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wWednesday, July 23, 2003

More Durbin Action

It gets even better (see article below). I queried Thomas (the Congressional Record Service) to find out what my Senator actually said yesterday (can I mention again that I voted for him?). I'm quoting the whole thing, because you should read it.
Mr. DURBIN . Mr. President, last week there was a historic meeting of the Senate Intelligence Committee, of which I am a member. Director Tenet of the Central Intelligence Agency came before us. There has been a lot written and said about that meeting of the Intelligence Committee.

I think what is important is we reflect on what has occurred since that meeting because I think it speaks volumes about where we are in America when it comes to the issue of being critical of this administration, its policies, and its use of intelligence.

At issue, of course, were 16 words in the President's State of the Union Address last January. This address on January 28 included the following statement by the President of the United States:
The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.
This sentence was part of a speech delivered by the President, the most important speech any President delivers in the course of a given year, at a time in our Nation's history when we were asked to rally behind our troops and our President to invade the nation of Iraq. This was a moment, of course, of great consequence because not only was America's foreign policy about to be decided in relation to the Middle East, but families across America were going to be asked to send their sons and daughters, husbands and wives, and loved ones into harm's way. The words have to be measured carefully because the consequences of those words are so serious.

Many people have said, What was wrong with the President's statement? The British intelligence was insisting that they had evidence that, in fact, Iraq had tried to obtain uranium, fissile material to build nuclear weapons from Niger, an African nation. It turns out there was much more to the story. In addition to the efforts of British intelligence , our own intelligence agencies had been looking closely at the same issue and had come to the opposite conclusion. They decided that the evidence presented did not make the case. In fact, in October of 2002, when President Bush was going to give a very important speech in Cincinnati, OH, outlining the reasons he believed we should be mindful of the threat of Iraq, White House staffers--Mr. Hadley, who was with the security portion of the White House--wanted to include in that speech the same reference to this sale of uranium from Niger to Iraq. He was cautioned by the Central Intelligence Agency in October not to include it because the sources of the information , according to the American intelligence agency, were not credible; the claim was dubious. So the charge was taken out of the President's Cincinnati speech in October.

Then comes the President's State of the Union Address in January. Once again, the same White House staff--I am not alluding to Mr. Hadley again, but someone on the White House staff came forward and said these words should be included, even after being warned 3 months earlier that they were not accurate.

So Director Tenet came before us last week to explain what happened, why words that were disqualified from the President's earlier speech were then included in this State of the Union Address. As the Director came before us, we knew several things. A week before, the President of the United States said the words should not have been included in the speech, and Director of the CIA, Mr. Tenet, said he took personal responsibility for not removing them; that the Central Intelligence Agency, responsible for reviewing that kind of wording in the speech, should have stopped the President from using those remarks a second time in the State of the Union Address.

I said publicly and on the floor of the Senate that what Director Tenet told us was important, but equally important was the question as to what individual or group of individuals within the White House was so adamant in their pursuit of including this important language in the speech, in the President's State of the Union Address--particularly after the White House had been told not to say that in an earlier Presidential speech.

I made that point after the hearing. I certainly did not disclose the name of the White House employee given to us during the course of the Intelligence Committee hearing. I said, as I believe now, that as a result of that hearing it was clear that when we make this inquiry, all roads lead to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. We have to really look to the White House staff and the role they played in pushing for and putting this language in the speech which led the President to mislead the American people.

I have said and repeated, there is no evidence or indication that President Bush knew this statement was wrong--none. If that comes out at some later time, so be it.

I am not making any allegation about the President's motive of including it. But I will say this, unequivocally. The President was let down by his staff in the White House. They had a responsibility to make certain what he said to the American people was true, and they knew better. In October, they had been warned by the CIA that this information was not accurate, was dubious, could not be backed up. Yet they persisted in January in including these same remarks.

After I made the statement, it was interesting the reaction from the White House. The next day, the White House Press Secretary, Mr. Scott McClellan, called my claims nonsense and went on to say that because I voted against the use of force resolution when it came to the invasion of Iraq when it was before the Senate last October, that I was, in fact, trying to justify my vote by the statements I was making.

