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Friday, July 25, 2003
 
Somerby Update:

Today's Howler has the missing source of evidence I wondered about yesterday, as reported by the Post's David Ignatius:

IGNATIUS: [T]he British intelligence cited by the president was almost certainly based on reporting by the French government. French intelligence sources say that their spy service closely monitors Niger’s uranium production, and France is known to be the most accurate source of information about Niger.

The British focused partly on a report that an Iraqi trade delegation had visited Niger in 1999. Because 70 percent of Niger’s exports are uranium, and because Iraq had bought more than 500 tons of uranium from Niger in the 1980s, the British concluded that the Iraqis were considering renewed uranium purchases. This view was reinforced by additional, post-1999 intelligence, which also almost certainly came from France. The British didn’t tell the United States, because sharing such sensitive information with a third country is an intelligence no-no.

Finally, neither the British dossier nor Bush’s reference to it had anything to do with documents that surfaced last year alleging that the Iraqis had actually purchased uranium from Niger. They were later branded “crude forgeries” by International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors, who were given a copy by the United States. The British were unaware of the documents when they prepared the September dossier and learned of them only after the president’s State of the Union speech.
Now there is a plausible rationale for the SOTU's famous 16 words. Other questions remain:

1) If the British saw fit to tell the White House they had reliable intelligence that Iraq was fishing for uranium in Africa, why didn't the CIA know about it? Tenet lobbied successfully to keep the subject out of Bush's Cincinnati speech, and unsuccessfully to keep it out of the SOTU. The CIA either didn't find the British information credible or wasn't aware of it at all. Why didn't the State Department know about it? Despite apparently having been pressed to include the allegation in his speech to the UN, Colin Powell refused, reportedly referring to the claim as "bullshit."

2) The claim was removed from the Cincinnati speech, possibly because the administration was not yet aware of the additional British intelligence, and included in the SOTU as a result of receiving it. If this proposed timeline is correct, why did Bush's Cincinnati speechwriters put it in the speech in the first place? Was it on the basis of the "dodgy dossier?" If the timeline is correct, there were some in the administration who were willing to press the issue on the basis of "obvious forgeries." While that doesn't rise to the level of presidential lying in a constitutionally mandated address to the American people in the interest of promoting an unprovoked invasion, it does show brazen mendacity on the part of those upon whom we rely to do Bush's thinking for him.

3) Why did we give the phony Iraq report to the IAEA?

4) What of Joseph Wilson and his trip to Niger to check out the story? Wilson is probably the closest thing in this country to the horse's mouth where Niger is concerned, and he concluded that it was "highly doubtful" that Iraq had been able to get any uranium from there. Given the tight control over Niger's uranium exports, however much Saddam might have wanted to get his hands on some of their yellowcake, he wasn't going to be able to, and it's certain that every relevant intelligence agency in the U.S. knew it. It's like me looking into buying a blue whale--you can insinuate all you want about my motives, but at the end of the day, we both know I won't get one.

I'm sure Hussein would have liked to invade and conquer the U.S. himself. But the issue was not about what he would have liked. It was about whether or not he presented a credible threat to the United States. Putative existence of evidence of a 1999 Iraqi trade mission to Niger, even if it included proof that inquiries about uranium were made, would have no material effect on Iraq's ability to threaten us. Pointing to it in the context of building a case that Iraq was a danger to us, although not specifically a lie, was blatantly deceptive.