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Source: Fact-checkers blamed for Bush's uranium 'goof'

From Dana Bash
CNN

President Bush makes holiday calls on Wednesday from Camp David.  A source says his Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board has concluded that inadequate fact-checking contributed to the 2003 State of the Union
President Bush makes holiday calls on Wednesday from Camp David. A source says his Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board has concluded that inadequate fact-checking contributed to the 2003 State of the Union "goof."

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board has concluded that his 2003 State of the Union address included information about Iraq's weapons program that wasn't checked carefully, a source involved in the investigation and findings said Wednesday.

CIA Director George Tenet took responsibility this summer for allowing the information to make it into the presidential address, but the new report suggests the White House bears responsibility too.

"No one checked their facts carefully," said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity. "It was a mistake that propagated itself. They should have known better to check and ask more questions about the information."

In an effort to draw support for waging war with Iraq, Bush told the nation in his January speech: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

The source said the report concludes there was no intention to deceive; instead it was "a goof" as the administration searched for examples to share with the public of why the United States believed Iraq was attempting to build a nuclear program.

The Bush administration initially defended the inclusion of the sentence under pressure to explain how the speech was written based on information that was known to be unreliable.

After Ambassador Joe Wilson, who had been sent on mission to Niger to investigate the claim, said publicly it was false, the White House acknowledged in July that the line should not have been included in Bush's speech.

The president's Foreign Intelligence Advisory board, which gives confidential advice and reports to Bush, was asked by the White House to investigate how the information made its way into his speech.

'They trusted what came out of the CIA'

The board, according to the source, talked to officials at the White House and in the intelligence community over the course of a few months this fall in effort to recreate the "chain of events" that led to the information appearing in the State of the Union address.

"They truly believed when it landed on their desk it was right, but they should have checked the information, asked more questions," the source said of senior White House officials. "They truly believed what landed on their desk; they trusted what came out of the CIA."

Tenet admitted to Congress that he never read the speech before it was delivered, sources who attended the July hearing told CNN. (Full story)

The president's Intelligence Advisory Board's reports are private, and never released on the record to the public.

Former President Bush's national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, chairs the board. He refused to comment on the issue, first reported in Wednesday's Washington Post.

"This is an issue that has already been publicly discussed at length," a White House spokesman said.

After the White House admitted the claim, which Bush officials said relied on British intelligence, officials said they would change the way the speechwriting and intelligence vetting process at the White House works.

A U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq in March to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein after U.S. and British officials accused Iraq of developing weapons of mass destruction in violation of U.N. resolutions that ended the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Bush used the State of the Union speech to outline his arguments for military action.

No weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq, despite efforts led by David Kay to find them.

The Senate Intelligence Committee is also looking into the Niger claim as part of a broad investigation of pre-war intelligence about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

A source familiar with that investigation says a final report will be made public early next year, likely in February, and is on track to blame not just the White House for not asking enough questions, but also the intelligence agencies for passing along information that was not properly checked.

The Justice Department is also investigating who leaked the name of Wilson's wife, who was a CIA operative. Her identity had been classified until Wilson made his statements about his trip to Niger. His wife's name then ended up in "Crossfire" co-host Bob Novak's nationally syndicated newspaper column. (Full story)

The White House has pledged to cooperate in the probe.


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