson appears on CNN questioning the validity of the administration’s claims about the Iraq-Niger uranium purchase (see March 8, 2003), Vice President Dick Cheney and Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley begin a campaign to discredit him. The information comes from senior sources within the State Department, the CIA, and the National Security Council (NSC), all with direct knowledge of the campaign, and from Wilson himself. The sources will say that they and other officials are directed to unearth or “invent” embarrassing information on Wilson that could be used against him in public. Aides in the Office of the Vice President and others, including the sources, prepare a “workup” on Wilson, including memos and classified material on him for Cheney and the NSC. Officials meet regularly in Cheney’s office to discuss the progress of the campaign with Cheney, Hadley, and other officials.
Visit to CIA Headquarters - According to an official in the CIA’s Counterproliferation Division (CPD), Cheney and Hadley visit the CIA the day after Wilson’s interview on CNN. Cheney’s original target for discrediting was not Wilson, but David Albright, the former UN weapons inspector who has also challenged the credibility of the Iraq-Niger claims and the rationale for invading Iraq (see March 8, 2003). Cheney asked several CIA officials to find “dirt” on Albright for use in discrediting him in the media. At the outset, the CIA official will say: “Vice President Cheney was more concerned with Mr. Albright. The international community had been saying that inspectors should have more time, that the US should not set a deadline. The vice president felt Mr. Albright’s remarks would fuel the debate.” The CIA will eventually send a “binder” to Cheney’s office containing information about Albright; it is not clear to what, if any, use that information is put.
Cheney 'Enraged' - But Wilson’s appearance on CNN and his public ridicule of the Iraq-Niger uranium claim enraged Cheney, who saw Wilson’s comments as a personal attack against him. Hadley also took an interest in Wilson’s remarks because he personally allowed the Iraq-Niger claim to remain in Bush’s State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) even after being informed that the documents the claim was based upon were forgeries. Both Cheney and Hadley view Wilson as a possible impediment to the public’s acceptance of the impending Iraq invasion. Cheney chairs a meeting in his office the day after Wilson’s appearance on CNN, attended by, among others, Hadley, White House political guru Karl Rove, Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Cheney’s deputy national security adviser John Hannah, and several officials from the CIA and State Department, including the officials who will later discuss the matter with the press. “The way I remember it,” says the CIA official, “is that the vice president was obsessed with Wilson. He called him an ‘_sshole,’ a son-of-a-b_tch. He took his comments very personally. He wanted us to do everything in our power to destroy his reputation and he wanted to be kept up to date about the progress.” Hadley says he will write an editorial about the Iraqi threat that should offset Wilson’s remarks; the State Department will redistribute a February 16, 2003 editorial by Hadley that appeared in the Chicago Tribune to newspaper editors around the country. Cheney will appear on NBC’s Meet the Press to refute the challenges to the Iraq-Niger claims (see March 16, 2003). (Leopold 2/9/2006) In 2004, Wilson will write: “I learned that a meeting right around the time of this particular CNN appearance (see March 8, 2003) led to the decision to produce a ‘workup’ on me for the Office of the Vice President. It was not made clear to me whether Dick Cheney himself attended this meeting, although I was told that senior members of his staff and quite possibly other senior Republicans, including former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, were present and that Gingrich actively participated in a strategy session, the objective of which was to figure out how to discredit me.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 326-327)
False Allegations of 'Womanizing,' Drug Use - Within days, officials in the CIA, NSC, and State Department pass on information to Cheney and Libby that purportedly shows Wilson is a “womanizer” who had occassionally used drugs in his youth; the sources later say that the allegations are entirely false. The sources will say that they are unsure the material was ever used to discredit Wilson, since after the war began on March 19, the media lost interest in Wilson’s warnings. (Leopold 2/9/2006) Wilson later writes that the meeting about him does “not include discussion of how the president and his senior staff might address the indisputable, if inconvenient, fact that the allegation I had made was true. In other words, from the very beginning, the strategy of the White House was to confront the issue as a ‘Wilson’ problem rather than as an issue of the lie that was in the State of the Union address.… The immediate effect of the workup, I am told by a member of the press, citing White House sources, was a long harangue against the two of us within the White House walls. Over a period of several months, Libby evidently seized opportunities to rail openly against me as an ‘assh_le playboy’ who went on a boondoggle ‘arranged by his CIA wife’—and was a Democratic Gore supporter to boot.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 441-442)
New Interest in Wilson - Cheney’s interest in Wilson will be renewed in May 2003 (see May 2003), when Wilson informs New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof that he was the special envoy who had gone to Niger in February 2002 to investigate the uranium claims (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002).
Vice President Dick Cheney’s interest in former ambassador and current Iraq whistleblower Joseph Wilson is renewed when Wilson informs New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof that he was the special envoy who went to Niger in February 2002 to investigate the uranium claims (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). When Kristof publishes the information (see May 6, 2003), according to a CIA official, “a request came in from Cheney that was passed to me that said ‘the vice president wants to know whether Joe Wilson went to Niger.’ I’m paraphrasing. But that’s more or less what I was asked to find out.” Cheney, of course, knew Wilson had gone to Niger (see (February 13, 2002)). The campaign to discredit and besmirch Wilson begins again (see March 9, 2003 and After), this time in a much more intensified manner. “Cheney and Libby made it clear that Wilson had to be shut down,” the CIA official will later say. “This wasn’t just about protecting the credibility of the White House. For the vice president, going after Wilson was purely personal, in my opinion.” Cheney is heavily involved in this second phase of the anti-Wilson campaign as well, pushing CIA officials to find out everything they can about Wilson. Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley also pressures State Department officials to send information they have on Wilson to his attention at the NSC. It is also at this time that Cheney and at least some members of his staff learn that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is a covert CIA officer. At least one meeting is held in the Office of the Vice President to discuss possible strategies to use against Wilson. According to a State Department official, Cheney is not at this particular meeting: “Libby [Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby] led the meeting. But he was just as upset about Wilson as Cheney was.” (Memmott 4/29/2004; Leopold 2/9/2006) In a 2005 interview, Wilson will tell a reporter that he believes others in the White House’s communications and public relation staffs, including Karl Rove, Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin, and James Wilkinson, all become aware of Plame Wilson’s secret CIA status, as does Hadley, his boss, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and White House chief of staff Andrew Card. “That would be the natural group because they were constituted to spin the war, so they would be naturally the ones to try to deflect criticism,” Wilson will say. (Alexandrovna 7/13/2005) In 2008, current White House deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will acknowledge that “Cheney and his staff were leading a White House effort to discredit Joe Wilson himself.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 171)
After the publication of Joseph Wilson’s op-ed debunking the administration’s claims of an Iraq-Niger uranium connection (see July 6, 2003), White House officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, White House communications director Dan Bartlett, and Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby discuss methods of discrediting Wilson. The four work with CIA Director George Tenet to declassify records that might help them prove their contention that they accurately portrayed intelligence about the Iraq-Niger claim, and put Wilson in a poor light. During Libby’s perjury trial (see January 16-23, 2007), a senior White House official involved in the process will testify: “We were trying to figure out what happened and get the story out. There was nothing nefarious as to what occurred.” In a 2007 interview, that same official will confirm what will be said in federal grand jury testimony and public court filings: that Cheney and Libby often acted without the knowledge or approval of other senior White House staff when it came to their efforts to discredit Wilson, including leaking classified information to the press. (Waas 1/12/2007)
According to later testimony by Vice President Dick Cheney’s communications director, Cathie Martin, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley brings up a July 8 appearance by NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell on CNBC (see July 8, 2003) during a meeting. In the meeting, Hadley complains that someone in the White House is trying to pin an inordinate amount of blame for prewar intelligence failures on the CIA, and CIA Director George Tenet is unhappy about it. Martin feels as if Hadley thinks she might be leaking information to the press about blaming the CIA. After the meeting, White House officials decide, according to Martin’s later testimony, to “keep communicators uninvolved” with information emanating from Tenet. Martin tells Cheney and Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby that she did not give information to Mitchell. (Marcy Wheeler 1/25/2007) Within days, President Bush will directly blame Tenet and the CIA for not catching the Iraq-Niger forgeries (see July 11, 2003). Tenet will take the blame for using the forgeries as the basis for Bush’s claim that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003).
The CIA’s Deputy Director, John McLaughlin, sends a draft of a written statement by Director George Tenet about the Niger uranium affair to the White House. Tenet’s statement will acknowledge that he is responsible for the false claims by President Bush and other administration officials that Iraq had attempted to purchase enriched uranium from Niger (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). McLaighlin sends the draft to Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, but it is marked “Unacceptable” by Vice President Dick Cheney. The draft of Tenet’s statement will be entered into evidence in the 2007 trial of Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby (see January 16-23, 2007). (Central Intelligence Agency 7/11/2003; National Public Radio 3/7/2007) It is unclear why Cheney rejects the draft.
White House political adviser Karl Rove, leading the White House’s damage control operation to recoup the losses from Joseph Wilson’s recent op-ed about the fraudulent Iraq-Niger documents (see July 6, 2003), speaks to Time reporter Matthew Cooper. Rove has already discussed Wilson with columnist Robert Novak (see July 8, 2003).
Cooper Digging for White House Smear Details - According to Cooper’s notes, an e-mail from Cooper to his bureau chief, Michael Duffy, and Cooper’s later testimony (see July 13, 2005), Cooper is interested in the White House’s apparent smear attempts against Wilson (see March 9, 2003 and After and May 2003). “I’m writing about Wilson,” Cooper says, and Rove interjects, “Don’t get too far out on Wilson.” Rove insists that their conversation be on “deep background,” wherein Cooper cannot quote him directly, nor can he disclose his identity. Rove tells Cooper that neither CIA Director George Tenet nor Vice President Dick Cheney sent Wilson to Niger, and that, Cooper will later write, “material was going to be declassified in the coming days that would cast doubt on Wilson’s mission and his findings.”
Outing Plame Wilson - Rove says that it is Wilson’s wife Valerie Plame Wilson “who apparently works at the agency [CIA] on wmd issues who authorized the trip… not only [sic] the genesis of the trip is flawed an[d] suspect but so is the report. [Rove] implied strongly there’s still plenty to implicate iraqi interest in acquiring uranium fro[m] Niger.” Rove does not identify Plame Wilson, only calling her “Wilson’s wife,” but Cooper has no trouble learning her name. Rove ends the call with a cryptic teaser, saying, “I’ve already said too much.” Cooper will recall these words two years later when he testifies to the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak (see January 2004). (Cooper 7/11/2003 ; Stevenson 7/16/2005; Cooper 7/17/2005; Unger 2007, pp. 311-312) Later, Cooper will write: “I have a distinct memory of Rove ending the call by saying, ‘I’ve already said too much.’ This could have meant he was worried about being indiscreet, or it could have meant he was late for a meeting or something else. I don’t know, but that sign-off has been in my memory for two years.” (Cooper 7/17/2005) Cooper will later testify that Rove never told him about Plame Wilson’s covert status. (Waas 10/7/2005)
Call Not Logged - Rove asks his personal assistant, Susan Cooper, to ensure that Cooper’s call does not appear on the White House telephone logs. (Leopold 12/9/2005)
Cooper E-mails Editor - After hanging up, Cooper sends an e-mail to his editors at Time about the conversation (see 11:07 a.m. July 11, 2003).
Conversation with Deputy National Security Adviser - After the conversation with Cooper, Rove sends an e-mail to Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, saying he “didn’t take the bait” when Cooper suggested that Wilson’s criticisms had been damaging to the administration (see After 11:07 a.m. July 11, 2003).
