July 11-18, 2003

From Holden:

Here’s a brief collection of the gaggles mentioning the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq from July 11 to July 18, 2003.

July 11, 2003: Condi joins the Mile High Club by gaggling in flight aboard Air Force One.

Q But isn’t it slightly strange that you have different agencies with different reports and different sentences? I mean, not everyone is singing from the same song sheet here.

DR. RICE: But let me just go through the process, because it’s not at all unusual. We have several intelligence agencies, not just one. We have the Central Intelligence Agency, a Defense Intelligence Agency, the State Department has its own intelligence agency. And there is a process which the Director of Central Intelligence, who is the coordinator for all of those agencies, runs which is called the National Intelligence Estimate. The National Intelligence Estimate is supposed to come to a conclusion that is the considered, joint opinion of all of those intelligence agencies. If at the end of that process, a particular agency still has a reservation, they take a footnote. And so the INR took a footnote in this case.

Q But it’s in the Estimate?

DR. RICE: It’s in the Estimate. It’s, by the way, in another section, but it is in the Estimate. But the DCI is responsible for delivering a judgment, a consensus judgment of the intelligence community, which is called the National Intelligence Estimate. And that’s what the President —

Q Is there a chance that that particular citation could be declassified, so we could see it?

DR. RICE: You know, we don’t want to try to get into kind of selective declassification, but we’re looking at what can be made available.

There’s more if you click on Read More!

From Holden:

July 12, 2003: Ari gives it a whirl.

Q Well, after the IAEA brought up the forged documents. But on February — if it wasn’t substantiable enough to be presented in Mr. Powell’s presentation, surely by then the White House realized that it wasn’t substantiable enough to be put in the State of the Union. Why no public comment after February 5th? Why wait a month until the IAEA challenged the forged documents?

MR. FLEISCHER: Because this is the nature of intelligence information. This intelligence information was included in the NIE; it was part of the information that was being discussed widely in intelligence circles. There was a consensus agreement that supported the NIE with the footnoted objection from the State Department.

Q Does the President consider the matter closed now? With the President — with Director Tenet’s letter, does the President consider the matter closed?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, the President has moved on. And I think, frankly, much of the country has moved on, as well.

July 14, 2003: Ari’s final gaggle.

Q So despite that red flag, this idea came back in draft of the State of the Union. You just said it was because it was contained in the NIE. The NIE had a footnote saying this information was highly dubious. Who on the President’s staff would let him say something that the State Department had said was highly dubious?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, keep in mind, again, the process of a national intelligence estimate. There are six agencies in the United States government all involved in the intelligence community that put together the national intelligence estimate. It can be often a footnoted document where one of the six agencies will say, we have questions about it, this information may or may not be accurate. Unanimity is not always the standard for an NIE. It is an inter-agency process that lends itself to consensus — in this case, consensus from five of the six agencies involved.

We’ve been very up front, and the State Department looked at it and they came to a different conclusion. All of the rest of the entities that looked at it came to a different conclusion from State, which I think also is reflective of why Secretary Powell, who works the closest with the State Department employees, did not include it.

July 15, 2003: Little Scottie pops his cherry.

Q Scott, on this Iraq-Niger situation, why is it that the President made the comment yesterday that doubts were only raised about the underlying intelligence behind that statement after the State of the Union address, when other administration officials and other evidence suggests that’s not true?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, when it came to our attention, when it came to the President’s attention was when the IAEA came out in March with the report showing that those documents relating to Niger were forged. And that was only one part of the overall piece of information that was cited.

Q But doubts were raised clear back to the previous —

MR. McCLELLAN: But go back to the NIE, and in the NIE it stated that Iraq was trying to seek uranium from Africa. And I think that we have addressed this issue. We have made it clear that that statement should not have been in the speech, and if the CIA had said, take it out, we would have taken it out.

But let’s put this in perspective. This issue here relates to the threat that Saddam Hussein and his regime posed to the region, to his people and to the world. And the statement in the State of the Union was one piece of one part of a much larger body of evidence that —

Q Right, but that’s not — the question I’m dealing with has to do with —

MR. McCLELLAN: — related to the regime’s weapons of mass destruction and the threat that the regime posed; not only that it had weapons, but it has past history.

Q I’ll ask a question about that in just a second. The point is, the President said doubts were only raised after the State of the Union address — and that’s not accurate. Why did he say that?

MR. McCLELLAN: And it was laid out previously. I think we’ve addressed this. We’ve addressed this over the last couple of days, about the timing of when we found out that those — that the documents were forged.

Q But learning about the forgeries was one piece of this. But doubts about the intelligence were raised last year.

