Friday, October 28, 2005

What's Missing in the Libby Indictment

So "Scooter" Libby has now been indicted on 5 counts, including obstruction of justice and perjury. What's lost in the talk of who won or lost with these indictments is that no one is denying that the White House, the office of the Vice President, Scooter Libby and senior White House "Official A" (cough -Karl Rove - cough) all were actively trying to discredit anyone who undercut their argument for war with Iraq: that Saddam was trying to make nuclear weapons.

I'm sure you've all heard the story, but it bears repeating. For the Neo-Cons to get their Iraq War plans off the ground, they needed a reason everyone would back for invasion of Iraq. Violations of UN sanctions, Saddam's crimes against his people, spreading Democracy in the Middle East, or settling old scores from the first Gulf War and the like just were not enough to convince the American people, let alone Congress, that war was a good idea. To get Bush authorization from Congress they needed more than that. They needed Saddam to have a nuclear program.

But the evidence they had was shaky at best. In front of the UN, Powell noted aluminum tubes as evidence of a nuclear program:
Saddam Hussein is determined to get his hands on a nuclear bomb. He is so determined that he has made repeated covert attempts to acquire high-specification aluminum tubes from 11 different countries, even after inspections resumed.

These tubes are controlled by the Nuclear Suppliers Group precisely because they can be used as centrifuges for enriching uranium. By now, just about everyone has heard of these tubes, and we all know that there are differences of opinion. There is controversy about what these tubes are for.

Difference of opinion is a mild way of saying everyone but the Bush administration knew these tubes were not suitable for much of anything nuclear:
The George W. Bush administration’s use of faulty intelligence in making its case for war against Iraq drew much attention from the media. One particular case shows that the administration knowingly disregarded scientific analysis of intelligence data that contradicted its case.

[...]

However, a set of technical experts from the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Oak Ridge, Livermore, and Los Alamos National Laboratories reviewed the CIA analysis and disagreed with this interpretation because the tube dimensions were far from ideal for this purpose. In fact, the dimensions and the aluminum alloy were identical to those of tubes acquired for rockets by Iraq in the 1980s. Furthermore, the Iraqis had developed and tested centrifuges before the first Gulf War that were much more capable than those that could have been built with the imported tubes.

The DOE experts also pointed out that if these tubes were actually intended for centrifuges, there should be evidence of attempts by the Iraqis to acquire hundreds of thousands of other very specific components, but no such evidence existed. This critique of the CIA interpretation was seconded by the State Department’s intelligence branch and, independently, by an international group of centrifuge experts advising the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

So once again, the Bush administration was ignoring Science in favor of their view of reality. But nameless, faceless scientists were easy to ignore or discredit as being in "disagreement" with "other" opinions. Yellowcake was another story.

Bush would rely heavily on the lack of understand of uranium enrichment, and play the nuclear card heavily in his State of the Union address as he made his case for war to Congress and the American people:
The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

The famous 16 words. Only problem is, the uranium sought was Yellowcake, or stabilized Uranium.
Yellowcake is nothing more than uranium right from the ground that has been refined and stabilized. Short of eating it, breathing it, or batter-dipping yourself in it, yellowcake is not all that dangerous either.

[...]

Making weapons-grade uranium from yellowcake sucks, and it takes a long time. First you have to turn the yellowcake into a gas, and then that gas into a different gas, etc., etc. and ONLY THEN can you start searching through a gas for the atoms that go "boom." Remember that scene in the Karate Kid, where Mr. Miagi and what's his face are trying to catch flies with chopsticks? Harder than that.

But even if Saddam was really good at catching flies with chopsticks, he didn't need to go looking for he Yellowcake. He already had litterally tons of the stuff sitting in barrels:
  • In 1991, Iraq was discovered to have about 500 metric tons (~1 million lbs.) of yellowcake they'd 'forgotten' to mention. George Herbert Walker Bush, his coalition pals, and the International Atomic Energy Agency were so alarmed that Iraq had yellowcake, they decided to leave it in Iraq. The "prudent" course of action as they saw it: put it drums, seal it up, and check the seals once a year. They knew an entire year was not long enough for Hussein to make anything dangerous out of yellowcake. [3, .pdf]

  • That yellowcake was inspected and remained untouched until Hussein barred the U.N. inspectors in late 1998. [see 3 above]

  • On Oct. 6, 2002, the CIA sent a fax to the White House that stated "the procurement [of yellowcake] is not particularly significant to Iraq's nuclear ambitions because the Iraqis already have a large stock of uranium oxide [yellowcake] in their inventory. [4, para. 7, emphasis added]

  • During Dec. 9-11, 2002, before Bush's SOTU claim that Iraq was trying to buy yellowcake from Africa, U.N. Inspectors verified that the yellowcake from 1991 was in Iraq, undisturbed, and still sealed. [see 3 above]


  • So Yellowcake isn't all that great for bomb making and Saddam has tons of it already. So when Joe Wilson points out publicly that the Yellowcake argument is based on junk science and forged documents, this directly threatens the Bush administration's key reasons for going to war.

    So they tried to discredit Wilson. As early as May 2003 (Indictment PDF)Libby and other officials were looking into ways to undermine his trip to Niger by claiming his wife, who worked at the CIA, got him the job by using her inside the agency connections. Never mind what he found. Never mind the science, the evidence, the facts. Wilson's public repudiation of the Bush administration's claims of Saddam in possession of nuclear weapons had to be quieted. The waters had to be muddied. Wilson had to be undercut. His wife's job was the key to the disinformation.

    Only problem was, Valerie Plame Wilson was an undercover CIA agent in charge of WMD. Disclosing her name was a crime and they had to know that:
    Go to page 5 of the indictment. Top of the page, item #9.
    On or about June 12, 2003, LIBBY was advised by the Vice President of the United States that Wilson's wife worked at the Central Intelligence Agency in the Counterproliferation Divison. LIBBY understood that the Vice President had learned this information from the CIA.

    This is a crucial piece of information. The Counterproliferation Division (CPD) is part of the CIA's Directorate of Operations, i.e., not the Directorate of Intelligence, the branch of the CIA where 'analysts' come from, but the DO, where the spies, the 'operatives', come from.

    Libby's a long time national security hand. He knows exactly what CPD is and where it is. So does Cheney. They both knew. It's right there in the indictment.

    No where is Libby, the Republicans, Bush, or any of the Conservative pundits denying that for some strange reason they were trying to find out all they could about Wilson's wife. None of them is denying there was an effort to undermine Joe Wilson.

    Nope. To them, this was just another day at the office. Politics before national security. A Culture of Corruption in action. But all we keep hearing is that Rove wasn't charged and Libby "only" was charge on crimes that weren't the leak.