Scottie and Condi and the Niger Intelligence

My posts on Scottie McC’s book have, thus far, treated issues closely connected to the CIA Leak investigation (well, except for the post in which he calls cracking down on deadbeat dads "trivial").

In this post, I want to look at how he deals with the underlying issue–the Niger intelligence and the White House’s response to it. I find his treatment particularly curious. As many of you have pointed out, Scottie McC is fairly critical of Condi Rice.

Over time, I was struck by how deft she is at protecting her reputation. No matter what went wrong, she was somehow able to keep her hands clean, even when the problems related to matters under her direct purview, including the WMD rationale for war in Iraq, the decision to invade Iraq, the sixteen words in the State of the Union address, and postwar planning and implementation of the strategy of Iraq.

But his book, in some key ways, helps her protect her reputation. Now, most of this is–I think–ignorance on the part of Scottie McC, not any attempt to put Condi in a good light. Nevertheless, it is rather telling that he seems to be unaware of some of the key roles that Condi played in precisely these intelligence issues. Which is another way of saying he really misses some of the tensions between NSC and CIA the week of the leak–and therefore some of the underlying skirmishes that contributed to Plame’s outing.

For this post, I’m going to do a timeline–both of the events he covers, and the events he misses.

June 8, 2003: Condi gets beat up by George Stephanopoulos

Scottie McC does not mention this appearance at all, gliding directly from Kristof’s column to Pincus’, and ignoring Condi’s appearance as the decisive factor in leading Joe Wilson to publish his op-ed and, apparently, in getting Bush to tell Libby he was interested in the Kristof allegations:

In early June, while making inquiries about what Kristof wrote, Pincus had contacted Cathie Martin, who oversaw the vice president’s communications office. Martin went to Scooter Libby to discuss what Pincus was sniffing around about. The vice president and Libby were quietly stepping up their efforts to counter the allegations of the anonymous envoy to Niger, and Pincus’s story was one opportunity for them to do just that.

[snip]

In this atmosphere of growing controversy–and with no WMD in sight anywhere in Iraq–Kristof’s anonymous source, Joe Wilson, decided to go public.

Let me clear–Scottie McC may well not be aware of Bush’s comments toLibby on June 9, apparently the intensified oppo campaign against Wilson and he may well not have read Wilson’s book, in which Wilson makes clear that he decided to write his column because Condi ignored Wilson’s demand to set things straight. Scottie McC may not realize that Cathie Martin appears to have discussed an earlier Pincus column with Libby–one that revealed that Libby and Cheney had been cracking heads at CIA. But because he does not deal with these issues, he underplays Bush’s role and the role of the animosity between the CIA and WH in the leak.

July 5-9, 2003: White House responds to Wilson’s column

Here’s how Scottie McC describes the White House response to Wilson’s column and to Ari Fleischer’s admission, in his July 7 gaggle, that the Niger claim was based on the forgeries and therefore shouldn’t be used.

Throughout the day [July 7], there was much discussion among the president’s advisers on whether or not to acknowledge the obvious. National Security Adviser Condolezza Rice emerged as one of the chief advocates for acknowledging a mistake, and her point of view prevailed.

[snip]

Authorized by the president, "senior officials" [almost certainly including Condi] were quoted as elaborating on this concession.

Meanwhile, Scottie McC explains, OVP was hitting back at Wilson.

Vice President Cheney and his staff were leading a White House effort to discredit Joe Wilson himself. On a broader front, the White House sought to dispel the notion that the intelligence had been "cooked" by showing that it had been provided and cleared by the CIA.

These two passages are curious for a number of reasons. First, he separates the attacks on the CIA and Wilson from the larger question of how to respond to the sixteen words controversy. Not only does this belie the fact that, at a White House senior staff meeting on July 7 or 8, there was a discussion,

Uranium story is becoming a question of the President’s trustworthiness. It leads all news.

