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With CIA Push, Movement to War Accelerated

Libby Outlines the U.S. Case

Tenet and McLaughlin made it clear they did not want to write a speech for a political appointee or an elected official. That would be crossing the line. They cleared speeches for facts. They also did not want to write a document that had any sales or marketing element. So the result was the driest, most clinical account, with footnotes specifying the sourcing. The text, 40 pages, was sent to the White House on Jan. 22, 2003, specifying that it was still highly classified.

The president was determined to hand the evidence over to experienced lawyers who could use it to make the best possible case. The document was given to Rice's deputy, Stephen J. Hadley (Yale Law '72) and Cheney's chief aide, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby (Columbia Law '75). They visited the CIA and posed a series of questions that the agency answered in writing.

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As far as Libby was concerned, the CIA had made the case that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and significant terrorist ties. The CIA had been collecting intelligence on Iraqi WMD for decades. There was no doubt where the agency stood: The October NIE had said Hussein had chemical and biological weapons, and Tenet had declared the case a slam dunk. Libby believed that the agency, which had the hard job of sifting and evaluating so much information, at times missed or overlooked potentially important material, intelligence that might not be definitive, but could add to the mosaic.

On Saturday, Jan. 25, Libby gave a lengthy presentation in the Situation Room to Rice, Hadley, Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage, Wolfowitz, White House communications director Dan Bartlett and speechwriter Michael Gerson. Though she had formally left the White House staff, Karen Hughes was there. White House political director Karl Rove was in and out of the meeting.

Holding a thick sheaf of paper, Libby outlined the latest version of the case against Hussein. He began with a long section on satellite, intercept and human intelligence showing the efforts at concealment and deception. Things were being dug up, moved and buried. No one knew for sure what it was precisely, but the locations and stealth fit the pattern of WMD concealment. He began each section with blunt conclusions -- Hussein had chemical and biological weapons, was producing and concealing them; his ties to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network were numerous and strong.

Libby said that Mohammed Atta, the leader of the Sept. 11 attacks, was believed to have met in Prague with an Iraqi intelligence officer and cited intelligence of as many as four meetings. The others knew the CIA had evidence of two meetings perhaps, and that there was no certainty about what Atta had been doing in Prague or whether he had met with the Iraqi official. Libby talked for about an hour.

Armitage was appalled at what he considered overreaching and hyperbole. Libby was drawing only the worst conclusions from fragments and silky threads.

On the other hand, Wolfowitz, who had been convinced years ago of Iraq's complicity in anti-American terrorism, thought Libby presented a strong case. He subscribed to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's notion that lack of evidence did not mean something did not exist.

The most important response came from Karen Hughes. As a communications exercise, she said, it didn't work. The sweeping conclusions at the head of each section were too much. The president, she said, wanted it to be like the old television series "Dragnet": "Just the facts." Let people draw their own conclusions.

So who then should present the public case? Rice and Hadley pondered that. The case would have to be made to the United Nations, so the chief diplomat, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, was the logical choice. Hadley believed there were additional reasons to choose Powell. First, to have maximum credibility, it would be best to go counter to type and everyone knew that Powell was soft on Iraq, that he was the one who didn't want to go. Second, Powell was conscious of his credibility, and his reputation. He would examine the intelligence carefully. Third, when Powell was prepared, he was very persuasive.

"I want you to do it," Bush told the secretary of state. "You have the credibility to do it." Powell was flattered to be asked to do what no one else could.

Mark Malseed contributed to this report.


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