Thursday, January 25, 2007

Libby Trial: Tom Cruise and National Security

January 24, 2007

Tom Cruise and National Security

by emptywheel

Here was my own personal favorite moment in the trial coverage on Wednesday. At one point, Cline was questioning Schmall about all the thing that Schmall's work, as a briefer, helped Libby do with his work. He introduced 7 of the 9 very important things that Libby will use in his memory defense. Here's the passage from the swell liveblog someone's doing.

C Allowed them to address very serious issues. Terrorism, terroist threats, homeland security, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Middle East.

This is really a huge condensation of what Cline was doing--he was getting a response from Schmall after each bullet item. Well, once he hit North Korea, I realized he was doing the very important dots. So I started anticipating what he was going to say next. So in the media room, it went like this:

Cline: North Korea.

Schmall: Yes

emptywheel: Iran

Cline: Iran

Schmall: Yes

emptywheel: Iraq

Cline: Iraq

Schmall: Yes

At this point David Corn, who was sitting next to me joined in. And at the end, we noted, "hey, you forgot the Turkish soliders! And Liberia." A bit of fun for the frantic liveblogger.

Now, I apologize to those in the media room if this pissed you off. But really, this defense already looks hackneyed to me. I'm sure it doesn't, yet, to the jurors. But boy, it will be. And what with the news that, instead of focusing on these very important security issues, he was instead chatting with Tom Cruise and Penelope Cruz about how badly Germany treats Scientologists, I suspect it's going to appear rather disingenuous to the American people. Perhaps if Libby had said no to the Tom Cruise meeting, we would have found Osama bin Laden.

Schmall's notes were very striking--Christy agrees they were very effective in the court room, too.

But the most interesting document released in the document dump today was the report from an interview the CIA OIG did with Grenier as part of its investigation into the Niger forgeries. The report was introduced by Libby's team in an attempt to impeach Grenier--they wanted to show that he didn't mention the Wilson discussion during this investigation. (Grenier's take--which seems fair, reading the document--is that it just wasn't within the scope of the investigation.)

The document is interesting to me, however, for the glimpse it gives into the CIA behavior regarding the Niger forgeries.

The document gives an interesting description of a 1615 meeting--describing which departments did what in the discussions about Iraq.

The issues that would come up were aluminum tubes, yellowcake or uranium never came up. The British dossier never came up either--that was too low level and too strategic. The meetings were very tactical. [full sentence redacted] He has no specific recollection of El Baradei's charge of the forgeries in March 03 even being mentioned. Tubes was the issue that made a splash--it was controversial, there was a lot of attention given, and people had firm positions.

It describes in detail what we've known a good deal of--that the CIA was harping on the aluminum tubes, and not the forgeries. Interesting description, though, of the tactical and strategic communication here. Some might call that P-R-O-P-A-G-A-N-D-A.

There's a later passage that provides a little more about the forgeries themselves.

... even given his limited knowledge, Grenier noted that his impression is, that given the importance of the overall issue, if it is true [redacted] more should have been done. We were caught up with the translated versions of the documents, rather than the documents.

A couple points about this. First, wildarsed guess for that redaction is that it says something about vetting the forgeries--or perhaps even admits that CIA knew the forgeries were bunk (as eriposte has argued at length) and the "more" that should have been done is more push-back against the WH so it didn't use the Niger uranium claims to make its case to go to war.

I'm also struck by the description that "we were caught up with the translated versions of the documents, rather than the documents." I've always been kind of pissed that CIA even needed to translate the documents. They were written in French, after all, not some obscure language like Hausa. Are you telling me that the CIA doesn't even have people who are competent in French?

But then there's this bit from the SSCI:

On January 13, 2003, the INR Iraq nuclear analyst sent an e-mail to several IC analysts outlining his reasoning why, "the uranium purchase agreement probably is a hoax." He indicated that one of the documents that purported to be an agreement for a joint military campaign, including both Iraq and Iran, was so ridiculous that it was "clearly a forgery." Because this document had the same alleged stamps for the Nigerien Embassy in Rome as the uranium documents, the analyst concluded "that the uranium purchase agreement probably is a forgery." When the CIA analyst received the e-mail, he realized that WINPAC did not have copies of the documents and requested copies from INR. CIA received copies of the foreign language documents on January 16, 2003.

Two CIA Iraq WINPAC analysts told Committee staff that after looking at the documents, they did notice some inconsistencies. One of the analysts told Committee staff, "it was not immediately apparent, it was not jumping out at us that the documents were forgeries." The CIA then sent the documents to the State Department for translation.


WINPAC analysts told Committee staff that, even though they were still in the process of analyzing the documents, their analytic position had not changed, so they believed it would have been premature to publish concerns about the documents without having investigated those concerns for themselves. One analyst said that if he were presenting CIA's best evidence on reconstitution he would not have included the uranium information, but when asked what else we had besides the tubes, he "ratcheted" down the threshold of what was appropriate to include. He also indicated that the reference in the paper about efforts to acquire uranium from Africa were broader than the alleged Niger contract in that it included the reports on Iraqi attempts to acquire uranium from Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. [my emphasis]

According to the SSCI, the CIA didn't even try to get translations of the documents until January 16.

Now, eriposte has some things to say about that timeline (er--if you show up, please send me a link to one of your posts on this). But I'm curious just when the CIA was having this debate or non-debate about the forgeries? Does this mean the CIA didn't get into the Niger claims until after January 16? Didn't even begin arguing them?

I am way too fried to really do this question--and possible implications of it justice. I do hope eriposte picks it up for me. But there's something mighty fishy about the "caught up with the translated versions" claim, not least because even the translated documents should have been easy as cinch to debunk, given the outdated info in some of the documents. I guess it's a question I'll have to return to after I've not just transcribed all day.

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