White House Getting Message Across - Author Craig Unger later notes that while the conversation is on background, the White House is getting across its message that something about Wilson’s trip is questionable, and it has something to do with his wife. Unger writes, “And a White House press corps that relied heavily on access to high level administration officials was listening intently and was holding its fire.” (Cooper 7/11/2003 ; Stevenson 7/16/2005; Cooper 7/17/2005; Waas 10/7/2005; Unger 2007, pp. 311-312) Rove later testifies that his references to “Niger,” “damaging,” and Bush being “hurt” all referred to the potential political fallout from Wilson’s allegations. As for the statement that “If I were him I wouldn’t get that far out in front of this,” Rove will say he merely wanted to urge Cooper to use caution in relying on Wilson as a potential source. (Waas 10/7/2005)
White House political strategist Karl Rove, upon concluding a phone conversation with Time reporter Matthew Cooper in which Rove divulged the CIA status of Valerie Plame Wilson (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), e-mails Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley about the conversation. “Matt Cooper called to give me a heads-up that he’s got a welfare reform story coming,” Rove writes. “When he finished his brief heads-up he immediately launched into Niger. Isn’t this damaging? Hasn’t the president been hurt? I didn’t take the bait, but I said if I were him I wouldn’t get Time far out in front on this.” According to the Associated Press, this is the first indication that an intelligence official knew Rove talked to Cooper before Cooper’s Time article about Plame Wilson and the White House effort to discredit her husband, war critic Joseph Wilson (see July 17, 2003). Rove will testify about the e-mail to the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson leak in 2004 (see October 15, 2004 and October 14, 2005), telling the jury that he never intended to leak Plame Wilson’s identity, but rather wanted to warn Cooper about some of the allegations Wilson was making about the White House’s use of intelligence to bolster its case for war with Iraq. Rove is aware that conservative columnist Robert Novak, whom he has already spoken to about Plame Wilson (see July 8, 2003 and July 8 or 9, 2003), is planning an article on the Wilsons (see July 14, 2003). He also knows that CIA Director George Tenet is planning to take responsibility for the false Iraq-Niger uranium claims made by President Bush and other White House officials (see July 11, 2003 and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). (Solomon 7/15/2005; VandeHei and Leonnig 12/3/2005) In 2005, investigative reporter Jason Leopold will note that Rove’s version of the conversation as he recounts it to Hadley is substantially different from the material Cooper records in his notes. Most notably, Rove fails to tell Hadley about his outing of a CIA official. Leopold will write, “It is unclear whether Rove was misleading Hadley about his conversation with Cooper, perhaps, because White House officials told its staff not to engage reporters in any questions posed about Wilson’s Niger claims.” (Leopold 12/9/2005)
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; Sanger and Risen 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. (Waas 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; Pincus and Milbank 7/12/2003; Sanger and Risen 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. (Donnelly and Neuffer 3/16/2003; Risen 3/23/2003; Singh 6/12/2003; Landay 6/12/2003; Singh 6/12/2003; Landay 6/13/2003; ABC News 6/16/2003; Newsday 7/12/2003; Priest 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.” (Martin 7/10/2003; CNN 7/10/2003; Pincus 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; Martin 7/10/2003; Kristof 7/14/2003; Stevenson 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). (Leopold 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)
Vice President Dick Cheney authorizes his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, to leak to the press selected portions of a highly classified CIA report: the debriefing of former ambassador Joseph Wilson upon his return from Niger (see March 4-5, 2002 and March 5, 2002). This will become public in 2006, when material from Libby’s grand jury testimony in the Plame Wilson leak investigation is made known (see March 5, 2004, March 24, 2004 and October 28, 2005). Cheney intends to undermine the credibility of Wilson (see June 2003), a prominent war critic, by using the report to contradict his statements that the Bush administration was manipulating intelligence to bolster its claims that Iraq was in possession of WMD (see July 6, 2003), especially his claims that Iraq had not, as the administration has repeatedly claimed (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), tried to buy uranium from Niger. The CIA debriefing report does not mention Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, a covert CIA agent, nor does it say that Plame Wilson arranged for her husband to go to Niger, as Cheney, Libby, and others will claim. (Waas 6/14/2006; Waas 1/12/2007) After Libby is indicted for perjury (see October 28, 2005), criminal defense lawyer Jeralyn Merritt will write on the progressive blog TalkLeft, “It sure sounds to me like the mechanics of the plan to leak the information about Wilson was cemented, if not formed, on Air Force Two, as a follow up to Ari Fleischer’s press gaggle attack on Wilson from Africa (see 3:20 a.m. July 12, 2003), and that the plan was to call reporters and leak the information about Wilson and his wife as gossip coming from other reporters, while shielding themselves by claiming to the reporters that they couldn’t be certain the information was true.” (Jeralyn Merritt 10/31/2005)
Leaking Plame Wilson's Identity - Hours after Cheney instructs Libby to disclose information from the CIA report, Libby informs reporters Judith Miller (see Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003) and Matthew Cooper (see 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003) that Plame Wilson is a CIA agent and she was responsible for selecting her husband for the Niger mission (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, and October 17, 2003).
Denials - Both Libby and Cheney (see May 8, 2004) will testify that Cheney did not encourage or authorize Libby to reveal Plame Wilson’s CIA status. Reporter Murray Waas will write, “But the disclosure that Cheney instructed Libby to leak portions of a classified CIA report on Joseph Wilson adds to a growing body of information showing that at the time Plame [Wilson] was outed as a covert CIA officer the vice president was deeply involved in the White House effort to undermine her husband” (see July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, July 7-8, 2003, and July 8, 2003 and After). The same day, Cheney, Libby, and Cheney’s press spokesperson Cathie Martin discuss ways to rebut and discredit Wilson (see July 12, 2003). President Bush has already authorized Libby to disclose information from a classified intelligence estimate on Iraq in part to discredit Wilson (see March 24, 2004). (Waas 6/14/2006; Waas 1/12/2007) Senior White House officials, including Deputy National Security Director Stephen Hadley and White House communications director Dan Bartlett, who have both worked with Cheney and Libby to formally declassify information in the effort to discredit Wilson (see July 6-10, 2003), will testify that they knew nothing of Cheney’s attempts to declassify the Wilson briefing. (Waas 1/12/2007)
White House chief of staff Andrew Card (see (July 11, 2003)) holds a late-night meeting of what press secretary Scott McClellan will call “select senior advisers”—Card, McClellan, communications director Dan Bartlett, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Rice’s deputy Stephen Hadley, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, and Gonzales’s subordinate Harriet Miers. One topic of discussion is the recent report that the White House had scrubbed a claim of an Iraq-Niger uranium buy from a speech by President Bush in October 2002 (see October 5, 2002 and October 6, 2002), months before Bush’s State of the Union address where he did make such a claim (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). The media reports that Hadley was warned to delete the claim by CIA Director George Tenet. Hadley confirms receiving the warning, and tells the assemblage that, three months later, he had forgotten Tenet’s warning. “Signing off on these facts is my responsibility,” he says. “And in this case, I blew it. I think the only solution is for me to resign.” Hadley is distressed that Tenet had, in McClellan’s words, “been made to look like the scapegoat, since he believed it was nobody’s fault but his own.” McClellan will call Hadley’s offer to resign “selfless .. [his attempt to] clear the name of someone he felt had taken an unfair degree of blame, and to accept his own responsibility for an honest mistake whose consequences were now playing out before a worldwide audience.” The others quickly reject Hadley’s proffered resignation, and decide, as McClellan will recall, “that an approach of openness, forthrightness, and honesty was now essential.” Bartlett and Hadley are delegated to “inform the world as to what had happened and why,” and Hadley will admit to having forgotten his conversation with Tenet” (see October 6, 2002). (McClellan 2008, pp. 177-178)
As decided the night before (see July 21, 2003), Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and White House communications director Dan Bartlett hold a press conference in which Hadley admits to having forgotten about CIA Director George Tenet’s October warning that the Iraq-Niger claim was not solid. Hadley admits that President Bush should never have made the claim that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from Niger; he takes responsibility for its inclusion in the president’s State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). His admission and apology follow closely on the heels of Tenet’s acceptance of responsibility for the “error” (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). Hadley admits that he received two memos from the CIA and a phone call from Tenet in October 2002 that questioned the Iraq-Niger allegations and warned that they should not be made public. The allegations were excised from Bush’s speech in Cincinnati (see October 5, 2002 and October 6, 2002). Hadley says he should have made sure those same allegations were not in Bush’s State of the Union speech: they “should have been taken out of the State of the Union.… There were a number of people who could have raised a hand” to have the passage removed from the draft of Bush’s speech. “And no one raised a hand.… The high standards the president set were not met.” (In reality, author Craig Unger will later write, the White House was reluctant to go back to Tenet because the CIA had already twice rejected the claim. Instead, White House officials had obtained clearance to use the material from a more amenable CIA subordinate—see January 26 or 27, 2003.) Hadley says he has apologized to Bush for the “error.” Bartlett says, “The process failed.” He adds that Bush retains “full confidence in his national security adviser [Condoleezza Rice], his deputy national security adviser [Hadley], and the director of central intelligence [Tenet].” Hadley says he had forgotten about the October CIA memos until they were discovered a few days ago by White House speechwriter Michael Gerson. (Associated Press 7/22/2003; White House 7/22/2003; Sanger and Miller 7/23/2003; Alexandrovna and Leopold 11/16/2005; Unger 2007, pp. 273; Leopold 1/23/2007; McClellan 2008, pp. 178) White House press secretary Scott McClellan will later take some responsibility for the lapse, saying, “The fact is that given the October 5 and 6 memorandum [from Tenet], and my telephone conversation with the DCI Tenet at roughly the same time, I should have recalled at the time of the State of the Union speech that there was controversy associated with the uranium issue.” The press briefing, McClellan will write, “accomplish[es] our goal of putting the 16-word controversy behind us.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 178)
After CIA Director George Tenet admits that President Bush should never have made the claim that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from Niger (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003), and Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley admits the White House also erred in allowing the claim (see July 22, 2003), Hadley’s boss, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, grudgingly admits to her own responsibility in allowing the claim to be made. She tells PBS reporter Gwen Ifill: “What we learned later, and I did not know at the time, and certainly did not know until just before Steve Hadley went out to say what he said last week, was that the director [Tenet] had also sent over to the White House a set of clearance comments that explained why he wanted this out of the speech (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). I either didn’t see the memo, or I don’t remember seeing the memo.” When Ifill asks if she feels any “personal failure or responsibility” over allowing the false claim, Rice responds: “Well, I certainly feel personal responsibility for this entire episode. The president of the United States has every right to believe that what he is saying in his speeches is of [sic] the highest confidence of his staff.” On the same day, Rice continues to insist that Iraq had a nuclear weapons program (see July 30, 2003, July 30, 2003, and July 31, 2003). (Wilson 2004, pp. 352-353)
Robert Luskin, the lawyer for White House political strategist Karl Rove, has his client search White House records immediately after speaking with reporter Viveca Novak (see March 1, 2004). Luskin wants Rove to find any potential documentation of a July 2003 conversation between himself and Cooper. Rove finds an e-mail message from himself to Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley recounting the conversation between himself and Cooper (see After 11:07 a.m. July 11, 2003). Rove will later admit to the grand jury hearing evidence in the investigation that he had indeed spoken to Cooper about Plame Wilson (see October 15, 2004 and October 14, 2005). (Stevenson and Jehl 12/2/2005; Leopold 12/9/2005) (The Washington Post will later report that it was Luskin, not Rove, who actually found the e-mail, and that Luskin first shared it with Rove and then with special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald. (VandeHei and Leonnig 12/3/2005) )
Vice President Dick Cheney is interviewed in his office by federal prosecutors as part of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak investigation (see December 30, 2003). Cheney is asked if he knows who, if anyone, in the White House might have leaked Plame Wilson’s identity to the press. He is asked about conversations with his senior aides, including his chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby. He is also asked whether he knows of any concerted effort by White House officials to leak Plame Wilson’s identity. Cheney is not questioned under oath, and has not been asked to testify before the grand jury. He is represented by two lawyers, Terrence O’Donnell and Emmet Flood. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 5/8/2004 ; Johnston 6/5/2004)
Cheney Evades, Refuses to Answer Questions - In October 2009, an FBI interview summary regarding Cheney’s testimony will be released (see October 1, 2009). According to the document, Cheney equivocates or refuses to answer 72 times during his interview, either saying he cannot be certain about the information requested, or that he does not know.
