Grown-up screwups in Bush's Washington Remember when the Bushies first charged into the White House, telling everyone that the grown-ups are in charge again? They may be grown up, but as Nicholas Kristof gently explains today, they suddenly seem unable to locate their own butts with both hands. The Times op-ed columnist is back on the trail of the Niger uranium myth, a story he advanced in a May 6 column (which I discussed here).
Now Kristof is dismantling the administration alibi that its top officials didn't know the Niger tale was a fake, supported by forged documents, until after the President hyped it in his State of the Union address. He recapitulates the account in yesterday's Washington Post, in which Walter Pincus revealed that a former US ambassador to Niger visited the African country a year ago and reported back on the fakery and forging to the CIA. Supposedly, the ex-envoy's assessment didn't reach the President, the Vice President, the National Security Adviser or the Secretary of State until quite recently. But according to Kristof:
"I hear something different. My understanding is that while Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet may not have told Mr. Bush that the Niger documents were forged, lower C.I.A. officials did tell both the vice president's office and National Security Council staff members. Moreover, I hear from another source that the C.I.A.'s operations side and its counterterrorism center undertook their own investigations of the documents, poking around in Italy and Africa, and also concluded that they were false a judgment that filtered to the top of the C.I.A.
"Meanwhile, the State Department's intelligence arm, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, independently came to the exact same conclusion about those documents, according to Greg Thielmann, a former official there. Mr. Thielmann said he was 'quite confident' that the conclusion had been passed up to the top of the State Department."
In other words and this is my comment, not Kristof's they're still lying.
While Bush, Cheney and company continue to predict vindication, the latest reports from the field aren't encouraging. Barton Gellman, the excellent Washington Post reporter who has covered this story without truckling to the Pentagon, reports that Task Force 20, a super-secret unit recruited from the Army's Delta Force, has been in Iraq looking for chemical and biological weapons, long-range missiles and other forbidden items since last March. What have they found?
A high-ranking administration official blusteringly warns, "People who say there are no weapons are going to be quite embarrassed within weeks or months, when the material comes out." But Gellman evidently gives more credence to officials closer to the scene, whose views are quite different:
"Sources with firsthand knowledge of [Task Force 20's] mission and personnel, and others with access to its reports, said the team has found no working nonconventional munitions, long-range missiles or missile parts, bulk stores of chemical or biological warfare agents or enrichment technology for the core of a nuclear weapon." That wasn't for want of effort. The task force "has shipped hundreds of samples to Army and Navy laboratories in Maryland," a "senior officer" told the Post, "including about 90 this month." So far, none of those hundreds of samples has turned up definitively positive.
[10:31 a.m. PST, June 13, 2003]