With Karl Rove adding:

Now they have accepted Joe Wilson as credible expert. We’re one day late at getting CIA to write a response.

That discussion ties the 16 words question directly to the question of a CIA response and Joe Wilson.

Further, Scottie McC’s account of the White House–in isolation from the CIA–deciding what to say conflicts with Woodward’s account (and note, Scottie McC explains that he was taking a few days to talk to prior WH spokespeople and NSC directors this week, suggesting he was tangentially involved in the response, if at all, so both these accounts are substantially second-hand). Here’s Woodward:

On Saturday, July 5, Tenet talked to the chief NSC spokesperson, Anna Perez. As best she could tell, the fact that the 16 words about the uranium had made it into the State of the Union address was the result of failures in both the NSC staff and the CIA. "We’re both going to have to eat some of this," Perez said. Something should be done to correct the record on what the president had said in his speech.

[snip]

Tenet agreed with Perez that all would share the blame. The plan was to work on a joint statement over the weekend that would be put out on Monday. Rice and Tenet spoke next and agreed that they had to put the issue to bed. Rice was with the president traveling in Africa. Hadley and some NSC staffers worked on a draft but they couldn’t reach an agreement. (231-2)

I think Scottie McC’s partly right (about the timing–I doubt this happened on July 5) and Woodward’s partly right (about the cooperation between Condi and Tenet). If that assessment is right, then for some reasons Scottie McC either doesn’t know about or doesn’t include the CIA’s involvement and he pretends OVP was the only one pushing a response to Joe Wilson.

July 10 to 12: NSC, CIA, and OVP fight over a response

Now, as I said before, I don’t think Scottie McC’s neglect of these issues is necessarily deliberate. Some of this stuff is pretty weedy and he may honestly not have been told about it.

july-10-meeting.jpgBut for someone who says he followed the trial, I don’t know how he could miss the NSC-CIA-OVP tensions later in the week. As he presents it, Condi’s decision to blame Tenet came directly on the heels of her willingness to accept the blame.

But that still left open the emerging question, How and why did our intelligence about Iraq go so badly wrong? And how did the now discredited Niger claim make it into the most heavily vetted speech of the year, the State of the Union.

In a July 11 briefing with the traveling press pool aboard Air Force One on the way to Uganda, Condoleezza Rice was peppered with questions–forty in all–about the infamous "sixteen words."

[snip]

Was it true, Rice was asked, that the CIA had expressed doubts about the Niger claim to the White House well before the State of the Union? "The CIA cleared the speech in its entirety," Rice replied. "If the CIA, the director of Central Intelligence, had said, take this out of the speech, it would have been gone, without question. What we’ve said subsequently is, knowing what we now know, that some of the Niger documents were apparently forged, we wouldn’t have put this in the president’s speech." (Rice would find out several days later that the National Security Council, which she oversaw, bore primary responsibility for the error.)

And Scottie McC reports Tenet’s mea culpa as a pure mea culpa, without noting the good deal of push-back he included in it or the debates underlying it.

This ignores several things that were prominent in other accounts of the week and in the trial coverage. Take Ron Suskind’s version of it–which depicts Condi calling Tenet in Sun Valley in the middle of the night before July 11 to argue over who would take blame. Suskind describes Tenet laying out all the evidence CIA had that NSC was responsible, and Condi, as a result, screwing Tenet the next day.

They talked briefly about flurries of faxes between NSC and CIA on the day before the State of the Union in January, and that it was difficult for CIA to get a handle on all that NSC was proffering, fax by fax, on deadline. In other words, there was, in this case, a trail of paper, a few clear recollections, and visible actions.

Tenet’s rendition of the key, probably discoverable, evidence in the matter might incline someone like Rice–who, along with the President, bears some culpability in this matter–to acknowledge what she knew and when she knew it. (244)

[snip]

While the conventional response is to surmise Rice said what she said in spite of Tenet’s predawn briefing, it is probably more apt to say she singly blamed CIA because of what Tenet told her. He had a strong case of shared culpability to make; her job was to preempt the emergence of that case with overwhelming force.

