Government Can't Get Its Story Straight On Iran NIE

| Wed Dec. 5, 2007 7:23 PM EST

George Bush, yesterday:

DAVID GREGORY: When it came to Iran, you said in October, on October 17th, you warned about the prospect of World War III, when months before you made that statement, this intelligence about them suspending their weapons program back in '03 had already come to light to this administration. So can't you be accused of hyping this threat? And don't you worry that that undermines U.S. credibility?

THE PRESIDENT: ...I was made aware of the NIE last week. In August, I think it was Mike McConnell came in and said, we have some new information. He didn't tell me what the information was; he did tell me it was going to take a while to analyze...it wasn't until last week that I was briefed on the NIE that is now public.

National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley claimed much the same thing on Monday:

[W]hen the President was told that we had some additional information, he was basically told: stand down; needs to be evaluated; we'll come to you and tell you what we think it means. So this was basically -- as we said, this is information that came in the last few months, and the intelligence community spent a lot time to get on top of it.

As implausible as this seems, the Los Angeles Times reports that, according to "U.S. intelligence officials," Bush was telling the truth:

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The new intelligence was considered compelling enough to call it to Bush's attention in August. In a news conference at the White House on Tuesday, Bush said that the nation's intelligence director, J. Michael McConnell, "came in and said, 'We have some new information.' "Bush said that McConnell did not provide details...The decision to hold those details back has come under question...But U.S. intelligence officials said they felt compelled to employ that level of caution in part because of the searing experience surrounding the war in Iraq."Back in 2002, one of the knocks on the process at the time was that information was not vetted by analysts and was being rushed into the Oval Office," said the senior U.S. intelligence official...This time, even as they vetted the new intelligence and launched into major revisions of the estimate on Iran's nuclear program, intelligence officials said, they deliberately shielded analysts from administration officials and policymakers.

Yet this claim they were just working away without giving the Bush administration any hint of what they were up to is directly contradicted by a Washington Post story yesterday:

Senior officials said the latest conclusions grew out of a stream of information, beginning with a set of Iranian drawings obtained in 2004 and ending with the intercepted calls between Iranian military commanders, that steadily chipped away at the earlier assessment.In one intercept, a senior Iranian military official was specifically overheard complaining that the nuclear program had been shuttered years earlier, according to a source familiar with the intelligence. The intercept was one of more than 1,000 pieces of information cited in footnotes to the 150-page classified version of the document, an official said.Several of those involved in preparing the new assessment said that when intelligence officials began briefing senior members of the Bush administration on the intercepts, beginning in July, the policymakers expressed skepticism. Several of the president's top advisers suggested the intercepts were part of a clever Iranian deception campaign, the officials said.

So..."senior members of the Bush administration" including the "president's top advisers" were briefed "beginning in July" on the nitty-gritty of the new information, and they made specific criticisms of it. Yet the Bush administration had no idea what was going on until last week. You bet.

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