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msnbc.com
updated 9/30/2003 7:21:34 AM ET 2003-09-30T11:21:34

The so-called 16 words about Iraqi efforts to secure weapons grade nuclear material in the State of the Union Address may turn out to be much more than a political liability or a source of international controversy. Somebody could wind up in jail. And at least one investigation of the White House could be underway within a month.

THERE ARE STILL continuing questions about the soundness of the original intelligence on the subject. “The absence of proof that chemical and biological weapons and their related development programs had been destroyed was considered proof that they continued to exist.” So reads part of a letter to CIA director, George Tenet, obtained by the “Washington Post,: set out over the signatures of House intelligence committee chair republican, Porter Goss and the ranking democrat, Jane Harman. It went on to criticize as “circumstantial and fragmentary intelligence” about Iraqi nukes and about alleged ties between Iraq and al Qaeda. Those quoted portions were only one of the focuses of the letter which dealt primarily with the shortage of CIA agents.

That by itself is an extraordinary irony.

There is apparently one fewer CIA agent or employee, because somebody revealed that person’s work for the CIA to a reporter-”blew the cover,” as the spy novel call it. That agent would be the wife of the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Joe Wilson.He was the man who blew the lid off the 16-word story, writing in the “New York Times” that he’d been sent by the administration to Africa to substantiate the claim that Iraq was seeking plutonium in Niger and he could not do so.

Weeks later, somebody was telling the columnist, Robert Novak, that his Wilson’s wife did undercover work for the CIA. Today’s “Washington Post” says that somebody was in the White House and that Novak was one of six journalists to whom they tried to leak the story. Problem? Blowing a spy’s cover is illegal.

And, this continues to unravel. Another finger pointed tonight, at the intelligence community by the Pentagon. The “New York Times” reporting an internal investigation there, doubts value of information provided by Iraqi defectors, describing it as “a lot of stuff that we already knew or thought we knew.” The informants were provided to American intelligence by the Iraqi National Congress, and its leader, Ahmed Chalabi. It was paid for, with more than $1 million in taxpayer funds, calling further into question the motivation of those informants and their information.

And, everybody may have been deceived. “Time” magazine reporting Saddam Hussein may have believed he had a program providing him weapons of mass destruction because his aides lied to him, told him that he did. Sources telling the magazine that almost all of Iraq’s biological and chemical weapons were destroyed in the 1990’s, but the scientists hoped to keep funding flowing, a source telling “Time” that the director of Iraq’s military industrialization commission would, “Tell the president he had invented a new missile for stealth bombers, but hadn’t so Saddam would say, make 20 missiles. He would make one and put the rest of the money in his pocket.”

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