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White House reveals report to bolster uranium claim

Document tells of Iraq, Africa tie; includes State Department's misgivings

From Dana Bash
CNN


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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House has released portions of a classified document in attempt to show why speechwriters included a now-disputed line in President Bush's State of the Union address relating to weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

The line reads: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

Portions of the previously classified document summarizing six intelligence agencies' views and findings, called the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate [NIE], concluded there was "compelling evidence that Saddam is reconstituting a uranium enrichment effort for Baghdad's nuclear weapons program."

"Many of the fact judgments that the speechwriters used were based on the NIE," said a senior administration official, who addressed reporters for 78 minutes on the topic.

"These are analytical judgments made by analysts in various agencies. Policymakers take this information and have to make judgments based on policy," said the senior official.

The newly disclosed document refers in detail to Iraq's alleged attempt to obtain uranium from Niger, but also cites two other countries, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, as being places where Iraq was believed to have possibly sought uranium.

Administration officials -- including then-White House spokesman Ari Fleischer -- have been adamant in saying that the State of the Union address referred to Africa rather than Niger because, in Fleischer's words, "there was reporting from other countries beyond Niger." The officials implied that the information relating to the other countries was more reliable than that relating to Niger.

"A foreign government service reported that as of early 2001, Niger planned to send several tons of 'pure uranium' (probably yellowcake) to Iraq," the report reads. "As of early 2001, Niger and Iraq reportedly were still working out arrangements for this deal, which could be for up to 500 tons of yellowcake. We do not know the status of this arrangement."

State Department says claim 'highly dubious'

The newly released report, however, also included a dissenting view from the State Department's intelligence arm, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, known as the INR.

"The claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa are, in INR's assessment, highly dubious," read the dissent,

Another U.S. official said the intelligence on uranium in the NIE never rose to the level that it could be "stated flatly" by the United States.

The official also said the Niger information was included in the 90-page report because it "was out there," and for "an effort at completeness." The official said the NIE contained six main arguments supporting the case that Iraq was continuing its efforts to obtain weapons of mass destruction, but uranium from Africa was not one of them.

'The president is not a fact checker'

Documents that backed up the uranium claim have since been deemed forged, but the senior administration official said that at the time of the president's address, no one in the speechwriting process knew that.

"If you're writing a speech at the juncture we were in, why would you put something (that is in dispute) in? ... Why would you put that in your speech?" said a senior administration official. "It wouldn't make sense to put it in the speech. ...

"Of course we wouldn't use information in the president's speech we knew was suspect or deliberately forged. It doesn't make sense."

The senior administration official said the president did not read the NIE, but that he was likely familiar with the information inside it.

The president, said the official, has had "countless conversations about the intelligence community, about the contents of the NIE but I don't think he sat down over a long weekend and read every word of it but he's familiar, intimately familiar, with the case."

The senior administration official said the president was not aware of the dissenting view.

"No, he did not know that," said the senior official. "Obviously, he thinks if it's in his speech and prepared for delivery then its credible to use, that's obvious."

The president is not a "fact checker," the official added.

CNN National Security Producer Pam Benson contributed to this report.


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