At a press briefing this morning, President Bush said he was told by his Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell “in August” that “we have some new information” regarding Iran’s nuclear program. But Bush asserted “he didn’t tell me what the information was”:
BUSH: I was made aware of the NIE last week. In August, I think it was John — 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.
Later, when a reporter followed-up on this statement, Bush asserted no one ever told him to stop ratcheting up the rhetoric against Iran:
REPORTER: Are you saying at no point while the rhetoric was escalating, as World War III was making it into conversation — at no point, nobody from your intelligence team or your administration was saying, Maybe you want to back it down a little bit?
BUSH: No — I’ve never — nobody ever told me that.
Yesterday, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said, “when 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.” Later in the briefing, Hadley reversed course and said, “In terms of stand down, they did not tell the President to stand down and stop talking about Iran’s nuclear program.”
White House officials are obfuscating on what they knew and when they knew it because the answer has the potential of further damaging the credibility of what they have asserted about Iran in the past few months. As ThinkProgress has noted, while the intelligence community was processing new information that Iran was “less determined to develop nuclear weapons,” President Bush was specifically warning that Iran was trying to “build a nuclear weapon.”
To recap: At the same time Bush was ratcheting up the rhetoric on Iran, he was told by his National Intelligence Director that that have “some new information.” Yet Bush wants the public to believe he never learned what the information was, nor was he interested.
UPDATE: The Washington Post reports this morning that “intelligence officials began briefing senior members of the Bush administration” about the new information “beginning in July.” But apparently, Bush was left completely in the dark until last Tuesday.
The BBC reports:
[T]he new NIE will make it harder for proponents of military action against Iran to argue their case.
One source, who has close links to US intelligence, said that members of Vice President Dick Cheney’s staff continued to call for military strikes against Iran “on a daily basis”.
Atrios adds: “It must be understood that since our intelligence agencies don’t believe Iran has a nuclear weapons program, it also means that they don’t know where such a program would be physically located if it did exist. This means that any desires of Dick Cheney and his people to bomb Iran simply involve… bombing the shit out of Iran.”