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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Carlo Bonini in COLLUSION with Joe Wilson’s treason

Alec Rawls' review of the book Collusion, by Carlo Bonini and Giuseppe D’Avanzo (Melville, 2007)

This is a detailed expose that I wrote in 2007. In the confusion about how it might fit in with the publication of my Crescent of Betrayal book it never got published. Better late than never. It's almost 8,000 words but the subject warrants the attention.

A month ago I saw Bill Moyers open an interview with Italian conspiracy theorist Carlo Bonini by repeating one of Joe Wilson’s “Bush lied” lies. Moyers asserted that the president’s 2003 State of the Union claim (that we had learned from the British that Saddam had been seeking uranium in Africa) “wasn’t true.”

Anyone who has been paying the least bit of attention knows that is was true. Saddam had been seeking uranium in Africa, and Joe Wilson knew it better than anyone.

A very brief background, for those who don’t know the details

Wilson went to Niger on behalf of the CIA in early 2002 to check out whether a superficially untrustworthy “memorandum of sale” of uranium from Niger to Iraq could possibly be real. Wilson was not told any specifics about the purported deal, but was able to confirm the unlikelihood that any such deal had been concluded. At the same time, Wilson learned from Nigerien Prime Minister Ibrahim Mayaki that the Iraqis had tried to buy uranium from Niger (President Bush’s SOTU claim).

The 2004 Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) report on pre-war intelligence summarizes Wilson’s Niger trip report to the CIA as follows (Chapter 2, part B, PP 17):
The intelligence report indicated that former Nigerien Prime Minister Ibrahim Mayaki was unaware of any contracts that had been signed between Niger and any rogue states for the sale of yellowcake while he was Prime Minister (1997-1999) or Foreign Minister (1996-1997). Mayaki said that if there had been any such contract during his tenure, he would have been aware of it. Mayaki said, however, that in June 1999,( ) businessman, approached him and insisted that Mayaki meet with an Iraqi delegation to discuss "expanding commercial relations" between Niger and Iraq. The intelligence report said that Mayaki interpreted "expanding commercial relations" to mean that the delegation wanted to discuss uranium yellowcake sales. The intelligence report also said that "although the meeting took place, Mayaki let the matter drop due to the UN sanctions on Iraq."
March 2003 (two months after President Bush’s SOTU speech) the International Atomic Energy Agency revealed that documents forwarded to it from the CIA (the “memorandum of sale” that Joe Wilson had helped to confirm the untrustworthiness of) had proved to be forgeries. Not a big surprise. If they weren’t real, they had to be forgeries. But this revelation presented Wilson with an opportunity. In a July 2003 op-ed in The New York Times (“What I didn’t find in Africa”), Wilson lied about what he found in Africa, claiming that his Niger trip debunked the president’s SOTU claims, when it actually provided evidence for them.

To make his accusations stick, and to make them more damaging, Wilson claimed in a series of interviews with high profile reporters that he had personally identified the forged documents on his trip to Niger and reported back to the CIA that “the names were wrong and the dates were wrong.”

Wilson would later admit to the staff of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence “that he, in fact, did not have access to any of the names and dates in the CIA’s reports.” His report did not mention any documents at all, and “[t]he only mention of Iraq in the report pertained to the meeting between the Iraqi delegation and former Prime Minister Mayaki.” (Chapter 2, part B, PP 20.)


Authoritative exposures of Wilson’s deceits (by George Tenet in July 2003, a week after Wilson told his lies in The New York Times, and by the SSCI report in 2004), have not stopped people like Bill Moyers from abetting Wilson’s lies for the past four years. Bonini’s interview with Moyers is part of this ongoing collusion with Joe Wilson.

As reported in his just published book Collusion, Bonini did substantial original investigation into the origin and trajectory of the forged documents. In a carefully scripted/edited back and forth with Moyers, Bonini describes the forged documents entering and bouncing around the intel stream, the whole time simply assuming that this phony intel is what the president’s SOTU speech was referring to. This was Wilson’s fraudulent accusation exactly, but Bonini was not claiming any new basis for it. He just went along with Moyers in pretending that there was no distinction to be made between the Bush/British claim that Saddam had tried to buy uranium (an established fact), and Saddam’s securing a deal to buy uranium (as the forged documents purport to show).

Someone would have to fact-check this new Joe Wilson so I held my nose and ordered Collusion, which Bonini co-authored with Giuseppe D’Avanzo. In addition to telling the story of the forged documents, Bonini (short, henceforth, for Bonini and D’Avanzo) also writes about the controversy over Iraq’s stockpile of aluminum tubes: whether they were missile bodies of centrifuge parts. This review only addresses Bonini’s central topic: the forged documents.

The forged documents

Bonini’s story begins in 1999 when Italian Intelligence (SISMI) intercepts a telex in which the Nigerien Ambassador to Italy tells his home office that an Iraqi ambassador will be coming to visit Niger. Because Niger’s only significant industry is uranium production, this trip is interpreted by SISMI as a probable attempt to buy uranium, and this intel is passed along to other intelligence agencies.

