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June 30, 2004



An inexplicable sloppiness has dominated this matter from the outset (Wilson op-ed last summer).

Niger wasn't mentioned in SOTU.

Brit assessment wasn't -- apparently -- limited to Niger (as Tenet statement notes). Makes sense, as Niger not only yellowcake source in Africa.

Brits didn't share sources on their assessment, leaving the CIA's doubts rather dubious, as it's hard to judge reporting when you don't know what it is.

Brits insisted their assessment took no account whatsoever of the allegedly forged documents.

Two parliamentary bodies reviewed SIS assessment while examining collateral matters and pronounced it reasonable. The Butler inquiry presumably will be more thorough and definitive -- but even that may be hard to tell.

So the weirdly, inexplicably PR-challenged WH and the preposterously biased and unreasonable press gave us a "controversy" based on:

* an op-ed by a special envoy who got a very limited and perhaps entirely misleading picture of the situation with one potential African yellowcake-source country that may well have not even been the country in question in the British assessment mentioned in the SOTU

* a brouhaha about forged documents that played no role in the matter

* a Brit assessment that the SIS and parliament stood by, and which was doubted by the CIA based on concerns about reporting they hadn't even seen

* the CIA's estimate re Iraqi nukyler activities supported the SOTU's basic message on the subject, and neither Niger nor other African uranium sources were even a factor in that estimate

Some controversy. The UK assessment may turn out to have been correct, or not (or we'll never be sure). But it's been clear since early on in the "controversy" that neither Wilson's mission nor forged documents were pertinent to the assertions in the SOTU, and clear for a long time that neither had much impact on our own CIA's estimate of the subject.

A "Seinfeld Crisis" -- a crisis about nothing. Well, not about nothing. It's a pretty good example of how the press, aptly called the "public's intelligence service," has indeed suffered a breakdown.

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