|Man Without Qualities|
Friday, September 24, 2004
Astute reader Daniel Aronstein draws my attention to a curious Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball Newsweek article concerning a Sixty Minute II item that was displaced by the now-infamous fraudulent Killian memo piece, with the displaced item resembling a funhouse mirror image of the displacing story. The displaced item was to have criticized the Bush Administration for its alleged reliance on forged documents - specifically, forged documents provided by Italian sources purporting to show Iraqi efforts to purchase uranium from Niger. I have not seen the displaced item, but Newsweek's description suggests it was to have falsely asserted that Mr. Bush's State of the Union Address relied on the Niger uranium forgeries:
[T]he story, narrated by "60 Minutes" correspondent Ed Bradley, asked tough questions about how the White House came to embrace the fraudulent documents and why administration officials chose to include a 16-word reference to the questionable uranium purchase in President Bush's 2003 State of the Union speech.
Of course, what Mr. Bush said in his address - the famous "16 Words" - was this:
The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.
That's it. He made no mention of Niger or of the forged documents. And, as noted below, British intelligence did not rely on the forged documents, either. The authors of this Newsweek article and Sixty Minutes II knew perfectly well that the State of the Union Address relied on British intelligence reports that have since been further substantiated, and not on forged documents regarding Niger uranium to which the displaced Sixty Minute II item was to assign so much significance, because one of those authors - Mr. Issikoff - wrote in a prior Newsweek article:
Tenet did have qualms about using the Niger information in a presidential speech. The DCI warned deputy national-security adviser Steve Hadley not to include a reference to Niger in a speech delivered by President Bush on Oct. 7 in Cincinnati. But according to a top CIA official, another member of the NSC staff, Bob Joseph, wanted to include a mention of Iraqi efforts to buy uranium from Niger in the president's State of the Union speech. According to this CIA official, an agency analyst cautioned him not to include the Niger reference. The NSC man asked if it would be all right to cite a British intelligence report that the Iraqis were trying to buy uranium from several African countries. The CIA official acquiesced. Though the British have not backed off that claim (a British official told NEWSWEEK that it came from an East African nation, not Niger), CIA Director Tenet publicly took responsibility for allowing a thinly sourced report by another country to appear in the State of the Union. (The White House last week denied that the Niger reference had ever shown up in an SOTU draft.) What Bush said in his address: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
Since neither British intelligence nor Mr. Bush's State of the Union Address relied on the forged documents, what possible legitimate significance could the displaced Sixty Minutes II item have assigned to them?
The later Newsweek article says:
[T]he Italian journalist... [obtained] the potentially explosive documents in early October 2002 - just as Congress was debating whether to authorize President Bush to wage war against Iraq. The documents, consisting of telexes, letters and contracts, purported to show that Iraq had negotiated an agreement to purchase 500 tons of yellowcake uranium from Niger, material that could be used to make a nuclear bomb. ... [The Italian journalist] then provided the documents to the U.S. Embassy in Rome in an effort to authenticate them. The embassy soon passed the material on to Washington where some Bush administration officials viewed it as hard evidence to support its case that Saddam Hussein's regime was actively engaged in a program to assemble nuclear weapons. But the Niger component of the White House case for war quickly imploded. Asked for evidence to support President Bush's contention in his State of the Union speech that Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa, the administration turned over the Niger documents to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Within two hours, using the Google search engine, IAEA officials in Vienna determined the documents to be a crude forgery.
This is an odd grab bag of "significance" and "reliance." Did Congress rely on the Italian documents? Newsweek suggests that the displaced Sixty Minutes II item makes that connection by noting that the documents materialized "just as Congress was debating." But there is no indication that anyone in Congress ever relied on or even saw these documents. As Daniel Aronstein points out, the State of the Union address was given January 28, 2003, months after Congress voted to authorized the use of force against Saddam (October 10th in the House and on the 11th in the Senate in 2002). Since not even the CIA had received the forged Italian documents until February 2003, it seems highly unlikely that Congress relied on them.
Then there is the observation that some Bush administration officials viewed it as hard evidence. It's difficult to take an assertion about nameless "officials" seriously under the best of circumstances, but it is unlikely any such official's "belief" endured long enough for him or her to have relied on it, since we have the old Isikoff Newsweek article reporting:
It wasn't until February, several days after the State of the Union, that the CIA finally obtained the Italian documents (from the State Department, whose warnings that the intelligence on Niger was "highly dubious" seem to have gone unheeded by the White House and unread by Bush). At the same time, the State Department turned over the Italian documents to the International Atomic Energy Agency, which had been pressing the United States to back up its claims about Iraq's nuclear program. "Within two hours they figured out they were forgeries," one IAEA official told NEWSWEEK. How did they do it? "Google," said the official.
Since the State Department gave the documents to the CIA and the White House with a warning that they were "highly dubious," isn't it likely that the State Department gave the same warning to the IAEA? Wouldn't that help explain why the IAEA started "Googling" the documents within two hours of receiving them? There seems to have been no demonstration of reliance by the State Department or the IAEA or any Bush Administration at this juncture.
So why would Sixty Minutes want to run a half-baked story like this, apparently full of many false and highly misleading suggestions (from the Newsweek account)? Well, in the case of the displacing story CBS and others are now suggesting that a big problem was that Mary Mapes, its producer, was just so partisan and liberal that it obscured her journalistic judgment. Similarly, perhaps one might want to take a look at the political agendas of some of the creators of the displaced item:
"This is like living in a Kafka novel, said Joshua Micah Marshall, a Washington Monthly contributing writer and a Web blogger who had been collaborating with 60 Minutes producers on the uranium story. "Here we had a very important, well-reported story about forged documents that helped lead the country to war. And then it gets bumped by another story that relied on forged documents."
CBS News is "collaborating" with Josh Marshall to create Sixty Minute items. Isn't that nice. Given Mr. Marshall's comment above, his many personal agendas and his known degree of ability to maintain political objectivity, perhaps CBS News was actually fortunate that Mr. Marshall's item was displaced by that of Ms. Mapes.
Now that Mary Mapes is to be disintegrated for perpetrating a disastrous story from the depths of her uncontrolled hyper-partisan agenda there should be an opening for a permanent news producer on Sixty Minutes II. Maybe Mr. Marshall can fill that slot as a kind of funhouse mirror image of Mary Mapes? In fact, if Mr. Rather has to go, too, there might be an even bigger opportunity here for Mr. Marshall. Talk about funhouses!
MORE AND UPDATES
Comments: Post a Comment