Bonini lands an interview with SISMI chief Nicolo Pollari who tells Bonini a story (accurate or not) of how the intercepted cable also got passed on to an Italian con-artist named Rocco Martino, who used it as an opportunity to concoct forged documentation of an Iraq-Niger uranium sale that he figured he could sell for big bucks to various intelligence agencies. Martino had had dealings with SISMI in the past and, according to Pollari, a SISMI agent named Antonio Nucera “wanted to help his friend.” Nucera went so far as to hook Martino up with some other small time SISMI hangers-on who broke into the Nigerien embassy in Rome at the beginning of 2001 and stole letterhead and other documentary materials for making the forged documents. (Bonini, p. 20-22.)

This seems a very long way to go to “help a friend,” but it is hard to come up with any other reason why SISMI would be involved in such a ruse pre 9-11. Post 9-11, Bonini suggests that higher ups at SISMI saw the Martino documents (whether they knew they were fraudulent or not) as a way to curry favor with the United States by providing a rationale for the United States to attack Iraq.

Incomplete as the story remains, the upshot is a mixed bag of intelligence reporting coming out of Italy, including real evidence of an Iraqi attempt to buy Nigerien uranium (the 1999 telex, which the CIA would reinforce with Joe Wilson’s real evidence of an Iraqi attempt to buy Nigerien uranium in 1999), clouded by phony documents about a deal that never occurred. As a review of the SSCI and Butler reports will show, U.S. and British intelligence did an admirable job of separating the real evidence from the phony evidence, and of carefully crafting their statements to refer to the real evidence (that Iraq had tried to buy uranium), without making claims that a deal had been transacted.

Bonini, however, is determined to tell a different story. He notes that the different intelligence agencies all regarded the Martino documents as untrustworthy, but wants to engineer the charge that the Bush CIA relied on these documents anyway, to give President Bush a pretext for war with Iraq. To do this, he has to first find a ways to dismiss the real evidence of an Iraq-Niger uranium link. If there was no real evidence, then concern about such a link must have stemmed from the phony evidence, and since everyone knew the phony evidence was probably phony, the implication is that the Bush administration knowingly took the country to war on false pretenses, as Joe Wilson charged.

Dismissing the real evidence

Bonini belittles the real evidence of an Iraq-Niger link by casting it merely as lending credibility to the Martino deception. “After all,” says Bonini at the outset (p.20), “every ‘fairy tale’ must begin with a documented fact.” But to make this spin stick, he has to find some way to interpret the real intelligence about the Iraqi ambassador’s trip to Niger as not really being about an Iraqi attempt to buy uranium.

This interpretation comes from the mouth of a high ranking retired French intelligence agent named Alain Chouet, who gains credence in Bonini’s story for helping to expose the role of SISME in perpetrating Martino’s fraud. Chouet offers two reasons to think that the ambassador’s trip has nothing to do with uranium. He argues that Saddam would never send an ordinary functionary on such a mission but “would have sent one of his sons for a deal like that,” and he claims that: “We already knew the reason for Wissam al-Zahawie’s trip to Niger.” The Iraqis, says Chouet, needed a place to dump “the Iraqi regime’s stockpile of toxic waste in exchange for cash.” (P.33.)

That seems implausible, given Saddam’s penchant for poisoning his own people by the region, but in any case, these arguments certainly do not apply to what Joe Wilson found in Niger: that Prime Minister Mayaki was approached by the Iraqis about uranium sales.

This 1999 contact was separate from the 1999 trip made by the Iraqi ambassador. It was not a formally pre-arranged meeting, but took place, according to Wilson, “on the margins of a ministerial meeting of the Organization of African Unity.” (Wilson, p.28, quoted by Bonini p. 67.)

In Wilson’s ironically titled book, The Politics of Truth, he tries to make this meeting sound insignificant, in part by not revealing that the person who talked to the Iraqis was Prime Minister Mayaki. Wilson only says that “one of his sources,” “a Nigerien friend,” had talked to “an Iraqi official,” not noting that this “friend” was even a government official, never mind the Prime Minister. (Wilson, p. 28.)

Bonini plays the same trick, simply quoting Wilson about the Iraq-Niger contact discovered by Wilson, but by the time Bonini writes about the incident, the 2004 SSCI report has already identified Wilson’s “friend” as Prime Minister Mayaki. Bonini has no excuse for withholding this information. He is just a Wilson abettor, which can be seen also in the fact that Bonini never mentions Wilson’s high profile lies about having identified the forgeries on his trip to Niger. That would seem to be a relevant tidbit for a book that claims to be tracing the various ways that the forgeries were misused.