Denies Informing Libby about Plame Wilson's CIA Status - One of the most fundamental questions Cheney is asked is about how Libby learned about Plame Wilson’s identity. Libby’s own notes indicate that he learned it from Cheney, and that he had shared his notes with Cheney in late 2003 (see Late September or Early October, 2003), in defiance of instructions from the FBI and the White House counsel’s office not to share information with colleagues (see September 29-30, 2003). But in his testimony, Cheney “cannot recall Scooter Libby telling him how he first heard of Valerie Wilson. It is possible Libby may have learned about Valerie Wilson’s employment from the vice president… but the vice president has no specific recollection of such a conversation.” (Federal Bureau of Investigation 5/8/2004 ; Yost 11/2/2009) Cheney testifies that contrary to the evidence, he learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from Libby, who informed him that a number of reporters had contacted Libby in July 2003 to say that Plame Wilson had been responsible for arranging her husband’s trip to Niger to investigate the Niger uranium claims. Cheney says that the next time he heard about Plame Wilson and her connection to her husband was when he read Robert Novak’s article outing her as a CIA officer (see July 14, 2003). Cheney is lying; he informed Libby of Plame Wilson’s identity (see (June 12, 2003)).
Denies Knowledge of Wilson Trip to Niger - He also denies knowing that Plame Wilson’s husband, war critic and former ambassador Joseph Wilson, was sent to Niger to investigate claims that Iraq was attempting to buy uranium from that country (see (February 13, 2002) and February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), and says the CIA never briefed him about Wilson’s trip (see March 5, 2002). Future testimony will challenge Cheney’s claims, as witnesses will testify that Cheney, Libby, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, the Defense Department, the State Department, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the National Security Council, and President Bush were all given copies of a CIA cable sent to Cheney’s office that debunked the Niger claims (see December 2001, Shortly after February 12, 2002, March 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, March 8, 2002, October 15, 2002, Mid-October 2002, October 18, 2002, January 2003, and March 8, 2003). (Federal Bureau of Investigation 5/8/2004 ; Leopold 2/15/2006)
Refuses to Answer about WMD NIE - Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, leading the interview, presses Cheney to discuss evidence that shows he pressured Bush to quickly declassify portions of the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraqi WMD (see October 1, 2002) for the purpose of making the case for invading Iraq. Libby provided selected NIE information to New York Times reporter Judith Miller while simultaneously leaking Plame Wilson’s identity to her (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003) and other reporters. Cheney refuses to confirm that he discussed anything regarding the NIE with Bush, saying that he could not comment on any private or privileged conversations he may have had with the president. Libby has already testified to the declassification of the NIE, telling prosecutors that he talked to Miller following the “president’s approval relayed to me through the vice president.”
Insists Plame Wilson's Identity Never Used to Discredit Husband - Cheney insists that no one in the White House ever talked about leaking Plame Wilson’s CIA status to the press in an attempt to discredit her husband. There was never any discussion, Cheney says, of “pushing back” on Wilson’s credibility by raising the issue of nepotism, the fact that his wife worked for the CIA, the same agency that dispatched him to Niger to run down the report of an agreement to supply uranium to Iraq. In his own testimony, Libby was far less emphatic, saying “[i]t’s possible” he may have discussed the idea with Cheney. Both men lie in their testimony (see March 9, 2003 and After, May 2003, June 3, 2003, June 9, 2003, June 11 or 12, 2003, (June 11, 2003), 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003, 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003, 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003, (June 12, 2003), June 19 or 20, 2003, July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, July 7-8, 2003, 12:00 p.m. July 7, 2003, July 8, 2003, and 7:35 a.m. July 8, 2003). (Federal Bureau of Investigation 5/8/2004 ; Yost 11/2/2009) Cheney tells prosecutors that he and his office were merely interested in rebutting Wilson’s criticisms of the war effort, and wanted to dispel the notion among some reporters that he had selected Wilson for the Niger trip. In 2006, an attorney close to the case will say: “In his testimony the vice president said that his staff referred media calls about Wilson to the White House press office. He said that was the appropriate venue for responding to statements by Mr. Wilson that he believed were wrong.” (Federal Bureau of Investigation 5/8/2004 ; Leopold 2/15/2006) In June 2009, the Department of Justice will reveal that Cheney and Bush had discussed the leak in a “confidential conversation” and “an apparent communication between the vice president and the president.” (Leopold 7/7/2009)
Deputy White House chief of staff Karl Rove, President Bush’s top political adviser, testifies for a third time before the grand jury investigating the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see December 30, 2003). (The date of Rove’s second testimony to the grand jury is not publicly known, though Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff later says Rove testified twice in February 2004.) Rove tells the jury that he spoke with Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), a conversation he has failed to disclose in previous testimony both before the jury and when interviewed by FBI agents (see October 8, 2003 and February 2004). Rove now says he recalls speaking with Cooper, but cannot remember details of their conversation. His lawyer, Robert Luskin, says Rove “answered fully and truthfully every one of their questions,” and did not try to avoid answering questions on legal grounds. White House press secretary Scott McClellan says that Rove’s testimony shows he is “doing his part to cooperate” in the probe. Terry McAuliffe, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, charges that Rove and other Bush aides are refusing to tell the public everything they know about the outing of Plame Wilson as a CIA official. “Karl Rove needs to come clean and tell us what he told the grand jury today,” McAuliffe says. Luskin claims that Rove has been informed he is not a target of the inquiry. (Novak 10/15/2004; Johnston 10/16/2004; Waas 4/28/2006; Isikoff and Thomas 5/8/2006)
Names Libby - Rove informs the jury that he may have learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from former White House official Lewis Libby, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. Almost a year later, the Washington Post will learn of Rove’s naming of Libby from “a source familiar with Rove’s account.” Days before Plame Wilson’s identity was publicly revealed (see July 14, 2003), Libby and Rove discussed conversations they had had with Cooper and other, unnamed reporters. Both Plame Wilson’s CIA identity and her husband, war critic Joseph Wilson, were discussed, Rove tells the jury. He says that his conversations with Libby were confined to information the two men heard from reporters. He also says he heard about Plame Wilson’s CIA identity from “someone outside the White House,” but cannot recall that person’s identity. (VandeHei and Leonnig 10/20/2005)
Claim of Memory Failure - Rove has claimed not to remember the conversation between himself and Cooper, but has recently found an e-mail he sent to Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley confirming the conversation (see After 11:07 a.m. July 11, 2003). Rove and Luskin claim that Rove only recently found the e-mail and immediately turned it over to Fitzgerald’s investigators. They claim that Rove never intended to withhold evidence from the investigation. (Johnston and Stevenson 11/4/2005)
Kerry Campaign Calls for Full Disclosure from White House - Joe Lockhart, the campaign spokesman for the presidential campaign of John Kerry (D-MA), says: “With two weeks to go before the election, the American people are still in the dark about how it is that their White House leaked the name of an undercover CIA operative to the press, jeopardizing the life of this agent and possibly violating federal law. Instead of hiding behind the lawyers he so often likes to criticize, George Bush should direct Karl Rove and anyone else involved to go to the White House briefing room and come clean about their role in this insidious act.” (Greive 10/15/2004)
President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney are re-elected to the US presidency for a second term. In the coming months, some important cabinet officials are replaced. Secretary of State Colin Powell resigns. Condoleezza Rice moves from National Security Adviser to Secretary of State. Her Deputy National Security Adviser Steven Hadley becomes the new National Security Adviser. Attorney General John Ashcroft resigns and is replaced by Alberto Gonzalez. Department of Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge resigns and is replaced by Michael Chertoff. (Kuhn 11/30/2004)
The Pentagon reports that an internal investigation shows no US guard at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility ever flushed a Koran down a toilet, as Newsweek recently reported. Furthermore, the rioting in Pakistan and Afghanistan that broke out after the report was released and claimed the lives of 17 people was directly sparked by the Newsweek report (see May 6-9, 2005). Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita informs Newsweek that its report is wrong. Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff, the co-author of the report, goes back to his anonymous administration source to confirm the story. However, “the official, still speaking anonymously, could no longer be sure that these concerns had surfaced in the [US Southern Command] report [on prisoner abuse],” Newsweek writes. The story of the Koran being desecrated might have been in other reports, the source tells Isikoff. “Told of what the Newsweek source said, Di Rita explode[s],” the magazine writes. “‘How could he be credible now?’ Di Rita thunders.” National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley says the White House is “vigorously” investigating the report; if true, Hadley says, stern disciplinary action will be taken. Hadley adds that radical Islamic elements in Pakistan and Afghanistan are using the report as an excuse to incite violence. (Seelye 5/16/2005) Three weeks later, the Pentagon will confirm that at least five instances of Koran desecration at Guantanamo did indeed occur (see June 3, 2005).
