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Monday, October 31, 2005

Wilson lies, Press Club laughs

Shameful performance by Joe Wilson and the National Press Club yesterday. I wish I was set up to post video clips, but at least I got it on tape.

Wilson first repeated the disinformation from his June 2003 NYT op-ed, claiming that the evidence he found on his trip to Niger (that Iraq had not actually succeeded in purchasing large amounts of uranium ore from Niger) debunked the President's State of the Union claim (that Saddam had TRIED to purchase uranium ore from Africa). He also omitted, as he did in his NYT op-ed, that he had actually found evidence that the Iraqis HAD tried to purchase uranium ore from Niger.

These Wilson lies have long since been exposed, first by then CIA director George Tenet, the week after Wilson's original op-ed:
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.
Wilson's lies about having debunked the President's sixteen words were also painstakingly documented in the Senate Intelligence Committee report on pre-war intelligence assessments. (UPDATE 11/5: A discussion about the initial reporting of Tenet’s exposure of Wilson, who was on it and who was hiding it, here.) How did the room-full of reporters react to being the vehicle for the repetition of known lies? They laughed and applauded.

The shameful low point for the Press Club was the "question and answer" session. No questions from the attendees were allowed. Press Club President Rick Dunham spoon fed Wilson a series of friendly questions, hand picked to lead Wilson into additional segments of his prepared screed. The curtain dropped entirely when Wilson let slip that he already knew the second question. Here is the revealing moment, transcribed from my tape of the speech:
Joe Wilson: ... Now with respect to the second question? Was Rove resign? [Sic.] Was that there?

Rick Dunham [sotto voce]: That's coming up.

JW [sotto voce]: Oh, that's coming up. [Then in full voice, realizing everyone has heard]: I read the question.... I read it over his shoulder.

RD: That's... right-heh… Should Karl Rove resign and...
[Interrupted by audience laughter. JW and RD also laugh, but without pausing as they hurry past the naked moment.]
This is a news organization? EVERY question was a leading puffball. "Have you been threatened?" "Should Bush be impeached?" Remember how they made a front page scandal out of American soldiers working out who would answer what type of question from the President? I'm sure they will be really outraged that an accuser telling known lies got to pick which questions he would be asked. Oh wait a minute. They were there. And they tittered and applauded and welcomed every false gesture.

It's hard to say what the low point for Wilson was, but it is worth exposing his newest disinformation about the forged documents. See Stephen Hayes’ recent Weekly Standard article for the sequence of lies that Wilson pedaled to several reporters in the Spring of '03, claiming to have discovered in Niger that the intelligence about Iraqi attempts to buy uranium ore had been based on forged documents. There were indeed some forged documents, which may have been concocted by the French to try to undermine the U.S./British case against Saddam Hussein, but these did not come into U.S. possession until October 2002. Wilson's trip to Niger was in February 2002. (Some claim the forgeries were concocted by the Italians, but either way, they played no role in Wilson's trip.)

Here is the story Wilson told to Nicholas Kristof at the Times. (The source of the story and the subject of the story were both revealed by Wilson, in Senate testimony, to be Wilson himself.)
[T]hat envoy reported to the C.I.A. and State Department that the information was unequivocally wrong and that the documents had been forged. The envoy reported, for example, that a Niger minister whose signature was on one of the documents had in fact been out of office for more than a decade.
The purpose of this lie was, of course, to accuse the President of lying. Here is how Wilson told the story to The New Republic's John Judis and Spencer Ackerman:
He [the unnamed ex-ambassador, sent to check out the Iraq-uranium intelligence] returned after a visit to Niger in February 2002 and reported to the State Department and the CIA that the documents were forgeries. The CIA circulated the ambassador's report to the vice president's office, the ambassador confirms to TNR. But, after a British dossier was released in September detailing the purported uranium purchase, administration officials began citing it anyway, culminating in its inclusion in the State of the Union. "They knew the Niger story was a flat-out lie," the former ambassador tells TNR.
Similar lies were retailed to Walter Pincus at the Post.

When the forged documents were exposed by the International Atomic Energy Agency in March 2003, Wilson obviously did not know that they had not come into U.S. possession until well after his trip to Niger and he may well have assumed that they actually were the basis for his trip to Niger. According to the Senate Intelligence Committee report: "[N]one of the meeting participants [at Wilson's pre-Niger-trip briefing] recall telling the former ambassador the source of the report." [p. 45. Via Matthew Continetti]. In any case, based on his errant assumptions about the vintage of the forged documents, Wilson recklessly included them in his lies. When the date discrepancy came out, he had no choice but to back off. In Senate: testimony:
The former ambassador said that he may have “misspoken” to the reporter when he said he concluded the documents were “forged.” [Intelligence committee report, p. 45. Via The Daily Howler.]
At the Press Club speech yesterday, Wilson was not under oath and so the admission of "mis-speaking" turned into an accusation that Kristof lied. Wilson quoted Kristof "as saying that he was aware that I had not seen the documents. He knew it. And yet it got into his article.”

Presumably Wilson would say that Pincus, Ackerman and Judis were lying too. Everyone is a liar except for proven liar Joseph Wilson. Just one Minute is prodding Kristof on when he is going to clarify who mis-spoke. So far it seems that Kristof would rather be called a liar than to pull back a false story intended to damage the President. [UPDATE 11/2: Kristof just told Jack Shafer that: "he... was sure his piece accurately reflected what his sources told him."]

