A tardy and incomplete correction

By

It took almost two and a half years, but the Washington Post's Walter Pincus finally concedes many things he reported on June 12, 2003 attributed to  the then anonymously sourced Joseph A . Wilson IV are lies. 

Pincus and Dana Milbank  today admit Wilson 's tale to Pincus that the intelligence about the Niger uranium was based on forged documents because "the dates were wrong and the names were wrong"  was debunked by the Senate Intelligence Committee, which examined pre—Iraq war intelligence, and reported that Wilson "had never seen the CIA reports and had no knowledge of what names and dates were in the reports." Wilson had to admit he had misspoken." (The Telegraph reports today that Russo Martino has conceded that he prepared these documents for French intelligence to undermine British and U.S. war efforts.)

They are deceitful in saying "that inaccuracy was not central to Wilson's claims about Niger."  It was central to his biggest flim flam, that the Administration had deliberately manipulated the intelligence and taken us to war on a pretext.

The authors do come clean about the rest——perhaps less damning ——of Wilson's serial lies:

Wilson has maintained that Plame was merely "a conduit," telling CNN last year that "her supervisors asked her to contact me." But the Senate committee found that "interviews and documents provided to the committee indicate that his wife . . . suggested his name for the trip." The committee also noted a memorandum from Plame saying Wilson "has good relations" with Niger officials who "could possibly shed light on this sort of activity." In addition, notes on a State Department document surmised that Plame "had the idea to dispatch him" to Niger.

The CIA has always said, however, that Plame's superiors chose Wilson for the Niger trip and she only relayed their decision.

Wilson also mistakenly assumed that his report would get more widespread notice in the administration than it apparently did. He wrote that he believed "a specific answer from the agency to the office of the vice president" had probably taken place, perhaps orally.

But this apparently never occurred. Former CIA director George J. Tenet has said that "we did not brief it to the president, vice president or other senior administration officials." Instead his report, without identifying Wilson as the source, was sent in a routine intelligence paper that had wide circulation in the White House and the rest of the intelligence community but had little impact because it supported other, earlier refutations of the Niger intelligence.

Wilson also had charged that his report on Niger clearly debunked the claim about Iraqi uranium purchases. He told NBC in 2004: "This government knew that there was nothing to these allegations." But the Senate committee said his findings were ambiguous. Tenet said Wilson's report "did not resolve" the matter.[/quote]

The authors concede as well that contrary to his deceptive description of the origin of his trip ,that the Vice President had inspired his Mission to Niger," Tenet said the CIA's counterproliferation experts sent Wilson "on their own initiative."

Nicholas  Kristof printed the same Wilson lies a month earlier, in May 2003. How long must we wait for him to come clean?

In any event the denouement is not as strong as Wilson deserves. The Additional Views set forth by SSCI Chairman Roberts, Senator Bond and Senator Hatch make the extent of his lies and their impact more clear:

Despite our hard and successful work to deliver a unanimous report, however, there were two issues on which the Republicans and Democrats could not agree: 1) whether the Committee should conclude that former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's public statements were not based on knowledge he actually possessed, and 2) whether the Committee should conclude that it was the former ambassador's wife who recommended him for his trip to Niger.

Niger

The Committee began its review of prewar intelligence on Iraq by examining the Intelligence Community's sharing of intelligence information with the UNMOVIC inspection teams. (The Committee's findings on that topic can be found in the section of the report titled, "The Intelligence Community's Sharing of Intelligence on Iraqi Suspect WMD Sites with UN Inspectors.") Shortly thereafter, we expanded the review when former Ambassador Joseph Wilson began speaking publicly about his role in exploring the possibility that Iraq was seeking or may have acquired uranium yellowcake from Africa. Ambassador Wilson's emergence was precipitated by a passage in President Bush's January 2003 State of the Union address which is now referred to as "the sixteen words." President Bush stated, " . . . the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." The details of the Committee's findings and conclusions on this issue can be found in the Niger section of the report. What cannot be found, however, are two conclusions upon which the Committee's Democrats would not agree. While there was no dispute with the underlying facts, my Democrat colleagues refused to allow the following conclusions to appear in the report:

Conclusion: The plan to send the former ambassador to Niger was suggested by the former ambassador's wife, a CIA employee.

