15th February 19:09
Shades of Watergate
Commentary: Shades of Watergate?
By NICHOLAS M. HORROCK, UPI Chief White House Correspondent
WASHINGTON, July 14 (UPI) -- The late President Richard M. Nixon could give
President George W. Bush some advice: it is very dangerous to get the
Central Intelligence Agency to take the fall for you.
Nixon wanted CIA Director Richard Helms to thwart the FBI's probe of the
Watergate burglary by saying it was a CIA operation. Helms, whose history
would show wasn't adverse to misleading Congress on some things, balked at
shielding the White House in a political crime and Nixon banished him to an
ambassadorship in Iran.
Nixon had already been pushing the CIA to the edge of its charter to get
information about his domestic political opponents.
What Nixon didn't understand was that CIA professionals might lie to
Congress to protect operations in the field, to protect the lives of U.S.
intelligence officers or the agents they recruited around the world, but
they were not likely to lie to protect a political burglary by Nixon's
Helms mislead Sen. Frank Church's Senate Intelligence Committee about
assassination plots against Fidel Castro and CIA involvement in the
overthrow of Chilean President Salvador Allende Gossens in 1973. He later
pleaded guilty to two charges of perjury, was fined $2,000 and given a
suspended 2-year prison sentence.
But the line Helms drew about what lies he would tell and the ones he would
not, was the same line drawn in the House of Representatives impeachment of
Nixon. They construed misusing the CIA and other government agencies for
political purposes abuse of power and, had not Nixon resigned, the president
would have been tried on that among other charges.
The imbroglio over the spurious report that Iraq was obtaining uranium in
Africa hasn't reached impeachment proportions. But Bush's assertion Saturday
that the matter is closed seems as unlikely to stem the tide as his
announcement on May 1 that the active portion of the Iraq campaign is over.
It is not whether Saddam Hussein attempted to purchase uranium in Niger that
is driving this. It is the inescapable fact that nearly four months after
U.S. forces entered Iraq, they have failed to find evidence of a nuclear
weapons program or a biological weapons cache. The justification for a war
that has cost 200 American lives and some 1,000 wounded is now in doubt.
Had U.S. forces found ready-to-fire weapons of mass destruction, Bush's
persistence in waging an attack before U.N. support would have been
vindicated. But the absence of those weapons gives credence to charge of his
opponents here and abroad that the haste to launch the war on March 19 was
to distract the American people from the disintegrating economy and the
other shortfalls of Bush's presidency.
The Iraq debate helped the Republicans win an extraordinary off-year
election last November and certainly Bush's political guru Karl Rove
recognized that deposing Saddam would be a nice platform for 2004. But Rove
also knew that if the fighting and the dying and the long deployments of
thousands of reservists went on too close to November 2004, the pluses for
Bush turned into minuses. Get in, get out by May 1, was undoubtedly the
political order of the day.
That Saddam had a nuclear capability was important to Bush as he prepped
Americans for war in Iraq. The persistence questions last winter were why us
and why now? Canisters of anthrax would not do as a world threat. It is an
easy weapon for anyone to make and hard to deliver and deploy.
If Bush could establish that Iraq was heading fast to becoming a nuclear
power with a missile delivery system, it would justify that that the United
States' national interest and the world's interest was served in hastily
removing this danger.
This brings us around to the issue of uranium from Africa and the nature of
a State of the Union address. The CIA had a report that Saddam was trying to
buy 550 tons of enriched uranium from Niger. It sent a prominent U.S.
diplomat with experience in Niger to find out. He reported that Niger
leaders said there was no such contact with Iraq. Doubt was cast on the
legitimacy of the original tip, perhaps it was "disinformation" from
opponents of Saddam.
Every report of Saddam's nuclear ambition would have been studied and
studied carefully in those months. It is hard to believe that Condoleezza
Rice's National Security Council was not all over that piece of information,
following it from inception to inclusion in the speech.
Rice claims it remained in the January address because George Tenet's CIA
missed warning the White House that they thought the line was dubious. But
both The New York Times and the Washington Post quote unnamed intelligence
officials as saying that Tenet managed to get a reference to the Niger
uranium sale pulled out of a Bush address in Cincinnati last October.
Secretary of State Colin Powell also omitted the reference in his testimony
before the United Nations.
The warning President Nixon could give this president is that small
contradictions unravel big ones.
Copyright 2003 by United Press International.
All rights reserved.
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"If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier, just so
long as I'm the dictator." - GW Bush 12/18/2000.
"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that
we are to stand by the president right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic
and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public."
---George W. Bush on the Brink of Declaring War on Iraq.