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November 01, 2005

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[NOTE: I added an update to this post in Sec. 3.1 soon after it was first posted. This post was last updated on 4/16/06 with additional information.] Late last year, Michael Smith of the London Times - also known for... [Read More]

» Uranium from Africa and the Niger forgeries: More on the Alleged French Connection, Part 1 from The Left Coaster
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Comments

I'm pretty familiar with this stuff, but I sometimes trip over acronyms. It took me ten minutes of going back and forth to realize that SSCI was not a subcommittee or task force within the CIA, and then I put it together -- Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

It may be that you feel your audience is primarily a narrow group of insiders and other very interested parties, but to the degree you want a larger audience (and I'm pretty well read and knowledgeable observer), it would be helpful if you'd clarify terms sometimes, and use the international standard of identifying acronyms, perhaps also providing titles for people more often.

Or maybe there should be a Nigergate FAQ somewhere on the site, easily referenced.

Just a thought. I love what you're doing, so by no means am I disparaging. Just trying to make a tiny bit more useful for some of us.

Wilson

Fair request. I'll try to put together a glossary.

EW, you've really gone over this carefully, haven't you? You should write a book.

Another possible explanation for this is that there were so many multiple games of telephone going on, and everyone is trying to slant the information to serve their perspective, parties got a little confused and misspoke.

if it is worth the time, could you connect some of the individuals/events mentioned in your "alan foley" column with those mentioned in this column (i know i should say "post", but visually it comes to me as a column)..


i am not much interested in john bolton, but am very interested in the possiblity of ferreting out the groups (cliques ) in the cia, ovp, ands sneate that opposed either of the wilson's views and/or misrepresented j. wilson's charge from and/or report to the CIA or the substance of his appearance before SSCI..

EW: A nod to Wilson. I really want to follow this and you are amazing. Anything you can do to help us would be appreciated. Thank you for your dedication.

EW,

Nice post, as always. One point of clarification.

>> "This is important because, while CIA hadn't yet received anything with names that could be verified, they did on March 25, just a few weeks after Wilson's return."

Actually the CIA *did* receive information with specific names, prior to Wilson's trip. They got the name Mamadou Tandja (Nigerien President) in the first intel report in Oct 2001 (see my post today). They also got the name Nassirou Sabo (Nigerien Minister of Foreign Affairs) in the same report in Oct 2001. I will discuss that name in my post tomorrow because it is again, enormously significant.

Also, if you take the Mayaki narrative step by step you will see that it made no logical sense whatsoever. I find it implausible that the CIA could have believed it if they had sat down for 5 minutes and reflected on the implication of Mayaki's alleged claim. No surprise then that Mayaki later denied he said it.

More on that here (shorter form):
http://www.theleftcoaster.com/archives/005837.php

and here (more detailed post):
http://www.theleftcoaster.com/archives/004982.php

EW - Absolutely brilliant, as always. What do you make of the detailed account Wilson provided Democracy Now's Amy Goodman on Tuesday, September 16th, 2003?

AMY GOODMAN: …[The Vice President] also said [on Meet the Press 9/14/2003] that he didn't know who had sent you, raising questions about the whole legitimacy of your mission to Niger.

JOSEPH WILSON: I heard that. I don't know what the Vice President was trying to get at in that. I'm not sure that he answered that series of questions particularly well. Let me make one point, however, that the gist of my trip out to Niger was to look into whether or not such a transaction could happen. What I looked into was not forged documents, as I had not seen the documents. I had been given an oral briefing on what they contained. I looked into how the business is structured, and how the bureaucracy would cover such an agreement, which would have been a legitimate, if discrete, sale from one sovereign government to another. I looked how the bureaucracy covering that sale worked how the documents would have been prepared. When I returned, I said that both from an industry perspective, because of the nature of the business, and from a government decision-making perspective, it was highly unlikely that such a sale had taken place. If it had taken place, or if the documents that covered this sale, that these documents we presumably had, or had seen, did not contain certain signatures, then those documents could not be authentic.

EW--

The very same questions I've been pondering today. Thanks for clearing all that up, really wonderful stuff.

A couple of things to ponder:

1) Could Wilson have misunderstood his specific task? If, as you say, CPD was treating him as a "source" and not an operative and not disclosing certain classified info to him, might he had thought in his mind, oh this is about Iraq, when in reality the CIA just said "rouge states"? Or, alternatively, might the trip really have been about "rogue states" from the get-go, and it was only after the 16 words that Wilson realized that this was really about Iraq? Or maybe Valerie saw the report later and realized that it had left key info out and alerted Joe to this discrepancy? It certainly seems strange that there's this big stink made about what Wilson was actually tasked to do.