Meanwhile, through the morning hours, Tenet was on the phone with his team back at Langley, as they constructed their own statement to release–a statement that they ran by Karl Rove and other aides at the White House. (245-6)

And take all the dramatic testimony from the trial. There was Cathie Martin’s testimony about sitting outside a room while Libby, Cheney, Hadley, and John McLaughlin argued over the content of the CIA speech. There’s the news that, when McLaughlin faxed the statement to OVP later in the week, Cheney wrote "unacceptable" on it. But most of all, there’s the meeting in which Hadley passed on the news, via Condi, that the President was "comfortable"–at least with plans to declassify a bunch of stuff, including at a minimum the CIA trip report and possible mentions of the NIE and "CP"–but possibly, given the timing, with blaming everything on the CIA in spite of the evidence.

There was a huge fight all week between NSC, CIA, and OVP. It’s a fight that is necessary context to the outing of Valerie Plame and the subsequent sharing of her identity with reporters. And it’s a fight that put Condi–and in one key instance, through Condi, Bush–squarely in these fights.

The aftermath

To some degree, this all sets the scene for Scottie McC to tell the fiction of a remarkably transparent effort in the aftermath of the leak (which of course is precisely the time he waltzed onto the scene as the spokesperson). In addition to ridiculously claiming (cited above) that Condi didn’t find out that NSC was responsible for the 16 words until after the leak, he describes an effort to come clean on the 16 words.

Andy [Card directed] everyone on the White House staff to provide all relevant recollections and documents tracing the genesis and handling of the uranium claim and Dan [Bartlett organized] the information and develop[ed] a clear forthright presentation that showed how such an egregious error occurred.

He describes a curious meeting that may explain why Patrick Fitzgerald was looking for WHIG records from from July 6 to July 30.

On July 21 there was a late-night gathering among select senior staff advisers in Andy Card’s office to discuss our communications strategy for dealing with the issue. Present were Card, Bartlett, Condi Rice and deputy Steve Hadley, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, staff secretary Harriet Miers, and myself.

(I have a gut feel that this crowd decided to publish the NIE over Tenet’s reluctance, which would have pissed him off about Valerie’s cover even more. But that’s just an outtamyarse guess.)

And, much later in the book, in the section explaining Scottie McC’s surprise at learning Bush had authorized the leaking of the NIE, Scottie claims that Condi first raised declassifying the NIE on July 18, and that the NIE was declassified right away.

A week later, on July 18, Condi Rice requested formal declassification of part of the October NIE, including the "key judgments" section and the paragraphs relating to Iraqi attempts to secure uranium in Africa. This was done through the normal CIA channels the same day, and Tenet personally spoke with Cheney and Rumsfeld that day to let them know it had happened.

Now, I’m sorry, say what you will about Scottie McC narrativizing things in such a way that it protects his fragile notion of Bush the honest man, but this is plain out hooey. Scottie McC doesn’t even mention Alan Foley–the head of WINPAC who told NSC to take the Niger claim out of the SOTU–even though there were public accounts of Foley meeting with SSCI in this time frame to tell his side of the story (and, in more subtle news, Libby recorded Tenet saying he’d have to get Foley’s buy-off on the final version of whether and how CIA warned the White House not to use the intelligence). And there is abundant evidence that Condi and Hadley and Bush were at least aware of Cheney’s insistence on declassifying–at the least–the CIA leak report and the NIE, starting well before July 18.

If Scottie McC had a deliberate purpose for the way he tells the story of the clash between CIA and OVP/NSC, I suspect it’s an attempt to deny that tension, not to mention pretend that the White House’s inclusion of the Niger claim in the SOTU was innocent. But it has the remarkable effect of helping Condi "keep her hands clean,"even while criticizing her for managing to do just that.