National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and White House deputy chief of staff Joe Hagin meet with antiwar protester Cindy Sheehan (see August 6, 2005 and After) for about 45 minutes. Sheehan, who has requested a meeting with President Bush during his vacation at his ranch in Texas, says she is not satisfied with the meeting with Hadley and Hagin. “I don’t believe his phony excuses for the war,” she says. “I want him to tell me why my son died (see April 4, 2004). If he gave the real answer, people in this country would be outraged—if he told people it was to make his buddies rich, that it was about oil.” (Calvo and Chen 8/11/2005)
Rob Richer, the outgoing deputy chief of the CIA’s directorate of operations (see September 2, 2005), appears before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to talk about the reasons for his departure from the agency. Richer is apparently unhappy over what he perceives as a lack of leadership by CIA Director Porter Goss and wants to expand the agency’s clandestine capability, while reducing analysis. The Washington Post will say that the appearance, at a closed session of the committee, is “unusual.” The session is not publicly announced; neither senators nor staff members who attend will officially confirm Richer’s presence. Nevertheless, one participant at the meeting will say that Richer is “impressive.” (Pincus and Linzer 9/22/2005) Richer has also previously met with National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley to explain his decision. (Priest and Pincus 9/9/2005)
White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove testifies for a fourth time before the grand jury investigating the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see December 30, 2003). (Leonnig and VandeHei 10/15/2005; Washington Post 7/3/2007) Rove amends and clarifies his earlier testimony, most notably his failure to remember outing Plame Wilson to Time reporter Matthew Cooper (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald spends a large portion of Rove’s session focusing on the omission. In earlier testimony, Rove attempted to claim that he had only a “hazy recollection” of hearing Plame Wilson’s name (see October 15, 2004) before reading Robert Novak’s column which publicly outed her as a CIA agent (see July 14, 2003). He now testifies that he informed Cooper of her status as a CIA agent days before the article appeared, and his memory apparently failed him during his earlier statements to the grand jury. Rove testifies that his recollection was prompted by the discovery of an e-mail message to Stephen Hadley, then the deputy national security adviser, that he wrote after talking to Cooper (see March 1, 2004). (Waas 10/7/2005; Johnston and Stevenson 10/15/2005) He insists that he never identified Plame Wilson by her name, but “merely” as the wife of former ambassador Joseph Wilson, and did not intentionally reveal her as a covert CIA official because he did not know of her clandestine status. (Leonnig and VandeHei 10/15/2005) He says he may have learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA identity from fellow White House official Lewis Libby, and says that both he and Libby learned of her CIA employment status from reporters. He says someone else outside the White House also told him of Plame Wilson’s identity, but he cannot remember who that was. (VandeHei and Leonnig 10/20/2005) Previously, Rove insisted that he learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from reporters, and not the other way around, as many reporters and others have already testified. Rove has said that one of the reporters who told him that Plame Wilson was a CIA official was Novak, a statement Novak has contradicted (see October 7, 2003, February 5, 2004, and September 14, 2004). Rove also testified that he never told Cooper Plame Wilson’s name, but merely identified her as the wife of former ambassador Joseph Wilson. (Solomon 7/15/2005)
Rove's Testimony No Distraction, White House Officials Claim - White House spokesman Scott McClellan says Rove’s testimony has not distracted the administration from its usual affairs: “[W]hile there are other things going on, the White House doesn’t have time to let those things distract from the important work at hand.” (Johnston and Stevenson 10/15/2005) White House chief of staff Andrew Card concurs. “Well, obviously we’re all human beings and we know that there are external activities that impact the environment you’re working in,” he says. “It is something that is there, but it is something that we don’t talk about because it would be inappropriate.… I haven’t found anyone that is distracted because of the ongoing investigation, but we all know that it’s taking place and we’re all working to cooperate with the investigators.” (Leonnig and VandeHei 10/15/2005)
Lawyer: Rove 'Always Honest' with FBI, Jury, President - Rove’s lawyer, Robert Luskin, says that his client “has always attempted to be honest and fully forthcoming” to anyone “he has spoken to about this matter, whether that be the special prosecutor or the president of the United States. My client would not hide anything, because he has nothing to hide. It would not be to his benefit to do so.” Previously, Rove had failed to disclose his discussion with Cooper to either the FBI or to President Bush (see After September 26, 2003). (Waas 10/7/2005) “The special counsel has not advised Mr. Rove that he is a target of the investigation and affirmed that he has made no decision concerning charges.” (Leonnig and VandeHei 10/15/2005)
Fitzgerald Mulling Criminal Charges against Rove - Sources close to the Fitzgerald investigation say Rove’s statements to Bush and to the FBI are at the heart of the decision whether or not to charge him with making false statements to investigators, or with obstruction of justice. Lying to the president could in itself be worthy of charges. Law professor Rory Little, a former federal prosecutor and assistant attorney general in the Clinton administration, says: “The president is the top law enforcement official of the executive branch. It is a crime to make a false statement to a federal agent. If the president was asking in that capacity, and the statement was purposely false, then you might have a violation of law.” However, if Bush had discussed the matter with Rove in a more informal capacity, then, Little says, a case for making false statements to a federal agent would be more difficult to prove. Law professor Randall Eliason says that if Rove deliberately lied to the president, a prosecutor could construe the lie as an “overt act… in furtherance of a criminal plan.” Law professor Stephen Gillers notes: “Misleading the president, other officials of the executive branch, or even the FBI might not, in and of themselves, constitute criminal acts. But a prosecutor investigating other crimes—such as obstruction of justice or perjury—might use evidence of any such deception to establish criminal intent. And a lack of candor might also negate a claim of good faith or inadvertent error in providing misleading information to prosecutors.” (Waas 10/7/2005)
Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward testifies under oath in a sworn deposition to special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald concerning his knowledge of the identity of outed CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see December 30, 2003), and how he came upon that knowledge. Woodward testifies that he spoke “with three current or former Bush administration officials” in regards to his book Plan of Attack. He testifies for two hours under an agreement that he will only discuss matters specifically relevant to Fitzgerald’s investigation, and with written statements from each of the three administration officials waiving confidentiality “on the issues being investigated by Fitzgerald.” Woodward’s name came to Fitzgerald’s attention after one of the three officials, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, told Fitzgerald that he had revealed Plame Wilson’s identity to Woodward (see June 13, 2003 and After October 28, 2005). In his story for the Post about his testimony, Woodward does not reveal Armitage’s identity, but it is soon disclosed by other sources (see March 14, 2006). Woodward spoke with a second administration official, whose identity he also does not disclose, and with Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, but says he did not discuss Plame Wilson with either Libby or the other official (see June 23, 2003). He testifies that he did not discuss Plame Wilson with any other government officials (see June 20, 2003) before Robert Novak publicly outed her on July 14 (see July 14, 2003). Woodward notes, “It was the first time in 35 years as a reporter that I have been asked to provide information to a grand jury.” (Woodward 11/16/2005; VandeHei and Leonnig 11/16/2005; Washington Post 7/3/2007) Investigative reporters for the progressive news Web site Raw Story identify National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley as Woodward’s source for Plame Wilson’s identity, a claim echoed by the Times of London. Hadley refuses to answer questions on the topic. (Alexandrovna and Leopold 11/16/2005; Smith and Baxter 11/20/2005) In 2006, the National Security Council will refuse to directly deny Hadley’s involvement, and will request that Raw Story attribute denials to the White House and not to itself.) (Alexandrovna 3/19/2006)
Woodward Told Second Reporter about Plame Wilson - Woodward testifies that he told another reporter about Plame Wilson: “I told Walter Pincus, a reporter at the Post, without naming my source, that I understood Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA as a WMD analyst.” Pincus says he has no memory of Woodward telling him anything about Plame Wilson, and says he would certainly have remembered such a conversation, especially since he was writing about Plame Wilson’s husband, war critic Joseph Wilson, at the time (see June 3, 2003, June 11, 2003, June 12, 2003, and (July 11, 2003)). “Are you kidding?” Pincus says. “I certainly would have remembered that.” Pincus believes Woodward is confused about the timing and the nature of their conversations; he remembers Woodward making a vague allusion to Plame Wilson in October 2003. That month, Pincus had written a story explaining how an administration source had contacted him about Wilson. Pincus recalls Woodward telling him that he was not the only person who had been contacted.
Libby Lawyer: Woodward's Testimony Undermines Case against Client - Lewis Libby’s lawyer, William Jeffress, says Woodward’s testimony undermines the case Fitzgerald is building against his client (see October 28, 2005). “If what Woodward says is so, will Mr. Fitzgerald now say he was wrong to say on TV that Scooter Libby was the first official to give this information to a reporter?” Jeffress says. “The second question I would have is: Why did Mr. Fitzgerald indict Mr. Libby before fully investigating what other reporters knew about Wilson’s wife?” (VandeHei and Leonnig 11/16/2005)
Plame Wilson 'Deeply Disappointed' in Woodward - In 2007, Plame Wilson will write, “I was deeply disappointed that [Woodward] had chosen to react as a journalist first and a responsible citizen only when his source ‘outed’ him to the special prosecutor.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 238)
Author and Vanity Fair reporter Craig Unger interviews Michael Ledeen regarding the false claims that Iraq attempted to purchase massive amounts of uranium from Niger (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). Ledeen, a prominent neoconservative who holds the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute, is well known to have extensive ties to the Italian intelligence community and for his relationship with discredited Iranian arms merchant Manucher Ghorbanifar (see 1981 and December 9, 2001). Ledeen denies any involvement in promulgating the fraudulent uranium allegations. “I’m tired of being described as someone who likes fascism and is a warmonger,” he says. (Ledeen has written books and articles praising Italy’s Benito Mussolini, and wrote numerous articles in the run-up to the Iraq invasion calling for the US to forcibly overthrow numerous Middle Eastern governments along with Iraq’s—see September 20, 2001, December 7, 2001, and August 6, 2002.) “I think it’s obvious I have no clout in the administration. I haven’t had a role. I don’t have a role.” He barely knows White House political adviser Karl Rove, he says, and has “no professional relationship with any agency of the federal government during the Bush administration. That includes the Pentagon.” The facts contradict Ledeen’s assertions. Since before Bush’s inauguration, Rove has invited Ledeen to funnel ideas to the White House (see After November 2000). Former Pentagon analyst Karen Kwiatkowski says Ledeen “was in and out of [the Pentagon] all the time.” Ledeen is very close to David Wurmser, who held key posts in the Pentagon and State Department before becoming the chief Middle East adviser for Vice President Dick Cheney. Ledeen also has close ties to National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. Of course, none of this proves or disproves his connections, if any, to the Iraq-Niger fabrications. (Unger 2007, pp. 231)
Investigative reporter Jason Leopold notes that, according to his sources, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald does not believe the story that White House political strategist Karl Rove and his lawyer, Robert Luskin, are telling about the fortuitous discovery of an internal e-mail that led Rove to admit that he told Time reporter Matthew Cooper about Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity. In March 2004, Time reporter Viveca Novak told Luskin that she was sure Rove outed Plame Wilson to Cooper; that information prompted Luskin to have Rove search the White House e-mail archives for information bearing out Novak’s assertion, and Rove found an e-mail he had sent to Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley about his conversation with Hadley (see March 1, 2004). Novak testified yesterday about her conversation with Luskin (see December 8, 2005). “Fitzgerald is said to be suspicious about the chain of events that led up to the discovery of the email,” Leopold writes. “Moreover, he is said to be convinced that Rove had changed his story once it became clear that Cooper would be compelled to testify about the source—Rove—who revealed Plame Wilson’s CIA status to him.” Luskin has said that his client, Rove, initially forgot about his conversation with Cooper in his first testimonies before Fitzgerald’s grand jury, and claimed he was not Cooper’s source (see October 8, 2003). According to Leopold’s sources, some of which are inside the Fitzgerald team, Fitzgerald does not find Rove and Luskin’s assertions “believable.” (Leopold 12/9/2005)
The National Security Council rejects a request from the Defense Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) to interview Stephen Hadley. The OIG is conducting an investigation into whether the Defense Department’s Office of Special Plans had been engaged in inappropriate intelligence activities prior to the invasion of Iraq. (Think Progress 2/9/2007; US Congress 2/9/2007) During the time period in question, Hadley had been deputy national security adviser, and was reportedly one of the Pentagon office’s main contacts in the National Security Council (see, e.g., Shortly After September 11, 2001 and September 2002).
