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Plamegate: Weekly Standard Wurlitzer
Plamegate: Weekly Standard Wurlitzer
by BooMan23 [Subscribe]
Sat Oct 15, 2005 at 08:24:34 AM PDT
[front-paged at Booman Tribune]
Stephen F. Hayes has just published one of the most dishonest and misleading columns I have ever seen. It is ostensibly a comprehensive history of the Valerie Plame affair. In fact, it is a case study in the obfuscation and mendacity of the right-wing wurlitzer. It will undoubtedly become one of the most sourced resources of the wingnut blogosphere. So, let's take this mutha apart.
Before we do, I want to make a concession to Hayes. Proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Iraq did not procure uranium from Niger does not prove that Iraq did not attempt to procure uranium from Niger, or from other African nations. And, the real question before the intelligence community was trying to ascertain Iraqi intentions, as well as Iraqi capabilities. Okay. Let's move on.
BooMan23's diary :: ::
ON OCTOBER 15, 2001, the CIA received a report from a foreign government service that the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein had struck a deal with the government of Niger to purchase several tons of partially processed uranium, known as "yellowcake." The first report was met with some skepticism. The CIA found the substance of the report plausible but expressed concern about its sourcing. The State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) was more dubious. INR thought it unlikely that the government of Niger would take the substantial risks involved in doing illicit business with a rogue regime. INR analysts also expressed doubt that the transaction could have taken place because the uranium mines in Niger are controlled by a French consortium, which would be reluctant to work with Saddam Hussein--an objection that seems naive with the benefit of hindsight.
On October 18, 2001, the CIA published a Senior Executive Intelligence Bulletin that discussed the finding. "According to a foreign government service, Niger as of early this year planned to send several tons of uranium to Iraq under an agreement concluded late last year." The report noted the sourcing: "There is no corroboration from other sources that such an agreement was reached or that uranium was transferred."
Now we know more about this October 15th report from a 'foreign intelligence service':
On the morning of Jan. 2, 2001, Italian police discovered that the Niger Embassy in Rome had been ransacked. Not much was reported missing - only a watch and two bottles of perfume - but someone had apparently rifled through embassy papers, leaving them strewn about the floor.
Some months after the break-in, the Italian intelligence service - the SISME - obtained a stack of official-looking documents from an African diplomat. Signed by officials of the government of Niger, the papers revealed what purported to be a deal with the Devil. Agents of Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein, it appeared, were angling to purchase from the cash-starved, mineral-rich African nation some 500 tons of yellowcake, the pure uranium that can be used to build nuclear bombs. Excited by their intelligence coup, the Italians quickly notified the CIA and British intelligence. Newsweek
So, the documents the Italians received (and reported to the U.S. and Britain) were apparently forged on official stationary that was pilfered from the Niger Embassy in Rome back in January, 2001. The CIA was concerned about the source, and the State Department's INR was even more dubious.
How convincing were the forgeries?
A bombshell in the war on terrorism? More like an exploding cigar. The documents, a series of letters dated from July to October 2000, were actually crude forgeries. They referred to Niger agencies that no longer existed and bore the signature of a foreign minister who had not served in the post for more than a decade. Italian investigators, who only last week reopened the case, have theorized that the thieves who broke into the Niger Embassy had come looking for letterhead stationery and official seals that could be copied to create bogus documents.
It was the sort of flimsy scam that could have been exposed by a two-hour Google search (and eventually was).
Consider the facts so far. Who would be willing to take the risk of breaking into a foreign Embassy in order to steal letterhead and official seals, but would also be so incompetent as to sign the documents with a ministers name that had not held the position for over a decade? You guessed it...rogue unqualified contract agents, serving someone looking to frame Iraq. Who was interested in framing Iraq in early January 2001? Let's keep that in the back of our minds.
Several months later came a second report, dated February 5, 2002, also from a "foreign government service." It contained more details of the alleged transaction. An official from the CIA's directorate of operations said that the new information came from "a very credible source," and some of the reporting seemed to corroborate earlier accounts of meetings between Nigerien officials and Iraqis. The State Department's INR remained skeptical, judging that the Iraqis were unlikely to engage in such illicit trade because they were "bound to be caught."
Analysts at the Defense Intelligence Agency wrote a report using the new information entitled "Niamey signed an agreement to sell 500 tons of uranium a year to Baghdad." It was published internally on February 12, 2002, and included in the daily intelligence briefing prepared for Vice President Dick Cheney. Cheney asked his CIA briefer for more information, including the CIA's analysis of the report.
