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October 20, 2003


Mark Amerman

What I cannot understand is how Seymour M. Hersh
can leave out that Joseph Wilson reported that he
spoke to a Niger official that believed he was
contacted by an Iraqi delegation for the purpose
of acquiring uranium yellowcake?

I mean that little item of information is right
at the heart of the story he's presenting. How
in the world can he leave it out?

It would make a more complicated story if he
included it. It would raise questions, no matter
how hard he tried to play it down, or how briefly
he tried to brush over it.

Clearly Seymour Hersh has an agenda and he is
not above leaving out inconvenient facts right at
the heart of his topic.

Mitch H.

I don't know, once you take into account all the clouds of black ink spewed out by Hersh's anonymous CIA sources, it's a pretty damning indictment of the CIA.

What I read is that CIA drones tried to push around the neocons the same way they pushed around the Clinton adminstration, and went into a protracted heel-kicking tantrum when the neocons pushed back. It escalated, and the neocons overreacted by trying, yet again, to recreate the CIA in another department, and got themselves into a mess.

There's some bullshit handwaving about how the ramp-up to Iraq shortchanged the terror war, but given the CIA's demonstrated pre-9/11 incompetence, I'm not inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt. The fact that the period in question was notably fruitful in captures and lacking in successful, significant anti-American actions on the part of al Queda leads me to the suspicion that this is just bureaucratic sour grapes on the part of minimally competent, overworked CIA personnel.

Finally, there's this claim that somebody put a hell of a lot of effort into a forgery job to embarrass the neocons. If it's true, several somebodies at the CIA ought to be doing time.

Cecil Turner

You can add me to the list of people unconvinced by the "made in the CIA" explanation. And if it were true, it’d be far more damaging than anything alleged so far.

One thing about Hersh’s article that I find plausible is that there’s obvious dissension among the intelligence ranks. However, what he doesn’t mention is that the CIA was the agency providing that information—and that it was filtered through Tenet and his top managers at the very least. Also, the only persons on the “need to know” list about Plame’s identity would be at CIA, so the leak had to have originated from there. The conflict appears not to be primarily between the CIA and White House, but CIA management and CIA analysts (or some subgroup thereof) . . . with the White House backing up management.

Assuming that’s the case, I have little sympathy for the leakers. There are provisions for airing concerns with the appropriate intelligence oversight committee, or one’s congressman. Anonymous intelligence leaks to reporters do nothing helpful for the political process, and ought not to be part of CIA analysts’ job description.


Assuming that’s the case, I have little sympathy for the leakers. There are provisions for airing concerns with the appropriate intelligence oversight committee, or one’s congressman. Anonymous intelligence leaks to reporters do nothing helpful for the political process, and ought not to be part of CIA analysts’ job description.

I disagree. Anonymous leaks expose bad policy, and they're an important check on excessive government secrecy.


Using Occam's Razor, one would suspect that the author of the forged documents is the Italian journalist's "intelligence" source, who was expecting a $10,000 payday from her paper.

Ah, screw it. I'm going with the Mossad.

Cecil Turner


Do you support leaking Plame's name in the spirit of fair play? After all, she works for the government, and the leak provided a check on her secrecy.

Alex Parker


I think the issue of unauthorized classified leaks is a basic matter of disagreement between us.

In the case of Wilson's trip, it was not a matter which would have affected national security, and yet it was of enormous value for to the general public.

In the case of Wilson's wife, it was an issue of questionable value to the general public, and yet it had a definite negative effect on national security.


I think you're basically right that Hersh should have included mention of the visit. However, I think it is of little significance in the long run. The Tenet memo, which is the only public record of this, states:

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.

If the best evidence for Bush's claim that Iraq sought uranium from Niger is that a Niger official met with a businessman who claimed to have talked to Iraq and wanted to talk about expanding business relations, which might have meant uranium, then it had no business being in any of the President's speeches. I don't think the CIA would have admitted wrong-doing if they felt differently.

