by Todd Johnston
ePluribus Media's editor's note:
ePluribus Media has conducted an in depth analysis of the morphology of the critical words in the POTUS speeches referring to the Niger Yellowcake controversy, a subject recently commented upon by BarbinMD.
The Bush administration's end game had been regime change in Iraq: Convince Congress in October; convince the American people in January, and then convince the Iraqis with "shock and awe." But on Friday, July 11, 2003, Dr. Condoleezza Rice, then George W. Bush's national security advisor (NSA), forgot a crucial detail in the aft, press section of Air Force One.
To be fair, the week of July 6-13, 2003, was anything but normal....
A few hours later, with Air Force One safely away from Washington, D.C., a "senior Bush administration official" finally acknowledged to reporters that the 2003 State of the Union address should not have included 16 words:
The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.
The concession was prompted by successive accusations on the sixth and seventh -- first by former Ambassador Joseph Wilson and then by the British Parliament -- that the intelligence supporting Bush's claim was not credible. And by the eighth, the media decided the White House's justification for war was officially fair game.
But that decision didn't catch up to Air Force One until the end of the week -- Friday, July 11, 2003, the day Rice forgot that crucial detail. The day Rice told reporters the truth about how those 16 words ended up in the State of the Union address.
"Wow, that wasn't clear at all"
The following Monday, July 14, back at the White House Fleischer would try to fix Rice's gaffe by distorting time and space:
Q: Ari, to follow-up...the draft of the State of the Union speech - according to Dr. Rice's briefing on the plane on Friday...
MR. FLEISCHER: She was referring to [the] Cincinnati [speech] in that. I talked to her afterwards, and she was referring to Cincinnati...
Q: When she said that on the plane?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes.
Q: Wow, that wasn't clear at all.
What was said in that curious Friday briefing on Air Force One, en route to Entebbe, Uganda, was transcribed and archived at the White House's Web site. But that record contains nothing to support Fleischer's version of the events, or the conversation Fleischer and Rice had afterwards.
The transcript does, however, reveal how that specific line of questioning began:
Q: Dr. Rice, there are a lot of reports, apparently overnight, that CIA people had informed the NSC well before the State of the Union that they had trouble [with] the reference in the speech.
What followed were roughly 40 questions and answers about a line in a speech and the decision to include it. Eight of those questions contained the phrase "state of the union," as did 10 of Rice's answers.
The transcript of that July 11th briefing contains not a single reference to the president's speech on October 7, 2002, in Cincinnati -- not the city, state, venue, season, month, day or year. Simply put, Fleischer's claim seems very suspicious.
So, if Fleischer did lie on the 14th, why choose such an obvious one? What would justify the risk? Fleischer's diversion seemed to be blunt-force trauma compared to the more common application of a surgically interpreted word or phrase.
Actually, Fleischer did not dispute a single word Condoleezza Rice said. Instead he translated her words through time and changed their context. He displaced them from January 28, 2003, to October 7, 2002.
With all due respect to everyone at the Cincinnati Museum Center on October 7, 2002, the president's speech that night had been written for a different audience: the 107th Congress of the United States.
On October 2nd the Senate and the House of Representatives had introduced joint resolutions "to authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against Iraq." And on October 8th, the day after Bush's speech, both houses were to meet to consider giving the president that authority.
About a month earlier, the Senate had requested a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq's WMD -- essentially a catalog of classified documents from the entire intelligence community, including analysis, discussion, the general consensus and dissenting opinions. On October 1st the NIE was presented to Congress.
[Editor's note: The information that follows is from the Senate Intelligence Committee's Report on the U.S. Intelligence Community's Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq. Warning to those on low-speed dial-up: This is an enormous (24Mb) PDF file.]
On October 4th the NSC, headed by Rice and Deputy NSA Stephen Hadley, sent draft six of the Cincinnati speech to the CIA. It included the sentence, "[Iraq] has been caught attempting to purchase up to 500 metric tons of uranium oxide from Africa." Uranium oxide is also called "yellow cake."
On the 5th the CIA faxed a memo to Hadley stating, "[R]emove the sentence because the amount is in dispute and it is debatable whether it can be acquired from the source." Later that day the NSC submitted draft seven. The sentence remained, but "up to 500 metric tons" had been replaced with "substantial amounts."
On the 6th Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) George Tenet called Hadley directly. Tenet said the reporting was "weak" on Iraq's alleged attempts to buy uranium from Africa. The NSC removed the sentence.
But after this call, the CIA sent a fax to the NSC that included "more on why we recommend removing the sentence about procuring uranium oxide from Africa." This fax listed three points.
These three points -- more than Karl Rove, Joseph Wilson or the Downing Street Minutes -- demonstrate the collusion between the White House and the intelligence community during the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq. The CIA's fax stated:
- The evidence is weak. One of the two mines cited by the source as the location of the uranium oxide is flooded. The other mine cited by the source is under the control of the French authorities.
- The procurement is not particularly significant to Iraq's nuclear ambitions because the Iraqis already have a large stock of uranium oxide in their inventory.
- We have shared points one and two with Congress, telling them that the Africa story is overblown and telling them this is one of the two issues where we differed with the British.
The first two are damning enough. The CIA knew its source wasn't credible. And the CIA knew Iraq had no motive to buy yellow cake from Africa because Iraq already had it...and lots of it.
Nuclear bombs are made from enriched uranium; yellow cake is only refined. Iraq's "large stock" was 550 metric tons of refined uranium, enough for 55 nuclear bombs if enriched. But Iraq did not have the technology to enrich its uranium; besides, the uranium Iraq had was sealed and inspected annually by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
But point three is the real kicker -- the CIA's reminder to the NSC that members of Congress would be watching. These members of Congress, who had read the classified October 1st NIE, thus knew the evidence was weak.
