Basically, eRiposte shows that the Intelligence Community changed its interpretation of the value of Joe Wilson's trip report, finally using it (and the anecdote that former Prime Minister Mayaki had been approached by Iraq's Baghdad Bob to set up trade relations) as a solid justification for the Niger claim on March 8, 2003. Yup. March 2003, just when Wilson starts going public with his accusations that BushCo was wrong. While I'm not convinced BushCo started its smear on Wilson in March, it is fairly clear some people--some people in close physical or ideological proximity to Dick Cheney--were citing Wilson's trip in March 2003 and therefore knew of the trip and Wilson's existence at that point.
Best as I can tell, the following table describes the varying interpretations of Wilson's trip report in supporting the Niger claims.
||Assessment of Intelligence
|March 8. 2002
||Wilson's trip did not add new
||DIA, CIA (didn't refute the
INR (didn't add to the altready strong refutation)
||Wilson's trip did not add new
|February 4, 2003
||Wilson's trip cited in support of claim that Iraq trying
to acquire uranium from Niger
||US government (not specified)
|March 8, 2003
||In response to IAEA debunking of
forgeries, USG claims it has not shared three pieces of intelligence
supporting Niger allegation with IAEA, one of which was Wilson's CIA
|April 5, 2003
||Wilson's trip report did not
constitute credible evidence
|June 12, 2003
||No mention of Wilson's report,
one way or another
|July 8, 2003 and thereafter
||Wilson's trip supported the Niger
|July 11, 2003
||Wilson's trip did not resolve
whether Iraq was seeking uranium
||George Tenet (in his mea culpa)
In other words, the IC first determined Wilson's trip report to have no value, either in supporting the Niger claim, or in refuting it. But as the IAEA started pushing for more evidence to support the Niger claims, someone in the government submitted details of Wilson's report as proof. The SSCI describes it this way:
On February 4, 2003, the U.S. Government passed electronic copies of the Iraq-Niger documents to the IAEA. Because the Director of the IAEA's INVO was in New York at the time, the U.S. Government also provided the documents to him in New York. Included with the documents were the U.S. Government talking points which stated, DELETED of reporting suggest Iraq has attempted to acquire uranium from Niger. We cannot confirm these reports and have questions regarding some specific claims. Nonetheless, we are concerned that these reports may indicate Baghdad has attempted to secure an unreported source of uranium yellowcake for a nuclear weapons program." The DELETED of reporting mentioned refer to the original CIA intelligence reports from the foreign government service and the CIA intelligence report on the former ambassador's trip to Niger.
And even Sy Hersh's Stovepipe article doesn't give any more details about who passed these documents on:
On February 4, 2003, while Baute was on a plane bound for New York to attend a United Nations Security Council meeting on the Iraqi weapons dispute, the U.S. Mission in Vienna suddenly briefed members of Baute’s team on the Niger papers, but still declined to hand over the documents. “I insisted on seeing the documents myself,” Baute said, “and was provided with them upon my arrival in New York.” The next day, Secretary Powell made his case for going to war against Iraq before the U.N. Security Council. The presentation did not mention Niger—a fact that did not escape Baute. [my emphasis]
Then, on March 8, the day Wilson challenged BushCo's Niger case on CNN and the day after Mohamed el Baradei exposed the Niger documents as forgeries, DIA wrote a memo specifically referencing Wilson's report as supporting the Niger claims (based on the fiction that Wilson reported the Iraqis had approached Niger to trade uranium).
Now, as I said, I don't think this necessarily means the OVP-led smear began on March 8, 2003. As I've described, Fitzgerald's subpoenas for Libby's notes only begin on May 6, 2003. So presumably Fitzgerald has reason to believe that the smear began in earnest in response to Kristof's column, not earlier.
But those two earlier events beg further investigation. Who handed Baute the Niger forgeries (and therefore the claim that Wilson's trip supported the Niger claims)? It could be anyone, seeing as how all our players--Powell, Wilkerson, Libby, Tenet--were in NYC for Powell's UN speech. And then, later, whose idea is it to include Wilson's trip as proof of the Niger claims. And is this person really in DIA ... or is it some other intelligence person in DOD, perhaps someone from OSP?
In any case, five months before Dick Cheney made his nasty notes on Wilson's op-ed, and many months before Dick claimed not to know Wilson, someone who shared Dick's goals--to get the US into a war with Iraq--started using Wilson's trip as proof supporting the Niger claim, after a year of dismissing his report as meaningless one way or another. And then, as part of their smear campaign against Wilson in July 2003, Dick's office would repeatedly float the assertion that Wilson's report supported--rather than refuted--the Niger case. That's why they tried to declassify the CIA report, that's one of the things Libby leaked to Judy Miller on July 8.
Somewhere, right at the time Wilson started publicly criticizing the Administration's case on Niger, someone decided they could turn Wilson's report from a neutral report into one serving their cause. Whoever that was certainly knew of Wilson. And at that point, they weren't calling the trip a "junket."