Baghdad Bob

One detail that Wilson did include in The Politics of Truth is that his “friend” would later learn the identity of the Iraqi official that he met at the Organization of African Unity. Mayaki later saw the same Iraqi official on television, where he was identified as “Baghdad Bob,” the Iraqi Minister of Information who was the televised face of Saddam’s regime during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Bonini (p. 68) spins this as reason to dismiss the Iraqi attempt to buy uranium:
This is the stuff of comedy. Al-Sahaf was the so-called minister who stood on the terrace of the Palestine Hotel while the Bradley Fighting Vehicles were speeding into the streets of Baghdad, assuring the TV networks in all seriousness that "the Iraqis are winning the war."
Thus does Bonini elide the real import of the Baghdad Bob revelation: that the Mayaki meeting was a top level meeting, not just on the Nigerien side, but also on the Iraqi side. Bonini glosses over both sides, but he is fully aware of the import, having earlier cited Alain Chouet’s dismissal of the Iraqi ambassador’s Niger contact on the grounds that Saddam “would have sent one of his sons for a deal like that.” Now Bonini refuses to notice when it turns out that Saddam did in fact send one of his closest henchmen.

CIA analysts did not put much stock in Mayaki’s claim to have avoided discussing uranium with the Iraqis, since he would obviously say that to any American official, whether or not it was true, but either way Mayaki’s denial cuts against Chouet’s second reason for dismissing the Iraq-Niger link. If the actual purpose of Baghdad Bob’s overture was to pursue waste disposal services that were not forbidden under the sanctions regime he would have just said so to Mayaki, who in turn would have gladly reported to Wilson that the Iraqi interest was not in uranium (given his evident eagerness to allay any concern that he had talked about uranium). Yet Mayaki did not suggest that the Iraqis were interested in something other than uranium. He specifically stated that he did take them to be after uranium.

The Butler Report

Bonini certainly knows how to connect these dots. They go to the very heart of his central ploy: depicting all concern about an Iraq-Niger link as stemming from the Martino fraud. But not only does he decline to connect the dots, he shields the reader from them. Most glaring is his complete omission of any mention of the conclusions of the 2004 British Butler Report, which noted that British pre-war intelligence assessments (published in its September 2002 White Paper and shared with the Bush Administration) were careful to only state that Saddam had sought uranium in Africa and consciously declined to give credence to the suspicious Martino documents and the supposed deal that they represented:
We also note that, because the intelligence evidence was inconclusive, neither the Government’s dossier or the Prime Minister went on to say that a deal between the Governments of Iraq and Niger for the supply of uranium had been signed, or uranium shipped.” (Butler Report, section 500.)
The report specifically asserts that the intelligence assessments included in the White Paper and passed on to the United States were based on evidence that the Iraqi overtures to Niger in 1999 were for the purpose of buying uranium, that this evidence consisted of “intelligence from several sources,” and that these assessments were formulated before the British ever came into contact with the Martino documents. (Section 503.)

This is a flat contradiction to Bonini's flat assertion that the British Intel came from the Martino forgeries. When I saw Bonini on Moyers I thought that his book must contain some counter to the Butler report, but instead he just pretends it doesn’t exist! There is no mention of the Butler Report anywhere in the body of Collusion. Bonini only mentions it in his “chapter notes,” where he simply describes the report as “discredited” and “thrown together to blur Tony Blair’s culpability,” without informing his readers that it directly contradicts Bonini’s foundational assertions.
The British claim to have pre-forgeries intelligence from several sources about Iraq trying to buy uranium in Niger is perfectly credible. We ourselves had at least two such pieces of intelligence: the intercepted telex about Iraqi ambassador’s trip to Niger, and the overture to Prime Minister Mayaki that was reported by Joe Wilson. As the SSCI report concluded:
Conclusion 12. Until October 2002 when the Intelligence Community obtained the forged foreign language documents on the Iraq-Niger uranium deal, it was reasonable for analysts to assess that Iraq may have been seeking uranium from Africa based on Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reporting and other available intelligence.
Given that our human intelligence in the field was/is almost non-existent, the chance that we happened onto ALL of Saddam’s Niger contacts is nil. If the Brits are not as blind as us, they might easily have discovered more about the Iraq-Niger contacts.

The CIA got it right, and so did President Bush

The CIA’s position in the period leading up to the 2003 State of the Union was the same as the British one: we had good reason to believe, as President Bush asserted, that Saddam had tried to buy uranium, but were skeptical that any deal had been concluded (that is, we did not give credence to the phony Martino documents). This is corroborated by both the Butler Report and the SSCI report.

“In preparing the [September 24, 2001] dossier,” says the Butler Report, “the UK consulted the US. The CIA advised caution about any suggestion that Iraq had succeeded in buying uranium in Africa, but agreed that there was evidence that it had been sought.” (Section 497.) The SSCI report also shows the CIA taking just these positions. Before President Bush gave a speech in Cincinnati in October 2002 the CIA removed a claim that: “the [Iraqi] regime has been caught attempting to purchase substantial amounts of uranium oxide from sources in Africa," saying that the evidence for such a deal (the Martino forgeries) “was weak.”

