This NIE was apparently finished a year ago, and its basic parameters were almost certainly common knowledge in the White House well before that. This means that all the leaks, all the World War III stuff, all the blustering about the IAEA — all of it was approved for public consumption after Cheney/Bush/Rice/etc. knew perfectly well it was mostly baseless.
Why were the key judgments finally released? Cheney didn’t want them released, Bush surely didn’t want them released, and DNI Mike McConnell told Congress a few weeks ago that he didn’t want them released. So who did?
All I’ve got is speculation on the second question, but here it is: it was congressional pressure. Democratic members of the various intelligence committees saw the NIE (or a summary or a verbal report or something) and went ballistic. Footnotes and dissents are one thing, but withholding a report whose primary conclusion is 180 degrees contrary to years of administration innuendo produced a rebellion. Somebody who got briefed must have threatened something pretty serious if the NIE didn’t see the light of day.
Like I said, just a guess. But who else has the clout to force Bush, Cheney, and McConnell to change course?
By the way, Stephen Hadley will be on TV furiously providing the Bush administration’s spin on all this at 3:15 Eastern time. Should be good for some laughs.