2) Any guesses as to the name of the DO reports officer is? When I was looking over the SSCI report today, I also honed in on those quotes from this person (as well as the fact that he had editorial control over Wilson's findings) and was wondering if he wasn't a Neocon plant who doctored up Wilson's report (and therefore also a possible leak source). Assuming that the DO reports officer and the CPD reports officer who apologized to Plame aren't the same person, this would make sense, since this DO reports officer allegedly wrote the reports on the Italian forgeries of the documents.

3)Oh, and then the obvious question, and forgive me if it's been discussed, but exactly how the hell did Libby and the OVP know the "contact with excellent access but no established reporting record" (a vague description if ever there was one) was Joe Wilson? Especially since the CIA assured him they would go to great pains to keep his identity secret? And furthermore, is this a prosecutable offense (obviously not under IIPA, but maybe Espionage?)?

Great work as usual, man I wouldn't know half of what's going on without your stuff.

eRiposte

I agree the Mayaki story doesn't make sense if you read all the available information. But if you read the trip report, then, I gotta say, I actually believe the visit could be suspicious. Assuming the visit occurred in Niger (and was not a pan-African trade trip), then you'd also assume it was uranium they were after. As folks commented in your longer post (and I agreed with them the first time I read that post), Niger doesn't exactly have a whole lot to trade that Iraq would be interested in.

Which is why the earlier provenance is so important. I'm fairly certain the report didn't mention the meeting was in Algiers or that it took place at OAU. It's the CIA Report and not the whitewash of the SSCI (which I agree occurs elsewhere) that sustains this claim.

viget

There's no way Wilson misunderstood his mission, none. They specifically discussed the intelligence about Iraq. The reason they gave him rogue nation talking points, I'm sure, is to not lead the witnesses (note, they got info related to Iran, too). It is possible the reports officer misunderstood the trip, but not Wilson.

And I have no idea who that person is. I think it just as likely he was directed to write what he did as he is a neocon. I also think the differences in versions (Wilson says one person wrote the report, SSCI says two) is suspicious. Is it possible the case officer is the neocon and the reports officer is just a timid bureaucrat?

EW,

What Niger had to trade with Iraq was a red herring. The CIA and other agencies had previous reporting from 1999 about Wissam Al-Zahawie's trip to Niger to invite the leaders of their states to Iraq in an attempt to weaken sanctions. The very fact that the CIA did not find that trip credible evidence of uranium seeking (until it was dumped into the context of uranium using the forgeries) makes it clear that just because someone visited Niger from Iraq, it would not automatically mean that uranium would be the only reason. (Moreover, if Iraq's intent was to sell oil, that would be another reason for them to meet Nigeriens.)

Anyway, you are correct that the SSCI Report intentionally obscured the fact that the Mayaki meeting with an Iraqi delegation occurred in Algiers and not Niger. I mentioned this before and it is important because the SSCI report and the alleged CIA report makes the whole thing sound mysterious - as if it was describing a secret visit/trip that was not known previously. The fact is that the Butler Report specifically called out Algiers, and ruled out the possibility that that meeting had anything to do with uranium --- and the British were the ones who were refusing to back down from the uranium claim overall. You can see why, when you add that part to the body of knowledge, that the CIA's claim about the Mayaki meeting completely loses any credibility. I am quite convinced now that the details surrounding Wilson's report and the alleged Mayaki meeting were deliberately written up in the "international man of mystery" approach in the SSCI report to allow the Bush admin to make the claim that Wilson's trip supported their claim. If they had done a critical analysis of those claims they would have had to conclude that what Wilson brought back was not credible evidence for uranium seeking by Iraq.

