Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Butler Report

Lord Frederick Butler's report, or, properly, "Review of Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction," is out today.

Here's the key section on the Niger uranium (as previewed below):

45. From our examination of the intelligence and other material on Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Africa, we have concluded that:

a. It is accepted by all parties that Iraqi officials visited Niger in 1999.

b. The British Government had intelligence from several different sources indicating that this visit was for the purpose of acquiring uranium. Since uranium constitutes almost three-quarters of Niger’s exports, the intelligence was credible.

c. The evidence was not conclusive that Iraq actually purchased, as opposed to having sought, uranium and the British Government did not claim this.

d. The forged documents were not available to the British Government at the time its assessment was made, and so the fact of the forgery does not undermine it. (Paragraph 503)

This addresses the claim Bush made in the '03 State of the Union address, which has been continually derided by the anti-war crowd. And now the basis of that derision has collapsed, along with the reputation of retired ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, who had investigated the Niger claims on behalf of the U.S. (shabbily, as it turns out) and all but said Bush lied in the State of the Union address. And there's hardly a word about that in the media I'm reading, which seems to have blown right past this in its bid to get at the bad news.

For instance, this aspect of the story rates a one-paragraph entry about halfway down AP's Britain-Iraq Intelligence article today. It also has a one-line mention in the AP sidebar, Key points in Lord Butler's report on Iraq intelligence. I'd rate it higher, but at least that's better than AP's rivals did with it.

There is no mention of Niger at all in the current version of the New York Times budget BRITAIN-IRAQ-NYT story. There is no mention of Niger in the Reuters version of the story now available online. There is no mention of Niger in the AFP English-language version of the story, available online. It is absent, too, from Knight-Ridder's main story today (British data on Iraq flawed, not misused, report finds) and its sidebar (Main findings of report examining Britain's Iraq intelligence). It's not in the Cox News Service story, either.

To some extent, as Hitchens points out, this is the administration's fault. And he, too, notices the curious sudden embrace of the CIA by old-school leftists who have railed against it since the 1950s.

To say this is not to defend the Bush administration, which typically managed to flourish the only allegation made about Niger that had been faked, and which did not have the courage to confront Mr. and Mrs. Wilson in public with their covert political agenda. But it does draw attention to an interesting aspect of this whole debate: the increasing solidarity of the left with the CIA. The agency disliked Ahmad Chalabi and was institutionally committed to the view that the Saddam regime in Iraq was a) secular and b) rationally interested in self-preservation. It repeatedly overlooked important evidence to the contrary, even as it failed entirely to infiltrate jihadist groups or to act upon FBI field reports about their activity within our borders. Bob Woodward has a marvelous encapsulating anecdote in his recent book: George Tenet on Sept. 11 saying that he sure hopes this isn't anything to do with those people acting suspiciously in the flight schools. ... The case for closing the CIA and starting again has been overwhelming for some time. But many liberals lately prefer, for reasons of opportunism, to take CIA evidence at face value.

Other points worth noting in the Butler report:

British intelligence found evidence of contacts, but not cooperation, between Saddam and al-Qaida.

Reporting since [February] suggests that senior Al Qaida associate Abu Musab alZarqawi has established sleeper cells in Baghdad, to be activated during a US occupation of the city. These cells apparently intend to attack US targets using car bombs and other weapons. (It is also possible that they have received CB materials from terrorists in the KAZ.) Al Qaida-associated terrorists continued to arrive in Baghdad in early March [2003].

Also, the report's conclusion that it was unlikely Saddam had sizeable stockpiles of WMD is getting a lot of press today. But Butler also concluded that the Iraq regime:

a. Had the strategic intention of resuming the pursuit of prohibited weapons programmes, including if possible its nuclear weapons programme, when United Nations inspection regimes were relaxed and sanctions were eroded or lifted.

b. In support of that goal, was carrying out illicit research and development, and procurement, activities, to seek to sustain its indigenous capabilities.

c. Was developing ballistic missiles with a range longer than permitted under relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions; but did not have significant -- if any -- stocks of chemical or biological weapons in a state fit for deployment, or developed plans for using them. (Paragraph 474).

As former President Bill Clinton (who is in London promoting his book) said Wednesday on BBC radio, "You can second-guess Blair if you like. But at the time, nearly everybody thought there was probably a stock of chemical and biological weapons there and that it was vulnerable to falling into the wrong hands."

And, in an obiter dictum, Lord Butler puts another nail in the "blood for oil" meme:

It has frequently been alleged that the real motivation behind the decision to go to war in Iraq was a desire to control Iraq’s oil supplies. This issue does not fall within our terms of reference and we did not take evidence specifically on it. We did, however, review JIC assessments on the security of oil supplies issued in the period 2000-2003, in which such a motivation did not feature. We also think it improbable that such an objective or motivation, if it existed, would not have been apparent in the large volume and wide range of policy and intelligence papers that we examined. We saw no evidence that a motive of the British Government for initiating military action was securing continuing access to oil supplies. [p.579]