That was the White House interpretation of my remarks. They did not go to the heart of the issue, obviously, as to whether there was anyone in the White House staff insistent or persistent when it came to including these remarks and what action might be taken by the White House to take that staffer off the case, perhaps to remove them completely from the White House because they had misled the President. No, that was not the issue. The issue was this Senator and my credibility. Well, I understand that. Politics isn't a bean bag. I was not born yesterday. You have to have a tough mental hide if you are going to aspire to this office and be in a national debate. But it was interesting, on the first day, when the time came to address the issue, instead of attacking the problem, they attacked me. So be it.

But then there was more to follow. On the following day, on Friday, the White House press operation started floating the story that there were Senators in this Chamber who were asking for my removal from the Senate Intelligence Committee because of the statements I had made. And when pressed as to what those statements were, the White House said DURBIN has disclosed classified information and, therefore, should be removed from the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Now, that is a very serious charge. I can think of perhaps only once or twice in my entire congressional career that I have ever heard a similar charge. So, of course, the reporters who called said to the White House: What did he disclose? And they said two things: First, he disclosed the name of the White House staffer who was responsible for writing this speech. And, secondly, on the floor of the Senate, at this very desk, he said there were 550 suspected sites of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq identified by the U.S. Government before our invasion.

The White House said: Both of those items are classified, DURBIN disclosed them, and he should leave the Intelligence Committee.

Well, the facts are these: No. 1, I never disclosed the name of the White House staffer--to this day--who was involved in the preparation of the speech. And, secondly, the information I gave on the floor of 500 suspected sites of weapons of mass destruction had been declassified a month earlier, declassified and made public. So the White House allegations to back up my removal from the Intelligence Committee, attacking my credibility, saying that I disclosed classified information , were, in fact, false and inaccurate.

Sadly, what we have here is a continuing pattern by this White House. If any Member of this Senate--Democrat or Republican--takes to the floor, questions this White House policy, raises any questions about the gathering of intelligence information , or the use of it, be prepared for the worst. This White House is going to turn on you and attack you. They are going to question your patriotism. They are going to question the fact of whether or not you are living up to your oath of office here in the Senate. And they are going to question as to whether or not you belong in this debate on intelligence ; whether, for instance, you should be a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. I think that is a very serious outcome. It is one that all of us should reflect on for a moment.
Then, continuing to play the game balls to the wall, Durbin inserts the entirety of Paul Krugman's column from yesterday ("Who's Unpatriotic Now?") into the congressional record. Yes, he's that cool. Continuing...
Mr. DURBIN . This morning, in the New York Times, Paul Krugman wrote about another episode. I would like to read from it because I think it indicates what I have been through over the past several days is not unique.

We are aware of the fact that Ambassador Joe Wilson, who has served the United States, was called on by this administration to go to Africa and to establish whether or not the sale of uranium took place. He came back, and it is my understanding he made an oral report to the administration questioning whether or not there was any background evidence to support the claim that Iraq had tried to obtain or had obtained uranium fissile material from Niger. He made the report to the administration, which is part of the cumulative evidence of the weakness of this assertion by British intelligence .

And, of course, a week or two ago, in the New York Times, Ambassador Wilson published a column indicating the timeline and substance of his involvement with this issue, and making it clear that based on the request of the administration, he had gone to Africa, came back with the information , and told the administration he could not make this claim.

Let me read from Paul Krugman's article today about Ambassador Joe Wilson and what has happened to him since he went public with the fact that he had warned this administration that saying anything about the uranium coming from Africa was really not credible, of dubious background. Here is what Krugman writes:

And while we're on the subject of patriotism, let's talk about the affair of Joseph Wilson's wife. Mr. Wilson is the former ambassador who was sent to Niger by the C.I.A. to investigate reports of attempted Iraqi uranium purchases and who recently went public with his findings. Since then administration allies have sought to discredit him--it's unpleasant stuff. But here's the kicker: both the columnist Robert Novak and Time magazine say that administration officials told them that they believed that Mr. Wilson had been chosen through the influence of his wife, whom they identified as a C.I.A. operative.

Think about that: if their characterization of Mr. Wilson's wife is true .....
And Krugman writes that Wilson refuses to confirm or deny it--
Bush administration officials have exposed the identity of a covert operative. That happens to be a criminal act; it's also definitely unpatriotic.

So why would they do such a thing? Partly, perhaps, to punish Mr. Wilson, but also to send a message.

