Monday, July 12, 2004

More Missing News

My newspaper, which has access to both AP and New York Times news wires, ran the AP version of the Senate Intelligence Committee report story Saturday morning on page A1 above the fold, with the headline "Report: CIA analysis was false".

It's chock full of quotes, mostly from thundering Democratic politicians, and has the adjectives "scathing," "false," and "unfounded" in the lede. It goes on at length about the debate over whether there was Bush administration "pressure" to "overplay the Iraq threat."

On the same day, inside and alongside the jump from the Intelligence Committee report story, we ran "Blair braces for potentially damaging report on Iraqi intelligence". This is the AP story about the inquiry into the British intelligence on Iraq, which is to be released Wednesday. The article focuses almost entirely on the "45-minute" claim.

Curiously, it says nothing about Bush's supposedly discredited claim that Saddam tried to buy uranium from Niger. This, of course, is one of the main pillars of the "Bush lied" meme. The Democratic National Committee even issued a press releases about it, titled "President Bush Deceives The American People." The spat made an anti-war hero of Joseph C. Wilson IV, the man the CIA sent to Africa to investigate the uranium claim.

What is even more odd about the absence of this item from the coverage of Lord Butler's report on British intelligence is that, because when Bush made the claim, he credited it to British intelligence:

"The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

In fact, in the local newspapers this weekend, I found mention of it only in the afternoon paper (the one I don't work for), which on Friday ran an earlier edition of the same AP story on the Intelligence Committee, under the same byline (Katherine Pfleger Shrader). In the fifth paragraph it mentions the uranium: "It [the Senate Intelligence Committee report] faulted Tenet for not personally reviewing Bush's 2003 State of the Union address, which contained since-discredited references to Iraq's attempts to purchase uranium in Africa."

So, if you were getting your news from the Lancaster, Pennsylvania, newspapers, you'd never know that the Niger-uranium claim has in fact been given a substantial credibility boost, and that it comes in both the Senate committee report and in Lord Butler's report on British intelligence.

According to the Senate report, Wilson's trip to Africa did not "discredit" the story that Iraq was shopping for uranium in Niger -- it strengthened it, because Wilson reported that an Iraqi delegation had traveled to Niger in 1999 and that Niger officials believed that they were interested in buying uranium.

Lord Butler's report is a mixed bag of praise and censure for the Blair government. But among its conclusions -- and this has been percolating in the British papers since well before Thursday, when the AP began writing its stories -- it says the statements about Iraq and Niger are justified and supported by the intelligence.

You might know about this development, however, if you read blogs like Instapundit and LGF. Or if you follow the work of Mark Steyn;

The fact is almost every European intelligence service reckoned Saddam was trying to buy uranium in Africa. The only folks who didn't think so were the CIA.

Let's weigh their comparative interest in the story. The Financial Times revealed last week that one continental intelligence agency had had a uranium-smuggling operation involving Iraq under surveillance for three years. In return, the only primary investigation initiated by the most powerful nation on the face of the Earth was to send a narcissistic kook from a Saudi-funded think-tank on vacation for a week to sip mint tea with government stooges. He didn't even bother filing a written report, and the ''Bush spurned my advice!'' column he wrote for the Times reads like a bad travelogue: ''Through the haze, I could see camel caravans crossing the Niger river.'' After that, the great narcissist somehow managed to make himself the center of the story -- But hey, enough about Saddam's nuclear ambitions; let's talk about me.

A few weeks before 9/11, Reuel Marc Gerecht wrote a timely piece in the Atlantic Monthly on the woeful state of U.S. counter-terrorism intelligence in a CIA neutered by politically correct bureaucracy. Among Gerecht's many memorable quotes was this line from a young CIA man reflecting on an agency grown used to desk-bound life in Virginia: ''Operations that include diarrhea as a way of life don't happen.'' That's Niger in a nutshell: Diarrhea Central. Who'd want to be stationed there when they could be back at Langley monitoring the world's e-mail in an air-conditioned office?

But Niger is a 99.5 percent Sunni Muslim country with the world's second highest birth rate and a load of uranium. It's exactly the sort of place an intelligence agency in the war on terror ought to be keeping an eye on. And that doesn't mean sending Mint Tea Boy to write it up for the travel section.


Bush didn't LIE!!!! He was right, and the CIA were wrong. That doesn't mean they LIED!!!! either. Intelligence is never 100 percent. You make a judgment, and in this instance the judgments of the British and Europeans were right, and the judgment of the principal intelligence agency of the world's hyperpower was wrong. That should be a cause of great concern -- for all Americans.

National security shouldn't be a Republican/Democrat thing. But it's become one because, for too many Americans, when it's a choice between Bush and anybody else, they'll take anybody else. So, in "Fahrenheit 9/11," if it's a choice between Bush and Saddam, Michael Moore comes down on the side of the genocidal whacko and shows us lyrical slo-mo shots of kiddies flying kites in a Baathist utopia. In the Afghan war, if it's a choice between Bush and the women-enslaving gay-executing Taliban, Susan Sarandon and Co. side with the Taliban. And in the most exquisite reductio of this now universal rule, if it's a choice between Bush and the CIA, the left sides with the CIA.

Which I've noticed, too, of course. The resident ultra-left in the newsroom, one of whom actually went to Central America in the Reagan era (props for that) and worked with the people, is now defending the CIA. It seems to shock even him to hear his voice say these things. He explains the spies are a necessary force for the protection of America, and the poor put-upon CIA ought to be protected from the evil menace that is the constitutional presidency. (OK, that's my interpretation).

The anti-war movement's focus on WMD is highly self-serving. By focusing on the absence -- so far -- of the discovery of a large cache of them, and on the intelligence gaffes, makes the war opponents seem as if they were right all along.

But this disguises the fact that, before the war began, many if not most of them believed it, too. That is, opponents of the war, both in the U.S. and abroad, didn't oppose it because they thought there were no WMD in Iraq. Sometimes they opposed war exactly because they were afraid of what Saddam and his WMD might do. But, as Michael Moore says, Americans are the stupidest people in the world, so apparently his side is counting on all of us to forget what they all said a year and a half ago.

As for those of us who supported it, I don't know any who did so solely based on the presence of huge stocks of WMD. It was always presented as a guess (with more or less confidence), but for me that was only part of a multi-level decision that the invasion was the right thing to do, for both Iraqis and Americans and everyone else in the world except fascist dictators and Islamist terrorists.

Meanwhile, Winds of Change dresses down Joe Wilson -- and this is one of the kinder cuts I've read -- thusly:

Joe Wilson is a liar and not a particularly good one at that. As the report, starting on p. 39 and going through p. 47 very carefully explains, the claims that Wilson during his media blitz and subsequent canonization as a representative of all that is righteous and pure within anti-war circles were every bit as misleading if not factually inaccurate as anything that one may charge that the administration had done. Even more so, I would argue, if only for the fact that he was making claims about a number of issues, for example the forged documents referring to Niger, of which he had no actual knowledge - a very polite way of saying that the man was blowing smoke out his ass.