Joshua Micah Marshall offers an interesting explantion of one of the side issues in the Rove/Plame scandal: Yesterday evening, I started making a new timeline… He talks about how Joseph Wilson charged in his initial “what I didn’t find in Africa” piece that Vice President Cheney’s office either knew or should have known the results of his investigation into the Niger uranium allegations. But what Wilson missed was that the program to skew the intelligence was more sophisticated than that.
So Wilson didn’t say he’d seen the report back to the vice president or that he knew for a fact that one had been sent. He said that he’d been in government long enough to know that this was standard procedure and that he was confident that it had been. And if it had this amounted to an indictment of the administration.
Only it hadn’t, or that’s what the people in the White House say. And unlike the question of whether his wife recommended him for the job, this actually is a relevant fact in understanding the story.
So the question is, why?
The explanation confected by the authors of the SSCI report was the rather contradictory one that either Wilson’s trip generated no substantive information or that it in fact tended to confirm suspicions of an illict uranium traffic between the two countries. No one who’s looked at the evidence involved believes that. Nor is that cover story compatible with the CIA’s subsequent and repeated attempts to prevent the White House from using the Niger story.
Here in Pincus’s reporting — before the evidentiary and political battle lines were drawn — is the answer: “Information not consistent with the administration agenda was discarded.”
It never made it back to Cheney’s office because it wasn’t what Cheney’s office wanted to hear. They were looking for evidence of an Iraqi nuclear program, not ambiguous data and certainly not evidence that contradicted the claim.
In this key respect, the dismissal of the information is displaced from the VP’s office to the CIA. And the reason is that they already understood what was wanted and what wasn’t.
This makes a lot of sense to me, and having read pretty much the entirety of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on Iraq WMD intelligence, and doing my best to sift through the spin applied to that report by Senator Pat Roberts, the committee chairman, it seems to jive pretty well with what’s in that document, too.
The intelligence was cooked in stages. At the bottom, where the front-line career analysts prepared the initial version, it was balanced, nuanced, and guarded, accurately reflecting what was and wasn’t known about Saddam’s WMD. As it moved up through the hierarchy, these analyses merged with other streams of intelligence, some of them (the State Department’s contributions, the Energy Department’s contributions) similarly professional, others (the Office of Special Plans’ contributions) less so. But (and this is key), the higher in the hierarchy it went, the more the intelligence morphed toward the storyline being told publicly by Bush and his senior officials. The suspect streams were emphasized. The nuanced ones were de-emphasized. The caveats got shoved into footnotes, then dropped altogether. When it hit the level of CIA Director George Tenet, it got a final shellacing to make it conform with the party line, and when what was left at the end of that process landed on Bush’s (or Cheney’s) desk, it was neat, tidy, and ready to go: a slam-dunk case that nevertheless turned out to be both 1) completely wrong, and 2) still blameable (with the active assistance of friends in Congress, like Senator Roberts) on the low-level analysts.