Continuing our story from Part I.
It is no secret that Dick Cheney and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, his chief of staff, took a close interest in intelligence gathering efforts regarding Iraq after 9/11. Between efforts with WHIG to shape the policy toward Iraq and the public's perception of it, and the ongoing relationship between WHIG and intelligence gathering and interpreting groups within the DoD (most specifically one run by another Cheney power player, Douglas Feith -- for more on the OSP, take a peek at Lieutenant Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski's story in this article.), the neocons within the highest levels of defense and national security "cherry picked" the intelligence that would support the claims necessary to secure the desired outcomes in Iraq and the greater Middle East.
Dissent on these issues was shut out, and CIA analysts and DIA analysts were encouraged to manipulate their work product in a way that suited the ends desired, not via overt demands, but through more subtle pressure tactics: the Vice President or his Chief of Staff (Scooter Libby) appearing at the CIA to speak directly with an analyst whose conclusions they questioned, with requests made to have the report in question re-examined on the grounds that the analysis did not match theirs on the issue; going directly to analysts whose reports produced desired outcome recommendations and pulling them from the usual peer review process for analysis to take them directly to the White House in their raw form; cutting out dissenters from decisionmaking or policy recommendations altogether; and so on.
Testimony given at a Senate hearing regarding the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson's name elicited testimony from a number of witnesses, including Vincent Cannistraro, Former Chief of Operations and Analysis, CIA Counterterrorism Center, who testified that:
Toward December of 2001, intelligence report was received in Washington that alleged that Saddam Hussein had been attempting to acquire yellow cake uranium ore in Niger and two other African countries. The vice president of the United States and other senior officials in the administration seized on this information as a proof that Saddam was that clear and present danger and needed to be addressed immediately in order to eliminate that danger.(Huge hat tip to TalkLeft (warning: PDF of transcript here) for making the entire transcript available. This particular transcript link was found at this story, which is an excellent summation on many aspects of WHIG, the Rove connection, and why this is important to Fitzgerald, and well worth the read.)
The vice president and his chief of staff went out to CIA headquarters on a number of occasions -- at least on two occasions -- specifically to address the questions of weapons of mass destruction and the attempt to acquire a nuclear capability. These meetings, I'm told secondhand, were contentious, but the vice president insisted that there must be some support for this reporting of the yellow cake acquisition attempt. CIA analysts, I'm told, didn't have any independent data to verify that, but as a result of the insistent pressure being applied to the analysts and particularly to the nonproliferation center, the CIA did send, as they've said publicly, Former Ambassador Joseph Wilson on a fact-finding mission to Niger.
Despite public denials to the contrary it was, in fact, Dick Cheney's requests that set in motion the series of actions that led to Joseph Wilson being sent to Niger to investigate what later turned out to be claims in a set of forged documents. (Claims of Hussein's attempted acquisition of yellow cake uranium that was tried only once, unsuccessfully, and never again repeated.)
Once the President made the claims in his State of the Union address in January 2003 that Hussein was attempting to obtain yellow cake uranium, the wheels were set in motion for the public criticism by Wilson, and the counter-attack by at least some of the membership of the WHIG. What happened with Wilson's report stating that the Hussein claim was unlikely is one of the mysteries that Fitzgerald is likely sifting through in this matter. (See Wilson's op-ed from the NY Times, dated July 6, 2003, for some information from his perspective on this. See also this brief but decently sourced analysis at FactCheck.org that was put together during the last Presidential campaign for an overview on the arguments, although be aware that the conclusions are a bit outdated due to more recently discovered information.) [UPDATE: Huge hat tip to Eriposte on this. Ignore the FactCheck.org, and instead check out this Left Coaster summary, as it is much more detailed and thorough.]
How the yellow cake claim was inserted into the State of the Union, though, is one of the questions that involves the fight between the WHIG and the CIA, and that is where the story gets good.
Prior to the State of the Union, the President delivered a speech in Cinncinnati, Ohio, on October 7, 2002, regarding national security matters and his thoughts on Iraq. That speech originally contained references to the yellow cake uranium which were struck out by George Tenet prior to the speech. Tenet also notifed Stephen Hadley, then Deputy National Security Advisor that the reference was not to be used in any public speeches due to there being no hard evidence to support it. (Hadley is currently the National Security Advisor, taking over that position when Rice moved to State.)
Between the October speech and the State of the Union in January of 2003, numerous members of the WHIG had been bouncing around the media making claims regarding the possibility that Saddam Hussein was attempting to acquire or had already acquired nuclear materials, despite the statement from the Director of the CIA to the contrary.
Judy Miller enters the picture here as well, fronting her story on the aluminum tubes and other matters, using some members of WHIG as background sources while using others as stating on the record that they are "very concerned about the possibility" that nuclear/chemical and biological weapons might be in the hands of Hussein. It was an ingenious public relations move, if not incredibly dishonest, to use each other as repeating and confirming sources throughout this period, with Ms. Miller as a participant in getting this story to the public. (See the excellent work by Digby in both these links. Very informative and well done. See also the fantastic work by emptywheel on The Next Hurrah and this TPM Cafe post.)
The claim re-surfaced in the State of the Union, but strangely there is a dispute as to the placement of it and whether or not the claim received any review from CIA. In any event, after Amb. Wilson's op-ed went public on the matter in July of 2003, Tenet was forced to take full responsibility for the misstatement by the President. (See the press release here.) Thus, the CIA was set up to publicly take the fall for the error made by the overreaching of the WHIG. (See, for example, this interview with Dr. Rice. Hat tip to The Left Coaster.)
More to come in Part 3 of this series.
UPDATE: Edited to reflect that yellow cake is not an ore but is uranium oxide. Hat tip to Thad Beier on this (clearly, I am not a chemist). He suggests this excellent Slate summary for explanations on yellow cake, its uses, and such. Highly recommend the read.