On the other hand, the CIA was certain enough that Saddam had tried to buy uranium that they allowed President Bush to say so in his State of the Union speech. The above blockquoted “conclusion 12” affirms that before the CIA encountered the forged documents, agents had reason to believe Saddam was trying to buy uranium, and they had even more reason to believe it post-forgeries, thanks to the evidence Wilson brought back from Niger about the Iraqi attempt to talk to Prime Minister Mayaki about uranium:
(U) Conclusion 13. The report on the former ambassador's trip to Niger, disseminated in March 2002, did not change any analysts' assessments of the Iraq-Niger uranium deal. For most analysts, the information in the report lent more credibility to the original Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports on the uranium deal, but State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) analysts believed that the report supported their assessment that Niger was unlikely to be willing or able to sell uranium to Iraq. [SSCI report, Niger conclusions.]
Wilson’s report was seen as supporting the likelihood of a deal, but did not change people’s minds on that front, and here we see the continuing problem: that even the SSCI report fails to maintain the distinction between Iraq seeking a deal (what Joe Wilson found evidence for, and what President Bush asserted) and concluding a deal (what the Martino forgeries depict). Knowing that the Iraqis had indeed sought uranium, as Wilson affirmed, does make it more likely that Iraq concluded a deal (the question that the SSCI targets in “Conclusion 13”). But this is not the question that the Select Committee should have been looking at. They should have asked whether Wilson's report strengthened the conclusion that Saddam had tried to buy uranium in Niger, to which the only possible answer would be "of course." Their actual inquiry muddies the distinction between the real evidence and the phony evidence, and it is just this inevitable muddying of the water that Wilson and now Bonini use to level their unsupported charges.

U.S. intelligence made plenty of mistakes. The SSCI report details all kinds of confusion, like the INR analyst who quickly spotted things wrong with the Martino documents that pretty much showed they had to be forgeries, but somehow this assessment was never attached to the documents. Overall, however, it is clear from the Butler Report and the SSCI report that British Intelligence and the CIA both managed get their basic assessments right. Both affirmed that Saddam had tried to buy uranium while remaining skeptical of the supposed deal indicated by Martino’s forgeries.

This is most clearly revealed in the one place that matters most: in the properly limited statements made by President Bush and by Tony Blair. Thanks to the caution of our intelligence services, neither made any claim about Saddam making a deal, while both asserted correctly that he had tried to make a deal. This is what Wilson and Moyers and Bonini and a whole army of abettors are trying to make a scandal out of: that our intelligence agencies and our elected leaders got it right!

Legitimate criticism

There are some things to be skeptical about in the Butler Report. In particular, it is hard to believe the report's claim that the British assessments of the Iraq-Niger uranium link, published in the September 2002 White Paper, predated British exposure to the Martino forgeries.

The Butler report itself only says that the British received the intel about an Iraq-Niger uranium deal sometime in 2002 (section 495). It doesn't say whether this was before or after the White Paper was written. [You can tell that section 495 is about the Martino documents because it references the 1999 Iraqi ambassador's trip to Niger (the actual intercepted 1999 telex was included in the Martino forgeries to make them look real), and it references doubts that a deal had actually been made (which would seem to be a reference to the CIA's warning about claims of a deal).]

Rocco Martino says that his fake documents were handed to the British at the end of 2001 (Bonini, p. 48). SISMI itself only admitted that intel about the documents was handed over "to the intelligence agency of another allied nation" in April 2002 (Bonini, p. 52).

Whatever the exact date, it seems that the British must have had the forgeries before they issued their September 2002 White Paper. This is clear from the fact that the White Paper declined to suggest that Iraq had made a deal to buy uranium, after having been warned off of this claim by the CIA (section 497). They couldn't have been warned off of evidence that a deal had been made until they had evidence that a deal had been made.

But while this sequence belies the claim that the British Iraq-Niger assessements were untainted by virtue of preceding exposure to the forgeries, it supports the contention that the British assessments were ultimately untainted, thanks to being warned off of the forgeries by the CIA.

Bonini is uninterested in any such substantive engagement with the Butler report. One wonders if he even looked at it. It may well be that People like Wilson, Moyers and Bonini really do only see those parts of the story that can be made to fit their story line, like a panner looking for flecks of gold amongst the dirt. Everything that doesn't have that useful glitter is just dross to be discarded. Still, this kind of thinking cannot really be called self-deception, because its deceptions are so calculated. Consider an example.

The Battelli cable

Bonini is at his most deceptive in his account of a September 21, 2001 cable from SISME chief Gianfranco Battelli to the CIA. Bonini quotes the cable as conveying news of a trip “undertaken by Iraqi personnel to Niger in ’99, during which they had made inquiries about the production of crude uranium in that nation’s two mines, and asked how that material might be exported.” (p.31)

This cable would seem to be a reference to further reporting about the Iraqi ambassador’s trip to Niger in 1999. Alternatively, it could be about Baghdad Bob’s trip to Niger in 1999, or about some other Iraqi inquiry after Nigerien uranium in 1999. What it does not seem to be about is the Martino forgeries, since it says nothing about a deal being made, as the Martino documents purport to show, and the Martino documents say nothing about any “inquiries about the production of crude uranium in the nation’s two mines,” or about anyone “ask[ing] how that material might be exported.” (If you want to look for yourself, Cryptome.org has both photocopies and translations of the Martino forgeries.)