EW,
I think you have amply shown that, in accounting for the discrepancies between Wilson's account of his conversation with Mayaki, and the account of the CIA report about Wilson's trip in the SSCI report, one very serious possibility is that the CIA report was stepped on by CIA management (cough, Medal-of-Freedom winner Tenet, cough).
But I think there is a simpler possible explanation (which is note entirely mutually exlcusive) that I'd like to get your thoughts on, and that is simply this: The Whitewash Committee Report was written to create a very misleading picture of the CIA report by making highly selective use of quotes from the CIA report of Wilson's trip in juxtaposition to overreaching interpretive paraphrases from the document (shocking hypothesis, I know). If you take just the direct quotes from the CIA report that appear in the SSCI report, you find nothing inconsistent with Wilson's trip. It is only the Whitewash Committee's paraphrasing between the direct quotations that introduces inconsistencies. The SSCI report says Mayaki said that he was approached by a businessman who wanted Mayaki to meet with an Iraqi delegation to talk about (here's the real quote) "expanding commercial relations." So far so good. The misleading part is the SSCI report's definitive statement that Mayaki understood this to mean yellowcake sales -- which could well be based on something in the report that resembles Wilson's description of Mayaki looking up for a while and speculating about that possibility. What seems to me to be going on here is a very selective use of the information that is in the report -- which may well track exactly what Wilson describes in his book -- i.e., that Mayaki (likely prompted by a leading question from Wilson, and not just spontaneous) speculated that perhaps, in retrospect, that may be what Mayaki's interlocutor meant, but he wasn't sure. (Of course, the SSCI Report neglects to mention that this was idle speculation and was not based on any objective conduct or statements by the businessman or the Iraqi delegation.) And then, the SSCI Report completes the misleading use of the CIA report by juxtaposing its (rather free) interpretation of the report's statement about what was going on in Mayaki's head with a quotation (we can assume correct) from the CIA as saying saying "although the meeting took place, Mayaki let the matter drop due to the UN sanctions on Iraq" -- without bothering to note that Mayaki didn't want to discuss ANY commerce with a nation under UN sanctions and was not referring there to uranium; thus, the SSCI report throws in this quote to make it appear that Mayaki was saying that he steered the discussion away from uranium commerce in particular.
In other words, we can, for the sake of argument, proceed on the assumption that the CIA Report basically described Wilson's meeting with Mayaki the way that Wilson describes it in his book, while using vicious abstraction, exaggerated paraphrase (Mayaki "understood" the overture to be about uranium), and unfair juxtaposition to create a totally misleading impression of what the CIA report actually says.
This would explain why the report hasn't been declassified. Some White House operatives (like Pat Roberts, who is clearly taking their directions) believe that it can be *spun* in the opposite direction from what it in fact says, but they also have realized (perhaps only in, say July '03) that the spin will not stand up to scrutiny and thus have kept the report secret. If it were truly exculpatory, i don't see why they wouldn't have made sure it was declassified and spread over every news outlet in the country.
I'm not saying this is right, but it does seem like a strong contender. Whaddya think?

eRiposte, from my quick glance at the Butler report, your argument that the SSCI should have known the Mayaki meeting was in Algiers would be stronger if you just pointed to Wilson's book, which he makes clear they read. Because the only mention of Algiers in the Butler report that I can see (admittedly a cursory look, so correct me if I'm wrong) is that footnote referencing Wilson's book).

In other words, it still appears the only written evidence the meeting took place in Algiers is in Wilson's book. I thought for a second the Butler report would have been working off the CIA report, but that doesn't appear to be the case. Which means it is still very likely that the CIA report doesn't mention Algiers.

If that's true, I still maintain that--given the types of evidence the SSCI uses as PRIMARY in its report (and note, they don't use the Butler report as evidence beyond itself)--their presentation of the Mayaki claim may be innocent (stupid, but innocent). In other words, if they believe their primary evidence here is the CIA report and it doesn't mention Algiers, then I think the uranium claim is still somewhat defensible.

Also, I don't think you can apply the logic about the al-Zawahie trip to the Mayaki meeting as you are. One of the exonerating aspects of the al-Zawahie trip is that he visited other African nations (do you know which three those are? I assume some of these are not uranium producers, which is a pretty compelling counterargument that it was a uranium buying trip). But if it APPEARS (wrongly) that Mayaki's businessman came to Niger and ONLY Niger, talking about trade ties, then I gotta admit, the most logical conclusion is they're looking for uranium. While you're right that the SSCI SHOULD have noticed the Algiers context in Wilson's book, they SHOULD have asked him about that context when they interviewed him, and if they did, then they should have provided more context to the Mayaki meeting. But they may not have, which is why I say stupid but innocent.

Which goes to your comment, Sebastian. It seems to me the SSCI is asking the question, "should the IC have come to the conclusions it did" not what eRiposte and I use it for which is, "what evidence is there that BushCo lied." So while I don't doubt they spun the Mayaki thing to make it look as troublesome as they could, I'm not sure if that conclusion is unfair given the context.

