Some in the administration are trying to make George Tenet the scapegoat for the affair. But Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, a group of retired spooks, issued an open letter to President Bush yesterday reflecting the view of many in the intel community that the central culprit is Vice President Dick Cheney. The open letter called for Mr. Cheney's resignation.
Original open letter here.
Relevant quote from that (bear in mind it's directed at the president):
There is just too much evidence that Ambassador Wilson was sent to Niger at the behest of Vice President Cheney's office, and that Wilson's findings were duly reported not only to that office but to others as well.
Equally important, it was Cheney who launched (in a major speech on August 26, 2002) the concerted campaign to persuade Congress and the American people that Saddam Hussein was about to get his hands on nuclear weapons--a campaign that mushroomed, literally, in early October with you and your senior advisers raising the specter of a "mushroom cloud" being the first "smoking gun" we might observe.
That this campaign was based largely on information known to be forged and that the campaign was used successfully to frighten our elected representatives in Congress into voting for war is clear from the bitter protestations of Rep. Henry Waxman and others. The politically aware recognize that the same information was used, also successfully, in the campaign leading up to the mid-term elections--a reality that breeds a cynicism highly corrosive to our political process.
It was a deep insult to the integrity of the intelligence process that, after the Vice President declared on August 26, 2002 that "we know that Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons," the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) produced during the critical month of September featured a fraudulent conclusion that "most analysts" agreed with Cheney's assertion. This may help explain the anomaly of Cheney's unprecedented "multiple visits" to CIA headquarters at the time, as well as the many reports that CIA and other intelligence analysts were feeling extraordinarily great pressure, accompanied by all manner of intimidation tactics, to concur in that conclusion. As a coda to his nuclear argument, Cheney told NBC's Meet the Press three days before US/UK forces invaded Iraq: "we believe he (Saddam Hussein) has reconstituted nuclear weapons."
Mr. Russert: the International Atomic Energy Agency said he dose not have a nuclear program; we disagree?
Vice President Cheney: I disagree, yes. And you'll find the CIA, for example, and other key parts of the intelligence community disagree. We know he has been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons. And we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons. I think Mr. ElBaradei (Director of the IAEA) frankly is wrong.
Contrary to what Cheney and the NIE said, the most knowledgeable analysts--those who know Iraq and nuclear weapons--judged that the evidence did not support that conclusion. They now have been proven right.
Adding insult to injury, those chairing the NIE succumbed to the pressure to adduce the known forgery as evidence to support the Cheney line, and relegated the strong dissent of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (and the nuclear engineers in the Department of Energy) to an inconspicuous footnote.
It is a curious turn of events. The drafters of the offending sentence on the forgery in president's state-of-the-union speech say they were working from the NIE. In ordinary circumstances an NIE would be the preeminently authoritative source to rely upon; but in this case the NIE itself had already been cooked to the recipe of high policy.
Joseph Wilson, the former US ambassador who visited Niger at Cheney's request, enjoys wide respect (including, like several VIPS members, warm encomia from your father). He is the consummate diplomat. So highly disturbed is he, however, at the chicanery he has witnessed that he allowed himself a very undiplomatic comment to a reporter last week, wondering aloud "what else they are lying about." Clearly, Wilson has concluded that the time for diplomatic language has passed. It is clear that lies were told. Sad to say, it is equally clear that your vice president led this campaign of deceit.
This accusation is in line with Ambassador Wilson's account. And the only one to not chime in on this at all is...*drumroll*...Dick Cheney, or at least an official from his office.
Now there's the White House stand on not taking this scandal seriously, considering the situation "closed." Conversely, momentum is building for a Congressional inquiry, with public hearings to be held as early as September, if I heard that one TV report right. Will the axe fall on somebody other than George Tenet?