Controversial neoconservative Michael Ledeen, a consultant for the Bush Defense Department, confirms that he was a contributor to the Italian magazine Panorama. A Panorama reporter, Elisabetta Burba, was one of the first to come across forged documents that purported to prove Iraq had attempted to obtain weapons-grade uranium from Niger (see September 12, 2002 and Afternoon October 7, 2002). Ledeen is widely suspected of playing a role in channeling those forged documents to the CIA (see October 18, 2001, December 9, 2001, and April 3, 2005), though he has always denied doing so. Ledeen confirms that “several years ago” he was a “twice a month” contributor to Panorama, but refuses to give further details. He also denies, again, any involvement in the Niger documents: “I’ve said repeatedly, I have no involvement of any sort with the Niger story, and I have no knowledge of it aside from what has appeared in the press,” he writes. “I have not discussed it with any government person in any country.” Reporter Larisa Alexandrovna notes that Ledeen wrote for Panorama during the time that the magazine received the forgeries from an Italian intelligence peddler, and sent them from the US Embassy in Rome via backchannels to the US State Department. Around that same time, Ledeen also allegedly facilitated an unusual meeting between the head of Italy’s military intelligence agency and Stephen Hadley, the deputy national security adviser in the Bush administration (see September 9, 2002). Hadley has denied discussing anything about uranium during that meeting. (Alexandrovna 1/17/2006)
According to sources with firsthand knowledge, alleged perjurer Lewis Libby (see October 28, 2005), the former chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, has given indications of the nature of his defense in his upcoming trial (see January 16-23, 2007). Libby will tell the court that he was authorized by Cheney and other senior Bush administration officials to leak classified information to reporters to build public support for the Iraq invasion and rebut criticism of the war. Prosecutors believe that other White House officials involved in authorizing the leak of classified information may include former Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and White House political strategist Karl Rove. Libby has already made this claim to the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak (see March 24, 2004). As he told the grand jury, Libby will claim that he was authorized to leak classified information to rebut claims from former ambassador Joseph Wilson, Valerie Plame Wilson’s husband, that the Bush administration had misrepresented intelligence information to make a public case for war. Libby allegedly outed Plame Wilson, a covert CIA agent, as part of the White House’s effort to discredit Wilson. Libby is not charged with the crime of revealing a covert CIA agent, but some of the perjury charges center on his denials of outing Plame Wilson to the FBI and to the grand jury. Libby has admitted revealing Plame Wilson’s identity to reporter Judith Miller (see August 6, 2005); he also revealed classified information to Miller.
Risk of Implicating Cheney - Law professor Dan Richman, a former federal prosecutor, says it is surprising that Libby would use such a defense strategy. “One certainly would not expect Libby, as part of his defense, to claim some sort of clear authorization from Cheney where none existed, because that would clearly risk the government’s calling Cheney to rebut that claim.” Reporter Murray Waas writes that Libby’s defense strategy would further implicate Cheney in the White House’s efforts to discredit and besmirch Wilson’s credibility (see October 1, 2003), and link him to the leaks of classified information and Plame Wilson’s CIA identity. It is already established that Libby learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from Cheney and at least three other government officials (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003 and (June 12, 2003)).
Similarities to North's Iran-Contra Defense Strategy - Waas compares Libby’s defense strategy to that of former Colonel Oliver North, charged with a variety of crimes arising from the Iran-Contra scandal (see February 1989). Libby’s defense team includes John Cline, who represented North during his trial. Critics call Cline a “graymail” specialist, who demands the government disclose classified information during a trial, and uses potential refusals to ask for dismissal of charges. Cline won the dismissal of many of the most serious charges against North when Reagan administration officials refused to declassify documents he said were necessary for North’s defense. The special counsel for the Iran-Contra investigation, Lawrence Walsh, believed that Reagan officials refused to declassify the documents because they were sympathetic to North, and trying North on the dismissed charges would have exposed further crimes committed by more senior Reagan officials. It is likely that Cline is using a similar strategy with Libby, according to Waas. Cline has already demanded the disclosure of 10 months’ worth of Presidential Daily Briefings (PDBs), some of the most highly classified documents in government (see January 31, 2006). The Bush administration has routinely denied requests for PDB disclosures. A former Iran-Contra prosecutor says: “It was a backdoor way of shutting us down. It was a cover-up by means of an administrative action, and it was an effective cover-up at that.… The intelligence agencies do not declassify things on the pretext that they are protecting state secrets, but the truth is that we were investigating and prosecuting their own. The same was true for the Reagan administration. Cline was particularly adept at working the system.” Michael Bromwich, a former associate Iran-Contra independent counsel and a former Justice Department inspector general, says it might be more difficult for the Bush administration to use a similar strategy to undercut special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, because Fitzgerald was appointed by the attorney general, not a panel of judges as were Walsh and Whitewater special prosecutor Kenneth Starr. Both Walsh and Starr alleged that they were impeded by interference from political appointees in the Justice Department. Bromwich’s fellow associate Iran-Contra counsel William Treanor, now the dean of Fordham University’s Law School, agrees: “With Walsh or Starr, the president and his supporters could more easily argue that a prosecutor was overzealous or irresponsible, because there had been a three-judge panel that appointed him,” Treanor says. “With Fitzgerald, you have a prosecutor who was appointed by the deputy attorney general [at the direction of the attorney general]. The administration almost has to stand behind him because this is someone they selected themselves. It is harder to criticize someone you yourself put into play.” (Waas 2/6/2006)
'This Is Major' - Progressive author and columnist Arianna Huffington writes: “This proves just how far the White House was willing to go to back up its deceptive claims about why we needed to go to war in Iraq. The great protectors of our country were so concerned about covering their lies they were willing to pass out highly classified information to reporters. And remember—and this is the key—it’s not partisan Democrats making this claim; it’s not Bush-bashing conspiracy theorists, or bloggers reading the Aspen roots (see September 15, 2005). This information is coming from special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald as filed in court papers. This is major.” (Huffington 2/9/2006)
A court filing by Lewis Libby’s defense team lists the witnesses the lawyers say they intend to put on the stand in their client’s defense. The list includes:
Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see June 13, 2003, After October 28, 2005, and November 14, 2005);
Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer (see July 7, 2003, 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, and 1:26 p.m. July 12, 2003);
Former Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman (see June 10, 2003);
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell (see July 16, 2004);
White House political strategist Karl Rove (see July 8, 2003, July 8 or 9, 2003, and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003);
Former CIA Director George Tenet (see June 11 or 12, 2003, July 11, 2003 and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003);
Former US ambassador Joseph Wilson (see July 6, 2003);
Former CIA covert operative Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003);
National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley (see July 21, 2003 and November 14, 2005);
CIA briefers Craig Schmall (see 7:00 a.m. June 14, 2003), Peter Clement, and/or Matt Barrett;
Former CIA officials Robert Grenier (see 4:30 p.m. June 10, 2003, 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003, and 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003) and/or John McLaughlin (see June 11 or 12, 2003);
Former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow (see 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003, (July 11, 2003), and Before July 14, 2003);
Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff David Addington (see July 8, 2003);
Former Cheney press secretary Cathie Martin (see 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003); and
Cheney himself (see July 12, 2003 and Late September or Early October, 2003).
The defense also:
Wants notes from a September 2003 White House briefing where Powell reportedly claimed that many people knew of Plame Wilson’s CIA identity before it became public knowledge;
Implies that Grossman may not be an unbiased witness;
Suspects Fleischer may have already cooperated with the investigation (see June 10, 2004);
Intends to argue that Libby had no motive to lie to either the FBI (see October 14, 2003 and November 26, 2003) or the grand jury (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004); and
Intends to argue that columnist Robert Novak’s primary source for his column exposing Plame Wilson as a CIA official was not Libby, but “a source outside the White House” (see July 8, 2003). (US District Court for the District of Columbia 3/17/2006 ; Jeralyn Merritt 3/18/2006)
Criminal defense attorney Jeralyn Merritt believes Libby’s team may be preparing to lay blame for the Plame Wilson leak on Grossman. She writes that, in her view, “Libby’s lawyers are publicly laying out how they intend to impeach him: by claiming he is not to be believed because (either or both) his true loyalty is to Richard Armitage rather than to the truth, or he is a self-aggrandizing government employee who thinks of himself a true patriot whose duty it is to save the integrity of the State Department.” (Jeralyn Merritt 4/4/2006) Libby’s lawyers indicate that they will challenge Plame Wilson’s significance as a covert CIA official (see Fall 1992 - 1996, April 2001 and After, Before September 16, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, October 23-24, 2003, and February 13, 2006). “The prosecution has an interest in continuing to overstate the significance of Ms. Wilson’s affiliation with the CIA,” the court filing states. They also intend to attempt to blame Armitage, Grossman, Grenier, McLaughlin, Schmall, and/or other officials outside the White House proper as the real sources for the Plame Wilson identity leak. (US District Court for the District of Columbia 3/17/2006 ; Leopold 3/18/2006)
Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald files a brief with the court that states unequivocally that the White House orchestrated an attempt to besmirch the character and integrity of former ambassador Joseph Wilson (see June 2003, June 3, 2003, June 11, 2003, June 12, 2003, June 19 or 20, 2003, July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, July 11, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, July 18, 2003, and October 1, 2003). The New York Times describes Wilson as “the man who emerged as the most damaging critic of the administration’s case that Saddam Hussein was seeking to build nuclear weapons.”
Bush, Cheney at Heart of Smear Campaign - Fitzgerald’s court filing places President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney directly at the center of the controversy, which erupted when conservative columnist Robert Novak used information from White House sources to “out” Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, as a covert CIA agent (see July 14, 2003). According to Fitzgerald, the White House engaged in “a plan to discredit, punish, or seek revenge against Mr. Wilson.” The filing concludes, “It is hard to conceive of what evidence there could be that would disprove the existence of White House efforts to ‘punish Wilson.’” Fitzgerald’s portrait of events is at odds with the Bush administration’s narrative, which attempts to portray Wilson as a minor figure whose criticism of the Iraq invasion comes from his personal and political agenda. Fitzgerald is preparing to turn over to the defense lawyers for Lewis Libby some 1,400 pages of handwritten notes—some presumably by Libby himself—that should bolster Fitzgerald’s assertion. Fitzgerald will file papers in support of his assertion that Bush ordered the selective disclosure of parts of the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (see October 1, 2002) as part of the White House’s attempt to discredit Wilson.
Fitzgerald: Cheney Headed Campaign - Fitzgerald views Cheney, not Bush, as being at what the Times calls “the epicenter of concern about Mr. Wilson.” Fitzgerald notes that Wilson’s op-ed in the New York Times (see July 6, 2003) “was viewed in the Office of the Vice President as a direct attack on the credibility of the vice president (and the president) on a matter of signal importance: the rationale for the war in Iraq.… Disclosing the belief that Mr. Wilson’s wife sent him on the Niger trip was one way for defendant to contradict the assertion that the vice president had done so, while at the same time undercutting Mr. Wilson’s credibility if Mr. Wilson were perceived to have received the assignment on account of nepotism.” Neither Bush’s then-National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, nor Rice’s deputy and eventual successor, Stephen Hadley, knew of the information declassification, Libby indicates. (US District Court for the District of Columbia 4/5/2006 ; Schmitt and Wallsten 4/7/2006; Sanger and Johnston 4/11/2006; Waas 6/14/2006; Washington Post 7/3/2007)
Bush Authorized Leak of Classified Intelligence - Fitzgerald’s filing also states that, according to Libby’s earlier testimony (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004), Bush directly authorized the leak of classified intelligence to reporters as part of the Wilson smear campaign (see April 5, 2006).
