The Washington Post reports this morning on a smoking gun that proves once and for all that the White House knew full well that the Intelligence Community had no confidence in the Niger uranium story prior to the President reading the famous 16 words in the 2003 State of the Union address.

Here is what we already knew. On October 7, 2002 George Tenet interceded to make sure that a reference to Niger was taken out of a Presidential speech in Cincinnati. When Condoleezza Rice was asked (on July 13, 2003), why the reference reappeared in the SOTU, she responded:

When we got to the State of the Union, there were — first of all, a lot of time had passed, several months. There were reports in the NIE about other African countries. There was the British report that talked about the efforts to get uranium in Africa.

The British, by the way, still stand by their report to this very day in its accuracy, because they tell us that they had sources that were not compromised in any way by later, in March or April, later reports that there were some forgeries.

Now, we have said very clearly that the information went in on the basis of a number of sources, but we have a different standard for presidential speeches, which is that we don’t just put in things that are in intelligence sources. We put in things that we believe the intelligence agency has high confidence in, and that’s why we have a clearance process.

But the Post reveals some crucial facts that explode Rice’s rationalizations. First, the Niger allegations reappeared in a December 19, 2003 State Department ‘fact sheet. This ‘fact sheet’ concerned the Pentagon and led them to seek clarification in case they might feel the need to reevaluate their relationship with the Niger government.

…the Pentagon asked for an authoritative judgment from the National Intelligence Council, the senior coordinating body for the 15 agencies that then constituted the U.S. intelligence community. Did Iraq and Niger discuss a uranium sale, or not? If they had, the Pentagon would need to reconsider its ties with Niger.

The council’s reply, drafted in a January 2003 memo by the national intelligence officer for Africa, was unequivocal: The Niger story was baseless and should be laid to rest. Four U.S. officials with firsthand knowledge said in interviews that the memo, which has not been reported before, arrived at the White House as Bush and his highest-ranking advisers made the uranium story a centerpiece of their case for the rapidly approaching war against Iraq.

The Post also noted that Rice’s appeal to “[t]he British, by the way, still stand by their report” has since been proven groundless.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair maintained they had additional, secret evidence they could not disclose. In June, a British parliamentary inquiry concluded otherwise, delivering a scathing critique of Blair’s role in promoting the story.

This may all sound like old news. And to those of us that have been both paying attention and unwilling to swallow the kool-aid, none of this comes as much of a surprise. After all, we have already learned from the head of MI6 that the ‘facts were being fixed around the policy’. And the Washington Post reported back on September 29, 2003 about the efforts of Hadley, Libby, and Cheney to manipulate the intelligence in Powell’s report to the UN on February 5th, 2003.

Powell’s presentation was aimed at convincing the world of Iraq’s ties to terrorists and its pursuit of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. On Jan. 25, with a stack of notebooks at his side, color-coded with the sources for the information, Libby laid out the potential case against Iraq to a packed White House situation room. ‘We read [their proposal to include Atta] and some of us said, Wow! Here we go again,’ said one official who helped draft the speech. ‘You write it. You take it out, and then it comes back again.’ … [Some] officials present said they felt that Libby’s presentation was over the top, that the wording was too aggressive and most of the material could not be used in a public forum. Much of it, in fact, unraveled when closely examined by intelligence analysts from other agencies and, in the end, was largely discarded.”

So, even if we are not surprised it is still a major reveleation to have our suspicions so strongly confirmed. “Four U.S. officials with firsthand knowledge said in interviews that [a National Intelligence Council] memo…[that stated unequivocally that the Niger allegations were groundless] arrived at the White House as Bush and his highest-ranking advisers made the uranium story a centerpiece of their case for the rapidly approaching war against Iraq.

And they went ahead and kept the uranium as the centerpiece of their case. Game. Set. Match.

Wilson was right. Will the right-wing bloggers apologize? Will America care?

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