Wednesday, March 07, 2007

What Libby-Gate Was All About

Joe Wilson Murdered
Cheney's Mythology

What I Didn't Find in Africa
New York Times (July 6, 2003)
by Joseph C. Wilson 4th

Did the Bush administration manipulate intelligence about Saddam Hussein's weapons programs to justify an invasion of Iraq?

Based on my experience with the administration in the months leading up to the war, I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.

For 23 years, from 1976 to 1998, I was a career foreign service officer and ambassador. In 1990, as chargé d'affaires in Baghdad, I was the last American diplomat to meet with Saddam Hussein. (I was also a forceful advocate for his removal from Kuwait.) After Iraq, I was President George H. W. Bush's ambassador to Gabon and São Tomé and Príncipe; under President Bill Clinton, I helped direct Africa policy for the National Security Council.

It was my experience in Africa that led me to play a small role in the effort to verify information about Africa's suspected link to Iraq's nonconventional weapons programs. Those news stories about that unnamed former envoy who went to Niger? That's me.

In February 2002, I was informed by officials at the Central Intelligence Agency that Vice President Dick Cheney's office had questions about a particular intelligence report. While I never saw the report, I was told that it referred to a memorandum of agreement that documented the sale of uranium yellowcake — a form of lightly processed ore — by Niger to Iraq in the late 1990's. The agency officials asked if I would travel to Niger to check out the story so they could provide a response to the vice president's office.

After consulting with the State Department's African Affairs Bureau (and through it with Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, the United States ambassador to Niger), I agreed to make the trip. The mission I undertook was discreet but by no means secret. While the C.I.A. paid my expenses (my time was offered pro bono), I made it abundantly clear to everyone I met that I was acting on behalf of the United States government.

In late February 2002, I arrived in Niger's capital, Niamey, where I had been a diplomat in the mid-70's and visited as a National Security Council official in the late 90's. The city was much as I remembered it. Seasonal winds had clogged the air with dust and sand. Through the haze, I could see camel caravans crossing the Niger River (over the John F. Kennedy bridge), the setting sun behind them. Most people had wrapped scarves around their faces to protect against the grit, leaving only their eyes visible.

The next morning, I met with Ambassador Owens-Kirkpatrick at the embassy. For reasons that are understandable, the embassy staff has always kept a close eye on Niger's uranium business. I was not surprised, then, when the ambassador told me that she knew about the allegations of uranium sales to Iraq — and that she felt she had already debunked them in her reports to Washington. Nevertheless, she and I agreed that my time would be best spent interviewing people who had been in government when the deal supposedly took place, which was before her arrival.

I spent the next eight days drinking sweet mint tea and meeting with dozens of people: current government officials, former government officials, people associated with the country's uranium business. It did not take long to conclude that it was highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever taken place.

Given the structure of the consortiums that operated the mines, it would be exceedingly difficult for Niger to transfer uranium to Iraq. Niger's uranium business consists of two mines, Somair and Cominak, which are run by French, Spanish, Japanese, German and Nigerian interests. If the government wanted to remove uranium from a mine, it would have to notify the consortium, which in turn is strictly monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Moreover, because the two mines are closely regulated, quasi-governmental entities, selling uranium would require the approval of the minister of mines, the prime minister and probably the president. In short, there's simply too much oversight over too small an industry for a sale to have transpired.

(As for the actual memorandum, I never saw it. But news accounts have pointed out that the documents had glaring errors — they were signed, for example, by officials who were no longer in government — and were probably forged. And then there's the fact that Niger formally denied the charges.)

Before I left Niger, I briefed the ambassador on my findings, which were consistent with her own. I also shared my conclusions with members of her staff. In early March, I arrived in Washington and promptly provided a detailed briefing to the C.I.A. I later shared my conclusions with the State Department African Affairs Bureau. There was nothing secret or earth-shattering in my report, just as there was nothing secret about my trip.