Even though it seems quite obvious that the Battelli cable does not stem from the Martino forgeries, Bonini simply assumes that it does, and never even considers the possibility that it could be about some other reporting. Bonini is also deceptive in how he goes about impugning the Battelli cable. First (pp. 31-32) he only insinuates that it is based on the forgeries by interweaving the story of the Battelli cable in with Chouet’s story about the emergence of the phony documents. Later (p. 44) Bonini relies on this earlier insinuation to explicitly describe the Batelli cable as stemming from the forgeries.

For this second step, Bonini lists the Niger intel that was transferred from Battelli to Nicolo Pollari (Battelli’s successor as head of SISME). Pollari was given the “Niger dossier,” says Bonini, and “the related note that Gianfranco Battelli had sent to Langley on September 21, 2001.” Then he comments: “As far as we can tell, nobody pointed out that the information was fraudulent.”

Some of the information was fraudulent, but not the Battelli cable, which could well be one of the real pieces of further reporting referred to in the Butler Report, where the British learned from "several sources" that the Iraqi ambassador had indeed tried to buy uranium in 1999. Bonini just asserts, with no supporting argument whatsoever, that the cable was based on the forgeries, and he is very tricky about it, first misrepresenting the cable by insinuation, then directly misrepresenting it by commission.

Bonini’s citation for the contents of the Battelli cable is imprecise. His chapter notes only say: “We know that Gianfranco Battelli sent a cable to Langley because Nicolo Pollari confirmed this fact to both Il Messaggero in November 2005 and to the Parliamentary Commission on Intelligence Oversight.” He presumably is quoting from one of these sources, since he does not describe talking to Battelli or Pollari anyone else about the cable, as he usually does for his first hand reporting, but if he is quoting one of these sources, the reference to “a cable,” instead of "the cable" is odd.

Searching for Bonini’s quote of the Battelli cable only turns up references to Bonini. That would make sense if Bonini had translated the quote, but wouldn’t a cable to Langley already be in English? If anyone knows of a publicly available source for the full contents of the Battelli cable, or knows where there is any further information about the Battelli cable, please contact me (alec@rawls.org). Bonini did talk with Pollari about Antonio Nucera, so it is conceivable that Pollari told him about the contents of the Battelli cable as well. If Bonini turns out to be a source of original reporting on this cable, then his quote of the contents of the cable is the most important revelation in the book by far, and to Bonini’s credit too, if he was in a position to lie about what the cable said but quoted it straight, even though it does not fit his story line (much as he tries to pretend that it does).

Chouet’s mis-statement

Bonini constantly uses the phony Martino intel to impugn the real intel, in effect trying to make the Martino fraud stick. Spinning the Battelli cable as stemming from the phony docs is only one example. He also finds quotable sources who are willing to abet Martino in the same way. One is the French agent Chouet. Another is Greg Thielmann, a senior analyst with the State Department’s intelligence group (the INR).

Chouet simply makes a mis-statement, lumping the real intelligence and the fake intelligence together as all the same thing, when he presumably knows better. Bonini certainly knows better, but he let’s Chouet’s misstatement pass without comment.

In recounting the repeated inquiries from the United States about a possible Iraq-Niger link, Chouet starts with the summer of 2001:
When the Americans came calling in the summer of 2001, I immediately rolled up my sleeves. I told my men in Africa to get down to work. … The results were totally negative. At the end of August 2001, we cancelled the alert. [P. 31.]
Chouet then tells a long tale about bogus documents pertaining to an Iraq-Niger uranium deal starting to turn up in the hands of different intelligence agencies. He describes the prima facie skepticism most showed towards the documents, and he describes how continued investigation only confirmed the documents to be fraudulent. Woven through this tale is the United States, coming back again and again in 2002 with further inquiries, first bringing details about what is in the suspicious documents, then with copies of some of the documents themselves. (Chouet dates U.S. possession of at least some of the actual Martino documents to the spring of 2002 (p. 36). This is a bit earlier than the SSCI report says, but certainly possible).

By the time the U.S. comes around with the actual documents, Chouet is exasperated, which comes out in the form of a clearly incorrect statement:

The [American] documents were identical [to Rocco Martino documents already in French possession]. We decided that Rocco was the source of the ‘bullshit’ palmed off on the Americans. The same nonsense that made the rounds in the summer of 2001.” [P. 34.]
Bonini knows full well that American inquiries from the summer of 2001 had nothing to do with the Martino’s forgeries, but Chouet’s mis-statement fits Bonini’s thesis that all of the concern about an Iraq-Niger link came from the forged documents, so he does not correct it. Later in the book (pp. 52 and 59) he informs readers that as of the summer of 2001, no whiff of the Martino documents had yet reached U.S. intelligence. It was not until October 2001 that CIA agents in Rome first got a hurried look at the Martino documents and were able to jot down some of their contents. But when Bonini quotes Chouet’s mis-statement, readers do not have the information to know it is a mis-statement, and Bonini uses this to advance his central pretense: that all concern about an Iraq-Niger link stemmed from the forgeries.

