So said the report about the manipulation of intelligence before the invasion of Iraq on 60 Minutes
yesterday. In part, the CBS report covers the well-known story of the fake documents allegedly from Niger, and how the White House clung to the yellowcake allegation long after it had been discredited...and how even months after the invasion of Iraq the White House was leaking misleading information to reporters, trying to buttress allegations it knew to be false.
The main interest in this show, however, is the first-hand description, provided by a high-ranking CIA official, of how the White House cherry-picked intelligence to promote the war. The official is Tyler Drumheller.
"It just sticks in my craw every time I hear them say it's an intelligence failure. It's an intelligence failure. This was a policy failure," Drumheller tells Bradley.
Drumheller was the CIA's top man in Europe, the head of covert operations there, until he retired a year ago. He says he saw firsthand how the White House promoted intelligence it liked and ignored intelligence it didn't:
"The idea of going after Iraq was U.S. policy. It was going to happen one way or the other," says Drumheller.
Drumheller says he doesn't think it mattered very much to the administration what the intelligence community had to say. "I think it mattered it if verified. This basic belief that had taken hold in the U.S. government that now is the time, we had the means, all we needed was the will," he says.
Later in the interview, he repeated and expanded upon allegations reported by NBC
last month. (The sources for the NBC report were anonymous, but may have included Drumheller.)
A key allegation is that in September, 2002 the CIA convinced Iraq's foreign minister, Naji Sabri, to feed information secretly to the U.S. about Iraq's WMD capabilities. The White House was delighted initially with the breakthrough.
According to Drumheller, CIA Director George Tenet delivered the news about the Iraqi foreign minister at a high-level meeting at the White House, including the president, the vice president and Secretary of State Rice.
At that meeting, Drumheller says, "They were enthusiastic because they said, they were excited that we had a high-level penetration of Iraqis."
But as it turned out, Sabri told them the truth that Hussein did not have active weapons of mass destruction programs.
"The policy was set," Drumheller says. "The war in Iraq was coming. And they were looking for intelligence to fit into the policy, to justify the policy."
Drumheller expected the White House to ask for more information from the Iraqi foreign minister.
But he says he was taken aback by what happened. "The group that was dealing with preparation for the Iraq war came back and said they're no longer interested," Drumheller recalls. "And we said, 'Well, what about the intel?' And they said, 'Well, this isn't about intel anymore. This is about regime change.'"
The NBC report adds considerable detail, including the information that the CIA pressured Sabri to defect to the U.S., and then broke off contacts with him when he refused.
The White House refused to comment to CBS about their report, though Condoleezza Rice has dismissed the revelation about Sabri by arguing that he was just one source and therefore unreliable. Drumheller, however, points out that the White House was more than ready to use a single source when it seemed to strengthen the case for war.
He also put his finger on one of the central problems we face today. Many Americans simply are unwilling to believe the evidence that has been documented over and over again. To believe it is to be forced to confront an awkward question: What do we do about a President who conspired to deceive the nation?
"The American people want to believe the president. I have relatives who I've tried to talk to about this who say, 'Well, no, you can't tell me the president had this information and just ignored it,'" says Drumheller. "But I think over time, people will look back on this and see this is going to be one of the great, I think, policy mistakes of all time."
Even after the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration went on cherry-picking the "evidence" for Iraqi WMD. Just as before the war, if Bush wanted to promote a story
, the story
It was no surprise to learn from the Plame investigation, for example, that the "facts" about Iraqi contacts with Niger that the White House leaked to journalists in June/July 2003 included a fair dose of misinformation. Already been disproven? Shovel it anyway. Thus spake the Leaker in Chief, and it was good.
A little earlier that spring, Bush was being disingenuous about another matter. This involved the discovery of those ever elusive WMD in Iraq. During the spring and early summer of 2003, you'll recall, this hapless crowd went nearly hoarse crowing that it finally had found iron-clad proof. Over and over again.
The biggest 'find', though, were the mobile weapons labs. You know, the ones that hurtled down the highways and byways of Iraq, taking their bioweapons show on the road. With Kerouac as their bible, the hepcats in these trailors jived all night, drove all day, and mixed it up plenty in those back seats. Or so the administration said (more or less). Over and over again.
Now that the leaking White House is being leaked against, though, we learn that this silly story was shot down even before the White House trumpeted it for the first time on May 29, 2003. In tomorrow's Washington Post
A secret fact-finding mission to Iraq -- not made public until now -- had already concluded that the trailers had nothing to do with biological weapons. Leaders of the Pentagon-sponsored mission transmitted their unanimous findings to Washington in a field report on May 27, 2003, two days before the president's statement.
The three-page field report and a 122-page final report three weeks later were stamped "secret" and shelved. Meanwhile, for nearly a year, administration and intelligence officials continued to publicly assert that the trailers were weapons factories....
The contents of the final report, "Final Technical Engineering Exploitation Report on Iraqi Suspected Biological Weapons-Associated Trailers," remain classified. But interviews reveal that the technical team was unequivocal in its conclusion that the trailers were not intended to manufacture biological weapons....
The technical team's findings had no apparent impact on the intelligence agencies' public statements on the trailers. A day after the team's report was transmitted to Washington -- May 28, 2003 -- the CIA publicly released its first formal assessment of the trailers, reflecting the views of its Washington analysts. That white paper, which also bore the DIA seal, contended that U.S. officials were "confident" that the trailers were used for "mobile biological weapons production."
Throughout the summer and fall of 2003, the trailers became simply "mobile biological laboratories" in speeches and press statements by administration officials.
Competing reports came in to Washington, initially. There may have been legitimate room for debate, early on, about whether these labs might
be mobile (chiz!) labs. But that does not excuse the administration. About a "discovery" that was very far from certain, it expressed utter certainty. Over and over again.Crossposted at Inconvenient News
Last night I called attention at Daily Kos
to a remarkable claim in this Sunday's Washington Post.
The front-page article refers to an unpublished, and presumably classified, document the White House received in January 2003, apparently before the now infamous State of the Union Address on Jan. 28. This memo states unequivocally that reports alleging Iraq sought to buy uranium from Niger are "baseless and should be laid to rest."
That is precisely what the Bush administration did not do in the run up to war. I would be another six months before they finally admitted the obvious about the Niger claims (without however acknowledging the existence of this memo). It's a bit surprising that this revelation has not gotten more attention. So far, I've seen only Kevin Drum
pick up the obvious importance of this memo, buried as it is inside a story about the Plame affair.
Anyhow, I suppose it's our job to help the story along. Here is the Washington Post:
Tenet interceded to keep the claim out of a speech Bush gave in Cincinnati on Oct. 7, 2002, but by Dec. 19 it reappeared in a State Department "fact sheet." After that, the Pentagon asked for an authoritative judgment from the National Intelligence Council, the senior coordinating body for the 15 agencies that then constituted the U.S. intelligence community. Did Iraq and Niger discuss a uranium sale, or not? If they had, the Pentagon would need to reconsider its ties with Niger.
The council's reply, drafted in a January 2003 memo by the national intelligence officer for Africa, was unequivocal: The Niger story was baseless and should be laid to rest. Four U.S. officials with firsthand knowledge said in interviews that the memo, which has not been reported before, arrived at the White House as Bush and his highest-ranking advisers made the uranium story a centerpiece of their case for the rapidly approaching war against Iraq.
There's no getting around it, yet another potentially explosive revelation that George Bush knowingly misled the nation about the evidence for Iraqi WMD as he rushed headlong to war. Will the media report on this memo?Crossposted at Inconvenient News