Hayes's account is misleading. The Senate intelligence report states:
On November 20, 2001, U.S. Embassy Niamey disseminated a cable on a recent meeting between the ambassador and the Director General of Niger's French-led consortium. The Director General said "there was no possibility" that the government of Niger had diverted any of the 3,000 tons of yellowcake produced in its two uranium mines.
( )Reporting on the uranium transaction did not surface again until February 5, 2002 when the CIA's DO issued a second intelligence report DELETED which again cited the source as a "[foreign] government service." Although not identified in the report, this source was also from the foreign service. The second report provided more details about the previously reported Iraq-Niger uranium agreement and provided what was said to be "verbatim text" of the accord.
It appears that the 2/5/02 report merely added a few details from the exact same report the Italian's had provided back in October, 2001. This wasn't a seperate source, although it may have been provided by a different SISMI official.
However, it was this 2/5/02 intelligence report that eventually made it into Cheney's daily briefing and caused him to ask for more information. Enter Joseph Wilson.
The promised CIA follow-up came quickly. That same day officials at the agency's Counterproliferation Division discussed how they might investigate further. An employee of the division, Valerie Wilson, suggested the agency send her husband, Joseph Wilson, a former U.S. ambassador to Gabon with experience in Niger, to Africa to make inquiries.
Once again, it is asserted that Valerie Plame 'suggested' her husband for the mission, despite the fact that both Valerie and Joe Wilson deny this. At the time the Wilsons had two newborn twins to care for. How likely is it that Valerie was eager to send her husband to Africa for eight days. And, as Larry Johnson points out, she could have suggested anything she wanted, she had no authority to authorize the trip:
19 February 2002: CIA managers in the Counter Proliferation Division convened a meeting of intelligence community analysts to meet with Ambassador Joe Wilson in response to the Vice President's request for more information. Ambassador Wilson's wife introduced her husband and left the meeting. She had neither the authority nor the means to hire her husband. This was a decision made by her supervisors.
When Hayes turns to the results of Wilson's trip he makes much of little.
Wilson was debriefed by two CIA officials at his home on March 5, 2002. He never filed a written report. The resulting CIA report was published and disseminated in the regular intelligence stream three days later. The report included the unsurprising declaration of former Nigerien prime minister Ibrahim Mayaki that Niger had signed no contracts with rogue states while he served first as foreign minister and then prime minister, from 1996 to 1999. But Mayaki added one tantalizing detail, also included in the CIA report that resulted from Wilson's trip. An Iraqi delegation had visited Niger in 1999 to explore "expanding commercial relations" between Iraq and Niger. Mayaki had met with the Iraqis and later concluded that their request for enhanced trade meant they wanted to discuss purchasing uranium. Mayaki said he had not pursued the matter because such deals were prohibited under U.N. sanctions.
Reactions to the report differed. The INR analyst believed Wilson's report supported his assessment that deals between Iraq and Niger were unlikely.
Mayaki confirmed what everyone else was saying: no diversion of uranium had occurred. But, he also allegedly concluded that the Iraqi delegation was interested in uranium. Mind you, he didn't say the Iraqis mentioned an interest in uranium, just that he made that assumption. Yet Hayes goes onto say:
On balance, then, Wilson's trip seemed to several analysts to make the original claims of an Iraq-Niger deal more plausible.
This is absolute nonsense. Wilson's trip was another brick in the wall that totally debunked the claim of a 'deal'. It could only be seen to bolster the case for Iraqi 'interest', and that only in the most marginal way.
And as for the reasoning that it might bolster the case for Iraqi 'interest', that is wrapped in outright implausible absurdities:
on October 1, 2002, the CIA...published the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraqi WMD, Iraq's Continuing Programs for Weapons of Mass Destruction. This classified document--the U.S. government's official position on Iraqi WMD programs--lifted almost verbatim the aggressive language used in the aforementioned DIA study, Iraq's Reemerging Nuclear Program, published just two weeks earlier: "Iraq [has been] vigorously trying to procure uranium ore and yellowcake; acquiring either would shorten the time Baghdad needs to produce nuclear weapons."
The National Intelligence Estimate continued: "A foreign government service reported that as of early 2001, Niger planned to send several tons of 'pure uranium' (probably yellowcake) to Iraq. As of early 2001, Iraq and Niger reportedly were still working out arrangements for this deal, which would be for up to 500 tons of yellowcake. We do not know the status of this arrangement." The NIE included a bullet point about other intelligence on Iraq's pursuit of uranium. "Reports indicate Iraq has also sought uranium ore from Somalia and possibly the Democratic Republic of the Congo." The INR objections to the Iraq-Niger intelligence were included but, because of an editing glitch, were placed some 60 pages away from the consensus view.