And that should alarm us. We've just seen how politicized, cooked intelligence can damage our national interest. Yet the Wilson affair suggests that the administration intends to continue pressuring analysts to tell it what it wants to hear.
End of quote from this Krugman article.

Mr. President, I am going to ask the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and the ranking member to investigate this matter. This is an extremely serious situation. If, in fact, administrative officials have publicly disclosed the identity of Mr. Wilson's wife, who is allegedly, according to these news articles, working for the CIA, this is an extremely serious matter. In their effort to seek political revenge against Ambassador Wilson for his column, they are now attacking him and his wife, and doing it in a fashion that is not only unacceptable, it may be criminal. And that, frankly, is as serious as it gets in this town.

I would say to my colleagues in the Senate, understand what this is all about. If you come to the floor of this Senate, or stand before a microphone, and are critical of this administration for their policy or use of intelligence, be prepared for the worst. You are in for a rough ride.

Certainly what happened to me was minor league compared to what happened to Ambassador Wilson. In my situation, they merely questioned my integrity and asked I be removed from the Senate Intelligence Committee. In Mr. Wilson's situation, they have set out to destroy the career of his wife. That speaks volumes of where this administration has gone when it comes to this essential issue.

People have asked me: Why are 16 words so important? Why does it make any difference if the President happened to make a mistake? And maybe technically he didn't. He attributed this information to British intelligence. Tony Blair was here last week and says he still stands by it.

I think it is important in this respect: We spend billions of dollars each year accumulating important intelligence information to protect America. We can count on the dedicated men and women in intelligence agencies around the United States and around the world to keep us safe. They risk their lives to do it. They are as fine and patriotic as any man or woman who has ever served this country in uniform. And they try to bring this gathered information together, to sift through it, establish what is credible and what is not, and to alert the policy leaders--the President and others--as to the steps we need to take as a nation to defend ourselves.

That is always an important job, but in a war on terrorism it is essential. That intelligence becomes increasingly important. Without that intelligence data, how can we possibly protect this Nation from another 9/11?

Second, there is a question as well; that is, not only whether we are gathering accurate intelligence but whether that intelligence that we have gathered and that information is being accurately and honestly reported to the American people. What is at issue is not just the intelligence data but the honesty and credibility of the policymakers who use it and portray it.

The question we have before us is whether the intelligence information in this important statement about nuclear weapons in Iraq was somehow spun, hyped, or exaggerated. If that is true, what was the motive? How far up the chain does it go? Is it only one zealous White House staffer who was trying his best to put this information in a speech or is it more? It is an important question. It is one which I am certain the administration doesn't want to face. But in this age where intelligence is more important than ever, it has to be faced.

Let me go into the chronology of how the White House has responded as we have questioned whether those 16 words should have been included in the State of the Union Address. This is over a span of about 5 or 6 weeks.

On June 8, 2003, on Meet the Press, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said that the uranium claim in the State of the Union address was "mistaken," but that the White House had not known about intelligence doubts until afterward. Rice claimed, "We did not know at the time--no one knew at the time, in our circles--maybe someone knew down in the bowels of the agency, but no one in our circles knew that there were doubts and suspicions that this might be a forgery." Since then, it has been shown that the National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was indeed aware of deep doubts regarding this claim. In fact, the CIA prevented one of Dr. Rice's chief deputies from including the uranium reference in an October 2002 speech the President gave in Cincinnati.

When Dr. Rice said on June 8, 2003, on "Meet the Press" that, "We did not know at the time--no one knew at the time in our circles" that there were opportunities and suspicions that this might be a forgery, that ran in direct contradiction of the simple facts that have been disclosed. The CIA had advised the White House and the national security portion of the White House not to include the same words in the speech 3 months earlier.

Let us go to July 7, 2003.

Prompted by a New York Times op-ed article in which Joseph Wilson, former U.S. ambassador to Gabon, contended that the Bush administration ignored--and possibly manipulated--his findings regarding an Iraq-Niger uranium connection, the White House acknowledged that Bush should not have made the claim because of concerns about the intelligence behind it. Then White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer tried to shut down the story in its tracks, insisting it was old news.

On July 10, 2003--Four days into the controversy, as Bush was dogged with questions while visiting Africa, Secretary of State Colin Powell said there was no intention to deceive and called the outcry "overwrought and overblown and overdrawn." In defending the process by which the President allowed such a statement in the State of the Union speech, he said "There was sufficient evidence floating around at the time that such a statement was not totally outrageous."

