Interesting Times

You know you’re living in interesting times when news that the United States is seriously considering use of nuclear weapons against another country is not the top story.

In fact, the most linked-to article in the Blogosphere today seems to be this one, by Barton Gellman and Dafna Linzer of the Washington Post. Highlights:

As he drew back the curtain this week on the evidence against Vice President Cheney’s former top aide, Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald for the first time described a “concerted action” by “multiple people in the White House” — using classified information — to “discredit, punish or seek revenge against” a critic of President Bush’s war in Iraq. …

… One striking feature of that decision — unremarked until now, in part because Fitzgerald did not mention it — is that the evidence Cheney and Libby selected to share with reporters had been disproved months before.

Regarding the “sixteen words“:

United Nations inspectors had exposed the main evidence for the uranium charge as crude forgeries in March 2003, but the Bush administration and British Prime Minister Tony Blair maintained they had additional, secret evidence they could not disclose. In June, a British parliamentary inquiry concluded otherwise, delivering a scathing critique of Blair’s role in promoting the story. With no ally left, the White House debated whether to abandon the uranium claim and became embroiled in bitter finger-pointing about whom to fault for the error. A legal brief filed for Libby last month said that “certain officials at the CIA, the White House, and the State Department each sought to avoid or assign blame for intelligence failures relating to Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.”

It was at that moment that Libby, allegedly at Cheney’s direction, sought out at least three reporters to bolster the discredited uranium allegation. Libby made careful selections of language from the 2002 estimate, quoting a passage that said Iraq was “vigorously trying to procure uranium” in Africa.

This isn’t news to most of us who hang out in the Left Blogosphere, of course, but it’s nice to see the evil MSM finally catching on after, what, three years?

The Right and its allies are trying to bury the central issue of this case under truckloads of verbiage — e.g., the President didn’t do anything illegal; the President didn’t specifically direct Libby to “out” Valerie Plame; the Sixteen Words were not technically a lie, etc. The Washington Post itself is running an editorial today claiming the NIE leak was “good.” “President Bush was right to approve the declassification of parts of a National Intelligence Estimate about Iraq three years ago in order to make clear why he had believed that Saddam Hussein was seeking nuclear weapons,” it says. [UPDATE: See SusanG]

But that is not why the NIE was declassified. Bush didn’t go to war because the NIE told him Saddam Hussein was seeking nuclear weapons, because that same NIE said the “intelligence” in back of that claim was suspect. As Gellman and Linzer write, the “evidence” that was leaked had already been disproved months before.

It is obvious that the leaking was not about making anything clear, but about spreading disinformation for political purposes. It was, in fact, about making things muddy.

But as another indication of how interesting our times have become, the central issue is no longer about Valerie Plame or Joe Wilson. As Ron Chusid writes in the Democratic Daily Blog, the goal of the Bush Administration leakers was to discredit anyone who criticized Bush. It was not about explaining the President’s reasons for invading Iraq; it was not about setting records straight; it was not about preventing Matt Cooper from publishing inaccurate information; it was about shutting down legitimate criticism of Administration policies. Trashing Valerie Plame’s career and exposing ongoing intelligence operations were just collateral damage.

And, ultimately, it was about deceiving the American people.

Joe Wilson was on ABC’s This Week With George Stephanopoulos this morning, and Wilson said that if President Bush wants to salvage his reputation there are two things he should do. First, he and Cheney should release the transcripts of their interviews with Patrick Fitzgerald about Plame. Second, since recent court filings have revealed that “multiple people” in the White House took part in the Wilson-Plame smear campaign, Bush should find out who those “multiple people” are and fire them.

It won’t happen, of course, and I’m sure Wilson knows that.

See also: Larry Johnson, “George W. Bush, Rogue President” and “George Bush, A Slam Dunk Liar“; Murray Waas, “What Bush Was Told About Iraq.”

Update: Michael Smith, London Times, “‘Forgers’ of key Iraq war contract named

8 thoughts on “Interesting Times

  1. Which NIE are we talking about?. If I remember correctly, there were two NIE’s. One version was designed to fix the the facts around the policy.

  2. What is it going to take the public to wake up and throw the rascals out?
    Just do this mind experiment. Some other country ( I dont wish to single any out, but lets say China) has 800 bases in the world, of which 75 are in South America, and 10 in Cuba. They have invaded Brazil because of suspected WMDs there and are engaged in an insurgency, 200,000 troops tied down.
    .They now threaten Mexico for the same reason and put out the possibility of using tactical nukes.
    You get the picture …..
    Is the American population so weened on violence that they just cannot comprehend another way of looking at the world? God help us all.

  3. Swami — my understanding is that there are lots of NIEs. They are intelligence assessments written by the Director of National Intelligence and reviewed by the National Intelligence Board. You can read about them here. The government may crank out several of these every year, for all I know. It’s not always clear to me that news stories talking about “the NIE” are all talking about the same one, or not.

    In October 2003 Josh Marshall wrote about an NIE that seemed to have been written around Bush’s war policy, which is probably the one you are thinking of.

    On the other hand, eriposte writes today about the NIE that was selectively leaked in Plamegate, and this NIE does not seem to support the Sixteen Words or other excuses to invade Iraq. Libby’s 2003 leak selectively used information from the NIE to imply the report said things it didn’t actually say.

    The same NIE, or two different NIEs? I’m not sure.

  4. Maha, the NIE that I am refering to is the same one that is in discussion with the leak. The original contained caveats of uncertainty that weren’t consistant with Bush’s scheme and the wording was changed in the unclassified version to allow for ambiguity, The changes were slight but significant…enough to allow Cheney to employ his,” you can’t prove by the intelligence that Saddam didn’t have weapons of mass destruction.”. They sculpted the text to serve as a foundation for their lies.

  5. The NIE concocted in about 6 weeks and “released” to intelligence committees redacted in October. ‘Making a case’ for war powers. So if they wanted to bring the public around they should have released it in November 2002 and not july 2003 trying to cover their collective asses. You know since Nov 2000 I’ve seen a lot of lawyers on my tv screen making cases so to speak. I’ve seen politicians parsing words in legalese obviously coached on what to say so as to not be illegal but able to squeeze through a court of law by the skin of their teeth. If you’re acting in “good faith” you do not approach every statement and act with an eye to how it will sound in court when they drag you in there later. That behavior in and of itself tells me all I need to know about everything they have said and done since 2000.

  6. I did some more googling and it seems we’re all talking about the same NIE, which is from October 2002. There’s a lot more that needs to be clarified about this.

  7. This is so bittersweet (like Sarah Silverman’s doctor story). On the one hand, it’s great that the media has finally gotten around to reporting this, just as it’s great that they finally started to do some (limited) reporting on the Downing Street memo. But it’s been so long — all this stuff was so known. I knew the aluminum tube and Wilson stuff before the Iraq war, before the SOTU then, and I’m not super plugged in — I have no secret contacts. I can just read is all. And the info that was widely and readily available on leftish blogs then wasn’t, mostly, original reporting, just reporting from sources readily available to anyone. BBC, CBC, and some US news sources — nothing weird, conspiracy theory-ish, just solid, stolid, news organizations. Why can’t news people making anywhere from 2X to 50X what I’ve ever made as a salary — why can’t people who are presumably, supposedly, competent enough to earn those salaries do as well as a guy like me — a “just a guy”?

    Can we get some remedial reading/comprehension courses for our news media? We need it — they need it rather — more than our kids do.

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