Though I did not file a written report, there should be at least four documents in United States government archives confirming my mission. The documents should include the ambassador's report of my debriefing in Niamey, a separate report written by the embassy staff, a C.I.A. report summing up my trip, and a specific answer from the agency to the office of the vice president (this may have been delivered orally). While I have not seen any of these reports, I have spent enough time in government to know that this is standard operating procedure.

I thought the Niger matter was settled and went back to my life. (I did take part in the Iraq debate, arguing that a strict containment regime backed by the threat of force was preferable to an invasion.) In September 2002, however, Niger re-emerged. The British government published a "white paper" asserting that Saddam Hussein and his unconventional arms posed an immediate danger. As evidence, the report cited Iraq's attempts to purchase uranium from an African country.

Then, in January, President Bush, citing the British dossier, repeated the charges about Iraqi efforts to buy uranium from Africa.

The next day, I reminded a friend at the State Department of my trip and suggested that if the president had been referring to Niger, then his conclusion was not borne out by the facts as I understood them. He replied that perhaps the president was speaking about one of the other three African countries that produce uranium: Gabon, South Africa or Namibia. At the time, I accepted the explanation. I didn't know that in December, a month before the president's address, the State Department had published a fact sheet that mentioned the Niger case.

Those are the facts surrounding my efforts. The vice president's office asked a serious question. I was asked to help formulate the answer. I did so, and I have every confidence that the answer I provided was circulated to the appropriate officials within our government.

The question now is how that answer was or was not used by our political leadership. If my information was deemed inaccurate, I understand (though I would be very interested to know why). If, however, the information was ignored because it did not fit certain preconceptions about Iraq, then a legitimate argument can be made that we went to war under false pretenses. (It's worth remembering that in his March "Meet the Press" appearance, Mr. Cheney said that Saddam Hussein was "trying once again to produce nuclear weapons.") At a minimum, Congress, which authorized the use of military force at the president's behest, should want to know if the assertions about Iraq were warranted.

I was convinced before the war that the threat of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Saddam Hussein required a vigorous and sustained international response to disarm him. Iraq possessed and had used chemical weapons; it had an active biological weapons program and quite possibly a nuclear research program — all of which were in violation of United Nations resolutions. Having encountered Mr. Hussein and his thugs in the run-up to the Persian Gulf war of 1991, I was only too aware of the dangers he posed.

But were these dangers the same ones the administration told us about? We have to find out. America's foreign policy depends on the sanctity of its information. For this reason, questioning the selective use of intelligence to justify the war in Iraq is neither idle sniping nor "revisionist history," as Mr. Bush has suggested. The act of war is the last option of a democracy, taken when there is a grave threat to our national security. More than 200 American soldiers have lost their lives in Iraq already. We have a duty to ensure that their sacrifice came for the right reasons.

Hell hath no fury like a warmonger scorned.

15 Moderated Comments:

Blogger Guthrum said...

Recommend this new UK based blogger

3/07/2007 12:42:00 PM  
Blogger Beach Bum said...

Its going to be interesting to see whether the Ferret will bow to neocon, as the National Review called for, pressure and pardon Scooter. Heard someone say on the radio that with Bush's poll numbers around 28-29 percent he has nothing to loose so he and Cheney's butts will be covered. And with appeals Bush can wait until his term is close to being over.

3/07/2007 05:18:00 PM  
Blogger Vigilante said...

Yeah, Beach. I Understand the NR's editorial contained a statement that Scooter and Shooter were due a national apology; difficult as that is to believe, I have not had an opportunity to check it out.

3/07/2007 06:33:00 PM  
Blogger Vigilante said...

Thanks, Guthrum. I looked into it: seems like you're inviting me into a whole new labyrinth of conspiracy, secrecy, and treason. I would have to be led through this by a personal guide. I have enough of this stuff on my side of the Atlantic.

