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The Forgery Fiasco

American Progress Action Fund

Today, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is expected to end his long silence, possibly with the indictment of one or more administration officials. But even as one chapter of the scandal draws to a conclusion, a new one emerges. Reports in Italian newspapers have refocused attention on the origins of the poorly forged documents helped justify the 16 words from President Bush's 2003 State of the Union address that started it all: "The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." Condoleezza Rice said subsequently, "knowing what we now know, that some of the Niger documents were apparently forged, we wouldn't have put this in the President's speech." Emerging information casts doubt on Rice's portrayal of the administration as hapless bystanders. There are strong indications that senior administration officials and others with close ties to the White House had a far more direct roll in the peddling of false intelligence.

THE STEPHEN HADLEY CONNECTION: The forged documents originated with the Italian government. Nicolo Pollari, chief of Italy's military intelligence service, peddled tales of Iraq seeking Uranium from Niger to the CIA in 2001 and 2002 but his insistent overtures were consistently rebuffed. On Tuesday, an "exclusive report in La Repubblica reveal[ed] that Pollari met secretly in Washington on September 9, 2002, with then–Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley." (At the beginning of Bush's second term, Hadley was promoted to National Security Adviser.) The previously unreported meeting, which was confirmed in the AP this morning by National Security Counsel spokesman Frederick Jones, occurred at "a critical moment in the White House campaign to convince Congress and the American public that war in Iraq was necessary to prevent Saddam Hussein from developing nuclear weapons." A month later, "forged documents were cabled from the U.S. embassy in Rome to Washington after being delivered to embassy officials" by an Italian reporter.

CLASSIC NON-DENIAL DENIAL: National Security Counsel spokesman Fredrick Jones said that during the Hadley-Pollari meeting, "the subject of Iraq's supposed uranium deal with Niger is not believed to have come up." Jones described the meeting as "a courtesy call that lasted fewer than 15 minutes." He added, "no one present has any recollection of yellowcake being discussed."

HADLEY IGNORED REPEATED WARNING THAT THE INTELLIGENCE WAS FLAWED: Prior to the 2003 State of the Union, Hadley was warned three separate times by the CIA not to push the claim that Iraq sought to purchase uranium from Niger. On October 5, Hadley and speechwriter Michael Gerson received a memo from the CIA noting "that CIA had told the Congress about concerns about the British claim." Another CIA memo sent to Hadley the next day warned that the Africa uranium story “was one of two issues where we differed with the British intelligence.


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