(CBS) Senior administration officials tell CBS News the
President’s mistaken claim that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Africa was
included in his State of the Union address -- despite objections from the CIA.
Traveling with the president in Africa, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice on Friday said that the CIA had cleared the reference to the attempted uranium purchase.
Before the speech was delivered, the portions dealing with Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction were checked with the CIA for accuracy, reports CBS News National Security Correspondent David Martin.
CIA officials warned members of the President’s National Security Council staff the intelligence was not good enough to make the flat statement Iraq tried to buy uranium from Africa.
The White House officials responded that a paper issued by the British government contained the unequivocal assertion: "Iraq has ... sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." As long as the statement was attributed to British Intelligence, the White House officials argued, it would be factually accurate. The CIA officials dropped their objections and that’s how it was delivered.
"The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa," Mr. Bush said.
The statement was technically correct, since it accurately reflected the British paper. But the bottom line is the White House knowingly included in a presidential address information its own CIA had explicitly warned might not be true.
Today at a press conference during the President’s trip to Africa, Secretary of State Colin Powell portrayed it as an honest mistake.
"There was no effort or attempt on the part of the president or anyone else in the administration to mislead or to deceive the American people," said Powell.
But eight days after the State of the Union, when Powell addressed the U.N., he deliberately left out any reference to Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Africa.
"I didn’t use the uranium at that point because I didn’t think that was sufficiently strong as evidence to present before the world," Powell said.
That is exactly what CIA officials told the White House before the State of the Union. The top CIA official, Director George Tenet, was not involved in those discussions and apparently never warned the President he was on thin ice.
Secretary Powell said today he read the State of the Union speech before it was delivered and understood it had been seen and cleared by the intelligence community. But intelligence officials say the director of the CIA never saw the final draft.
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• Bush Knew Iraq Info Was Dubious