3/07/2007 06:36:00 PM  
Blogger J.C. said...

Yes there is all the stupidity of Political hatemongering to do Vigilante. Your site does a good job of stirring up the riff-raff.

3/07/2007 08:45:00 PM  
Blogger Vigilante said...

Don't anyone reading this thread, fail to read Juan Cole's Libby's Lies, Cheney's Lies. It is the best treatment of the Bush-Cheney-Yellowcake mythology. (Complete with illustrations!)

3/08/2007 05:49:00 AM  
Blogger Kentucky Rain said...

Vigilante that is a great site. What an outstanding perspective. Thanks.

3/08/2007 11:53:00 AM  
Blogger Bill Gnade said...

Dear Vigilante,

I am shocked, really shocked, that you would find Juan Cole even remotely authoritative in this matter. The guy is a lightweight, utterly and completely. Sorry. I am, in fact, tempted to do a line by line refutation of the article to which you link, though I am not sure I have the energy.

What were the infamous 16 words that President Bush voiced in his 2003 SOTU address? Let me refresh readers' memories:

"The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

Notice several things that this passage asserts. First, it asserts that the BRITISH -- not the US -- government learned about Iraq's interest in uranium. Second, note that it says nothing about yellow-cake. And third, note that it says that Iraq merely SOUGHT: it does not say anything about succeeding, or even the viability of succeeding, in procuring uranium. In short, the passage is pretty vague, and even safe: there is no bold assertion.

Now note how Juan Cole represents it, and notice that he commits the fallacy of equivocation, of switching terms.

"Joe Wilson had not only served in Iraq, he also had been ambassador to the West African countries of Gabon and Sao Tome, and spoke fluent French. When Plame Wilson's [sic] superiors brought up the possibility of sending him as a private citizen to look into the plausibility of the report that Saddam had bought Nigerien uranium, she was consulted and agreed (she was not part of the decision loop).

"He went, and soon saw that the uranium industry in Niger was actually under the control of French companies and was strictly monitored.

"There was no possibility of corrupt Nigerien officials selling it off under the table.…

"Wilson was amazed when the Niger uranium story was put into Bush's State of the Union address."

Please note what Cole has done: he has argued that Wilson's trip proved that Iraq had not BOUGHT uranium from Niger. But he does not say that Wilson discovered the actual truth: Iraq had indeed SOUGHT uranium from Niger.

Cole's mistake is not accidental. It is malicious; it is treason against the truth. And the truth is this:

"Ironically, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who later called Bush’s 16 words a “lie”, supplied information that the Central Intelligence Agency took as confirmation that Iraq may indeed have been seeking uranium from Niger." [Quote from]

What Cole does not tell his readers is that BEFORE Wilson wrote his NYT op-ed, his report to the CIA confirmed that Iraq had indeed SOUGHT, not BOUGHT, uranium from Niger. And this fact of intelligence was confirmed later by a BI-partisan US Senate Intelligence Committee well after Wilson's op-ed hit the street.

The real fact that should have everyone upset is that Wilson himself lied about his own findings: he played the equivocation game, shifting words, using elastic definitions. It is really reprehensible.

How is it, too, that every credible pundit, pro and con, has pretty much conceded the argument that Ms. Plame was a covert operative at the time of her alleged outing? How is it that so few comment on the fact that Spec. Prosecutor Fitzgerald knew who revealed Ms. Plame's role in all this -- Richard Armitage -- before he ever interviewed Libby?

The whole thing is pure political theater at its most disgusting. It is a joke to those of us who care about truth, decency and fair play. I mean this in a totally non-partisan way: this all has NOTHING to do with truth, honor, or America's greatness: this has to do with smearing one's opponents, with Wilson smearing Bush, and Armitage striking back. It is all pure American political boilerplate, as common as death, for it is death.

There are dozens of decent sources of material on the nuances of this case; Cole's name belongs on none of them.

