In a July 15 editorial titled "Mr. Rove's Leak," The Washington Post repeated numerous false claims peddled by defenders of White House senior adviser Karl Rove and intended to attack the credibility of former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV. The editorial appeared in response to mounting evidence of Rove's involvement in the outing of Wilson's wife, clandestine CIA operative Valerie Plame. The Post's claims mirror several of those included in a Republican National Committee document distributed on July 12 and titled "Wilson/Rove Research & Talking Points."
This statement concerns Wilson's report following his February 2002 trip to Niger to investigate, on behalf of the CIA, allegations that Iraq had purchased or attempted to purchase nuclear materials from the African nation. The Post's statement conceals the fact that some in the intelligence community had already concluded before Wilson's trip that Saddam had not sought uranium from Africa and, more broadly, that Iraq had not reconstituted its nuclear program. While the CIA indeed interpreted Wilson's report as confirmation of its assessment at that time that Saddam had sought uranium in Africa, the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) interpreted it as confirmation of its competing assessment that Iraq had not sought uranium from Niger, a fact the Post failed to mention. In its "Report on the U.S Intelligence Community's Prewar Intelligence on Iraq," the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence wrote:
The report on the former ambassador's trip to Niger, disseminated in March 2002, did not change any analysts' assessments of the Iraq-Niger uranium deal. For most analysts, the information in the report lent more credibility to the original Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports on the uranium deal, but State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) analysts believed that the report supported their assessment that Niger was unlikely to be willing or able to sell uranium to Iraq.
Further, the Senate committee concluded in 2004 that by the time Bush delivered his State of the Union address in January 2003, it was no longer supportable to claim, as he did, that "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." The Committee wrote: "Until October 2002 when the Intelligence Community obtained the forged foreign language documents on the Iraq-Niger uranium deal, it was reasonable for analysts to assess that Iraq may have been seeking uranium from Africa based on Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reporting and other available intelligence."
Moreover, the CIA later repudiated its assessment of the Niger allegation. Then-Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet publicly stated in July 2003 that "[t]hese 16 words should never have been included in the text written for the President."
It is also of note that Wilson's personal assessment of his findings, as conveyed in his July 6, 2003, New York Times op-ed, concurred with INR's conclusions about Saddam's nuclear program as a whole, which the Committee explicitly affirmed:
After reviewing all the intelligence provided by the Intelligence Community and additional information requested by the Committee, the Committee believes that the judgment in the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program, was not supported by the intelligence. The Committee agrees with the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) alternative view that the available intelligence "does not add up to a compelling case for reconstitution."
The Senate intelligence committee indeed received some evidence that Plame recommended Wilson for the trip, including the testimony of a single CIA official, as well as a memo written by Plame regarding Wilson's qualifications for the mission to Niger. But the bipartisan report did not reach a conclusion as to Plame's involvement in the CIA's decision to send Wilson to Niger. The committee chairman, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), stated in an addendum to the report that committee Democrats had specifically opposed inclusion of an official finding on the subject, which read: "The plan to send the former ambassador to Niger was suggested by the former ambassador's wife, a CIA employee."
Moreover, several newspapers provided further evidence that appeared to support the Senate Democrats' reservations about the validity of the claim. The Los Angeles Times reported on July 15, 2004, that an unnamed CIA official confirmed Wilson's denial that Plame was responsible for the CIA's decision to send him to Niger, saying: "Her bosses say she did not initiate the idea of her husband going. ... They asked her if he'd be willing to go, and she said yes." A July 22, 2003, Newsday article quoted an unidentified senior intelligence official who said: "They [the officers asking Wilson to check the uranium story] were aware of who she [Plame] was married to, which is not surprising. ... There are people elsewhere in government who are trying to make her look like she was the one who was cooking this up, for some reason."
Post editorial: "At the same time, Mr. Rove and other administration officials had a legitimate interest in rebutting Mr. Wilson's inflated claims -- including the notion that he had been dispatched to Niger at Mr. Cheney's behest. It's in that context, judging from Mr. Cooper's e-mail, that Mr. Rove appears to have brought up Ms. Plame's role."
In an attempt to argue that Rove had "legitimate" reason to warn reporters, such as Time magazine's Matthew Cooper, off Wilson's story, the Post deemed "inflated" the claim -- allegedly made by Wilson -- that he had been sent to Niger at Cheney's request. In fact, contrary to the GOP talking points, Wilson never claimed that Cheney sent him. His Times op-ed, as well as the account found in the Senate intelligence report, simply stated that "agency officials" asked him to travel to Niger in response to questions posed by Cheney regarding the Niger allegation. Given that Wilson never claimed to have been sent by Cheney, it is unclear how exactly Rove's call was intended to "rebut" it.
From Wilson's July 6, 2003, op-ed:
In February 2002, I was informed by officials at the Central Intelligence Agency that Vice President Dick Cheney's office had questions about a particular intelligence report. While I never saw the report, I was told that it referred to a memorandum of agreement that documented the sale of uranium yellowcake -- a form of lightly processed ore -- by Niger to Iraq in the late 1990's. The agency officials asked if I would travel to Niger to check out the story so they could provide a response to the vice president's office.
From the Senate intelligence report:
Officials from the CIA's DO [Directorate of Operations] Counterproliferation Division (CPD) told Committee staff that in response to question's from the Vice-President's office and the Departments of State and Defense on the alleged Iraq-Uranium deal, CPD officials discussed ways to obtain additional information. [REDACTED] who could make immediate inquiries into the reporting, CPD decided to contact a former ambassador to Gabon [Wilson] who had a posting early in his career in Niger.