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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Were McCarthy and Plame behind the CIA’s June 2003 retreat on Iraq-Niger intelligence?

A story that warrants more attention is “Iraq, Niger, And The CIA,” by Murray Waas, published this February in National Journal. Waas claims to have sources that have provided him with some details about the CIA's June 2003 internal memo that withdrew the agency’s earlier assessment that Saddam had tried to buy uranium in Niger.

Waas claims that work on the CIA memo was instigated White House uproar over the Nicholas Kristof article in the New York Times in May 2003 where Wilson, in anonymous third person, passed on the story of an envoy, sent to Niger in February of 2002, who was claiming to have at that time identified the documents behind the CIA's Iraq-Niger intel as forgeries.

The International Atomic Energy Agency had announced in March 2003 that some Iraq-Niger documents it received from U.S. intelligence had proved to be forgeries. This was awkward, given that in January President Bush had cited Saddam’s attempts to buy uranium in Africa in his State of the Union address. Now here was Wilson, claiming that the IAEA's forged documents were the basis of the U.S. intelligence claims, and claiming that the administration knew the intelligence was phony a year before the President’s speech.

The 2004 Report on Prewar Intelligence by the Senate Select Committee (SSCI) would later reveal that Wilson was attempting a treasonous gambit. He could not have identified the forged documents as forged in February 2002 because they did not come into U.S. possession until October of 2002. (Search “misspoken”.)

In May of 2003, the public did not know who the unnamed envoy to Niger in Kristof’s article was, but the CIA certainly did, and they knew he was lying. Thus the CIA memo should have nabbed Wilson, identifying him as a traitor who had been caught spreading malicious disinformation about classified intelligence in an attempt to smear the President and undermine America’s war effort. Not only had Wilson not debunked the President’s suggestion that Saddam had tried to buy uranium in Africa, but as CIA Director George Tenet made public a month later, he had brought back supporting evidence:
He reported back to us that one of the former Nigerian officials he met stated that he was unaware of any contract being signed between Niger and rogue states for the sale of uranium during his tenure in office.

The same former official also said that in June 1999 a businessman approached him and insisted that the former official meet with an Iraqi delegation to discuss "expanding commercial relations" between Iraq and Niger.

The former official interpreted the overture as an attempt to discuss uranium sales.
It is interesting, then, that the CIA’s June memo does not seem to have exposed Wilson as a liar. On the contrary, the bits that Waas reports seem to present clear disinformation in support of Wilson’s lies. Here is the section of Waas’ article that describe the content of the memo (the full memo is not available):
In the memo, the CIA analysts wrote: "Since learning that the Iraqi-Niger uranium deal was based on false documents earlier this spring, we no longer believe that there is sufficient other reporting to conclude that Iraq purchased uranium from abroad."

The memo also related that there had been other, earlier claims that Saddam's regime had attempted to purchase uranium from private interests in Somalia and Benin; these claims predated the Niger allegations. It was that past intelligence that had led CIA analysts, in part, to consider the Niger claims as plausible.

But the memo said that after a thorough review of those earlier reports, the CIA had concluded that they were no longer credible. Indeed, the previous intelligence reports citing those claims had long since been "recalled" -- meaning that the CIA had formally repudiated them.

The memo's findings were considered so significant that they were not only quickly shared with Cheney and Libby but also with Congress, albeit on a classified basis, according to government records and interviews.
The truth is that Wilson’s Niger trip was not prompted by forged documents, and that he found evidence that supported the intel he was investigating, yet instead of exposing Wilson's lies, the memo backs Wilson’s story: that the Niger Intel was based on forged documents, and that without the forged documents, there was no grounds for thinking Saddam had tried to buy uranium in Niger.

Look at the precise wording. The references to “other reporting” do not mention any other reporting on an Iraq-Niger link. The first mention of “other reporting” is not specific to Niger:
… we no longer believe that there is sufficient other reporting to conclude that Iraq purchased uranium from abroad.
Then the specific mentions of “other reporting” do not include Niger:
… earlier claims that Saddam's regime had attempted to purchase uranium from private interests in Somalia and Benin.
This in spite of the fact that Wilson himself had brought back evidence of that Saddam had sought uranium in Niger.

The imputation is that the Niger intel was based entirely on the forged documents: the exact gambit that Wilson himself was trying to pull off. Instead of exposing Wilson as a traitor, as an investigation into Kristof’s article should have done, the CIA memo misrepresented the facts in a way that abetted Wilson’s treason. That CAN’T have been a mistake.

The only logical conclusion is that the internal CIA memo was a carefully crafted bit of disinformation, calculated and timed to support Wilson’s public disinformation. It certainly had this effect. On June 7th 2003, the day after Wilson’s NYT op-ed, Ari Fleisher defended the President’s general claim that Saddam had sought uranium in Africa, but he conceded, incorrectly, that the forgeries had been the basis for U.S. estimates that Saddam had tried to buy uranium from Niger:
MR. FLEISCHER: … But specifically on the yellow cake, the yellow cake for Niger, we've acknowledged that that information did turn out to be a forgery.
Fleisher was wrong here. According to Stephen Hayes:
The White House had not, in fact, stated that all of the Niger reporting was wrong, only that the documents delivered to the U.S. Embassy in Rome in October 2002 had been forgeries.
But Fleisher’s statement did consist with the widely-circulated internal CIA memo, which was probably what he was following.

Tenet too seems to have been tied in knots by the memo, leading to the downright weird combination of exposing Wilson as a liar (describing how his trip to Niger had actually produced evidence that Saddam HAD tried to buy uranium from Niger) at the same time as he announced that the agency was retreating from the position that Saddam had tried to buy uranium from Niger (presumably on the basis of the June memo).

The evidence is that an anti-Bush cabal at CIA actually succeeded in infiltrating the White House with their disinformation.

These cabals have been known about for a long time, but are only just beginning to be exposed. Still, there are two obvious people to suspect of planting disinformation in the 2003 CIA memo. One is Wilson’s wife, CIA agent Valerie Plame, who recommended Wilson for the Niger trip. The other is the recently outed leaker Mary McCarthy.

Both were tasked in the right areas to contribute to the memo. Plame was working in WMD counter-proliferation. That would include attempts to buy uranium, which is how she was in a position to recommend her husband for the Niger trip in the first place. McCarthy was working in the CIA’s Inspector General’s office when she was recently fired. The IG is charged with tracking down moles, leaks and disinformation, like the forged Iraq-Niger documents. Did she have similar access in 2003? (I'll update later when I can get around to this sitting-on-my-ass "legwork.")

Did Plame or McCarthy contribute to the 2003 memo? If so, that would be a good piece of information to declassify, and maybe even a “good leak,” if the saboteurs at CIA have enough influence to keep it from coming out through proper channels. If the authors of the memo were some as yet unidentified conspirators, let's just hope the good guy are on it.

Related post:

60 Minutes of lies: Drumheller needs to answer some questions.

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