Wash. Post's Hiatt repeated false defense of administration's NIE leak

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt, in an article in the Washington City Paper, was quoted reiterating the Post's defense of President Bush in an April 9 editorial: that President Bush's authorization to leak classified portions of the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) to the media was intended to make clear the administration's reasons for going to war. But Hiatt's statement, like the April 9 editorial, is based on a false assumption -- that the administration's leak of the NIE presented an accurate and complete picture of the intelligence.

Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt, in an April 13 article in the Washington City Paper, was quoted reiterating the Post's defense of President Bush in an April 9 editorial: that President Bush's authorization to leak classified portions of the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) to the media was justified in order to "make clear" the administration's reasons for going to war. According to Hiatt in the City Paper, "the NIE was relevant" in the administration's attempts to rebut "the very serious charge" from former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV that the Bush had manipulated intelligence on Iraq's purported attempts to secure uranium from Niger. But Hiatt's statement, like the April 9 editorial, is based on a false assumption -- that the administration's leak of the NIE presented an accurate and complete picture of the intelligence. Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, was reportedly authorized to leak selected portions of the NIE that bolstered the administration's claim that Iraq tried to obtain uranium from Niger. However, a section of the NIE that Libby presumably did not reveal to the press at the time noted that the veracity of the Iraq-Niger link was disputed within the intelligence community. Hiatt was therefore correct in saying that the NIE is "relevant" to Wilson's "very serious charge," but for the exact opposite reason he suggested -- the administration's selective release actually supports Wilson's accusation of intelligence manipulation.

From the April 13 Washington City Paper article:

When not referencing droppings, the critics slammed the Post for applauding an administration bent on covering its ass by planting selective and misleading information with reporters. To which Post Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt responds, in essence: That's journalism.

"I would say a lot of people will look back at this period and think it's strange that we in the press got ourselves in the position of arguing that government leaks are a bad thing," says Hiatt, pointing out that a news piece in the same day's Post on Iran's nuclear weapons program was based on leaks. "If we're going to start saying we don't want them, OK, let's go into a different business."

And Hiatt insists that the administration had powerful motives for disseminating the intelligence it had on Iraq before the invasion ... namely, to counter the charges made by former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who had conducted a fact-finding trip to Niger. "Joe Wilson's allegation was that President Bush before the war in 2002 had lied or manipulated intelligence in order to provide grounds for going to war. That is a very serious charge, and what was in the NIE was relevant."

According to court papers from special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald's investigation of Libby, Libby told former New York Times reporter Judith Miller that the NIE held that Iraq was "vigorously trying to procure" uranium. The Post's April 9 editorial claimed that by authorizing Libby to leak this information, Bush was rightly attempting "to make clear why he had believed that Saddam Hussein was seeking nuclear weapons." As Media Matters for America noted, however, the NIE also included the assertion by the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research that the claim that Iraq was "vigorously trying to procure" uranium in Africa was "highly dubious." Hiatt's colleagues at the Post, staff writers Barton Gellman and Dafna Linzer, reported on April 9 that Libby had "made careful selections of language" in the NIE to bolster the administration's case regarding Saddam's nuclear ambitions.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, Intelligence, War in Iraq
Network/Outlet
The Washington Post
Stories/Interests
CIA Leak Investigation
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