Thanks CIA! Niger Uranium Lie is 'Case Closed'
American ruler George W. Bush declares that the Niger Uranium forgery case is "closed." Whew... This is a load off my mind. I was starting to actually think that (gulp!) the American government was lying. Thanks CIA! We can always count on you to coverup...uh...explain a potentially explosive crime. Move along. Nothing to see.
Bush Considers Iraq Uranium Issue Closed
Sat Jul 12,12:17 PM ET Add White House - AP to My Yahoo!
By JOHN SOLOMON, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - President Bush said Saturday he had confidence in CIA Director George Tenet despite his agency's failure to warn Bush against making allegations about Iraq's nuclear weapons program later found false.
"Yes I do, absolutely," Bush said. "I've got confidence in George Tenet. I've got confidence in the men and women who work at the CIA and I look forward to working with them as we win this war on terror."
The president spoke in Abuja, Nigeria, at the end of a five-country trip through Africa.
Bush asserted in his State of the Union address in January that Iraq had sought nuclear materials from Africa. Nearly six months later, the White House acknowledged the charge was false, and the tempest that followed has shadowed Bush on his five-country trip through Africa.
Bush considers the matter closed, said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. "The president has moved on," he said.
In a carefully scripted mea culpa, the White House on Friday blamed the CIA for its January misstep, with Bush saying the CIA had reviewed his address and did not raise any alarms. Tenet finished the job hours later with a dramatic statement accepting responsibility.
The statement on Iraq seeking nuclear material "did not rise to the level of certainty which should be required for presidential speeches, and CIA should have ensured that it was removed," Tenet said.
"It was a mistake," he added.
The one-two punch was designed to quell a growing political storm, fueled in part by members of Congress and Democratic presidential hopefuls, that challenged the credibility of the administration's arguments that Iraq was trying to reconstitute its nuclear weapons program before the U.S. invasion in March.
Administration officials said that despite the miscue they did not expect Tenet to resign. He is the lone holdover from the Clinton administration and, while distrusted by some conservatives, has enjoyed Bush's confidence.
"I've heard no discussion along those lines," CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said Friday night.
Tenet acknowledged Friday that the CIA had tried unsuccessfully for months to substantiate the British allegation on which the claim was based and that State Department intelligence analysts believed the intelligence was "highly dubious." Yet neither stopped Bush from making the claim in a single sentence of his annual address to the nation.
"These 16 words should never have been included in the text written for the president," Tenet conceded in a statement.
"First, CIA approved the president's State of the Union address before it was delivered," he said. "Second, I am responsible for the approval process in my agency. And third, the president had every reason to believe that the text presented to him was sound."
The director took his cue from Bush and Rice, who hours earlier blamed the error on the CIA.
"I gave a speech to the nation that was cleared by the intelligence services," Bush told reporters in Uganda. If the CIA director had concerns about the information, "these doubts were not communicated to the president," Rice added.
Key members of Congress called for someone to be held accountable.
"The director of central intelligence is the principal adviser to the president on intelligence matters. He should have told the president. He failed. He failed to do so," said Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan.
Tenet sought to answer what he called "legitimate questions" about the CIA's conduct.
He said CIA officials, after reviewing portions of the draft speech, raised some concerns with White House national security aides that prompted changes in the speech's language. But he said the CIA failed to prevent the remark from being uttered despite doubts about its validity.
CIA officials recognized at the beginning that the allegation was based on "fragmentary intelligence" gathered in late 2001 and early 2002, the director said.
But, he said: "From what we know now, agency officials in the end concurred that the text in the speech was factually correct that the British government report said that Iraq sought uranium from Africa."
A former diplomat was sent by the CIA to the region to check on the allegations. He reported back that a Nigerian official he met said he was unaware of any contract signed during his tenure "between Niger and rogue states" for the sale of uranium, Tenet said.
But the former official also described a businessman approaching him in 1999, insisting on a meeting with an Iraqi delegation to discuss "expanding commercial relations" between Iraq and Niger, Tenet said.
"The former official interpreted the overture as an attempt to discuss uranium sales," Tenet said.
The diplomat has alleged that he believed Vice President Dick Cheney's office was apprised of the findings of his trip. But Tenet said the CIA did not brief the president, vice president or other senior administration officials.
British officials in fall 2002 discussed making the Niger information public. The CIA then expressed their reservations to the British about the quality of the intelligence, Tenet said.
A CIA report last October mentioned the allegations but did not give them full credence, stating "we cannot confirm whether Iraq succeeded in acquiring uranium ore."
Because of the doubts, Tenet said he never included the allegations in his own congressional testimonies or public statements.
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