Democrats Dismayed at Allegations of Bush Involvement - Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) says: “After the CIA leak controversy broke three years ago, President Bush said, ‘I’d like to know if somebody in my White House did leak sensitive information.’ Now we find out that the president himself was ordering leaks of classified information.… It’s time for the president to come clean with the American people.” And in a letter to Bush, Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), the ranking minority member of the House Oversight Committee, writes in part, “Two recent revelations raise grave new questions about whether you, the vice president and your top advisors have engaged in a systematic abuse of the national security classification process for political purposes.” (Schmitt and Wallsten 4/7/2006)
White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove testifies before special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s grand jury for a fifth time. Rove partially waives his attorney-client privilege with his attorney, Robert Luskin, to allow Luskin to testify about conversations he had with Rove concerning Rove’s knowledge of the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity. Rove is also questioned extensively about the contradictions between his previous testimony and the testimony of Time reporter Matthew Cooper regarding Rove and Cooper’s July 2003 conversation about Plame Wilson (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), and his conversations with conservative columnist Robert Novak (see July 8, 2003, July 8 or 9, 2003, and July 14, 2003). (VandeHei 4/27/2006; Waas 4/28/2006; Washington Post 7/3/2007) According to Luskin, Rove “indirectly” confirmed Plame Wilson’s CIA status to Novak. (Allen 7/15/2006)
Changing Stories - Rove is asked how he learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status, and the circumstances surrounding his leaking of that information to Cooper. Rove tells the jury that when he told Cooper that Plame Wilson was a CIA agent, he was merely passing along unverified gossip. Cooper has testified that Rove told him that Plame Wilson was a CIA agent, and that she played a role in sending her husband, Joseph Wilson, on a fact-finding mission to Niger in 2002 (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Cooper has testified that both Rove and Lewis Libby, the former chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, portrayed the information about Plame Wilson as definitive. It was because of their definitive statements, Cooper testified, that he identified Plame Wilson in a July 2003 story for Time (see July 17, 2003). In his first interview by the FBI, Rove failed to tell the investigators that he had talked to Cooper at all (see October 8, 2003); he again failed to disclose the conversation during his early appearances before the grand jury (see February 2004). Later, Rove testified that he did indeed speak with Cooper, and that his earlier failures to disclose the information were due to lapses in his memory (see October 15, 2004). In his fourth appearance before the grand jury, Rove testified that he revealed Plame Wilson’s identity to the reporter (see October 14, 2005), a recollection prompted by the discovery of an e-mail Rove sent to then-Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley soon after his leak to Cooper (see March 1, 2004). Rove has also testified that he learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from a journalist or journalists, a claim strongly contradicted by evidence. He has said in previous testimony that he may have learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from Novak, who outed Plame Wilson in a July 2003 column (see July 14, 2003). Novak, however, has testified that he learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from Libby and Rove. A person with first-hand knowledge of the grand jury proceedings will later comment, “If you believe both of them, Novak was saying that Rove was his source, and Rove was saying that Novak was his source.” (VandeHei 4/27/2006; Waas 4/28/2006) Rove says that he still doesn’t remember talking to Cooper, though he does not dispute the e-mail he sent to Hadley. (Keil 4/28/2006) He argues that it would have been foolish for him to attempt to lie to the FBI and to the grand jury, because he knew that whatever lies he might have chosen to tell would have eventually been exposed, and he would then risk going to jail. (VandeHei 4/27/2006) It is difficult to reconcile Rove’s “indirect” confirmation of Plame Wilson’s identity for Novak with his earlier claims that he learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from Novak.
Lawyer's Statement - Rove’s lawyer Robert Luskin says in a written statement: “Karl Rove appeared today before the grand jury investigating the disclosure of a CIA agent’s identity. He testified voluntarily and unconditionally at the request of special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald to explore a matter raised since Mr. Rove’s last appearance in October 2005 (see October 14, 2005). In connection with this appearance, the special counsel has advised Mr. Rove that he is not a target of the investigation. Mr. Fitzgerald has affirmed that he has made no decision concerning charges. At the request of the special counsel, Mr. Rove will not discuss the substance of his testimony.” (King 4/26/2006; VandeHei 4/27/2006)
Difficulties in Proving Intent - Law professor and former federal prosecutor Dan Richman says that while Fitzgerald may well be trying to build a case against Rove for either perjury or obstruction of justice, it may be quite difficult to prove Rove intended to lie to the grand jury. Rove’s subsequent appearances before the jury might “prove to be an obstacle to any [potential] obstruction or perjury case in that the person ultimately cooperated and told what he knew,” Richman says. (Waas 4/28/2006)
Lewis Libby’s lawyers file a supplemental brief extending and reiterating their arguments in favor of compelling the CIA, the White House, and other government agencies to submit a vast array of classified documents for Libby’s defense (see December 14, 2005, January 9, 2006, January 23, 2006, January 31, 2006, (February 16, 2006), February 21, 2006, February 24, 2006, February 27, 2006, March 1, 2006, March 2-7, 2006, March 10, 2006, March 17, 2006, and April 5, 2006). The defense indicates it intends to call as witnesses the following government officials: former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, and former CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson. To fairly prepare for their testimonies, the defense argues, it must be supplied with all pertinent documents, classified or not, relating to their involvement in the leak of Plame Wilson’s identity, Plame Wilson’s covert status, the White House’s efforts to bolster its arguments for the Iraq invasion, and the White House’s attempts to discredit Wilson as a believable critic of its policies. (US District Court for the District of Columbia 5/12/2006 )
Pentagon official Allison Barber circulates a memo destined for the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, Dorrance Smith. The memo suggests that “[b]ased on the success of our previous trips to Iraq with the Retired Military Analysts, I would like to propose another trip to Iraq and Afghanistan. Smith is referencing the Pentagon’s Iraq propaganda operation (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond), which uses retired military officers as “military analysts” for the various television news channels to promote the Pentagon and White House’s Iraq policies. The same day, Pentagon official Dallas Lawrence, who is directly involved in the propaganda operation (see June 21, 2005 and June 24, 2005), replies to Barber’s memo. Lawrence advises Barber to drop the request for an Afghanistan tour because it may not happen, and by leaving it out of the proposal, “we (you) won’t find yourself having to explain why it didn’t happen after he briefed it to karl at the weekly meeting.” The reference to “karl” cannot be proven to be White House political adviser Karl Rove, but, as Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald will note in 2008, “In the documents I reviewed, I haven’t seen any other ‘Karl’ referenced who works at the [Defense Department]. These are fairly high-ranking [Defense Department] officials and there aren’t many people they’re worried about having to explain themselves to (Smith’s position as Assistant Defense Secretary was one requiring Senate confirmation and he reported to Rumsfeld). Given the significant possibility that this program was illegal (see April 28, 2008 and May 6, 2008), and given [White House Press Secretary Dana] Perino’s denial of the White House’s knowledge of it (see April 30, 2008), this question—whether the ‘karl’ being briefed on the program was Karl Rove—certainly seems to be one that should be asked.” The likelihood that Rove is indeed involved in the propaganda program is bolstered by other Defense Department e-mails from Lawrence and other officials noting that they are attempting to have both President Bush and Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley (see April 30, 2008), an idea that “was submitted to karl and company from dorrance smith last week.” Greenwald will write that due to the proposed involvement of Bush and Hadley, the “karl” of the memos must by necessity be Karl Rove. If true, Rove’s involvement means that the White House is directly involved in a highly unethical and probably illegal (see April 28, 2008) domestic propaganda operation. (Greenwald 5/16/2008)
In an interview, Larry Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to ex-Secretary of State Colin Powell, recalls learning that for all intents and purposes, Vice President Cheney and his staff, and not President Bush and his staff, runs the US government’s foreign policy (see September 2000, Late December 2000 and Early January 2001, and Mid-September, 2001). Wilkerson, a veteran politician with a strong understanding of bureaucracy, came to this understanding over the course of his four years in the State Department. Many procedures seemed peculiar to him, particularly the practice of Cheney’s national security staffers—part of Cheney’s shadow National Security Council, an unprecedented event in and of itself—reading all of the e-mail traffic between the White House and outside agencies and people. The reverse is not true; Cheney’s staff jealously guards its privacy, even from presidential aides. “Members of the president’s staff sometimes walk from office to office to avoid Cheney’s people monitoring their discussions,” Wilkerson recalls. “Or they use the phone.” A former White House staffer confirms Wilkerson’s perceptions. “Bush’s staff is terrified of Cheney’s people,” the former staffer says. Further, Cheney has liberally salted Bush’s staff with his own loyalists who report back to him about everything Bush’s staff does. Again, the reverse is not true; Cheney’s staff is small, tight, and intensely loyal to their boss. Two of Cheney’s “eyes and ears” in the White House are, or were, Stephen Hadley, formerly the deputy national security adviser before assuming the position himself; and Zalmay Khalilzad, formerly on the National Security Council before becoming the US ambassador to Baghdad. Other members of Cheney’s staff have undue influence over other agencies. One example is Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who, despite being the nation’s top law enforcement officer, always defers to the legal judgment of Cheney’s former top legal counsel and current chief of staff David Addington. “Al Gonzales is not going to stand up to [Addington],” a former military officer who worked with both Gonzales and Addington says. (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 176-177)
The Iraq Study Group (ISG), chaired by former Republican Secretary of State James Baker and former Democratic congressman Lee Hamilton, holds an early-morning breakfast session with senior officials of the Bush administration, including President Bush, to discuss its 79 recommendations for the future conduct of the Iraq war. The White House essentially ignores the report (see December 2006). ISG member Lawrence Eagleburger will later say of Bush, “I don’t recall, seriously, that he asked any questions” during the meeting.
Former Senator's Recollection - Former Republican Senator Alan Simpson, another ISG member present at the breakfast meeting, later recalls: “It was an early-morning session, seven a.m., I think, breakfast, the day we trotted it out. And Jim and Lee said, ‘Mr. President, we will’—and Dick was there, [Vice President] Cheney was there—‘just go around the room, if you would, and all of us share with you a quick thought?’ And the president said fine. I thought at first the president seemed a little—I don’t know, just maybe impatient, like, ‘What now?’ He went around the room. Everybody stated their case. It just took a couple minutes. I know what I said. I said, ‘Mr. President, we’re not here to present this to vex or embarrass you in any way. That’s not the purpose of this. We’re in a tough, tough situation, and we think these recommendations can help the country out. We’ve agreed on every word here, and I hope you’ll give it your full attention.’ He said, ‘Oh, I will.’ And I turned to Dick, and I said, ‘Dick, old friend, I hope you’ll gnaw on this, too. This is very important that you hear this and review it.’ And he said, ‘I will, I will, and thanks.’ Then the president gave an address not too far after that. And we were called by [National Security Adviser Stephen] Hadley on a conference call. He said, ‘Thank you for the work. The president’s going to mention your report, and it’ll be—there will be parts of it that he will embrace, in fact, and if he doesn’t happen to speak on certain issues, you know that they’ll be in full consideration in the weeks to come,’ or something like that. And we all listened with a wry smile. We figured that maybe five of the 79 recommendations would ever be considered, and I think we were pretty right.”
