That the intelligence community (IC) misrepresented evidence suggesting that Iraq was harboring WMD’s cannot be denied.  To what extent was this misrepresentation politically motivated?  “The Committee found no evidence that the IC’s mischaracterization or exaggeration of the intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) capabilities was the result of political pressure.”

In this statement, the Senate Intelligence Committee implies that the CIA’s failures were its own fault and not the result of pressure from the Bush administration.  The second conclusion is false.

Take the story floating around that Iraq had attempted to buy tons of yellowcake (unenriched uranium) from the African nation of Niger.  This story led to former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s trip to Niger, his subsequent criticisms of the administration, pundit Robert Novak’s outing of Wilson’s wife as a CIA operative, and current investigations into the leak, with Novak and George W. Bush among those hiring lawyers.

The IC says that it first saw reporting on the alleged Niger-Iraq deal on October 15, 2001, and considered the report very limited and lacking in detail.  Only the CIA wrote up a report about it, three days later, in a Senior Executive Intelligence Brief.  On November 20, 2001, the U.S. embassy in Niger cabled that Niger’s French-led mining consortium said “there was no possibility” that Niger had diverted uranium.

On February 5, 2002, however, the CIA produced another report on the Niger-aluminum topic, using the same “foreign service” as its source.  A week later, the DIA produced a report based on the same information, which “did not include any judgments about the credibility of the reporting.”  Here, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report, is the “Niger” chronology.

“After reading the DIA report, the Vice President asked his morning briefer for the CIA’s analysis of the issue.”  The CIA reported back that “information on the alleged uranium contract between Iraq and Niger comes exclusively from a foreign government service report that lacks crucial details” and also noted the contradiction by the U.S. embassy and the fact that Niger’s uranium mining was controlled by France.

“In response to questions from the Vice President’s Office,” intelligence officials then began discussing how they could get more information and “decided to contact [Joe Wilson] a former ambassador to Gabon who had a posting early in his career in Niger.”

On February 18, 2002, the U.S. embassy in Niger cabled that uranium sales warranted a “hard look” but also pointed out that “the purported 4,000-ton annual production listed is fully 1,000 tons more than the mining companies claim to have produced in 2001.”

On March 1, 2002, INR [the Bureau of Investigation and Research] published an intelligence assessment, Niger: Sale of Uranium to Iraq Is Unlikely.  The INR analyst who drafted the assessment [said] that he had been told that the piece was in response to interest from the Vice President’s office in the alleged Iraq-Niger uranium deal.

“In early March 2002, the Vice President asked his morning briefer for an update on the Niger uranium issue.”  The update noted, among other items, that Joe Wilson would soon be debriefed; he was debriefed later that day.  Wilson himself told the committee that he believed that the Vice President would normally get “a direct response to his question about the possible uranium deal.”

Because CIA analysts did not believe that the report added any new information to clarify the issue, they did not use the report to produce any further analytical products or highlight the report for policymakers.  For the same reason, CIA’s briefer did not brief the Vice President on the issue, despite the Vice President’s previous questions about the issue.

No obvious signs of political pressure there.

In May, June, July, August, and September 2002, five documents were produced pertaining to Iraq WMD’s.  An embassy cable in June and a CIA paper in August did not allege an Iraq-Niger uranium connection.  A CIA briefing book in May, a DOE intelligence product in July, and a DIA intelligence assessment in September, however, included it.  The DOE document noted caveats.

According to the White House, on September 11, 2002, National Security Council (NSC) staff contacted the CIA to clear language about Iraqi attempts to purchase uranium, for a speech by President Bush.  “The President never used the approved language publicly.”

On September 24, 2002, the British published a White Paper stating that “there is intelligence that Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”

On the same day, according to the White House, the NSC asked the CIA “to clear another statement for use by the President” about uranium.  “The President did not use the cleared language publicly.”

There are differing recollections from the CIA and the NSC regarding language for use in a speech.  A CIA analyst recalled telling the White House to remove uranium language from a speech, then being told by someone in the NSC that doing so would leave the British “flapping in the wind”; the NSC staffer contradicted or did not recall both statements.

Now this could not be interpreted as political pressure, especially since, at about the same time (mid-September 2002), the Senate Committee on Intelligence requested a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq WMD’s from the intelligence community.  According to the report, “Committee Members expressed concerns that they would be expected to vote on an Iraq Resolution shortly and had no NIE on which to base their vote.”

The next day, George Tenet ordered that drafting of the NIE begin.  And, “At the NIE coordination meeting, the only analyst who voiced disagreement with the uranium section was an INR analyst”; the other agencies went along with the uranium story, by and large, with INR’s objections included in a text box that mistakenly ended up separated from the uranium section of the NIE by 60 pages.

No signs of pressure in haste, conformity, or critical mistakes at the last minute, are there?

The NIE, including the dubious uranium language, was published on October 1, 2002.

