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August 16, 2005


At last, you finally wrap it up. What a prodigious effort, and pretty convincing too.

I wonder about the Kristoff op-ed. Might he have had multiple sources? Isn't there an issue whether Wilson actually saw the Niger documents in February, 2002? The Senate Report, IIRC, quotes the CIA as saying they did't show them to Wilson, and may not even have had the actual documents, as opposed to reports that such documents existed, at that point. This may be an effort by the CIA to cover the extent to which they shared classified material with Wilson, a point for which they were rebuked by the SSCI Report. Or it may be true.

According to the exhaustive series by eriposte at the Left Coaster, the reports from the Italians came in right after 9/11, in mid-October, 2001. The "cable" seems to be a summary of either the (forged) documents or a report of the sale. That same Left Coaster piece (Part 3A-1) refers to a report of the US Embassy in Niger of November, 2001 dismissing the Niger claims.

Then there was a February 5, 2002 CIA report on Niger, again from the Italians (SSCI Report, pp. 37-38) with more details about the transaction, providing a "verbatim text" of the accord. This suggests that certainly at this point the Italians had the forgeries, but not the US.

The Senate report also refers to a WINPAC Report after 2/12/02 that discusses the lack of corroboration of the "foreign intel" reports and the fact that they were contradicted by reporting by the US Embassy in Niger. And there was a second cable from Niger on 2/18/02 again casting doubt on the possibility of large sales by Niger.

But it does not appear that either Wilson or the US envoy in Niamey had seen the forged documents in Feb 2002.

There was also a third cable on 3/25/02 (Left Coaster, Part 3A-4, SSCI p. 47) that provided more details, including the figure of 500 tons. But at this point the CIA still did not have the source or the documents, leading to some skepticism on their part. That page of the SSCI also refers to an "INR analyst who had recently returned from a position as Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Niger" who supposedly told the CIA he didn't see any inconsistencies in the names and dates in the reports except one date in one document.

The documents surfaced publicly in the WSJ in October, 2002, so someone had them then.

By the time of the Kristoff op-ed, of course everyone knew the documents were forgeries, and at least three "envoys" could have supplied that information, although it appears that in Feb, 2002 none of them had seen the documents themselves, as oppposed to the reports from the Italians based on the documents.

The real question here is when DID the CIA get the documents and who knew they were forgeries and when did they know it? Left Coaster speculates the Italians must have known in Feb-Mar 2002 because they corrected some info in the cables which was inaccurate in the forgeries when they later surfaced.

Not only is it about the lies, but who concocted the lies, and who knew they had done so, and when. Judy is a part, clearly, and the Niger forgeries are the key remaining mystery.

I see no reason to doubt the SSCI that the first anyone in the US (well, in US intelligence) got the forgeries is when John Bolton's office got them in October 2002. And, of course, it would make sense that they would come in through Bolton. So I agree with you, Wilson hadn't seen the documents when he went to Niger.

I've long wondered whether both sides aren't fudging on what Wilson was told. He was clear that he told SSCI that the documents couldn't be true. It sounds like he got more info than he lets on, either there or in his book. But at the same time, it's also clear that CIA doesn't want to admit what they gave him.

In any case, I suspect there is something that only Wilson would know (perhaps that had to do with the transition from military rule right in the middle of the time the alleged deal was happening) is the source of his certainty that the documents weren't true. He was intimitely involved in that transition. Presumably he would know whether a deal started with one regime could be consummated after the regime had changed--often that's not possible, because the parties in question are too polarized, because the first party would not want to let the second party know what he was doing off the books.

Also, in teh SSCI report, there seems to be a comment before the mention of the Minister of Mines' name. I wonder whether that wasn't a detail that made Wilson sure the documents were false.

EW, You raise a host of new questions with each chapter. In some respects it is bolstering to see your take on both the Agency and Foggy B's views, as I share your vision there longtime. There was an interesting interview on NPR many months ago with the NYT ombudsman on the Sunday program entitled On the Media; you might find it illuminating if you have access to OTM's audio archive online; OTM is fairly breezily written, and, of course, most of the repartee is about the Blair event's genesis and its impact on the editors at NYT, while avoiding political pitfalls in an on-air interview; though, perhaps that interview is too generic to be very helpful to you, if you are continuing to pursue the Judy M story beyond this final chapter. It was a tale worth developing. Most of the material on the Wilson site is dated; though, sometimes I visit http://www.politicsoftruth.com/editorials/Statement.html
with incredulity at the points he makes there with respect to the lacunae in the Roberts report, respectfully phrased.
As usual, MK has provided good pointers, and KX is on topic well. If I have time over the next few months I might have something to contribute, though, basically you three as well as a few desultory posters at dKos have amplified the unseemly story of Judy's embed well.