The former ambassador's wife suggested her husband for the trip to Niger in February 2002. The former ambassador had traveled previously to Niger on behalf of the CIA, also at the suggestion of his wife, to look into another matter not related to Iraq. On February 12, 2002, the former ambassador's wife sent a memorandum to a Deputy Chief of a division in the CIA's Directorate of Operations which said, "[m]y husband has good relations with both the PM [prime minister] and the former Minister of Mines (not to mention lots of French contacts), both of whom could possibly shed light on this sort of activity." This was just one day before the same Directorate of Operations division sent a cable to one of its overseas stations requesting concurrence with the division's idea to send the former ambassador to Niger.

Conclusion: Rather than speaking publicly about his actual experiences during his inquiry of the Niger issue, the former ambassador seems to have included information he learned from press accounts and from his beliefs about how the Intelligence Community would have or should have handled the information he provided.

At the time the former ambassador traveled to Niger, the Intelligence Community did not have in its possession any actual documents on the alleged Niger—Iraq uranium deal, only second hand reporting of the deal. The former ambassador's comments to reporters that the Niger—Iraq uranium documents "may have been forged because 'the dates were wrong and the names were wrong,'" could not have been based on the former ambassador's actual experiences because the Intelligence Community did not have the documents at the time of the ambassador's trip. In addition, nothing in the report from the former ambassador's trip said anything about documents having been forged or the names or dates in the reports having been incorrect. The former ambassador told Committee staff that he, in fact, did not have access to any of the names and dates in the CIA's reports and said he may have become confused about his own recollection after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported in March 2003 that the names and dates on the documents were not correct. Of note, the names and dates in the documents that the IAEA found to be incorrect were not names or dates included in the CIA reports.

Following the Vice President's review of an intelligence report regarding a possible uranium deal, he asked his briefer for the CIA's analysis of the issue. It was this request which generated Mr. Wilson's trip to Niger. The former ambassador's public comments suggesting that the Vice President had been briefed on the information gathered during his trip is not correct, however. While the CIA responded to the Vice President's request for the Agency's analysis, they never provided the information gathered by the former Ambassador. The former ambassador, in an NBC Meet the Press interview on July 6, 2003, said, "The office of the Vice President, I am absolutely convinced, received a very specific response to the question it asked and that response was based upon my trip out there." The former ambassador was speaking on the basis of what he believed should have happened based on his former government experience, but he had no knowledge that this did happen. These and other public comments from the former ambassador, such as comments that his report "debunked" the Niger—Iraq uranium story, were incorrect and have led to a distortion in the press and in the public's understanding of the facts surrounding the Niger—Iraq uranium story. The Committee found that, for most analysts, the former ambassador's report lent more credibility, not less, to the reported Niger— Iraq uranium deal.

During Mr. Wilson's media blitz, he appeared on more than thirty television shows including entertainment venues. Time and again, Joe Wilson told anyone who would listen that the President had lied to the American people, that the Vice President had lied, and that he had "debunked" the claim that Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa. As discussed in the Niger section of the report, not only did he NOT "debunk" the claim, he actually gave some intelligence analysts even more reason to believe that it may be true. I believed very strongly that it was important for the Committee to conclude publicly that many of the statements made by Ambassador Wilson were not only incorrect, but had no basis in fact.

In an interview with Committee staff, Mr. Wilson was asked how he knew some of the things he was stating publicly with such confidence. On at least two occasions he admitted that he had no direct knowledge to support some of his claims and that he was drawing on either unrelated past experiences or no information at all. For example, when asked how he "knew" that the Intelligence Community had rejected the possibility of a Niger—Iraq uranium deal, as he wrote in his book, he told Committee staff that his assertion may have involved "a little literary flair."

The former Ambassador, either by design or through ignorance, gave the American people and, for that matter, the world a version of events that was inaccurate, unsubstantiated, and misleading. Surely, the Senate Intelligence Committee, which has unique access to all of the facts, should have been able to agree on a conclusion that would correct the public record. Unfortunately, we were unable to do so.

Clarice Feldman   10 25 05

UPDATE: Blogger Jonathan Strong calls today's piece a C.Y.A. maneuver by the WaPo.