MR. McCLELLAN: The bottom line is that we should not have put that line in the speech, and we’ve made that clear.

July 16, 2003: the first use of Little Scottie’s famous “let’s back up” spin.

Q Right. We now know that the DCI called Mr. Hadley on — about four days later, to say, don’t go ahead with that part of the speech because we’re not certain of it.

What did you do at that point to alert Congress, which was getting ready to make a vote that — take the vote that you referred to before, authorizing war? That, in fact, an element — just one element, but an element of the classified document that they had received no longer was considered credible by the Director of Central Intelligence?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let’s back up. Yes, the national intelligence estimate did come out during the drafting of the Cincinnati speech toward — just days before.

Q A week before.

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, it’s a lengthy document, let’s keep that in mind, too; and there’s a lot of information to look at.

Now, the specific reference in that Cincinnati speech was relating to a specific amount on a specific source. So it was different from what we’re talking about with the State of the Union address.

Q But it was in the NIE.

MR. McCLELLAN: That’s correct. But it was different from what was in the State of the Union address. This one statement was by no means the reason we went to war. And I think it’s nonsense and ludicrous to suggest otherwise. There was so much evidence there, the case was so strong that that one piece of information didn’t change the overlying facts — whether or not it is accurate. And, again, it hasn’t been shown to be wrong.

July 17, 2003: Scottie spins the gaggle away from the infamous Dr. Robert Joseph.

Q Scott, within the NSC, was it in fact Bob Joseph who wanted it — wanted the information about Iraq seeking uranium allegedly in Africa in the State of the Union? Was it he? Was that communicated, discussed, debated with Condoleezza Rice?

And why is it that he wanted that information in there so badly, given the fact that the CIA couldn’t vouch for its accuracy? They told the British in September of ’02 to take it out of their own reporting, and they wanted it out of the President’s speech in October. So why was the NSC hell bent on having it in the State of the Union?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, there are two different pieces that you touched on there. You touched on the October speech relating to Cincinnati, and that was based on a specific amount and a specific source. And you are correct. The CIA did say, take it out, and we did.

The State of the Union address focused on the reference that was made in the National Intelligence Estimate saying that Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa. It was based on additional sources. But at the time, before the State of the Union, the British had also made a public — made a document public stating that claim. And they had additional sources upon which they relied.

We learned some information that we did not know at the time after the State of the Union speech. And that was when we acknowledged — we acknowledged that relating to some information on some forged documents relating to one part of that overall piece of evidence. And we said, this did not rise to the level of a Presidential speech. And that’s why it was taken out.

Q The reality is that even though the language has changed as it was prepared for the State of the Union, the very fact that it had to be amended in the first place speaks to the fact that this was a suspect piece of intelligence by the admission to the CIA at the time. And it was subject to debate within the administration about its accuracy, and therefore the usefulness of using it.

MR. McCLELLAN: I disagree. I think the reason the British was cited was because it was already a public document, and so why not cite a public source when you’re going to put that in the speech.

Q Even when your own intelligence agencies have doubts about it?

MR. McCLELLAN: But our own intelligence, the National Intelligence Estimate, stated that they were seeking uranium from Africa. And that’s where the basis began.

July 18, 2003: Scottie proclaims that the NIE has been “officially declassified” on this date.

Q Scott, why did the administration put out all the information that the senior administration official put out today on the intel —

MR. McCLELLAN: No, well, we always want to share facts with the American people. And this information was just, as of today, officially declassified, and it was an opportunity to share with them some information that showed the clear and compelling case that we had for confronting the threat that Saddam Hussein posed.

Q Does the White House think that this should end the case, the discussion? Are we done with this after —

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, I think we always welcome the opportunity to discuss and talk about the safety and security of the American people. It’s the President’s highest priority. This was, as I said, an opportunity to share some important facts with the American people that had recently become declassified. And that’s what we did earlier today.

Q Did some of the documents that came out undercut some of the argument, like State Department documents about things being “highly dubious” and all?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that when you look at the information that was released, it shows further how clear and compelling this case was regarding the threat that we faced in Iraq, and that we ended in Iraq. Saddam Hussein is gone and his regime is no longer a threat of using these weapons of mass destruction.

Q Why, Scott, was the cable that was — that derived from the debriefing of Joe Wilson not included among the declassified documents?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we always want to share as much information as we can. There is some classified information that — well, there’s some information that remains classified for national security reasons. But we felt that this information — which is what the State of the Union statement was originally based on — was important to share with the American people, because it could be declassified.

Q When was it actually declassified?

MR. McCLELLAN: It was officially declassified today.

Q Just today?