There is only one problem with this claim that Iraq was seeking uranium from Somalia and the Congo. They don't have any uranium to speak of (.pdf).
Africa produces about 20% of the world's uranium. Four African countries have exported uranium in recent years - Niger, Namibia, South Africa and Gabon.
Other countries - Zambia, Central African Republic and Botswana - are believed to have exploitable deposits. BBC
Are we beginning to see a pattern here? Only a total moron would claim the Iraqis were trying to obtain uranium from countries that have only trace amounts of it to sell. Only a jackass would forge documents using ministers that had been retired for over a decade. And only a fool would think our intelligence experts would fall for such nonsense for more than a few minutes. But if our intelligence agencies had been skeptical of the Niger claims from the beginning, they received confirmation that they were bogus on October 9th, 2002. As Hayes reports:
THEN THE STORY TOOK A BIZARRE TURN. That same day, October 9, an Italian journalist walked into the U.S. embassy in Rome and delivered a set of documents purportedly showing that Iraq had indeed purchased uranium from Niger. The embassy provided the documents to the State Department and the CIA. At State, an INR analyst almost instantly suspected the documents might be forgeries. Although several different CIA divisions received copies of the documents, the agency provided no immediate evaluation of them and did not identify them as likely fabrications.
In fact, the INR analyst noted in an email:
"you'll note that it bears a funky Emb. of Niger stamp (to make it look official, I guess)."
But Hayes goes on to further obfuscate the issue:
Two events in the fall of 2002 seemed to enhance the credibility of the initial reporting on an Iraq-Niger deal. First, a French diplomat told the State Department that his government had received additional, credible reporting on the transaction and had concluded that the earlier reports were true. A second report, this one from the U.S. Navy, suggested that uranium being transferred from Niger to Iraq had been discovered in a warehouse in Cotonou, Benin. Although that report indicated that the broker for the deal was willing to talk about it, he was never contacted by the CIA or military intelligence.
The same former SISMI officer that delivered the forged documents to the Italian journalist (who delivered them to the US Embassy), also gave them to French intelligence. The French immediatly discounted the documents, but this is almost certainly the source of the French diplomats information. In other words, it wasn't a seperate source and the French didn't put any credence in the source.
As for the report from the U.S. Navy, Hayes fails to note:
The DHS [Defense HUMINT Service] told Committee staff that because the DHS examined the warehouse on December 17, 2002 and saw only what appeared to be bales of cotton in the warehouse, they did not see a reason to contact the businessman.
In other words, Naval Intelligence debunked the story by visiting the warehouse. Hayes makes it sound like the story was never resolved and that it added to the case for a deal between Iraq and Niger. This is absolute horse manure.
In spite of all this evidence that the Niger documents were forged by people seeking to frame Iraq, that they were recognized as improbable and then as forgeries, Hayes sites the following as somehow exonerating:
On December 7, 2002, Iraq submitted to the United Nations an 11,000-page document on its weapons programs, as required by U.N. Resolution 1441. The CIA prepared the U.S. response to the Iraqi declaration. Among the scores of objections was the fact that Iraq had failed to account for its attempts to acquire uranium from Africa.
In the days leading up to the president's State of the Union speech, the Iraq-uranium-Africa claim was used repeatedly by senior U.S. officials. A January 23 speech by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz noted Iraq's failure to admit its effort to procure uranium from abroad; U.N. ambassador John Negroponte referenced it in a speech at the Security Council; the State Department included it in a fact sheet published on the department website; Secretary of State Colin Powell even used a generalized version of it in a January 26, 2003, speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland: "Why is Iraq still trying to procure uranium and the special equipment to transform it into material for nuclear weapons?"
What could be more clear than that the administration attempted to incriminate Iraq based on forgeries and impossible intelligence reports about uranium from Somalia and the Congo, that could only have been concocted by amateurs in the employ of some party that wanted the U.S. to invade Iraq. Either they were duped by the Iraqi National Congress, Israel, or they themselves were the source of the phony intelligence they insisted our intelligence agencies accept, despite it's prima facie ridiculousness.
Stephen Hayes tries to make excuses for the administration by selecting facts as they suit him. But no one could ever have proved that Iraq didn't want to purchase uranium. What they proved was that it was incredibly unlikely that Iraq had succeeded in purchasing uranium from Niger, and any fool would know that they didn't get it from the Congo or Somalia. Naval intelligence proved that no uranium was in the warehouse in Benin, and the French diplomat's tip was a worthless reiteration of intel we already had, that French intelligence deemed worthless, and that the INR pegged as forgeries the same day they got to look at them.
Let the right-wingers continue to obfuscate. Let Fitzgerald prosecute.