Friday, July 11, 2003

Tenet takes the bullet?

CNN Alert: CIA director takes responsibility for incorrect information in State of the Union address about alleged Iraqi attempts to obtain uranium in Africa. Update: via FOX News:
WASHINGTON ?— CIA Director George Tenet acknowledged Friday his agency wrongly allowed President Bush to tell the American people that Iraq was seeking nuclear material from Africa when analysts had doubts about the quality of the intelligence. "These 16 words should never have been included in the text written for the president," Tenet said in a statement released after Bush and his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, blamed the miscue on the CIA and members of Congress called for someone to be held accountable. "This was a mistake," the director's statement said.
Yes, we know that they shouldn't have been allowed Mr. Tenet. The question is WHY were they allowed? Saying its your fault isn't enough. We want to know WHY it happened in the first place. Update 2: Read that statement from Tenet again:
"These 16 words should never have been included in the text written for the president," Tenet said in a statement released after Bush and his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, blamed the miscue on the CIA and members of Congress called for someone to be held accountable. "This was a mistake," the director's statement said.
Where, exactly does Tenet actually take responsibility for the mistake? He admits to only one thing: that those 16 words should not have been included. But that is what everyone else has been saying already! Everyone know admits that it was "a mistake" to include those words. But does Tenet actually say, "my bad"? Or is he just creating the vehicle by which defenders of the President can infer this without having to actually say it himself? Let's put it this way: if Howard Dean were to have issued the exact same statement it would be no less true, but it would not be characterized as Tenet taking the blame for it. If I find a complete copy of the entire statement instead of just a news report that quotes I will post it here. Update 3: Here's the complete statement. It's a lot longer than that short little snippet FOX printed. I'll get back to you once I read it. Update 4: Okay, my eyes are bleeding now. No wonder people go insane trying to make sense of things like this. As I suspected, Tenet never really takes direct responsibility for the existing of those 16 words. He just says that they shouldn't have been included and only matter of factly says the CIA should have objected more vigorously. But that still leaves open the question WHY they didn't object more vigorously. Was it just because they were inept or were they feeling pressure to give their approval to a statement that was technically true but substantially dishonest in its implications? Also, why, in the course of recounting the history of this matter, does Tenet go out of his way to avoid mentioning the name of Ambassador Wilson? This was perhaps the most bizarre paragraph in this statement:
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 counter-proliferation experts, on their own initiative, asked an individual with ties to the region to make a visit to see what he could learn. He reported back to us that one of the former Nigerian officials he met stated that he was unaware of any contract being signed between Niger and rogue states for the sale of uranium during his tenure in office. The same former official also said that in June 1999 a businessman approached him and insisted that the former official meet with an Iraqi delegation to discuss "expanding commercial relations" between Iraq and Niger. The former official interpreted the overture as an attempt to discuss uranium sales. The former officials also offered details regarding Niger's processes for monitoring and transporting uranium that suggested it would be very unlikely that material could be illicitly diverted. There was no mention in the report of forged documents -- or any suggestion of the existence of documents at all.
It seems odd to me that Tenet wouldn't just use Wilson's name since he has already been all over the news on this already. Or is this just an example of the absurd nature of secret intelligence that the name of the "former official" can't be revealed even when everyone already knows who it is? Also, I hilighted the "on their own initiative" point because it seems tailor made to cover Dick Cheney's butt. The allegation has been that Wilson undertook his effort at the instigation of the office of the veep. Yet here Tenet is saying that Wilson's mission was just a low-level operation, initiated without the approval of any higher authorities, and presumable because of this, his findings did not find their way higher up the chain of command. That's his story and he's sticking to it. We'll see just how well it sticks over the next few days. Update 5: Oh, one more thing. There is nothing in Tenet's statement that contradicts the CBS report from yesterday. Tenet, if he is admitting to anything, is only admitting that he allowed pressure from the White House to override the judgment of his people on whether the Niger/Uranium story should have been included in the SOTU. It does not excuse the White House for having brought that pressure in the first place. Update 6: (This post may take the record for number of updates I have made to it. And earlier today I said I don't do breaking news? Ha!) Someone over on the Bartcop forum made the very valid point that Tenet's statement doesn't save anyone's ass because Powell's own State Department analysts told him the same exact thing months before SOTU (courtesy The New Republic):
"in early 2002 intelligence analysts at the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) pored over the bits of intelligence the United States had about the Niger uranium procurements. The INR analysts never received Ambassador Joe Wilson's now-famous debriefing of his trip to Niger, during which Wilson determined that the procurement probably never happened. Independently, however, they came to the same conclusion: " in March 2002, the bureau--whose sole reason for existence is to provide the secretary of state with intelligence analysis--sent Powell a memo explaining exactly that. "We knew it was important," an intelligence analyst who worked on the Niger issue for INR tells &c. "The issue might have traction, and so we wanted him to know what our opinion was." So Powell's office received a definitive intelligence assessment about the validity of the Niger-procurement claim from his own department in March 2002--ten months before the State of the Union address. Yet as late as December of that year, the State Department was still publicly treating the Niger-procurement claim as credible."
In other words, if Tenet is guilty then Powell is just as guilty. Which again raises the question of how so many people could have known it was a bad idea to put this in yet it got put in anyway?

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