Is that the standard? It was not totally outrageous?

Frankly, it is interesting that a few days after the President's State of the Union Address when Secretary of State Colin Powell was in careful preparation of his presentation before the United Nations Security Council, he consciously decided not to include that same reference in the speech to the United Nations Security Council. He knew better, and he knew that the standard of credibility of America is not whether something is or is not totally outrageous.

On July 11, 2003: first Condoleezza Rice, then President Bush himself, pointed fingers at the CIA for not removing the claim while vetting the speech.

There was even some discussion on that specific sentence, so that it reflected better what the CIA thought. And the speech was cleared. Now, I can tell you, if the CIA, the director of Central Intelligence , had said, "Take this out of the speech," it would have been gone, without question.
President Bush said:
I gave a speech to the nation that was cleared by the intelligence services. And it was a speech that detailed to the American people the dangers posed by the Saddam Hussein regime.
At that point, July 11, CIA Director George Tenet made his statement concerning this particular episode. He said in a statement that CIA officials reviewing the draft remarks of the State of the Union "raised several concerns about the fragmentary nature of the intelligence with National Security Council colleagues. Some of the language was changed." The change included using British intelligence as the source of the information . The CIA, however, continued to doubt the reliability of the British claim, and in fact doubted the credibility of the statement made by the President of the United States, which is certainly asserting the same claim.

Between July 11 and July 14, a new line of defense was established by the White House. Dr. Rice and Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld appeared on three Sunday talk shows to offer a new explanation: Bush's remark was technically accurate because he correctly described what British intelligence had reported:
It turns out that it's technically correct what the president said, that the UK did say that and still says that. Even though the words should not have been included in the speech, they're not necessarily inaccurate. The British say they believe that it is accurate, and that may very well be the case. We will just have to wait and see.
Dancing on the head of a pin, the Secretary of Defense, moving back and forth between whether this statement is accurate or not, says that the British intelligence discredited by our intelligence agency said maybe we have to take a wait-and-see attitude and see maybe if they are right and maybe if they are wrong.

Again, is that the standard for statements by the President of the United States in preparation for a war where we are about to risk American lives? I certainly hope the standard is much higher.

On Monday, July 14, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer emphasized that the British could be right. He said:
We don't know if [British intelligence claims were] true but nobody--but nobody--can say it was wrong. The fact of the matter is whether they sought it from Africa or didn't seek it from Africa doesn't change the fact that they were seeking to reconstitute a nuclear program.
That was a statement made in his Monday press briefing. Now they are basically saying it really doesn't make any difference whether what we said was truthful or not. According to Ari Fleischer, we all knew they were setting out to reconstitute a nuclear program. But it turned out that this was one of the two major pillars the Bush administration was using to argue that nuclear weapons were a threat from Iraq.

First, the aluminum tube controversy, which went in circles many times as to whether or not these tubes would be used for nuclear weapons or conventional munitions and the fissile material and uranium coming from Africa. What we have here is a situation where they are trying to build the case, and build it with the shakiest evidence already discredited by the CIA and other intelligence agencies.

Between July 10 and July 18, there came a new strategy from the White House on the issue.

Scott McClellan, who succeeded Fleischer as White House spokesman, also tried to dismiss questions. Over four days, he told reporters 20 times that the particular question they were asking had already been "addressed."

On July 16, 2003, Scott McClellan said claims by Senator DURBIN that White House officials applied pressure on the CIA to keep the uranium reference in the speech were "nonsense" and accused skeptics of trying to "politicize this issue by rewriting history." At the same time, the White House tried to redirect the debate onto the overall danger posed by Saddam's chemical and biological weapons--uranium or not--and onto Bush's resolve in acting to confront that threat.

On July 17, 2003, McClellan cautioned that Senator DURBIN --and possibly other Democrats--were "lying about the little things" related to CIA Director George Tenet's testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. The "little thing" was whether Tenet has named names of these responsible at the White House.

Although I refused to disclose any names mentioned by the CIA Director, I will say this: I stand by my statement.

Let me explain for a moment the issue at hand. We have made it clear that Director Tenet would appear before the Intelligence Committee. That was public knowledge. The fact is that Director Tenet sat at the committee table in the Senate Intelligence Committee with several people from his agency. What he said, of course, was given to the members of committee. Questions from members of the committee were directed to appropriate members of the staff, and he would indicate which member might give an answer to a question.

