Testimony in the Libby trial from CIA briefer Craig Schmall, who had the unenviable task of getting up in the wee small hours to brief Vice President Cheney and Lewis "Scooter" Libby from Summer 2002 through the end of May 2004, establishes that the tables of contents of the CIA briefing binders for that period “still exist.”
As Schmall states clearly on the record, when he sent the briefing binders to shredder and burn bag, he kept the topic headings – where, not stated. But somewhere in the Executive, at this moment, rest stacks of Tables of Contents with at least a short-title indication of what Cheney, Libby and others, including Rumsfeld, were briefed on, for any given date.
Presumably Schmall isn’t the only intelligence briefer who kept these things, either. His trial testimony and exhibits refer to two previous briefers, one unnamed, for Cheney and Libby.
At this point it would be ludicrous for the administration to try to keep those tables of contents secret by claiming “national security.” There would be far more potential damage to domestic security in leaving a giant secret stash of blackmail material around...
So let’s use this time before this potential storm constructively, by compiling a good list of quick questions to be answered by those briefing headings. Putting aside other large issues for the moment, let’s limit the scope of the questions just to the bogus Niger/uranium/Iraq story and to the CIA leak matter. Were Cheney, Bush and the others given briefings which informed them tht that the story was, in fact, bogus?
Here are some places to start. One simple question applies to all of the following:
ON THIS DATE, OR SOON AFTER, WAS THIS ITEM INCLUDED IN THE CIA DAILY BRIEFING? –
- Feb 5, 2002 – the Directorate of Operations in CIA issues a second intelligence report re the purported Iraq-Niger uranium agreement. State Department INR analysts continued to doubt the accuracy of the reporting, an INR analyst asked the CIA whether the source of the report cd submitted to a polygraph (page 38, Senate Select Intelligence Committee Report on pre-war intel). WAS THIS ITEM IN THE BRIEFING BINDER?
- Feb 13, 2002 – Cheney asks his briefer about yellowcake – on the same date Mrs. Wilson sends a memo to Deputy Chief of Counter-Proliferation Division in CIA, mentioning her husband’s Niger contacts. WAS THIS ITEM IN THE BRIEFING?
- Feb 14, 2002 – another CIA memo for Cheney, re Niger uranium, again dubious/skeptical about the item. THIS ONE HAS TO HAVE BEEN IN THE BRIEFING BINDER – RIGHT?
- Feb 19, 2002 – meeting convenes at CIA to discuss sending someone/Wilson to Niger to evaluate story re Iraq’s attempting to purchase yellowcake; notes taken at meeting by INR analyst. DID BRIEFING BOOK ITEM THIS?
- Feb 20, 2002 – Wilson is asked/offered the Niger trip and accepts.
- Feb 21, 2002 – Wilson leaves on the trip to Niger. NOBODY IN THE DAILY BRIEFING MENTIONS HIS LEAVING, OR HIS RETURN?
- “late February, 2002” – higher-level meeting between the US Ambassador to Niger, the President of Niger, the U.S. Deputy Commander-in-Chief, re the uranium item. BRIEFING?
- March 1, 2002 – INR produces a pamphlet, “Niger: Sale of Uranium to Iraq Unlikely.” DID CIA BRIEF CHENEY/LIBBY ON THIS? OR WERE THEY BOWING TO THE INEVITABLE ALREADY, BY THIS POINT, AND LEAVING IT OUT?
- March 4, 2002 – Wilson returns from his trip.
- March 5, 2002 – Wilson is debriefed on his trip by the CIA.
- May 8, 2002 – ANOTHER negative INR assessment of the Niger uranium threat.
- [March 11, 2002 – six-months’ anniversary of 9/11: administration and rightwing spin machine use the anniversary to push against Iraq, linking “Iraq” and “terrorism.”]
- March 25, 2002 – “third and final report on the Iraq-Niger uranium issue” by CIA Directorate of Operations.
It stands to reason that Cheney, among others, was briefed on all or most of the above items. This would be a full year before the White House pressured the nation into overt war in Iraq – proclaiming, publicly, all the while that war was only a last resort.
BTW, on March 24, 2002, Cheney appeared on Meet the Press, the voice of tempered assessment and gravitas vis-à-vis a viewing-with-alarm Tim Russert. Note the helpful forum provided by a major military contractor (GE, parent company of NBC), for this "interview", apparently designed to get Cheney to sound off on nukes. Note, as well, how much Russert comes off sounding like Jeff Gannon:
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I've read the article. It's a devastating article I thought. Specifically, its description of what happened in 1988 when Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against the Kurds in northern Iraq, against some his own people. I was aware that he had used chemical weapons against the Kurds. That's been general knowledge, but what the article is very good at is pointing it out in depth that he may have struck, if the article's correct, as many as 200 towns and villages over a 17-month period of time and killed upwards of 100,000 Iraqis.
What's even more depressing is the apparent medical legacy that's left of continuing increased rates of infertility, birth defects, rates of liver cancer among children, etc., as a result of these attacks. It demonstrates conclusively what a lot of us have said is, that this is a man who is a great danger to the region of the world, especially if he's able to acquire nuclear weapons.
With respect to the connections to al-Qaeda, we haven't been able to pin down any connection there. I read this report with interest after our interview last fall. We discovered, and it's since been public, the allegation that one of the lead hijackers, Mohamed Atta, had, in fact, met with Iraqi intelligence in Prague, but we've not been able yet from our perspective to nail down a close tie between the al-Qaeda organization and Saddam Hussein. We'll continue to look for it.
MR. RUSSERT: In this same article, August Hanning, the chief of the German BND, their CIA, says, quote, "Iraq will have the atomic bomb in three years." Do you agree with that assessment?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I'm reluctant to put that kind of time frame on it. I don't think we can be that precise, but we do know that he was working on it back in 1981 when the Israelis took out the Osirak reactor. We know he was working on it before the Gulf War. We know as a result of things we found after the Gulf War, as a result of defectors, for example, his own son-in-law came out in 1995 and talked about all of this, that he had an aggressive program throughout that period of time. And now, of course, for the last three years there've been no inspectors and there's good reason to believe that he continues to aggressively pursue the development of a nuclear weapon.
Now will he have one in a year, five years? I can't be that precise. I don't know enough to be able to put that kind of time frame on it. All I know is he's got enormous resources because of his oil wealth. There's nobody watching. He's had the technical expertise that he put together in the past to pursue this kind of a program and that he's one man out there who's not only acquired weapons, he's used them--chemical weapons against the Kurds and against the Iranians. I think it would be a great tragedy if Saddam Hussein were to be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons, and that's one of the concerns I shared as I traveled through the region last week.
MR. RUSSERT: Will we allow that to happen? Will we allow him to develop and acquire weapons of mass destruction?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: The president's been very clear that we will do everything we need to do to make certain that that doesn't happen.
No wonder the CIA Directorate of Operations issued its "third and final" Niger/uranium report the very next day.