Or let me put it this way. If Tenet's statement was based on the CIA report, then what he says (about Mayaki, not about Cheney's involvement) is completely defensible. What Ari says is not. What I strongly suspect Libby told Judy on July 8 is not either (and I think he cautioned her away from that on July 12). But the conclusion BASED ON THE CIA REPORT and not an interview with Wilson or a book that wasn't written yet that Mayaki's businessman wanted to talk about uranium MAY be fair, so long as the report doesn't mention Algiers or OAU.

Which means the real problem comes back to the CIA reporting process.

EW,

Remember that the Butler Report was released in 2004, not just after Wilson's book came out but after everything had happened. It was a report aimed at looking the decision making process used by the British to conclude whether their uranium claim had merit. So, their citation of the Wilson book did not mean that they only knew of the Algiers meeting because of Wilson's book. The Organization of African Unity meeting was well known (well before the Iraq war started) and not a secret. The fact that Iraq attended that meeting (as an observer) was publicly known. The Iraqis met not just with Nigeriens but also with the U.N. Secretary General (and possibly others). Click this post for some links:
http://www.dailykos.com/story/2004/7/21/13451/9522

The point is that if the Butler Report wanted to assert that that meeting had to do with uranium, they could have done so, based on Wilson's trip. They chose not to. Indeed, they could have taken Wilson's report as "proof" that Iraq's "delegation" was meeting Mayaki at Algiers to seek uranium! Why didn't they? Because they knew this was not a credible claim.

I suspect the SSCI report left out the Algiers connection to leave the reporting vague - because it could then be used against Wilson.

Also, regarding your question :"One of the exonerating aspects of the al-Zawahie trip is that he visited other African nations (do you know which three those are? I assume some of these are not uranium producers, which is a pretty compelling counterargument that it was a uranium buying trip). "

Yes, he not only visited multiple countries but the IAEA mentioned this in March 2003 and this is captured in the Butler Report. The Iraq Survey Group came to the same conclusion as the IAEA that the trip had to do with UN sanctions busting and not uranium. The British continued making their claim despite the IAEA response.

BTW, the countries Al-Zahawi visited (only 4 of them accepted the request for his visit) are mentioned in one of my earlier posts:
http://www.theleftcoaster.com/archives/005037.php

... Niger, Benin, Burkina-Faso and Congo-Brazzaville...the last one is not to be confused with the Democratic Republic of Congo. None of these countries are uranium producers. As I pointed out in the link above...

4. Like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia also has some uranium reserves on its territory (but not a whole lot). However, also like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia does not have any active uranium mining capabilities or activities, making it implausible that Iraq would have been seeking "significant quantities of uranium" from Somalia. Somalia's industrial infrastructure has also been debilitatingly ravaged by years of civil war. The World Nuclear Association's annual uranium production figures and list of worldwide uranium mining does not include Somalia. This BBC article that raises concerns about unofficial/illegal uranium mining in Africa does not list Somalia either, even though it lists a horde of other African countries (Algeria, DR Congo, Gabon, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe) in addition to the officially recognized list of uranium producing countries (Niger, Namibia and South Africa; note that Gabon was previously a producer but stopped production in 1999). So, it is not surprising that Somalia disappeared from the CIA/British claims as quietly as it appeared.

eRiposte

My point is this.

There is nothing we KNOW to be in the CIA report that says the Mayaki meeting was in Algiers (unless that information appears in the redacted bit of the SSCI)--the only reason Butler knows is because of Wilson's book (you wouldn't necessarily search on Mayaki and Baghdad Bob to figure out they were both at OAU, which is the only way to find out from a source that's not Wilson; and that wouldn't work anyway since Mayaki didn't know the Baghdad Bob WAS Baghdad Bob). If the meeting were in Niger (I know it's not, but nothing you've said shows that Tenet would have known that from the CIA report), it is MUCH more likely to be cause for real concern. And I think legitimate cause for concern. So while we can use your argument to prove the Bush Administration is still lying to pretend their uranium claims once had merit, I don't think we can use your argument to say that Tenet was wrong in portraying Wilson's trip in the way he did (assuming, again, that he was working solely off the CIA report and that the CIA report didn't specify the meeting took place in Algiers at the OAU).

Thanks for the four countries--I knew you'd have it, just couldn't find it on a search. Too many posts on the uranium claims, you know... :-)

Emptywheel--

Are you and I at least on the same page in suspecting that at least one of the debriefing/reporting officers was a neocon plant and substantially altered the content of the report?