There is a very interesting contradiction between Chouet’s story and the SSCI report that is worth noting. Chouet claims that French investigations into possible Iraqi attempts to buy uranium in Niger all came up negative, but the SSCI report says otherwise:

U) On November 22, 2002, during a meeting with State Department officials, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs Director for Nonproliferation said that France had information on an Iraqi attempt to buy uranium from Niger. He said that France had determined that no uranium had been shipped, but France believed the reporting was true that Iraq had made a procurement attempt for uranium from Niger. [Chapter 2, section g.]
This French report should have nothing to do with the forgeries, because according to Chouet (p. 34) the French had determined by June of 2003 that the Martino documents were fakes, weeks before they ever saw them (having already been asked by the CIA to investigate the details of the documents). Thus if the French were claiming in November 2002 to have real intel of Iraq trying to buy uranium, they presumably did have real intel. Maybe the French were one of the Butler Report’s “several different sources” on the Iraqis’ 1999 attempt to buy uranium in Niger.

Why did Chouet leave this intel out of his story? Or did he leave it out? Maybe it is Bonini who left it out. Bonini has already shown that he is big on lies of omission. But then there is also that mis-speak by Chouet. It could be that his mis-speak was not so innocent. Maybe, like Bonini, Chouet is downplaying the real evidence of an Iraq-Niger link in order to support bogus accusations against the Bush administration. The French did everything in their power to obstruct our war against Iraq and might reasonably be regarded with suspicion.

In any event, more information is needed. Maybe Alain Chouet would be willing to shed some light on the French intel from November 2002, and tell us whether Bonini’s account of his remarks is accurate.

The strange case of Greg Thielmann

Thielmann at the U.S. State Department attached a footnote to the October 1, 2002 National Intelligence Estimate saying: “The suggestion that Iraq sought to acquire uranium in Africa is, in the judgment of the INR, highly dubious.” (Bonini, P. 71.)

This was seven months after Joe Wilson reported Prime Minister Mayaki’s view that the Iraqis he met with were trying to buy uranium. We also had the earlier reporting of the Iraqi ambassador visiting Niger, and it is possible that Thielman knew about the French intel and the Batelli cable as well. In sum, there was nothing dubious about Iraq trying to buy uranium. It was pretty much an established fact, and Thielmann’s statement to the contrary is just flat wrong, making Thielmann a very odd mixed bag.

He seems to have been the most correct of the U.S. analysts in terms of being the most skeptical about the Martino docs, but the wrongest in his failure to account the real evidence of an Iraq-Niger link. Was he just biased against all evidence of an Iraq-Niger link? From his reaction to the CIA’s first report on the content of the Martino documents, this seems likely. Thielmann gave two reasons for dismissing the purported Iraqi deal to buy Nigerien uranium, neither of which has anything to do with the bogus specifics of the Martino documents, and neither of which holds the least bit of water.

“The first reason,” says Thielmann in an interview with Bonini and D’Avanzo, is that: “We knew that Iraq possessed five hundred metric tons of enriched uranium in its warehouses at Tuwaitha, routinely authorized by the IAEA. A quantity sufficient to produce at least two nuclear devices. So it made no sense to for Saddam to buy a rather hefty amount of pure uranium in a country like Niger, where the mines are controlled by the French … the Spanish, the Germans and the Japanese.” (Bonini’s p. 57.)

But as Thielmann notes, the uranium already in Saddam’s possession was under watch by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Even after Saddam kicked out the United Nations weapons inspectors (UNSCOM) in late 1998, he would know that movements of tons of uranium could be tracked by satellite. Clinton already bombed some of his facilities in 1998 in retaliation for kicking out the inspectors, so Saddam would have known that he couldn’t go using his existing uranium stockpile without consequence. To pursue his nuclear ambitions Saddam would indeed have had reason in 1999 to find a source of uranium other than his existing stockpile. How could Thielmann not know that? If he is not driven by bias then he is plain incompetent.

Thielmann’s second reason for dismissing the intel in the Martino documents also has nothing to do with the bogus nature of the documents themselves. It isn’t really a reason at all: “You go with your gut instincts,” says Thielmann (p. 58). His actual problem with the Iraq-Niger intel seems to be that the CIA “kept repeating that Italian intelligence was certain that Iraq had at least attempted to buy uranium from Niger—as if that were an independent confirmation of the report.”

Of course Iraqi attempts to buy uranium are not independent confirmation that Iraq had completed a deal to buy uranium, but attempts to buy uranium are important in themselves, and it is the attempt to buy uranium (not the completion of a deal to buy uranium) that Thielmann dismisses in his footnote to the 2002 NIE. Thus he accuses the CIA of failing to distinguish between attempts to buy uranium and succeeding in making a deal to buy uranium, then makes this exact mistake himself. No one is that stupid. That is bias.