And perhaps not incidentally, it makes the whole notion that Bush authorized the leak of the NIE (and, most likely, Plame) without anyone suspecting or knowing about it much more plausible.

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29 replies
  1. maryo2 says:

    “pretend that the White House’s inclusion of the Niger claim in the SOTU was innocent”

    Misdirection accomplished.

  2. Leen says:

    Still spittin nails Ew. Would not like to be on a hit list of yours,

    Why did they protect Hadley? I thought Tenet had said take the 16 words out and Hadley put them back in? I remember hearing all of the efforts by the Bush administration to leave the CIA taking that fall all over NPR and the MSM. It was amazing to me that the CIA did not just come out and fight back.

    How in the hell could anyone trust anything that Condi “mushroom cloud” Rice has to say? After Hadley and Rice ignored everything Richard Clarke had to say about the possibility of terrorist attacks it was all down hill from there.

    Scott keeps repeating that the Bush administration did not “deliberately mislead” the American people. That they were caught up in the campaign furvor (anything goes) as Scottie had been. What a bunch of horsecrap!

    Prior to the invasion those of us who are addicted to getting some straight news were hearing from Scott Ritter, former CIA analyst, Brezinski, Carter, Kofi anan and so many more who were questioning the validity of that intelligence. Then when Iaea El Baradei came out and said the Niger documents were false false false most of us were in shock that they continued to get away with the continued lying on the MSM. It was as if two parallel information worlds were colliding.

    The cost in lives due to these crimes is paralyzing. They should pay and they should pay big for their lies. Four million Iraqi refugees (when anyone brings any attention to this issue) are another very serious cost of their lies.

    • emptywheel says:

      Hadley wasn’t the one who did it–it was Bob Joseph that Foley told to take the claim out and with whom he negotiated the “British have learned” dodge.

    • maryo2 says:

      Some information

      Waxman – “the CIA had sent a memo directly to you and your deputy at the time, Stephen Hadley, raising doubts about the Niger claim months before the President’s State of the Union address. According to Mr. Hadley, the CIA sent a memo directly to the White House Situation Room addressed to you and him on October 6, 2002, that described “weakness in the evidence” and that stated “the CIA had been telling Congress that the Africa story was one of two issues where we differed with the British intelligence.”‘ Mr. Hadley also reported that the CIA sent a second memo to him a day earlier, and that George Tenet, the Director of Central Intelligence, personally telephoned him to ask that the reference be removed from a speech the President delivered in October 2002.”
      http://speaker.house.gov/blog/?p=110

      • emptywheel says:

        Thanks for posting that–I wasn’t even touching the claim that Condi was ignorant to the October 2002 stuff, but it’s totally relevant.

        Scottie McC’s whining about how Condi always keeps her reputation. But then helps her along like this.

  3. maryo2 says:

    WINPAC director Alan Foley and NSC staffer Robert Joseph
    (and the dkosopedia timeline is down.)

  4. maryo2 says:

    You are more than welcome. I am just trying to keep it straight in my own mind. You do amazing work.

    My deal is that pushing this forward is what Cheney wants. Pushing the dates back shows that the SOTU contained premeditated lies.

  5. wavpeac says:

    “narrativizing” is that a fancy law term that I am unfamiliar with or did you just create a new verb. If it’s new. I like it.

  6. seamus says:

    narrativize |ˈnarətiˌvīz|
    verb [ trans. ]
    present or interpret (something such as experience or theory) in the form of a story or narrative.

  7. jnardo says:

    There is another more benign explanation for McClellan’s missing a lot of the subtle stuff. He took over on July 17, 2003. And Ari was at the helm up until the end, actually becoming part of the game on the Africa trip with reprters – hinting at Joe Wilson’s wife’s occupation. It may be that Scotty really didn’t know about a lot of the tension you document.

    • MadDog says:

      Yes, but…*g*

      Scottie McC may have only assumed the role of Chief WH Spokesperson then, but I doubt they were keeping him in a closet before that date.