Mark Amerman


There are at least three sides to the Niger official
telling Joseph Wilson he avoided an Iraqi delegation
after being sought out by them because the Niger
official thought the Iraqi delegation wanted his
help in acquiring uranium story:

a) the White House house would have taken this as
partial confirmation that Iraq had sought uranium in

b) it shows Joseph Wilson to be a liar for not
mentioning it in his New York Times op-ed;

c) it raises the whole question of what the CIA
did with this once they had such a lead.

The White House asked the CIA to look into the
Saddam seeking african uranium question. Hopefully
there was more to their activities but they sent Wilson
there and he reported back that he asked his buddies,
and they claimed they hadn't violated U.N. sanctions,
that they hadn't illegally sold uranium to Iraq.

As far as Wilson was concerned this was proof that
a transaction hadn't occurred, but he also reported
to the CIA about the Niger official's experience.
As soon as the CIA heard this they should have been
trying to verify it. After all this deals directly
with what the White House had asked them to look into.

One obvious lead would have been the Niger businessman
working with the Iraqi delegation who approached the
Niger official that Wilson knew.

Clearly there should be more to this story. It shouldn't
just end with Wilson telling it to the CIA.

Alex, you write, "If this is best evidence...then it had
no business being in any of the President's speeches."

True except of course it wasn't in the President's speeches;
what was in those speeches was the assertion that the
"British" had evidence.

One other angle to this is the question of whether it
was reasonable for Wilson's Niger official to imagine
that the Iraqi delegation's approach to him was about

Well, first of all, uranium yellowcake was somehow part
of this official's domain at the time. This was after all
why Wilson was speaking to him.

And second, Niger is a remarkably poor country that
exports few things, namely uranium yellowcake, livestock,
cowpeas, onions and a small amount of cotton.

It was not unreasonable to conjecture that this Iraqi
delegation was not there to buy livestock, cowpeas,
or onions from Niger in the middle of africa -- all
things, which since they weren't covered by UN sanctions
could have been far more readily acquired through
easier channels, even assuming Saddam Hussein sends out
official delegations for such prosaic commodities.

Cecil Turner


I don’t see how Wilson’s leaks were “of enormous value for to the general public.” The only thing he had direct knowledge of was a bunch of Nigerian officials saying a relatively minor issue concerning Iraq's WMD programs didn’t happen. Even if he’d canvassed them all, the results would hardly have been conclusive. His claims to have debunked the documents would have been compelling evidence of CIA fecklessness or skullduggery, but they turned out to be untrue. At best he’s guilty of exactly the sort of deception he claims the administration dabbled in, which robs his remaining testimony of credibility.

And the damage to national security from outing Plame is also hard to quantify. She’s clearly not been very active recently, and the tracking back former contacts exercise isn’t trivial. The main point of the law is to protect agents while they’re working overseas (the apparent purpose of the overseas clause, and why it’s not a crime to out oneself)—which doesn’t seem to apply here very well. Wilson’s outing himself is of a similar nature—though admittedly his contacts don’t seem to be in the same sensitivity league. Still, foreign diplomatic sources might be less willing to provide information, which is exactly the sort of national security damage Plame’s outing causes.

And let’s not forget Wilson’s responsibility in the main event. One obvious outcome from his leak was the eventual disclosure of his wife’s identity. (And contrary to some claims, there are still several possible scenarios where the leaker could be unaware of Plame’s status—in which case the majority of the blame would be Wilson’s.) His leaks also highlight CIA workings (amateurish as these seem), which is generally considered a no-no. And (as TM pointed out) Wilson’s whirlwind publicity tour when the story was being largely ignored didn’t help. It’s also obvious he had more interest in casting a poor light on the administration than protecting his wife’s identity . . . which provides a good measure of their relative importance.

Franco Alemán

What about this:


Tipping Points

By David Ignatius
Thursday, April 10, 2003; Page A29


The intelligence officials offered a tantalizing coda for conspiracy-mongers. They said the "crude forgery" received by U.N. weapons inspectors suggesting the Iraqis were trying to buy uranium from Niger as part of their nuclear program was originally put in intelligence channels by France. The officials wouldn't speculate on French motives."

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