At the very least, Thielmann swallowed the “poison well” interpretation of the phony documents hook line and sinker. Of course you have to throw out the bathwater, but to throw out the baby at the same time is pretty weak for a senior analyst.

Lurid unsupported claims of pressure to phony up intelligence, with no mention of the authoritative debunking of these charges

Many of Bonini’s deceptions are well hidden, but his bias is completely overt, even ludicrous, when he starts ranting about “neocons” and leveling generic charges about intelligence analysts being pressured to produce the “right” conclusions, as if everyone already knows that “neocons” are some outrageously dishonest cabal. Here Bonini relies on pure antipathy to carry readers past his own blatant dishonesty.

“It was necessary to buttress the instincts of President Bush,” writes Bonini, “who had prowled the White House on the evening of September 12, ordering deputies to ‘see if Saddam was involved.’” (P. 41.) Horrors. The president wanted to know if Saddam was involved. The neoconservatives, suggests Bonini, were eager to cater to this demand, and hence “it was the neoconservative camp within the Bush administration that took over.”

But the Bush administration never claimed that Saddam was involved in 9/11. The U.S. put forward 27 reasons for war against Iraq, and Bonini goes conspiracy mongering after a rationale for war that was never asserted.

(There actually was at least one solid piece of evidence that Saddam WAS involved in 9/11. The Czech’s are still adamant that they surveilled Mohammad Atta meeting with an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague in April 2001. The CIA’s reason for dismissing this intel—that someone used Atta’s cell phone and credit card here in the U.S. when the Czech’s say he was in Prague—is absurd. All a terrorist has to do to create sufficient alibi to throw off the CIA is let someone use his cell phone and credit card? Grounded airliners at Salman Pak, outside of Baghdad, used for training airline hijackers, was another strong indication of Iraqi involvement in 9/11. But we're supposed to believe that after declining to invoke these actual grounds for tying Saddam to 9/11, Bush was insisting that people fake-up some phony grounds to tie Saddam to 9/11, though he never did tie Saddam to 9/11.)

Another absurd Bonini charge of pressure to phony up intelligence comes in response to a typically careful Rumsfeld statement. “The absence of evidence,” Rumsfeld said about the failure to yet uncover Iraqi WMDs, “is not necessarily the evidence of absence.” “For spies,” Bonini writes, “this argument sounded like an order, a threat, and a piece of career advice.” Oh shut up you moron. You may be a Bush hating bigot, and other Bush hating bigots may jump the same Bush hating conclusions you do, but Rumsfeld’s statement is not evidence of anything but his typical clear thinking. Bonini’s accusations that intelligence agents were pressured to come to certain conclusions never rise above this level of absurd insinuation. Some “collusion.”

Hiding the SSCI and Silberman-Robb reports

Just as Bonini hides the Butler Report from his readers, so too does he hide the fact that the 2004 SSCI report and the 2005 Silberman-Robb report both investigated exactly the charges he is making about pressure to come up with the “right” intelligence conclusions, and found them completely unsupported. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence was highly concerned about such charges and investigated them thoroughly, doing extensive interviews and issuing multiple separate calls for anyone who had been pressured to come forward. Their findings were stark:
The Committee was not presented with any evidence that intelligence analysts changed their judgments as a result of political pressure, altered or produced intelligence products to conform with Administration policy, or that anyone even attempted to coerce, influence or pressure analysts to do so. When asked whether analysts were pressured in any way to alter their assessments or make their judgments conform with Administration policies, not a single analyst answered yes. Most analysts simply answered, “no” or “never,” but some provided more extensive responses.
The report then goes on to list several analysts describing the actual pressure they felt: to get their analyses right, and not be responsible for another devastating intelligence failure like 9/11. The March 2005 Silberman-Robb Commission Report came to the same conclusion:
The analysts who worked Iraqi weapons issues universally agreed that in no instance did political pressure cause them to skew or alter any of their analytical judgments. [Overview section.]
The Italian stinker simply refuses to acknowledge the existence of these authoritative refutations of his central claims. He is another Martino, completely comfortable with the most outrageous deceptions. He pretends to be the anti-Martino, while in fact doing his utmost to maximize the effectiveness of Martino’s dirty tricks, employing means every bit as dishonest as Martino’s. The difference is that Martino did it for money while Bonini’s deceptions are ideological. Martino is amoral (which is immoral), while Bonini is evil (or morally perverse).

Competitive intelligence

One of Bonini’s central metaphors is the echo chamber: when the different intelligence agencies asked each other about the information in Martino’s forgeries, they all would say “we heard that too,” but without sharing specifics, allowing them all to take reinforcement from each other without knowing that they were all looking at the same bogus source. Bonini cites a disgruntled ex-CIA officer named Robert Baer who charges that the CIA, in a method the Baer calls “competitive intelligence,” intentionally uses this echo chamber effect to seed phony intel, then get it “confirmed” by other intelligence agencies before passing it on to our elected leaders to justify a particular action. (P. 42-43.)