What a strange formulation is used in the 5/20/01 uranium dispatch. We all know what was supposed to have been meant by "holy warrior," but is that really language we'd expect to see in the internal, diplomatic dispatches of Saddam Hussein's secular, Baathist regime? And why would a "holy warrior" need to turn a profit on the transfer of nuclear materials?

On the other hand, why would a forged dispatch credit the UN sanctions regime, which the neo-cons constantly ridiculed for its ineffectiveness, for foiling the plot?


Not sure if you read eriposte's post on the Niger documents. But he argues that the person leaking this info to CIA before SISMI got the documents was amending the information he sent to correct it. And if this is a forgery, I think it'd be some of the same. The "story" of the Niger uranium deal went dead in 2000 or so. So to find a document "written" 5 months later, explaining why the deal hadn't taken place, would explain why the Niger documents went dead. And I'm with you, I can't understand why a muj would want to sell his secular rival Saddam Hussein nukes. But it makes perfect sense if people keep hassling Dick Cheney for claiming a connection between Saddam and 9/11.

I can't decide which is sadder. That they committed out and out fraud to get us into this war. Or that we were so dumb, as a nation, that we couldn't sniff out obvious problems with their story.

Wilson says in his book that a friend told him, after the administration repudiated the 16 words, that they would only have admitted a mistake if it was to conceal something bigger. I wonder if that something bigger is the origin of the forged Niger documents.

Well, it's the Niger documents, but also everything surrounding them and the carelessness with which they have pursued this war. Another "I don't know which is sadder" to add to the one above. If people found out that Cheney was more interested in winning the battle with state, in making sure that Iraq wouldn't end up sovereign and representative of all its people, than in establishing stability in Iraq, what would people say? The fight between State and Defense is really tragic, because without it Iraq just might have worked out. But the Neocons preferred to lose Iraq than to lose to State.

I also think people would be horrified if the outlines of the VRWC, which shows how the WH used Judy leaks to lie to them, ever becamse really clear.

There's so much they're trying to hide that outing a NOC seemed like the most expeditious way of hiding their deeds.

I agree that the Plame outing and the admission of the falsity of the 16 words were both designed to cover up something more serious, namely that they knew before the war that one pillar of the MWD mushroom cloud scare was false, and perhaps some knew it was concocted by Chalabi and/or Ledeen, Rhode and friends, maybe even at Cheney's direction. There was also comtemporaneous evidence (See the Judy series) that they also knew the aluminum tubes story (the other main pillar for the mushroom cloud) was false. And who knows what-all else.

Go back to Ron K's super "Mosaic" post from 6/22/03, which he linked to a couple of weeks ago and which really lays it all out in a very prescient way.

I see lots of decoy material out there, and the functional equivalent of pandemonium as EW depicts public affairs in Iraq immediately post invasion. How archetypically neoconic that the postitions n-c's are capable of filling quickly are VP and civilian head of the pentagon. But the professional bureaucracies at CIA and State are more immutable, and with good reason, withstanding the neocon waves' impetus to change quickly foreign policy topdown. I share MK's concern that the mushroom cloud metaphor's author might have been an equally weighty contributor in the prewar prowar equation, although as KX clearly discerns, there is a cadre of these folks. Perhaps I overstate MK's view. Speaking only personally, I have worried that heated rhetoric which was Ms. Rice's hallmark for so long may have indicated she had a larger part of the responsibility for the yellowcake and cyllinders stories than admitted. I admit to not having read her Sovietology writing, yet as a citizen I had to endure the fearmongering like we all did.
EW's story seems to fit the caption propagandagate, though it certainly is more profound.

Looks like an interesting discussion going on here. So let me add some comments.


The "500 tons" detail actually was present in the second piece of intel ("verbatim text") that was received (before Wilson's visit):

It is also this second piece of intel that first introduced the hoax that Wissam Al-Zahawie's Feb 1999 trip to Niger was somehow related to uranium.

(I discussed this in some detail also in today's post which emptywheel has referenced above)

Additionally, I did not state that the Italians corrected the mistakes in the documents they were receiving. What I said that either the source of the documents (the person supplying them to the Italians) or the Italians knew some information was wrong in the documents and corrected it when transmitting the gist of the documents to other intelligence agencies. I am inclined to believe that the Italians were not doing the correcting and it was probably their source.


Regarding your comment "I see no reason to doubt the SSCI that the first anyone in the US (well, in US intelligence) got the forgeries is when John Bolton's office got them in October 2002. And, of course, it would make sense that they would come in through Bolton. So I agree with you, Wilson hadn't seen the documents when he went to Niger."

The reality is a little more complicated than this. The CIA may not have seen the specific formatted versions (copies) of the forged documents until October 2002, but their behavior prior to receiving them and right after receiving them made it abundantly clear that they had previously seen enough of what was in those documents to not trust them the moment they appeared. I discussed that here:

For example "verbatim text" (received by them prior to the Wilson trip) may have included enough clues to figure out there was something dubious about the documents. Clearly, INR was highly skeptical of the information from day one.

