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Friday, July 11, 2003
Tenet Responds

My, that was quick. You'd almost think they had a response prepared and waiting.

Legitimate questions have arisen about how remarks on alleged Iraqi attempts to obtain uranium in Africa made it into the President's State of the Union speech. Let me be clear about several things right up front. First, CIA approved the President's State of the Union address before it was delivered. Second, I am responsible for the approval process in my Agency. And third, the President had every reason to believe that the text presented to him was sound. These 16 words should never have been included in the text written for the President.

It's good to see that someone in the Administration is willing to step forward and take responsibility for something. Of course, you'd expect Tenet to be a black sheep -- he was appointed by Clinton, after all. But read down to the end of the statement, where we find this:

Portions of the State of the Union speech draft came to the CIA for comment shortly before the speech was given. Various parts were shared with cognizant elements of the Agency for review. Although the documents related to the alleged Niger-Iraqi uranium deal had not yet been determined to be forgeries, officials who were reviewing the draft remarks on uranium raised several concerns about the fragmentary nature of the intelligence with National Security Council colleagues. Some of the language was changed. From what we know now, Agency officials in the end concurred that the text in the speech was factually correct – i.e. that the British government report said that Iraq sought uranium from Africa. This should not have been the test for clearing a Presidential address. This did not rise to the level of certainty which should be required for Presidential speeches, and CIA should have ensured that it was removed.

Let's get one thing straight first: whatever review and approval the CIA did, the CIA did not put that sentence into the State of the Union Address. They may be responsible for not having objected strongly enough to its presence, but they were not the ones who put it there.
Second, on close examination that statement from Tenet actuallly seems to support the notion that the White House basically wore down the CIA until they approved something that, well, they really shouldn't have on the grounds that it was "factually correct". And Tenet is right. That should not be the test for clearing a Presidential address. Of course, it should also not be the standard for putting something into a Presidential address, either.

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