Monday, August 18, 2008

Followup to Leopold Workshop-Students Publish Article

Hello Everyone,

You may recall the workshop at the Residency where Jason Leopold of the independent news website THE PUBLIC RECORD asked us to research a news story about Alan Foley, the former CIA Director, who supposedly vetted the "16 words" about Iraq seeking to buy uranium from an African country that appeared in President Bush's 2003 State of the Union speech, despite the CIA having expressed doubt about the authenticity of the report.--Chris, Matt, Harry, and I volunteered to flesh out this issue and I am happy to report that the story we wrote was the lead story in the The Public Record last Thursday, August 14, 2008, complete with byline.

Below is the story in full. If for any reason you can't read it you can also view it at--

Enjoy, Chris, Matt, Harry and Roz

Former CIA Officials Speaks Out About "16 Words" That Led to Iraq Invasion
By Christopher Gallagher, Matt Renfer, Harry L. Rinker and Rosalind Wiggins

The Public Record Thursday, August 14, 2008
Favoured : 9
Published in : Nation/World

How did the well-known 16-word phrase—"The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa"—make it into President George W. Bush's 2003 State of the Union Address (SOTU)?

The answer to that question has been surrounded in controversy ever since the intelligence that the 16 words were based upon were exposed as crude forgeries.

But in “The Way of the World,” the new book by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Ron Suskind, Alan Foley, the person credited with vetting President’s Bush’s speech as head of CIA’s Center for Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control (WINPAC), has given his first substantial on-the-record interview that is supposed to provide some answers.

Foley claims he was not made aware that he provided Robert “Bob” Joseph, former White House weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and proliferation issues specialist, with the final authorization from the CIA that the phrase the n SOTU, as agreed upon in a telephone conversation, was correct. "I didn't assume that whatever Bob [Joseph] and I agreed upon was going right into the president's desk in the Oval Office," Foley said.

Former CIA director George Tenet personally intervened to have a similar phrase removed from a Cincinnati speech three months earlier arguing that the intelligence was not sound. While Tenet was able to make his point with National Security Advisor Steven Hadley, he was less successful inside the CIA. In Suskind’s book, Foley claims that he barely saw CIA director George Tenet. Meanwhile, he and Bob Joseph enjoyed a close working relationship.

Suskind explains the implications of this in his book: “Within this context, now finally clarified by Foley, Bob Joseph’s decision to make an unremarkable call to a friend who rarely saw Tenet or his seventh-floor disciples—and not tell this friend that he’s the last check in one of modern history’s most contentious phrases before it ends up on the president’s lips—was a perfect way to get something CIA doubted, and its director had already opposed, into the big speech.”

How credible is Foley? His statements in Suskind’s book reverse his previous on-the record accounts. His assertion that there was pressure from the administration and Congress for analysts to provide bold claims regardless if they were true wholly contradicts his earlier statements in a 2004 Newsweek article, where he specifically says, “I don’t think I was pressured at all.”

Newsweek also indicates Foley “believed there may well have been ‘something to’ the claims that the Iraqis sought to purchase uranium from Niger” and that Joseph Wilson’s claim the rumor was false based on his February 2002 visit to Niger did not “completely debunk” the report. In July 2003 Foley testified before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) that he was skeptical of the Niger documents.

According to Perr Eisner and Knut Royce’s “The Italian Letter: How the Bush Administration Used A Fake Letter to Build the Case for War In Iraq,” the Bush administration had a predetermined goal to invade Iraq. However, Eisner and Royce quote Foley announcing in a December 2002 senior production managers meeting, “If the president wants to go to war, our job is to find the intelligence to allow him to do so.”

Tenet’s “At the Center of the Storm,” argues that Foley did not go far enough in vetting the 16-word passage in the SOTU.

“I was told that Foley had focused on clearing the speech for ‘sources and methods’ rather than for substance,” writes Tenet. “In other words, as long as the language didn’t give away any secrets about how the intelligence was collected, they didn’t worry about whether we believed the assertions in the speech were accurate. That was a terrible mistake. Our job was never to clear solely for sources and methods, but also for substance. And the last time I looked, as good as the British intelligence service is—and it is very good—it does not work for the president of the United States.”

National Security Adviser Steven Hadley is another individual associated with the 16-word controversy. He admitted he failed in his responsibilities to remove the untrue statement—a job that Tenet told him to do three months earlier for the Cincinnati speech—but had simply forgotten to do so later for the State of the Union address.

Foley remained at the CIA for over a year following his early January 2003 conversation with Bob Joseph, earning the Distinguished Career Intelligence Medal. In November 2004, he became the Associate Laboratory Director for Applied Science and Technology and National Security and joined Argonne National Laboratory in summer 2006.

We tried calling Mr. Foley at his office at Argonne National Laboratory, where he now serves as Director of National Security, to ask for more clarification. We were not able to get past his secretary.

Christopher Gallagher, Matthew Renfer, Harry L. Rinker, and Rosalind Wiggins are graduate students in the Masters of Fine Arts in Professional Writing program at Western Connecticut State University, Danbury, Connecticut.

Last update: Thursday, August 14, 2008


ACW said...

Great work, everyone! A good story, but even moreso, a truly collaborative effort during residency week. Another example of how learning and doing works in this program.

Ron Samul said...

Nice job, you guys have a nice piece to add to resume and some great connections to some cutting edge journalism people. So excited for you and I will send the link out to as many people as I can.

Here's to opportunity through hard work.

DLowe said...

Good job, folks. You know, call me crazy, but I'm beginning to think that Bush & Cheney and their crew tell lies ...

Lisa Smith-Overton said...

How weird is it that 60 Minutes aired a story this past Sunday on Valerie Plame Wilson? I was shouting at the screen, "We just covered this story in a workshop! Oh my God!"

Will there be a follow up article in light of the 60 Minutes piece?

Mark Ferry said...

In the words of the great John "Hannibal" Smith, "I love it when a plan comes together."