Appearing on MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, former CIA Director R. James Woolsey repeated the false assertion -- which conservatives in the media have made and which Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice embraced during a previous interview with Matthews -- that the word "fixed," as used in the Downing Street memo, means something other than "cooking the books" in British parlance.
The memo, first published on May 1, contains the recorded minutes of a July 23, 2002, meeting of senior British cabinet officials and advisers. The memo reports that British intelligence chief Richard Dearlove stated, based on meetings with U.S. officials in Washington, that President Bush was determined even then to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq "through military action" and that "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."
When Hardball guest host David Gregory asked Woolsey about this line, Woolsey stated: "I think that's not what 'fixing' means in these circumstances. I think people are not listening to British usage. I don't think they're talking about cooking the books." But British sources have said that "British usage" conforms exactly to the interpretation Woolsey tried to reject:
- British Sunday Times reporter Michael Smith, the reporter who first disclosed the memo on May 1, ridiculed the notion that "fixed" has a different meaning in Britain in a Washington Post online chat: "There are number of people asking about fixed and its meaning. This is a real joke. I do not know anyone in the U.K. who took it to mean anything other than fixed as in fixed a race, fixed an election, fixed the intelligence. If you fix something, you make it the way you want it."
- A British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) documentary in March quoted the Downing Street memo more than a month before the Sunday Times published it. BBC reporter John Ware explained: "By 'fixed' the MI6 chief meant that the Americans were trawling for evidence to reinforce their claim that Saddam was a threat."
- When the Sunday Times first disclosed the memo on May 1, it noted the Bush administration's attempt "to link Saddam to the 9/11 attacks" as an example of "fixing" the intelligence around the policy: "The Americans had been trying to link Saddam to the 9/11 attacks; but the British knew the evidence was flimsy or non-existent. Dearlove warned the meeting that 'the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.' "
- David Hughes, political editor of London's Daily Mail, argued in a May 2 column that the meeting detailed in the Downing Street memo "led inexorably to the publication of the 'sexed-up' Iraq weapons dossier two months later," referring to a now-famous 2003 report by BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan alleging that a British dossier on Iraq had been "sexed up" to hype the Iraqi threat.
From a panel discussion with Gregory, Woolsey and David Kay, the former top U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq, on the June 20 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:
GREGORY: James Woolsey, is not the issue here, when we talk about fixing the intelligence to meet the policy, that the case, as the memo asserts, was thin on Saddam Hussein and whether he possessed chemical, biological, even nuclear weapons?
WOOLSEY: I think that's not what fixing means in these circumstances. I think people are not listening to British usage. I don't think they're talking about cooking the books.
I do think that there seemed a lot of indications at the time that there were chemical and bacteriological, at least, agent in Iraq. And, indeed, one of the fascinating things in David's report was that captured Iraqi generals after the war were each saying, you know, my unit didn't have chemical weapons, but the unit to my right and unit to my left I know did.
We call that red-on-red cover and description. Saddam apparently was deceiving some of his own generals. So, you know, I think people ought to back off a bit on this notion that we knew exactly what the situation was and the books were being cooked. I don't think there is really any basis for that kind of allegation.