On October 4, 2002, the CIA published an unclassified White Paper on Iraq’s WMD programs that “did not include text on Iraqi attempts to acquire uranium from Africa.”  However, that same month, the CIA also published a classified Iraq handbook that did suggest “Iraq may be trying to acquire 500 tons of uranium” from Niger.  (If you don’t like their position, wait a day . . . )

Also on October 4, the NSC sent over its sixth draft of a speech for use by the President in Cincinnati, again to get language about Iraq and uranium cleared.  Concerns about the language were expressed, according to testimony, in a meeting the next day.

Following that meeting, the CIA official coordinating the speech faxed Deputy National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley and White House speechwriters a memo suggesting that the sentence be removed.  Later that same day, the NSC sent over the seventh draft of the Cincinnati speech, which still included the uranium language.

On October 6, the CIA official who saw the draft noticed that the uranium information “had not been addressed,” so he called Tenet, who called Hadley directly “to outline the CIA’s concerns.”  “The NSC then removed the uranium reference from the draft of the speech.”

The next day, President Bush’s speech in Cincinnati omitted mention of uranium.  However, the White House had sent a draft paper entitled “A Grave and Gathering Danger” to the CIA, which again included the uranium suggestion—which, again, was nixed by the CIA.  “The White House did not publish the paper.”

Two days later (October 9), forged documents surfaced in Rome “pertaining to the alleged Iraq-Niger uranium transaction.”  On October 11, the U.S. embassy in Rome reported that it had obtained photocopies of the documents and had passed them on to the CIA.  (The CIA did not acquire copies of the forgeries until January 16, 2003.)

The INR Iraq analyst noticed immediately that the documents looked dubious.  At an October 16 meeting, the INR made copies available to the other analysts.  “None of the four CIA representatives recall picking up the documents, however . . . copies of the documents were found in the [CIA] vault.”

On December 17, intelligence analysts produced a paper responding to Iraq’s U.N. report on disclosure and mentioning uranium, without including the INR’s “well-known alternative views.”

On December 18, the State Department requested a “fact sheet” to respond to Iraq’s disclosure to the U.N. about WMD’s, to be published after Ambassador John Negroponte delivered a speech to the U.N. Security Council the next morning.

Later that day, a nonproliferation special assistant drafted the fact sheet and sent it to the intelligence community; its mention of uranium was neither discussed nor eliminated.  The draft was based on a draft of Ambassador Negroponte’s speech.

According to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report, “Separately, the NSC staff coordinated the Negroponte speech directly with the [analyst,] and he recommended that ‘Niger’ be replaced with ‘Africa’ in the speech.”  The CIA had obviously stopped fighting off the uranium allegation by this stage and had confined itself to broadening the language, making it harder to refute.

In a behind-the-scenes rush, the INR did note its caveats to the language of the speech draft but was not told about a deadline; recommended changes did not make their way into Ambassador Negroponte’s speech.  The “fact sheet” containing the uranium allegation was posted on the State Department’s website.

On December 24, “the Nigerian Prime Minister declared publicly that Niger had not sold uranium to Iraq and had not been approached since he took office in 2000.”

Then, “On January 13, 2003, the INR Iraq nuclear analyst sent an e-mail to several IC analysts outlining his reasoning why ‘the uranium purchase agreement probably is a hoax.’”

On January 15, 13 days before the President’s State of the Union Address, CIA analysts again suggested mentioning “Africa,” in “A Grave and Gathering Danger,” from the White House.  The paper was never published.

On January 17, 11 days before the speech, the analysts published a paper for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, mentioning uranium.

On January 20, President Bush submitted a report to Congress about Iraq’s WMD noncompliance, mentioning uranium.  “The CIA and the White House have told Committee staff that the IC did not coordinate on this draft.”  In the same days, the IC was again being pressed by the NSC for additional details on Saddam’s alleged WMD’s.

On January 24, the DIA provided a background paper—with uranium included—to the Office of the Secretary of Defense/International Security Affairs.  On January 26, Secretary of State Colin Powell gave a speech at the World Economic Forum, asking why Saddam was still trying to purchase uranium.  Powell’s February speech to the United Nations, however, did not include uranium.

“On January 27, 2003, the DCI was provided with a hardcopy draft of the State of the Union address at an NSC meeting” to vet, one day before the speech.  George Tenet testified in July 2003, that he never read the speech; no one recalls who the contact person for the speech was—if there was one.

There was at least one phone conversation between the NSC and the intelligence analysts about the uranium language, but no one can remember who initiated the call, and there are disagreements about the draft’s wording.

On January 28, 2003, President Bush delivered his State of the Union Address, including the uranium reference but attributing it to the British, and referring to “Africa” rather than to “Niger.”

The chronology even of the skimpy “Niger uranium” allegations shows what Bush and his administration did: Repeatedly, and at every juncture, they used the bully pulpit of the White House to pressure the intelligence community.  The tactic is simple, if ham-handed: Just make your assertions public; then, the intelligence agencies can either back up their President or expose him.