It took almost two and a half years, but the Washington Post's Walter Pincus finally concedes many things he reported on June 12, 2003 attributed to  the then anonymously sourced Joseph A . Wilson IV are lies. 

Pincus and Dana Milbank  today admit Wilson 's tale to Pincus that the intelligence about the Niger uranium was based on forged documents because "the dates were wrong and the names were wrong"  was debunked by the Senate Intelligence Committee, which examined pre—Iraq war intelligence, and reported that Wilson "had never seen the CIA reports and had no knowledge of what names and dates were in the reports." Wilson had to admit he had misspoken." (The Telegraph reports today that Russo Martino has conceded that he prepared these documents for French intelligence to undermine British and U.S. war efforts.)

They are deceitful in saying "that inaccuracy was not central to Wilson's claims about Niger."  It was central to his biggest flim flam, that the Administration had deliberately manipulated the intelligence and taken us to war on a pretext.

The authors do come clean about the rest——perhaps less damning ——of Wilson's serial lies:

Wilson has maintained that Plame was merely "a conduit," telling CNN last year that "her supervisors asked her to contact me." But the Senate committee found that "interviews and documents provided to the committee indicate that his wife . . . suggested his name for the trip." The committee also noted a memorandum from Plame saying Wilson "has good relations" with Niger officials who "could possibly shed light on this sort of activity." In addition, notes on a State Department document surmised that Plame "had the idea to dispatch him" to Niger.

The CIA has always said, however, that Plame's superiors chose Wilson for the Niger trip and she only relayed their decision.

Wilson also mistakenly assumed that his report would get more widespread notice in the administration than it apparently did. He wrote that he believed "a specific answer from the agency to the office of the vice president" had probably taken place, perhaps orally.

But this apparently never occurred. Former CIA director George J. Tenet has said that "we did not brief it to the president, vice president or other senior administration officials." Instead his report, without identifying Wilson as the source, was sent in a routine intelligence paper that had wide circulation in the White House and the rest of the intelligence community but had little impact because it supported other, earlier refutations of the Niger intelligence.

Wilson also had charged that his report on Niger clearly debunked the claim about Iraqi uranium purchases. He told NBC in 2004: "This government knew that there was nothing to these allegations." But the Senate committee said his findings were ambiguous. Tenet said Wilson's report "did not resolve" the matter.[/quote]

The authors concede as well that contrary to his deceptive description of the origin of his trip ,that the Vice President had inspired his Mission to Niger," Tenet said the CIA's counterproliferation experts sent Wilson "on their own initiative."

Nicholas  Kristof printed the same Wilson lies a month earlier, in May 2003. How long must we wait for him to come clean?

In any event the denouement is not as strong as Wilson deserves. The Additional Views set forth by SSCI Chairman Roberts, Senator Bond and Senator Hatch make the extent of his lies and their impact more clear:

Despite our hard and successful work to deliver a unanimous report, however, there were two issues on which the Republicans and Democrats could not agree: 1) whether the Committee should conclude that former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's public statements were not based on knowledge he actually possessed, and 2) whether the Committee should conclude that it was the former ambassador's wife who recommended him for his trip to Niger.

Niger

The Committee began its review of prewar intelligence on Iraq by examining the Intelligence Community's sharing of intelligence information with the UNMOVIC inspection teams. (The Committee's findings on that topic can be found in the section of the report titled, "The Intelligence Community's Sharing of Intelligence on Iraqi Suspect WMD Sites with UN Inspectors.") Shortly thereafter, we expanded the review when former Ambassador Joseph Wilson began speaking publicly about his role in exploring the possibility that Iraq was seeking or may have acquired uranium yellowcake from Africa. Ambassador Wilson's emergence was precipitated by a passage in President Bush's January 2003 State of the Union address which is now referred to as "the sixteen words." President Bush stated, " . . . the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." The details of the Committee's findings and conclusions on this issue can be found in the Niger section of the report. What cannot be found, however, are two conclusions upon which the Committee's Democrats would not agree. While there was no dispute with the underlying facts, my Democrat colleagues refused to allow the following conclusions to appear in the report:

Conclusion: The plan to send the former ambassador to Niger was suggested by the former ambassador's wife, a CIA employee.

