Friday, July 11, 2003

The last word...for now

Josh Marshall, as usual, says it better:
Here, frankly, is what I think happened. The White House wanted to include this charge in the State of the Union address. The CIA, as Pollack makes clear, had been getting beaten over the head for more than a year for intelligence assessments that, in Pollack's words, "weren't sufficiently alarmist." But including an allegation in the State of the Union which they more or less knew to be false was just further than they could go. They balked. The White House and folks from the Agency then started a negotiation over what was okay to put in the speech. At this point, someone suggested hanging the charge on the Brits. Again, I think it's very hard to believe that this suggestion came from the CIA folks. And in fact we have both NPR's and CBS's reporting saying that the suggestion came from the White House side. Saying that the British said this was technically true. Thus the speech was technically true. The problem was that it was willfully misleading since the CIA believed the Brits were wrong. The people on the Agency side seem to have decided that the White House had made their objections to such unhelpful information very clear. They felt they'd acquitted themselves of their minimum responsibility but getting the statement into the technically true category. And they relented. That was a terrible decision. No one had the guts to resign over this or really make a stink. Maybe heads should role at the Agency. Maybe it should be Tenet's. But all of this begs the obvious and singularly important question: the charge is that CIA didn't push hard enough to keep bogus information out of the president's speech. Who was pushing on the other side? Who was pushing to keep the bogus information in? And why?
It remains to be seen whether the media will buy the administration's latest attempt to deflect responsibility. It will all come down to whether they start asking questions about who put those "16 words" in in the first place. If the White House did it (my best guess would be Rice in conjunction with Rove) then the next question should be obvious: why were they insistent on fighting with the CIA over a statement that was technically accurate but substantively misleading? Why did they want to tell the American people something that their own intelligence people were insisting just wasn't true?

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