Condi Rice is the latest administration official to dissemble and conceal in answering a question about when she and other top officials -- including Bush -- knew about the dramatic new intelligence about Iran's having dropped all its covert work on nuclear weapons in 2003. She refused to answer a direct question on that subject at her Friday press conference, thus making her part of the Bush administration cover-up on that issue.
Bush was caught in a lie when he claimed he wasn't told by Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell last August about new information indicating Iran had stopped all work relating to nuclear weapons in 2003. As I reported last week , however, the cover-up went far beyond that lie. In fact, there is evidence that Bush was informed as early as February that the intelligence community had obtained information from an Iranian defector on the crucial change in nuclear policy, and that the intelligence analysts were already working furiously to corroborate it in April.
Now comes Rice to help conceal the truth. At her press conference on December 21, a reporter asked Rice, "[W]hen was the first time that you were presented with the notion that the Iranians might have suspended or halted the weaponization program?" Her answer -- "Well, I can't give you an exact date" -- was an obvious evasion of the question, and the questioner realized it and began to press for a real answer, saying "I didn't ask you --", before being cut off by Rice.
"No, no," said Rice, in a deliberate effort to head off an even more pointed question, and then immediately changed the subject. "Look, not very long before the release of that NIE, the National Security principals were briefed on the NIE. And I mean a matter of, I think, days, not very long at all."
Rice went on to refer generally to the intelligence that obviously came well before that briefing, while remaining carefully ambiguous about when it was shared with top officials. That part of her answer is a masterpiece of obfuscation:
"And so the intelligence community had let it be known that they had some interesting new leads about what might have happened in the Iranian nuclear program on the weaponization side." And I want to just emphasize this was about weaponization, not about the enrichment and reprocessing and not about the missile program, but that they had some interesting new leads, but that those leads needed to be pursued, followed up, they wanted to do a careful analysis, and then when that careful analysis was done, it was presented to the National Security principals. That wasn't very long before the NIE was made public."
Unfortunately, reporters did not press her to clarify just when she and other key officials -- including Bush -- were told about the "interesting new leads." They moved on to another subject.
Rice's stonewalling on when the new intelligence was provided by McConnell to key administration officials continued a pattern that began with National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley's briefing on the NIE on December 3. Hadley was asked, "So, was it recent weeks that this intelligence came in?" Hadley answered, "What the intelligence community has said is in the last few months".
That answer was aimed at muddying the waters. Referring to "the last few months" could mean anything from two or three months to ten months. Then a reporter followed up and the following exchange occurred:
Reporter: Steve, when was the first time the president was given the inkling of something? I'm not clear on this. Was this months ago, when the first information started to become available to intelligence agencies?
Hadley: You ought to go back to the intelligence community. We will get you an answer on that. There's two questions: one, when did they first get the information? -- you ought to ask that to them -- two, when was the president notified that there was new information available? We'll try and get you a precise answer. As I say, it was, in my recollection, is in the last few months. Whether that is October -- August, September, we'll try and get you an answer to that.
By suggesting that he didn't know when the intelligence community had first obtained new information or when Bush was first notified, Hadley was again deliberately misleading the press. The fact is that the National Security Adviser receives the same Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) -- the summary of the most important intelligence gathered overnight by the Central Intelligence Agency -- that is provided to the president each morning, as confirmed to me by Ray McGovern, who was a CIA analyst for 26 years and personally provided the PDB to President Richard Nixon.
The reason for all this stonewalling is that the Bush administration's deception of the American people and rest of the world by employing rhetoric about nuclear threat from Iran despite the knowledge that Iran had turned in a different direction four years began long before August. It was not only Cheney and Bush who carried out a charade over the alleged Iranian threat, but Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates as well. They wanted to be able to exploit the idea of an Iranian nuclear threat for as long as possible in order to get the Europeans, the Russians and the Chinese to support Security Council resolutions against Iran.
There is a deeper story behind the cover-up of when they knew about the Iran intelligence. When that cover-up is finally unraveled, we will understand far more clearly what the Bush administration has been up to in regard to Iran since early 2007. That unraveling should happen as soon as possible.