Today it was revealed that…
A high-level intelligence assessment by the Bush administration concluded in early 2002 that the sale of uranium from Niger to Iraq was “unlikely” because of a host of economic, diplomatic and logistical obstacles, according to a secret memo that was recently declassified by the State Department.
The memo, dated March 4, 2002, was distributed at senior levels by the office of Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and by the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Condoleezza Rice, Laura Bush’s choice as the first woman president of the United States, was the National Security Advisor in March 2002. Does anyone believe that the NSA was completely unaware of a “high-level intelligence assessment” that was “distributed at senior levels by the office of Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and by the Defense Intelligence Agency”?
Her job as NSA was to coordinate the work of the many intelligence agencies in order to (among other things) provide clear advice to the president. There’s no way in hell that Rice did not know that the Niger-Iraq yellow cake link was “unlikely”, yet here she is fumbling her way through a mouthful of lies for Tim Russert on Septembr 28, 2003.
MR. RUSSERT: The administration’s credibility is on the line, here in the country and around the world. And we still specifically cite the president’s State of the Union message in January. Now, let me go back and play that and then talk about your role.
(Videotape, January 28, 2003):
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.
MR. RUSSERT: That was in January. And in June—June 8—you were on MEET THE PRESS; I asked you about that, and this was your response.
(Videotape, June 8, 2003 [HC: Why can’t I find this June 8 transcript at MSNBC?]):
DR. RICE: The president quoted a British paper. We did not know at the time, no one knew at the time in our circles—maybe someone knew down in the bowels of the agency, but no one in our circles knew—that there were doubts and suspicions that this might be a forgery. Of course, it was information that was mistaken.
MR. RUSSERT: “No one in our circles.” That has proven to be wrong.
DR. RICE: No, Tim, that has not proven to be wrong. No one did know that they were forgeries. The notion of the forgeries came in February or in March when this was—when this came to the CIA. It is true that we learned, subsequent to my comments to you, that Director Tenet did not want to stand by that statement. And I would never want to see anything in a presidential statement—speech—that the director of Central Intelligence did not want to have there.
And I’m the national security adviser. When something like this happens, I feel personally responsible for it happening because it obscured the fact that the president of the United States did not go to war over whether Saddam Hussein tried to acquire yellow cake in Africa. He went to war over a threat from a bloody tyrant in the most volatile region of the world who had used weapons of mass destruction before, and was continuing to try to acquire them. And so, of course, this should not have happened.
MR. RUSSERT: But when you say that no one in our circles, and it was maybe down in the bowels of the Intelligence Agency, a month after that appearance, you said this, “The CIA cleared the speech in its entirety.”
And then your top deputy, Stephen Hadley, on July 23, said this.
“Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley told reporters that he received two memos from the CIA in October that cast doubt on intelligence reports that Iraq had sough to buy uranium from Niger to use in developing nuclear weapons. Both memos were also sent to chief speechwriter Michael Gerson and one was sent to national security adviser, Dr. Condoleezza Rice, Hadley said.”
And George Tenet called Mr. Hadley directly and put—issued a warning on that information. Were you aware of any concerns by the CIA about this incident?
DR. RICE: First of all, the CIA did clear the speech in its entirety and George Tenet has said that. He’s also said that he believes that it should not have been cleared. And we apparently, with the—in October for the Cincinnati speech, not for the State of the Union, but the Cincinnati speech, George Tenet asked that this be taken out of the Cincinnati speech, the reference to yellow cake. It was taken out of the Cincinnati speech because whenever the director of Central Intelligence wants something out, it’s gone.
MR. RUSSERT: How’d it get back in?
DR. RICE: It’s not a matter of getting back in. It’s a matter, Tim, that three-plus months later, people didn’t remember that George Tenet had asked that it be taken out of the Cincinnati speech and then it was cleared by the agency. I didn’t remember. Steve Hadley didn’t remember. We are trying to put now in place methods so you don’t have to be dependent on people’s memories for something like that.
MR. RUSSERT: Did you ever read the memo that I referenced?
DR. RICE: I don’t remember the memo. It came after it had been taken out of the speech, and so it’s quite possible that I didn’t. But let me be very clear: This shouldn’t happen to the president of the United States, and we will do everything that we can to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.
MR. RUSSERT: The Washington Post framed the issue this way: “The remarks by Rice and her associates raise two uncomfortable possibilities for the national security adviser. Either she missed or overlooked numerous warnings from intelligence agencies seeking to put caveats on claims about Iraq’s nuclear weapons program, or she made public claims that she knew to be false.”
DR. RICE: Well, neither happens to be true. First of all, we had a national intelligence estimate on which we relied to talk about Iraq’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. I would never make claims that I know not to be true. Why would I do that to the president of the United States? The president of the United States has to be credible with the American people. I have to be credible with the American people.
This was a mistake. The memories of people three months before did not trigger when they saw the language in the State of the Union. When I read the line in the State of the Union, I thought it was perfectly fine. And I can assure you nobody was trying to somehow slip something into the State of the Union that the director of Central Intelligence didn’t have confidence in. The State of the Union address was about the broad threat that Saddam Hussein posed. That remained the case when we went to war. That remains the case today. And it was a strong case for removing him from power.