As questions about pre-war intelligence on Iraq continue to roil Washington, a senior bureaucrat at the Fish & Wildlife Service has admitted responsibility for President' Bush's statements on Iraq and uranium purchases in the State of the Union Address.
Gary Frazer, the Fish & Wildlife Service's Assistant Director for Endangered Species, is the latest in a long line of Beltway insiders to come forward and take the blame for intelligence lapses - lapses that many believe led President Bush to overstate his case as to the risk posed by Saddam Hussein.
"The raw data files on Iraq came in at about the same time as the files on the endangered San Francisco garter snake,' Frazer stated, 'and I missed an opportunity to alert the president. I think I may have confused the phrases "endangered" and "habitat destruction" with "danger" and "weapons of mass destruction" at some point." Frazer's difficulties in making the vital intelligence call may have been made worse by his daughter Abby spilling a soft drink on critical pages of information during a working weekend at home, resulting in smudged, hard-to-read data.
Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, expressed skepticism on what some are already calling the "Pepsi Defense". "Not only do I find it hard to believe that key intelligence documents were rendered illegible by a spilled soft drink, I also find it hard to believe that the Fish & Wildlife Service would have had any - any - responsibility for the president's national security policy. What about the president and senior national security advisors and their responsibilities?"
But House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) was quick to respond to Leahy's criticism. "We know that President Bush wants input from as many people as possible before he makes the tough decisions that God has chosen him to make. Though mistakes were made in this instance, I cannot understand why anyone would deride Mr. Frazer's outstanding analytical ability, and I find Senator Leahy's stance disingenuous, unpatriotic and downright un-American."
The White House has said repeatedly that no retribution would be taken in response to what it termed "Mr. Frazer's failures." Press Secretary Scott McClellan described Frazer's impending transfer to a marsh reclamation project in Pembina, North Dakota as "normal transfer procedure, and something Mr. Frazer had himself requested, given his interests in marshes, wetlands and little slimy bugs and things that crawl around in them." Senior Fish & Wildlife administrators were unavailable for comment on the transfer request.
Frazer's confession of responsibility for questionable data in the president's speech follows confessions of responsibility by Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta; Dr. Julie Gerberding, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; United States Parole Commissioner Cranston J. Mitchell; Dr. James Melius, Chair of the Board of Scientific Counselors for the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry at the Department of Health & Human Services; Nereida W. Levine, currently serving as Director of Industry Operations for the New Orleans Field Office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; and singer and flamenco guitarist Charo.