So, yes, Wilson never saw the specific formatted copies of the documents before his trip, but one does not need to see the actual copies if one has a typed out ("verbatim text") version which one can analyze. Anyway, this is something that needs to be kept in mind.

Also, I don't have a position yet on the credibility of the document which Judith Miller reported on, later discussed briefly by the ISG report. I don't know for a fact that it is a fake. The ISG did not specifically suggest that it was. But if it was not a fake, it certainly proved that Iraq was decidedly NOT seeking uranium from Africa.


Yeah, you and I are taking slightly different approaches to this, remember.

The first time someone had something they could pass out and vet was, according to the SSCI, when they came through in October 2002 via Bolton's office. I don't doubt there was a lot of information available--although I was actually surprised in your interview how little Wilson says he got about it. I've always suspected he had more.

But I'm particularly interested in when they come in because 1) it is remarkable that they came into Bolton first (there was already some problems with documents coming in through his office and then not being treated with the proper care), and 2) the handoff to other agencies was not smooth. In other words, it is POSSIBLE (although by no means said) that Bolton managed to mess with the distribution of those documents, and THAT's why CIA didn't remember getting them. We could ask our reliable old INR analyst, skeptic of all things Niger, but he was unexpected "on leave" the day he had promised to hand out the documents. Definitely not proof of sabotage, but it leaves open the possibility for sabotage.


One more comment.

I'm less confident the Uganda uranium document is a forgery now. I still wonder about Rhode's presence--he's like the Where's Waldo of uranium forgeries. And in addition to all the small details that differ between the two documents, two seems significant. First, the ISG says the document was found by ISG. It wasn't. This was the period where ISG was coming in and getting trained by 75th XTF. But I don't think Judy's unit was considered ISG in any sense. Also, ISG says the document was found mid-May. I suppose May 6 might qualify for that (Judy's article was published on May 7), although it's a bit of a stretch. But it does put the discovery date late enough to when ISG might have plausibly found the document, and not Judy's group.

I haven't read enough of the Duelfer report to understand though whether it was as politically-suspect a document as SSCI, though.


Reading the SSCI Report, it becomes pretty clear that the forged documents were distributed by INR to the IC. The fact that the CIA discovered it later indicates that they got a copy. After all there were CIA representatives who attended the meeting called by the INR analyst's boss. They must have heard during the meeting that these documents appear to show proof of uranium seeking and buying. It is implausible that the CIA would not have jumped with excitement when they heard this - and then distributed it within their ranks, unless of course they knew these docs were not trustworthy.


Yeah, I hear you. But I'm not entirely convinced. Consider, for example, that WINPAC really didn't get the docs until January. That stinks for a number of reasons, not least that 1) Fleitz presumably would have made double sure they got it, since he was the liaison between Bolton's office and WINPAC and lived in both places, and 2) Foley is kind of a dingbat, if not an ally of Bolton's (this, from his Bolton testimony; incidentally, if there are early versions of the SOTU that Foley received, then he either lost them or they were removed from WINPAC files--I'll remind you again that Bolton's office has already had problems with not taking care of top secret documents according to document management rules). And WINPAC is, at least according to Fleitz, where things on non-proliferation come in and begin to be vetted--it should have taken the lead on this, not waited until January. I'm not saying they didn't know the documents were forgeries (again, you and I are looking at this from a different angle). I'm suggesting there may be a reason why the evidence didn't seem to get to the people in CIA who really knew the Niger documents were bunk.

Or let me put it this way. In decreasing certaintly, analysts in INR, DOE, and parts of CIA were convinced from very early on that the Niger claims were BS. That left DIA and some people in WINPAC and a few other places in CIA who still were pushing this claim (plus, of course, Cheney). In other words, given what we think we know about the provenance of those documents, precisely those areas of the IC that knew those documents were fraudulent because they were in on the forgery are the parts of the IC that seemingly prevented other parts from conducting real analysis of the documents. That's what I'm interested in, the way in which some people within the IC prevented a real vetting from taking place, in some cases because they knew from before the documents existed they were fraudulent.

And the dissemination of the Niger documents is one of the areas of the SSCI that don't make sense (for example, why is the INR analyst calling a meeting one day then on leave the next day?). Another one is the period after the IAEA requests those documents, but doesn't get them until it's too late to stop the war. Who at CIA was holding that up? Who was ignoring it? It seems like a central question to why the Niger documents weren't exposed earlier, but not one anyone on the SSCI apparently thought was worth asking.

Unless that falls into the realm of politicization of intelligence that they put off indefinitely.