      Scottie’s role as travelling press secretary and deputy press secretary meant he was pretty much in the loop for a lot of stuff since 2000.

    • emptywheel says:

      That’s why I say he was likely ignorant of some of the weedy stuff before then.

      BUT HE FOLLOWED THE TRIAL. There’s no way he could have followed the trial at all closely and not realized that Hadley and Libby and Cheney were meeting on a daily basis, practically, to hash out a deal between CIA, OVP and NSC.

      Furthermore, the later events he describes himself participating in. Now maybe they just pretended to be surprised that Hadley and Condi ignored warnings back in October when Condi had just argued about that with Tenet. But that, in and of itself, is telling if true.

      • jnardo says:

        Point taken. But he looks so cherubic, I guess I want to think that those high minded parents of his just raised themselves a naive little boy. Alas, innocence revealed…

      • Leen says:

        Hadley and Condi “Mushroom cloud” sure seem to have a dealy pattern going on ignoring warnings from qualified sources.

  8. bmaz says:

    And, from Mikey and Newsweek, we now have reported (even if previously available info) that the Bushies had the same problem on their big Saadam-al-Qaida link that they had on the 16 words. And it also involves the October 2002 Cincinnati speech:

    A previously undisclosed CIA report written in the summer of 2002 questioned the “credibility” and “truthfulness” of an Al Qaeda detainee who became a key source for the Bush administration’s claims about links between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.

    The statements of the detainee–a captured terrorist operative named Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi–were the principal basis for President Bush’s contention in a major pre-Iraq War speech that Saddam’s regime had “trained Al Qaeda members in bombmaking and poisons and deadly gases.” The speech was delivered in Cincinnati on Oct. 7, 2002, just as Congress was taking up the White House-backed resolution authorizing the president to invade Iraq.

    But two months before Bush’s dramatic assertion, the CIA had raised serious doubts about whether al-Libi might be inventing some of what he was telling his interrogators, according to a 171-page Senate Intelligence Committee report on pre-war intelligence released last week.
    “Questions persist about [al-Libi’s] forthrightness and truthfulness,” the CIA wrote in the still-classified Aug. 7, 2002, report, which was circulated throughout the U.S. intelligence community.

    Who could have ever imagined that they would be duplicitous on this too? It IS a Condi thread, I had to throw that in. The better question is what is it they put up as cause for war that was not fraudulent?

    • emptywheel says:

      Forgive me for being crabby (T-Mobile has decided to charge me $140 for walking through Amsterdam’s airport). But some of their “previously undisclosed stuff was–by me and eriposte who actually read the FIRST SSCI report closely. Something that Isikoff actually made fun of us for during the trial.

      • bmaz says:

        Let me be the first, er second, to scold said heathens and to demand proper attribution from them. They may hear from your lawyer. I would also like to point out that I am fairly lame on keeping details on everything straight sometimes. Crikey, you have been wailing on this stuff so fast and hard, I can’t keep track of stuff from yesterday. I am fairly interested in this T-Mobile rip off though; what’s up with that? I still hold a fairly serious grudge against them from about 4 years ago, and they may still have a not very pleasant recollection of me….

        • emptywheel says:

          I think what they’re arguing is that my phone turned on in my backpack and HAPPENED to hit the precise combination of keys to get online for the hour I was in Amsterdam.

          Voila: a $140 transfer.

          Fuckers.

          • bmaz says:

            Bull hooey on that! I say fight! Of course, when I did that, suddenly everything on my bill was slightly bigger in a way that it wasn’t previously, but was individually incrementally too small to challenge. Guess that didn’t work out real well for me; but I did read them the riot act. Ergo Verizon found a new customer.

      • Mauimom says:

        I hope you’ve sent off a letter to Isikoff & Newsweek pointing out this fact.

        That toad.

