1. When a president reads in a speech that he’s about to given that a hostile state is actively seeking to a acquire uranium, wouldn’t he normally ask questions like “Is this information reliable? Was Saddam successful? How worried should we be?”, and so forth. Since the Office of the Vice President, the CIA, the State Department, and the National Security Council all knew the information was bogus, it’s hard to see how top presidential advisors and the president himself could not also know. I suppose that if instead of asking about the reliability of the frightening allegation, the president simply said “Uranium from Africa? Neat,” then the president’s staff might not have asked the right people the right questions—and that’s also scary.
2. By what magical (or for that matter, constitutional) power is the CIA able to force the president to alter the State of the Union speech? The CIA has no domestic powers, other than the ability to give information and advice, not orders. The CIA told the speechwriters that there was no real basis to say that “Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger”; the speechwriters came back and said, “but the British said that they tried to do so.” The CIA apparently relented and said “it’s true that the British said that, but they were wrong”. Speechwriters: “But they said it.” Am I making this up? It’s hard to read the last paragraph of Tenet’s statement any other way:
Portions of the State of the Union speech draft came to the CIA for comment shortly before the speech was given. Various parts were shared with cognizant elements of the Agency for review. Although the documents related to the alleged Niger-Iraqi uranium deal had not yet been determined to be forgeries, [CIA] officials who were reviewing the draft remarks on uranium raised several concerns about the fragmentary nature of the intelligence with National Security Council colleagues. Some of the language was changed. From what we know now, Agency officials in the end concurred that the text in the speech was factually correct – i.e. that the British government report said that Iraq sought uranium from Africa. This should not have been the test for clearing a presidential address
The NSC, headed by Condoleeza Rice, is the agency with direct responsibility to the president for intelligence and security issues. It’s right there on their web page, which is a subpage of the the White House web page, www.whitehouse.gov/nsc:
The National Security Council is chaired by the President. Its regular attendees (both statutory and non-statutory) are the Vice President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of Defense, and the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is the statutory military advisor to the Council, and the Director of Central Intelligence is the intelligence advisor…The National Security Council is the President’s principal forum for considering national security and foreign policy matters with his senior national security advisors and cabinet officials.
The CIA advises the NSC, which is the President’s national security forum. Shifting the blame to the CIA, when the CIA told the NSC that the information was questionable, should not work. Now, if Rice issued a statement similar to Tenet’s, then she might make a legitimate scapegoat. Although she wouldn’t really be a scapegoat because, she has the direct responsibility for ensuring the accuracy of the president’s intelligence.