I took great care in commenting about his testimony to limit any reference to anyone in the room, specifically to Director Tenet, so that I would not even disclose the names of the CIA employees who were in the room. Perhaps I was over cautious. But that caution on my part was then used against me by the White House. Because when we asked Director Tenet pointblank who was the White House staffer responsible for the State of the Union Address--in fact, it has now been publicly disclosed by the CIA and others--he turned to Alan Foley, an assistant who worked on the speech, and Allen Foley gave the name to the committee with a nod by Director Tenet. So my caution and care not to even disclose the name of Alan Foley who sat at the table with the CIA Director was turned and used against me by the White House, saying that I was lying to the American public as to whether Director Tenet disclosed the name.

The fact is, Director Tenet was testifying. He turned to Mr. Foley, his assistant, who said the name. Whether Director Tenet repeated the name, only the record of the hearing can reflect. But what I was establishing was the fact that the identity of the person involved was disclosed during Director Tenet's testimony. I stand by that.

On July 18, on Friday, the White House press staff began leaking word that one of the leading White House opponents, Senator Durbin of Illinois, had released classified material regarding names of those involved in the controversy and the number of suspected WMD sites in Iraq. As a result, the White House said some Senators were contemplating having me, Senator Durbin , removed from the Intelligence Committee.

Our office pointed out to reporters that no classified material had been released by this Senator. I had refused to name the White House staffer or characterize specific witness testimony. And the number of suspected Iraqi WMD sites, 550, which I disclosed on the Senate floor, had been declassified this year in June. It is public information .

The White House, when they were confronted with the fact that their accusations against me were not true said, they would "Look into that."

After attacking my honesty and integrity and suggesting I be removed from the Senate Intelligence Committee, they were unable to produce any evidence of the disclosure of classified information . I have gone to great lengths to avoid that, and I will continue.

Then on July 18, that same day, the White House took the rare step of declassifying and releasing eight pages of a 90-page top secret national intelligence estimate that was used to write the questioned portions of the State of the Union Address. Instead of putting a lid on the controversy, the document showed prewar divisions within the U.S. intelligence community that were glossed over by administration spokesmen. The State Department, for instance, termed the reports that Saddam Hussein was shopping for uranium in Africa as "highly dubious."

That is the chronology. It is an important chapter in our political history. It is an important chapter in the history of the collection and use of intelligence here in the United States.

I am glad the Senate Intelligence Committee will continue its investigation. It is my understanding the chairman and ranking Democrat have said they will call White House staffers before the committee to ask what led up to this situation and why we are in the position we are today.

I can recall times in the past when the Intelligence Committee and its members had been challenged as to whether they disclosed classified information and called on to take polygraphs for fear they may have said something that was top secret and should not be public knowledge. I understand the concern of the administration. That should be the concern of every American. We have to take care not to disclose classified information .

But I have to ask the obvious question: How can this administration declassify things, drop certain items into the press that are complimentary and positive from their point of view and get away with it and not be held to the same standard as members of the committee? When we are in a situation where we are given a body of information and draw a conclusion from that but cannot speak to that publicly, while the administration discretely drops into the public domain information they think is helpful to their side of the case, that is a one-sided argument. It does not serve this Nation well, and the administration is pushing the envelope when they do it.

I am glad the Senate Intelligence Committee is going forward. There is a lot more we need to do. I will say to my colleagues in the Senate, please do not back off from our responsibility. We have a responsibility to the people who elect us and to the American people at large to hold this administration--indeed, every administration--accountable for honesty and accuracy when they speak to the American people, particularly in areas of the discussion of intelligence information which could lead to military action which could, in fact, endanger the lives of Americans and their families. That is our most serious and sacred duty. We should not back off of it because of threats from the White House or efforts by the White House to silence us.

I yield the floor.

The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. The Senator from Delaware.

Mr. CARPER. Mr. President, before Senator Durbin leaves the floor, I want to say that the concerns he has raised are serious and grave. They deserve serious attention, not just of this body but of the people in this country. I thank him for bringing them to us today and join him in voicing the gravity of the situation. The kind of actions he has described, if they are true, should not be permitted. They should not be countenanced.

posted by Matthew Carroll-Schmidt at 10:45 AM

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