Marshall on What Wilson Got Wrong

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.

One Response to “Marshall on What Wilson Got Wrong”

  1. macromayhem Says:

    It still blows my mind. Obviously, two groups will find different points to a story that are important to them. But, both parties have almost different stories.

    Republicans (like Mehlman) believe that lowly and unimportant Valerie Plame worked her contacts over at the CIA, in order to get her husband a trip to Niger. This trip was to hurt the Bush administration because Joe Wilson is more partisan than he would have you believe. Oh the humanity. Karl Rove was talking to Matthew Cooper to prevent him from misrepresenting the story, by clarifing that Dick Cheney/Scooter Libby didn’t ask Joe Wilson to go to Niger and investigate yellow cake and terrorism. Joe Wilson is a shill and his wife deserves to lose her job.

    When in fact the press is reporting, that Joe Wilson was asked to visit Niger by the “Office of the Vice President” in order to assertain the validity of the yellow cake/terrorism issue. He went, found nothing, and found that he was sent on a lark because they were going to attack Iraq anyway. Being the diplomat, Joe Wilson didn’t seem to like the non-diplomatic options. Joe Wilson writes an op-ed piece that most Republicans and conseratives disliked because it didn’t match up with that the perception of the war on Terror was/should be about. Rove and Libby condemn and attack Joe Wilson, they also decide to hand out some political payback and out his wife. If they can publish her name, it would put his wife out of a job (possibly die). Rove and Libby talk with Robert Novak, Matt Cooper, and (we’ll see) Judith Miller – schills the lot of them, and try to out Valerie Plame to get a Joe Wilson.

    Democrats see the multi-tiered abuse of power from the Bush administration and attempt to use it to take out Rove and damage the credibility of the RNC noise machine. They are attempting to have the Media/journalism reclaim itself and identify the Republican schills.

    In the meantime; soliders, civilians, and terrorist alike die for almost no reason. A well-deserved political munity.

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