Hamilton's Recollection - Hamilton has similar recollections of the meeting and the administration’s response to the report: “Cheney was there, never said a word, not a—of course, the recommendations from his point of view were awful, but he never criticized. Bush was very gracious, said we’ve worked hard and did this great service for the country—and he ignored it so far as I can see. He fundamentally didn’t agree with it. President Bush has always sought, still seeks today, a victory, military victory. And we did not recommend that. The gist of what we had to say was a responsible exit. He didn’t like that.” (Murphy and Purdum 2/2009)
President George W. Bush adopts more confrontational language with regard to Iran and alleges that Iran is working against US interests in Iraq. In an address to the nation, he says, “We will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.” The president announces the decision to send another strike group of ships (i.e., an aircraft carrier and companion ships) to the Persian Gulf. Patriot missiles will also be sent to the region for the security of US allies there, he says. (US President 1/15/2007 ) According to an article published in the New York Times the next day, US officials hold that these actions are not indicative of a coming attack on Iran. However, the same officials say that members of the administration, such as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley, have determined that the United States is finished with diplomatic attempts to deal with Iran, unless Iran makes a significant change in its behavior. Bush and other US officials claim that Iran, particularly the Revolutionary Guard’s Quds force, has helped train Iraqi Shiite militias how to attack US troops in Iraq. Military officials believe that “shaped charges,” a type of roadside bomb that has been increasingly used against troops, are made in Iran. General Michael V. Hayden, CIA Director, recently told Congress that he has the “zeal of a convert” and now strongly believes that Iran is contributing to the death toll of US soldiers in Iraq. (Cooper and Mazzetti 1/11/2007)
President Bush signs a “nonlethal presidential finding” authorizing a CIA plan that will use propaganda, disinformation, and manipulation of Iran’s currency and international financial transactions to destabilize the country’s government. According to unnamed officials interviewed by ABC, the covert “black” operation is designed to force Iran into abandoning its nuclear enrichment program and aid to insurgents in Iraq. The plan is reported to have the fingerprints of both National Security Adviser Steve Hadley and Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams. Current and former intelligence officials tell ABC that Bush’s approval of the plan is an indication that the White House, for the time being, has decided not to take military action against Iran. “Presidential finding” are reported to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and other key congressional leaders. Vali Nasr, adjunct senior fellow for Mideast studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, says the operation could potentially provoke a larger confrontation. “And this covert action is now being escalated by the new US directive, and that can very quickly lead to Iranian retaliation and a cycle of escalation can follow,” he says. (Ross and Esposito 5/23/2007)
According to national security director Stephen Hadley (see December 3, 2007) and President Bush himself (see December 3-4, 2007), Bush will not be informed about the findings of a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) showing that Iran stopped work on its nuclear program until November 28. But that may be false. On December 4, journalist Seymour Hersh will tell a CNN reporter, “Israel objects to this report. I’m told that [Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert had a private discussion with Bush about it during Annapolis—before Annapolis [where Israel and the US engaged in preliminary peace talks over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict]. Bush briefed him about it. The Israelis were very upset about the report. They think we’re naive, they don’t think we get it right. And so they have a different point of view.” If Hersh is correct, then Bush discussed the NIE’s findings with Israel’s Olmert on November 26, two days before he supposedly learns of them. (CNN 12/4/2007) According to the Israeli news outlet Ha’aretz, “Israel has known about the report for more than a month. The first information on it was passed on to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and to Shaul Mofaz, who is the minister responsible for the strategic dialog with the Americans. The issue was also discussed at the Annapolis summit by Barak and US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and it seems also between Bush and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.” (Harel 12/5/2007)
Following the release of an intelligence estimate showing Iran shut down its nuclear program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007), National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley defends President George Bush’s recent statements about a possible “World War III” (see October 20, 2007). Hadley says that Bush was not told to tone down his rhetoric about Iran’s nuclear program after he was advised that the intelligence community was in the process of revising its estimate and that Bush would have made his “World War III” remarks anyway. “It was making a point that the president and we have been making for two or three years—that the international community has to exert more pressure, because Iran needs to suspend [its] enrichment program,” Hadley says. “That continues to be our policy after this latest National Intelligence Estimate.” (CNN 12/5/2007)
Following the release of the the new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran that concludes Iran shut down its nuclear weapons program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007), National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley portrays the NIE as reflective of the Bush administration’s views. Hadley says that it “offers some positive news,” adding that the NIE “confirms that we were right to be worried about Iran seeking to develop nuclear weapons.” Perhaps the most illuminating portion of Hadley’s interpretation reads: “The estimate offers grounds for hope that the problem can be solved diplomatically—without the use of force—as the administration has been trying to do. And it suggests that the president has the right strategy: intensified international pressure along with a willingness to negotiate a solution that serves Iranian interests while ensuring that the world will never have to face a nuclear armed Iran.” (Mazzetti 12/3/2007) President Bush has apparently not changed his views because of the NIE. He says: “Iran was dangerous. Iran is dangerous. And Iran will be dangerous if they have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.… I view this report as a warning signal that they had the program, they halted the program. The reason why it’s a warning signal is they could restart it.… To me, the NIE provides an opportunity for us to rally the international community—to continue to rally the community—to pressure the Iranian regime to suspend its program. What’s to say they couldn’t start another covert nuclear weapons program.” When asked if he had been “hyping” the threat from Iran in view of the NIE’s findings, Bush claims that he was only made aware of the NIE’s conclusions last week, a claim that does not stand up to examination (see December 3-4, 2007). (Associated Press 12/4/2007; Tran and Jeffery 12/4/2007)
The White House refuses to allow special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to turn over key documents from his investigation into the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak to Congress, as requested by House Oversight Committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) since June 2007 and revealed by Waxman today. Waxman has repeatedly requested reports of interviews by President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and five top White House aides—White House political strategist Karl Rove, former press secretary Scott McClellan, former chief of staff Andrew Card, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, and former communications director Dan Bartlett. Waxman has also requested transcripts and other documents relevant to these officials’ testimony. According to Waxman, Fitzgerald is willing to turn over the documents to the committee, but cannot gain White House permission to do so. Waxman appeals to newly appointed Attorney General Michael Mukasey to overrule the White House and release the documents. “I hope you will not accede to the White House objections,” Waxman writes to Mukasey. “During the Clinton administration, your predecessor, Janet Reno, made an independent judgment and provided numerous FBI interview reports to the committee, including reports of interviews with President Clinton, Vice President Gore, and three White House chiefs of staff. I have been informed that Attorney General Reno neither sought nor obtained White House consent before providing these interview records to the committee. I believe the Justice Department should exercise the same independence in this case.… There is no legitimate basis for the withholding of these documents. Mr. Fitzgerald has apparently determined that these documents can be produced to the committee without infringing on his prosecutorial independence or violating the rules of grand jury secrecy. As records of statements made by White House officials to federal investigators, outside the framework of presidential decision-making, the documents could not be subject to a valid claim of executive privilege.” Mukasey will not accede to Waxman’s request. Many believe that even though Fitzgerald only managed to convict one White House official as a result of his investigation (see March 6, 2007), he compiled evidence that indicates others, including Cheney, were involved in leaking Plame Wilson’s CIA status. Fitzgerald has indicated that his investigation into other White House officials was drastically hindered by Libby’s repeated lies under oath (see 9:00 a.m. February 20, 2007 and May 25, 2007). Fitzgerald has declined to testify before Waxman’s committee, citing rules that prohibit him from revealing grand jury proceedings, and noting that prosecutors “traditionally refrain from commenting outside of the judicial process on the actions of persons not charged with criminal offenses.” (Froomkin 12/3/2007) Waxman will continue, without success, to request the information (see June 3, 2008), though the White House will release heavily redacted transcripts of Libby’s grand jury testimony in the summer of 2008. (Waas 12/23/2008)
George W. Bush, apparently taken somewhat aback by the US intelligence community’s findings released on December 3, 2007, that Iran halted its work on a nuclear bomb four years ago (see December 3, 2007), claims that he only learned about the findings on November 28. The intelligence community’s National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) has been in production for some 18 months. According to National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, both Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were first given initial briefings in either August or September. (White House 11/28/2007; Linzer and Warrick 12/4/2007) Bush tells reporters he wasn’t even aware of the evidence showing Iran had halted its nuclear program, “I was made aware of the NIE last week. In August, I think it was [Director of National Intelligence] Mike McConnell [who] came in and said, ‘We have some new information.’ He didn’t tell me what the information was. He did tell me it was going to take a while to analyze.… And it wasn’t until last week that I was briefed on the NIE that is now public.” A clearly incredulous reporter follows up by asking, “I understand what you’re saying about when you were informed about the NIE. Are you saying at no point while the rhetoric was escalating, as World War III was making it into conversation—at no point, nobody from your intelligence team or your administration was saying, ‘Maybe you want to back it down a little bit?’” Bush answers, “No—I’ve never—nobody ever told me that.” (CNN 12/4/2007) From Hadley’s words, the date that Bush knew of the NIE findings may be much earlier. Hadley tells reporters attempting to pin him down on the exact date when Bush was told of the findings, “[W]hen was the president notified that there was new information available? We’ll try and get you a precise answer. As I say, it was, in my recollection, is in the last few months. Whether that’s October—August-September, we’ll try and get you an answer for that.” All told, Hadley says that Bush was told of the findings within “the last few months” five different times during the press conference. (Think Progress 12/3/2007) By December 5, the White House will begin refusing to answer the question at all. White House spokesman Tony Fratto will tell reporters, “I don’t have anything on that.… I can’t give you more detail on what Director McConnell said to the President.” (White House 12/5/2007)
Bush Either 'Lying' or 'Stupid' - Many find Bush’s claim hard to accept. Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) notes that he and ranking committee member Kit Bond (R-MO) received a briefing on the NIE’s intelligence “several months ago,” and says, “I was really struck when the president said that he only got the final judgments on Tuesday.” He cannot imagine that he and Bond received information months in advance of Bush. Rockefeller says he “can’t believe” that McConnell’s indication of new information didn’t prevent Bush from “talking about a nuclear holocaust.” (Lehrer 12/4/2007) Former National Security Council official Flynt Leverett says the White House is probably being dishonest about what Bush knew and when he knew it. “I can’t imagine that McConnell… would tell the president about this and not tell him what the information actually said,” Leverett observes. (CNN 12/5/2007) Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) says, “What’s shocking today is that apparently he knew about this estimate a month or more before he made those statements. I don’t think that shows a responsible use of intelligence.” (Morgan 12/5/2007) And MSNBC talk show host Joe Scarborough, a former Republican Congressman, says flatly, “We are left with only two options here. Either the President of the United States is lying to the American people about what happened during that meeting, or the President of the United States is stupid.” (MSNBC 12/5/2007)
Cheney Not Hampered by Lack of Intelligence - If Bush was indeed ignorant of the intelligence findings, as he asserts, it is not likely that his vice president labored under the same lack of information, judging from the fact that Cheney’s office has been involved in trying to suppress the NIE for over a year (see October 2006).
The White House confirms that President Bush was told in August 2007 that Iran’s nuclear weapons program “may be suspended,” the conclusion of the recently released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) (see December 3, 2007). The White House’s admission is a direct contradiction of Bush’s assertion that he only learned of the NIE in late November (see December 3-4, 2007 and November 26-28, 2007). Press secretary Dana Perino says Bush was not told in August of the specifics behind the information about Iran’s nuclear program. Perino says that Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Mike McConnell told Bush in August that the new information might cause the intelligence community to revise its assessment of the Iranian program, but analysts still needed to complete their review before making a final judgment. However, Perino says there is no conflict between her statement and Bush’s insistence that he knew nothing about the substance of the intelligence assessment until late November, because Bush “wasn’t given the specific details” of the revised estimate. Perino’s account raises questions about why, if Bush knew the intelligence community believed Iran’s nuclear weapons program was in abeyance, two months later, he was still giving dire warnings about Iran being a threat to cause “World War III” if not halted (see October 20, 2007). Perino offers an explanation of those warnings, saying, “The president didn’t say we’re going to cause World War III. He was saying he wanted to avoid World War III.” Perino says it is unfair to question Bush’s veracity: “If anyone wants to call the president a liar, they are misreading the situation for their own political purposes. The liar is [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad [the president of Iran], and he has a lot of explaining to do.”