As a general matter, “competitive intelligence” sounds like an obvious enough counter-intelligence scheme for fooling other intelligence agencies. To say that our intelligence agencies have used it to fool our own elected leaders, or that our elected leaders have used it to fool voters, is a different thing entirely. This is a very serious accusation, made by an ex-agent who named his dog “Risen,” after James Risen, the treasonous New York Times reporter who has published leak after leak about our most sensitive terrorist surveillance methods. (See Bonini’s footnote on Baer, p. 43.)

Baer’s generic accusations aside, what we can say for certain is that no such “competitive intelligence” was involved in the Iraq-Niger reporting. The actual “echo chamber” effect in this case went in the opposite direction from what the “competitive intelligence” charge implies. The different intelligence agencies all warned each other off of the bogus documents, with the CIA in particular warning the British. There was no dysfunctional echo chamber upholding the phony documents, but only rational cooperation in identifying the forged documents as untrustworthy, getting them out of the way so that the real evidence of Iraqi attempts to buy uranium could play its proper leading role.

Bonini is completely oblivious to such logical inconsistencies. He knows full well that the different intelligence agencies were all telling each other not to trust the Martino documents. This is the foundation of his charge that, in nevertheless relying on the documents [Bonini’s false accusation], the CIA was knowingly phonying up a pretext for war. Then in the next breath Bonini pretends that the intelligence agencies were all affirming the Martino documents to each other. The inside of Bonini’s head is a logic-free zone. He embraces every interpretation that can be made to support his fraudulent accusations, no matter how mutually inconsistent.

In this typical can’t-be-bothered-to-think-straight style, Bonini points to Douglas Feith at the Department of Defense as a practitioner of “competitive intelligence” (p. 42-43). But the truth about Feith’s Office of Special Plans—what the Democrats tried to turn into a scandal this spring—is that, while the OSP doesn’t generate intelligence assessments (making Bonini’s imputations about trumped up intelligence assessments nonsensical), they did have the audacity to consider the implications of existing intelligence assessments without simply assuming, as the CIA was doing, that Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime would not work with Muslim religious fanatics like al Qaeda. In other words, Feith’s claim to infamy is that he broke out of the idiotic echo chamber created by President Clinton’s CIA to avoid seeing terrorist connections so that President Clinton would not have to deal with them. He was the echo chamber buster.

A real echo chamber

In one of Bonini’s typical summary paragraphs, he weaves several of his central deceits together:
American intelligence, under pressure to give the hawks what they wanted, suddenly found itself in possession of one report (Saddam is buying uranium in Africa) and two “allied” confirmations (the Italian and the British). In reality, of course the original report and its subsequent confirmations came from a single hand. And that hand belonged to the swindler Rocco Martino, manipulated and controlled by SISMI. It’s Robert Baer’s “competitive intelligence” at its very best. [p. 53]
Exactly backwards. The CIA actually did plant a bit of intelligence with the British that President Bush then cited in his State of the Union address. That bit of intel was the warning that evidence of an Iraqi deal to buy uranium looked to be bogus. In response, the British limited their Iraq-Niger claims to those that could be supported by the real evidence, and the President then cited this properly regulated assessment. Some scandal.

The details of this Bonini paragraph are just as errant as the thrust. No, American intelligence was not “under pressure to give the hawks what they wanted,” and no, the different reports about an Iraq Niger uranium link did not all come from the Martino forgeries. The Italians were distributing at least two pieces of real reporting (the 1999 telex and the Battelli cable). The British say that they had pre-Martino reporting from "several sources." The CIA had in addition both Joe Wilson’s report about the Iraqi attempt to buy uranium from Mayaki, and the French report from November 2002. Add the cautionary messages that the different agencies were sending each other about any deal having been made, and Bonini's entire paragraph is is seen to be carefully crafted disinformation: a neat little story concocted by expunging every hint of the real Iraq-Niger reporting.

Of course the fake documents prompted much investigation but they never were given credence. It is only by burying all the real Iraq-Niger reporting that Bonini is able to make that correct intelligence assessment look damning. "They knew the Italian documents were untrustworthy, and they still claimed an Iraq-Niger link!" But Joe Wilson has already been authoritatively exposed for making this same fraudulent accusation. Can the same lies really be retailed again and again, and be embraced just as enthusiastically each time, regardless of exposure?

Fool us once, shame on Joe Wilson. Fool us twice, shame on Bill Moyers and everyone else who is eager to uphold known lies.

What makes Bonini’s accusations about “competitive intelligence” especially rich is that Wilson, Bonini, Moyers et. al. really do engage in something like the “competitive intelligence” that Baer describes. They all employ the same central omissions in order to promote the same false accusations, and they all rely on each other for confirmation of these deceptions. The last piece of the echo chamber is Democrat-left readers who only want to hear the most unadulterated anti-conservative story that an author can tell, no matter how dishonest or even flatly illogical. It is a whole culture of despicable collusion, with bigots like Wilson, Moyers, Bonini and D’Avanzo as the ringleaders.

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