Irrespective of Mr. Novak's politicial leanings, readers should read his Wa-Po column from Thursday: his analysis is trenchant and intimate. The Washington Post, hardly pro-Bush and responsible for breaking some of the most difficult scandals for the Bushies, hammers Mr. Wilson in its editorial from Wednesday. The same paper commented in a September editorial called "End of an Affair" that:

"…it now appears that the person most responsible for the end of Ms. Plame's CIA career is Mr. Wilson. Mr. Wilson chose to go public with an explosive charge, claiming -- falsely, as it turned out -- that he had debunked reports of Iraqi uranium-shopping in Niger and that his report had circulated to senior administration officials. He ought to have expected that both those officials and journalists such as Mr. Novak would ask why a retired ambassador would have been sent on such a mission and that the answer would point to his wife. He diverted responsibility from himself and his false charges by claiming that President Bush's closest aides had engaged in an illegal conspiracy. It's unfortunate that so many people took him seriously."

That Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid misunderstood what happened in the Libby conviction -- as Novak reports above -- proves how blindly partisan people have become in all of this. That prosecutor Fitzgerald is returning to his "day job" after getting a conviction from jurors who think the president should pardon Libby, points to the vacuity of it all.

Peace and bliss,


3/10/2007 05:44:00 AM  
Blogger Blogging4Food said...

History is going to be oh-so more kinder to Juan Cole, Joe Wilson, Patrick Fitzgerald, than it will be to Dick Cheney. I so feel your pain even as I don't share it.

3/10/2007 06:52:00 AM  
Blogger Emily said...

I've heard that Valerie Plame has a subpoena to testify before a congressional committee next week.

3/10/2007 10:46:00 AM  
Blogger Vigilante said...

Bill Gnade, I congratulate you on a safe return from your recent skiing trip, successfully eluding those mischievous trees. I only wish you now could focus more of your attention on the forest here:

Bush and Cheney fixed and fabricated the intelligence to justify an unprovoked invasion of Iraq, unprecedented in the tradition of American foreign policy. (Long-time readers will recall your mythology of continuous state of war since Desert Storm; that we have fought out before.)

Joe Wilson (a) had been perfectly positioned, and (b) had the effrontery, to contest Bush and Cheney's grounds in a timely way. Cheney couldn't ruin Wilson's professional career. Frustrated, and wrongly believing Wilson had dealt a mortal blow to one of Bush's casus belli, the Vice-President struck back blindly and out at Wilson's wife, destroying her NOC status.

Everyone agrees that Shooter has thrown Scooter under the bus (temporarily - alas!) on this Plame Affair. But, as Patrick Fitzgerald observed, the cloud is over Cheney's head, not Wilson's. And Wilson's contribution to the smoke is a merely one charred stump in this still uncontrolled forest fire, universally acknowledged as the worse American foreign policy disaster in history.

Finally, I think you are showing your more flippant side here, in trying to swiftboat Juan Cole. Speaking for myself, I only wish I had half the gravitas of Professor Cole's. (Readers can further acquaint themselves with Cole's credentials, independently from his blog.) Non-parenthetically, I have to observe that, to date, you have not weighed in on the "lightweight" 7 March Informed Comments of Juan Cole.

3/10/2007 10:51:00 AM  
Blogger Bill Gnade said...

Dear Vigil,

You have got me. I am wrong. Juan Cole has impressive credentials (of course, I knew this); he has had an impressive career. But he is still quite wrong here, and he does, in fact, equivocate throughout his essay. Since he does this -- largely with impunity -- one MUST question his scholarship regarding what is a pretty straightforward matter. He is misrepresenting the facts here; and neither you nor anyone else has refuted my argument against Mr. Cole.

I have not engaged Mr. Cole directly; until this morning the thought never crossed my mind. I guess I never thought that I could; perhaps I subconsciously thought it would be futile. Who knows? Perhaps I will go battle him directly.