Eriposte: Thanks for clarifying. I had your first series in front of me (not the Wilson interviews) but still managed to get some things confused.

I had suggested to EW earlier that the document Judy discovered in Baghdad might have been a real Iraqi intel report of a fabricated transaction (sort of like a real toad in an imaginary garden), rather than another forgery. That would be truly ironic, and would explain why it disappeared.

And read Steve Clemons this am--he suggests the existence of an Italian report that moves Ledeen closer to the forgeries. As EW posits, some in the INR and CIA thought the Niger reports were BS from the get go, some at CIA and DIA were eager to run with them, and some must have known they were forgeries but knew the purpose they would serve up until they were exposed.

Assuming Cheney was in on it, his request to the intel agencies to "look into this" was an attempt to get the bogus evidence to the front burner, but he would have set in motion the chain of events that just might burn them in the end.


OK, I don't think we are really in disagreement. When you say "I'm suggesting there may be a reason why the evidence didn't seem to get to the people in CIA who really knew the Niger documents were bunk", I wholeheartedly agree. In fact, I addressed this briefly in Part 2 of my SSCI series, which was focused specifically on the fact that there is enough evidence in the SSCI Report that Bush admin officials tried to distort or use dubious/false information despite being alerted not to do so.

There is simply no doubt that they specifically interfered in the intelligence gathering effort in order to deliberately exaggerate, distort and lie about the evidence. The detailed mechanics of that needs to be investigated. But people like GOP Senator Pat Roberts, who crap all over America in order to save the GOP, are at the helm preventing this.


Thanks for tipping me to Steve Clemons' post. I'll be watching out for developments...


Nope, we're not in disagreement--just working different angles. And I think we can at least lay the ground work for arguing what Roberts doesn't want argued--that they deliberately distorted the intelligence. But then again, by the time we do that, they will hopefully have proven who planted the Niger forgeries, in which case politicization of intelligence will be the least of their worries.

On Wilson and the documents

I happened upon an interesting post on The Ministry of Minor Perfidy regarding Wilson and the Niger documents.

The highlights are

According to the Senate report, page 36, the first CIA report on the Iraq-Niger deal was written on Oct. 18, 2001. The first CIA report referred to a report from a foreign government’s intelligence service. Per the Senate report, page 37, the second CIA report was issued on February 5, 2002. This second report “provided what was said to be the ‘verbatim text’ of the accord”. In other words, the second report contained the alleged contract between Iraq and Niger.

On page 40 of the Senate report, we learn that Wilson participated in a February 19, 2002 meeting “to discuss the merits of the former ambassador travelling to Niger”. On page 41, of the SR:

"The INR analyst’s notes also indicate that specific details of the classified report on the Iraq-Niger uranium deal were discussed at the meeting, as well as whether analysts believed it was plausible that Niger would be capable of delivering such a large quantity of uranium to Iraq...

I recommend the rest of the post which goes on to show that the Senate Report quotes almost nothing of Wilson's actual testimony regarding the forged documents, but spins Wilson into a liar with a heavy handed rewrite of the facts. It's a very interesting analysis of that part of the Wilson story.

Great job on the Miller series Emptywheel. I am wondering who you feel are Miller's main sources in the administration besides Libby.

EmptyWheel - you're an inspiration - don't stop now ... how about moving on to Novak, Cooper & Russert?

Emptywheel, it's beyond being sad. Realpolitik naivete or criminal negligence, in the end the behaviours of our leaders have bordered on the treasonous. Giving the lot the benefit of the doubt, they likely believed that a successful end would answer critics of the means taken to achieve it. That kind of strategy has worked in the past, but that was then and this is now. Communication is too instant and too invasive for this kind of sleight-of-hand. Might can no longer make right in these latter days when the whole world is watching what's going on. The craziest thing of all is that these people are not being held to account. It boggles the mind that with all the skullduggery going on and being reported/documented just about everywhere, that no one is being held accountable. If a CEO of a private company lied about (fill in the blank) and had accomplices to help "cook the books" or once again fill in the blank, you can be damn sure there'd be calls for heads to roll.
I hope Fitzgerald has much to tell, but I'm fearful that any heads that do roll will be sacrificial lambs. Not that these guys will be innocent of any wrongdoing--far from it, but they will not be the ones 'doing the deed'.

Of all the dramatis personae in this epic of skullduggery and malfeasance Ahmed Chalabi fascinates me the most. I read an essay about him in NYROB a couple of years back. Amazingly, with the push to nuke Iran ramping up, Chalabi is still a player.
He may not be a terribly nice person, but Ahmed Chalabi is one hell of an operator. Judy would have been no more than a scrawny chickenhawk that occasionally troubled the master falconer's forearm.

Your 6-Piece sure packs a wallop, EmptyWheel, brilliantly woven,forensic and well written. Long May You Run.

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