The former ambassador's wife suggested her husband for the trip to Niger in February 2002. The former ambassador had traveled previously to Niger on behalf of the CIA, also at the suggestion of his wife, to look into another matter not related to Iraq. On February 12, 2002, the former ambassador's wife sent a memorandum to a Deputy Chief of a division in the CIA's Directorate of Operations which said, "[m]y husband has good relations with both the PM [prime minister] and the former Minister of Mines (not to mention lots of French contacts), both of whom could possibly shed light on this sort of activity." This was just one day before the same Directorate of Operations division sent a cable to one of its overseas stations requesting concurrence with the division's idea to send the former ambassador to Niger.

Conclusion: Rather than speaking publicly about his actual experiences during his inquiry of the Niger issue, the former ambassador seems to have included information he learned from press accounts and from his beliefs about how the Intelligence Community would have or should have handled the information he provided.

At the time the former ambassador traveled to Niger, the Intelligence Community did not have in its possession any actual documents on the alleged Niger—Iraq uranium deal, only second hand reporting of the deal. The former ambassador's comments to reporters that the Niger—Iraq uranium documents "may have been forged because 'the dates were wrong and the names were wrong,'" could not have been based on the former ambassador's actual experiences because the Intelligence Community did not have the documents at the time of the ambassador's trip. In addition, nothing in the report from the former ambassador's trip said anything about documents having been forged or the names or dates in the reports having been incorrect. The former ambassador told Committee staff that he, in fact, did not have access to any of the names and dates in the CIA's reports and said he may have become confused about his own recollection after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported in March 2003 that the names and dates on the documents were not correct. Of note, the names and dates in the documents that the IAEA found to be incorrect were not names or dates included in the CIA reports.

Following the Vice President's review of an intelligence report regarding a possible uranium deal, he asked his briefer for the CIA's analysis of the issue. It was this request which generated Mr. Wilson's trip to Niger. The former ambassador's public comments suggesting that the Vice President had been briefed on the information gathered during his trip is not correct, however. While the CIA responded to the Vice President's request for the Agency's analysis, they never provided the information gathered by the former Ambassador. The former ambassador, in an NBC Meet the Press interview on July 6, 2003, said, "The office of the Vice President, I am absolutely convinced, received a very specific response to the question it asked and that response was based upon my trip out there." The former ambassador was speaking on the basis of what he believed should have happened based on his former government experience, but he had no knowledge that this did happen. These and other public comments from the former ambassador, such as comments that his report "debunked" the Niger—Iraq uranium story, were incorrect and have led to a distortion in the press and in the public's understanding of the facts surrounding the Niger—Iraq uranium story. The Committee found that, for most analysts, the former ambassador's report lent more credibility, not less, to the reported Niger— Iraq uranium deal.

During Mr. Wilson's media blitz, he appeared on more than thirty television shows including entertainment venues. Time and again, Joe Wilson told anyone who would listen that the President had lied to the American people, that the Vice President had lied, and that he had "debunked" the claim that Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa. As discussed in the Niger section of the report, not only did he NOT "debunk" the claim, he actually gave some intelligence analysts even more reason to believe that it may be true. I believed very strongly that it was important for the Committee to conclude publicly that many of the statements made by Ambassador Wilson were not only incorrect, but had no basis in fact.

In an interview with Committee staff, Mr. Wilson was asked how he knew some of the things he was stating publicly with such confidence. On at least two occasions he admitted that he had no direct knowledge to support some of his claims and that he was drawing on either unrelated past experiences or no information at all. For example, when asked how he "knew" that the Intelligence Community had rejected the possibility of a Niger—Iraq uranium deal, as he wrote in his book, he told Committee staff that his assertion may have involved "a little literary flair."

The former Ambassador, either by design or through ignorance, gave the American people and, for that matter, the world a version of events that was inaccurate, unsubstantiated, and misleading. Surely, the Senate Intelligence Committee, which has unique access to all of the facts, should have been able to agree on a conclusion that would correct the public record. Unfortunately, we were unable to do so.

Clarice Feldman   10 25 05

UPDATE: Blogger Jonathan Strong calls today's piece a C.Y.A. maneuver by the WaPo.