    • Leen says:

      I was out side during the Cinci Speech protesting the upcoming invasion along with thousands of other people from the region. A real mixed of people mostly from the Cinci and Dayton region. Audiotaped nuns from the Cinci region, Proctor and Gamble employees, students, several lawyers, some soccer moms ets. Folks were holding a banner( (drop Bush not Bombs) over an over pass (over I-75)that the crowd had spilled over on.
      truckers were honking as well as many other folks passing by in their cars. Did the MSM show the rest of the world who was outside protesting that Cinci speech? hell no. The MSM was driving me insane at this point. They were echoing what they were being told, not asking challenging questions and then inaccurately protraying who the people were out questioning what the Bush administration was repeating in the run up to the invasion.

      Did the MSM learn anything from their very serious and bloddy mistakes? Not much. For the last four years they have been doing the very same thing in regard to Iran. I have been trying to keep track of how often I have heard unsubstantiated claims about Iran slipping by Diane Rehm, Chris Matthews etc. Diane Rehm has allowed this to happen numerous times once with Reuel Marc Gerecht that was expecially infuriating. Talk of the Nations Neil Conan let John Bolton spend an hour repeating unsubstantiated claims about Iran. Matthews and Stephanapoulous have allowed McCain to repeat a list of unsubstantiated claism about Iran. Tim Russert gave Cheney several opporutnities to do the same. Did the MSM leanrn any lesson that we can see examples of. Are they asking challenging questions about the Iran claims. Hell no! This has been going on for four long years. Someone will make a film after we attack Iran and say oops look what the MSM did again. There will be studies and investigations etc etc

      Just why is the MSM ignoring the NIE having to do with Iran? Just why has the MSM ignored what Iaeas Mr. El Baradei has to say about Iran? Why is it that around 70% of Americans believe that Iran has a nuclear weapons program all ready in existence? Could it have anything to do with the MSM allowing these unsubstantitiatd claims in regard to Iran to be
      endlessly repeated? Jesus Mary and Joseph help us!

      I mean I know history repeats itself and I know it is claimed that the American people have short attentions spans but this is insane

  9. Leen says:

    Still amazed and ashamed that the U.S. congress can hold a President accountable for lying under oath about a blow job.

    we have yet to witness this U.S. congress or the previously Republican controlled congress hold anyone not anyone ACCOUNTABLE FOR AN INTELLIGENCE SNOWJOB! What twisted and perverted priorities. And the whole world is watching and I would imagine smirking. They all ready knew.

    HOLD THOSE REPONSIBLE FOR THIS INTELLIGENCE SNOWJOB ACCOUNTABLE. THIS IS THE VERY LEAST OUR CONGRESS CAN DO FOR THOSE WHO HAVE NEEDLESSLY LOST THEIR LIVE IN AN IMMORAL AND ILLEGAL WAR OF CHOICE. THE VERY LEAST!

  10. Mauimom says:

    one that revealed that Libby and Cheney had been cracking heads at CIA. But because he does not deal with these issues, he underplays Bush’s role and the role of the animosity between the CIA and WH in the leak.

    I continue to be pissed every time the Admin, and particularly the MSM, refer to “faulty intelligence,” as though blaming incompetents [i.e., incompetent people] at the CIA.

    I’m not defending Langley, but it’s clear that Cheney’s head cracking and the general cherry-picking were a lot more responsible than incompetence. However, once the MSM have their “meme,” they never deviate from it.

    BTW/OT did folks see Keith slam Katie Couric as Worst Person the other night?

  11. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Late to the party, but I’m still amazed that the WH discussions were all about selectively leaking tiny portions of classified data without attribution to “reliable” “news” outlets, in a campaign to smear a public opponent who used unclassified data to call the President a liar.

    Golly. One would think that rather than screw their critic, his wife and her professional intelligence network, they might have unclassified data in order to use it in a public debate to prove that they were right. I guess they knew they’d never win that honest debate, so they just did what comes naturally: they played dirty, using all the power of government against one ex-lifeguard/former public employee and his government employee wife.

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