Yet even as Wilson's Press Club speech backed away from his earlier assertions that he had personally exposed the forgeries before they even existed, he still tried to insinuate that the forged documents were the basis for the Niger intelligence that he was investigating in 2002. No, he had not seen the forged documents, Wilson insisted yesterday, but: "I was briefed about the existence of documents... I never saw the documents. I never said I saw the documents." Get it? The documents that he has been loudly denying he ever saw--the forged documents that bad people like Kristof keep saying he claimed he saw--were presumably “the documents” behind the original investigation.

Actually, Wilson was not briefed about ANY documents, according to everyone else at the meeting (see above), but set that aside. "The documents" from 2002 are insinuated to be the forged documents, and just as Wilson charged earlier that he had told the CIA long before the State of the Union that the Niger story was based on forgeries, so too he insinuated yesterday that the Bush administration knew that the Niger intelligence was based on forgeries.

When the IAEA exposed the forgeries several weeks after the State of the Union, "At that time," said Wilson yesterday, "I determined that the record really did need to be corrected." But the forgeries had just been exposed. What was it that had not yet been set straight? It would have to be who knew that the forgeries were forgeries, and when they knew it. He is just trying to maintain his earlier accusations that the Niger intelligence was based on forgeries and that top people knew it, even after his basis for making those accusations has been exposed as one of the most outrageous whoppers in the history of treason.

[UPDATE 11/2: Wilson has now directly asserted on Larry King that the forged documents were the intelligence behind his original trip to Niger:
There was my report, there was one done by our ambassador on the ground and there was a separate one done by a four-star Marine Corps general, all of which concluded that there was no there there, that there was no reason to believe that the transaction that had been alleged in this documents that were later deemed to be forgeries had ever taken place or could have taken place.

The fact that these ended up in the State of the Union address I think in and of itself is something that's worth looking into.
The clueless Larry King of course had no idea that Wilson was telling the same lies he had already been castigated by the Senate Intelligence Committee for telling earlier.]

What actually happened within the administration is murky. It is at least logically possible that the forgeries could have influenced the State of the Union speech, since they had been in U.S. possession since the previous October and were not exposed publicly to be forgeries until several weeks after the State of the Union. Maybe some at CIA were fooled into thinking that the forgeries constituted corroborating evidence. Kevin Drum notes the Senate's finding that the State Dept. immediately suspected that the forgeries were forgeries, but that the CIA seems not to have picked up the warning. At the same time, the British, who President Bush cited for the Africa intelligence in his State of the Union speech, denied (and still deny) that the forgeries entered into their intelligence assessment.

Through whatever combination of factors, the exposure of the forgery did seem to throw the Bush Administration into mea culpa mode, prompting CIA director Tenet to concede that the Africa-uranium statement should have been left out of the President's address. (Of course this concession was misinterpreted in numerous press reports to mean that: "The statement is now acknowledged to be false").

Suppose that the forgeries did have some affect on the intelligence assessment. What difference would that make? There is no reason to believe that the analysts and the other administration figures involved were doing anything but making sincere efforts to convey the intelligence accurately (however incompetent those efforts sometimes were). Wilson has absolutely nothing to add here. All he did was lie about what he found in Niger (claiming to have debunked the story that Saddam had tried to buy uranium ore, when he in fact he verified it), and lie about having exposed the forged documents before anyone had seen them.

Wilson is guilty of treason, over and over again retailing malicious disinformation about the nation's war effort, and the main organs of the mainstream media keep proving themselves eager to abet.

Excellent piece! Thank you.

On the matter of Wilson's claim that he discovered in Niger that the (French?) documention of the Iraq-Niger yellow cake deals were forgeries: as you say, this must be a lie, since his trip occured eight
months prior to the documents coming into US possession. But how interesting it is to speculate that he may have known, prior to his Niger trip, that there were such forged documents in the intelligence pipeline, their source, and their purpose---namely, to discredit the
US-UK case for war; to poison the documentation well so as to discredit any other (legitimate) documents detailing, oh, say, French-Iraqi deals for yellow cake, aluminum tubes, or what have you. How could he have known? Well, there's a rumour going round that his wife has some sort of connection to the CIA. Do we not have good reason to believe that the CIA's "B Team" was intent on discrediting the case for war? Mightn't they have some French friends? Mightn't Valerie have been part of that same effort? Maybe he forgot he wasn't supposed to know about those forgeries until after they'd been sent to the US. It does cast his wife's volunteering him for the Niger job in a new
light, does it not?
If Wilson actually said, "(that Iraq had not actually succeeded in purchasing large amounts of uranium ore from Niger)"

then one must parse his words like any other democrat/liberal.

The question was never whether Iraq SUCCEEDED in purchasing LARGE amounts of uranium, but whether Iraq had ATTEMPTED to buy ANY uranium from Niger.

This incident (along with others) indicates that a clique of snotty left-wingers in the CIA are trying to do anything they can to undermine the Administration. Goss had better pull his head out and expose these brats before more serious damage results...such as them being so busy trying to damage Bush that they miss the next 911.

As for the uranium, none other than the NY Times and Wash Post had articles reporting on the US removing 500 tons of low-enriched uranium from Iraq. An isotopic analysis of this material should be able to show exactly where it came from, and if it in fact did come from Niger.
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