What you have posited here about Mr. Wilson is mere opinion, and I hope you know that. Not "everybody", as you claim, "agrees that Shooter has thrown Scooter under the bus." I, for one, don't KNOW that, nor does anyone else here. Everybody might SUSPECT that; but suspicion is not knowledge and it is often wrong. This sort of rhetoric represents the kind of epistemological over-reaching that so thoroughly benumbs the electorate: People saying such things as "we all know" when no one has such knowledge at all ruins discourse at all levels.

As you may know, I visited Coyote Angry per your invitation and left a comment. I share this because I must say I very much appreciate the candor of his reply. He admits freely that he is thinking of leaving all political partisanship behind because he is sick of the current state of affairs: both parties are full of deception and equivocation. I can honestly say that I feel the very same thing, perhaps with even greater intensity. Adding to my political agnosticism is the fact that no one has addressed the issues raised here by me -- by my referencing the WaPo and Mr. Novak -- but have instead chosen to regurgitate the leftist mantra (say it over and over until something happens) that Cheney has sacrificed Libby. But the proof, or so it seems to me, will be in the pudding, as they say: Wilson/Plame's civil lawsuit -- and attendant hearings to Libby's appeal -- will actually hurt the Cheney-Is-Evil crowd, for it will be shown just how much a "blowhard" (as the WaPo called him) Mr. Wilson actually is (and how empty his assertions have been). That Mr. Fitzgerald has gone home with no further interest in investigating this apparent high-crime is telling.

When I was in college in the early 1980's, I recall seeing frequent protests in the streets in and around Boston denouncing the CIA. It was always my leftist peers who hated that agency of State; and they were particularly agitated at the CIA for its grotesque involvement in Nicaragua. In short, my leftist friends HATED the CIA. But now my leftist friends LOVE the CIA; they love protecting its "covert operatives;" they love protecting the identities of agents like Valerie Plame. Curiously, however, the same leftists hate all those other CIA stooges that contradicted sacred covert operatives like Ms. Plame. My leftist peers LOVE Ms. Plame, and they love much of the intelligence the CIA gathered that contradicted the Bush-Cheney paradigm; but they've always, till 2003, hated the CIA. Why this grand inconsistency, and why this obsession with one agent's cover?

Alas, because it all fits in nicely with the PRE-supposition that Cheney is evil: it was evidence jammed into a different, leftist paradigm that was already pre-packaged: no matter what anyone says, Cheney is a liar, a deceiver, a crook and devil.

These inconsistencies are not lost on me; nor am I blind to the religiously-held, a priori convictions of those who hate all things Bush, all things Cheney. These men need not have EVER said a word, and yet they would have been declared garrulous.

(Like I am right now.)

But you might very well be right: Bush and Cheney did fudge the intelligence to suit their own agenda, which is exactly what their predecessors did (and what Al Gore, in a very different conflict, is doing right now). If you have not read my latest blog entry about remarks Scott Ritter made here in New Hampshire last week, you might want to so to better understand what I've been saying about culpability in the "War."

And if you would like to see my one and only analysis produced blogside in response to a Juan Cole comment, please read my essay When Spiders Bite written in 2005. You will see why I consider him a lightweight.

May peace come to you with a boat load of bliss,


PS. Honestly, thanks for recommending Coyote, and thanks for always being gentle and decent. I wish we could meet someday. Blessings!

Down with Daylight Saving Time!

3/11/2007 07:08:00 AM  
Blogger Vigilante said...

Attention to all, especially for the benefit of Wizard: Valerie Plame's testimony begins now! C-Span!

3/16/2007 07:33:00 AM  
Blogger Messenger said...

Yeah, Wizard! And you, too, Contratimes! Merry Fitz-mas and Happy Wax-mas!

3/16/2007 09:57:00 AM  
Blogger Non-Partisàn said...

Bill Maher's Take.

3/25/2007 01:02:00 AM  

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