July 16, 2003

WaPo Tries to Expand Yellowcake-Gate

WaPo Tries to Expand Yellowcake-Gate

The WaPo is going at the whole yellowcake maelstrom pretty heavy today. You've got Hoagland versus Kinsley. And then a piece on the Democrats increasingly on the offensive with normally sober Bob Graham sounding like John (or Howard?) Dean.

And this Walter Pincus piece trying to move beyond the yellowcake frenzy to make the case that the Bushies needed yellowcake in the SOTU because most of the other intel had been discredited.

Pincus puts it this way:

"But a review of speeches and reports, plus interviews with present and former administration officials and intelligence analysts, suggests that between Oct. 7, when President Bush made a speech laying out the case for military action against Hussein, and Jan. 28, when he gave his State of the Union address, almost all the other evidence had either been undercut or disproved by U.N. inspectors in Iraq.

By Jan. 28, in fact, the intelligence report concerning Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Africa -- although now almost entirely disproved -- was the only publicly unchallenged element of the administration's case that Iraq had restarted its nuclear program. That may explain why the administration strived to keep the information in the speech and attribute it to the British, even though the CIA had challenged it earlier."

But wait a second. Has the yellowcake angle really now been "almost entirely disproved"? Not according to the Brits. Or the Aussies for that matter.

Pincus then details three examples of evidence that Saddam was attempting to reconstitute his nuclear program that were allegedly undercut and/or disproved pre-SOTU:

"For example, in his Oct. 7 speech, Bush said that "satellite photographs reveal that Iraq is rebuilding facilities at [past nuclear] sites." He also cited Hussein's "numerous meetings with Iraqi nuclear scientists" as further evidence that the program was being reconstituted, along with Iraq's attempts to buy high-strength aluminum tubes "needed" for centrifuges used to enrich uranium."

Let's take each of these in turn. On the satellite images, Pincus refutes the Bush contention by merely relying on IAEA reports that two months of inspections had not turned up prohibited activity at former nuclear sites.

This is the same IAEA that failed to turn up evidence of Saddam's active nuclear program pre-Desert Storm. Hardly builds major confidence in their investigative verve or abilities, does it?

How about the contention that Saddam was meeting with his nuclear scientists? Pincus, again:

"As for Iraqi nuclear scientists, Mohamed ElBaradei told the Security Council, U.N. inspectors had "useful" interviews with some of them, though not in private."

Well, hot damn! Some "useful," albeit monitored by Saddam's thuggish handlers, IAEA meetings with Iraqi nuclear scientists.

Is that the best Pincus can provide WaPo readers to evidence his claim that U.N. inspectors "disproved" or "undercut" Bush administration claims that Saddam had had numerous meetings with Iraqi nuclear scientists? Pincus hasn't done that at all here.

Then there are those famous aluminum tubes and whether they could be used for furtherance of a nuclear program.

Bottom line: There was a dispute between the Departments of Energy and State, on the one hand, and the CIA and Defense, on the other, about whether the rods could be used as centrifuges. Langley and the Pentagon thought the rods could be "cut down and reamed out" in a manner allowing them to be used as centrifuges.

Well that's certainly a credible possibility. And so not definitively "disproved" (this is why Pincus left in the "undercut" verbiage, ie. State and Energy "undercut" the aluminum rod intel somewhat) pace Pincus.

And keep in mind too that the entire Pincus piece solely concentrates on Iraq's nuclear capability without even touching at all on chemical or biological stockpiles--the key reason many of us supported the war--as such arms could have been easily transferred to operatives or terror groups looking to pull off an unconventional mega-terror attack in a major metropolis.

Sure we haven't turned up any bio or chem WMD stockpiles yet. But it's still relatively early going. And a cautious (and credible, to my mind) Colin Powell is backing up the Administration on aspects of the pre-war intelligence including bio-weapon labs.

So don't believe the hype. We haven't all been grotesquely hoodwinked by pathological liars at 1600 Pennsylvania. We do need to examine our intelligence gathering going forward as I've said before. This is crucial as some of the intelligence in the advent of war in Iraq was perhaps politicized and aggressively interpreted at times. But not, to my mind (at least at the present juncture), purposefully deceptive. And that's a crucial distinction.

Posted by Gregory at July 16, 2003 10:55 AM

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