Reaction - Joseph Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, calls Bush’s explanation unbelievable. “I refuse to believe that,” Biden says. “If that’s true, he has the most incompetent staff in modern American history, and he’s one of the most incompetent presidents in modern American history.” (CNN 12/5/2007) Four former CIA officials call Bush’s claim of ignorance about the Iran intelligence “preposterous.” Melvin Goodman, a 24-year CIA veteran, calls Bush’s claim “unbelievable.” He is joined by Ray McGovern, another CIA veteran who routinely briefed George H. W. Bush during his two terms as vice president; Larry Johnson, the former deputy of the State Department’s Office of Counter Terrorism; and Bruce Riedel, a former National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asian offices. McGovern is almost contemptuous of Bush’s claim: “The notion that the head of National Intelligence whispered in Bush’s ear, ‘I’ve got a surprise for you and it’s really important, but I’m not going to tell you about it until we check it out’—the whole thing is preposterous.” Riedel says that Bush “either chose to ignore what he heard or his director of national intelligence is not doing his job.” He doubts McConnell failed to do his part. “To me it is almost mind boggling that the president is told by the DNI that we have new important information on Iran and he doesn’t ask ‘what is that information?’” Riedel adds. It is not McConnell’s responsibility to tell Bush to “stop hyperventilating about the Iranian threat,” he says, but instead the job of National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and Bush’s other policy advisers to keep “their eye on the intelligence and to take into account new information as it comes along.” Johnson says that the information used in the NIE would have been available months before it was released to the public, and would have automatically been included in the Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB). Bush would have been told of the intelligence findings, as would Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Goodman and McGovern agree with Johnson’s statement. (Edsall and Follmer 12/5/2007) A deconstruction of Bush’s own statements over the last several months indicates that Bush changed his wording in early August, most likely because he was informed about the intelligence findings over Iran (see December 5, 2007).
The New York Times receives 8,000 pages of Pentagon e-mail messages, transcripts and records through a lawsuit. It subsequently reports on a systematic and highly orchestrated “psyops” (psychological operations) media campaign waged by the Defense Department against the US citizenry, using the American media to achieve their objectives. At the forefront of this information manipulation campaign is a small cadre of retired military officers known to millions of TV and radio news audience members as “military analysts.” These “independent” analysts appear on thousands of news and opinion broadcasts specifically to generate favorable media coverage of the Bush administration’s wartime performance. The group of officers are familiar faces to those who get their news from television and radio, billed as independent analysts whose long careers enable them to give what New York Times reporter David Barstow calls “authoritative and unfettered judgments about the most pressing issues of the post-Sept. 11 world.” However, the analysts are not nearly as independent as the Pentagon would like for Americans to believe. Barstow writes: “[T]he Bush administration has used its control over access and information in an effort to transform the analysts into a kind of media Trojan horse—an instrument intended to shape terrorism coverage from inside the major TV and radio networks.… These records reveal a symbiotic relationship where the usual dividing lines between government and journalism have been obliterated.”
Administration 'Surrogates' - The documents repeatedly refer to the analysts as “message force multipliers” or “surrogates” who can be counted on to deliver administration “themes and messages” to millions of Americans “in the form of their own opinions.” According to the records, the administration routinely uses the analysts as, in Barstow’s words, “a rapid reaction force to rebut what it viewed as critical news coverage, some of it by the networks’ own Pentagon correspondents.” When news articles revealed that US troops in Iraq were dying because of inadequate body armor (see March 2003 and After), a senior Pentagon official wrote to his colleagues, “I think our analysts—properly armed—can push back in that arena.” In 2005, Ten analysts were flown to Guantanamo to counter charges that prisoners were being treated inhumanely; the analysts quickly and enthusiastically repeated their talking points in a variety of television and radio broadcasts (see June 24-25, 2005).
Ties to Defense Industry - Most of the analysts, Barstow writes, have deep and complex “ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air.” The analysts and the networks almost never reveal these business relationships to their viewers; sometimes even the networks are unaware of just how deep those business connections extend. Between then, the fifty or so analysts “represent more than 150 military contractors either as lobbyists, senior executives, board members or consultants. The companies include defense heavyweights, but also scores of smaller companies, all part of a vast assemblage of contractors scrambling for hundreds of billions in military business generated by the administration’s war on terror. It is a furious competition, one in which inside information and easy access to senior officials are highly prized.” Some of the analysts admit to using their special access to garner marketing, networking, and business opportunities. John Garrett, a retired Marine colonel and Fox News analyst, is also a lobbyist at Patton Boggs who helps firms win Pentagon contracts, including from Iraq. In company promotional materials, Garrett says that as a military analyst he “is privy to weekly access and briefings with the secretary of defense, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other high level policy makers in the administration.” One client told investors that Garrett’s access and experience helps him “to know in advance—and in detail—how best to meet the needs” of the Defense Department and other agencies. Garrett calls this an inevitable overlap between his various roles, and says that in general, “That’s good for everybody.”
Exclusive Access to White House, Defense Officials - The analysts have been granted unprecedented levels of access to the White House and the Pentagon, including:
hundreds of private briefings with senior military officials, including many with power over contracting and budget matters;
private tours of Iraq;
access to classified information;
private briefings with senior White House, State Department, and Justice Department officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.
Conversely, analysts who do not cooperate take a risk. “You’ll lose all access,” says CBS military analyst and defense industry lobbyist Jeffrey McCausland.
Quid Pro Quo - Fox News analyst and retired Army lieutenant colenel Timur Eads, who is vice president of government relations for Blackbird Technologies, a rapidly growing military contractor, later says, “We knew we had extraordinary access.” Eads confirms that he and other analysts often held off on criticizing the administration for fear that “some four-star [general] could call up and say, ‘Kill that contract.’” Eads believes that he and the other analysts were misled about the Iraqi security forces, calling the Pentagon’s briefings about those forces’ readiness a “snow job.” But Eads said nothing about his doubts on television. His explanation: “Human nature.” Several analysts recall their own “quid pro quo” for the Pentagon in the months before the invasion (see Early 2003). And some analysts were far more aboveboard in offering quid pro quos for their media appearances. Retired Army general Robert Scales, Jr, an analyst for Fox News and National Public Radio, and whose consulting company advises several firms on weapons and tactics used in Iraq, asked for high-level Pentagon briefings in 2006. In an e-mail, he told officials: “Recall the stuff I did after my last visit. I will do the same this time.”
Repeating White House Talking Points - In return, the analysts have, almost to a man, echoed administration talking points about Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran, even when some of them believed the information they were given was false or inflated. Some now acknowledge they did so—and continue to do so—for fear of losing their access, which in turn jeopardizes their business relationships. Some now regret their participation in the propoganda effort, and admit they were used as puppets while pretending to be independent military analysts. Bevelacqua says, “It was them saying, ‘We need to stick our hands up your back and move your mouth for you.’” Former NBC analyst Kenneth Allard, who has taught information warfare at the National Defense University, calls the campaign a sophisticated information operation aimed, not at foreign governments or hostile populaces, but against the American people. “This was a coherent, active policy,” he says (see Late 2006). The Pentagon denies using the military analysts for propaganda purposes, with spokesman Bryan Whitman saying it was “nothing other than an earnest attempt to inform the American people.” It is “a bit incredible” to think retired military officers could be “wound up” and turned into “puppets of the Defense Department,” Whitman says. And other analysts, such as McCausland, say that they never allowed their outside business interests to affect their on-air commentaries. “I’m not here representing the administration,” McCausland says. Some say they used their positions to even criticize the war in Iraq. But according to a close analysis of their performances by a private firm retained by the Pentagon to evaluate the analysts, they performed to the Pentagon’s complete satisfaction (see 2005 and Beyond).
Enthusiastic Cooperation - The analysts are paid between $500 and $1,000 per appearance by the networks, but, according to the transcripts, they often speak as if the networks and the media in general are the enemy. They often speak of themselves as operating behind enemy lines. Some offered the Pentagon advice on how to outmaneuver the networks, or, as one said to then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, “the Chris Matthewses and the Wolf Blitzers of the world.” Some alerted Pentagon officials of planned news stories. Some sent copies of their private correspondence with network executives to the Pentagon. Many enthusiastically echoed and even added to administration talking points (see Early 2007). (Barstow 4/20/2008) Several analysts say that based on a Pentagon briefing, they would then pitch an idea for a segment to a producer or network booker. Sometimes, the analysts claim, they even helped write the questions for the anchors to ask during a segment. (Barstow 4/21/2008)
Consequences and Repercussions - Some of the analysts are dismayed to learn that they were described as reliable “surrogates” in Pentagon documents, and some deny that their Pentagon briefings were anything but, in the words of retired Army general and CNN analyst David Grange, “upfront information.” Others note that they sometimes disagreed with the administration on the air. Scales claims, “None of us drink the Kool-Aid.” Others deny using their access for business gain. Retired general Carlton Shepperd says that the two are “[n]ot related at all.” But not all of the analysts disagree with the perception that they are little more than water carriers for the Pentagon. Several recall being chewed out by irate defense officials minutes after their broadcasts, and one, retired Marine colonel Wiliam Cowan of Fox News, recalls being fired—by the Pentagon, not by Fox—from his analyst position after issuing a mild criticism of the Pentagon’s war strategies (see August 3-4, 2005). (Barstow 4/20/2008)
White House Press Secretary Dana Perino denies that the White House had any prior knowledge of the Pentagon’s Iraq propaganda operation (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). A reporter asks, “Did the White House know about the program?” Perino answers, “I just said: no.” (Brewer 5/14/2008) But a memo in the Pentagon’s own “document dump” about the program (see May 9, 2008) proves otherwise. A July 12, 2005 memo from Donald Rumsfeld to Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley reads, “Attached is a summary of the effects of the military analysts we took down to GTMO [Guantanamo] earlier this month.” Rumsfeld was presumably referring to the Pentagon-sponsored trip to Guantanamo (see June 24-25, 2005 that was carefully analyzed for its effects in manipulating the media (see June 24, 2005). (Dickinson 5/15/2008)
The recently released Senate Intelligence Committee report on misleading, exaggerated, and inaccurate presentations of the prewar Iraqi threat by the Bush administration (see June 5, 2008) leaves out some significant material. The report says that the panel did not review “less formal communications between intelligence agencies and other parts of the executive branch.” The committee made no attempt to obtain White House records or interview administration officials because, the report says, such steps were considered beyond the scope of the report. Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus notes that “[o]ne obvious target for such an expanded inquiry would have been the records of the White House Iraq Group (WHIG), a group set up in August 2002 by then-White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr.” WHIG (see August 2002) was composed of, among other senior White House officials, senior political adviser Karl Rove; the vice president’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby; communications strategists Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin, and James Wilkinson; legislative liaison Nicholas Calio; and a number of policy aides led by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and her deputy, Stephen Hadley.
WHIG Led Marketing of War - Scott McClellan, the former White House press secretary, recently wrote in his book What Happened that WHIG “had been set up in the summer of 2002 to coordinate the marketing of the war to the public.… The script had been finalized with great care over the summer [for a] “campaign to convince Americans that war with Iraq was inevitable and necessary.” On September 6, 2002, Card hinted as much to reporters when he said, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August” (see September 6, 2002). Two days later, the group scored its first hit with a front-page New York Times story about Iraq’s secret purchase of aluminum tubes that, the story said, could be used to produce nuclear weapons (see September 8, 2002). The information for that story came from “senior administration officials” now known to be members of WHIG. The story was the first to make the statement that “the first sign of a ‘smoking gun’ [proving the existence of an Iraqi nuclear weapons program] may be a mushroom cloud” (see September 4, 2002); that same morning, the same message was repeated three times by various senior administration officials on the Sunday talk shows (see September 8, 2002, September 8, 2002, and September 8, 2002). WHIG did not “deliberately mislead the public,” McClellan claimed in his book, but wrote that the “more fundamental problem was the way [Bush’s] advisers decided to pursue a political propaganda campaign to sell the war to the American people.… As the campaign accelerated,” caveats and qualifications were downplayed or dropped altogether. Contradictory intelligence was largely ignored or simply disregarded.”
Records Perusal Would 'Shed Light' - If indeed the White House “repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even nonexistent,” as committee chairman John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) has said, then an examination of WHIG’s records would, Pincus writes, “shed much light” on the question. (Pincus 6/9/2008)