Because, I just don't understand how the DO reports officer who wrote the reports on the Niger forgeries, if he's the same guy as the DO reports officer who "edited" Joe Wilson's CIA report, doesn't find it fishy that no mention of any current Iraqi/Niger deal is made in the report, especially since we know Joe Wilson says he discussed these things during the Feb meeting. Now, I know you speculate that the reports officer probably wasn't present for that meeting, so he wouldn't know one way or the other. But, I gotta say, why would Wilson knowingly omit this fact during the debrief when it's seemingly the lynchpin of why he went to Niger in the first place?

viget

I'm not willing to go there. There is evidence to support the argument (mostly that the reports officer wasn't allowed to correct the record on the misquote of what he said). But I also think there may be standards about reporting that would mean Wilson's trip would only get reported without context.

EW,

I'm short on time...perhaps I will respond in detail in a few days. But quickly, here are a couple of points...

>>"There is nothing we KNOW to be in the CIA report that says the Mayaki meeting was in Algiers (unless that information appears in the redacted bit of the SSCI)"

This may be technically true but why would Wilson not tell the CIA about the meeting having occurred in Algiers if that is what Mayaki told him?

Even if you ignore that part, as I have said a few times now:
...is it not astounding that a series of events, some possibly realistic, some implausible, in which not a single Iraqi (or anyone else that Mayaki met) is shown to have even uttered the word "uranium" are somehow considered as supportive of the premise that Iraq was seeking significant quantities of uranium from Africa?

Let's also approach this from a different angle. If the CIA thought the Mayaki story offered credible evidence of uranium seeking, why did they drop that "evidence" like a ton of hot bricks in October? After all, it was completely independent of the Niger forgeries. The point being that the Mayaki narrative, as bizarre and unbelievable as it was, was only considered to be of value when viewed in context with the existing claims at that time. Take away the credibility of the other claims, the narrative presents no credible evidence for uranium seeking. The fact is that after Wilson's trip the credibility of the existing claims was shot. What the CIA must have known at the end of the trip is listed in this post:
http://www.theleftcoaster.com/archives/005837.php

They had nothing much at the end of his trip and his trip provided no proof whatsoever for the two claims in the first two Niger intel reports.

>>the only reason Butler knows is because of Wilson's book (you wouldn't necessarily search on Mayaki and Baghdad Bob to figure out they were both at OAU, which is the only way to find out from a source that's not Wilson; and that wouldn't work anyway since Mayaki didn't know the Baghdad Bob WAS Baghdad Bob).

There is no reason to think this is true. I have a hard time believing that Wilson knew something that the world's top intelligence agencies were completely unaware of regarding a meeting that was completely a public event.

eR

But that's the point of trying to figure out what was necessarily in the CIA report. I don't doubt Wilson told the debriefer the meeting was in Algiers. But it appears that information didn't make it into the report. Without that information, the claim becomes more credible.

You and I will disagree about this. But a country interested in trade with Niger is going to raise flags about uranium unless there is some countervailing intelligence that it WASN'T about uranium. I agree there clearly was with the al-Zawahie story. But Wilson's story--as it appears to have gotten reported to the CIA--may not have included that. It may have. But from what we know about the CIA report (and the questions the SSCI thought were relevant), it didn't.

Which says we need to look at the CIA reporting process to explain why.

Nice info. However, with the current Woodward flap, what is forgotten is how Pincus' reporting has changed. In the June 12, 2003 article Pincus did not source one single word to Wilson. Yet on Oct 25, 2005 Pincus ammended that to say Wilson told the "Washington Post" that he found the documents to be forgeries. Note that there is still no name on that comment. It's time to nail Pincus on this. Who exactly did Wilson allegedly speak to? Was his source on this Woodward, or someone else? What exactly did wilson allegedly say?
Pincus is now part of the news, is he practicing CYA?

Nice info. However, with the current Woodward flap, what is forgotten is how Pincus' reporting has changed. In the June 12, 2003 article Pincus did not source one single word to Wilson. Yet on Oct 25, 2005 Pincus ammended that to say Wilson told the "Washington Post" that he found the documents to be forgeries. Note that there is still no name on that comment. It's time to nail Pincus on this. Who exactly did Wilson allegedly speak to? Was his source on this Woodward, or someone else? What exactly did wilson allegedly say?
Pincus is now part of the news, is he practicing CYA?

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