The president could not say the words, "caught attempting to purchase up to 500 metric tons of uranium oxide from Africa," because Congress knew the truth.
"When she said that on the plane?"
So, nine months after Cincinnati and six months after the State of the Union address, what did Condoleezza Rice say in the press section of Air Force One, on July 11, 2003? More to the point, what changed between October 7, 2002, and January 28, 2003?
The answer is, nothing.
That Friday, simply put, Rice was grilled. David Gregory of NBC News reported later that Rice had responded "testily."
Rice repeatedly and truthfully described how those 16 words made it into the State of the Union address. And by doing so, she revealed that those words, cut from a speech aimed at Congress but delivered in Cincinnati, had been put back in for the American people:
Q: Dr. Rice, there are a lot of reports, apparently overnight, that CIA people had informed the NSC well before the State of the Union that they had trouble the [sic] reference in the speech.
DR. RICE:...Now, the sentence in question comes from the notion the Iraqis were seeking yellow cake. And, remember, it says, "seeking yellow cake in Africa" is there in the National Intelligence Estimate...
...That was relied on to, like many other things in the National Intelligence Estimate, relied on to write the President's speech.... There was even some discussion on that specific sentence, so that it reflected better what the CIA thought.
Now, I can tell you, if the CIA, the Director of Central Intelligence, had said, take this out of the speech, it would have been gone, without question.
Did you catch that? Rice, when asked about the State of the Union, replied that the NSC had relied on the National Intelligence Estimate -- the NIE -- to write the president's speech. To write the State of the Union address.
She then stated that if the DCI had said, "take this out of the speech," she would have taken it out "without question." Like the sentence in the Cincinnati speech.
DR. RICE: The British document was an unclassified document, and so cite the unclassified document. The underlying intelligence to the British document is in the NIE.... So the underlying documentation here is the NIE.
President Bush cited that British document in his State of the Union address, three months after the CIA told the NSC that this intelligence was "overblown" and "one of the two issues where we differed." And it had been removed -- for Cincinnati.
Q: If I could just follow up. On that sentence, you said that the CIA changed the -- that things were done to accommodate the CIA. What was done?
DR. RICE: Some specifics about amount and place were taken out....
Q Was "place" Niger...?
DR. RICE: No, there are several -- there are several African countries noted. And if you say -- if you notice, it says "Africa," it doesn't say "Niger."
Cincinnati? The NSC removed all references to "amount" and "place" in October, not the word "Niger." "Africa" was the 16th of those 16 words in the State of the Union address.
Back on October 6, 2002, the CIA had had to ask the NSC twice to remove a sentence from the President's speech, a sentence claiming that Iraq had "been caught attempting to purchase...tons of uranium oxide from Africa."
A sentence based on "weak" reporting in the NIE and "overblown" British intelligence, a sentence that wouldn't get past Congress -- because some members had seen the NIE, and only Congress could authorize the invasion.
But on January 28, 2003, the NSC -- headed by Condoleezza Rice and her deputy Stephen Hadley -- put that sentence back in for the State of the Union address, based on the same NIE and the same British intelligence.
Why? Because this time the audience wasn't really Congress; it was the American people. And the American people had not seen the classified NIE.
Apples and Oranges
Monday, July 14, 2003, was Ari Fleischer's last day as White House press secretary. He entered the James S. Brady Briefing Room to a round of applause, smiled broadly, and after a few wry quips said, "let's begin." His game face snapped back into place.
Fleischer responded smoothly and blandly -- business as usual - as question after question about "Africa" and "uranium" and "the State of the Union" missed the mark. But Fleischer's rhythm was about to be broken:
Q: You referred to it, Ari, as a minor element, but it was important enough to delete in the October speech, a reference to this.
"October." Fleischer focused, took a second to be sure he'd heard that one right:
MR. FLEISCHER: A reference to what?
Q: A reference to Iraq's alleged attempt to get the uranium from Niger. In that case, the CIA Director asked Mr. Hadley to delete it, and it was deleted. Should that not have raised all kinds of red flags come January, when a similar reference pops up in the speech? Should not Mr. Hadley or someone from the White House made sure to check this out with the CIA?
Bull's-eye. Time to get paid.
MR. FLEISCHER: It was a different reference in the State of the Union speech...that Iraq is...seeking uranium from Africa. That's because there was additional reporting from the CIA, separate and apart from Niger...So it's an apple in Cincinnati and an orange in the State of the Union...
Q: Ari, to follow-up...the apple was a reference in a draft to the October speech to a specific quantity of uranium from Niger. To take another apple, the draft of the State of the Union speech -- according to Dr. Rice's briefing on the plane on Friday -- included references to quantity and place, and we were told that that was Niger, they were taken out.
MR. FLEISCHER: She was referring to Cincinnati in that. I talked to her afterwards, and she was referring to Cincinnati when she said that.
Q: When she said that on the plane?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes.
Q: Wow, that wasn't clear at all.
You can think of it this way:
Imagine that on Friday, July 11, 2003, Condoleezza Rice was handing out oranges in the aft section of Air Force One and someone absentmindedly stuffed one into his pocket. On Monday, that someone remembered the orange, pulled it from his pocket, and showed it to Ari Fleischer.
And Fleischer, after glancing down at the orange, calmly looked up and with a straight face said, "That's not an orange. That's an apple."
Today, more than two years later, it's still an apple.
ePluribus Media Credits
Researchers/Contributors: Susie Dow, Zan, silence, intranets, luaptifer, kfred, irishsprite, jeninRI, sawcielackey, Ron Brynaert, wanderindiana, biblio, bronxdem, SusanG, madhat, Cho, standingup, NYBri, Penny Century, MKT, DEFuning, Sue
Note: Please let us know of any contributor not listed.